When Your Past Catches Up to His Future
New York and Toronto_2012
It was late night still, not yet early morning, not yet 3am when they arrived home, a Friday night dance club kind of tired, taking the express elevator to the thirty-fifth floor. They could have taken the regular elevator, it was waiting for them with open doors, but they chose to wait, realizing that in their year and a half of using the express, they’d become spoiled, felt entitled and they were fine with that. Living in Manhattan, on Wall Street, in the Philippe Starck building, could do that to a person. And they were just fine with it.
The answering machine’s red light blinked in the dimness of nighttime light as they made their way into the living room. Brian instructed, “Messages,” listening as the familiar feminine voice filled the otherwise quiet space telling him that there were two, both from Lindsay Peterson, one left at 8pm, the other at 11:30pm. “Play.” He hovered over the machine, absently tapping a pencil, the eraser-soft rhythm of tap…tap tap -- tap…tap tap on the tabletop’s glass reflecting his anxiousness.
Already on his way down the hallway, Justin paused and, leaning against the wall, only half-seen in the nearly dark, he waited too.
“Brian? It Linds, call me when you get in, okay? We need to talk. Everyone’s fine. We…I…well…I just need to talk to you, so…call me, okay? Bye.”
“Just checking back, are you there? Uh…guess not. Well, call me…okay? Bye.”
Bathed, once more in silence, the only sound was the echo of her voice now inside both their minds.
“Huh.” Justin said, unsure. She sounded a little anxious like maybe there was something wrong, something that they maybe should worry about even if she was telling them not to. “Weird.” He half-smiled at the ‘ya’think?’ smirk Brian shot him from across the room.
“I’ll call back in the morning, can’t be too serious, she wasn’t hysterical. Go get your ass naked, I need someplace warm to put my dick.”
“Yeah, well,” Justin said, pushing off the wall, facing Brian, “maybe I need someplace warm to put my--”
“Yeah, well then maybe you should’ve brought home that pretty little red-head like--”
“The fuck you say. I keeping telling you, baaaaby, you’re the only pretty little--”
“Pretty…yes. Little…I really don’t think so. And, by the way, sarcasm really doesn’t become you. Something I believe I‘ve mentioned before and something I obviously hope to never mention again. Now…go. Ready yourself for me.”
Smirking, starting to move on, Justin hesitated, deciding instead to watch as Brian busied himself with getting the space ready for the night, turning on the alarm, rechecking the front door, adjusting this, jiggling that. It had become routine, this ritual, this constant and always done in just the same way, with just the same methodology. Others might find it a little neurotic, this vaguely obsessive need for order, but he found it comforting; Brian taking care of them in his own way. Turning finally, moving quietly down the hallway, fingers idly unbuttoning his shirt, when in their bedroom, when on their bed, he took off his shoes, his socks, his pants and lying on his back, his eyes closed while his hands wandered slowly, gently, over his body, he sighed while he spread his thighs. And he waited a while more.
A sound, sexy and warm filled the room. Brian, apparently satisfied that they were safe for the night, had turned on the built-in Bose sound system tuned to some smooth jazz sax music meant only for fucking and so, he felt more than heard him. He felt the heat of Brian as he entered the room, as he stood at the foot of the bed watching him play, one hand stroking along the inside of his thigh, fingernails dragging, the other drifting lightly through his pubic hair, fingertips stroking. He heard Brian moan just looking at him and that sound, that most beautiful of sounds, made his breath catch. “Gonna join me?”
“Yeah, in a minute. Right now, I just want to watch.”
Time flowed, became languid, disjointed, woven within itself, within their sighs and murmurs and whispered commands -- Put a finger inside, Justin, fuck yourself for me -- Kiss me now, Brian, please, com’ere and kiss me now -- and so, each did as he was told, with one woven time, the time of watching him, becoming another, the time of fucking him.
Straddling him, their bodies not touching; allowing him to continue his play, Brain kissed him full-mouthed and consuming, a kiss of want and of possession. “Now. Now, I want you in me now,” and arching up into him, his cock to Brian’s belly, his hands anchored tight against Brian’s hips, he pulled him, he shoved Brian down. “Fuck me. Now,” he growled, while biting along Brian’s throat, collarbone to jaw. “Brian, please. Now,” he begged. Brian slid slowly, deliberately down onto him, covering him, using his legs, his own knees to spread his knees even further apart. Reaching for a condom, kept in a nearby cut-crystal bowl, not bothering with lube, he’d already made sure Brian wouldn’t need any, once ready, he smiled and Brian moved inside him in one smooth stroke, deep and steady and complete. “Fuck.” And Brian soothed him with murmured words, words as barely-there secrets, confessions whispered around his ears, into his hair, and across his skin. Words he knew only he had ever heard or ever would.
“Feels so good inside you, so tight, god, you’re so fucking tight.
“You know you were making me crazy out on that fucking dance floor, don‘t you? making me fucking crazy, little shit.
“You make me ache sometimes, you make me hurt so much.
“You know I love you, don‘t you? don‘t you? you have to know I love you.”
Because even if they had been together, off and on, from beginning until now, for 12 years, Brian still had, would always have, Justin realized, trouble with love. But for him anyway, that wasn’t a problem anymore, hadn’t been for so long. “I know you do, I know it,” he breathed into Brian’s mouth, “I know you always have.”
They came hard and fast with no need for gentleness, with just an over-riding need for release, with the club, the dancing, the cab ride home, even the time in the elevator, all having been one long session of foreplay. And this time would only be the first time that night, just the first time this space would feel their sexual presence, their combined lust. There would be other opportunities for long, enduring moments later. For now, time vanished, lost all meaning, all coherence as they lay spent, so very quiet, and never more alive than in each other’s arms.
Morning arrived, not gradually but abruptly. The phone. Had to be Lindsay. Shit. Justin flinched, hearing when Brian banging his fingers against the now empty bowl while grabbing for the receiver. He glanced at the phone’s LCD-display for confirmation as Brian said, “Christ, woman, it’s 9am. It’s Saturday. Can’t this wait?” Rolling on his back, Brain held the phone between them so he would hear everything Lindsay said.
“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss you.”
"You didn’t.” His sigh was audible all the way to Toronto. “I’ll call back when we’re up.” Draping an arm protectively over his eyes, tensing when he heard his quiet chuckles, Brian softly snarled.
“Brian?” Lindsay said, trying again.
“Trust me when I tell you, Linds, you don’t want to do this right now. I haven’t even had my morning blow job, not to mention my--”
“Alright, alright, just call me as soon as you can, we have a…a…we have a situation.”
“Is it life threatening?”
“Byeee.” He punched the off-button, allowing the phone to slide from his hand in the general direction of the side table. “And where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
“I thought I’d go pee, got a problem with that?” Justin said, grabbing, shaking his dick in Brian’s direction while on his way to the bathroom.
Brian apparently didn’t have a problem with that or with anything else Justin wanted do to over the next two and a half hours. When their morning’s activities had, at last, been accomplished including, but not limited to, the actual taking in of food, of showering, of reading the newspaper while drinking their coffee, Brian did, in fact, call Lindsay back. A decision he would, shortly thereafter, reassess having made. If he’d had a choice, as they boarded the mid-afternoon flight out of Kennedy bound for Toronto, Brian might have done differently because they were now on their way to some unexpected and serious shit.
Apparently, as it’d been explained, Gus had done a research paper for geography class; a paper on the history of the city when and where he was born and while going through the internet archive of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the years around 2000, he’d found out, in the coverage surrounding Justin’s bashing, that not only had Brian been there, at his high school prom, but what Brian’s actual involvement had been. Lindsay had explained to them how all of Gus’s ‘facts’ had come from the media circus that had followed. Yes, Gus had known that Justin had been hurt, it was in doing his research that he learned how. Lindsay and Melanie had learned that on his own, in the quiet of his room, Gus had read all the interviews and had seen all the pictures. That without explanation from them now, he’d learned what had happened then from interviews with Justin’s doctor and other hospital personnel, from his teachers and peers at St. James, from the courts and city officials and from the paper’s editorial page. And, unfortunately, also from interviews with Brian’s and Justin’s friends and family.
Gus had read how his Grandma Jenn had told reporters that everything was all Brian’s fault, his fault that her son could have died. That Brian had no business being at a high school prom and that all the damaged that was done had happened because of him. Gus had read how Mr. Taylor had called his dad awful names, words that he’d had to google to learn what they even meant. And how Mr. Taylor had also said that Brian could have gotten Justin killed and that he was responsible for Justin being a disgrace to his family. Gus had read it all, over and over and over again until finally, he’d made himself sick, had started not eating well, not sleeping well, had started acting out. He’d tried to keep it to himself, Lindsay told them, had tried to just finish his research paper and be done with it, but all that had been said, all that he had read, had gotten to him, had made him question everything he’d thought he understand, took for granted, about those he loved. But especially about his father
They had noticed. Lindsay and Melanie had noticed his attitude going from bad to worse, finally realizing that he was off-their-radar so, they’d intervened, had sat him down and had ultimately gotten him to admit what was wrong. There’d been tears, there’d been screaming and accusations and denial. Then there’d been silence. For a week after they’d tried to work through the mess, Gus had just gone sullen and wordless on them. They tried, they’d even found and had read the same archived newspaper articles he had so they could remember clearly what they were up against, but finally they had to admit they were getting nowhere. Melanie especially had been very hard on Brain back then and when she’d tried to explain, when Gus had thrown her own words back at her, it had been a disaster.
Overall though, Lindsay told them, Melanie had done the better job of explaining everything else, working hard to get Gus to understand Brian’s side of things, but eventually, when there was no real change in his attitude she’d admitted defeat. All Gus said, his only response was, “He did cause it to happen, it’s all right there, right there in the paper. It was because of him that daddy Jus nearly got killed. My dad caused that to happen because he did something he shouldn’t have. End. Of. Story.”
So, that was why Lindsay had called, because they were needed. Lindsay called asking them to come to Toronto and so they did. But Brian made it plain, made them clearly understand that he would be able to stay only through Sunday evening, not even one day really since he had an exceedingly important meeting Monday morning, one that could not be postponed. One having to do with architects and architectural plans, permits and planning commissions and what&whoeverthefuckelse with everyone’s time limited and with everyone’s nerves already frayed after several months of negotiating.
Despite everything else, Brian sat calmly with his son sitting across from him, a child in complete shut-down mode. So Justin, because he still had trouble remembering most of the events of that time, and Lindsay and Melanie, because they wanted Gus to handle the situation his way, for the most part tried to stay out of it.
Brian, on the other hand, decided to jump right in with his usual patience and finesse. “I will answer questions you may have about the prom and what came after. That is all, Gus.”
Gus sat still, glancing up at him before looking down. Then, he shrugged.
Brain did his best to tell him what he thought Gus might need to know. Explaining to him about how he’d been able to help Justin cope with fears and nightmares, with pain and loss. About how he’d helped him to not give up when he’d thought he’d lost his ability to draw, about how he’d been able eventually to make things right with Jennifer and Molly, if not with Craig. And about how that night had changed him, changed Justin, changed Daphne, changed all of them forever.
“It happened a long time ago, Gus,” Brian said. “Now I’ve explained what I can. It’s done and over. We’ve all moved on.”
The talk had been going on for nearly an hour. Yet, despite his best efforts, with Gus in his purest form of Kinney-defense-mode where no words, no matter who’s, would sway him, Justin understood that Brian wasn’t getting anywhere with him and that, more importantly, Brian had reached his saturation point.
“Gus, remember, I asked your dad to come to my prom with me. He was--”
“But you were just a kid, Jus. Maybe you didn’t know any better but dad was a grownup. He should have. He should have.” And Gus went sullen again.
“What is your problem, Gus? It’s over.” Brian was matching Gus defensive- move by defensive-move, doing whatever he could to protect himself from his own child’s disapproval. Gus’s words echoing around the room, bouncing off the walls, “But it was your fault, dad, wasn’t it? Jus wouldn’t have been hurt if you hadn’t gone, you shouldn‘t’ve gone, dad. Why‘d you do that? It was your fault dad…it was your fault…it was your fault,” echoing over and again and again. Justin knew that, all things considered, Brian hated, just hated talking about anything having to do with the bashing or with Craig Taylor or with thatfuck Chris Hobbs or with the prejudicial Pittsburgh judicial system or about the stupidity of making over-the-top romantic gestures. Brian just fucking hated it and, not entirely unreasonably, he’d obviously come to the point in this discussion where he’d had enough.
So, as Gus’s questions became more Brian-centric instead of Brian&Justin-centric, Brian said, “Enough, I’m not doing this anymore.”
Brian stood and Justin went even tenser, understanding that for Brian it was either fight or flight and since he was apparently not succeeding with fight, Brian’s only option left was flight.
“I’m…I need to get out of here, I need some air.”
“Dad, come on…” Gus said, pleading, but at Brian’s pointed glare, he went quiet.
“Brian.” Justin stood also. “I’ll come with--”
“No, stay here. I won’t be long.” And he was gone, out the door and despite what Brian said, where he’d go and for how long he’d be gone, no one really knew.
Walking to Gus, kissing him on his forehead upturned to him, brushing the tears from his eyes, Justin said, “It’ll be alright.” Not expecting Gus to really believe him, not yet anyway, he did know that eventually it would be, that eventually everything had to be alright, but he couldn’t even begin to imagine when or how. Excusing himself, leaving through the French doors leading outside, he wandered through the moms’ backyard, finding, sitting in a comfortable chair at the edge of the garden where, for a while, with his arms wrapped around himself, he tried to remember more.
But he couldn’t remember very much, the memory loss from his brain injury still very much a part of him, but while listening to Brian, while listening to him describe what had happened, he would get flashes, like bits and pieces of a dream not quite remembered. The feeling of being held, of being lifted and of spinning, the flash of the lights and the swirling faces of the other kids, the sound of old-fashioned music and of a kiss. But was it really memory? Because he had heard about that night so many times, from Brian, from Daphne, from others who had been there that he felt, he wanted to believe, he really did remember it even if he knew he didn‘t. That night was still all just shadows and vague sensation, fractured and for the most part terrifying.
Except for Brian’s voice, that he did remember. He absolutely did remember the sound of Brian begging, ‘No no…no no please God no.’ Justin remembered Brian begging for what was happening not to be, for him not to be hurt, for him not to die. And while remembering that should be terrifying, it wasn’t because what he was remembering was the sound of Brian caring for him and whether or not he ever remembered anything else, he had that. And having that would have to be enough. So, for a while, Justin sat in the late Canadian afternoon sun remembering what he could and trying to remember what he feared he never would.
Brian did come back, eventually, and a kind of truce was declared that there would be no more discussion until the morning. The Kinney men stayed quiet during dinner and Justin, Lindsay and Melanie let them. After dinner Gus asked to go to his room, citing a lot of homework as he excused himself and everyone agreed. Not too much later, Brian did the same, telling them that he was tired and wanted to turn-in early, that there was some reading he needed to do for his Monday morning meeting and again, they told him that that was fine. The three left remained in the living room until late watching TV, feeling comfortable with each other. They stayed up late because soon enough it would be morning and this situation, they well knew, was far from settled, sensing, correctly as it would turn out, that this situation was only going to get much worse. They made a pact to do everything they could to help keep things under control, knowing, even as they made it, that theirs was a pact they’d never be able to keep.
Too soon, too soon morning came and it was the start of Round Two. Both Kinney men kept it civil until after breakfast, but not for much longer than that and, unfortunately, it was Brian who threw the first punch. “Gus, I get the feeling there’s more to this then Justin having been hurt. You’ve known more or less for a while what happened to him…” pausing, choosing not to talk over Justin’s snort, Brian then continued, “fine, what happened to US back then, and while I know you’ve learned about some things I’d rather you hadn’t yet, I also know that’s not all of it. So, what else? You think maybe you can explain to me why you’re making us so nervous?”
Gus scrunched further down into the couch, crossing his arms over his chest, his head tilted down, hemming and hawing until finally he said, “Nah, there’s nothin’ else. Nothin’ else at all.”
“Bullshit, Sonnyboy, out with it. I’m here now, so we talk now. I haven’t got all day.”
“Brian…” Lindsay said.
“What, Lindsay? I don’t so, let him tell--”
“You wanna see what else they said about you?” Gus said.
“You wanna see what they--?”
“We’ve gone over--”
“Not about Jus, not about you and Daddy Justin. Only about you? You wanna see?” Gus sat forward, confronting his father.
“Why don’t you just tell me?” Brian countered by leaning back in his chair.
“Al…right fine, you want me to, I will.” Hesitating only a moment, Gus said, “Other than the stuff they said about you and Jus, they also said…they said other things about you, personal things about you in…in the paper, they called you awful names. Some I didn’t even know, I had to look ‘em up.” He glanced quickly to Lindsay, not sure if he should actually repeat the words, but before she could answer him, apparently deciding not to on his own, he continued, “And they said stuff about how…about how you acted back then, about how you lived and about how you were. I…I don’t know, I don’t. I don’t understand how you could’ve been like that. I mean is it true what they say? Is it? Because, dad, how could you’ve treated people the way they say you did? How could you’ve acted like that, daddy? How” On the verge of tears, Gus pushed himself back into the couch, refusing to cry.
Apparently, Brian’s 12 year old son wanted him to explain himself. Wanted him to justify himself. Wanted him to give reasons why he’d lived his life the way he had. Because even if Brian had read, who hadn’t? what the Liberty Avenue rumor-mill had said about him back then, some of the worst of it from Debbie and his own mother and the rest of Brian’s ’family’, those who should have had his back, Justin also knew, even more importantly to the situation at hand, that Brian had decided a long time ago that no one would make him feel bad or would guilt him into making excuses or would force him to rationalize how he‘d lived his life when he was young. Especially, he knew, not Brian’s own kid
“That,” Brain said, leaning forward, looking Gus straight in the eye, “is none of your business. How I lived then, in fact, how I live now, is none of your business. Do I make myself clear?”
Before any of them could even begin to voice an opinion, Gus jumped up screaming, screaming at his father, “They called you a whore, daddy, they called you… and and…Justin’s dad called you a…a…” He faltered, but only for a second before some kind of uncontrollable need pushed him on. “Justin’s dad called you a pervert. A…a…child molester. The paper said--”
“Shut up, Gus,” Brian said, standing, towering over him. “Shut. Up. Now.” And Gus did, sitting back down. Brian turned to Justin. “We’re leaving, I’ll get our stuff.” Everyone watched as he quietly walked to their bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Returning shortly, carrying their bags, Brian took Justin’s hand, pulling him out of his chair and, they were gone.
Lindsay and Melanie spent the rest of their day trying to figure out what the hell had happened and where they should go from here. They wouldn’t reach any immediate conclusions.
Gus spent the rest of his day in his room, pretending to do his homework, but instead re-reading his hidden hard-copies of the newspaper articles and trying for the hundredth time to make sense of the difference between the man he knew as his dad and the man described in the paper as Brian Kinney. All he did was dig himself even deeper into a hole that he had no way, on his own, of ever getting out of.
Justin spent the rest of his day trying to smooth the way for Brian, attempting to keep him and the world around him from having to interact with each other too much. Something he’d once been pretty good at, but wasn’t any longer. Since Brian wasn’t the same hard-headed man he’d once been, he and the world had been getting along, both having come to a beneficial kind of mutual respect. So, Justin struggled to remember how this smoothing-of-the-way business had once worked, doing what he could to ease Brian’s journey home.
And Brian spent the rest of his day in complete, unmovable silence, finding that for him anyway, this supposed understanding he and the world had come to was illusion, without substance, devoid of merit. He found that his place, the part he played in the world no longer made much sense. And all because a 12 year old kid, needing a way to make sense of his father’s sorted youth, had asked one too many questions. ‘How could you have been like that, daddy? How?’ running around and around in Brian’s mind ad infinitum.
Their situation dragged on for far too long with no visible sign that any change was imminent. Gus made life difficult for the moms and Brian made life difficult for Justin and something needed to change as it’d become more and more obvious that the principal players could not be trusted to do what was needed. Gus was hurting, Brian was hurting and Justin realized that something had to give because stubborn, pig-headedness obviously ran in the Kinney DNA, along with a complete inability to communicate effectively. Having nothing to lose, he tried an end-run around Brian and went directly to Gus. Tactfully, or at least what he hoped would be considered tactfully, deciding to go with email; a way he and Gus had long used to keep in touch with each other anyway.
Initially, he simply talked, chatting about anything and nothing and all he got back from Gus was two or three word replies. All meaningless and easy and so, the closed door between them slowly inched open. As time went on, little by little, bit by bit, Gus opened the door further. He started to really talk. He started to question; trying to make sense of things he was too young to make sense of.
Because of who his father had been, because of how Brian had lived his life, and because of the decisions he’d made and the consequences of those decisions, Gus Abraham Marcus-Peterson would grow up sooner than most of his friends. He would understand things they didn’t and so, his world-view, the lens through which he regarded life, would be different, more expansive, more inclusive, more understanding, less judgmental. Most of his friends would be older, more mature, maybe even more ready when they found out that their parents were flawed, were damaged, had made some serious mistakes. That their parents had truly lived and, in so doing, had done some things that were outside of the rules, beyond convention, right on the edge. All that his friends would find out later, in some cases, much later. But not Gus.
And once that door had opened, Gus’s walls also started crumbling, but with an aching slowness Justin sometimes found hard to tolerate. Two, four, six weeks went by with only marginal change so Justin began to question himself, questioned what he was doing, the way he was doing it. Considering that maybe he should just be upfront since he disliked that he’d been going behind Brian’s back anyway. Imagining that Brian would be seriously pissed if he knew, that he would undoubtedly consider his meddling to be not unlike an act of treason. If his meddling worked, allowances would be made, but if not, well, Brian’s reaction certainly would not be good and realizing that had cost Justin far too many sleepless nights already with not that much actual progress to show for his fairly consistent sleep-deprived irritability.
Still, while life with him was becoming more livable, there remained an undercurrent of pain and confusion in Brian that Justin just couldn’t ease, could not reach. He felt more often that harsh edge in Brian when they fucked that he hadn’t had to cope with in a long time. But he realized also that all of his talking with Gus was helping him come to a better understand of what had happened to them back then as Gus’s questions became more insightful, more cutting through the layers and getting to the heart of things. That in trying to explain what had happened to him, Justin better understood himself why Brian had done what he’d done, why he had acted the way he had. Finding himself seriously amazed that he’d ever been able to get through all those walls that Brian had so dedicatedly built-up over so many years to protect himself. Justin became clearer about their past and surer of their future. It was the present that remained sketchy.
Over time, and especially after moving to New York, Brian had been telling him about his growing-up Kinney, even throwing in some good times mixed in with the mostly bad and most of what he’d learned had made him hurt, imagining a young Brian afraid and alone with no one to turn to, with nowhere to go. Michael’s house and his neighborhood library his only safe places. Still, when Gus wanted to know more of Brian’s story than he felt comfortable telling, Justin advised him to email Brian, telling him that his questions had become the kind he should ask his dad. No surprise that initially his advice fell on deaf ears. Gus couldn’t imagine doing that since things were still ‘so messed up’ and Justin understood. Giving Gus his time, remembering that everything-is-forever drama of being 12, seemed the way to go. He now was sure that one day things would be alright again so, he continued advising Gus to talk to Brian because he explained; patiently he explained that he and Gus had arrived at the part of Brian’s story where it was no longer his story to tell. He just kept telling him, ‘Talk to your dad, Gus, he’ll explain it to you.” Until Gus finally did
Altogether it took three months; but eventually Gus emailed Brian, telling him he had things he needed to know, asking his dad to talk to him. Of course Brian did, explaining as best he could, having thought long and hard over those same three months about how to handle what came next in his relationship with his son. Brian’s only question to Justin was a side-remark about his involvement since Gus, interestingly, seemed to somehow know a great deal more than he had only a short while ago. He shot him a ‘And your-point-is-Brian?’ look and Brian just grinned. But, when next they fucked, when he realized that a great deal of Brian’s new-found harsh edge was gone, Justin felt well-earned relief.
Ultimately things feel the way they should again even if only for a while because life is, if nothing else, ever changing especially with two Kinney men as a part of the narrative. The conversations between Gus and Brian last a lifetime and through these exchanges, a deep and unmovable respect of a son for his father is solidified. Eventually Gus not only understands Brian, he is proud to say that he is his son. And with Brian feeling just the same way.