Comfort and Joy


The corvette, great car though it might be was definitely designed for California rather than Pittsburgh. Cruising Hollywood Boulevard on a warm summer evening with the top down - yes. Driving across Fort Bridge with a strong north easterly ready to snatch the car right off the road, and the tires slippy sliding on the mix of ice and slush that was the roadway - definitely a no.

The breakdown, just off the bridge left him frustrated, freezing and looking forward to a towing bill as well as the repair costs. Happy Christmas!

He managed to finally find a taxi and tumbled into it, vowing never again to leave the loft without his overcoat and gloves, no matter how good the heater in the car was.

Brian was tired and exasperated. It was four days before Christmas. For the last two weeks he'd struggled manfully to keep his sanity as the rest of the world had tried to overwhelm him with Christmas cheer. He'd fought off Deb's suggestion that maybe it would be nice to have dinner for everyone at the loft on Christmas Eve; he'd resisted all efforts to persuade him that the loft would be better for a little Christmas decoration, even ignoring attempts to appeal to him on Gus' behalf; he'd evaded attempts from Lindz to get him to go shopping for Gus' Christmas present and had picked something out online which was to be delivered tomorrow; he'd succumbed to the expectation that there would be some sort of function at Vangard but all he had to do was put in an appearance, then he could get out of there. In other words, he'd managed to successfully avoid just about all of the demands made in the name of the season of goodwill.

There were a few things he was resigned to. Christmas dinner at Deb's was a tradition that he wasn't sure that he could avoid - she'd just track him down and it wasn't worth the effort. And a visit to the Munchers' was a must do since he had to see his son. Perversely, although his cynicism made him view the holiday as purely a sales event, he didn't want his son to grow up feeling that way about it, and if that meant that he had to visit and make nice for a couple of hours, then so be it.

But those things aside, he was free of it.

Christmas was always bad, but this year ...

Last year, Justin had been in the loft with him although the tensions that had led Justin to finally walk away from him with the fiddler were already evident. He'd refused to buy a tree, refused to go with Justin to visit Jennifer and Molly, and had dropped him on Jen's doorstep on Christmas Eve to make his own way home on Boxing Day. Justin had said nothing, but Brian had felt, tasted his disappointment like bile in his throat. In defence, he'd resorted to sarcasm as always, demanding to know if Justin had pictured them sending out personalized greeting cards with a picture of the two of them fucking. Justin had simply shrugged and turned away. Brian had left Deb's early, her harsh strictures rasping at his mind, and had gone home and spent the night alone, for some reason not wanting even to get drunk or get laid, just wanting to sleep until the holiday was over.

Brian's mind flinched away from that as one would flinch at any touch to an open wound. That had been last year. It was in the past. Too late. Too bad. Too fucking over.

This year ... this year, he had the car, and his partnership and of course he had work.

And work was busy - Gods! but it was busy. Aside from the usual drive to launch something new in the New Year which seemed to affect all too many companies, one of their best clients had suddenly decided they wanted a new campaign to launch their sunglasses to the ski crowd. Those ads also had to be ready to go in the New Year, and they still hadn't been finalized. That had to be done in time for a meeting tomorrow, if those cretins at the agency had actually managed to get the boards done the way he wanted.

This morning he'd had to drive clear across town for a breakfast meeting with another anxious client, and once he got back he had to have the Mighty Mints material ready to get to the client this afternoon. Then he could concentrate on the Eyetronics account for tomorrow, and then ... well, some time he'd finally bump into Christmas and while everyone else ate themselves into a stupor, he might have a chance to rest, or at least to catch up.

Whatever ... there'd be no time to wallow, that was for sure. And if there was, if there were times when he felt to cool open spaces of the loft as cold and lonely wastelands, well, there were always his carefully honed pain management techniques. He'd just have to find time for some good old drink, drugs and down and dirty sex.

He pulled himself out of the taxi and wearily made his way to the building. On the pavement, a group of carol singers serenaded passersby, their red bucket jingling occasionally as someone gave a thought to the hungry or the homeless and tossed in their spare change. The idiocy of standing singing in the sleet and snow to collect nickels and dimes never ceased to amaze him. There were easier and more effective ways to raise funds.

"Tidings of co-omfort and joy, Comfort and joy," the singers warbled, "O-oh ti-idings of co-omfort and joy."

Yeah, right, his weary mind sneered, knowing that in this Christmas season there would be little of either comfort or joy in his life, no matter how it might, on the surface, appear otherwise.

He made his way to his office to be told that the materials he needed had not yet appeared. Cynthia volunteered to chase them down but he decided that a visit to the dilatory art department might be just what he needed.

"Is there any way that I can help speed things up?" he asked silkily, his voice like a well honed dagger, "Salary cut, pink slip?"

Promises of better performance, that Brian only half heard and then, “Brian, this is Justin Taylor, our new intern.”

Only half believing it he stared mesmerised as the young man responded to the introduction.

It was all he had needed to turn a bad day to Hell. What the fuck was He doing here?

"I had no idea our former relationship was such a problem for you."

Caught! Caught like a mouse in a very well disguised trap.

What the Hell was He up to? What did He want? If Brian hadn’t known better, he might have thought …
Escaping from those questions to Babylon only raised more questions. Or answers Brian wasn't sure he was ready to consider. He'd learned long ago the perils presented by false hope.




The next night he drank alone in a strange bar trying to push from his mind the memory of a firm young mouth on his. He'd told the kid to get some balls, and Justin had reacted. But then he'd left. So now Brian was avoiding Woody's and Babylon and the Diner, in case Justin was there. Or in case he wasn't. And damned if he was going to sit at home wondering if the little shit would ring.

Of course, he wasn't going to ring Justin, that was for sure. The kid had fucking left him - left him standing in the middle of Babylon, left him standing today in the middle of his office. Fucked if he was going to run after him. No. No way.

It was up to Justin. He wasn't going to hang out at Babylon or Woody's like some loser, hoping against hope for the sight of a familiar fair head.




But now it was Christmas Eve. Brian had escaped from the office party early and since then he'd been busy. Now he had to get home, there was a lot to do. He'd rung Lindz this morning to ask if maybe she and Mel would like to bring Gus by the loft tonight for a while and he needed to have the place ready before they got there. Then the gang were going to drop in later. Well, not Ted, who was still in rehab, but Mikey and Ben and Deb and Vic. The gang. And Justin. Justin.

He flicked out his cell and pressed the speed dial.



"How's it going?"

"Okay. I've got most of the stuff on my list. How about you?"

"It's covered. Where are you?"

"I'm in the damned carpark with a trolley load of stuff. Where are you?"

"On my way. Later."


Later. Past all reason, beyond all expectation there was now a 'later'.

As he climbed out of the car in the supermarket lot he heard the carol once more.

"Ti-idings of co-omfort and joy, Comfort and joy, o-oh ti-idings of co-omfort and joy."

He shook his head and left his helper to pack the car alone for a moment, sauntering casually by the singers and dropping a few notes in their bucket. If they were going to stand out in the damned snow it might as well be worth their while.




Three hours later the loft echoed with the laughter of his son and shrieks of "Daddy, help!". Gus was running as fast as his small legs would carry him from the big bad bear - alias Justin, pursuing him on all fours, giving blood curdling growls as he crawled across the floor, swiping at Gus with fingers curled into pretend bear claws.

Gus ran on wobbly legs to the safety of his father's side, clutching at Brian's knees as Justin came gambolling after him. Brian snatched his son up and held him high out of the bear's reach. Gus wrapped his arms around Brian's neck in a strangling hug and Brian felt his heart turn over.

He looked down to where Justin, exhausted by the chase, had collapsed on the floor at his feet. Cautiously, Brian lifted his foot and used it to rub Justin's tummy, pretending to squish him.

Gus squealed in delight.

"Bad bear!" he admonished, "Bad, bad bear."

"Shall we pay the bad bear back?" Brian asked him.

Gus nodded enthusiastically, so Brian put him down and together they tackled the bear, tickling him into submission till Justin, laughing, begged them to stop.

His punishment was cut short by the arrival of Michael, Ben and Emmett.

Lindz opened the door to their knock and they walked in to the sight of a laughing Brian kneeling beside Justin who was sprawled on his back with Gus sitting on his chest. Gus' voice floated to them, "And if you not a good bear Santa won't bing you any toys. Will he, Daddy?"

"That's right, Sonnyboy. Santas only brings toys to good boys and bears."

"And Daddies," Gus assured him, clambering off Justin and into his father's lap.

Brian regarded him for a moment with guarded eyes, nibbling at one thumb nail, but his son's wide eyed joy and excitement drew forth his own rare smile.

"And Daddies," he agreed.

Justin sat up and unobtrusively ran one hand up his back. Brian turned his head slightly to meet his eyes, and his smile became impossibly more tender, more open.

His friends looked at each other for a moment, then looked away, none of them wanting to break in on this rare moment.

Gus saw the others then and jumped up excitedly, running to them, anxious to tell them about how he'd been chased by a bad naughty bear, but his Daddy had saved him and now the bear was going to be good and get lots of toys from Father Christmas. Just like him and his Daddy. Listening to Gus, they tried to pretend that they didn't see the soft kiss exchanged between Brian and his restored lover.

Part of Michael wanted to cry out a warning to Brian, to remind him that Justin had betrayed him before and might again, but in the face of his friend's obvious happiness, he found himself unable to say anything. Ben had told him that he had to stay out of it, to let Brian decide for himself what he needed, and Michael promised himself that he was going to do that. If Brian had a chance to be happy with Justin then he had to let him have that chance.




Later that night Brian lay in the darkened loft, lit for once, not by the lights over his bed, but by the soft glow of the Christmas tree he'd bought to please his son At his side, Justin slept quietly, worn out by the rush and bustle of their last minute party, and the heat of the passion that had been unleashed as soon as the last of the guests had left. His head rested on Brian's shoulder, and his arm had wound its way round Brian's waist as he fell deeper into sleep.

Secure in that embrace, Brian's thoughts turned towards to the next day. Tomorrow was Christmas Day and for the first time that seemed to have some meaning. His spirit, long fettered by the chains of loneliness and fear forged in the abusive hell that had been his childhood, seemed free all at once, ready to stretch towards new and healthy growth. Past all hope, beyond all belief, Justin had returned to him. Almost against his will, he seemed to have found new hope, a brighter future.

A future which held friendship and warmth and even love.

A future with Justin in it.

With the light of that future beckoning, the carol's words no longer seemed a mockery, now they seemed a promise in the process of fulfilment.

Tidings of co-omfort and joy.

Comfort and joy.

O-oh ti-idings of co-omfort and joy.

Merry Christmas everyone.
Happy Holidays to all.

December 19th 2003


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