Save the Last Dance for Me
Author's Notes: Thanks to Thyme
for the beta, to Sabina for finding the right pic and to Thyme and Sabina's
Sunshine Files for inspiration.
Brian Kinney walked briskly into Kinnetik’s main lobby, one hand automatically reaching out for his morning cup of coffee held within easy reach by one eager assistant, while his other hand grabbed the sheaf of messages held out by a second sycophant. Cynthia glanced up from her computer screen to roll her eyes at the familiar ritual. If either of those lackeys watched to catch Brian’s eye at this time of the day, they’d do better to hand him a tube of lube than a cup of coffee, she thought. At least, that’s what Justin would have done. Thinking of the little blond devil, Cynthia smiled. This morning’s visitor should be able to penetrate the boss’s veil of intense morning concentration as few had managed to do since a certain young man had left for fame and fortune over three years ago. She counted softly to herself as she waited for the explosion as Brian entered his inner office.
“Fuck! Where the hell did you come from? Damn, that coffee is hot! Cynthia!”
She was already on her way with a fresh cup...and a fresh suit. After as many years as they’d worked together, some things were as predictable as the pink plate special on Thursdays at the Liberty Diner.
Brian was still staring bemused at the petite blonde sitting on his desk, swinging her short but shapely legs and staring at the framed picture of Justin and Gus she held in her hand. He absently took the clean suit pants from Cynthia as he nodded towards his guest.
“You let her in, I suppose?”
Cynthia grinned at him. “Isn’t she adorable? She insisted that it was a life or death matter. Just like...”
“Daphne.” In unison, all three of them spoke the name of Justin’s best friend and accomplice in most of his escapades.
At the sound of Molly Taylor chiming in on him and his girl Friday, Brian turned toward her and raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Well, Good Golly, Miss Molly, I take it your resemblance in this escapade to the intrepid Ms. Chanders is not accidental, then? She told you of her visits to my office on your brother’s behalf, did she?”
“Well, duh.” The pretty blonde’s rolling of her eyes at Brian and casual dismissal of him as anything other than a boring adult was not an attitude he was in any way accustomed to receiving from females; gay man or not, women found him devastatingly attractive. He blinked at her, completely nonplused, and turned to Cynthia, who, in all honesty, was slightly surprised as well. By her estimate, Molly Taylor was about seventeen, and girls of that age normally were nothing but raging hormones. Brian was dead sexy. At the moment he was stripping off his coffee soaked suit pants and was standing in front of Molly in the briefest of briefs, his muscular legs looking damn good if Cynthia were any judge...and she was. And what was Molly doing? Examining a fingernail that was polished a stunning shade of blue. Brian’s look was torn between bewilderment and concern that he was finally losing his appeal.
Just in time, the once and forever King of Liberty saw the barest trace of a smile lurking in those blue Taylor eyes, so much like her brother’s they made his own burn, and he wondered for a second whether he’d be blamed by any court in the land if he were to turn this underage female bubble butt intruder over his knee and spank her.
Nah, no fun in spanking a female ass, he decided. He finished putting his pants on, and continued to play it cool, determined that there was no way this Taylor was going to beat him at a game he’d damn well invented.
“So, can I offer you a drink? It’s a little early for Beam but perhaps a coffee? Let’s see, you’re now about seventeen...is Jen sending you to live with me on the extended Taylor sleep-away plan? I’m not sure we’ll quite get along all the time but....”
The brat giggled. “That would probably do the trick in getting Justin to come home, I bet. Thinking that I was now living with you. If we could pull it off, that is, but somehow I don’t think even Jester is that stupid.” Blonde Temptation leaned back on his desk and smiled sunnily. She was wearing a very short skirt that she’d paired with a cropped top that revealed a toned, tanned midriff and a small but firm, well-formed set of tits. Justin’s little sister was a knock-out. If you went for that type, Brian mentally amended his thought, as he shook his head to try clearing it. It was too early in a so far caffeine-deprived day to be dealing with this, he decided.
Brian turned to look at Cynthia, who jumped up from the chair she’d sunk into.
“Right on it, boss. Two cups of coffee, extra strong.”
“I don’t drink coffee,” Molly piped up sweetly. “It gives you wrinkles. Do you have any green tea? It has anti-oxidants that are very good for you. At your age, you know, you should be very careful about what you ingest, Brian.” Earnest blue eyes looked up at Brian.
He wondered if there was any chance he was still asleep and this was a bad dream brought on by that leftover Thai food he ate last night–he’d thought it tasted a little funny. Of course, if this were a dream, then he could spank her...his mood brightened at once.
Seeing Brian smiling in that odd way made Cynthia rush to get the coffee. She made sure to leave the office door open.
“What can I do for you, Molly? Assuming that Mother Taylor did not send you to live with me, although looking at you, I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption. I’m willing to bet that you’re twice the handful your brother was...and he was no walk in the park at your age.”
The blonde princess snorted. A genteel snort, to be sure, but a snort all the same. Ted, who happened to be coming in just then with the month’s financial reports, dropped them in surprise at the Brian-like sound coming from such a vision of femininity.
“Oh, it’s Justin in drag,” he said, looking closer. “That explains it. Hi, Justin. When did you get back?”
Brian and Molly rolled their eyes in tandem.
“It’s not Justin,” Brian told him, impatiently. “It’s his sister, Molly. Can’t you tell a real girl from a guy in drag?”
“Not always,” Ted said calmly. “Not when the boy is pretty, fine-boned, and fair haired, like Justin was. Although now that you mention it, she is a bit shorter, isn’t she? Nice to meet you, Molly, I’m Ted Schmidt. I’ll come back later, Brian, since you have company.”
Molly was giggling again. Brian was looking stormy.
“How do you get any work done?” she asked him.
“What do you mean? How do I get any work done? Just because school girls come waltzing into my business, making themselves at home, causing me to ruin my suits and disrupting my morning’s schedule without making their purpose clear and without the courtesy of calling in advance, you think I can’t get any work done? In actuality, you find you adjust, because you have to. You make one mistake one night in your life and pick up a stranger under a streetlight, and suddenly your life isn’t your own for years afterward. No, for the next decade that stranger’s family feels entitled to make demands on you.” He was practically growling at her.
She stopped smiling and her swinging legs stilled. She stared at him, blue eyes wide. Before he could say another word, Cynthia came back in with his coffee and the cup of tea. “Uh oh,” she thought. “Time for damage control.” The large eyes were shiny with the tears that the teen was trying hard not to let fall. While Brian’s attention was focused on sipping his coffee and scanning his messages, Cynthia stood between Molly and him to give the younger girl a moment to compose herself.
After a couple of minutes, Brian looked up from his messages to where the two women were looking at him cautiously.
“You should know better,” he began, in a conversational tone, “than to even try to talk to me before I’ve had my morning cup of coffee.”
“I know,” Molly whispered.
“You should also have known that seeing you again for the first time after your year abroad, sporting those, those...things,” Brian waved vaguely in the direction of her chest, “and um, you know, them,” this eloquent comment was accompanied by a second wave at her slim, tanned legs. Molly tried crossing them, but since that pose merely emphasized the shortness of her skirt it didn’t help her cause, which Brian’s appalled expression clearly revealed, causing both females to giggle anew at his unusual lack of poise.
“Great, now you’re laughing at me again. That does it, I’m calling Jennifer and telling her to make you a reservation in that convent outside Harrisburg.”
"We’re not even Catholic,” Molly objected.
“But my mother is,” Brian grinned evilly. “She’ll probably be thrilled if I send her a fresh sacrificial lamb. Wouldn’t you marry Jesus to save me from eternal damnation, sweetheart?”
Realizing that Brian had not only come out of his sulk, but also that the conversation was finally getting to where she wanted it in the first place...marriage and weddings, more or less...Molly hopped down from the desk and skipped over to his chair to give him a hug.
“Welcome home, brat. If I’d known you were going to grow up on us while you were gone, I’d never have agreed to your going away for a year abroad.” Molly snorted again as Brian returned the hug tightly. He’d never admit it in actual words but this little surrogate sister of his had grown very dear in the past three years as he’d stood in the place of father, brother and flirt–whatever the occasion required–to her, while Jennifer’s fledgling relationship with the teacher Tucker grew into a more serious romance. Understandably, Jennifer hadn’t wanted to risk young Molly becoming too close to yet another man who might bail out on them when the relationship ended. Craig had cut all ties with Justin after his son had come out. Dad of the Year-Not spent less and less time with Molly after the divorce, until it got to the point that she was lucky if he even remembered to send a card on her birthday. Sadly, even Justin, once close to his younger sister despite the large age difference between them, spent little time with her once he moved to New York.
While Jennifer was reluctant to add a new man who might not stay in the picture she tried to keep the one she knew she could count on. It was then that she’d asked Brian not to cut all ties with the lonely little girl “right away” after the wedding that wasn’t. Feeling a bit lost himself, Brian agreed once he made sure that there was no chance of running into Justin. For his own protection, he felt that a clean break was for the best there, and it was evident that Justin agreed as the weeks stretched into months without a phone call or visit. When the Babylon reopening came and went with no word from Justin, it was as though a collective exhale took place and everyone stopped holding their breath waiting for Justin to come home. Or for Brian to leave and follow him to New York City. Brian was here and Justin was there. The girls came trailing back home after about a year but Justin moved into a new apartment and then a bigger studio and Kinnetik expanded and eventually life went on as though it was life and not just a holding pattern.
At first, Jen’s request was only that Brian try to make an appearance for birthdays and holidays, the odd school event where a male presence was needed and Justin begged off. It didn’t seem like such a big deal. But over the course of the first couple of years after his non-wedding to Molly’s brother, while never really taking the place of Craig or Justin, Brian eased the pain of the absence of both of them while forging his own place in their lives. Being mid-way between Craig and Justin’s ages, he was able to be a sort of brother to both Jennifer and Molly as he looked out for them. In that role, he vetted both Molly’s first boyfriends and Jennifer’s increasingly serious relationship with James Tucker.
He was still Brian Kinney. He didn’t take them shopping but he made sure that Emmett did. He didn’t do girl-talk, but he made sure that Cynthia, Daphne or Debbie checked up on such essentials as whether Molly had been given “the talk” or whether Jennifer was practicing safe sex. He personally made sure Tucker wasn’t bi. Not by hitting on the guy, that would have been too obvious and would have violated his personal code of honor. No, he sent that guy Brandon after Tucker, to try picking him up. Tuck passed with flying colors, proving he was neither gay, bi, nor homophobic. Of course, the funny thing was that Brandon got a bit of a crush on the hot teacher. Even bought a motorcycle and practically killed himself learning to ride it, but other than learning how to ride without becoming road kill on his weekend rides with Brian and Tucker, Brandon never got anywhere despite his best efforts.
All in all, some real positives came out of the whole arrangement.
Brian got to remember how much he used to love riding his old Harley back in college and he also got a new friend out of the arrangement.
With Brian’s blessing, Jennifer felt free to pursue the relationship and it gave her a whole new lease on life, which brought back her old sparkle. With the business contacts that Brian and his friends threw her way, her real estate practice took off and soon she was asked to be a partner in the firm she had been afraid to interview at a few short years ago. She specialized in the “gayborhood” and her clients came from the wealthiest segment of Pittsburgh’s population, being comprised, in large part, of dual income, single sex professional couples with no children. Craig Taylor celebrated her success by filing a motion with the court to have her alimony eliminated and Molly’s child support reduced. Brian paid Melanie Marcus (newly returned with Lindsay and the kids from the poorly conceived move to Canada) to oppose the motion and grind the man’s balls to the floor. That, as Brian told the diminutive lawyer, should be one legal task she should really be able to sink her teeth into.
Taylor v. Taylor resulted in a resounding win for the plaintiff's ex-wife as the court granted a retroactive increase in support for Molly and reimbursed Jennifer for the time that Craig had cut her off without a dime and left her living on welfare in retaliation for supporting Justin. Mel got the entire property settlement agreement reopened as having been coerced.
Molly got stability back into her life, with a happier mother and a more comfortable financial situation. She had both a surrogate brother and father in Brian, while Tucker remained firmly in second place as her friend and her mother’s love interest. Sometimes it bothered her that Justin had faded into the background of her life, with decreasingly frequent phone calls and emails as the months passed, but for the most part it bothered her that it didn’t bother her more. He had his life and she had her life was the way she looked at it. When the chance came for her to spend her Junior year abroad, it was Brian who helped Molly get her passport and pack her bags, and he was the one who drove a weeping Jennifer home from the Pittsburgh airport after her baby girl flew off to Paris. It was also Brian who made a sneak visit to France at Christmas time to visit the homesick Pittsburgh girl and make sure St. Nick delivered her presents on time. So naturally she turned to Brian when she came home to a messy situation. Who else?
Of course, six months made a big difference at this age, Brian thought, returning the hug of this now seventeen year old world traveler. Gone was the little girl who’d left Pittsburgh in August. Gone even was the pathetic little girl he’d visited and brought presents to in December. It was a very posh and grown-up young lady who sat down on the sofa in his office and crossed her slim legs as she waited for him to take a seat. He smirked at her poised demeanor.
“Well, in what way may I be of service to you, Ms. Taylor? Something tells me you didn’t just show up to demonstrate your Paris fashions to me, tres chic as they may be."
“You need to get Justin to stop being a wanker,” she told him, batting her baby blues at him just to see what type of reaction it got. He grimaced. She stopped.
“Seriously, Brian, I need your help.” She tried opening her eyes really wide, just like pictures always showed Jester looking at Brian. There, his Adam’s apple showed that he took a gulp. Molly would have grinned in triumph but Paris teaches a girl a few things, one of which is to be smug in secret.
“Why do you need my help, Molly? Justin stopped being a wanker, oh, about four, five years ago.”
Brian gave her a half smile. It was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. Molly pretended to be immune to Brian’s “Face of God” good looks but every once in a while she really had to pinch herself. Being back around him in the flesh after a six month hiatus...that little visit at Christmas time hardly counted...especially when all the Parisian girls went on and on about how handsome he was in his picture that she kept on her desk at school...well, it was hard for even a level-headed girl like Molly to remember that he was her best friend and next thing to a brother who was going to marry her stupid brother if she had anything to do with it. Which she certainly intended to. Have something to do with it, that was.
She curled a stray lock of hair around her finger and looked at him through her downcast lashes. “I need your help getting Jester to come to Mom’s wedding, Bri! Can you believe it? Mom and Tucker are getting married finally! The day she’s dreamed of is finally coming true for her, real love with a man who will appreciate her as a person and not just an appendage, and she deserves to have her whole family by her side, the people whom she loves and who love her. But, instead, her heart will be breaking because Justin, her first born, her baby boy, her little man, her little Jay, her baby blue eyes....”
“Stop before I need to send Cynthia for insulin,” Brian begged. “Jen is getting married to Tuck? That’s great! When was that decided? And when’s the big day? Why won’t Justin be there?”
“Yes and Yes. Last night. One month. No good reason,” She answered his questions in order, hands folded primly in her lap. He gave her a warning look and she winked at him. “Seriously, it is good news, isn’t it? They just told me last night and then they called Jester. I think they were just waiting for me to get home to spring the happy news. It was just a matter of time, don’t you think?”
Brian nodded, he did think. No two people were better suited in his opinion than Jennifer and Tucker. She came alive with the hot young teacher. Brian had always thought age was simply a matter of attitude, hell, the age difference between him and Justin was merely an inconvenience at times, but didn’t make any material difference. Jennifer Taylor was a pretty hot woman who’d been completely ill-matched with that boorish lout Taylor. He couldn’t imagine her with a typical man in his late forties or early fifties.
Then there was Tucker. He had endless patience for Jen, who, in all honestly, wasn’t a woman who needed a man to take care of her, but certainly was one who preferred life that way. She no longer needed a man in the financial sense, but she would always be the type of person who needed someone in an emotional way, someone to lean on, someone to be there for her. Tucker, for all that he was a new age, sensitive kind of guy who believed in equality for women, opened doors for whomever he was with, female or male, listened attentively and with humor and intelligence to whatever she had to say about her day and life’s little ups and downs, would always be there with a broad shoulder, a listening ear, and, Brian smirked to himself, he’d overheard enough of the girltalk he eschewed to know that the motorcycle man made toe curling love to her. Whenever Jen felt insecure and worried that Tucker might leave her for a younger woman, he laughed and told her that younger women bored him. After three years, with no sign of his interest flagging, she finally believed him.
So no, the pending marriage wasn’t a surprise. Brian also knew that Tucker’s father was a minister and while fairly broad-minded, the Rev. Tucker had voiced his preference that Tucker consider marriage if he was sure that Jennifer was the one for him. Brian had been amused when Tucker had related the story to him one morning over wrenches and motorcycle grease.
“So, when we do get around to tying the knot, will you be my best man?” the pony-tailed teacher had asked with a deceptive air of casualness, his head bent over the wheel of his bike, eyes hidden by the fall of hair over his face.
Brian had sat back on his haunches, a trifle stunned. One moment he’d been laughing at the tale of Tuck’s cleric father trying to discuss the birds and the bees with his hippie son who was sleeping with a woman only twelve years younger than his own mother, and the next he watched that previously cool specimen of manhood turn into a blushing, stammering groom.
“I can’t believe it,” Brian had exclaimed. “Another good man lost to the great myth of matrimonial bliss. You’ll take a great relationship and turn it into....”
“A great marriage,” Tucker had said firmly, morphing back into himself as soon as he felt himself back on firm ground. “We’ll be okay, Jen and I. She makes me happy, and I know how to make her happy and safe. We work together. I don’t know how, or why, but we do.” He’d grinned. “Like a Volkswagen engine in a Porsche body, it’s the most fucked up thing but it works.”
Brian had grinned back at him. “Which one of you are you calling the Porsche?”
“Jen, of course.”
“Well, in that case, of course I’ll stand as your best man and lend a bit of classic style to your Volkswagen side of the equation.” Despite the light-hearted words, Brian found himself touched that Tucker had asked him to stand as his best man. He’d never really had a “straight” friend before, believing his often repeated mantra that there were two kinds of straights, and both kinds hated gays, the only difference being whether they hated you to your face or behind your back
It was a bit jarring to find out after living thirty-five years that you could be so wrong. But Carl Horvath was one decent straight guy who slowly, patiently showed him a different truth, and he learned that he could live in mutual respect with an older straight man. Now James Tucker was showing him that he could actually be friends with a straight guy...a hot straight guy, who wasn’t a closet case.
Thinking of that conversation now, Brian felt the tug of a grin. He was startled out of his thoughts by a bright voice saying, “So you’ll do it?”
He drew his brows together in a semblance of his fiercest glare. “Do what, munchkin? What dark deed are you trying to trick me into doing for you? I won’t interfere in your mother’s wedding plans. Get Emmett if you need a wedding planner. He does great work.”
“No! I don’t need a wedding planner! I need my brother. Mom needs my brother! Please Brian, you’re the only one he’ll listen to! Even Daphne says so.”
This time Molly almost let the tears fall, but she remembered in time the advice that Daphne had given to her...don’t cry. Brian hates women crying. Almost crying is fine but it is a far, far better thing to almost cry. More attractive too, not that Brian would take more than an aesthetic interest in that, but he was a man with a strong aesthetic sense so appealing to him with a red, blotchy face was not a good idea.
Molly made a pretty picture as she looked at him with the tears she kept back by sheer force of will glimmering on her lightly mascara darkened lashes, the moisture making her blue eyes even bluer.
Brian leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Listen, Molly. I think it’s fantastic that your mom and Tuck are getting married. I am thrilled you’re back home. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were arriving this week, hell, I would have gone to get you.”
She smiled at him, a brave, wavering little smile. She worried that she was perhaps piling it on too thick but he didn’t look suspicious. He looked slightly guilty. Good. Hopefully Daphne was preparing the ground well one her end of things.
“Couldn’t you just go talk to him, Brian? Please? It would mean so much to me if I could dance with my brother at my mom’s wedding and I know she would feel so much better...it would be like being a real family again....”
“Fine...I’ll see what I can do,” Brian promised, willing to do anything to forestall the tears that seemed about to fall at any second.
You pick up a stranger under a streetlamp, he thought, and you sign your life away all for the price of a sunshine bright smile....
“No, Daphne, I’m not interested in going back to Pittsburgh for any class reunions any time this millennium. God, you must be high! Who would I want to see? Hobbs? What would we do? Maybe we could play hide and go bash in honor of the good old days?” Seeing that his best friend looked sufficiently cowed by his fierce glare, Justin lightened up and changed the subject. This one wasn’t exactly pleasant but he somehow felt the need to raise it. He looked out the window as he casually brought up the topic that had been weighing on his mind since the emotional phone call from his mother the night before. The phone call that he ended rather abruptly with a “have a nice life.” Not that he intended to admit that to Daphne.
“Speaking of reasons not to go back to Pittsburgh, did you hear? My dear hormonal mother is actually making her liaison with ponytail boy legal...unlike homosexuals, straights can get married in Pennsylvania as often and ill advisedly as they wish. It’s only gays who are prohibited.” Justin leaned back on his stool in the Starbucks and gave his best friend a bright grin.
“Nah, not only gays...first cousins can’t marry either, except maybe in some of those northwestern counties, like Erie, Daphne told him, flashing him one of her wide smiles. “Where did you say Tucker was from? We have some Tuckers in my family, you know and I think I see a resemblance.”
He tossed a crumpled napkin at her with a laugh. Thank God for Daphne; she could always make him see the humor in every situation, no matter how much he overdramatized it.
Justin was thrilled that she’d decided to accept a residency at St. Luke’s in Manhattan. They would be able to see each other at least once a week when her contract started in the fall. She’d made her decision just that day and they were celebrating over vente non-fat mocha lattes, extra whipped cream. Having Daphne in New York would be so great. Life in the City was exciting and he wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it was lonely too, and in all honesty, he’d missed having a friend, someone he could really talk to, someone he could be himself with. Working and tricking was fun, but sometimes he missed the simple pleasure of being goofy with a friend.
Daphne was changing the subject. “I saw Debbie last week when I was home for Mother’s Day. She’s doing pretty well after that heart scare.”
Justin frowned. “What heart scare? What’s wrong with Deb? I sent her flowers and she called to thank me. She never said anything was wrong with her heart.”
“Of course she didn’t. Since when does Debbie ever admit to being human? Most moms don’t. Mine never does and I bet Jen doesn’t tell you everything either. Don’t look so scared. Deb’s doing okay. She’s got a pacemaker now and she’s only working as a hostess in the diner...you know that Emmett bought it, don’t you? With a loan from Brian? It’s expanded into a larger place, with a real dining room as well as the older section still, so Deb can still be there but no more waiting on tables.”
No, Justin hadn’t known all of that. He smiled at his friend brightly. “That sounds perfect for Deb, she can still be around everybody but not have to work as hard.” He was wondering what else he didn’t know, and what Daphne had meant by her comment about moms not telling everything. Was there something his mother wasn’t telling him?
“Exactly,” Daphne was going on about Debbie and the diner. Justin tried to focus. “Your mom kept an eye out for the property next door to become available and as soon as a couple of the tenants left, she approached the owner about selling the space outright. It was perfect. The diner was hardly closed, they did most of the work at night and it looks super, all retro. Decorated in this fifties style, but cool fifties, not tacky. James Dean and Marlon Brando instead of the Fonz and Richie Cunningham.”
“That sounds like...that sounds cool.. So everything is great back in Smallville, Lois, that’s fantastic. Metropolis is going to be a big change for you but I think you’ll adjust, I did.”
Daphne raised her hands in supplication. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to go on about boring stuff. Tell me about what's new with you! I’ve caught you up on my residency and plans for moving to your city and filled you in on the hometown stuff. You do realize I’m counting on you to introduce me to all the hot spots...during the two point five hours of free time per week I’ll have for pleasure, that is.” She giggled. “I won’t know what to do with myself with such freedom. It makes me giddy to think of it! I can be your fag hag again!”
Justin shook his head fondly. “We prefer the term fairy princess now,” he told her loftily. “How...how is everyone else back home? Em still falling in love every week?”
Daphne looked closely at her best friend. He was trying so hard to appear nonchalant. But he was trying so hard to avoid seeming like he wanted to talk about Brian that it was standing out by default. She thought that her bringing Brian up in connection with the diner expansion would break the ice and Justin would allow himself to ask about his former lover, but no. Stubbornness, thy name is Sunshine. Mention Emmett and Brian and who does he ask about? Emmett, of course.
Well, two can play this game, Mr. Taylor, ve haff vays uf making you beg for information, she thought, channeling her inner KAOS agent. She didn’t set up this whole plan with Molly to go down without a fight on her end!
“Oh sure, Emmett will always be the incurable romantic, he’s not given up on love. But then, I think some people have come to believe in love who you would have thought would be the last ones in the world to be believers.” Daphne let her voice trail off as she scraped the bottom of her cup for the last little bit of coffee. “Do you think it would be bad to get a second cup?” she asked wistfully, ignoring Justin’s curious look.
“I’ll get it,” he offered, jumping up, willing to do anything to keep her talking. She smiled and wondered how Molly was doing. If the Mountain wasn’t going to Pittsburgh to see Mohammed, she was pretty sure her little blue-eyed blonde apprentice was going to be successful in getting Mohammed to visit the Mountain.
“So,” Justin asked, plopping a fresh latte in front of her, whipped cream foaming over the top. Daphne smiled appreciatively at it. “What’s this about certain people now believing in love?” Justin was trying hard to keep his voice casual but his eyes were bright with curiosity.
Daphne looked closely at her friend as she pretended to be concentrating on blowing on the coffee to cool it off–without disturbing the cream– no easy task. Past his twinkhood at twenty-six, Justin looked as youthful as ever, with his boyishly slim build and fair baby fine skin that still looked as though he didn’t need to shave. There was a firmness to the set of his jaw and keenness to the blue eyes that revealed to a discerning eye that this was not the youth he appeared to be at first glance, Daphne thought. A part of her mourned the boy who’d once looked out of those eyes with such joyful expectation at a world that had not yet disappointed him, while another part of her admired the man he’d become, a man who’d taken what the world had thrown at him and had remained standing. Undefeated and undiminished.
Now to make sure he no longer stood alone, she resolved.
“Well, the funniest thing has developed...Emmett thinks it’s true love but I think it’s just birds of a feather...and Michael insists that they don’t even like each other...while Ted says...”
“Daph..whoa! Hold on a second! Before you tell me what Todd in the back room has to say about ‘it’ you have to tell me what ‘it’ is!” Justin laughed. “You do realize I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about, right?”
Daphne looked at him innocently. “Oh, didn’t I say? Why, Brian and Brandon and Tucker, of course, and their menage à trois.”
Justin looked dumbfounded “You must be joking. Brian and...no way. First of all, he hates that Brandon guy...you do mean that same Brandon who....”
“The Brandon who bet him that he could fuck more hot guys or something in ten days? Or ten guys in less time? Something like that. I forget the exact terms of the bet, something to prove who was king stud. Weren’t you on the hot guy list though?”
Justin nodded mutely, frowning. Brian couldn’t be involved with that asshole. Could he? Brian had standards. At least he used to. And how did his mother’s boyfriend come into the picture. Not that he cared or anything but still...the guy was his mother’s boyfriend and she was planning on marrying the guy. Not that Justin thought it was a good idea or anything, but he hated to think it was as stupid an idea as it was sounding like it could be. Brian wouldn’t.... No, Brian wouldn’t do something like that. Would he?
“Daphne, what are you talking about?” He looked sternly at her, his arms folded across his chest, the latte forgotten. She returned the look with one of her most innocent brown eyed gazes.
“Well, I don’t really know for sure, after all, I’ve been busy with medical school and all, and what I’ve heard is third hand, and most of that from Molly who’s been away for a year of course.” Daphne sent up a little prayer to Saint Machiavelli, the Patron Saint of Interfering Friends, that she be forgiven for her little white, (well, gray) lies told purely for the sake of true love. “But what I understand from Molly is that Brian and Brandon and Tucker spend an awful lot of time together greasing each other’s rods, and Brian has been heard to say after a wild weekend that Tucker's is the sweetest ride but Brandon’s is better than it used to be.”
Justin looked appalled. “Does my mother know this?”
Daphne rolled her eyes expressively. “Justin, you know your mother. She thought you and I were going to get married. The woman lives in a world of her own half the time. She still probably buys Molly Barbie dolls for Christmas.”
Justin wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with that last statement. Molly was still a little girl after all, right? But otherwise, Daphne had a point, his mom did tend to see things through rose colored glasses. Quite frankly, he’d often used that fact to his advantage as a teen; hell, he’d gotten her to let him live with Brian when he was seventeen, hadn’t he? But this was a whole different thing. A younger guy who would tire of her and dump her was one kind of foolishness. A younger guy who was cheating on her with her son’s ex-lover and another guy too–that was far beyond the pale. What the fuck was Brian playing at?
“You don’t really think Brian is fooling around with my mother’s boyfriend, do you?” All traces of humor had left the boyish face.
“Well now, that’s what I was saying, Jus. I don’t know that Brian is just fooling around with him. I think maybe he’s serious about Tucker. Which is why the fact that Tucker is getting married might be a bit of a downer for Brian. Of course, he’ll still have Brandon, so it’s not like he’ll be all alone but Brandon is kind of a cold fish, you know? Tucker is more of the cuddler of the trio, if you know what...”
“Are you insane? You’re talking about Brian and cuddling? Brian....”
“Brian loves to cuddle, Justin.” Daphne spoke very firmly. “I know you have this idea in your head that he didn’t, but he does, and he always did. He hugs Michael and Lindsay and me, and even Emmett. I’ve seen him cuddle you lots of times, both in public, at Woodys and Babylon, and in private, when it was just around the loft or at Debbie’s.”
Justin blushed. “Yeah, well, that was a long time ago.”
“And he’s both different and the same,” she said cryptically. “But,” she continued before he could ask her to explain, “I was explaining about Tucker and Brandon. And how Tucker getting married affects Brian.”
Justin jolted out of his reverie over Brian and cuddling. “Shouldn’t we be thinking about how Tucker’s marrying affects my mother?”
“Pshaw...you said you don’t care about how it affects your mother. Didn’t you?” She looked at him, eyebrow raised.
“Well, no, but....”
“No buts about it. Your mom can handle herself. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if maybe Brandon is the one to worry about.”
“Brandon?” Justin practically squeaked the name.
“Well, sure. After all, Brian manages to survive, and it isn’t like Tucker is moving away and at least he’ll have Brandon to fall back on this time.”
“Daphne, you don’t seriously expect me to believe that Brian is involved with Tucker and Brandon, do you?”
“I didn’t say that, did I?” Daphne was sure to keep her face blandly innocent.
“No, but you implied....” Justin frowned. What had she implied, exactly? Before he could ask her any questions, she looked at her watch.
“Oops! Look at the time! I have to fly! I have just enough time to catch my train back to Philadelphia. Can you believe it, three more weeks and I’m done school then my medical boards and I will be a doctor! First illness or injury is on the house, BFF!” She giggled as she jumped up and ran around the little table to hug him.
“I can’t wait until you’re here in the city, Daffy, I miss you,” he whispered into her neck as he hugged her tightly.
“Oh Jus, I miss you too, so much.” She held him close for a minute, taking professional note of his slimness, satisfied that he was healthy and fit, slender and not emaciated.
As she let him close the door on the cab, Daphne looked up and smiled. “Now don’t you worry. I’m sure that everything will be just fine with your mom and her young love. There’s no need for you to think that Brian might be getting back at you through her or anything.”
“What! Daphne, explain what you mean by that!”
“Nothing, I said that’s not anything you have to worry about,” she blithely assured him as the cab pulled away from the curb.
There, she thought. If that doesn’t have him on the phone to Brian within the hour, nothing will.
As he waved goodbye to her departing cab, Justin resolved to call Brian as soon as he got back to his apartment. But his mother was getting the first call.
“Mom? Hi. Yeah, I’m sorry about last night, your news took me by surprise and I acted badly.” Justin felt guilty as soon as he heard the break in his mother’s voice. Damn, he never meant to lose his temper last night the way he did. As much as he didn’t agree with the step she was taking, he had no right to treat her like that. Fuck, she never cut him out of her life when he made his choices, no matter how hard it made her life. How could he have forgotten that? That quickly, he made a decision.
“Mom, I’d like to come visit...if you’ll have me, that is.”
The excited acceptance in her voice was reward enough for his decision. But he was going to do more than visit his mother, he decided. He was going to contact a certain Brian Kinney and get to the bottom of a certain rumor. He would call Brian and demand answers, that’s what he would do! Or maybe go see him in person. That might be better. Yes, this was a conversation better done in person, Justin decided.
No sooner had he hung up the phone after speaking with his mother, however, than an incoming call got his attention. A ring tone set to a certain person who hadn’t called in so long, it was a wonder he even remembered the ring tone he’d assigned. He could have down-loaded a newer version by Michael Bublé but he went for the corny old version of the song, the one that Brian called “ridiculously romantic” by some group called The Drifters. At the time, he’d felt it was apt, since he’d felt he and Brian were drifting...drifting apart. Pretty prophetic of him. This was probably the first time the song ever played.
He let it play a bit before answering. It wasn’t like it was a song that he could remember in connection with any event, other than being told it played as he danced with Brian at the prom, in Daphne’s words “amazingly.”
“Hey Sunshine...it’s Brian. I was beginning to think you weren’t there or maybe your number changed. I just happen to be in New York tonight and wondered if you were free for dinner?”
“Uh...sure. yeah, that would be, um, good.” Smooth, Taylor, real smooth, he berated himself. Twenty-six years old, an artist living on his own in the greatest city in the world and he still sounded like a seventeen year old, stumbling over his words.
“Great, where should I meet you?” The warm voice in his ear, sounding so, so Brian-like, made tendrils of something start coiling in his groin...Justin refused to acknowledge it as arousal. It was probably the effects of too much caffeine in the middle of the day. He should have known better than to have Starbucks’ coffee. Especially the mocha latte, he told himself. He and Brian were so over, it wasn’t even worth thinking about. He only wanted to see him because, well, they were friends and there was this whole situation with his mother’s fiancé to straighten out.
But if you were friends, that annoying little voice inside his head insisted on saying, you would have called or emailed after you left, like you did with Daphne. You broke all contact with Brian because you couldn’t stand to be “just friends.”
“Justin? Where do you want me to meet you? I rented a car to travel from the airport so I could pick you up if you want to go anywhere in particular for dinner. I’m staying at the Marriot Marquis, so you name the time and place.”
“Why don’t you meet me at the restaurant? There’s a nice one near my apartment in the Village, Café Loup, and you’ll be able to get parking right next door. That way you can leave the car there and ... walk around a bit afterward if you want.”
Justin gave him directions and they set a time to meet that gave Justin time to go home and shower. He’d considered inviting Brian to his apartment but at the last minute had shied away from making a commitment to that. He wasn’t sure if he would want to be around him if he had changed to the point that he was capable of cheating with his mother’s boyfriend. Or with that guy Brandon.
Would Brian want to get back at him by hurting his mother? He couldn’t believe that. First off, he had no reason to want to “get back” at Justin–breaking up had been a mutual decision, right? Just like calling off the wedding had been. Oh sure, Brian had done all those sappy things like he’d wanted to be together, but he hadn’t really meant any of it. If Justin knew anything, he knew that hadn’t been the real Brian during those weeks leading up to the wedding.
At least, he hadn’t thought so. Justin’s pace slowed as he walked along the New York City streets, and for the first time in over three years, examined the events of the weeks leading up to his “wedding that wasn’t.” There had been the bombing at Babylon, which had scared everyone to death, especially with Michael almost dying. In some ways, it was almost worse for Brian, because he hadn’t been there with them. If there was anything likely to set off his over-active guilt complex, it was the fact that he was heading off on a vacation when his do-gooder friends almost died for the cause of homosexual freedom.
A much more cynical person now than he was then, Justin could acknowledge that by donating his business site to the cause, Brian had already done more for “the cause” than most of the people there that night, and that given how Michael and he had been treating him, much less the rest of the self-righteous GLC crowd, it was no wonder he didn’t want to be there. But Brian was unlikely to cut himself that slack. He probably beat up on himself for not being there when the blast hit, ready to throw his body in front of the bomb if need be. It was little wonder Justin had always been a little suspicious of an avowal of love that was made on the scene of such carnage. Emotions were running really high. Such a confession had to be about as reliable as one shouted during orgasm, he figured, and you’d have to be a class A prick to hold a man to it in the cold light of day.
But Brian was nothing if not honorable. Justin knew that. Once he broke his cherry over saying the dreaded three little words, he went on to the four word phrase. And that’s when it became sticky. Like the floor in the backroom in Babylon. Sure its all thrilling– as long as you didn’t think about it too much or stop to examine any of it too closely. But if you do, you suddenly think, is this what you want to do with your life? And when you come to the sickening realization that this man, this man who calls you a prince and talks about orchids and houses in the country and turning down tricks is a stranger to you. And you’re left with the gut wrenching problem of how do you tell the man you love that you won’t marry him? You can’t do it. Especially when he’s doing everything he can to be the ideal man.
Which, when it came right down to it, was their downfall. Brian doing stuff, and trying to be anything, when the quintessential Brian Kinney was a man who didn’t do anything to please others, he just was himself, Brian Kinney, the man that everyone wanted, or wanted to be. Which was over-simplifying it, sure, because Brian did lots of things for lots of people, but he only did it when it suited him. That’s what made him so perfectly Brian. It’s why Justin never felt beholden to him despite all that Brian did for him. Brian made it clear that he just did it because he wanted to, and when he stopped wanting to do it, he would.
Why then did Justin feel like he made some colossal mistake somewhere? He, Justin Taylor, expert on Brian Kinney and editor-in-chief of the Operating Manual on the Kinney Male, Second Edition, was somehow missing the boat on some crucial information and had fucked it all up. Well, if he had, the joke was on him, since this living on his own in New York City, being the world’s best homosexual, wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Not that he would ever admit that to a living soul. But, for all that his career was moving along on pace, and he got out every weekend for dancing and tricking, even some weekdays...it was...boring. After the second year, he’d done every club and while there were new ones all the time, he no longer cared. Money wasn’t tight, he wasn’t rich or anything, but he had enough to get by and the work was interesting. He did enough commercial work to fund his more creative projects. He had his time at Kinnetik to thank for his comfortable financial status. He was able to live in his own place now instead of sharing an apartment. His place was small, this was New York, after all, but it was his and he loved it.
Still, all in all, for a twenty-six year old gay man in New York City, life was pretty flat.
Justin found himself at the front of his apartment building before his thoughts had reached any type of resolution. He’d better get his head together before he tried tackling Brian, he told himself as he ran up the three flights to his small studio apartment. Finding this place, not far from Washington Square, he’d lucked out. One of the partners at the graphics firm where he freelanced had inherited the apartment and was happy to lease it to someone he could trust when it became vacant suddenly. Furnishing it became his new weekend hobby, taking precedence over time in the clubs as he haunted the secondhand shops, and, yes, the trash, looking for finds. He grinned now, surveying his home, wondering what his WASP parents would think if they ever were to learn the antecedents of some of his lovely refinished furniture.
He glanced at the wall clock, which had a fine walnut finish, and had been rescued from a trash pile in front of the NYU library, and saw that he would have to hurry if he didn’t want to be more than fashionably late to Café Loup. What to wear? What does one wear to confront one’s former lover over his possible perfidy in dating one’s mother’s fiancé?
This is why Jerry Springer should have an eight hundred number, Justin thought. Or at the very least, Dr. Phil. Not that either of them were particularly well dressed, come to think of it. For this kind of advice, a gay man needs a gay man, Justin mused. But not those gay guys on Bravo. Brian always said no self-respecting gay man would ever take their advice. Justin snorted to himself as he got into the shower. He really was fucked–the only person whose opinion he really trusted when it came to sartorial advice–was Brian.
Surveying his closet, Justin tried to channel his inner label queen. He told himself he wasn’t going to all this trouble because he was trying to look hot or anything. It was just that he wanted to impress upon Brian that he wasn’t a kid anymore, hell, he was over twenty-five, he was twenty-six, well past his twinkhood, and well, looking good would give him the confidence to speak his mind.
Plus, his blue Joseph Abbo cashmere sweater really made his blue eyes look extra blue, and was totally fuckable. Not that being fuckable was a consideration, this was just a meeting between old friends, but a person doesn’t want to look unfuckable.
The white jeans–definitely the white jeans. With his Pumas. They’re sneakers, but they don’t look like sneakers...they kind of look like shoes. They’re leather, he reasoned, so they should count as grown-up shoes, shouldn’t they? But with the amount of walking he did around the city, no way was he wearing Prada ever. So sue him.
Satisfied that he looked as good as he could, which, while he never was satisfied, it was enough to garner him quite a few appreciative glances as he made his way over to Fifth and Thirteen Sts., the light breeze ruffling his blond hair back. He wore it slightly longer than he used to, and he brushed it back impatiently as he came to a stop in front of the restaurant and took a deep breath. He was a few minutes early after all, despite being positive he would be late, he noticed with surprise.
“Justin.” A soft voice behind him. Justin bit his lip and glanced into the window of the restaurant, suddenly too nervous to turn around. Three and a half years was a long time. Suddenly it seemed like it had been no time at all. Minutes. And Brian was right behind him again.
Hands came down on his shoulder and gently turned him around.
“Brian.” He felt his face turning red as his voice cracked. Damn Brian for looking so perfect. He should be looking older by now, what was he? Thirty-seven, thirty-eight? Something like that? Michael would just say it didn’t matter, Brian was always young, always beautiful and damned if it wasn’t true.
Justin had planned out a dozen different ways to greet Brian, what to do, what to say, should he hug, kiss? It didn’t matter. He should have known Brian would make all the decisions and he found that he didn’t even mind as the beautiful face bent toward his and those perfect lips captured his open mouth in a stunning kiss. Long elegant fingers combed through his hair and a warm hand pressed against the small of his back, supporting him, encouraging him to lean against the tall firm body that was so familiar, so hot, so..he could not do this. He pushed away.
“Brian! It’s great to see you, you look great, as always. It’s great that you called and could make time to have dinner. I think you’ll like this place, the food here is...”
“Great?” One auburn eyebrow was raised in amusement. Brian started to put his arm over Justin’s shoulder then stepped back and put his hands in his pockets instead, giving a wry smile. “Sorry. Nervous. How are you? You look...” He grinned and again that mobile eyebrow shot up. “Dare I say it? You look great too.”
Justin laughed, relaxing. “Thanks. And I can’t believe you’re nervous, but since you’ve been man enough to admit it, I can admit to being a tad nervous myself. It’s been....”
“Too long,” Brian finished softly.
“Do you feel that way?”
“Yeah. But why don’t we continue this conversation inside. I hear the food here is...good.”
Smiling, Justin led the way inside the small, elegant French restaurant.
By tacit agreement, they kept the discussion to generalities over dinner, shows Justin had seen in New York, movies Brian had liked, work projects, fashion and music. Justin was surprised to find that Brian knew quite a bit about architecture and they discussed early American architectural design and modern design and which was better. It was one of the best “discussions” Justin could remember ever having with Brian. Possibly because they both knew something about the topic and had a point of view to defend, and yet could respect the other’s viewpoint, he mused as he looked at the dessert offerings. That hadn’t happened all that often in their past. Brian had been mentor and expert and he had been protégé and novice, in business, in sex, in life. Justin had been the expert in love and feelings.
And in leaving. Didn’t want to forget that one.
Suddenly losing interest in dessert, Justin looked up and was caught in the gaze of those hazel eyes. He bit his bottom lip and for all the money in his hard earned certificate of deposit account currently earning a whopping 3.25 percent interest, he couldn’t have said a word that wouldn’t have made him start crying to go home. Because home was back in Pittsburgh and had never been here in New York and the past two hours had been better than any two hours he’d spent in the past three and a half years and they hadn’t even had sex.
And where in the world did that three letter word come from? Brian didn’t even act like he wanted to have sex with him...which was another reason to cry. He was wearing his blue cashmere sweater with his tight white jeans for fuck’s sake and if that wasn’t a combo to make a man want to fuck him Justin didn’t know what was and who the hell did he think he was kidding, he just wanted to make his eyes look blue, sure. He wanted to accentuate his ass. Like it needed any help, but when a guy wasn’t under twenty-five any more he didn’t like to leave these things to chance and why the hell wasn’t Brian saying anything?
“Yeah? I mean, yes, Brian?” Yes, we can go back to my apartment, yes, you can have your wicked way with me, yes, I’ll....
“Why aren’t you coming home for your mother’s wedding?”
“What the fuck?” The startled looks from the next table assured Justin that yes, he did say that aloud and no, he didn’t match his tone of voice to Brian’s low voiced question. Oh well. This is the Village, people, you get a lot of queens having queen outs. Deal with it. “You came all the way up here to New York City to see me for the first time in, what, three years...”
“Three and a half,” Brian interjected mildly, leaning back in his chair and lazily crossing those long legs of his. He was wearing dark designer slacks and a green silk shirt that highlighted the green flecks in his eyes; with his leather sport coat he looked like something out of Vanity Fair or GQ, but it was all completely effortless. Like he’d just grabbed whatever his hand reached first. Justin knew that wasn’t the case and that Brian obsessed over clothes, but once he walked out the door of the loft, he never gave his appearance another thought. Why didn’t God make him six foot three and model perfect? He would have appreciated it, really, he would have.
“Thank you, three and a half years,” Justin spit out, running his hands through his hair in his frustration. Why did this man aggravate him so?
Brian smiled at him and Justin totally lost what little sight he had of his train of thought. I’m hopeless, totally and completely hopeless, he thought helplessly.
“I came up here after three and a half years because I missed you, and after spending a ridiculously manipulative session with your baby sister this morning, I decided there was no way I was going to go through her rites of passage as I went through yours without you by my side. One teenage Taylor terror is all one man can be expected to survive on his own. I need you by my side for this one. Your mother is hopeless, we both know that, and Tucker, well, he’s not going to be any use, he’s got his hands full with your mother and fending off Brandon’s man crush, so I came up here hoping that three ...and a half ...years was enough time on your own. Do you think you could possibly entertain, I mean, would you consider...”
Justin stared at Brian, his mouth hanging open, his blue eyes wide with shock.
“Brian, what are you asking me?”
“Justin Taylor, what I am asking you is, will you come home? I love you and I still want to marry you. I told you forever, and I meant it, I never lied to you, Justin.”
Justin decided there are times when it’s okay to cry.
The Taylor-Tucker wedding was the event of the season. Emmett Honeycutt, premier wedding planner for Pittsburgh’s high society made sure that it was perfect, down to the smallest detail. But it was the daughter of the bride, Miss Molly Taylor, who served as her mother’s Maid of Honor, and Miss Daphne Chanders, one of the Bridesmaids, and best friend to the Bride’s son, Mr. Justin Taylor, who was quite handsome as he gave his mother away, who ensured the wedding’s most touching moment, Mr. Honeycutt was heard to say. It was Miss Molly and Miss Daphne who arranged for the band to play a special song for the Best Man and the Bride’s Son to dance to after Justin caught his mother’s bouquet—with a stunning leap over three bridesmaids and the wedding planner himself.
“Good use of the elbows, Sunshine!” Debbie had yelled in encouragement as Justin had turned and flashed her his trademark smile. Jennifer stepped down from the perch where she’d stood to throw the bouquet, into her young handsome husband’s arms. As she looked out into the room filled with so many friends, so many of them part of this new life she’d made for herself, that she never would have dreamed of ten years earlier, she felt tears of happiness falling. Tucker pulled her close, and she hugged him back, knowing that there was no need to explain her tears; he would already understand. She caught her son’s eye and he smiled–he too finally understood. He went over to his own man, content with life.
Brian welcomed him back with open arms as the music chosen by the two women who’d plotted for their reunion began. As the opening bars played, Brian looked into Justin’s eyes.
“Ready to make some memories?”
Justin reached out his arms. Some questions just didn’t need words to be answered. Sometimes ridiculously romantic is exactly what a man needs after three, and a half, years. And sometimes you need to dance a few rounds with every guy in the place just to find out that the one you want to go home with is the one who taught you to dance in the first place. The one for whom your heart would always save the last dance...forever.
You can dance
Every dance with the guy who gives you the eye
Let him hold you tight
You can smile
Every smile for the guy who'd like to treat you right
'Neath the pale moonlight
But don't forget who's takin' you home
And in who's arms you're gonna be
Oh, darlin' save the last dance for me....
[A/N “Save the Last Dance for Me” by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, 1960, first recorded by Ben E. King and the Drifters]
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