Southern Sunshine

Chapter 11

Brian was furious when Justin told him about the flowers. He wanted to tear someone limb from limb, but the problem was that they didn't know who had sent the offensive flowers. Brian called the florist that the box had come from, but of course, they had not sent any such awful bouquet. Anyone who had ever ordered or received flowers from their shop might have had the box lying around. There was no way to tell who had sent it.

In frustration Brian carried the box and its ugly contents out to the garbage chute and pitched them down it. He didn't feel any better having done that, but at least none of them would have to look at the rotting flowers again.

Brian decided to take Justin and Dee out for a nice dinner to take all their minds off what had been happening to Justin. Justin wanted to pay for dinner since he now had a thousand dollars from his winning the Delicious Diva contest. Brian would hear of no such thing. He wanted Justin to get enrolled in one of the courses he needed to get his GED as soon as possible. He kept telling Justin that the sooner he could fuck a high school graduate the better. Justin could barely stop laughing at the ludicrous reason Brian was giving him, but he did appreciate that Brian was so concerned about his education. He finally let Brian pay for dinner.

The next day Justin didn't have a shift at the diner until the afternoon. The incident with the black SUV followed closely by the box of dead flowers still preyed on his mind. He wasn't sure what he could do about it, but his thoughts always came back to Chris Hobbs. He wondered if his mother might have heard something even though she hadn't called.

He picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.

"Hello?" his mother said.

"Mom," Justin smiled.

"Justin, I'm so glad to hear from you. How are you doing?"

"I'm … good. I won a contest at a club last night," Justin said proudly.

"A club? Aren't you too young to be at a club?"

"Mom, I'm an adult now. I look after myself," Justin said defensively. He wanted his mother to be proud of what he had accomplished.

"I'm sorry, honey. You'll always be my little boy."

Justin felt himself blushing. I know, but I really am growing up. Don't you want to know what I won?"

"What did you win?"


"I don't know, honey. What sort of club was it? What did you do to win a prize?"

Justin sucked in a breath. This wasn't going at all the way he had hoped. "Um … I sang and danced around. I was the best of the contestants."

"You always had a lovely voice. So what did you win?"

"A thousand dollars," Justin said proudly.

"Oh my, that's a lot of money. Are you going to be on American Idol?"

"No, mom," Justin laughed. "I'm not that good."

"Yes, you are. You were always great when you sang in the choir."

"Yeah, you always thought so, even if nobody else did."

"So, what are you going to do with a thousand dollars?"

"I'm goen this mornin' to sign up for some courses so I can get my GED."

"Oh Justin," Jennifer half choked out. "I am so proud of you. That's much better than winning some silly contest."

"Thanks, mom, but winnen the contest means I can cut back on my hours at the diner. I'll have more time to go to night classes and study."

"You always were such a good boy. I can't understand why your father…"

"Let's not talk about him," Justin interrupted.

"Sorry, honey. I know you don't want me to mention him."

"Mom, have you heard anything about where Chris Hobbs might be?"

"No, I told you I would call if I learned anything. He just seems to have disappeared. I've asked around but nobody knows anything or else they're not talking about it."


"Is something wrong, Justin?"

"No, no, everythen's all right, mom. I guess I should go."

"Sure, honey. Take care of yourself, and I love you. Congratulations on winning that contest."

"Thanks, and let me know if you hear anythen about Hobbs."

"I will."

Justin cut the connection and set the phone down. He was glad to talk to his mother, but when the conversation was over he always felt so alone, so homesick. He hated Chris Hobbs and the whole homophobic gang he hung around with. They had ruined his life and driven him away from his family.

Except that that wasn't quite true. His father had been the one to drive him away, and that hurt more than what Chris Hobbs had done. His father was the one who had turned his back on Justin.

Justin stood up filled with new resolve to make something of himself. He'd show his father and fucking Chris Hobbs. He'd show everyone that he could be a success even without any of their help or support. He had Brian and Brian was worth a million of all of them put together. He had Dee and Emmett and Debbie, people who believed in him. No one was going to stop him.

Justin marched into his bedroom. He selected some clothes that he knew would make him look a little more masculine. He headed for the shower. Then he was going to go enroll in his first course toward his GED.

As Justin climbed the steps to the Education Center he wondered if he could start a course soon. The summer courses had probably already started but he hoped he could still get in. He should have done this sooner but he had had so many new things to deal with. Now he had the money and he definitely had the drive to succeed.

He was ushered into an office to speak to the same counselor that he had seen before. The man seemed interested in helping him, but was confused as to why Justin hadn't enrolled sooner.

"I … I'm supporting myself," Justin tried to explain. "I just … came into some money and I can afford to cut back on the hours I'm working. I'd like to get started as soon as I can."

"You've missed a couple of weeks of class but there are still some spaces in this class and this one," the counselor said pointing to some numbered courses on a list. Either of those will count towards your GED."

"I'd like to take the writing course," Justin smiled. He had always enjoyed writing stories and occasionally poems.

"Let me make sure we can fit you in. You might have to do some makeup work since I would imagine you have missed the first assignment or two. I'll speak with the teacher and then I'll give you a call when I find out for sure that you're in."

"That's great," Justin said.

"The next class is tomorrow night."


"Is that a problem?"

Justin was pretty sure he was supposed to work the late shift the next day. "I might have to trade shifts with someone, but I'm sure I can arrange it."

"Good. I'll be in touch."

Justin shook the man's hand and walked out of the office. He wondered if he should go to the diner and try to make sure he could arrange his schedule so that he could take this course. Justin hesitated. He didn't even know for sure that he had got into the course yet. Maybe he should just go home and see if he got a call back from the counselor.

Once back at the apartment Justin made himself a sandwich and sat down to sketch. He was drawing Brian's face when the phone rang.

"Justin Taylor, please," an unfamiliar voice said.

"Who, who is this?" Justin asked feeling a spike of fear run up his spine.

"It's Mr. Jenkins, the counselor from the Education Center."

"Oh," Justin breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you have some news for me?"

"I spoke to the instructor of the course and she would be happy to have another student, especially since I told her you were enthusiastic and determined." Justin smiled to himself. He was glad that had come across when he had spoken to the man. "There is some homework for you, if you choose to join the class tomorrow night," the man explained.

"Homework?" Justin almost groaned. He hadn't planned on that so soon. "What kind of homework?

"She gave two assignments which you missed. She realizes that you didn't get the benefit of instruction but she'd like to have you bring at least one of these assignments completed for tomorrow night."

"Okay," Justin said uncertainly. He wasn't sure exactly when he was supposed to get this done when he had work … and Brian to contend with. "What do I have to do?"

"One assignment was to write your autobiography," Mr. Jenkins explained.

"I guess I could do that."

"The other one was to write about the person who has had the biggest influence on your life and how that influence affected you."


"Does that present a problem?"

"No, not exactly. But I only need one for tomorrow night, right?"

"Yes, you can choose the one that you want to write about."

"Okay, Mr. Jenkins, I'll be there."

"Good luck, Mr. Taylor."

Justin hung up the phone. He glanced at his watch seeing that he had not quite two hours before he needed to be at work. Maybe he could get the assignment done or at least started before he had to leave for the diner.

He decided he would write the biography since he knew his history best and he shouldn't have any trouble putting his brief life story down on paper. He got started writing about being born and growing up in his home town. He talked about his mother but couldn't bring himself to mention his father. So much of what he had thought was true about his father had turned out to be false. He decided to leave his father out of the biography altogether. He could always say his father had abandoned the family when he was a baby. He continued writing about going to school, and singing in the choir, and feeling different than the other kids. All this brought him to thoughts of Chris Hobbs. He knew he couldn't write about that. He could barely stand to think about it. And they would probably have some stupid rule that you had to read the paper to the class. There was no way he could ever do that. He ripped the paper off the pad and scrunched it up. He aimed it at the wastebasket but it landed on the floor.

Justin took a deep breath. He needed to write about something else. Who had had a big influence on his life? He immediately came back to Chris Hobbs. That was why he was here in Pittsburgh, why he had been forced to leave home long before he ever wanted to, and why he was taking this fucking course. Justin sighed.

Who else had influenced his life? His mother had. He could write about how she supported him, and how she gave him money to escape the horrible situation at home. But then he would probably have to include his father and more about what had happened to him. He really wasn't ready to do that.

He could write about Dee, Derek, who had taken him in when he had nowhere else to go. He wondered if Dee would mind having her life story told to a group of strangers. Justin wished he knew whether he would have to read this aloud, or if he could just hand it in and only the teacher would read it. He didn't feel he could take the chance of revealing things about Dee without her consent.

Then it hit him. He could write about Brian and how he had encouraged him and supported him. He could say that it was thanks to Brian that he was no longer ashamed or scared about his sexuality. He knew he could come up with some great descriptions of Brian's appearance and his kind heart. That's what he would write about.

Justin raced into the diner. He was five minutes late for his shift, but he had got so busy writing his essay about Brian that he had lost all track of time. He had the rough draft in his backpack. If things slowed down later in the evening he would revise it and start on the good copy. He really liked what he had written.

"Hey, Sunshine," Debbie called. "Get that bubble butt of yours out here. I could use some help."

"Let me stow my backpack and I'll be right with you," Justin replied as he disappeared into the back. "Sorry I was late," he told Debbie when he reappeared."

"That's okay. We have other help here who don't even show up. I can forgive you five minutes here and there," she smiled.

"Thanks," he smiled back at her.

"Now, make yourself useful. Deliver that order to table five while I put this one in."

Justin picked up the two plates and carried them over to table five. They were a couple of regulars and they congratulated Justin on winning the contest at Babylon.

"Thanks," Justin blushed.

"How about a little song with our supper?" they teased.

"Isn't it supposed to be you who sing for your supper?" Justin laughed.

"Come on, just a tidbit."

Justin blushed and then boldly sang one line of "It's a beautiful life oooh". The two guys clapped and smiled at Justin's little performance.

"Hey, Sunshine," a voice said from behind him. "Are you trying to make me puke?"

"What?" Justin frowned as he turned around. He had just been fooling around. He looked into Darren's eyes. Darren stared back his hatred evident. "Sorry if you don't like my singing. Other people seem to think it's quite good, and I have the thousand dollars to prove it."

Darren muttered a "Fuck!", threw some money on the table and left the diner.

"What the fuck is his problem?" one of the guys Justin had sung for asked.

"I think he expected to win the Delicious Diva contest," Justin said with a shake of his head.

"If he could sing, he might have had a chance," the other guy quipped and both men laughed.

Justin walked over to Debbie who had been watching the little drama unfold.

"What bug got up Darren's ass?"

"He's mad because I won the contest."

"I hate a poor sport."

"Well, he did have a lot more practice with the drag thing than I did," Justin replied. He felt kind of bad for Darren. He didn't like people to be mad at him.

"It's not your fault he can't sing. Get that table that just came in. I need to use the fucking restroom."

As the dinner rush slowed down, Debbie told Justin to get his meal and grab a seat. She would join him as soon as a couple of her tables left. Justin ordered his dinner and went into the back to get his pad with his assignment on it. He would read it over while he ate and see if there were any things that needed improvement.

Justin munched on his burger doing his best not to get ketchup on his papers while he read through them. He crossed out a few sentences and rewrote some others. He really liked what he had written. After a bit Debbie slid into the seat across from him and started eating her hot chicken sandwich.

"Whatcha workin' on, Sunshine?" Debbie asked.

"It's an assignment for night school."

"You mean you're already going and you didn't tell me?"

"No," Justin smiled. "I just got in today. It's a writing course."

"That's fan-fucking-tastic. I wish Michael would take some more courses."

Justin tried not to make a face at the mention of Debbie's son. He knew Michael still didn't approve of Brian being with him, but that was too fucking bad. "I've missed two classes, but I can still go if I make up some assignments. This is one of them."

"So what are you writing?" Debbie asked trying to read upside down.

"I had to write about someone who's had a big influence on me."

"So, it's about me, right?" Debbie laughed.

"Hey, that's who I should have done," Justin laughed smacking himself in the forehead.

"Who did you write about?"

Justin felt himself blushing. "Um…"

"Brian," Debbie supplied.

"Yeah," Justin admitted.

"Can I read it?" Debbie asked curious about what Justin would have said.

"I … I don't know. It's kind of embarrassing."

"I've heard it all before," Debbie assured him.

Justin hesitated, but he knew he might have to read this out to the class so he decided that having someone read it first might not be such a bad thing. "Here," he said turning the pad around and pushing it towards Debbie. "It's just the rough draft," he added. "I'll get those people who just came in while you read it."

Debbie nodded and started to read.

"Influence! This word can mean pressure, coercion, direction or gentle guidance. I've had people who have used this word on me in all the ways mentioned. As a result it is a hard choice as to what person has had the biggest influence on my life. There have been a lot of people, my mother, my cousin, my friends, bullies, my co-workers, just to name a few. But once I really thought about it there is only one person who fills the criteria of this assignment. His name is Brian Kinney.

"I guess you could call Brian my boyfriend, although you better not do that in front of him. He doesn't 'do boyfriends' or so he'd have you believe. But I know he really does, and so does he way down deep inside.

"In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm gay, and so is Brian. That makes for a better boyfriend relationship. When I came to Pittsburgh which was only a few weeks ago, my life was a mess. My father had kicked me out because I had disgraced the family by being gay and letting the whole town find out. There were some other reasons that I don't want to get into in this essay because they don't really have anything to do with Brian. Suffice it to say that I was scared and hurting. I didn't know what I was going to do here in Pittsburgh.

"But I had a cousin here who took me in and helped me find a job. I almost wrote this essay about her. She's been wonderful to me. I couldn't have done it without her.

"However, this essay is about Brian Kinney and how he has influenced my life. The first time I saw Brian he was dressed for business. I passed him on the street and he smelled like something from heaven. I love the way Brian looks and dresses and smells and tastes. But I better not get sidetracked. Brian first spoke to me when we danced at a gay club called Babylon. He taught me about how to be safe in so many ways. Brian has become my protector and mentor as well as my lover.

"Because of Brian I am no longer afraid to admit that I'm gay. In fact he has taught me to be proud of that fact. He has taught me to be proud of myself. With his encouragement I'm taking this course and getting my high school diploma. I want to go on after I get that and study art. And that's because of Brian's encouragement too.

"I feel like I have a new chance at a good life here in Pittsburgh, and mostly that is because of Brian Kinney. I owe him so much. Thanks to his gentle guidance I'm becoming the best homosexual I can be. I love him more than words can ever express."

"So what do you think?" Justin asked as he came back from waiting on the new customers.

"I think you should show this to Brian," Debbie stated wiping at a tear that had formed in her motherly eye.

"You do? Why? It would be too embarrassing."

"Brian needs to hear this. People take him for granted and forget all the ways he helps us."

"I'd never take him for granted," Justin said seriously.

"I know, Sunshine. I think it would be good for Brian to see how you feel."

"You don't think it would scare him away, do you?" Justin asked with a frown. He knew how squeamish Brian was about emotions.

"You have a point, but I'd risk it," Debbie laughed.

"I don't know," Justin said putting his writing pad into his back pack. "We better get ready for the pre-Babylon rush."

"Yeah, Debbie agreed as she gathered up their dishes and carried them into the kitchen.


It was almost three in the morning. Justin was beat. He had been working since three that afternoon, but that had been the trade-off so that Kiki would take his shift the next night and he could go to his course. Actually it would be tonight since it had already become the next day. Justin let out a big yawn as he sat at the stool in the diner.

Pretty soon the stragglers from Babylon would start coming in for something to eat before they went home to bed. He had two more hours before he was off. It was fairly quiet in the diner, but Wednesday nights were never terribly busy. Justin pulled out his tips and started counting them. He had made a good bundle considering it was kind of a slow night. People had asked him to sing a couple more times, and he had gotten really big tips after he did that. He smiled. He never thought his singing would actually be worth anything.

The bell over the door jingled indicating that someone had come in. Justin turned on the stool and looked up to see Cody standing there. He didn't much like the kid and he wondered why he was there at this time of night. Cody just stared at Justin like he didn't know what to say or do.

"Can I get you something?" Justin asked.

"Um … no, I changed my mind." Cody beat a hasty retreat out the door.

Justin wondered what that was all about. But he didn't think about it for long. He put his tips back in his pocket and went to get his writing pad. While it was quiet he could start working on the good copy of his essay.

Justin had recopied most of the first page of the essay when the bell tinkled again. This time it was a group obviously having come from Babylon. They slid into a booth. Justin could tell some if not all of them were high.

"What can I get you?" Justin asked as he approached the table.

"I'll have a Coke and a lemon bar," one guy said.

"I'll have a piece of that ass," the next guy said with a leer. He was obviously pretty stoned.

The rest of the group laughed.

"It's not on the menu," Justin stated. "Anybody else want something to eat or drink?"

The others ordered some fries and more Cokes. Justin went to put in the order and get the drinks. Most of the time he liked his job, but when he had to deal with people who were high or stoned, he always felt a little unsure. You never knew what they might do.

Justin carried the tray of drinks to the table. As he placed them in front of each guy, he felt someone grab his ass. He swatted the hand away.

"Keep your fucking hands off!" Justin ordered. He knew there was no point in being polite with these guys.

"How about a song?" one guy asked. "You won the Diva contest, didn't you?"

Justin backed away. "I'm fresh out of songs tonight," Justin replied and turned to go get the fries which were up.

"Hey," one of the guys grabbed the back of Justin's jeans and pulled Justin onto his lap. "I asked for a song and I want one, or I'll take something else instead."

The guy's intent was obvious to Justin who struggled to get away, but the man had him in too tight a grip in spite of his obvious intoxication.

"Let me go," Justin struggled, "and I'll sing."

"You can sing fine from right here."

"Let me go!" Justin shouted hoping Tom, the cook, would hear him and come out with a meat cleaver. Justin continued to struggle. He also caught a glimpse of someone's face staring in at him through the window. It was too dark to really identify the face but it seemed to be smiling from under the baseball cap that was pulled low to cover the eyes. "If you don't let go of me right now…" Justin said as he struggled more frantically.

"I'll rip your balls off and feed them to you one at a fucking time."

They all looked up to see Brian standing by the table, his fists clenched and his death glare in full force. The man who was holding onto Justin immediately released him. Justin jumped up and ran behind Brian.

"Are you all right?" Brian asked.

"Yes," Justin said but Brian could hear how upset Justin was from the tremor in Justin's voice.

"We were just leaving," one of the guys at the table said sliding out and staying as far away from Brian as he could. The others followed suit.

"Hey!" Brian stopped them dead in their tracks. "Someone has to pay for this fucking food, and I expect a big tip for Sunshine."

One of the men fished out his wallet and laid forty dollars down on the table. "Is … is that enough?" he stammered.

Brian nodded like the King of Liberty Avenue that he most definitely was. The group of men quickly left the diner while the going was good.

"Are you all right?" Brian asked turning to Justin. He pulled the boy into his arms and held on tight.

"I'm much better now," Justin sighed.

"What are you doing working this late?"

"I switched shifts because I have school tomorrow night."


"I went to see my counselor today and he got me in. I've only missed a couple of weeks, and if I do some catching up I can get a credit for this course."

"That's … great. But I don't like you working in the middle of the night. Look what just happened."

"They were high," Justin said trying to make an excuse. "I would have been all right."

"I'm not so sure about that, but I'll stay with you till this shift is over."

"You don't have to do that," Justin said but his smile showed Brian how much he appreciated the offer.

"When are you done?"

"Five. Betty will be in for the breakfast shift."

"I'm staying," Brian said sitting down at the counter. "Bring me some coffee."

"But you have work tomorrow," Justin said as he poured Brian a cup.

"I've gone to work without sleep before," Brian insisted as he sipped at the coffee.

"How did you know I was here?" Justin asked.

"There will be a very grumpy Dee to deal with when you get home."

"Shit! You woke her up."

"I was horny," Brian smirked.

Justin smiled one of his best. Brian had wanted him and he had awakened Dee to get to him. Justin felt his cock grow hard at the realization. He wished there was some way they could help each other, but he was working and there was no one else to cover for him.

The bell above the door jingled and some more customers walked in. Brian glared at them as he assessed how high or obnoxious they appeared to be. He made sure they all knew he was there. They seemed to be harmless enough. Justin went to wait on them keeping his hands in front of his groin until he could get his dick under control.

While Justin was taking their orders Brian noticed the pile of papers beside him on the counter. This had to be something Justin was working on for his course, because it wasn't a sketch which was what Justin would ordinarily be doing.

Brian slid the paper around so he could read it without picking it up. He didn't want Justin to know he was prying, but he was curious about what course Justin was taking and how the boy would do academically. He knew Justin was smart, but he didn't know how that would translate into academic studies. Brian started to read. Immediately he knew that Justin had a knack for writing. There were people he worked with who were paid big bucks to write copy and they couldn't suck him in as fast as Justin had.

And then Brian got to the paragraph about who had had the biggest influence on Justin's life. He felt himself blushing as he read how Justin perceived Brian's role in his life. He smiled to himself feeling the love in Justin's words. He felt a tear well up as he continued. He wasn't at all sure he was the person Justin was describing in his essay, but he would like to think he could be that person.

"More coffee?" Justin asked holding the pot over Brian's cup.

Brian cleared his throat. "Yeah, warm it up for me." Justin filled the cup. "What's this?" Brian asked indicating the pile of papers.

Justin put the pot back on the burner. "It's nothing," Justin said quickly, having forgotten that he left his work there. He gathered up the papers and stuffed them back in his backpack. "Just somethen I'm working on for my course."

"What course are you taking?"

"Creative writen. I … like to write almost as much as I like to draw."

"You're a very talented young man," Brian said seriously and he meant it.

"Thanks," Justin blushed.

Justin went to serve the orders to his customers. Brian watched him impressed by what Justin had written and also that Justin didn't want him to see it. He obviously wasn't trying to curry favor. That pleased Brian. He was learning that there was so much more to this southern boy than he had ever dreamed.

Justin came and slid onto the seat next to Brian. "Did you see anyone outside the diner before you came in?"

"Why?" Brian asked with a frown.

"When those guys were buggen me there was someone standen at the corner of the window laughen at me."

"Are you sure?"

"I saw him."

"What did he look like?"

"It was hard to tell. He had a baseball cap pulled low and a dark jacket. All I could really see was his grin. It was like he was enjoyen those guys hassling me."

"I think I remember someone slipping away from there as I came in. I never paid any attention though."

"So many creepy things have been happening lately. Do you think that guy could have had anythen to do with it?"

"I don't know," Brian said thoughtfully. "But I'm definitely staying until your shift is over. Then I'm taking you home."

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