Be Careful What You Wish For
* * *
Brian rolled over in his bed and tried not to think about throwing up. That's what he had been doing for the last couple of hours and he didn't want to do it again. His stomach, however, had other ideas. He pushed himself up off the bed with great difficulty. He felt so weak. He stumbled to the bathroom and leaned over the toilet. His stomach heaved and he managed to spit out what little remained in his system. When his stomach stopped roiling he splashed water on his face and then sucked in a bit of water to take away the awful taste in his mouth. He didn't have the strength to go to the fridge for another bottle of water. He had already finished off the one on the nightstand, and that was mostly what he had just brought up. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten anything. The thought nearly made him want to barf again.
He was in his third week of radiation. One more to go after this, he told himself, hoping that thought might help him get through this fucking mess. He had managed to put in a couple of days of work at Kinnetik. He had learned that if he went for his treatment early in the morning, he could go back to Kinnetik and put in a relatively productive morning until the nausea started to hit him around noon. That was his pattern. He would go home when he started feeling nauseous, and puke his guts out for the rest of the afternoon. By the following afternoon he would be well enough to go back to work for a few hours.
He knew that his staff were all wondering just how ill he was, but he refused to tell them anything. He had finally enlisted Ted's help in running interference for him. He had told Ted the whole story and had been impressed by Ted's take charge manner. He didn't know the man had that in him. He also swore Ted to secrecy and they had made up some cock and bull story about Brian having picked up a bug in Ibiza. He was being treated for it, but that was what was making him sick until they found the right antibiotics to fight it off.
Ted was also keeping the family at bay. He made excuses for Brian and backed up whatever story Brian told on the phone. So far Brian had managed not to come face to face with any of them.
Kinnetik Pittsburgh seemed to be doing quite well in spite of his absences. Cynthia was great at organizing and helping with campaigns. She kept her worries about Brian to herself and that suited Brian. Ted had shown concern about Brian, but he hadn't shown pity, and that made Brian trust him even more. Brian had given Ted more and more responsibility at Kinnetik as his treatments had progressed. Ted had stepped up to the plate each time. In fact he seemed to be thriving on the added responsibility.
Brian knew he should call Denver and make sure everything was all right out there, but he didn't have the strength or will to pick up the phone and make the call. God, he hated feeling so weak. He had always been the strong one, the one impervious to insults and other people's opinions … and invulnerable to disease. That was, until now. Now his own body had betrayed him. How could you fight when your body didn't have the strength to? He should have just let the cancer grow. He could have died in a blaze of glory, fucking his way into oblivion. But he had chosen to live.
Why the fuck had he made that decision? Oh yeah, Gus and Kinnetik and … Justin. He groaned and turned onto his side staring through the shutters and out the windows of the loft. How many times over the last three weeks had he wished that Justin was there with him? Making him drink some water, covering him up when he was cold or had the shakes, making him eat chicken soup. Watching him puke his guts out! No, it was better this way. He didn't want Justin to see him like that.
And now he was even less of a man than he had been before. He had lost at least ten pounds he was sure. He had a scar on his scrotum and one pathetic prosthetic ball. He had dark rings under his eyes. He knew he looked like shit when he looked in the mirror, so he had stopped doing that as much as possible.
Brian thought of Gus and wished he could ask Lindsay to bring him over to see him. He knew, however, that he couldn't do that. Aside from scaring Gus, he would tip Lindsay off that something was really wrong, and then all of his crazy family would descend upon him. Or maybe they wouldn't. He was amazed that so few of them seemed to care that they hadn't seen him in a month, not since his operation. He had been glad of that … at first. But he also realized that they all had moved on with their lives. Maybe they didn't care about him anymore. Maybe he was insignificant to them since he had spent all that time in Denver … with Justin. Why did his thoughts always come back to Justin?
Another groan of discomfort and Brian rolled onto his back. If the radiation didn't kill him and the cancer was truly gone, he was going to go stark raving mad before all of this was over. He pulled the covers over his head and tried to sleep. At least his stomach seemed to have calmed down somewhat.
He didn't know if he had actually fallen asleep, but the phone ringing brought him back to reality. Thank goodness, he had put the portable on the nightstand. He didn't think he could get up to answer it. He looked at the call display and saw that it was Ted. It must be important or Ted wouldn't call when he knew how sick Brian must be.
"Yeah," Brian said into the phone.
"Bri, I hate to bother you. I hope you're not feeling too bad, but…"
"Get to the fucking point, Theodore," Brian ordered rubbing his hand across his eyes.
"Cynthia had a call from the Denver office."
Brian liked the sound of that … the Denver office, his Denver office. "What did they want?"
"There's a problem with one of the accounts. They wanted to talk to you."
"Fuck! What did she tell them?"
"That she'd let you know, and that you'd get back to them," Ted explained. "That's why I'm calling."
"Okay, okay," Brian said trying to figure out what to do. "I'll call a little later."
"Brian … um … do you need anything? Is there anything I can do to help you?"
Brian sighed. Ted really was a good guy. "You're doing it, Theodore. You're holding down the fort for me. I … appreciate it."
"Thanks, Bri, and you know if there is anything else, all you have to do is ask."
"Okaaay, get back to work, Schmidt!" Brian ordered. This was getting decidedly maudlin and Brian wanted none of that.
Brian set the phone down and debated what to do. He was feeling a little better, hadn't thrown up in maybe a half hour. He could do this. He propped himself up against some pillows and picked up the phone again. He hit the speed dial number for the Denver office. God, he loved the sound of that. Maybe some day he'd have a New York office and a Los Angeles office, and…
"Kinnetik," Amanda's voice came through the phone and through his thoughts.
"It's Brian. What the fuck's going on out there?"
"Oh, I … um … I thought you should know something," Amanda said hesitantly.
Brian knew he wasn't going to like this. "What is it?"
"I … I feel like I'm tattling," Amanda continued to beat around the bush.
"Look, you were hired as my assistant. I expect you to look out for my interests, so what the fuck is going on?" Brian was getting annoyed and it was upsetting his stomach.
"It's Matt," she said leaving it there.
"What about Matt?" Brian demanded trying not to lose his temper. Matt was the man he had hired to recruit new accounts. He was young, but had some great ideas. He had brought in a few accounts while Brian was in Denver. He had seemed like he could handle things when Brian went back to Pittsburgh.
"He lost another account this morning," Amanda said.
"Another account? How many has he lost altogether?"
"Three. They were winnable."
"I thought you should know."
"What's the problem? Do you know what's turning the clients away?"
"Most of the time he's fine, especially when he's dealing with a hip young owner or executive. He seems to have trouble with the older, more sedate clients. When I've been in presentations with him, he tries to shock them, and that doesn't always work with the older clients."
"I see," Brian said thoughtfully. If you shocked your customer, you better have one helluva good reason for doing it, or they would be turned off. He thought back to his pitch to Frawley's Steak Houses. That had shocked them, but then he had the follow up that would convince them that he was right in his approach. "Are profits suffering?"
"Not this quarter, because you left us in good shape. But if this continues…"
"Got it," Brian said. He would have to do something. "Is Matt around?"
"He's out of the office at the moment, but I think he should be back soon," Amanda explained.
"When he comes in, give me a call at this number. I'll call him back once I know he's there."
"Okay," Amanda said, "and thanks."
"This is my business we're talking about, and I appreciate the head's up."
Brian set the phone down and wondered what he could say to straighten out his over zealous ad exec. He knew Matt had talent, maybe not to the extent that Brian had, but he should be able to handle any account that came his way. Brian would have to figure out exactly what to say to the man. He wanted Kinnetik to take every client that it could get, and then he wanted them to do the best damn job in the whole world for that client.
* * *
Justin wandered around his studio. It was nice that he could continue to live in the mansion. John had made it so that he would never have to worry about money. The financing of the mansion and all the people who worked there would continue until Justin chose to do something different. Justin would have to get Brian's permission should he ever decide that he wanted to sell the place to get his money out of it. Either that or have Brian buy him out, because they owned the mansion jointly according to John's will. It was another way that John had tied them together.
Justin stopped in front of the empty canvas and stared at it. Since Brian had left, Justin had found it very difficult to paint. He had tried to work on the canvas that he had started before Brian's departure, but he didn't feel that way any longer. And his art always expressed his emotions. That's what made his paintings so powerful. But now he was … confused. He wasn't sure what he felt. He still loved Brian, but a little part of him hated the man for not recognizing what they could have had together. A large part of him was just sad … and restless. He didn't know how to get all those conflicting feelings down on canvas. He just didn't know where to start. He was so conflicted about Brian … and about his own life … and about what he was going to do with himself now that he was all alone.
Releasing a long sigh Justin plopped down in the old armchair he kept in his studio. He stared out the window wondering what Brian might be doing. He was probably finishing up work at Kinnetik in Pittsburgh and getting ready to go out later to Woody's or Babylon. Justin was sure that Brian had forgotten all about him. He had heard nothing from the man since the goodbye fuck, as Justin now thought of it. There hadn't been a phone call or an e-mail or anything. It was like Brian had cut him out of his life completely.
Justin rubbed his forehead. He had the beginnings of another headache. He'd had a lot of those since Brian left, more than he cared to acknowledge. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. If only he could stop thinking about Brian…
Suddenly his phone rang and Justin started in response. He lifted the receiver that was on the little table beside his chair. Arthur knew he was not supposed to interrupt Justin when he was in his studio. It must be something important. Maybe it was Brian.
"Yes," Justin said.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have a Marjorie Atkins on the line, Justin."
"And who might that be?" Justin asked allowing his annoyance to be heard in his voice.
"Have you heard of the Hammersmith Gallery in Chicago?"
"Of course, I have. It's one of the best in the Midwest. Why are we playing twenty questions, Arthur?"
"Marjorie Atkins works for Hammersmith and she's putting together a show at the gallery. She wants you."
"Oh?" Justin said sitting up. "What kind of show?"
"She wants to talk to you about that. She just said she has seen your work and she thinks you'd be perfect for this show."
"Um…" Justin hesitated. He hadn't painted anything new in a couple of months. He only had a couple of completed paintings that might be suitable, and that depended on what she was looking for. "I … I don't think I'm interested," Justin said sadly.
"For God's sake, Justin! Talk to the woman and see what she wants. You need to get out of this depressing rut that you're in. Maybe this is the ticket to doing that."
"Fuck!" Justin reacted. He knew Arthur was right. He couldn't moon around forever. He did need to take some definitive steps. "Maybe I could talk to her."
"You definitely should. I'll put her on, before she gets sick of waiting." Arthur quickly clicked the buttons to make the connection before Justin could change his mind.
"Ms Atkins," Justin said into the phone.
"Ah, Mr. Taylor, it's good to finally speak to you."
"Um … I don't want to mislead you. I don't think I'd be interested in being in your show." Justin felt his doubts overwhelm him.
"Why ever not? We are a very prestigious gallery. It would give you a whole new audience for your work in the Chicago area."
Justin sighed. "When is your show?"
"I … I don't have many paintings that would be ready for your show."
"I only need five," Marjorie stated.
"Five? That won't make much of a show."
Marjorie laughed. "I guess I didn't explain that. This show is going to be called "Perspective on Twenty-First Century Emotions."
"Oh," Justin said.
"It will involve five artists who we feel best express emotions in their paintings. You're one of those artists."
"Yes, Mr. Taylor. I've seen many of your paintings in New York. That last show was wonderful, and I felt the emotion in each piece."
"Call me Justin, and thanks for saying that."
"I said it because I meant it. It's true, but surely you know that."
"Yeah, I guess I do, but I've been having some doubts about my work lately," Justin admitted as much to make himself face that reality as to let her know that he was having problems producing his art.
"Then maybe this show is just what you need."
"Maybe it is," Justin said feeling a slight glimmer of hope."
"You said you have a couple of paintings that could go into the show?"
"Yes, I do."
"Would you consider sending them to the gallery? We've asked the other artists to do the same so that we can get a sample of what the show will look like and how to mount it."
"I … I guess I could, but … I'm not sure I can get three more paintings done in two months."
"I have every confidence in you, Justin," Marjorie said in her most sincere voice.
Justin chuckled. "You're good."
"I hope so. I work for the best gallery in the city."
"Um … who else is going to be in the show?" Justin asked. He hoped they were good. They should be if they were showing at the Hammersmith Gallery.
"So far Duncan Federman and Sean Colborne have agreed."
"Oh!" Justin recognized both names. In fact he liked the work of both of them. Being in a show with those two would not hurt his career. "Who would the other two be?"
Marjorie smiled. It sounded like Justin had decided to take her up on the offer. "I really can't say, as we're still talking to them, but they will be high caliber artists just like you."
Justin smiled. She was good. "Okay, I'll try to get some paintings ready."
"Excellent. We hope to finalize everything, including the other two artists, by next week. There will be some papers to sign, and I thought it might be nice if all the exhibitors could meet. So, I'm asking those who accept being in our show to some to Chicago next week. If you could have one or two paintings shipped here before then, we will be able to get a preliminary look at how the art will fit together."
"That sounds interesting. I'd like to meet the other artists," Justin said. Suddenly he was feeling much better.
"I'll fax Arthur all the details, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting you, Justin."
"Same here," Justin replied before hanging up. Well, this certainly was an interesting turn of events. Justin stood up and walked towards the empty canvas. He grabbed a brush and the black paint. He quickly covered the canvas with black. That was Brian's black, uncaring heart. However, he left the upper right hand corner empty. That would contain whatever he chose to represent as hope. "Hope" would be the title of his first piece of work since Brian left. Justin wasn't sure where that hope would come from, but he already felt a little tinge of it trying to surface somewhere inside him.
* * *
Brian was nibbling on a piece of dry toast. He wasn't hungry, but he had been told time and time again how important it was to get food into his system whenever he could keep it down. He knew he had lost a lot of weight since he started the radiation, more than what would make him fashionably slim. He chewed his toast as he wondered what Justin might be doing out there in Denver.
He wondered if Justin would be getting ready to go out to a club, or meeting one of his friends, maybe D'Arcy. Brian gave an involuntary shudder. Then he realized that with the time difference it was way too early for clubbing in Denver. But it would be time for businesses to be closing and he had yet to hear back from Amanda. He wondered if Matt hadn't come back to the office from wherever he had been. He wondered if the man was slacking off. Brian hated not being on top of things.
When the phone finally rang, Brian jumped. He picked it up immediately and heard Amanda say that Matt had just returned.
"Put me through to him, and tell him that I called. I don't want him to think you're spying on him," Brian instructed her.
"Brian, good to hear from you," Matt's voice came on the line.
"I was wondering how things were going out there."
"Good," Matt replied.
Brian frowned. Matt wasn't going to let on that anything was wrong. "Brought me any new accounts lately?"
"I'm working on a couple."
"What about that jewelry chain you were schmoozing?" Brian asked, knowing it was the client that had just got away.
"They were looking for something different from what we could offer," Matt explained.
"So, we won't be having them as clients?" Brian asked making his executive state what had happened. Brian could almost feel him squirm over the phone.
"I don't like the sound of that. The jewelry stores may have been only in Colorado, but there were six of them, a sizeable account. What happened?"
"Mr. Sinkowski seemed to think that my ideas were a bit … avant-garde for his stores."
"Then why didn't you pitch him something else."
"Matt, you have to learn to read a customer. If they are conservative, going too wild with your ideas will scare them away."
"I don't want an explanation. I want results. Did you hear what I just told you?"
"Yes, I did. I'll be more careful in future."
"I'm planning a trip to Denver in the next few weeks. Don't make me have to come sooner."
"Of course not. I'll be looking forward to seeing you."
'Not bloody likely,' Brian thought. "I expect you to have some good numbers for me when I get there."
"I'll do that," Matt said confidently, but Brian could hear a bit of fear in Matt's voice too.
Fear could be a good thing. A little bit kept employees in line. Too much and they couldn't function properly. Brian hoped he had found the right balance.
He hung up the phone having made that statement. He wanted Matt to realize that he was not pleased at the recent turn of events. He better shape up or Brian would be there as soon as his treatments were over.
And then he could see Justin. Brian realized how much that thought appealed to him. But it was a fool's dream. The doctor told him that he would probably be impotent during the treatments and for a while after. Justin wouldn't want him anymore if he couldn't even get it up. He was stupid for even thinking about his pretend partner in Denver. They could never go back to the way it had been … for, oh so many reasons.
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