Second Chances Ė Part I
Justin is sitting outside on the lawn near the art building on the PIFA campus. Itís a nice fall day. The sun is out. The sky is clear. Itís a good day to sit and enjoy being alive.
Lying back he closed his eyes to concentrate on how good the warm sun felt on his face.
"That porcelain skin of yours will fry in seconds hope you have sunscreen." A familiar voice teased.
Justin sat up quickly squinting to look up at Ethan.
"Iím not Ďthatí white." Justin found his voice being a little defensive and harsher than he really wanted it to be, but Ethan had startled him. Justin instantly felt a stab of fear and that pissed him off.
"I was only teasing."
"You startled me thatís all."
"Can we talk?" Ethan asked as he sat down next to Justin making sure to not sit close enough to invade Justinís personal space. He didnít want him to make him feel uncomfortable.
"Iíve got class in fifteen minutes." Justin was hedged.
"I know. I didnít mean right now, later. Anywhere you feel comfortable." Ethan tried to sound sincere. God he didnít want Justin to be angry with him. He wanted to get past the mistake and show him that he could be trusted and Ďití would never happen again. Just like he had promised over and over again within seconds of his transgression.
"Please. You promised me the night you left that it wasnít over between us."
Ethan's pleading tone made Justin feel pangs of guilt.
"I know what I said." The defensive tone was back.
"Did you mean it or was it just to placate me until you could get away?"
"No. I meant it. Itís just that everything is so mixed up in my head right now. I need time to sort it out." Justin didnít really want his relationship with Ethan to end. He felt obligated to give them a real chance. Especially since Brian had made it clear that his concern for him was only of a platonic nature. That he liked his life back the way it was. It was Debís insistence that Brian loved him that was turning his emotional life into something resembling a Shakespeare comedy.
"Then meet me at Pageoís for dinner tonight. Lotís of people you donít have to worry."
"Iím not worried and you canít afford that place. We could meet at that burger place you like."
"I can afford it and I want to celebrate with you." Ethanís face lit up his smile wider than Justin had ever seen.
"You won? Holy shit! You won."
Ethan nodded ecstatically. Justin involuntarily threw his arms around him.
"You sound surprised? I told you Iíd win, so will you join me?"
"Absolutely! Iím so happy for you. When did you find out?"
"This morning. The Ďofficialí awards presentation is Saturday night. Youíll come, right?"
"Iíll be there."
"Hey, youíd better get to class."
"Oh. Yeah Mr. Deener actually marks points off for tardiness. Heís so fucking anal."
"Tonight then. Reservations are at 7:00. I can pick you up."
"On what your bicycle?" Justin laughed.
"Nope. My new car. Well itís new to me. Where do I pick you up?"
"Uh...Iím not sure."
"How about I meet you here in the parking lot?" Ethan noted Justin's nervousness and didn't want to push.
"Itís a date. Enjoy class sweetheart." Ethan leaned in for a kiss Justin took a step back.
"No need to apologize Justin. I understand."
"See you tonight."
Justin ran off to class. Ethan watched him until he entered the building.
Brian is sitting at the bar knocking back his third double Jim Beam.
Michael bounced in and sat down next to him with a shit-eating grin on his face. Brian ignored him and ordered another drink.
"Well?" Michael finally asks when it became apparent Brian wasnít going to start the conversation.
"Well...what?" Brianís speech is slurred; his mannerisms reflected the amount of alcohol he had consumed in the last 30 minutes.
"Where is he?"
"Michael Iím not in the mood to play 20 fucking questions."
"Justin? Where is he?"
"How should I know? Heís living with Ďyourí mother; ask her."
"She said he had a date tonight and wouldnít tell her with who."
"Good for him. Iím glad to see heís not going to let that shit with the musician get to him."
"I thought maybe...."
"That we both realized how much we couldnít live without each other and fell back into each others arms confessing our undying love?"
"Poor old Mikey. You still believe in all that romantic bullshit?"
"Why not? Romance is nice. Besides my mom was sure you two were back together. She said you were all cozy on the couch the other night watching a movie."
"Your mom needs to take off her rainbow colored glasses. Weíre just friends now, thatís all."
"Then why are you half-way through a bottle of whiskey...again?"
"Fuck off Mikey. Iíve had a rough week at work. Vance is turning the agency into a drive thru advertising service. He canned five more employees today and refuses to hire another ad exec because our profit margin isnít fucking high enough. Do you know how many accounts I personally have to take care of on a weekly basis?"
"Guess. You wanted to play 20 questions." Brian threw back his newly poured drink then motioned the bartender for a refill.
Brian shakes his head.
Brian points upward with his index finger.
"When I was with Ryder I used to handle an average of 10-15 accounts a week."
"No wonder youíre never around anymore. Canít you stop him? Youíre his partner."
"Partner in name only. He still holds the controlling share of the agency. Iím paid well for a fucking workhorse and the son-of-a-bitch never lets me forget it."
Brian takes out a vial and snorts a measure of white powder in each nostril as Michael looks on disapprovingly.
"Do you even know how fucked-up your getting?"
"Yes. And itís none of your goddamn business. Go home to the professor."
"Heís got a late class and youíll need someone to haul your tweaked out ass home."
"Go away Mikey. Iím not going to take the blame for you fucking up this relationship."
Brian slid off his stool in search of the nightís entertainment. He zeroed in on a hot guy, then headed in the tricks direction only to be stopped by an overly concerned Mikey.
"Youíve got to stop this. One of these days, in the not too distant future, this shit is going catch up with you." Michael grabbed the vial from Brianís hand to make a point of his statement.
Brian leaned in close to Michaelís face.
"Stop trying to look after me, you have Ben to look after now."
Brian made a grab for the vial as Michael shoved it down the front of his pants.
"Like you donít think Iíll go after it? Or maybe thatís exactly what you want me to do." Brianís mood turns hostile. Michael knows his best friend isnít going to play nice anymore tonight.
"Donít be an asshole. Let me take you home."
As quick as a big cat can pounce, Brian was on Michael. Pulling him into a rough hug he then smashed his mouth against Michaelís as he reached down the front of his pants. With his hand on the back of Michaelís neck, Brian whispered into his ear.
"Come on Mikey let me finish that hand job. Maybe then youíll wise up and stay the Ďfuckí away from me!"
Michael shoved Brian away. Brian held up the vial and smiled broadly.
"Youíll never make me hate you forever Brian."
"So just hate me for tonight and go home."
Brian slipped the vial into the pocket of his jeans and headed towards the trick.
Pageoís a semi-upscale Italian restaurant where nice casual clothes are the norm.
Justin and Ethan sit at a corner table. A strolling violinist comes up to their table. With an air of high superiority Ethan waves him away.
"They hire the dregs at these places." The irony of the scene is not lost on either of them. Nor was the comment lost on the strolling violinist. The man promptly quit playing and stormed into the kitchen.
"Ethan, not everyone can be a musical genius, and I doubt that anyone except you can tell difference." It was rare that Ethanís arrogance bothered him. He felt that Ethanís supercilious (thanks Daphne) attitude was, for the most part, well earned. Yet when it hurt someoneís feelings it was his duty to let him know he was stepping over that thin line into the realm of being an overbearing asshole.
"Youíre right. I get so full of myself sometimes. Iíll make it right."
Ethan took out a $50 from his wallet, wrote something on a napkin and followed the ego-bruised violinist into the kitchen. After a few minutes Ethan and the violinist emerged, both smiling. The guy shook Ethanís hand, said thanks and returned to serenading the patrons of the restaurant.
"There, I made nice. Gave him a few pointers and the name of good teacher. Better?"
"You didnít have to do that all that. An apology would have sufficed."
"No, I needed to make it right. Saying ĎIím sorryí doesnít really mean shit unless you can prove you mean it."
"I guess, but you need to save your money. Itís going to be a long winter."
"Are you kidding? The prize money was just the beginning. Itís just petty cash to get me by until my tour starts. Then I hit the big time."
Watching Ethan bask in the glow of his win reminded Justin of Leonardo Dicaprioís performance as the preening arrogant King Louis in ĎThe Man in The Iron Mask.í Justin shook the image from his head. Ethan had earned the right to gloat. Justin had to give him that.
"When does the tour start?"
"November for the holiday concert circuit."
"Only a month. Youíll be practicing 24/7 then, huh?"
"Well not all 24 hours of everyday. Iíll make time for us."
"Iíd like that, but I donít want you to take up any of the time you need to prepare."
Ethan reached over and took Justinís hand. "Come back. Stay with me until the tour starts."
"I canít. Itís better this way...for me and for you."
"No itís not. I need my beautiful muse. You help me concentrate and knowing youíll be there after a long days practice is so calming for me. Let me prove to you that Iím truly sorry for what happened."
"I know youíre sorry and I accept that. Itís just..."
"Him. He wants you back." Justin could see a bright green flash in Ethanís eyes as he spoke.
"Let me finish."
Ethanís posture stiffened as he waited for the ax to fall.
"I need to be on my own. That doesnít mean I want to stop seeing you, being with you. It means I need to get a place of my own. You understand that right?"
Okay referring to Brian constantly as Ďhimí was getting annoying, Justin thought. He wanted to say something about it, but then he decided to keep his emotions in check. "Iím going to be totally honest with you. Something I know I should have been all along to both of you."
"Wait, I know this drill. Youíre going to tell me that you and Brian have decided to be friends and if I canít deal with that then I can take a leap."
"Itís no drill Ethan. Brian cares about me and I care about him. Thatís the way it is and probably always will be. You donít know what happened between us so donít act like you do. Yes. He told me that our relationship Ďnowí is at best platonic. I need the security that offers me. I also need the attention and affection you offer me. This isnít about him or you getting me."
"Then what is it about?"
"I had hoped it was about building a relationship with you. If you are constantly going to be threatened by my connection to Brian we canít build anything. Iím giving you a second chance Ethan. Take it or leave it. One more thing." Justin intensified his gaze and leaned in motioning for Ethan to follow suit. " Iím not some pussy faggot whoíll sit back and take shit. Let me spell this out so we both know exactly where I stand. If you ever verbally abuse me again...I walk. If you ever even attempt to physically abuse me again...youíre fucked. Understood?"
Brow beaten Ethan averted his eyes downward and nods. Feeling that his message was heard loud and clear Justin lifted Ethanís chin and pulled him into a kiss.
Michael and Ben are in bed. Ben is kissing and caressing his lover. Michaelís mind is still back at Woodyís and on...who else?
"I really hate him sometimes. Fifteen years and itís the same old bullshit. It never changes. One minute he needs me the next he tells me to fuck off."
"Iíve never heard him say that or anything derogatory directed at you Michael." Ben continued to bombard Michaelís body with kisses.
"Well, he doesnít come out and say the words, but I get the meaning. Heís always pushing me away when he should be..."
"Leaning on you for support?" Ben interjects.
"Yeah. He used to before..."
"Yeah...hey how do you do that?"
"Read your mind?"
"Am I that easy..."
"To read? Uh huh, and Iíve heard the same song over and over for the last two months."
"I should go home. Justin is coming by early to work on ĎRageí." Michael pushed away from Ben and got out of bed looking for his clothes.
"Donít play the victim here Michael. If youíre pissed about what I said then tell me, but donít follow in Brianís footsteps. You werenít raised that way. Your momís one of the best communicators I know."
"I thought I was communicating?"
"You were ranting. Itís not the same thing. What you...what we need to do is figure out what it is that is really pissing you off about Brian." Ben held out his arms and Michael climbed back into bed, letting Ben hold him.
"First off I have to say that Iím very proud of the way you handled the situation with Justin. The way youíve both worked out your problems and not let them stop you from working together."
Ben got a nice kiss for that.
"Second tell me what is really bothering you about the way Brian is behaving...without ranting about him being an asshole."
"Heís been acting a lot like he did when I first came home from Portland, when Justin was still in the hospital. Only then he got better when he was able to help Justin. Now, his new position as partner is really wearing on him and he wonít let anyone close. Lindsay said he hasnít even been to see Gus in a month."
"Does Brian ask about Justin?"
"Not really; he hints sometimes. The thing is Brianís never lost anyone before, not anyone he was close to anyway. He loved...loves Justin. I donít think he knows how to deal with the loss."
"Does Justin ask about Brian?"
"No. That was one of our rules. No discussing Brian."
"Do you think Justin still loves him?"
"In a way. Brian was his first love. Iím sure he still has deep feelings for him. And I donít blame him for moving on. Brian could never give him the kind of relationship he wants."
"Michael I need to say something and please donít get offended."
"Why would I? I like that weíre honest with each other."
"Because there is something incredibly negative about the way you talk about Brian regarding his emotional life."
"I donít understand."
"Not once since I met you have you ever given Brian the benefit of the doubt. You are always telling everyone that Brian will Ďneverí change or that he Ďcanítí or Ďwonítí do romance or monogamy. That Brian only thinks of himself."
"All those things are true."
"You donít want him to change?"
"Of course I do. He has changed since Justin came into his life. Iíve seen it. Fuck, I never thought he would do the relationship thing. And going to Justinís prom. I have to admit that really shocked me."
"Then stop giving him the out Michael. Help him change. I know heís helped you."
"I donít know. Brianís never...."
Ben placed his hand over Michaelís mouth.
"From now on the words, never, canít and wonít are not synonymous with Brian...okay?"
Michael nodded his head with Benís hand still placed over his mouth.
"Now letís work on a little positive us time and we can talk about how weíre going to help your best friend after."
Ben removes his hand and starts kissing his lover again.
"I love you."
"I love you too. Now shut up and letís get to some real communicating."
Brian is in his office working on his computer. He is frustrated with something on his screen and he buzzes Cynthia.
"Where the hell is Shaal? I asked for him 20 minutes ago!"
Instead of answering him on the intercom Cynthia came into his office and shut the door.
"Is it something another web tech can help you with?"
"No! Shaal is the designer on this amazing piece of techo wizardy! Why would I want to threaten to fire an innocent?" Brian turned in his chair to face his long-time assistant, his eye brows raised.
"Because, Oí partner in a large Pittsburgh ad agency, Shaal was one of the casualties of Vanceís firing melee last Friday."
"Why the Ďfuckí didnít you tell me that 20 minutes ago?!!!"
"I did!" Cynthia matched his yell managing not to allow her voice to slide into a shrieking arpeggio. She was proud of that, and that for the first time in the eight years sheíd worked for Brian Kinney, she had rendered him speechless.
He wanted to continue screaming, but his head was pounding, his stomach was beginning to burn...christ at this rate heíd have an ulcer before the Holiday advertising rush even started.
"Brian." Her voice suddenly filled with concern. She moved closer to his desk. "Your..." She stopped short when she saw that her boss noticed what she had.
Brian felt it before he saw it. Looking down at his desk he noticed the dark red spots appear on the papers lying there.
Cynthia handed him a box of kleenex then silently left the office.
Brian pulled out a handful of tissues and wiped the blood from his nose. Not bothering to try and clean the soiled papers he tossed them into the trash. He then stepped into his private bathroom and retrieved a vial of white powder from his pocket. Brian opened the vial closed his eyes as not to see his reflection in the mirror and dumped the contents down the drain. After a few moments he looked in the mirror and was disturbed by what he saw there. Dark circles under his eyes. His skin was dry and he was pale except for the blood stain above his upper lip. Brian turned on the cold water and splashed his face and dried it. Looking again in the mirror he made a mental note to tell Mikey to 'fuck off'. It was not catching up with him. He was in control.
Comic book store.
Michael and Justin are working on ĎRage.í Justin is studying a storyboard.
"Michael, I think the flashback idea is too private to reveal. Itís not a big secret that Brian is the model for ĎRageí."
"May be, but it gives some great background into why heís called ĎRageí." Michael did his best impression of someone trying to make a subtle point. Justin wasnít looking at him.
"We canít expose Brian like this. Itís not right and whatís with this new villain and his deadly bowling ball? Thatís just dumb."
"Okay, so not all my ideas are winners." Michael tried his impression again only this time he made sure Justin was looking at him.
"Michael are you trying to tell me something without breaking our Brian rule?"
Michael shrugs his shoulders. "It was just an idea. I didnít think weíd actually use it."
Justin looked closer at the storyboards Michael had drawn. The first one portrayed ĎRageí being confronted by a new villain, Big Jake, whose victims are teenage gay boys. He kills them by mowing them down with an enormous heat seeking bowling ball. The second storyboard was a flashback of a teenage boy named Byron Keats a.k.a. ĎRageí being treated cruelly by his drunken-abusive father. In the dialog bubbles, the man shouts the words worthless, unwanted and pussy. Justin noted the similarities in looks, manner and speech of Big Jake and Byronís abusive father. Justinís concentration was broken when his cell phone rings. Itís Ethan.
"Where are you I thought we were having dinner together?"
"I told you I had to work on ĎRageí."
"Canít you do that tomorrow?"
"We have a deadline and itís the only time I have between the diner and school. I promise tomorrow night."
"Canít, Iíve got interviews, a tux fitting and sound checks at the auditorium. I need you. Everythingís getting pretty crazy for me now Justin...please." Ethan sounded desperate.
Justin gave in. He found himself doing that a lot this week where Ethan was concerned. But it did feel good, actually, great to have someone need him so desperately "I need two more hours. Why donít we order in and Iíll give you one of my special massages?"
"Thank you dear heart...my muse. You know how much I love you?" The overemphasised sweetness in Ethan's voice made Justin blush when he noticed Michael trying not to look like he was eavesdropping.
"Yeah I know, me too." Justin always felt an odd twinge in his chest when Ethan proclaimed his love. That little voice inside his head always made him feel guilty for not repeating the words back, but he couldnít it didnít feel right, not yet anyway. One day maybe when he was really over Brian Kinney or at least until his feelings faded enough that he could truly feel love for Ethan.
Ethan hung up and Justin returned his attention to the storyboards. In his head he heard himself say ĎI love youí to Byron Keats. 'I've got to stop this.' Justin chastized himself.
"New beau already?" Michael bristled at him knowing full well the jab would probably cause Justin to get pissy and leave.
"Same one, asshole and asking that is breaking the rules."
"And you should know about breaking rules." Michaelís protectiveness took over his better judgment and he continued his stinging comments. "Iím glad you left Brian if Ďthatísí the kind of guy you think is so fucking great!"
Justin dropped the storyboards on the counter and closed the space between he and Michael in two incredibly long and quick strides. "My life is none of your Ďfuckingí business Michael!" They stared each other down until Justin was the first to break eye contact and act like the mature 19 year old he was. "Now do you want to work on getting this issue out or do we can this entire Ďcreativeí venture all together?"
"Fine. Your personal life Ďisí none of my business....sorry." Michael replied finally finding his own maturity.
"Apology accepted." Justin sat down at his computer and started working on the last few cells for the new issue. After a few moments of silence between them Justin decided that Michael, and more importantly, Brian via Michael deserved a few words of explanation about his return to seeing Ethan.
"Heís not a monster Michael, he made one mistake. He deserves a second chance."
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe Brian deserved a second chance?"
Michaelís words stung even more than the previous ones had. ĎDamn! He hated it when Michael was right.í Justin looked away. His eyes focused on the storyboards Michael had drawn and his heart squeezed in his chest. He silently packed up his things, grabbed the storyboards and headed to the door. "Iíll finish these at home and drop the disc off tomorrow." Michael didnít say word.
Brian is at Mel and Lindsayís for dinner.
Gus in his high chair being an obnoxious two-year old who doesnít want to eat. Mel is trying to get him to try lima beans and heís not going for it.
"No beanz....down! Down!" Gus yells as he shakes his head and bangs his spoon on his tray.
"Gus you are not getting down until you eat a little more and try the lima beans." Mel tries to keep her voice calm, but sheís as tired and cranky as Gus was.
"No!" The kid screamed even louder.
"Sweetie just try one and then you can get down. " Lindsay stepped in trying to be the sweet voice of reason.
"No! Down, down, down, down!" Gus was close to an all out tantrum. Brian watched his son push and pull against the restraints of his high chair. It was getting too much for him to handle.
"Gus I said you are not getting down until you finish your dinner!" Melanie lost her temper.
Melís yelling caused Brian to involuntarily grimace, then to take action. "Fuck! If he doesnít want to eat, donít make him."
Mel gave Brian a Ďstay the fuck out of it lookí
"Brian, Gus needs to realize that this is meal time and he has to eat." Lindsay could feel the tension growing from Gusí tantrum and tried to smooth it out with a calm demeanor and logic.
"Down!" Gusí was unrelenting and instinctively threw his arms out toward his dada, a.k.a. the good guy. "Dada down."
Brian looked at the desperate expression on his sonís face and acted. Mel stood aside, hands on hips, infuriated and defeated. She looked on as Brian released a whimpering Gus from his confines.
"Dada, the savior." Mel whispered to herself as Brian took Gus into the living room to play. Then she turned to Lindsay.
"I know, I know just donít blow up at him right now. Heís hurting."
"Bullshit! Heís being a dick as usual."
"Iíll talk to him, okay. Let it go this time."
"Fine. Iíll clean up, you talk to dada Ďnowí."
Lindsey entered the livingroom. Brian was on the floor playing with Gus. Brian is laughing, enjoying his son and Lindsay doesnít have the heart to confront him.
"He loves you, you know." Lindsay said as she sat on the couch behind the two boys.
"Thatís my sonnyboy."
"Well Gus too, but I was talking about..."
"Linds itís been a nice evening; please donít get into it. He made his choice."
"His choice was you if you werenít so...."
"Lindsay!" Brianís near shout startled Gus causing him to run to his mommy.
"Fine...fine okay." Lindsay shrugged her shoulders and gave Gus a protective hug.
"Sorry sonny boy. Dada didnít mean to scare you." Brian spoke softly and opened his arms. Gus returned to his lap. "So why arenít you busting my balls about overriding Melís parental authority?"
"Watching you with Gus I didnít have the heart. You know that rescuing Gus isnít helping us, but Iím willing to let it slide this time."
"You know where she stands Brian. Youíve always known. Please donít make it hard for us."
"I do understand that you two are the Ďrealí parental unit and Iím just a visitor."
Mel walked into the room just in time to hear Brianís admission.
"Thatís right Ďdadaí and visiting hours are over. Itís now bath time, then bedtime for Gus." Mel never one to hide the resentment she felt towards Brian and the all too important place he held in Ďherí little family unit.
"Mel, donít be mean."
Brian got up, picked up his son, gave him a hug and kiss then handed him to Mel.
"Sheís right Linds. Thanks for dinner."
Lindsay escorted Brian to the door. "Are you okay?"
"No, but it doesnít matter. Goodnight."
Lindsay watched Brian get into his jeep and leave. Bringing her hand to her cheek she realized that in all the years sheíd known him this was the first time heíd left without kissing her cheek.