Pittsburgh_ Late Fall 2005
Settling his backpack on his left shoulder, his book bag already snug on his right, he moved with the skill of the seasoned traveler along the too-narrow corridor, through the open doorway, down the skyway and when once inside the terminal, Justin just as skillfully wove his way through the other weary late-night travelers, each of them trying to, at last, reach their final destination. Past Starbucks and Burger King, past Cinnanbun and McDonalds, to passenger pick-up where, after snagging the at-the-head-of-the-line Yellow Cab, he and the driver, collectively, moved off into the Pittsburgh night and while their destination may have been the same, Liberty Avenue, their reasons for going there, Justin realized, couldn’t have been more different.
For him, his reasons were about confronting fear, about celebrating the rebirth of an icon, and about the staking of a claim. For the driver, his reasons must have been about making enough money to put food on the table, maybe about getting his kid‘s teeth fixed, and maybe about taking his wife for that weekend vacation in Atlantic City. Same destination, different reasons, different journeys and neither of them wanted anything to get in their way. So, nothing did.
Speeding first down the highway, then along city streets to Liberty Avenue, no one saying a word, the driver drove while he gazed, only vaguely aware of the whirl of luminous color set counter to a nighttime sky of deepest blue-black, his eyes, almost as if by instinct, searching for those imaginary star-patterns imposed by the ancients on that very same blue-black sky in their futile attempt to find order where none really existed. And he smiled. Soon. Soon. He would be there soon.
He had the driver drop him off three of blocks away from Babylon, less chance of being seen, of having his big guess-what-I’m-here surprise spoiled that way, but wasn’t he really just fooling himself. Because could he possibly get into Babylon without someone recognizing him anyway? Not likely plus, he clearly understood that the sublime torture of postponing his surprise-of-Brian wasn’t the only reason, not even the real reason why he was causing himself even further delay. That lay deep inside him and he’d have to have been in some kind of serious denial not to understand why he hadn’t been back inside Babylon since that awful night, that terrifying night four months ago. When Michael had nearly had died, when seven people actually had. Truth was, he was afraid.
Afraid to step a foot inside, hadn’t since the night their cocooned little world had exploded into the top-of-the-hour slot of the national news and the above-the-fold front-page sections of newspapers across America and around the world, with the survivors the reluctant witnesses to hate and intolerance made tangible, made undeniable. Each witness relived their experiences time and time again for radio and TV talk-show hosts and national and international newspaper and magazine journalists, all the talking-heads and word-smiths who, like them, were just trying to understand even if, after all the words, after all the analysis, no one really could. But not him, he hadn’t talked to anyone because whenever he’d come back to Pittsburgh, he’d laid-low, not willing to discuss how Babylon and its dead, had become martyrs to a cause.
The same night, the very same when Brian had first told him that he was loved, really loved, by him.
And even after all this time, remembering the touch, the feel, the sound of Brian that night made him shiver, made him ache, made him alive inside. Just remembering what those words had really meant, because hadn’t he always said that those words, those actual words, meant little? Hadn’t he’d known all along that Brian loved him so really what the fuck difference could three little words make? But that shock-to-the-system night, that etched-in-memory-forever night, had made him realize that he’d been wrong. Those words had made a difference, mattering more than he could’ve dreamed and he was no longer able to imagine living his life without hearing their echoing in his mind, without believing in their promise that he would hear them again.
But remembering those words from then couldn’t help now with the fact that he, if not scared, was seriously uneasy with all of that wrapped-up in an acute kind of anxiety so, he walked slowly. The first block was hidden inside vision-memories of times past, seeing him and Brian everywhere. Where they’d kissed in front of the cops just to piss ‘em off. Where they’d faced-off with Hobbs and his friends in front of Woody’s. Where they’d danced in the middle of Liberty Avenue until 3am celebrating the defeat of their political enemy. He could almost see Brian in the Vette in front of the diner waiting to take him home after another late-night shift. Or both of them in the gym where they’d, collectively, amassed millions of phone numbers. The Thai Take-Out, the corner grocery, everywhere he looked he found so many memories of their life together. And it still was, even if he had moved. It would always be theirs
Suddenly stopping, nearly to the next intersection, yet unable to go on, images, dark and scattered and terrifying flooded him, vestiges of the nightmares he still had. Babylon blowing up, a blinding white flash from somewhere behind him, surrounding him, and then nothing, nothing but blackness. No sight, just sound, the sound of people screaming, the sound of Babylon dying. And a crushing heaviness weighting him down, him unable to move and sometimes that would be where his nightmare ended. He would wakeup shaking, feeling lost, feeling alone. But sometimes, most times, there would be a different ending, a better kind of ending because with this other kind of nightmare, he would hear Brian’s voice yelling for him, desperately trying to find him and while he would still wakeup shaking, these nightmares weren’t as bad. He knew he’d be alright; would be just fine because he knew Brian would find him.
Still hesitating, but with his need to be a part of Babylon’s reopening outweighing his unease wrapped-up in his anxiety, he looked down Liberty Avenue toward the phoenix risen from its ashes, Brian’s ‘fuck you’ to all those who’d thought that by destroying their club, they would be brought to their knees. The building was now intense with colored lights as dozens of people disappeared down its alleyway obviously anxious to get in the line for the door. And he smiled. Babylon was theirs, Liberty Avenue was theirs. They had fought for it and they had won and no one, not crusading politicians, not even murdering fanatics, not anyone would ever take either away from them again.
Starting to feed off the energy of those around him, moment by moment feeling less anxious, Justin nonetheless still hesitated, waiting, leaning against a light pole, remembering. The streetlights changed two, maybe even three times, before a pretty club boy on the verge of becoming a sparkling queen, took his hand and said, “Come on, sweetie, the party’s over there, you come with me.” And so he did. The boy dragged him dancing across the intersection and down the remaining block, but when they got closer, close enough to start moving through the tightly packed alley toward the end of the line, Justin was recognized, spotted by Jake the bouncer, working the door
“Justin,” Jake called, gesturing for him to come.
So he did, saying to his new friend, “Find me inside,” knowing he probably wouldn’t.
Still grinning, his new friend said, “Sure, sweetie, I’ll find you,” and leaving him, finding his friends waiting impatiently for him down the line, Justin’s new friend blew him a kiss, a kiss he happily returned before turning and making his way to Jake waiting patiently for him by the door.
“Go on in, baby,” Jake said, “go ahead.” Grinning while continuing to card and admit, card and admit, card and admit the seemingly never-ending line of club-goers. “I thought the boss wasn’t expecting you, though? What was it? Somethin’ about a gallery opening that could not be missed, right? Compounded by illness? I distinctly recall him sayin’ somethin’ about you not being able to attend our fabulous reopening which, I will admit, I found to be rather sad.”
“Oh you did, did you?” Justin grinned.
“Yes, yes I did,” Jake said, as he carded and admitted, carded and admitted each next club-goer.
“Well, you are right; the boss isn’t expecting me, kind of a surprise. Glad to see you here, though. You good?”
“Could not be better, Justin, could not be better, now that Brian’s got the club back up and running. And has hired me back, of course. I gotta tell you, four months away from here was…difficult.”
“I can imagine.”
“Yeah, well snark as you will, but without Babylon life had very very little meaning.” He sighed. But then, perking up, Jake continued, “But now look, the place is packed.” Glancing at the crowd around them as if to confirm, “And let me tell you it is amazing how many people are tryin’ to get in here tonight and many of them are…now get this….straights.”
“Nooo?“ Justin said.
“Believe it,” Jake said, “I’d heard awhile back that there been some kind of straight-flight outta Pittsburgh, but this makes a lie of that, don’t it? Fucking fabulous, really.”
“It really is,” Justin murmured mostly to the bead-curtained doorway that led inside. But the doorway’s only answer to his again rising anxiety was the sound of pounding bassline rhythms and the vision of flash-twirling colored lights. He stood looking in, not moving, hesitating still, but this time it was Jake who saved him.
“Don’t worry, Justin, there’s nothin’ to worry about. Really. Nothing like that’s ever gonna happen here again, I swear. Look, okay look, I promised Brian and now I’m promising you, you believe me, don‘t you?” Jake gave him a gentle push from behind.
Which caused him to do a little spin back toward Jake, his hands thrown out in mock-defeat. “Okay, okay,” Justin said. “I’m goin’, I’m goin’, see me go?” He felt Jake watching him as he disappeared through the doorway and into Babylon come alive. Stopping just inside that bead-curtained doorway, safe within Brian’s meticulously rewoven state-of-the-art cocoon, he felt, he saw, he breathed in their beautiful, beautiful world come alive once more..
Glittering confetti floated and twirled down from the high and darkened ceiling, and just as it touched lightly on the club’s patrons, it touched him too. Lights shimmered; smells overwhelmed him until he finally found him, when he finally found Brian high up on a dance platform and then time slowed. It nearly stopped as his awareness became so narrow, so focused that everyone else just faded away into so much ambiance surrounding him. He found he breathed in time to the swaying of his hips, unhurried and deliberate, as Brian moved, dancing on his pedestal high above the floor. He was encircled by in a tarnished yellow light and Justin gasped from some place deep within remembering, how could he ever have forgotten? just how beautiful Brian really was.
Justin watched as a red-haired boy climbed up behind Brian and, wrapping his arms around him, moving in time to Brian’s body, the boy was in his bliss, the serene look on his face saying it all. Brian held the boy’s arms across his chest, the boy clinging to his back until eventually it was time for him to go. Knowing that this very same scenario had been going on all night, Justin moved on, moving as a shadow on the edges of the celebrating crowd, all fear forgotten. The beat went on as he moved on, leaning here and there for a while watching always as the pattern of Brian with someone new repeated and repeated, again and again. Watching, waiting patiently as the game played on.
Up the stairs and along the three-sided catwalk, he continued his quest down its length, first one side, than the second, than the third, always in the shadows, never in the light, Justin’s pulse kept time to the never-ending rhythm and his eyes never left Brian as time after time would be seducers tried to stake their claim and as time after time they were refused. Brian gave a little, just so much and when they wanted more, when they whispered around his ear words they hoped would win him, he would let them go.
The Brian of five years ago would have just told them all to ‘fuck-off’. No wait….actually, the Brian of five years ago would’ve fucked three tight sweet asses by now and had his dick sucked twice, but Justin knew that that hadn’t been happening, that this Brian was changed. None of the club boys had been wounded by Brain, but none had been taken to the backroom either and, changed man or not, Justin still couldn’t help but wondered why.
Then Michael joined him up on that platform. Reaching down to help him up, Brian danced differently, more real, facing him, his arms lying easily across Michael’s shoulders, their foreheads touching. For one song, for two and into a third they danced until finally Michael whispered into Brian’s ear and Brian smiled. Then Brian whispered soft to him words Michael had heard before. Justin knew he had because of the way Michael laughed. Giving him a sweet kiss, Michael jumped down, moving back into Ben’s arms, becoming once more a part of the crowd.
Switching focus, occasionally watching their friends for seconds at a time, still each time he refocused back, Justin half-expected to find Brian gone. But each time he didn’t and that was just so fucking weird because changed or not, the man still had his needs.
Yet Justin waited. He watched and he waited, waiting for just the right moment, for just the right song to thumpa-thump its way out of the brand new state-of-the-art sound system and when just that right song finally filed the club, pulsing off of every surface and directly into every heart, he knew his time had come. Moving from shadow into the light, all he had to do now was stake his claim as the voice of Heather Small sang, “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” surrounded him. He made his way down the stairs to the floor, stopping just on the edge of the crowd so he could gauge his way through what had become the epitome of club-goers gone wild. Everyone sweaty and horny, drunk and charged. Everyone knowing the end of this first night was near.
It was closing time and the tradition Brian had started before the horrible-night remained because some things just needed to. Especially like how when the club boys saw him, they moved aside for him knowing that he was the one Brian had been waiting for all along. That he was the young King Arthur come to pull Excalibur from its stone, to stake his claim, to complete his quest, the only one of them, at least for this night, who could.
Climbing up behind Brian, making sure he wasn’t seen by him, he wrapped strong arms around him and Brian let him, his arms caught tight across Brian’s chest, almost but not quite like he had with all the others and now it was their hips that swayed together side to side. Now it was their breathing that timed with each other’s and now they were the ones who were connected in every way as they moved, as they breathed, as they danced together high above the floor.
“Ahh, feels so good, so good,” Brian sighed, as his head dipped back onto Justin’s shoulder, his eyes closed. “Oh, and by the way, what the fuck took you so long? I was just about to find some--”
“The fuck you say. You did not know it was me, since you didn’t even know I was here.”
“Yeah, well, what was it you said on the phone last night? Oh yes, I remember. That you had, and I quote, the worst case of the flu ever known to man. Let’s just say your little acting job wasn’t all that…convincing. I had my doubts.”
“I was perfection and you know it. You so believed me.”
“Like hell I did,” Brian said, chuckling.
“Like hell you didn’t.” But, when Brian turned in his arms, grabbing him, holding him tight against him, kissing him hard and just a little desperate, he knew the reality of Brian’s uncertainty because after all, didn’t he understand all the textures and nuances of Brian’s insecurities intimately? Brian had believed the worst that he wasn’t coming so that now Brian’s relief that he actually had come was something that could be smelled and tasted and touched.
“Plus, Jake might have mentioned something to Michael who might have mentioned something to…. Well, need I say more?”
“So unfair, like a conspiracy or something! But anyway, sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you. I actually was sick, just not as--”
“Shit and I’ve kissed that mouth. If I get some vile disease, I swear I’ll--”
“What, huh? You’ll what? Fuck me into oblivion because, if that’s the case, then--”
“And anyway, what makes you think I was worried?”
“Not a thing, Brian. Not a thing because you never worry about me, do you?” Justin said, kissing gentle along Brian’s throat.
“No need,” Brian murmured. “As I have obviously raised you well, you can take care of yourself just fine.”
“Yeah well, perhaps, but remember, no one takes care of me the way you do.”
“And don’t we both know it.” Brian chuckled as he dipped his cheek to Justin’s neck, sighing, going quiet until the song ended.
When it did, when the club lights began flashing on and off, on and off, everyone slowly, reluctantly stopped dancing, all of them vaguely dazed and noticeably pissed-off at having their stellar night come to an end. Nonetheless they began their mass exodus. Time to go home, there would always be tomorrow and until then, they always had each other. Jumping down and then, pulling him down from the platform, leaning back against it, Brian brought him up tight in his arms and, cupping the back of his head, with their mouths just a milli-inch apart, he said, “Got a place to stay for the night?”
Pulling back from him, grinning, Justin said, “I had thought I might stay with you. You know, at the loft?”
“Oh is that right? And so…what? Every time you come waltzing into town you think you’re going to find shelter in my bed, in my--”
“Something like that. Well, actually, yes, exactly like that. Will that be a problem for you? Because if it is--”
“No, seriously, if this is going to be--”
“Let’s go home, ‘humm?”
“Well, alright…fine. If you really think--”
“Justin, shut up.”
And genius that he was, he did.
It was the same, this Babylon and it wasn’t. Its patrons were all the same, but then again, they weren’t really either. This Babylon was newer with cutting-edge security; its patrons were wiser with the scars to prove it and each in their own way, would carry on as best they could.
I look into the window of my mind
Reflections of the fears I know I've left behind
I step out of the ordinary
I can feel my soul ascending
I am on my way
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same