"Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier'n puttin' it back."
"Did you know?" Justin stood in the doorway staring at Michael, who was looking through a box of comic books he had just gotten.
"What about Brian? I know a lot about him. What in particular do you have in mind?" He glanced at Justin, not liking the accusing tone of voice.
Michael stopped what he was doing and stared at Justin. He put down the comics that he had just picked up. "Cancer? What are you talking about?"
"I was at the loft when Brian got home from his trip to Ibiza. For someone who just got back from a vacation in the sun and sand, he looked terrible. He wouldn't talk to me, said everything was just peachy and that he must have pulled a muscle. While he was in the shower the phone rang and the answering machine picked up. It was a doctor from Johns Hopkins asking how he was doing and making sure he had a follow-up appointment." Justin stopped to take a deep breath and collect his emotions. "I called Hopkins to find out what kind of doctor he was. They told me he's an oncologist, a cancer specialist." After a moment he added, "testicular cancer."
Michael still hadn't said a word but the look on his face said it all.
"Why didn't he tell me? I could have been
there for him, with him. How do I tell him I know?"
"How can I not tell him, Michael? I can't pretend everything's okay when it's not."
"You have to. You know him better than almost anyone. He doesn't like people knowing the real him; he doesn't want to seem weak. If he doesn't want us to know, then we have to pretend we don't know."
"Michael," he said, not sure this was the right thing to do. After a moment he nodded.
That night, in bed with Brian, Justin held him tight, trying to get as close as possible to the man he loved. He couldn't help the thoughts clouding his brain. There were too many what ifs for him to sleep. He stifled a sob, not wanting to disturb the other man's rest. Quiet tears fell from his eyes as he rested his head on Brian's chest near his heart and he lightly kissed the warm skin tasting the saltiness.
A few evenings later Brian was alone in the loft. The fact that he'd just taken some pain pills didn't stop him from having a glass of Jack in his hands. His feet were propped up on his expensive coffee table and his head was resting back on the sofa. He had downed one shot quickly and now sipped the amber liquid slowly. Soon the quiet was broken by the buzzing of the intercom. Brian sighed and gingerly raised himself from the almost comfortable position he had been in.
"Brian, let me in," came his friend's voice. Brian hung his head not really wanting any company. He buzzed Michael in.
When the large metal door was slid back, he was greeted by a smiling Michael bearing an armful of cholesterol laden food.
"I brought supper," he announced, unnecessarily and hurried into the room.
"I see. And to what do I owe this feast? You know Justin's not here right now and we'll never be able to eat all this."
"Hey," Michael said doing his best to sound upbeat. "I'm half Italian. It's what we do." He pretended he didn't see the glass of liquor on the table next to the brown container of prescription meds. The food cartons were soon spread out with plates and forks available if needed. "Come on, grab some food."
Brian carried two bottles of beer into the living room area and resigned himself to joining Mikey in a bucket of KFC and a large supreme pizza with extra cheese.
When they were done, chicken bones and pizza crusts were all that was left of the food. Several empty beer bottles were lined up on the edge of the table. "Dessert" was supplied by Brian from his personal stash.
They were both laughing at some stupid happening from high school. Brian was sitting on one end of the sofa and Michael was lying with his legs over the arm at the other end, his head on a pillow by Brian's leg. Michael took a long drag from the joint, or was it yet another joint, he'd lost count, and passed it to Brian.
"So why didn't you tell me you were having surgery, Brian?"
The lighted joint stopped halfway to Brian's mouth and Brian stood up way too fast for comfort. "Who told you?" he asked, glaring down at Michael. "How did you find out?"
"Justin. He heard a message on your answering machine from some doctor." Michael stood and at that moment he knew he shouldn't have said anything.
"He had no right!" Brian poured himself a glass of bourbon and swallowed it in one gulp. "Get out," he yelled.
"I said get out. Now, Michael."
Michael stood and walked to the door. He turned to say something, but thought better of it when he saw the look on the other man's face. He slammed the steel door on his way out.
Brian paced the room trying to figure out what to do when Justin came home.
Two hours later Justin was running up the stairs to the loft, his backpack slung carelessly over his shoulder. He was surprised to find the large door unlocked. Sliding it aside, he walked in. He didn't immediately see Brian and set his pack down on the floor inside the door. Grabbing several DVD's out of the front pocket, he walked further into the room trying to decide what he wanted to watch. That's when he noticed Brian sitting at the table looking over photos from the latest ad shoot. He went over to the table and set the DVD's down across from where Brian was working.
"Hey," he said as cheerfully as he could. "I brought some movies. I thought we could spend a quiet night together and watch…"
"Watch what? `My Boyfriend has Cancer' sounds like a good one. Or how about `The Cat's out of the Bag'?" In one motion, Brian stood and swiped his papers from the table with his arm, knocking several of the little plastic cases with them.
"Brian, stop." Justin took a deep breath. "How did you find out that I knew?"
"Well, Michael brought dinner for me and during dessert he asked why I didn't tell him."
"I should have guessed. He's the one who said since you didn't want us to know we shouldn't tell you we knew, then he goes and tells. Okay, so I know. So what. You should have told me. I shouldn't have had to find out the way I did. And I went to Michael because I wanted to know if he knew; if you had told him."
Brian just stared then wrinkled his brow. "Why would I tell him and not you?"
"He's your best friend. I'll go. I won't tell anyone else, I promise. I'm sorry." He bent down to pick up the movie cases. Once they were safely on the table he started to pick up Brian's papers.
"Sorry's bullshit. Leave them, Justin. I'll get them."
"No. You probably shouldn't be doing all that bending and…"
"Justin, I said I'll get them." It came out angrier than he had planned. He grabbed hold of Justin's arm and pulled him up.
Justin shook his arm loose and stared into Brian's eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't want the whole world to know. You know that once Michael knew, Debbie would know and it wouldn't be long before Liberty Avenue knew."
"You know that if you had told me, I wouldn't have told anyone else. It would have been just between us until you were ready to tell someone else."
"I know." He pulled Justin into a hug. "You know, I'll bet Debbie will be here first thing in the morning with a tuna noodle casserole in her arms."
"I'm not taking that bet, Big Guy."
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