NYC_Christmas 2002 to Christmas 2004
Stepping from the warmth of the taxicab, wind-buffeted by icy gusts ricocheting off of the lower Manhattan high-rises, tugging at his hat, lowering its brim over his forehead, turning up his collar, his trench coat already buttoned and belted, and tucking his leather-gloved hands deep into its wool-lined pockets, he hesitated, needing a little more time to ready himself, watching as his taxicab disappeared into the near yellow sea of heavy early morning traffic. Taking a long look at the building-crowded, people-clogged vista down Broadway, Brian Kinney then walked through the rotating glass doors of his final destination, the Harker Building, and quite possibly to a brand new life.
The modern designed building was home to one of New York’s youngest and most sought after advertising agencies, Alden, Harker, & Tennyson, Inc. (AH&T) and he hoped that this next interview would be his last, that the position of account executive, that he’d first seen advertised nearly a month ago in the New York Times, would finally be offered to him. On the cusp of possibly receiving an opportunity that would change his life forever, that would get him the hell out of Pittsburgh and to New York; he took his time, savoring the moment, admiring again the building’s light-infused and subtly done holiday-themed lobby with its large pine tree, pleasingly decorated in different sized and shaped ornaments in several metallic colors, taking center stage. Tiny twinkling white lights strung sparingly throughout added sparkle, while soft instrumental holiday music played from the overhead sound system. Beyond that, there was nothing to mark the holidays, the atmosphere very clean, very elegant. Very to his liking.
It had been this refined, this understated atmosphere that had partially convinced him that this was a company he could work for. The atmosphere of the other three agencies he’d interviewed with over the past two weeks had been anything but understated, each having done the holiday thing over the top, with decorations covering most every surface, with Santa hats adorning most every head, and with traditional holiday music floating down from above. Not so in the Harker Building, a reflection of AH&T’s design ethic. When he’d first walked into its lobby, the holiday preparations only just beginning, he’d sensed that here were people who thought the way he thought, who worked the way he worked. Simply, cleanly, classic. AH&T’s previous two interviews with him had shown him to be right, with the now completion of the holiday decoration being the icing on the cake.
All four agencies had fine reputations, but AH&T was where he felt he belonged.
Walking to the reception area, pausing briefly to again admire the deep green pine, he removed his gloves, he took off his hat, he straightened his collar and, after running a quick hand through his hair, he smiled his satisfaction at the tree’s design, at its implementation, at its effect in the space. He realized that this was a tree, scaled-down by half, that he wouldn’t mind having in his Pittsburgh loft. And even if it hadn’t even so much as had a garland within its four walls in the eight years he had lived there.
He leaned an elbow on the desk and he smiled as AH&T‘s receptionist, Meg said, “Good morning, Mr. Kinney. Pretty isn’t it? Especially now that it’s finally done,” indicating the pine with a tilt of her head. He smiled his agreement. “I don’t suppose you would know this, but the NYU Art Department, where Mr. Harker and Mr. Alden first met, actually, holds a holiday design competition each year, they have been for as long as I’ve been here anyway, seven, eight years at least, and every year the results are as wonderful as they are varied. Makes it such a joy to come to work This is the work a second year student, can you imagine? I think he’s done an amazing job, don‘t you?”
Moving his hand up then down following the line of the tree, Brian asked, “They don’t actually…”
“Oh no…no. Liability issues, of course.”
“We have one company that makes the ornaments and whatever else needs to be made, and another that does the actual installation with everything done to the winning student’s specifications. The students are here only to oversee the process, which usually takes…oh, I don‘t know…maybe a week. They only just finished up this past Friday.”
“Well, I would have to agree, the tree is beautiful. Very sophisticated for what...18, 19 year olds?”
“Something like that. Wait, I’ve got the paperwork here somewhere. Now where is that file? His name is…I don’t know Jake…Justin…something starting with a ‘J’.”
Her voice drifted away and he lost interest so, he started to fidget while Meg searched for some kid’s file gone missing that he didn’t actually care about. The guard standing nearby smiled, his raised eyebrow implying, ‘Women, what are ya gonna do?’ Smirking, Brian said, “Meg, if you could please--”
“Here it is. And look, I was right! Justin Taylor, 19”. She smiled, obviously pleased so, Brian did too. He smiled to show just how pleased he was…for her…for the kid, Justin, but especially for himself because, since Meg had finally remembered to hand him his Visitor’s Pass, he’d be able to get the hell on with his life. “Please, go right on up. As you know, they are expecting you.”
“Thanks, Meg. Keep a good thought.” The guard nodded as Brian passed him before stepping into the elevator and five minutes later, he was seated in an intimate conference room, across from two of the three partners in the firm where he hoped to be offered his future.
“Mr. Kinney,” Mr. Harker said, “we’ll be brief. First, Mr. Tennyson sends his apologies. He wanted to be here, but has been detained, I’m afraid. Still, since we have his full input, no problems because, you’re in Mr. Kinney. The position is yours. If you still want it.” And he grinned.
“Honestly,” Mr. Alden continued, “you’re one of the best, if not the best, interview we’ve had in a while, Mr. Kinney. We look forward to a long and profitable association. Are there any further questions because, otherwise, I think we’ve pretty much outlined all the necessary conditions and expectations in your previous interviews?”
“No…no, I don’t have any questions at the moment. As we discussed, I can start in two weeks and I will need some assistance finding temporary housing, but otherwise, just show me where to sign.”
“That we can do,” Mr. Harker said, “and, please, let me be the first to say welcome to New York, Mr. Kinney. We hope that both the big city and our little company will live up to your expectations.”
“Thank you, Mr. Harker, Mr. Alden. Of that I have no doubt. Please tell Mr. Tennyson thank you also.”
“We will,” Mr. Alden said. “And in two weeks you can also tell him yourself. Now, please look over the contract. If everything is to your satisfaction, sign on the dotted line. Also, if you have the time, perhaps we could do an early lunch.”
“Perfect,” Brian said skimming over the document he’d been handed and, finding everything exactly as he expected, he took a deep breath and he signed on the dotted line.
From his hotel room later that night, Brian emailed his two-week resignation to the Ryder Agency, his first and only employer since graduating from Penn State in 1993, with, because he’d learned all he could from them, because he’d given them his very best over the past decade, no regrets. He was just 31 and in his heart of hearts, he knew he’d made it. He moved before selling his loft, a place he could never have imagined leaving when he’d first bought it, when he’d first renovated it, making it his first real home, much more of a home then where he’d grown-up. Yet soon enough he did. He sold his modern-designed, Italian-furnished fuck-pad, taking with him only a few pieces of furnishings, one painting of a seated man, only a few of his toys. A new city meant a new beginning and there would be plenty of beautiful things in New York to replace what he was leaving behind.
For the first few months, he returned regularly to Pittsburgh, but slowly, inevitably, his visits became less frequent, then hardly at all, more for special occasions then for catching up with old friends. Eventually his visits would almost completely stop, but all that would come later when he finally realized that there really wasn’t any reason for going back, when he realized that his family had become meaningless, when he realized that his friends had found their way forward without him, understanding that they no longer had much to say to each other anymore. Within a year or two, they will have all settled down, to marriage, to kids, and to all that that entails
But not him.
Because the one thing he did take with him was his lifestyle, his way of being that he’d so meticulously crafted for himself in Pittsburgh’s gay district of Liberty Avenue. The only concession he made to his improved status, his expanded responsibilities, his higher position was how he now played his game of hunter and hunted. Now he chose his prey with more caution, with more attention to possible consequences, but the game played on. When in New York, he didn’t frequent clubs like Babylon, its world once his home away from home, his refuge since he’d faked his first ID at 18. It had been within its walls, on its dance floor, in its backroom, that he’d learned the rules of the game that he’d made so completely his own over the past decade.
But, despite having believed all his life that he would never live past thirty, he had and despite always holding deep-seated fears that he would never be a success, he actually was right on its cusp. Now he had things, both tangible and important, to lose so, concessions were made. Mr. Alden, Mr. Harker, and Mr. Tennyson, otherwise known as Peter, Jason and Paul, took him to a very private, far more selective hunting ground and he fit right in. With his innate beauty and elegance, his impeccable style, obvious intelligence, Irish-charm, and, maybe most importantly, with his aura of having led a kind of outlaw life, he quickly made a reputation for himself as a quality lover with no strings attached. For him, there would no longer be come-stained backrooms, no longer any quick fucks behind the locked door of a bathroom stall, no longer any alley-hidden bathhouses. Now his hunting ground was the penthouses of the movers & shakers of Manhattan and of the world. Now he was a beautiful man among the beautiful men who held positions of power and responsibility.
And among them, he thrived.
His first year in New York and he was a success. Just one year and he felt like he’d never lived anywhere else. Standing in front of the Harker Building, one year almost to the day of accepting his position with AH&T, dusting the snow from his coat, shaking it from his hat, he entered and was pleased to find that a large tree was already being installed in the center of the glass-framed lobby. Watching for a moment, listening to the holiday music coming from overhead, as the four-man crew stabilized the blue-silver fir, he remembered clearly the beautiful pine from the year before. He noticed then, a small group of young men and women clustered around an older man on the far side of the tree, obviously a teacher with his students.
One young woman though stood apart, closer to him than the rest and noticing him, she offered him a shy smile before returning her gaze to the tree. Moving closer, Brian said, “I’ll bet you know how this competition thing works, don‘t you?” Turning to him again, looking at him, questioning him for just a second, she then nodded. “It’s just that the NYU connection was briefly mentioned to me when I first started working here this time last year, but I would like to know more. Would you mind?”
“Sure, of course,” she said, ducking her eyes briefly because, he realized, she was a little nervous at his attention toward her. But with her apparent enthusiasm for the topic helping to fortify her, she launched into what she knew. “Well, see, Professor Carlson,” she directed his attention toward the older man, “he divides us into three teams, all of us are in his graphic design class, usually like seven or eight to a team, you know, just depending, and then, each of us does a 3-D concept, a model, and then, one’s chosen to represent each group--”
“By Carlson or by you guys?” Brian said.
“By us guys, each group choosing the concept they like the best and then, those three designs are submitted to Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Harker and Mr. Alden for their final approval.” She hesitated, then she asked, “Can I tell you something kinda cool?”
“I’d like to think so.”
“Okay, seriously, this year they chose my design, my concept, can you believe it? Once it’s done, this…all of this…will be mine. Will look very good in my portfolio, I have to imagine.” She waved her hand mid-air as if stroking the tree from side to side. “Wow! Right?”
“Knowing AH&T, I can only assume yours was the best.”
“I don’t know, man, I really don’t. I was so sure they would go with Justin’s. Again.”
“Justin, I remember that name. From last year, right?”
“Yeah. And that was one beautiful tree, wasn’t it?”
“It was. This Justin, he’s involved again this year?”
“Yeah, Carlson likes to maintain the same teams for usually three, but sometimes for even four years, kind of like a long-term learning process. This is my fourth year, was my last big chance and damned if I didn’t pull it off. Oh, and actually, if you’ll glance discretely to our right, you’ll see Justin, the blond with his, just naturally and not unreasonably jealous, boyfriend, Stephen, at his side.”
Follow her line of sight, he noticed the two boys standing slightly apart from the rest. “His boyfriend, huh?”
“Yeah. That…bother you?”
“No need to get defensive. Doesn’t bother me in the least.”
“Well good, that’s good then. So...anyway, I tell you no lie, you could’ve heart little-girl-hearts breaking all over the NYU Art Department when word got around about Justin’s ‘orientation’. Was sad really. Just so…so sad.”
“I imagine.” And for the first time really noticing him, just as Justin looked up, noticing him also through a fringe of still sun-bleached hair, smiling a soft half-smile, Brian found himself slightly thrown as just for a moment he was locked into bright blue eyes. But only for a moment because the boyfriend also glanced toward him and, turning back to Justin, he touched him gently on the arm, said something quietly to him, and they moved back to the group. They stood hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder and, for whatever reason, Brian found he was vaguely annoyed.
“Pretty isn’t he,” Elizabeth said.
“Sure, if you like the type.”
“Yeah, well, apparently a lot do, Justin has all the gay boys puppy-dogging around him. Why Stephen gets so jealous; it’d almost be funny if--”
“Miss Jenkins,” Professor Carlson’s voice cut straight over her words, startling her. “If you wouldn’t mind rejoining the class, it would be helpful to also have your input, given that this is your concept. Thank you, in advance, for your participation.”
“Elizabeth Jenkins,” she said, offering her hand. “And you are?”
“Brian. Brian Kinney.”
“I’m glad to have met you, Mr. Kinney.”
“As I am of you, Miss Jenkins.” His smile echoing hers.
“You work here, right? Well, we’ll be back all week, until my tree’s done so maybe…?”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” Brian said.
“Gotta go, see ya.” And Elizabeth was gone, back to her group where she was immediately surrounded by two girls both whispering to her about what he didn’t even want to know.
Throughout the day, whenever he thought of their brief encounter, he found himself smiling, which surprised him and even if who he actually thought about, more often than not, was the young man, Justin. But, as the day, as the week went by, he began to forget because as a rule, he was well into his first morning meeting when the NYU mini-bus dumped the artists-in-the-making off at the curb at 9:00am. Consequently, it wasn’t until Thursday, when leaving early for a luncheon meeting, that he saw them again, that he even remembered, hearing Elizabeth’s voice calling from across the room, that he’d promised to look for her.
Coming toward him, she looked concerned, as if she’d been watching for him to show up all week. So, he met her half way, even remembering her name. “Elizabeth, your tree is amazing,” And they picked up right where they’d left off.
“Good week so far?” she said.
“Good enough,” he said while both admiring her tree and also discreetly glancing around the room looking for, finding the kid, but without his side-kick, the jealous boyfriend. “Busy though. Christ. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.” Raising an eyebrow, making her giggle, he said, “You?”
“Well, y’know, pretty okay. Well, pretty great actually,” she said drawing the shape of her tree in the air before her.
“It is stunning.”
“Well, thank you,” Elizabeth grinned. “Also, just so you know, there has been a little controversy in…vol…ving…yooou.”
“Yes. Yes there has.”
“So, let me guess. Everyone’s wondering when you’re expecting our first child?”
“Shit no,” she yelped. “Jerk.” She laughed as she swatted at his arm. “Anyway, it seems Justin, you do remember Justin, don’t you? I’ll take that smirk as your way of saying ‘I sure as shit do, Elizabeth, blond kid, kind of cute…if you like the type,’ well anyway, apparently he asked about you. And no, I don’t know who he asked nor do I care. I just know that he did and, thing is, Stephen finds out and he gets all seriously pissy and they have this amazing fight, well, not with actual hitting or any--”
“Oh, too bad. I can’t tell you what it does for my aging ego when teenagers--”
“My mistake. When twenty year olds beat each other up over little ole--”
“You really are kind of a smart-ass, aren’t you? I mean, I barely know you and yet, I already do know that much about you. Nonetheless, all the blows were verbal and now they’re only just barely speaking. They may not last much longer, seriously. Maybe they wouldn’t have anyway so…no great loss, I suppose. Even if they are kinda cute together, still, I’m impressed. And they did give the rest of us a lot to talk about pretty much all day Tuesday and well into Wednesday.”
“That long and by this weekend they’ll either be all kissy-kissy--”
“And I care…why?”
“Elizabeth,” Brian said, tilting his head and following his direction, she quieted, seeing Justin coming toward them with, Brian noticed, that same slight smile as the first time he’d seen him.
Nodding toward Brian, Justin said, “Beth, Carlson told me to tell you to stop flirting and to get back to work. He says and I quote, ‘This ain’t no social club’ and that it would be nice if we could get this thing, meaning your tree, done sometime this week.” Having delivered his message, which sent Elizabeth on her way with a wave goodbye, Justin took her place at his side, obviously having something more to say. Something that was making him nervous so, Brian watched the men installing the tree, bidding his time. Then, Justin said, “Mr. Kinney, I guess I should introduce--”
“I know who you are. And you, obviously, also know who I am so, unless there’s some--”
“There is.” And when Justin looked up into his eyes, Brian realized that he really was just as beautiful as Elizabeth had said. Aware that he was mildly anxious to learn what Justin had to say, he smiled. “I can guess what Beth was telling you and I want you know that I’m sorry, I really had no right to go around asking about you.”
“You really didn’t.”
“I know and now, all I’ve done is mess everything up and why, y’know? I don’t even really know why. It‘s just that…honestly, I don‘t even know. It’s just that sometimes I don‘t think things through.” He sighed, frustrated.
Yet, he was fairly sure he did know why Justin was asking about him, why he was coming over to him now so, might as well see where this could lead. “Maybe you could tell me what--”
“Will you meet me?” Justin said, sudden and sharp. “Maybe…maybe at the Starbucks, the one around the corner. When you get off work? I’ll be done with classes by then, we could get--”
“Sure, why not/?” Brian said, because the unexpected directness of the kid had surprised and also pleased him. Looking around, still not finding the boyfriend, he agreed without too much thinking, just realizing that maybe he’d known all along how this would play out.
“I know you have to go so, what time?”
“Sure, that’ll be fine.” Turning, starting to walk away, Justin suddenly shifted back half-way, “I’ll understand if you don’t show, I will, but I really hope you do.” Turning, moving back toward his group, Justin once again became someone Brian could have easily mistaken for a high school kid.
What The Hell.
He was distracted all day, fluctuating between going -- pretty kid, sweet ass -- and not going – probably inexperienced, predictably a romantic, a clinger, probably a stalker. Between wanting and not wanting, but even with all his supposed internal turmoil, Brian knew that he’d be there, at the Harker Building’s local Starbucks, at 6pm, the idea of not going never really even being entertained. So it was that at 6:05 Brian found him, hunched over a text book, his Frappuccino already half gone, sitting at a corner table by the window. “Hope I haven‘t kept you waiting?” he said, and Justin looked up, greeting him with relieved eyes and a tentative smile, a shy smile that moved through him, putting him on his guard. A concern.
“Nah. I’ve only been here maybe half an hour or so.” And Justin looked back down to his book like maybe afraid of what might be seen in his eyes, like maybe not trusting himself to play it cool.
Brian understood because hadn’t he been a little like Justin once? But not in a very long time. Now he knew how to keep the need, the desire, the ache hidden, how to protect himself by hiding his vulnerability. But not Justin. Not yet anyway.
After ordering, he took the empty chair across from Justin at the corner table by the window and, for Brian anyway, the hunt was on, slow and easy but with the objective clear. One amazing night with no strings attached spent showing this kid how the grow-ups played.
But, apparently having never before been asked to play with no apologies and no regrets, with no strings attached, when after an hour of seemingly friendly chit-chat, but with Brian nonetheless making his desires subtly understood, as Justin realized what his actually expectations were, realizing even more how different those expectations were from his own, he balked, totally and completely. When Brian finally asked, Justin said no.
Brian was pissed. He wanted and was being denied, and that just didn’t happen. On those rare occasions when who he wanted was unsure, he could always manage the guy so, not unnaturally, he felt he had been played. Even if he knew Justin really hadn’t, understanding full well that he didn’t have the ways or means to play anyone especially him, Brian still was pissed.
Simply, Justin wanted something both slower and more. Slower than fucking that very night and more than just once. Unfortunately for them both, that was all Brian had to give.
“Then…never mind.” Standing, getting ready to leave, Justin said, “I’m just gonna go. This has been a waste of time. For both of us. I don’t even know what I was thinking.”
“Try explaining it to me,” Brian said, grabbing Justin’s hand. Not quite ready to let it go, he pulled Justin back into his seat, holding him there. “Make me understand why I can’t have this night with you.”
“I don’t work that way and since that’s all you want--”
“Which isn’t enough--”
“No,” Justin said, his head down, his nervous fingers working the zipper on his hoodie, he then turned hurt yet resolved eyes toward Brian. “No, that isn’t enough.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“That’s not me and, like I said, I’m sorry.” Justin stood again, stuffing his book in his backpack and, hoisting it over his shoulder, drinking the last of his coffee, he said, “This was a bad idea.”
“If you think so.”
“I do. I never should have bothered you, but see, I needed to try and now I know that between what you want and what I want, there is no middle ground. You’ve made it perfectly clear what you want so, since you’ve been honest with me, I’m trying to be honest with you. I don’t know why, Brian, but I don’t do hookups, one-night stands, whatever. I don’t. And I especially don’t want just one night with you. I’m going.” Turning, he left without looking back.
Brian did nothing to stop him, didn’t so much as lift a finger to make him stay. It would be another half an hour and another e espressos before he finally decided to end his day, having come no closer to understanding what he felt or what he should do. If anything. Tomorrow, there would always be tomorrow, when they‘d finish Elizabeth’s tree.
But there wouldn’t be a tomorrow because, after an early morning off-site meeting, when he finally arrived at the Harker Building, hoping, expecting to find the little NYUers, what he found instead was a beautifully decorated, completely finished holiday-themed lobby. They were done, gone for the year and probably that was just as well since he had no idea what he would’ve said to Justin anyway. He knew he could look for him, could probably even find him, but he also knew he wouldn’t. Because while hunting was one thing, chasing was clearly another and was something Brian Kinney did not do. Ever. Especially when doing so involved chasing after some twenty-year old kid. No matter how pretty, no matter how tempting, no matter how desirable, Brian did not chase.
Time passed and as successful as his first year had been, Brian’s second was even more so. His AH&T client list grew and improved. He was given more responsibility, more chances to prove himself, to demonstrate his value to the company. His bosses, exhibiting their basically hands-off managerial style, sat back and watched knowing full well that they had made the right decision in hiring him. His campaigns always came in on-time and on-budget and to the complete satisfaction of everyone involved. He gathered around him a team of professionals: copywriters and editors, illustrators and photographers and graphic designers who exceeded expectations. He demanded their best, which they consistently gave him because Brain set the standard they all emulated.
During his second year, Brian also established a relationship, his first since college, only the second in his life and he was the one who ended it. After six perfect months and to the complete surprise of Thomas, the beautiful man he’d met seated next to each other at a table for ten, at an advertising awards banquet in the Grand Ballroom at the Radisson Martinique. Brian would end their association for no other reason than because he’d started to feel trapped. He wasn’t, of course. Thomas would never have done that to him. But that was the excuse Brian gave to convince Thomas, but mostly to convince himself and to neither’s satisfaction, that they had no future together.
Also, during his second year, he only flew to Pittsburgh twice and it was during the second of these increasingly infrequent visits, when going home for Thanksgiving, while at JFK’s Gate 14, that he found Justin again. And while not a religious man, Brian could only wonder at the inscrutable games the fates sometimes played.
Strangely, like the last time he’d seen him, Justin was hunched over a book, his carry-on tucked into the seat next to him, with his slightly darker, even longer blond hair blocking out the world around him. He was engrossed, oblivious, and Brian realized that this time was on him because it wouldn’t be hard to keep Justin from seeing him. Even if they were on the same flight, since the place was crowded with holiday travelers and since their on-board seats, especially when his was in first-class, were undoubtedly rows apart, it just wouldn’t be that hard to avoid him. But deciding on a different course of action, walking in front of him, Brian said, “This seat taken?” Satisfied at the annoyed look Justin shot him before realizing who he was, Brian chuckled.
“Oh my god, Brian. Whatthehell?” Justin straightened up in his seat and, closing his book, placing his carry-on between his legs, making room for him, he tucked his hair behind his ears before he grinned. “Pittsburgh, really? Are you going to Pittsburgh or--?”
“I am. To the great and glorious metropolis of Pittsburgh PA. For Thanksgiving.” Brian said, taking off his trench coat and sitting in the now-open seat, he dropped his bag on the floor in the space between them. “You?”
“Same. Very cool, you’re from Pittsburgh? Who knew?”
And so, they spent the 60 minute-long wait at JFK, the 90 minute-long flight --a kind fellow traveler, apparently in the holiday spirit, agreed to an exchange especially since doing so netted him Brian’s first class seat-- the 20 minute-long wait at Pittsburgh International’s baggage claim, and finally, an additional 30 minute-long shared cab ride, learning about each other. Realizing that they’d not only left the same city behind in search of something different, maybe even better, but that they also had some very basic things in common.
But not all things.
Like, when Brian learned that Justin had gone to St. James Academy. “Oh, so you were one of those preppy little assholes in the sexy uniforms, I bet you still--?”
“Bet you do.”
“Bet I don’t.” Justin smirked as he turned away, glancing down at his hands held in his lap.
Brian came in close, touching his lips to Justin‘s cheek. “Maybe you can wear it for me sometime. I’d like that.”
“You would, perv, but yeah, I don’t think so.” But Justin’s bright eyes and flushed skin told Brian a different story, that maybe, just maybe he would.
Or like how Justin learned a little about the way Brian been raised, but just a little about abuse and denial and indifference, but what little he learned had been enough, more than enough for now. Justin went quiet, watching out the cab’s window at the snow-softened landscape as they passed by airport parking lots, traffic-laden freeways, the quiet streets of Pittsburgh suburbs. Brian put an arm around Justin, pulling him into his side and he told him not to worry about the past, that he was sorry he’d said too much, and that all of that was mostly forgotten anyway. Brian could tell by the look in his eyes that Justin didn’t really believe him, but somehow that too was all right for now. Arriving at Justin’s parents’ house, a beautiful two-story in one of Pittsburgh’s better neighborhoods, leaving the cab, while scanning the well-maintained street of Justin’s childhood, Brian sighed, wondering what it would have been like to grow up in such a place.
“What?” Justin said.
“Nothing,” Brian said, refocusing on him. They stood at the back of the taxicab waiting while the driver got Justin’s bags. “So, listen, you mentioned that you do know Liberty Avenue, right?”
“Yeah, sure, like I said, I’ve been a couple of times. Couldn’t really get into any of the--”
“Ahhh, right. No fake ID.” Brian said, laughing when Justin scowled. “But now, you’re 21 so, meet me at Woody‘s Saturday night and we’ll take it from there? You won’t regret it, I promise.”
“Yeah, okay maybe. I can tell them,” glancing toward the house, “that I’m staying with Daphne. Remember I mentioned her?”
“The best friend. Right. So, meet me at 9pm. Good?”
“Yeah ,okay sure. Woody’s. 9pm.” Moving away, Justin stroked softly down his arm before grabbing his bags and walking toward the porch where a woman, undoubtedly his mother, had just opened the front door.
Brian watched as she put her arm around Justin, leading him into the house and, glancing back toward him, she offered him a slight smile. But Brian read into her smile her wondering, maybe even her worrying, about who he was and why Justin was sharing a cab with him. “Don’t worry mama, I’ll take care of your boy,” he murmured as he lowered himself into the backseat of the cab. He gave the drive his best friend, Michael’s, address and, glancing one last time toward the house, he was gone. Gone to another kind of Pittsburgh suburban neighborhood, one that had seen harder times than Justin’s, but the only place in Pittsburgh Brian still thought of as home.
Saturday, arriving at Woody’s a few minutes before 9pm, ordering, slowly savoring his first beer, Brian was content. At 9:30, downing his second beer, he was anxious. At 10:00, slamming back his third, he was pissed. At 10:15, emerging from Babylon’s backroom, his dick expertly sucked by a sweet red-head, he was content once more. So what if the kid didn’t show, he’d just gotten one hell of a blow-job and life was good. He’d make this one night to remember even without the little fucker. No Problem.
Heading for the bar, ordering his first shot of Beam, he surveyed the terrain, taking in all the possibilities, as if by instinct, summing up the situation. Finally deciding that the view would be better from the catwalk, heading upstairs, taking up his usual position above all the rest, he shook off all of the soft touches and whispered invitations to dance or fuck because for now, he was fine just as he was.
Except that he wasn’t, not really. He still couldn’t believe that Justin had blown him off. More importantly, he couldn’t understand why he cared so much that some little twat had. That some little school boy just didn’t give a shit shouldn’t be a problem for him. But it was and that was what was pissing him off the most. The inscrutable fates sure as shit were.
Feeling a warm body behind him, moving into the gentle fingers stroking up into his hair, he sighed into the soft whispers like silk along his neck, the hard cock pushing against him, grinding into him and closing his eyes, tilting his head back, he just felt him. Half opening his eyes, taking one last look at the dance floor below, taking one last scan of all the possibilities available to him before taking this one to the backroom, Brian saw Justin.
Down below, he saw Justin looking panicked.
He was in the middle of the dance floor, right in the middle of a pulsating mass of horny men, turning and turning and turning and looking. Hands touched him, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just kept turning and turning and looking, Brian realized, for him. Desperately looking for him so, turning to the sweet young man behind him, he said, “Not now.” And kissing him quick and hard, before leaving him, he felt only some slight guilt when the boy moaned his disappointment, when he called after him, “Later. Maybe?” But Brian shook his head before going down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Approaching Justin from behind, patiently waiting for him to turn one last time, when Justin did, Brian suddenly found his arms full of an incredibly relieved young man murmuring, “Oh god Brian, I didn’t think I’d ever find you., I’m so sorry I’m late, there was--”
“Stop, Justin. It doesn’t matter, alright? We’re okay.” Brian held him close and Justin kissed him, a kiss deep and warm and full of need.
“Now, take me to the backroom,” Justin said, grinding his crotch into Brian’s thigh and Brian laughed. “No, don’t laugh, I want you--”
“Slow down. Christ! We have all night, so, back it up a little. Last time--”
“Time changes a man,” Justin smirked.
”Apparently. And if you want me to take you to the backroom, I have no problem with that. In fact, nothing would please me more, but first we dance, first we drink. And anyway, I have a place for us, a hotel--”
“For the night?”
“Yes. For the entire night so, no rush.” Putting his lips next to Justin’s ear, he said, “Because, trust me when I tell you that I am going to fuck you all night long. You understand what I’m telling you. I am…going to…fuck you…all…night…long.” Draping his arms over Justin‘s shoulders, his hands held together lightly behind his head, Brian lowered his own until their forehead’s touched, their eyes closed, alone in a room full of others, they needed no one but each other. “So for a while, just dance with me. Then, we play.”
“Yes,” Justin whispered, soft against his mouth, Then, resting his arms around Brian’s hips, running his hands possessively along his lower back, over the slope of his ass, and along the inside of the waistband of his jeans, Justin brought their bodies even tighter together and they swayed to the music, both moving smooth and easy as if they’d been dancing together, in just this way, all their lives. Still, after a couple of more drinks, after a few more songs, after about forty-five minutes of Justin moving and rutting and pawing all over him, knowing he really couldn’t take much more, Brian said, “Justin, listen, why don’t we head over to the--”
“Backroom,” Justin said, dreamily, his head resting on Brian’s shoulder.
“Are you sure?” Bumping his shoulder up, making Justin look at him, he said again, “Be sure.”
“Back. Room,” he said, a little less dreamily, the words becoming a kind of chant, “Backroom. Backroom. Now, Brian. Now.” Words which passed down into him as an aching vibration, right down into Brian’s core.
Tucking a finger behind Justin’s belt buckle, leading him off the dance floor, moving him past the doorway that led toward the backroom, he maneuvered them through a dim-lit corridor lined with men in all stages of moaning and sucking, fucking and coming until at last they arrived at his planned destination, Justin breathless and in awe beside him. He pushed him hard up against the wall and grabbing a wrist, one in each hand, both held tight over Justin’s head, leaning in close, Brian said, “This what you want?”
“Yes,” Justin groaned. “Yes, please, Brian.” His eyes narrowed, went dark and sharp, every muscle tense, his legs shaking even when he commanded, “Now.”
He wouldn’t handle Justin the way he normally did backroom encounters. Normally, he liked his fucking hard and fast, wanting to take care of his tricks, but wanting even more to take care of himself, his needs primary. His partners were always satisfied, they were never left wanting, but he nonetheless liked to leave them quick, them trembling and just a little dazed, and with everyone happy.
And while that wasn’t all bad, with Justin, Brian gave more.
Even if he wouldn’t suck Justin, not here, that would come later when they were alone, he did give the regulars something they’d never really seen before, Brian Kinney as lover, taking Justin slowly, easing into him with a possessiveness that anyone watching envied. When Justin arched back into him, when he heard him moan his acceptance, soft and deep, with his eyes closed and his head thrown back, for the first time in his life Brian got a glimpse of why, for some men, all this was done in a different way. Thomas had shown him much about commitment. Maybe Justin would show him even more.
While his need, his lust, and his passion built, his words were murmured so that only Justin could hear, promises he knew Justin wanted to believe, but that he knew even more he wouldn’t be able to keep. And maybe that was okay. When they came nearly together, both covered in sweat, both trembling, the backroom’s patron’s breathed a mutual sigh of satisfaction, glancing around as if wondering if they should maybe all step outside for a shared cigarette. So, while everyone would ultimately leave satisfied, Brian and Justin would leave first, in a cab heading to the hotel where Brian had booked them a room for the night.
A night of scattered images, some intense, some filmy and just barely there, with one moment slipping easily into the next and the next until finally sleep claimed them, both worn-out and content in each other‘s arms.
When Brian woke up, a brush of gentle sunlight flitting across his still-closed eyes, he felt Justin gone from the bed, but he wasn’t concerned, assuming he was in the bathroom doing whatever. He even tried going back to sleep, but when the absence of him grew too long, Brian became alert. Getting up, finding, reading the note left on the table by the curtained window, he finally realized that he really was alone.
Don’t worry, I understand, I really do. I know who you are; how you need to live your life and I won’t get in your way.
I don’t want you to be afraid I’m going to turn into a stalker, following you around, trying to make this into something it’s not.
I won’t, I promise.
Thank you for the best night of my life. Thank you for caring enough to make me promises we both know you don’t really mean. Now I understand so, no apologies, no regrets.
I’ll never forget you, Brian, I won’t.
Brian sat at the table, note in hand and for the first time in a long time, he reconsidered how he’d been living his life. As morning turned to afternoon and afternoon to night, he sat at the table by the window watching as the light faded, only to finally die away over the Pittsburgh skyline and he tried to imagine if there might not be another way.
The Monday morning of his return from Pittsburgh, arriving bright and early, Brian found that another team, a completely different team of NYUers had arrived to begin AH&T’s 2014 design. What he was sure would be a stunning concept that seemingly wouldn’t involve Justin in any way.
Consequently, the following morning, a clear and crispy Tuesday, Brian stood hesitating outside of the NYU Art Department Building determined to find a different, maybe even a better kind of future. One that might just lie on the other side of its impressive doors, one that he thought he’d glimpsed during a long night alone in a Pittsburgh hotel. Justin was somewhere in there and he fully intended to find him. His direction was clear. Taking his black leather gloves off, tucking them into his trench coat’s wool-lined pockets, turning down its collar, he removed his hat and, running a quick hand through his hair, Brian then jogged up the granite stairs that would, in all likelihood, take him in a new direction, with decisions and choices made that would take him on a completely different journey from the one he’d always been on.