All I Want For Christmas...Is You
Pic by Sabina
“Ben did it the year before last, so he’s out, besides, he wears his wedding band. You know what a disaster that caused the year Mr. Stevens saw John with Carol after he’d gone to the lunch with Tannis. She had a hell of a time explaining that they were separated.” Corinne looked up from the list of names that she was checking and cross-checking.
“Yeah, didn’t Ted say that Tannis’ dad grilled her on being a home-wrecker? Too funny!” Emmett grinned and elbowed Danny. A large group was sitting around the O’Keefe homestead’s large sunny kitchen in late December. It looked like they were planning one of their large fund-raising events…or a funeral. A casual observer would never guess that the subject of this intense planning session was actually in the room...more or less...lying prostrate on the floor, an icepack on her forehead, her thin, sweatpants clad legs twisted in some undoubtedly difficult yoga position that signified a higher level of peace and tranquility than most people ever dreamed of...that is, it would if the person in question weren’t suffering from a migraine.
Tannis was neither peaceful nor tranquil.
She was pissed off. Her usual state of being, but even more so in December. For in December, she had to go through her annual ordeal of humiliation, a tradition that she went through only because of her great love for...well, humankind. At the moment, however, as she listened to that portion of humankind represented in the O’Keefe kitchen, she tried to remember why she loved it so much.
“Why can’t Danny do it?” someone asked. A disembodied voice from within the refrigerator.
“Danny can’t do it because Danny has done it three times already,” Tannis intoned from the floor. “And that was pushing it. Daddy told me next time he sees the same man more than twice, he’ll be expecting an engagement ring. And with that hair, even Daddy will be able to remember Danny from the others. As it is, you brothers all look so much alike that it gets hard for me to convince Daddy that any O’Keefe is a different person.”
“She’s got a point, guys. I practically had to turn over dental records last time I went to prove I wasn’t John, that two-timing cad,” Danny grinned as he looked at a carrot before biting into it with relish. He had a thought and looked around at the others, his eyes gleaming. “What a shame Miguel can’t make it down from New York. He’s got fantastic teeth.”
“Funny, baby brother. If you can’t make yourself useful as an escort, be quiet. Though he’s got a point in one sense, guys. We need to broaden our base of candidates...we’re too incestuous, thinking only of our own little group. Who else is there?” Mary Pat O’Keefe bent over Corinne’s shoulder to look at the list.
“Too incestuous? How could that be, he asks the girl who has a million brothers.” Brian came into the room accompanied by Brandon and John, all three carrying racquetball gear.
“Brandon!” Eight voices shouted in unison, while Tannis moaned and flipped her icepack around in search of a cooler side.
Brandon smirked at the other two men as he raised an eyebrow in his supercilious way. “I always knew there would come a day when my natural good looks and superior sex appeal would be recognized,” he drawled lazily.
“You just didn’t know it would be among lesbians, did you, sport?” Brian finished for him, walking over to Danny and bending down to kiss him. Danny pulled him onto his lap so he could continue the kiss longer, while John walked over to see what the group was up to.
“Ah, the annual Tannis sacrifice? Sorry, Tan. Wish I could help but after last time, I guess I’m out. Brandon... you’ll help,” John ordered casually, as only a senior law partner can to a junior associate. Danny gleefully stuck his tongue out at Brandon from around Brian’s shoulder. Brian grabbed his chin and pulled it back to him.
“What’s up and how is it more important than paying attention to me?” Brian asked him as he cupped Danny’s face in his hands while he sat straddling his lap. “Come to mention it, not that I’m sure I want to know the answer to this, but why are there more munchers than usual in your Mama’s old house? Are you turning it into a Retirement Home for Lesbians? I thought that’s what the GLC already was?” Brian looked around in innocent inquiry. Danny buried his head in Brian’s shoulder to muffle his laughter but his sister Mary Pat still frowned at the pair of them.
“John, can’t you spank Danny or something? He’s been a pest all morning.” John obligingly smacked Danny’s leg as he walked over and crouched down by Tannis. He spoke to her in a low voice, patting her shoulder soothingly, surprising Brian that he even knew the acid tongued woman who made his life hell whenever she had the chance, much less that a hot, together guy like John would waste his time on her.
Thinking of his various past run-ins with Tannis, Brian decided to butt in on this little project that seemed to involve her. He smiled his most winning smile at Mary Pat.
“Why does Brandon have to do something involving a Tannis sacrifice? If you’re sacrificing Tannis, I would think I’d be your man.”
Ben started to answer but Mel, Mary Pat and Corinne drowned him out while Brandon moved quickly to cover Emmett’s mouth with his hand before the Honeycutt mouth could even get warmed up. Danny, who was quite capable of gaining Brian’s complete attention with the flick of his eyeslashes, even when Brian wasn’t on his lap, was about to enter the fray, but his brother cleared his throat significantly and Danny kept still. Perhaps it was the sight of Tannis curled up in a fetal ball that made him hold his tongue. Instead he looked speculatively at his lover.
“You know, I really think Brian would do a wonderful job at this little task,” Mel said, smiling sweetly.
John bent lower and spoke in her ear quietly so no one else could hear what he was saying. Brian saw what an effect the idea of his being the one to do whatever it was they needed doing was having on Tannis, and his own particular imp of devilry made him speak out again.
“Then I think it is the least I can do, ladies and what-have-yous, in the spirit of the season, to gladly help out such an upstanding, and floor-hugging member of the gay and lesbian, bi, transvestite, and trans-gendered, and transwhatever, community as our Ms. Tannis. So, what do you need me to do? Perform an exorcism? A bris? Ritual deflowering? Please God say it isn’t that.” Brian looked around the large gathering, until his gaze rested on John practically cradling the scarecrow thin woman on the floor. He shook his head in disgust. John’s face was an impassive mask but Brian sensed disapproval leveled at him. Why, he couldn’t imagine. He wasn’t the one making a fool of himself on the floor.
“You just have to go to lunch with Tannis and her Dad,” Danny said patiently. Brian twisted around to look at Danny’s expression but he should have know better than to expect to find anything there. Even if Danny were annoyed with him, he was too loyal to show it in front of a mixed crowd like this unless he was really pushed over the edge. Still, Brian sensed, rather than saw, irritation coming from his lover as well and he never reacted well to anything he perceived as rejection. He raised an eyebrow mockingly.
“That’s it? Just a lunch? So why is she carrying on like Linda Blair in The Exorcist? Is her dad like, Son of Sam or something?”
“I think that reaction is over you, big guy,” Em offered sympathetically. “Tannis, honey, would you like some tea? A nice herbal might do you some good.”
She wailed quietly into her hands.
“Make some coffee,” Mel recommended. “She does better with caffeine, she’s one of those people that is opposite of normal people.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” Brian muttered to Brandon who snickered.
Danny managed to smack both of them. He got up, hauled Brian up by both arms, and spoke to the others.
“Well, that’s settled. I’ll brief Brian on the lunch. Tannis....Tannis?”
Not getting any response Danny just spoke to her section of the floor. “Brian will make reservations for three at Antonio’s, since your father likes Italian food and Antonio will be very attentive as well as discreet. Two o’clock, the second Sunday in December, I think that’s the 14th. John, you calm her down. Em, you take care of getting Tannis ready for her lunch date. I’m counting on you.”
With one last worried look at the woman on the floor, Danny dragged Brian out of the back door of the kitchen. They maintained silence until they reached the townhouse, then Brian stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Danny looked at the closed bedroom door with a slightly raised eyebrow, but with a faint shrug, moved gracefully through the living room to his music room. Music would calm him down, and once Brian realized he hadn’t followed him into the bedroom to have a fight, he’d come looking for him, Danny reasoned.
Sure enough, about half an hour later, just as Danny was switching from piano to one of his many guitars, Brian padded into the room, still damp from a long, calming shower, shirtless, wearing just a faded pair of jeans. The guitar Danny was tuning, Brian noted, wasn’t one of his regular guitars, nor his treasured Spanish guitar, nor one of his expensive acoustic basses, but instead, was a very old, battered folk guitar.
Brian sat down on the comfortable sofa that was one of the few non-musical items in the room, and held out his hand in silent request to see the guitar. To his surprise, Danny actually paused for a moment before handing it over, something he normally only did with his most fragile instruments. Brian tried not to be offended as he carefully handled the old guitar.
He looked at his lover. “Dare I strum it or isn’t that permitted?”
Danny stretched out his legs and laid his head down on Brian’s shoulder. “I’m sorry...it’s a reflex...you can’t blame me for a reflex, can you?” He grinned boyishly. Brian knew there wasn’t much he wouldn’t forgive for the sake of that smile. “I got that guitar when I was just a kid...it was my very first one.”
He spoke softly, his hand running lightly over the scratched wood. Brian suddenly remembered Danny speaking of his first guitar and felt bad for his snide comment. “This is the guitar that Dusty gave you...the woman who died at Babylon...in the bombing.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah. She gave it to me one Christmas, actually. I’d worked really hard at the pub. I was young but there were always jobs at the pub. Money was tight because Dad had just bought his second one. Luke was away in the Marines and Matt and Mark were married with families and John was in law school, everyone was growing up. Well, I really wanted my own instrument, one I didn’t have to share, like I did the piano, you know? So I asked for a guitar for Christmas...not that I still believed in Santa Claus or anything, but I wasn’t quite to the age of not believing in parents coming through for you at Christmas either, you know?”
Danny looked up at Brian, and Brian smiled back at him ruefully. He knew that there were such parents even if he’d never had such a time in his life. Mikey had, even with just Debbie, he remembered. She’d work extra shifts for weeks, just to get the little guy some special toy that he’d forget he’d even asked for by the time Christmas rolled around. But Debbie, God love her, she would always get something special for Brian too, at least one thing. So, for him, Debbie had been Santa Claus for a few years, and the one to whom he’d confided a few secret wishes. Nothing big, but something that she might be able to swing on a waitress’ salary for her son’s best friend.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he nodded.
Danny’s green eyes softened and Brian had a sense that Danny saw more than Brian revealed. A warm hand left the scarred wood of the old guitar and closed around his fingers as the story continued.
“Well, anyway, I didn’t get a guitar from Santa under the tree. I got a new soccer ball, and cleats. And some weights...to help me build myself up, can you believe it?” Danny grinned crookedly at Brian. “I think my dad still harbored hopes of me having some incredible growth spurt that would send me up to O’Keefe size...you know, six foot four or five. And I would need muscles to carry that added frame around when it happened.”
“So your good fairy, or rather, not a fairy, but a lesbian,” Brian smiled apologetically for his snarkiness, it slipped out despite his best intentions, “brought you your very own, slightly used, guitar, on Boxing Day?”
Danny laughed, and, with his head against Brian’s chest, picked up his old guitar and started strumming it, coaxing sweet chords from the old instrument. “More or less, yes. Christmas night, there was a knock on the door and two friends of my sister Mary Pat’s came to visit. They were there to pick up Mary Pat to go caroling and somehow I was invited to go along. One of them had been friends with John, kind of an old girlfriend, so she kept Dad distracted talking about our Jack and how he was doing up at Penn, and how was Luke, you know how that kind of talk goes. She was very pretty, as John’s old girlfriends always were, so Dad was happy to chatter away with her, while Dusty found me where I’d been sulking....”
“You, sulking? I refuse to believe that!” Brian interjected.
“Stop, you’re going to miss the point of this whole story if you keep distracting me,” Danny complained. Brian thought that was an unfair charge from a man who was not only playing music to distract, but was rubbing his face along Brian’s chest, flicking his tongue out every so often to tease at his nipples. So much for distractions, Brian thought, taking a deep breath as yet another teasing touch by that nimble tongue made him shift in his pants.
“You got this guitar, which has great sentimental value....that is the point, right? And now you can put it down and I can go down on you.” Brian moved his hands to the waist of Danny’s pants. Time for decisive action, Brian thought...decisively.
Danny smiled seductively. He set his guitar down...but picked up a photo album.
Brian rolled his eyes. “This is not progress,” he told Danny, as he tried to take the book from his hands.
Danny fell backward, taking Brian with him. He stopped Brian, however, as the other man started to put the book on the floor next to them.
“Just humor me, Bri, and look at the couple on the fourth page or so. I’ll be busy taking off my shirt while you do that. Deal?”
Nodding his head, honestly perplexed at this point, Brian flipped to the fourth page, and looked at what appeared to be a prom picture of an O’Keefe male...John from the looks of him...and a stunning brunette. Brian narrowed his eyes. He looked over at Danny suspiciously then back at the picture.
“Is it a sister maybe?”
“Damn,” Brian whistled. “So then this is the Wicked Witch of Liberty Avenue before the house fell on her?” Danny swatted at his upper arm and Brian caught his hand, bringing it to his lips. His eyes met Danny’s over the knuckles of his fist, which Brian was kissing one by one. “When was this picture taken, like twenty years ago?” Brian murmured over the warm fist he was caressing with his mouth.
“About that, but that isn’t what makes the difference. Look at it, Bri! I mean, consider John, he looks pretty much the same. She’s just sixteen there, I admit, she’s really changed, but still, you knew it was her, didn’t you?”
“Fuck...being a lesbian sure as hell steals your looks!” Brian stared at the picture of Tannis and couldn’t believe how...unkind...the years had been to her. But again, as Danny had said, it wasn’t so much that she had aged as that she had changed. More than would seem possible.
“Okay...shoot. You’ve piqued my curiosity. What happened to change her from this to the creature I saw on your sister’s kitchen floor today?”
“Well, her father is mainly to blame for what you saw today,” Danny said reflectively. “He makes my Dad seem like Mr. Rogers when it comes to tolerance.”
Brian dropped Danny’s hand in his amazement. “Are you telling me that Tannis Stevens, poster girl for gay rights, lesbian liberation front woman, is in the closet with her own dad?”
Danny sat up and flipped Brian over onto his back so that Danny now straddled him, pinning his arms above his head, the photo album set aside. Brian wasn’t quite sure how to judge Danny’s mood so he waited for a clue. Something told him to play it by ear – and maybe to shelve the Tannis jokes for the time being, although who would have guessed Danny was friends with that dried up old shrew too, much less that the Adonis O’Keefe himself had dated her? Fuck, he wondered if John had actually...fucked Tannis? Brian thought he might be ill.
“What’s wrong?” Danny asked, concern in his deep voice.
“I just had a horrible thought,” Brian said, his voice strangled. “You’d better let me up, kiddo.”
Danny looked at him suspiciously but a second’s examination of Brian’s pale face had him rolling off him. “Can I help? Do you need me to call Jamie?”
“No...just give me a second....”
Brian sat up putting his head between his knees. Danny rubbed his back and Brian sat breathing deeply. After a moment, Danny’s eyes narrowed. He asked softly, “Bri, why did you get ill?”
“The thought of John and Tannis, man, it’s enough to turn anyone’s stom....” Brian found himself pushed to the floor. Danny stormed to the door of the room.
“Hey!” Brian called over to him, smirking slightly. “You’re the one who made me look at pictures of Tannis with normal males. Cross species copulating was bound to cross my mind and once it crossed my mind, the bad mental pictures just wouldn’t go away! It’s almost as bad as thinking of Mel with someone...ooow, my stomach...now I have both of them in my head!”
Danny leaned against the door, his shirt open, his low cut jeans unbuttoned. The image he presented was a sufficient antidote to any bad images Brian may have formed, but the stormy face turned toward Brian didn’t bode well for their evening.
“I was trying to get through that thick head of yours that Tannis is a person, a person with parent problems, just like the rest of us, some of us more than others.” He looked very pointedly at Brian, who sucked in his bottom lip but didn’t respond. Danny continued, “Tannis is my friend. I know she doesn’t like you and you don’t like her, but I also know that neither of you has ever given the other a chance. Instead of listening to what I had to tell you tonight, you’ve acted like the asshole Tannis always says you are. So, I won’t explain. I’m just going to tell you, like John was planning on telling Brandon, until you butted in, eager to do your part to participate in what you saw as Tannis’ humiliation. You will do this Brian, and you will do it well, or I will be so fucking mad at you, you won’t know what hit you.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Brian leaned back on his elbows, his legs spread invitingly. He smiled at Danny, still sure that this was all an act. How could Danny let Tannis of all people come between them?
Shaking his long hair back from his face impatiently, Danny strode back over toward Brian, who reached out his hand, expecting Danny to give him a hand up from where he’d been dropped to the floor. Instead, Danny walked around him and picked up the photo album and his old guitar and handed them to Brian, who accepted both rather mechanically.
“Here...take these and reflect on what I may have been trying to tell you. I’ll email you the particulars of where and when you’re to meet Tannis and her dad. His name is Miles Stevens. You should have a lot in common...he was in marketing, very successful.”
“Danny...where are you going? You aren’t sleeping here?” Brian hated sounding needy so he was pleased that his voice was calm, but on the inside he was panicking. If getting Danny calmed down about this required him to make nice with Tannis, he was in deep shit. If all he had to do was make nice with the father, he had some hope, but at the moment, he was clueless as to why Danny was even pissed off. Because he hated Tannis and Tannis hated him? That kind of thing never bothered Danny before, hell, half of Danny’s friends hated him. Brian felt on shaky ground suddenly and keeping his pride didn’t seem as important as trying to figure out the problem. But before he could rephrase his question, Danny was kneeling next to him. Warm arms were around him.
“Mo gra`, I have a wicked temper, forgive me,” Danny whispered in his ear. “It is almost Christmas and I am having tantrums like Briana, I am sleeping with you, nowhere else.” Brian brought his arms around Danny tightly; feeling himself exhale, he realized that he’d been holding his breath. God, what this man did to him.
“I’ll listen if you’ll give me a chance and tell me now,” Brian told him, pulling him down with him onto the floor.
“No, I need to go for a walk. Cool off. I’m not mad at you...well, I am but I’ll get over it.” Danny smiled ruefully as he kneeled over Brian, strong arms braced on either side of his head.
“Stay,” Brian whispered, running his hand down Danny’s bare chest. “Let me turn the fire on...I know you’re cold, even I can’t live without heat,” he teased. He paused his hand when he reached Danny’s fly, waiting for a sign to go on.
He didn’t receive it. Instead, Danny got up and walked over to turn on the gas fireplace. He looked back at Brian, still on the floor in front of the sofa.
“Maybe you should warm up a bit while you wait. I won’t be out late,” he suggested, no hint of double meaning in his voice but Brian got the message. Their eyes met for a long moment, then with a promise to be back, Danny was gone, leaving Brian alone with his thoughts
After being together for a couple of years, Brian and Danny were over the most obvious rough spots in their relationship, but found that they often banged heads over their basic personality differences. Danny was what Brian called a “do-gooder.” He didn’t just give to charities; he founded charities, for fuck’s sake. He didn’t just put up with those whack jobs at the Gay and Lesbian Center, he actually socialized with them. By choice. When Brian found that out, it almost ended their relationship. It was not only like finding out that Superman and Clark Kent were one and the same, he explained to John and Jamie, but that the Clark Kent personality dominated. They said they understood completely since they’d always known that about Danny. Jamie laughed that Danny was a nerd in a stud’s body. John pointed out that it was kind of like how Jamie was an idiot in a doctor’s white coat. The conversation had deteriorated from there.
Brian got up and poured himself a large glass of scotch, then settled back down in front of the fireplace with the photo album. There were several pictures of John and Mary Pat with various friends, a few of Mary Frances and Luke, even a couple of Angel and a very young looking Joey. Dusty was in a couple–much thinner than Brian remembered her being, but already with that look of peaceful wisdom that had always characterized her. She’d been one of the few of Lindsay’s muncher friends who’d gotten along with him. She’d always had a good word for everyone.
And Angel...damn, even as a kid she had sex appeal. You could see it then, that aura of hers. She was hot....and knew it. Mama Rose must have been distracted with other things not to see the trouble that one was headed for. She was dynamite in commercials, though, until she started to hit the drugs.
Brian leaned his head back until it hit the cushions behind him. The pictures of the others all foreshadowed the adults they grew up to be, he thought. Except for Tannis. There she was, with Mary Pat, linking arms and laughing. Doing some walk for one cause or another. Long tan legs in shorts, shirts rolled up to show tanned midriffs–two happy, healthy, pretty, young girls, dedicated to a cause. What made one decide to study nursing, oncology nursing at that, and have a balanced life of work, fun and family, while the other one became a bitter, ‘old before her time’ fanatic, chasing just as many away from her causes as she converted with her obsessiveness?
Brian shrugged. Danny thought he was too cynical and cold-hearted but he just didn’t get it. The Tannis’ of the world would never make sense to him. Why make yourself ugly and off-putting? Who was that helping? And why this charade of pretending to be something she’s not just to please her Dad? Fuck him if he doesn’t like her the way she is. What dad does like their homo kid?
Brian set the book aside, open to the page with the picture of a smiling John and Tannis at a long ago Snow Ball. As he stared into the fire, sipping his scotch, his eyes grew heavy.....
“Wake up, Sonny Boy...got some places to see, people to do.”
The over loud gruff voice was enough to cause cold chills even if the room didn’t seem to have dropped several degrees. The timer on the fireplace must have turned it off. Brian sat up with a start. What time was it? And where was Danny? He promised to come back to sleep with him!
“Aw, your little boyfriend’s not missing. You just have a few errands to run with your old man, so up and at ‘em, time’s a’wasting, and if there is one thing I can tell you a man doesn’t have to waste in this vale of tears we all live, or rather, lived in, it is time. So get up. Sonny Boy, and give the old man a hug.”
Brian rubbed his eyes. Not that it did any good. He knew what he was going to see when he lifted his head up and looked.
“I’ve got to give up drinking,” Brian said quietly.
His father laughed delightedly. “I thought you might say something like that. Although it seems like you’ve given up most things...no more of those crazy drugs of yours, no more smokes, good idea that, says the man who died of lung cancer, and no more of those bath houses...got a lot of guys around here because of those places, I could tell you some stories, well, never mind, you probably know them, don’t you, son? The stories, not necessarily the guys. But come on now, where’s my hug?”
Brian looked disbelievingly at Jack, who was looking relatively good for a man who’d died over five years earlier...not great, still kind of thin for him, but not horrible, as he had the last couple of weeks. Brian swallowed.
“Dad?” His voice shook.
“It’s all right, Sonny Boy, just a little posthumous visit, to help you out here. Like the old story goes...I know you know it, smart kid like you. How about that? Turns out Dickens knew what he was talking about...shoulda known, huh? Wouldn’t the Warden be surprised? She never cared for fiction. Nor for Dickens especially. Too much with the good will toward man stuff for her liking, I suspect.”
Brian grinned a conspiratorial grin with his father...well, with his what...ghost? He shook his head, trying to clear it, or wake himself up, but all that happened was he got a slight headache, as usual, from shaking his hung-over head. So, he did drink, and was now awake, because he never had a hangover in his dreams, and his dead father’s ghost was making jokes about his mother to him.
Go with it.
Brian got up and since Jack’s arms were open wide, he gave in gingerly to a hug...he was never big on hugs with anyone besides Danny. Shit, where was Danny?
“I could show you but he’s just a wee thing in the time I’m going to be showing you so not much value to my taking you. The next visitor will take you to see Danny. Let’s get cracking on my tour...theme is fathers...appropriate, huh?” Jack gave his belly laugh again, which wasn’t quite the same with his belly having lost a good bit of its ample proportions, but it was still a familiar sound, a Christmas sound to Brian, and one that he’d forgotten, lost in all the bitter memories.
“Hey Dad...” Brian finally spoke, as Jack took his arm to lead him somewhere. Jack turned to look at him, his ravaged face still showing vestiges of the handsome Kinney man he once had been.
“It’s good to see you again.” It was all Brian could get out, but it was enough. Jack grinned that cocky grin of his, and winked, and suddenly, he was Big Jack Kinney again, his young son’s hero.
“Come on, Sonny Boy, let’s get this show on the road,” he said.
Brian felt completely nauseous by the time they stopped moving – if he hadn’t decided to cut back on his drinking before, this would have clinched it. Not to mention his father’s smirking at him with what he’d come to think of as his patented smirk.
Not on your life, Sonny Boy, I’ve been making that face long before you had more than gums in your mouth.
A horrible thought occurred to Brian. Could the old man read thoughts in this state of being...or unbeing, whatever this was?
The answer is yes, and it is a state of grace, actually. Guess your mother being on her knees was good for something...it sure wasn’t what I would have liked it to be for...
Aw, Geez, Dad, so not going to go there, Brian firmly told the father eavesdropping in his brain, and immediately thought of Danny in a jockstrap to cleanse his mind of gross thoughts.
Aw, Geez, Brian, he could hear his father in his brain, and he had to smile. Looking around, he saw through a mist that they were in some bar...figures, he thought.
Just wait, Jack adjured him. The mist cleared and the noise of the bar started to come in louder. From the decorations, he could tell it was Christmas. Of course, Brian thought cynically, and received an elbow from his ghostly parent. Pay attention!
Following Jack, and assuming from his knowledge of English Lit that they were invisible, which was good since he was clad only in his 501's, Brian walked right through the chattering throng of holiday merrymakers, many of whom were well on their way to toasted. His attention was caught by a very large, handsome man holding court near the bar – Patrick O’Keefe, in the prime of life, instead of dead these past ten years or so. Damn, Brian had forgotten what charm the bastard had. Women and men hung on his every word.
“Aye, he was something, that Pat O’Keefe. Family man, faithful husband to his Rosie, never a harsh word to anyone. Foin example to us all, he were, to his dying day, wouldn’t you say?” Jack put on his own Irish brogue, his mouth tilted in an ironic smile.
Brian looked sharply at him. “Don’t tell me that wasn’t true...are you here to say you were the saint and he was the sinner?”
Jack laughed delightedly. “Funny life, isn’t it? Do you know, Pat O’Keefe judged me so much in life for not being proud of you, boy. For not being the kind of man my son could walk up to and say, Dad, I’m gay. But...” Jack turned to Brian and smiled. “You did, son. And I’m proud of you for that. You made my final months good ones because you reached out to me, and you let me have that time with your son. You didn’t have to do that. But, you did, Son, and it meant the world...and more.”
Jack motioned toward Pat. “You see there a man who seems to have everything...but he has nothing. Because in this room he has a son who is suffering because he kissed a boy tonight. And he is so afraid of what that might mean that he is going to enlist in the Marines rather than accept a wonderful engineering job stateside. He’s hoping he’ll find himself. Be all you can be, you know the slogans. Instead, he’s going to almost lose himself because Luke O’Keefe was never meant to be a killer of other men; he was always a gentle man by nature. Aye, he’s a born leader, but the battlefield was never his rightful place. It will take a few miracles to ever bring him home again.”
Brian looked but he almost didn’t recognize Luke. It was a Luke with long hair and a reckless, wild look. He was drunk, something Brian thought was damn near impossible with the bigger O’Keefes. Brian walked a little closer and recoiled when he got close enough to see the look in Luke’s emerald eyes. They were veiled, his long lashes hiding them, but Brian knew his O’Keefe men well enough to know when they were in serious pain, and Luke was desperate. Brian looked around for Matt, Mark, anyone who could help.
“They’re not here this time,” Jack answered somberly. “Luke leaves, but not before a certain little brother catches him. If it wasn’t for his guardian angel, things might have been a lot worse on this night. Listen....”
Pat O’Keefe was finishing a story. “So the faggot says to the other sanitation worker, ‘Me? I ended up here because the want ad said ‘man wanted, must not mind getting dirty and entering manholes’. Get it, man wanted...entering manholes? Ah, someone explain it to Finnegan!” He slapped a young redhead on the back The group laughed uproariously.
Unnoticed by his father, Luke got up and walked out through the back, his long legs eating up the ground. Jack dragged Brian’s arm to hurry him along. Brian noticed that they were able to keep up without rushing, some feature of ghost travel he assumed.
Before Luke could let himself out the back door, he was stopped by a small sleepy voice.
“Where ya goin’ Luke? Can I come too?”
A tiny tousled person popped up from among some boxes in the corner, causing the towering figure by the door to freeze, then slowly turn and walk over to the corner where a couple of blankets had been set up in the corner in a make-shift fort. He crouched down, the better to converse with his pint-sized spy.
“Hey, little one, what’s this? Camping out again?” Luke forced himself to sound normal.
Danny wrinkled his nose. “You smell like a brew..brewer...you know, like Mama says.” He beamed at his favorite brother as he put his arms up in silent entreaty.
“A brewery, is it? And you want to be picked up after insulting me, is that it?” Brian had to smile when he saw the imperious nod that Danny gave his huge brother, a smile that was mirrored on Luke’s face. Even as a child he was irresistible, Brian couldn’t help thinking, as he watched Danny settling himself comfortably against Luke’s shoulder, totally at ease as he was lifted up a half dozen feet from the ground by this giant of a brother.
“Winning ways, the lad has,” Jack commented.
“Yeah,” Brian agreed, not giving anything away...he thought.
“He’s a giver, that one. Quick to love and quick to see another’s pain. Even as a child. They share those traits, the tallest and the smallest of Pat O’Keefe’s sons. Funny how the man himself never realized how many traits they shared, though. He could be blind, old Pat. Now Rose, she did. She encouraged Luke to take Danny under his wing when it was clear that Patrick was rejecting the boy. But there was always more to it than that...Rose saw a lot...for a woman.”
Brian snorted at his father’s sexism...although he’d been known to share it...for you’d think the afterlife would take care of such narrow thinking, he told himself.
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? His father’s laugh sounded in his head again. At least I no longer find Paddy’s faggot jokes funny.
His Dad had a point, Brian thought, then turned his attention back to Luke and Danny.
“Why’re you sad tonight, Luke?” Big green eyes looked up at Luke, whose hair was down in his own eyes for probably the last time in his life.
“Hard to explain, Angel boy. Sometimes life is hard to figure out. Hard to figure out who I am, what I should do...what things matter...listen to me, telling all this heavy stuff to a five year old.” Luke laughed softly to himself.
“I love you bestest, Luke, don’t go away!” Danny threw his arms around his brother’s neck and held on tight. The child was blinking hard but with that toughness that would be so much a part of him in later years, he didn’t let the tears fall. Brian found it hard to keep his own tears at bay watching that small chin tremble from the force of his emotions.
Just then, the kitchen door slammed against the wall as someone entered in a hurry.
“What have we here? Hey, Luke, my boy. What’s that, you’ve got? The baby’s awake? Damn, I told Mary Frances to take him home to his mother. Too late for a baby to be out. Is he crying over something?” Patrick clicked his tongue impatiently. “How many times do I have to tell you, Danny boy, O’Keefe men don’t cry! Give him over to me, now, Luke, I’ll find one of your sisters to run him home. I think Julie may be coming by soon. Mary Pat can watch him until then. You don’t want to be tied down with a crying brat. It’s the holidays! You should be out, having yourself some fun now. Bet you’re glad that Mario kid finally left. Odd boy. Probably gave you the willies to see him acting so weird, huh? But you don’t need to hide in here anymore! He’s gone off home to his mother. She’s been ill and he takes care of her. A good boy for all his nancy ways.” Patrick smiled warmly at his tall son. “It’s good the boy helps his mother, I’ll grant him that, but I thank God none of my boys are girly like that. That’s what your sisters are for.”
He pounded Luke on the back and then reached for Danny. The small body flinched almost imperceptibly, but Brian saw it. Luke felt it, you could see it in his face, as his jaw set. Patrick didn’t notice anything amiss, he was busy looking at his youngest, who was lifting his chin bravely, if not wisely, telling his father:
“I’m not crying. I never cry. And I’m not a baby, I’m an O’Keefe man too.”
Unamused and certainly not charmed by the scrap of O’Keefe manhood looking up at him with a face framed by shoulder-length black curls and graced by rounded dimpled cheeks, Patrick just rolled his eyes. He grabbed for his son, but Luke spun to the side with reflexes honed by years on the soccer field.
“I’ll swing by the house on my way to my evening of debauchery...sir,” he said easily, his demeanor so respectful that Patrick’s initial flash of anger at being thwarted died an instant death. This was Luke...Luke might play pranks with his brothers but was never rude to him.
“Well, all right, if you don’t mind. But it’s to be straight to bed for him...he’s up way too late for a child. I don’t know what the world’s coming to with babes in bars.”
Patrick went back through to the bar in time to miss seeing Danny giggling at his parting words. Which was good, because Danny got Luke going.
“You, child, are going to be the death of me,” Luke gasped, as soon as Patrick’s footsteps died away.
“Babes in barland...it could be a movie,” Danny giggled. “Starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.”
Luke looked at him wide-eyed, as did Jack and Brian.
Jack looked at Brian. “You know, that idea ain’t half bad. And he’s only five?”
“He was always precocious, I suspect,” Brian replied, fascinated by this view of Danny, this babe in barland.
“I’m going to miss you most of all, brat,” Luke said, tousling the curly head that rested so trustingly beneath his chin as he looked for a coat to put on him for the trip home. Brian was amused at how Luke moved around easily with Danny on his hip – like he weighed nothing. Of course, Danny was such a tiny thing then, he probably did weigh next to nothing. Still, Luke must have been as strong as an ox. His words took a second to sink in, but soon enough, the little head popped up.
“Where are you going? Don’t go away!” Brian found it touching how, even as a child, Danny’s pitch dropped deeper when he was upset, rather than getting shriller as most children did. His hoarse little voice dropped down to a low whisper of anguish. “Luke...please!”
“Come on, Danny...let’s get away from here to talk,” Luke said, looking over his shoulder anxiously. The last thing he needed was another encounter with Patrick.
“It’s his fault, isn’t it?” The subject of Danny’s ‘his’ was clear...but Luke just shook his head sadly.
“No, kiddo, it’s me. I need to leave Pittsburgh, see the world without having all these O’Keefes around to be disappointed...or proud...or happy...or sad...or anything. I need to figure out what I want first and I can’t do that if I’m always thinking of what Dad wants or what Mama wants, or Matt or Mary Kate, or, yes, even you, beloved little brother that you are. Never want to disappoint you, monkey.”
“I love you no matter what.” The dark green eyes were very serious.
“You know, Danny, I believe you. And I believe you because I know that I love you that way too. Unconditionally. Funny, huh? You’re just a little guy, but I can somehow talk to you better than anyone else. I’m gonna make you a promise. Wherever I go, whatever happens, I’ll stay in touch with you, okay? We’ll always be best brothers, okay?”
Danny looked deep into Luke’s eyes and somehow, Brian swore he could see the Danny of decades later in the eyes of that angelic child’s face. “I know you will, because you promised, Luke...you promised.”
“Whenever you need me, I’ll be there,” Luke smiled, and this time he was blinking fast, knowing he would be going very soon.
“Me too,” the husky little voice solemnly promised, and Danny bent his forehead to touch his brother’s in a solemn gesture.
“We can leave these two now,” Jack said, brushing at his eyes with the back of his hand. Brian pretended not to see. “We’re running a little behind schedule so we have to rush. Hold on, Sonny Boy, we’ll be going a bit faster now, so hold onto your guts now.”
No sooner were the words out than Brian felt a whirl of sensations and he did have to clench his teeth against the nausea that made his stomach roil. He closed his eyes and tried counting. By the time he reached five, the spinning stopped. He waited for his internal spinning to stop before opening his eyes. They were in a paneled den. A handsome silver-haired man was sitting at a large maple desk, looking through some papers while a young, pretty girl in a bathrobe sat opposite him, swinging her legs impatiently. The man looked up over his reading glasses just once, and the swinging legs stilled.
Brian started to ask why they were here being bored along with the girl but Jack shook his head sternly, somehow knowing before Brian spoke what he was going to say...oh yeah, the mind reading thing, Brian thought sullenly. He would much rather be eavesdropping on little Danny than this unknown brat and her old man if he had his choice. Finally, the man was putting down his pen and taking off his glasses.
“Well, Tannis, I’m pleased by your grades this semester. Straight A’s, very good. I understand from your teachers that the only student to do better than you was a new transfer student from the Catholic school, Mary Pat O’Keefe...isn’t she that boyish Irish girl I saw you with the other day? I’m a bit...puzzled, Tannis. Perhaps you can elucidate the situation for me? Here we have a girl who spends a good deal of her time on the sports fields, and, if I understand correctly, all of her early education was attained in parochial schools.... How is it that this girl managed to achieve higher marks than you, the product of the finest private elementary school in the City? Are you perhaps too distracted by your social life? These clubs you pursue?”
Brian rolled his eyes. Was this the guy he was supposed to go to lunch with? What an old-fashioned, bigoted jerk. The “Irish girl” for fuck’s sake! What century was he living in! He wasn’t just anti-gay, he was anti-Irish and anti-Catholic? Boy, he was going to be a joy at lunch, Brian grinned. He wondered if he were single. He sounded perfect for Joan.
He heard a cackle from his father. Now there’s a thought...might have to run that idea past the bosses though, Jack’s thought penetrated Brian’s consciousness, his amusement clear.
What bosses? Brian wondered.
Ah, that would be telling, Jack smirked. Now, pay attention. This kid was a corker. At least..she used to be.
“Not at all, Daddy! I’ll try harder. But, you know...I think...” Brian looked at the determined face that Tannis turned toward her father. He’d been expecting tears, excuses, whining. There was none of that. Sure, her chin had trembled for a second as her father had mockingly held up her shortcomings, but the upper lip had stiffened and she made a good recovery.
“Good for you, kid,” he whispered even though he couldn’t be heard.
“Yeah, you always did like a scrapper,” Jack nodded. “Sucker for an underdog, look at you and that Novotny kid.”
Ignoring him, Brian focused on Tannis and her father.
“What works for Mary Pat is that she does have many other interests, Daddy, so she has to budget her time wisely to fit in her studying and her sports, as well as her other interests, such as her candy-striping and church work. I believe I can learn from her example to be better at, at...” Tannis looked at her Father’s clear desk and smiled cheerfully before finishing triumphantly, “time management.”
Brian was shocked to see the stern businessman transform into a doting father as Miles Stevens laughed and opened his arms to his daughter. Tannis jumped up from her chair and ran around the large desk to climb onto his lap.
“You need to do more, like the O’Keefe girl does, eh, and then you’ll be number one in your class again, is that what you’re telling me? That’s my Tannis!” He hugged her tightly.
“I’d really like to volunteer down at the Senior Center, Daddy, or the Youth Center. Fr. Baker says they need help. It would be good for my college applications, you know.”
“Well, it never hurts to start thinking of those things. Princeton is competitive.” Mr. Stevens looked thoughtful.
“Or Smith or NYU,” Tannis suggested, putting her head down on his shoulder.
“Hmm, not so far away, kitten. Bad enough I have to think of you dating. Don’t make me think of you going out of state. It is beginning to feel like an Irish invasion around here, by the way...next thing I know you’ll be applying to Notre Dame.”
Brian had started to gag at the nickname, making his father chuckle, but the mention of an Irish invasion made him stop...this was getting interesting... finally. He looked at Jack, who just smiled and nodded his head at the two sitting at the desk.
Pay attention, you’re worse than you were when you were a wee kid waiting for Christmas to get here, how that lad of yours keeps your attention I’ll never know...and no, I don’t want to know either.
Brian considered sending Jack some graphic thought images but refrained...those weren’t images he particularly wanted to share with his Dad, come to think of it. Or not think of it, was more to the point, actually. He turned his attention back to Tannis.
She looked up quickly, her lashes hid her eyes. “What do you mean, Daddy?”
“Ah, you think your Dad is not on top of things, but he is, kitten. Mary Pat has a brother, doesn’t she?”
Tannis giggled. “That’s a bit of an understatement, Daddy. Mary Pat has many brothers! There’s Matt, and Mark, they’re married, and then there’s Luke, he’s almost seven feet tall, can you believe it? There’s John and Joey and of course then there’s the little ones, Jamie and Danny. Danny is like a little angel, he’s so tiny and adorable, you’d have to see him to believe how beautiful he is, for a boy, that is. It’s hard to believe Jamie is next in age because he’s so much bigger, but he’s eight, and...”
Miles held up his hand and Tannis immediately stopped talking, but her eyes twinkled mischievously. Her father made note of the twinkle; there was a trace of one in his eyes.
“Let me see...I think I can rule out the married ones and the toddler set, no matter how adorable they may be. I think I’ll also cross off the giant, impressive as his stature might be, you spoke of him too easily.” Tannis’ cheeks started to grow pink, Brian noticed, impressed by the man’s inductive reasoning.
“So that leaves me with a John and a Joey, and I believe from my own knowledge of Pat O’Keefe’s brood that this John is something of an Adonis. Yes, your Daddy does his homework, you’ll find. Extremely handsome, very intelligent and hard-working, like all of this brood, which is to their credit. Born in this country, I believe, which is a bit more to my liking. I’ll admit it, your Daddy’s a snob, too, kitten. You like this boy?”
Kitten in the headlights at twelve o’clock, Brian thought.
How many times did you feel those headlights in your eyes, Sonny Boy? Times when things were going well between you and me, or you and the Warden, and then came the closer, that big question that you just couldn’t answer honestly and keep that warm good feeling going? At least you didn’t think you could.
Didn’t think I could? Brian stared at Jack. What plane of existence have you been on, Jack? Because in the reality that we lived in, and the one this kid lives in, there is only one right answer to a question like that. And I don’t know about her ‘Daddy’ and how he would handle her admitting to liking the boyish girl O’Keefe rather than her handsome brother, but my Pop would have knocked my block off if I had confessed to having a crush on John O’Keefe.
Jack shrugged and spoke out loud. At least, out loud for them. The people by the desk still didn’t hear them. “Never said I was perfect. Didn’t take it so well when you did tell me, did I? But, I came around because you mattered to me, Sonny Boy. I think this girl matters to this fella. We’ll never know if Pat O’Keefe would have managed to cope with his son Luke telling him the truth now, will we? Nor will Luke. Shame he never gave either of them that chance. The little chap did, didn’t he? And while Pat didn’t handle it perfectly, they muddled their way through, and the family was all the better for it. Let’s see what this girly does.”
Tannis finally found her voice. “I guess I do..rather..like John...Jack..O’Keefe. Everyone thinks he is the handsomest of all the O’Keefe boys. More than all of the cousins even.”
Her father smiled at her. “I invited young John to intern at my firm. He starts after the holidays. He’s looking for something different from working at his father’s bars, and being a bright young man, I think he will do quite well in our marketing firm. He tells me he wants to go to law school, but we shall see. He’s going to have lunch at the club with me the day after tomorrow to discuss his job duties. I’m quite impressed with him already. I’ve met his brother Mark, an upstanding young man. He’s with the finance firm of Wells, Birman and Green. Not bad at all for a young family man right out of school. I must say, for a family of first generation Americans, the O’Keefes appear to be doing quite well.”
Tannis smiled tightly. However, all she said was, “Isn’t that what our country is all about, Daddy?”
Her father looked for any trace of sarcasm but her expression was totally innocent. He answered, “Of course, Tannis...within reason.” He saw that she was about to ask a question but forestalled it by bringing out his wallet.
“No more of that, Tannis! I’ve decided that in light of your fine academic performance, and your admirable community service, I’m going to increase your allowance significantly. Also, I recognize that a young lady who is entering the dating years is in need of more than say, a tomboy like Mary Pat O’Keefe. I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine running around looking like a hoyden as that girl does. You can hardly tell her from one of the boys.”
“You don’t find her to be a pretty girl?” Tannis asked in an odd voice.
Her father glanced up from his wallet and winked. “If a man is partial to boyish women, I guess he’d find her attractive. John O’Keefe is better groomed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets his nails done professionally. But I don’t get the sense that he’s one of those fairy boys. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about with Pat O’Keefe’s boys, I’ll grant the man that much.” Miles Stevens gave his daughter a hug. “I’ve never liked that type and I’m willing to bet John O’Keefe won’t be looking for a girl like his sister when he goes looking for a girl to take to the Snow Ball. Now, let me show you how to plan a budget.”
Brian found himself back on the pillows before the fire. He looked at the bottle of Scotch on the table. It was only about a third of the way down...not enough to explain a wild dream like that. He shivered despite the fact that the fire still burned. Danny hadn’t been gone all that long, he noticed with some surprise. Should he go to bed? Maybe Danny was already in their bedroom? He got up, thinking that maybe he’d go warm the sheets for his lover’s return, when the fire went out completely.
“The damn timer must be faulty,” he grumbled.
“Try again, handsome,” a throaty voice purred from behind him. He could feel hands on his bare shoulders. Cold hands.
Brian didn’t want to turn around. He knew he wasn’t going to like what he saw when he did. This was not funny anymore...not that it was all that fun seeing Jack, but it hadn’t ended up being that bad either.
Now is that any way to greet an old friend? Not that I ever liked thinking of myself as old...more fond of the forever young, forever beautiful phrase. That was us, wasn’t it, Brian?
Brian turned around, a bright smile on his face. “How is it going, Angel...and may I say…wow, you’re looking beautiful!” He was genuinely shocked by how good she looked...death became her.
She preened...she looked hot and she knew it. She walked a few steps and executed a perfect model turn, showing off her high fashion ensemble that made the most of her perfect figure, which was restored to what it had been at its best. Brian was looking at Angel O’Keefe circa age twenty-one, when she had the world by the tail.
“What are you doing here, Angel? Never thought to see you doing the real Angel number...or are you the Scotch talking?” Brian tilted his head and looked at her, trying to see if there was any clue to whether she was a dream. She walked up and pinched him. “Owww, what the fuck!”
She grinned, a very un-angelic expression. “It is the funniest thing, you tilting your head just like Danny...do you do it at each other now? I’d love to see that! I can’t believe the two of you hooked up, after all this time. But! This is Christmas Present, so you get to see where he is, if you want, maybe we can see the little bugger do his head tilt in unison with you, huh? Wanna go check out and see if he’s out with some hot guys?”
Brian was baffled. “I get a visit from the Angel of Christmas Present and the purpose is to see if Danny is cheating? I don’t need a ghostly visit for that. I’m pretty sure he’s off moping with Emmett or Ben, maybe Brandon, but I doubt there’s any cheating going on. God, the thought is enough to wilt my dick. Danny with Emmett?”
Angel just smirked...looking a lot like Jack Kinney when she did that, Brian noticed, and getting creeped out at the thought. He almost didn’t take her hand when she reached out for his but he figured the sooner started, the sooner over.....
The now familiar mist cleared not at the GLC but at the O’Keefe pub, at a small booth in the back, which gave the occupants a good bit of privacy. Danny liked to hang out at this pub, the original one of the three, but Brian rarely visited. It was too staid for his tastes. To Brian’s surprise, Ben was sharing the booth with Danny, but it was not the usual Ben he saw at Debbie’s or at the occasional night out with Michael. This Ben was intense, leaning forward as he and Danny hotly debated some point that they were each scribbling out on the notepads in front of them. Danny had his shirt open halfway to the waist and Ben’s sleeves were rolled up to the biceps. They were both wearing their glasses and Brian found the wire-rimmed glasses a very hot look on two such muscular men. Both were oblivious to the looks they were getting from the men around them.
Ooo, who is that hottie with him, he’s yummy, just Danny’s type, Angel cooed into Brian’s thoughts.
“What do you mean, Danny’s type?” Brian snapped. “Ben is far from Danny’s type...Danny likes....” Brian stopped. What type did Danny like? He’d liked Etienne, he supposed. They’d been together a while. He liked Brian, duh. And Brian guessed that he liked women, but that was an anomaly. He was made to like women, forced into it by his father.
“Is that what you think?” Angel asked, clearly amused. “Daddy made Danny fuck all those women? My, my, my. Never knew Danny was such a dutiful son.”
Brian blushed. He really did. At being mocked by a ghost. A girl ghost at that. One whom he used to tease on a regular basis. He was really starting to hate this night. He remembered that he never liked this book either. “Okay, so Danny liked women...tall women, as I recall. That Aida was tall, and Danny said her sister looked like me with a pussy. So, we’ve established that Danny likes tall people. Ben is tall. Is that your point? I’ll agree. He doesn’t like blonds though, and Ben is blond, kind of.”
Angel laughed. “Well, he once liked blonds...kind of. And Ben isn’t that blond. What he does meet, in spades, is the primary requirement. You see, I would have said that what my little brother likes is big men, big men built like Daddy. Wouldn’t you say that Big Ben there meets that description? Whereas you, dear Brian...don’t. But what else could Danny be finding with Ben? Let’s see...a man who listens to him, maybe? To the whole him?”
Brian looked again at Ben. He was built somewhat like Pat O’Keefe. But what was she talking about, listening to “the whole him”? Brian listened to Danny, as he walked closer.
“But what I’m saying is that Cuchulain is searching for his father, it’s as clear in the symbolism we’ve found as any other interpretation...and yet, in his returning over and over...”
“He becomes father to the land that rejected him...the salvation story is repeated...The paradox that Jesus raised. David’s cry.... How can he be both. I see what you are saying.” Danny bit his lip, looking at his notes, then he looked up and smiled at Ben. “I love it. The focus shifts there but I can have Cuchulain searching without finding...and it’s okay. He can accept that and move on to the other parts of his life and the story....the Divinity does not have to be answered for him or the audience. I could kiss you, Ben!”
Brian watched, lost by their discussion as simple comments sparked intense connections between them. They completed each other’s thoughts and didn’t need to use complete sentences even. He saw the exact moment that it turned to sexual attraction. Brian remembered what Ben once told him, that there was nothing more arousing than creating something together. Danny and Ben had been working on turning Danny’s research and story about the Irish folk hero Cuchulain into a screenplay. They’d spent hundreds of hours over the past eighteen months refining the story, writing and editing the drafts, sending them to Lanier and then working on his suggested changes.
Brian had never thought twice about how all that time and intensity would be affecting the two of them...until now...seeing them together. Danny lifted his hand toward Ben’s face to brush his cheek and he smiled again, his dimples deepening.
Ben cleared his throat and sat back, shifting in his chair and crossing his leg. Brian laughed sourly to himself. Corduroys a little tight there, Professor?
“What about Danny," Angel whispered in Brian’s ear! "‘Mr. I’m Always Cold Turn Up The Heat!’ seems a little over-heated in here, doesn’t he?”
“Button that shirt!” Brian couldn’t help growling at Danny, even though he knew he couldn’t be heard. Angel’s tinkling laughter could be heard inside his head and out. Brian wondered if he was losing his mind.
He can’t see you, Angel sing-songed in Brian’s mind as she caught him glaring at Ben. Such a bratty ghost. Who would ever have thought he’d want Jack back over Angel O’Keefe?
“So, Brian is going to do the Tannis lunch this year?” Ben asked after taking a sip of what looked like seltzer – cheap date, Brian sneered to himself. “Any connection between that and you calling to get together on the script? I thought you had a night together planned? Nights without Briana nights usually mean...” Ben delicately trailed off.
Danny was playing with the coasters on the table. “Sometimes...can I ask you something personal, Ben?”
If Ben looked surprised, Brian was feeling gut punched. Danny wasn’t really going to make a pass, a serious pass at Ben, was he? He knew Danny admired Ben, they shared a lot of common interests. Ben was a great guy when it came right down to it, but...Danny loved Brian!
Danny loved Brian.....
Brian stopped hyperventilating and turned to look at Angel. She was smiling at him.
“So you are as smart as you’re handsome. Listen in, now that you stopped being stupid....”
“Don’t look so worried, I’m not going to hit on you.” Danny’s dimples deepened even more, impossible as that seemed. Ben exhaled, laughing a bit weakly. Danny ran his hand down his stomach with a coy look and Ben shook his head at him in a fatherly way. Danny laughed and started to button up his shirt.
“Can you imagine if Hunter saw me doing that with you sitting there? He’d kill me!”
“Can you imagine if Brian saw,” Ben suggested with a wry look.
Danny smiled easily at that suggestion. “Oh, Brian knows he can trust us, Ben. Now Michael, he’s the neurotic one...no offense.” Danny’s quick smile elicited Ben’s prompt and rueful, “None taken, you’re only stating the truth...and I can see your Michael and add one Debbie...”
“Oh God,” they both said, with Brian joining in. Angel looked at him quizzically but he shook his head, saying,” It would take all eternity to explain.”
“Anyway,” Ben brought them back to the point, “you wanted to ask me something?”
“How...how much is it fair to expect a person you love to change?”
“You’re wondering how much you can expect Brian to change,” Ben guessed.
Danny looked surprised. “No! I don’t expect Brian to change. I don’t know that I’d want him to. He’s Brian and I love him. I accept him as he is. He’s never going to be a knock on doors, get out the vote, recycle your plastics, donate for every cause under the sun kind of warm and fuzzy guy. But he’s my guy and I like him the way he is. I’m PC enough for three people, John says, and he’s probably right...maybe he’s right. I mean, Tannis says I could be a lot better. After all, I eat dairy and wear leather, I drive a hybrid car instead of bike riding to work....”
“So what is your question related to?” Ben gently asked.
Danny ran his hands through his hair.
“I guess two parts. I look at Tannis and I see how she’s given away parts of herself over the years – out of love for her causes, all commendable, but is it right? At what point do you give up so much for others that you lose what it is that makes you, well, you? Can you really love others if you don’t love yourself? Is it possible to give away so much that the inside of you is hollow? Or am I rationalizing because I don’t want to give up my masseuse? Tannis, she’s like a warrior of denial. You know, she gave up manicures to donate to the Youth Center’s Teens at Risk? To fit her monthly donation into her budget. One hundred a month she gives. What she used to pay for coloring and cutting her hair professionally pays to give five men at the Vic Grassi House meals every month...all their meals. She had a hell of a good stylist. He moved on to New York and she talked her Dad into increasing her budget to his New York prices. It goes on and on...little pieces of herself.”
Danny leaned back in his chair. “I can’t be that dedicated, Ben. But what worries me is that I can’t be that dedicated to Brian either. I won’t refuse to sing in Church because he wants me to go to an advertising function with him instead. He got mad because his function was work and mine was ‘voluntary.’ My Church is important to me. I don’t expect him to go to Church with me although it would be nice if he would, but I would rather he skip going if he is just going to treat it like a performance. I know he knows better...he was raised in the Church...but he goes and makes snide comments later. If he would be more polite....”
“Sure you’re not asking him to change?” Ben asked quietly.
Brian wanted to know the same thing, even as he felt bad about some of the incidents he could recall. He had been trying to put some subtle..or not so subtle...pressure on Danny to be less devoted to his religious life. Brian saw it as an unnecessary waste of time, time better spent with each other.
“But it means a lot to Danny. Always has, always will, kind of like that little shit friend of yours that Danny puts up with, and that other old lover of yours that Danny is really tolerant of despite almost being killed because of him, and oh yeah, your old girlfriend, the one that is the mother of your kid. We won’t even count your kid cos Danny really loves him, but we will count your nasty witch of a mother, and have I left anyone out?” Angel was ticking people off on her fingers.
“I get your point, okay, his Church is important.”
“His belief in God is important,” Angel corrected. “Church is ancillary to that. When you mock that, you mock Danny.”
Brian looked at Danny’s unhappy face as the younger man finally answered Ben’s question.
“I didn’t think I was. I just wish I didn’t feel like he wanted me to change. It’s like I feel torn all the time. All I want...” Danny laughed sadly. “All I want for Christmas is for him to want me as I am....otherwise I fear I’ll end up like the anti-Tannis, still pretending to be this person I’m not...forever this sexy Dark Angel when at heart I’m this nerdy scholarly person who’d rather get all excited about research papers and sing at Church on Sunday.”
“But who still wears leather to good effect,” Ben reminded him.
“Well, no one is all one dimensional,” Danny conceded with a smile.
“Talk to Brian about your worries,” Ben advised. “He’s a lot more perceptive than he gets credit for being, and if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that he loves all aspects of you.”
Danny started to answer, but before they heard what he had to say, they were whirled away.
“Fuck, I didn’t want to leave,” Brian complained. “Where are we now?”
“Just a little side trip,” Angel said brightly. “Don’t be such a grouch. You have to get the five star trip, sweet cheeks.”
The mist and whirls were old hat to Brian by now. They were in the same house as before, the den he’d seen before, the same man, but looking much older, his hair whiter, his face lined. A cane leaned against the desk.
A secretary or perhaps more of a personal assistant, came in with a tray of medicine and a glass.
“Mr. Stevens, here is your schedule for tomorrow as well as your night medicine. I will place it on the desk?”
“Of course, where else would you place it? You leave it there every night, don’t you, woman? Get out and please spare me your illusion of efficiency!”
“Yes, sir. Do not forget your holiday lunch with Miss Tannis is coming up. She called. It will be the 14th of December.”
“If you have written it on my schedule then I shall hardly be likely to forget it, shall I? Please remove yourself from the room and spare me the sight of your smug face.”
The woman left with a faint long-suffering sigh. Miles would have liked to have thrown his cane at her but she was the type to rejoice in her martyrdom. To deny her the opportunity to suffer was the greater cruelty, he decided.
He looked down at the letter from Tannis, with her carefully worded proposal for her upcoming year’s budget. Brian walked up and glanced down to look at the sheets, written on fine stationary, with ink...quite nice... he was impressed. He also couldn’t help wondering what kind of nutcase still uses paper and ink, calligraphy no less, to write to a person in the same town. Didn’t the GLC have a computer?
To his shocked dismay, the old man put his head down on the carefully prepared papers and began to cry.
“What the fuck?” Brian turned and looked at Angel for an answer.
“He misses his daughter,” she said simply, her own face curiously empty of emotion.
“Well, why the hell doesn’t he see her more than once a year?” Brian asked, totally confused by this vignette. He wasn’t getting anything out of this and it was...unsettling...to see the man who’d been so confident in the prior vignette brought so low.
“You think it’s that easy? Like it’s going to be so easy for you after tonight to suddenly start being nice about Danny going to Church, or understanding about his ‘worthy causes’ and other foolishness? Do you think Miles Stevens never tried? You think he never knew all these years that Tannis was spending her money on others while she, the lovely heir to his fortune, walked around looking like the shabby friend of the immigrant bar-owner’s beautiful daughters? Do you think he was ever fooled by these lunches, that, as she got more haggard and worn out, and she started bringing more obviously gay men as her dates, and even very young gay boys, he didn’t know that this was known as Tannis’ sacrificial act of the year, her yearly pilgrimage to her rich father for money?”
“So why does he play along; why does he give her the money?”
Angel looked at Brian as though he were dim-witted.
“Because, Brian, ...he loves her...and he wants her... to be happy. ...Get it?” She impatiently tapped her Jimmy Choo shoes, which had no business being on a Ghost’s feet, Brian thought, irrelevantly.
“Yeah, got it. But he’s going about it in the wrong way.”
“Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it.” Angel looked at him with approval again. Her shoes were suddenly Manolo Blahniks, and they were back to whirling.
Brian rubbed his head. The music room was still, blessedly still. Cold though, and one of his first thoughts was that Danny would hate how cold it was. Just as he got up to turn the fireplace back on, a low alto laugh said, “No sense turning that baby back on, baby. We’re going to be gone before you can even feel the flame.”
Brian frowned. The voice was familiar, but not quite.
“Oh, we didn’t know each other all that well. I know your better half much better...by half. Turn around, and we can get going. That way you can get done. Bet you’re tired of all this.”
Brian turned to agree, and stopped...dead, more or less. Well, less rather than more. Dusty Logan, now she was more rather than less. Dead, that is. But, she looked good.
“Thanks,” she said, her easy smile unchanged from life. Brian found himself smiling back. He’d always liked Dusty, and after seeing Danny’s tribute at the Babylon Benefit, he felt he knew and liked her even more.
“Yeah, the kid did well by me, didn’t he? Always knew how to draw in an audience, even as a boy. Made me cry, that night did. My little boy as Gavrotte..I nearly burst with pride. And when Cher appeared! I was as excited as Emmett. My Marie got her autograph..wish I could have been with you all. It was quite a show my little Dan put on. That’s why when the chance came to return the favor with this little jaunt, well, I jumped at it. So, here I am, your very own Ghost of Christmas Future...Goddess, I love this, a use for my English Lit degree, wish my Marie could see me now...though not really...she deserves the peace of mind.”
Dusty flashed her warm smile at Brian. There was only a fleeting tinge of sadness in her expression, which was quickly gone, replaced with her usual matter-of-fact good sense.
“You, on the other hand, apparently need this. so hang on, handsome, here we go.....”
The whirling mist took them to a Christmas party at the O’Keefe pub, some years in the future. Brian couldn’t see much on the year sign near a wreath other than that the first three digits were a two, a zero and a one. So, it could be two thousand and ten or anywhere up to 2019. Brian shuddered at the thought of that many years going by – possibly another eleven?
Maybe it was only two or three.
The bar had changed a lot in the interim. The interior was modern, bright, more of a club appearance than a neighborhood pub. There was clearly a “mixed” crowd, men standing at the bar together, their arms around each other, while women sat close together at booths. Straight couples were prevalent as well, and the bar had a lively DJ playing music for the couples of all orientations who wanted to dance.
Dusty stood next to Brian and laughed her big, cheery laugh. She tugged on his arm to get his attention. He looked down.
“Well?” she asked, an eyebrow cocked high. “Do you think Patrick is still spinning in his grave? He must be halfway to China, I would think, but Mama Rose, on the other hand, would love it, I’m thinking. Just think of all the match-making opportunities!”
A grin tugged at Brian’s lips. Yeah, Mama Rose would have loved this, all the happy young people, many of them bearing the distinctive O’Keefe looks. Brian’s attention was caught suddenly by a particularly striking O’Keefe that he saw behind the bar talking to a young looking bartender. His throat tightened to see Danny, his hair longer than now, but just as dark, no sign of gray, not that Brian would expect Danny to let his hair go gray. Still, if anything, he looked even more beautiful, his face slightly wider across the cheeks where he’d lost weight in the present. In this ‘vignette’, this alternate reality or whatever it was, Danny’s face looked slightly harsher, rougher, a light beard showing, giving him a wilder look that was sexy on him. Brian felt himself growing hard.
“Down boy,” Dusty murmured, her voice wryly amused, but also pensive. Brian stole a look at her, and found that she was no longer looking at Danny or him, but toward the doorway.
A very big man had just come in, but so quietly no one had noticed yet, which was surprising because he was the type of man that people noticed. He looked familiar to Brian, but he couldn’t quite place from where. His hair was dark and he wore it in wavy lengths, brushed back from a high forehead, and behind his ears on the sides, the overall effect giving him a rather leonine appearance. He was dark complexioned and barrel-chested, and as Brian looked at this giant who was at least six foot five, he couldn’t help calling to mind what Angel had said about Danny and very big men.
Then he heard the man’s voice and his heart sank. The man spoke and it was like hearing...
“Jove speak from atop Mt. Olympus?” Dusty suggested in her own deep contralto voice. Damn these ghosts and their eavesdropping on thoughts uninvited, Brian thought, irritated for about the millionth time that night.
“Well if we were invited it wouldn’t be eavesdropping,” she pointed out rationally. “But it is rude, isn’t it? Fun, too.”
“Where can I find Daniel O’Keefe, some food and a decent beer...and yes, in that order!” the rich voice declaimed from the doorway, humor lacing the syllables. Danny was already leaning his hands on the bar, watching almost open-mouthed in surprise, but at that he gave a war whoop and leapt over the bar and then did a flying leap that carried him some ten feet into the big man’s arms.
Brian had a bad feeling about this.
“This is only what may happen...not what is sure to happen,” Dusty reminded him, taking pity on him. “So shake off that look.”
“Who the hell is this guy?”
“Friend of Danny’s is my guess.”
“Why didn’t he ever mention him to me?”
Dusty shrugged. “Maybe wasn’t worth mentioning?”
They watched as Danny was spun around, laughing, by the man, then the two men kissed. It was a hell of a kiss. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“Damn, Chief, you are a hell of a kisser, you know that? And you just get better every time I see you.”
“Like you remember the last time I kissed you, Terrell, you flirt,” Danny laughed, slightly breathless. He linked his hands behind Terry’s neck and stood on his toes to brush his lips against Terry’s again.
Brian turned a disbelieving face toward Dusty. She lifted her shoulders, at a loss. “So sue me,” she said, “he must have had some reason for not mentioning him...or at least, reasons that used to seem like good ones and don’t anymore maybe? Remember, this is the future that may come to pass.”
Brian looked bleak. “But it can only come to pass if there is already the building blocks in place, right?”
Dusty nodded, her expression as grim as her essentially hopeful face could look. She turned Brian back toward the two men although he really didn’t want to look. Danny still had his arms around the big man, and Brian wondered why he’d never noticed how comfortable Danny was around much bigger men. But it was true, he was, now that Brian thought about it. Ben, the guy Eli, Etienne, Gabe at Babylon.....
Pay attention and stop being neurotic, Dusty reprimanded him.
“Welcome back to the States. A world tour...pretty impressive, opera star before forty, as you wanted.” Danny kissed the guy again.
Fuck, Brian thought, whatever happened to the man who disliked sex in public?
Now you’re being ridiculous, Dusty chided, he’s kissing him, not giving blowjobs.
“Well, not quite by forty, but almost,” Terrell smiled. “And now there is time for other things...important things. Sit down and talk? Have you had dinner yet?”
“Yes but I’ll watch you eat...and talk...and watch...and talk some more....by the time you reach your third course it will be time for me to eat again.” Danny ducked beyond reach as Terry tried swatting his ass. Terry raised an eyebrow as he looked down at that fast moving rear. Brian ground his teeth.
“Some things don’t change...and others just get better and better...how do you do it? By my calculations you turned thirty a couple of years ago...shouldn’t that tight little ass have started to spread or something by now?”
Danny grinned. “You complaining?”
“Not me, Chief, not me. I’m just glad we both stopped by the old stomping grounds at the same time. I came to look for an old friend...what brought you to Pittsburgh?”
Danny’s face clouded over. “Old business that had to be taken care of...loose ends. No need to talk about it.” He shook his hair back, his classic sign for pushing something aside. “Let’s talk about music...you first.”
“If you say so, you’re the Chief.” Arm in arm, the two men walked to a back table. Danny signaled for a niece to bring the menu...the menu’s worth of food, that is. Terry was a man of big appetites.
Brian wanted to see more but he wasn’t surprised to see himself whirling away.
Babylon. Flourishing, as usual. Well, nice to know there would always be a place for over the hill party boys, he thought bitterly. Almost on cue, he saw himself. Nice to see he looked fabulous. Too thin, but then again, can a person ever be too thin?
Sure they can, if they’re smoking again and taking pills.
Thank you, Earth Mother Ghost in my Fucking head for that PSA.
You’re welcome, potty mouth, she answered serenely.
They moved closer, and Brian was dismayed to see that there was no one he knew around. Alternate Brian did have a cigarette in his hand, so Dusty had called that one right. Fuck, he hadn’t smoked in years.
Scratch that no one he knew comment...this was worse. Temmett approacheth, he thought sarcastically. His alter ego just looked tiredly at the two of them, flicked an ash at Ted and said, “Go away.”
“I think I’ll go get a drink,” Ted said, scurrying away. Emmett looked after him, disgustedly.
“Well, you always were twice the woman he was, Scarlett,” Alt Brian mocked.
Emmett straightened his shoulders and looked Alt Brian in the eyes. “You’re a mess, Brian. You need to get your shit together. Come back home with me and....”
Alt Brian laughed bitterly. “Where would that be, Em? The loft, where Justin left me? The townhouse where Danny left me? Maybe the fucking airport where Gus left me.”
“Danny didn’t leave you, Brian, you pushed him away. And don’t compare Danny to Justin...please. There’s a world of difference between what happened with you and Danny and you and Justin.”
Good for you, Em, Brian thought. There was a world of difference. But how did he and Danny break up...could we get some backstory here please?
“He’s not coming back this time, Em, I fucked up royally.” Alt Brian was drunk too, Brian noticed, dismayed. A Mopey drunk. How pathetic.
“So what else is new,” Em said briskly. “He’s got a right to be upset. You kept secrets from him...you know nothing matters more to him than trust, Brian, nothing. It’s why Etienne and him broke up, why every man he ever dated didn’t go anywhere. Hell, Etienne’s been trying to get him back for years. But he loves you, you big dummy. You had to go and destroy his trust like that, in such a fundamental way...I can barely stand to talk to you, and you and I go way back.”
“Is this the pep talk part of this little scene, because if it is, I have to tell you, it sucks.” Alt Brian blew smoke in Emmett’s face.
What did I do? Was it another man? Brian was at a total loss.
Oh please, like Danny would give two fucks over another man...cut your balls off, maybe...but get his titties in a twist and leave you when you’ve become a family? Is that Danny?
Think Brian...what could make Danny lose faith in you? Wait, listen....
Brian had to hand it to Emmett, after his counterpart’s snide comment, he still came back for more.
“It isn’t just you, Brian. If it didn’t involve the others, essentially calling into question Danny’s basic foundation of who he can trust...I think Danny is beginning to wonder what is real and what isn’t. Can’t you understand that? A promise means a lot to him and not only you lied to him, but his brothers lied.”
His brothers lied....
The swirling took over once again. Brian wasn’t surprised to find them in a graveyard. The gravestone of Luke O’Keefe had been overturned, smashed. John stood by the grave, tears running down his face. Brian was shocked to see that his friend’s face was older, much older. He turned to Dusty for some sort of answer. She nodded, knowing the question that was in his thoughts.
“More time has passed since our last scene; quite a few years, I believe.”
A woman came up to stand by John’s side. Brian was surprised to see that it was Tannis. White-haired, she had a greater dignity and appeal than she had as a younger woman. She took John’s arm and gently tried to lead him away.
“Time to head back, the services will be starting soon. There’s just enough for a brief stop by Danny’s grave if you want. I placed some flowers there...they look nice, I think.”
John’s face looked pained but he tried to smile. “Thanks, Tani, that was thoughtful of you. Danny always liked...always liked flowers.” He cleared his throat and went on. “Brian used to keep a vase filled with them all the time at the townhouse when they lived together. It was a particularly special thing between them.”
Tannis looked away. “I guess I never understood the attraction so many nice people had for him but he really made Danny happy, Maybe if I’d never said anything...well, maybe if I’d kept quiet about what Marilyn told me, Danny never would have found out what Brian and you knew about Luke, and he never would have gotten killed looking for him.”
She was crying, but not as much as Brian was. “What the fuck?” He turned to Dusty. “How do I stop this? How?”
“You have to figure that out, Brian...but think of this...look again at John, See how it was that he was able to reach beyond his pain to comfort Tannis, who now tries to make amends in the little ways that she can...and then ask yourself, who is it who smashes Luke’s grave...causing pain in the little way that he can?”
Brian looked again at John and was shocked to see that the man wore the collar of an Episcopal Priest, and his black coat covered liturgical robes. He turned to look at Dusty and she nodded.
“John left his law practice shortly after Danny’s death. In this future Luke dies trying to rescue Danny, who was captured by terrorists and used as a hostage. Danny was killed in the cross-fire. In his grief and guilt as the family turns on him, John turns to God for salvation. You, on the other hand, turn away from everything that reminds you of Danny.”
Brian didn’t need to look across the graveyard to see the tall thin figure in the dark overcoat...he knew it would be his own even before the light of a cigarette glowed briefly.
Take me away from here, he begged the ghost in his mind’s silent cries, as tears ran down his face.
The next morning, Brian greeted a sleepy looking Danny with a kiss and a glass of orange juice. “So, how about a run before breakfast?” he asked his lover, putting his arms around him as he put the glass to his lips.
Danny eyed him over the glass. “Are you feeling okay? Any chills or fever? Bump your head or anything? You’ve been acting really strange lately.”
“A person could take that as an insult, Danny. Can’t I just be in the Christmas spirit? I have a gorgeous lover, it’s Christmas time, I have a lunch date in another week with a longtime friend and leader in the gay community and her father to look forward to. It looks to be a good day. Maybe you and I should go out dancing tonight?”
“Okay, what are you up to?” Danny put down his glass and crossed his arms over his chest. “Brian, if you’re going to do something outrageous at the lunch with Tannis and Mr. Stevens, you’ll find just how long I can go without sex.”
“Danny.” Brian walked over and put his hands on Danny’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I will be on my best behavior for this lunch. But, I think it would be a good idea if maybe you and Ben, or perhaps Emmett, joined us by dessert...for coffee. Don’t you think it’s time that Tannis acknowledged her friendship with some of you to her father? The man isn’t getting any younger.”
“Well, I’ve often thought that, but Tannis seems to think....”
“I’m not trying to be cruel or spiteful...I know what it’s like to live in fear of your parent’s rejection and I also know how freeing it is to have that fear removed. Both ways, when the worst happens, and your parent tells you you’re going to burn in hell, and the not so bad after all happens, with your parent learning to cope, but either way, you find that nothing is as bad as living with the fear, the burden, of wondering what they’ll do. I can’t imagine still living under that burden. As much as I’ve never liked Tannis, I wouldn’t wish that on her for one more year, not one more month, not one more lunch.”
Danny smiled, a sweet, slow smile. “Sometimes I’m reminded all over again how much I love you.”
“I hope you never stop remembering that.”
“Let me wake up Em and tell him he’s invited...he’ll need the extra time to shop for himself and can do it while he’s fixing up Tannis. He can buy something appropriate on my credit card. That should make him happy. Maybe I’d better invite Ben too to offset Em?”
“Go ahead...I have to call John about something too. I’ll do it after our run though.”
Brian took a deep breath. Then decided to wait until after the holidays to call John. One crisis at a time.
Later that month, as they got ready for bed, Danny couldn’t stop excitedly talking about the success of the lunch.
“Bri, you were amazing, you know that, right? When you handled Mr. Stevens, it was like you knew how he would react...it was incredible. You’re accepting my praise like it’s nothing, but do you realize the change you’ve made in Tannis’ life? In one afternoon, you managed to expose that he knew that she was gay, that he would rather accept her lifestyle and have her spend time around him than stick to his former principles and be as lonely as he’s been....” Danny was ticking off the points one by one on the fingers of his hand.
“Thank you for that lovely recap, boy announcer,” Brian teased. Danny walked over toward him in just his thong and Brian decided to skip the teasing and just accept the praise and any rewards that came with it. Danny straddled him, pressing him back on the bed, pinning his arms above his head.
“Tannis said you were a perfect gentleman throughout, turning on the charm, and then even when you diverted from the script, you didn’t leave her hanging, you quickly showed her how thrilled her father was with her accomplishments as an activist and gay leader. How did you know he was, Brian?”
“Simple, the man is not dumb, Danny. He’s the head of a marketing firm. He has to be in touch with the pulse of the City...and that means knowing who the movers and shakers are. Tannis Stevens is, for all her annoying ways, one of this City’s movers and shakers. Her father would have to have blinders on not to know in what community she moves and shakes...and what she normally looks like.”
Brian smiled, arching his body to get a little moving and shaking of his own going. “From that point, it was easy to determine from a bit of strategic and discreet digging, the specialty of our Ms. Preston. Cynthia can get the lowdown on anyone before a client meeting, so that I can talk to them in a way that makes them comfortable. So, in this case I gave her the assignment to research Miles Stevens, find out whether he ever talks about his daughter to colleagues, and if so, what does he say and how does he say it. That’s how I learned he is proud of her achievements. He would like to see more of her, but speaks of how busy she is. What is rather lousy of her, and not due to any fault of his, is her tradition of ‘once a year shakedown Daddy lunches’, which arose out of her fear that she had to pretend to be something she’s not. Turns out all he ever wanted was for his kitten to be happy and to be with him, not the fake girl in the pictures, but the girl who negotiated with him like a born again O’Keefe.”
“Huh? When did Tannis do that?” Danny had started tonguing Brian’s toned body but at that comment he looked up.
“Never mind,” Brian quickly said, gently pressing his chest up against the dark haired head as best he could with his arms pinned above his head.
Danny smiled and said, “Well, in any event, I like the way you complete an assignment, Kinney...above and beyond the call of duty. Well done.”
Brian moaned his own appreciation as Danny’s mouth settled on a dark nipple. Danny relaxed his hold on Brian’s wrists, sliding his hands down the slim arms, on down the ridged sides, lightly caressing a path down to the curved buttocks, while his mouth traced a path down the smooth tummy, delving into the belly button.
“Sshh, I’m busy...” Danny replied teasingly.
Brian smiled obligingly, as he was enjoying the sensations those busy efforts were producing. He tried to concentrate on the pleasure, running his hands through the long hair, his eyes closed, his long legs wrapped around Danny’s lean hips. His cock was hard and weeping. But his mind’s eye was filled with the image of another man holding Danny in his arms, another, darker, larger man kissing Danny, running his hands through that long black hair.
Danny lifted his head. His lips were red and slightly swollen from kissing. They were only inches from Brian’s cock and Brian knew he was insane to be interrupting him now. He felt Danny lift him by his hips and shift him higher up in the bed, so that he was resting against the headboard. His pants were slipped off.
“If you’re going to ask me a question, you’d better do it now, because once my mouth is full, I won’t be able to answer,” Danny pointed out very practically as he stripped the rest of his own clothes off.
God, Danny was incredible to look at. Brian stared hungrily at him as he posed next to the bed, his full cock jutting out, his hard thighs so perfectly formed, his abdomen a thing of beauty with its sculpted muscles. Danny climbed into the bed and kneeled between his legs, his hands lightly poised on Brian’s thighs for balance.
“Danny...who was the man who used to call you ‘chief’?”
If Brian wasn’t sure what to think about his “experience”, the manner in which Danny froze would have convinced him of its validity. The other things he could have dreamt, but he couldn’t have imagined a man he never met or heard about, he told himself, trying not to panic.
There was a man from Danny’s past who could be a part of his future, if Brian didn’t act to change things.
Danny was looking at Brian oddly.
“Brian, you’ve been strange for days. Do you want to tell me anything? How do you know about Terry? I haven’t heard from him in ages.”
“You’re good friends?”
Danny’s smile was...difficult to place, Brian decided. It was not a smile he liked seeing on Danny’s face when he wasn’t thinking about Brian.
“We’re very good friends, and yes, we were lovers, in case you were going to ask that next. Terry once saved me from some serious ass kicking, under some really difficult circumstances. It’s a long story, and I thought I was going to suck some cock or I’d tell you about it. Or are you telling me you’d rather hear about an old lover than have me suck your cock? And,” Danny’s look was mischievous, “we’re talking old. Terry is older than you by a good three, four years.”
“And what does he do, this Terry?”
“He sings...opera. He’s on a world tour right now. You’ve probably seen his face in music stores. Terrell Jennings, one of the leading tenors in the world...though he can sing baritone too, he’s pretty awesome.”
That’s why he looked familiar. Brian had read articles about him. He’d lived here for a while, so Pittsburgh claimed him as a native. He was famous...if you were into opera. Which Danny was. Handsome too. If you liked them super-sized. Which Danny seemingly did. Of course, if he was from the area, and a singer, it made sense that Danny knew him.
But for him to know him that well? For the guy to have saved Danny’s ass? Given that the man is a good bit older? Brian thought about it, for them to have had sex means that he’s a bottom...guy doesn’t even look gay, much less...Christ, Danny fucked a man mountain like THAT? Brian had to move away from that line of thought.
Not that the next line of thought was much better. If this part of his “dream” was true...what else was more than a dream?
“Bri...” Danny was whispering in his ear. “I really want you…right now. Tell me what you want and it’s yours.”
Brian shivered to feel Danny’s naked body flush against his, warm and so tantalizing. His long hair brushed against his skin, teasing, arousing. His lips brushed his eyes...his chin..... neck...chest...yes, moving down, down....
“You...all I want for Christmas..for always..is you,” Brian gasped.
“You’ve got me...I promise,” Danny vowed. Then, almost before he should have been able to, he had a condom on and he was thrusting inside his lover. Brian gasped at the suddenness of his entry, but soon pushed back, wanting to feel the fullness, the tightness, even the pain, as Danny went deeper, pulling Brian’s legs to his shoulders and going up to his knees, his strong muscles flexing.
“Come on, Brian, yes, fuck yes,” he chanted encouragement as Brian gripped his shoulders and pushed back in rhythm with his thrusts, slamming his cock against Brian’s sweet spot with each movement. Yes, that was it. He sensed where Brian wanted him to go and obliged by increasing his pace, pulsing into his lover with ever stronger, harder thrusts until Brian could do nothing but hold on and let him take over. Danny grabbed his ass and continued riding it until Brian’s head was thrashing from side to side with orgasm. He continued to milk Brian’s cock, stroking it, sending fresh pulses of climax as he started to come with his lover, praising him in at least three languages. Brian clung to Danny’s sweaty neck until he collapsed on top of him, panting.
“You really need to get into it more,” Brian chided, breathless.
Danny laughed weakly. “Next time, I promise.”
The words echoed in his mind, as Brian held him tightly. In the morning. Not now...in the morning...he’d talk to him in the morning, Brian thought. But thoughts of Christmas ghosts and lonely graveyards threatened to keep him awake. Brian stroked Danny’s sweat dampened hair. “Danny...you know I love you...right?”
“Hmm mmm,” Danny murmured sleepily.
“And I would never keep anything from you if it were my story to tell.”
There was a pause, then, cautiously, “Okay.”
“But sometimes, the story isn’t completely mine to tell. I might have only partial information or think I have information, but it might not be accurate or I might not be sure if I should say something or not....”
Danny leaned on his elbows and looked Brian in the eyes. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
Brian sighed. “Well, it depends. It could be good news....and I’m not sure if it means anything really.”
Danny narrowed his eyes. “Oh my God. It’s Luke, it’s it. Luke is alive, isn’t he?”
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