The rest of the visit, although slightly strained, was enjoyable and after a pleasant goodbye, Brian and Justin left New York on Monday to return home. Justin could tell that Dillon was still harboring some unresolved feelings regarding his relationship with Brian, but he didn't care. It was the best holiday he had ever had and he owed it all to Brian. Once they got home, the two men locked themselves in Justin's apartment for the rest of the night and enjoyed the rest of their holiday together. Sadly Tuesday came way too quick and it was time to return to their daily lives. Brian got up earlier than usual so that he could go home and change before he had to be at the office and once he was gone, Justin felt the loneliness of his small apartment more than ever before. He finally forced himself to start getting ready for work and when he finally walked into Galactic he was ready to face his day. What he wasn't ready for was Tom's early morning visit.
"Hey Justin, how was you Christmas?" Tom asked as he entered the office and closed the door behind him.
"It was great, Tom. How was yours?"
"Very good, thanks," Tom replied before jumping into business mode. "Listen, I know this is probably out of your job description but I need you to take a trip."
"A trip? To where?" Justin asked in confusion. He never heard of a graphic artist going away on business trips.
"To Miami. I haven't told anyone this yet and I'd appreciate it if you keep this between us for the time being, but I've been working on branching out. I'm getting ready to open a second location down in Florida. I have the staff in position, but I want you to go down there and help them set up. Ever since you started here, your ideas have been amazing. Our whole team is more organized and productive because of your suggestions. I want you to get them started using the changes you've made around here. I'll not only keep paying you your salary, but there's a nice bonus in it for you, too. Not to mention all your expenses will be paid."
"How long would I be gone?" Justin asked, his mind immediately thinking about Brian.
"Two weeks; three tops. Just long enough to get the ball rolling so that they can keep it up once you're gone," Tom explained. "I really want this to be a success and I think that with you there, the chances of success are great."
Justin wanted to refuse. Being away from Brian for more than a couple of days had been horrible. How was he supposed to survive for three weeks? Then again, he couldn't let down Tom after all the man had done for him. He was hired with almost no experience and was given free reign with his ideas. Plus, he needed to think about his future. If Tom thought that he couldn't be counted on when needed, his future at Galactic could be stunted, or worse yet, short lived. He knew that he needed to put his feelings for Brian aside and take the opportunity he was being given. "When do I leave?"
"Tomorrow. I know its short notice, but I want to go down there with you and get you familiar with everyone and this week is the best time for me since it's between holidays and we're a little slow. Is that going to be a problem? Do you have any pets or plants that need tending to?"
"No, I'm good. But I would like to take the rest of the day off to do a few things around my apartment and pack. I'll have to take down my tree…" his voice trailed off as memories of Brian lying naked by the tree assailed his mind. "And…uh…stop my mail."
"No problem. I'll have Carly make the necessary arrangements and give you a call with the details. Thank you so much, Justin. I knew I could count on you."
Justin watched Tom walk away before reaching for the phone. He needed to see Brian before he left or he wasn't going anywhere. He called Kinnetik, but Brian was in a meeting so he had to leave a message on his voicemail. He just said that he needed Brian to come to the apartment later that night. He figured he'd explain everything once he got there. Once that was done, Justin packed up his things and headed out of the office to do what he had to do.
By eight o'clock Justin was beginning to wonder if Brian had gotten his message. Cynthia had assured him that he checked his voicemail regularly, but he still hadn't heard from the older man. The tree was gone, all of his luggage was sitting by the door, and the refrigerator was emptied of anything that wouldn't survive three weeks. Justin just sat alone on the couch with some background music playing as he thought of what Tom had asked of him. Under normal circumstances, he would've been thrilled with Tom's obvious faith in him and his abilities, but he really wasn't comfortable with leaving Pittsburgh right now. Not when things between him and Brian were still so new and uncertain. Would Brian forget all about him in the span of three weeks? He told Dillon that he hadn't been tricking since they started dating, but that was because their sex life was very active. What would happen when Brian had an itch that Justin wasn't around to scratch it?
He just about had himself worked up into a full blown panic attack when he heard a knock on the door, pulling him from his depressing thoughts. He jumped from the couch and raced over, pulling the door open quickly to the sight of Brian standing there with a gorgeous smile on his face.
"Sorry I'm so late. Today was a real bitch," Brian explained as he leaned in and gave Justin a kiss. "But it just got a whole lot better."
Justin smiled at Brian's words before remembering why he summoned Brian to his apartment to begin with. He felt an uncomfortable tightening in his chest when he thought about having to say goodbye. "Thanks for coming. I…uh…need to talk to you and it can't wait until tomorrow."
Brian saw the seriousness in Justin's face and knew that something was up. He got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and tried to lighten the mood. "Why, is the world ending tomorrow?" he teased.
Justin didn't laugh at Brian's attempt at humor. He just couldn't. "No, but I'm leaving Pittsburgh tomorrow for three weeks and I wanted to say…goodbye."
Brian looked into Justin's eyes and saw a sadness there that he felt down to his toes. Three weeks without Justin? Why did three weeks suddenly seem like a lifetime? "So, where're you off to?" Brian asked, trying to keep his voice casual.
"Miami. Tom wants me to go down there and help set up his new location. It's still a secret. He's apparently been working on it for a while now. He said that my ideas are great and that our staff is more organized and productive since I started there and he wants the new office to run things the same way." Justin tried to sound proud of himself but his quivering voice belied his words.
"That's some achievement," Brian replied softly. "You should be very proud of yourself."
"I am I guess. I just…I'm really going to miss you. Three weeks is a long time to be gone, you know?"
"Yeah, it is," Brian whispered before clearing his throat and forcing his voice to be stronger. "But I'll still be here when you get back."
"Will you?" Justin asked with uncertainty.
"Of course. Think of all the reunion sex we're going to have," Brian teased.
Justin laughed at Brian's reply before pulling the older man down for a kiss. It wasn't the rough, animalistic pairing that they usually shared. It was more tender, more loving, and when they both finally reached orgasm, neither one of them had any doubts that although their separation was going to be long and grueling, it was indeed only temporary. In three weeks they would be back together again and ready to continue on with what they had started.
The next morning Brian woke up long before the alarm went off. He lay in bed, watching Justin sleep and wondering when he became so attached to the man that the thought of three weeks apart tore him up inside. He wanted to give Justin more time to sleep since he had a long day of traveling and settling in to do, but he couldn't. His hands seemed to have a mind of their own and pretty soon Brian was touching Justin in all the right places, listening to him moan as he slowly awoke aroused and ready for one final round. This time the roughness was back, as if they needed to burn the memories of each other into their brains to hold them over until Justin's return. By the time Justin walked Brian to the door, he was sore but sated and very happy.
"Call me tonight and let me know that you're settled, okay?" Brian asked as he stood in the open doorway and looked down into Justin's eyes.
"I will," Justin replied, fighting the tears that were burning his eyes. "Don't forget me while I'm gone?"
"Not likely, Sunshine." Brian kissed Justin one last time and then walked away without looking back. He was fighting emotions he wasn't sure how to deal with, and seeing Justin's sad eyes as he watched him walk away would shatter his control completely.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The rest of the day seemed to be filled with one disaster after another for Justin. His cab was late picking him up to take him to the airport. Then their plane had some technical difficulties and they were forced to change planes, both Tom and Justin's luggage was lost, and the hotel didn't have their reservations. Luckily they still had vacancies and were able to secure two rooms without much hassle. By the time Justin walked into his room, he was tired, irritable, and missing Brian more than he ever thought possible. He took a shower and wrapped himself up in the hotel issued robe, thinking about Brian. A short time later, one of the hotel staff showed up with his missing luggage and he breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed was the expense of buying something to wear. At seven o'clock Justin met Tom down in the lobby of the hotel and they went out for dinner, discussing their plans for the following day. Justin tried his best to pay attention to what his boss was saying, but he couldn't help glancing at his watch regularly, anxious to place the call he promised he'd make.
"Justin, is everything all right?" Tom finally asked.
"What? Oh yeah, I'm fine," Justin replied.
"I guess I'm boring you with all this business talk."
"Shit Tom, I'm sorry. It's not the business talk. I just…I have to make a phone call and I guess I'm a little preoccupied with that. Go ahead and continue. I'm listening," Justin assured him.
"Brian?" Tom inquired with a smile. He had definitely seen a change in Justin since he started seeing the older man.
Justin felt himself blush as he nodded his head. "Yeah, I promised him I'd call him tonight and let him know that I got settled in."
"I guess dragging you away from him for three weeks won't earn me boss of the year, huh?" Tom teased.
"Not really," Justin laughed. "But I do appreciate the opportunity you've given me. I'm honored that you think my ideas are so important. It's just hard being away from Brian for so long. We've gotten very close."
"Well, hopefully you can get it all together quickly and make it home in less than three weeks," Tom said with a wink.
"That's the plan."
Justin and Tom finished their dinner and agreed to meet in the lobby at seven the following morning to go to the office. Tom was only staying until Saturday morning and he had a lot he wanted to do before leaving Justin on his own.
Once Justin got up to his room, he stripped down and climbed into bed before grabbing his cell phone and calling Brian.
"Hey Sunshine, how's Miami?" Brian asked as he answered the phone. He'd been lying in bed for the last half hour thinking about Justin and willing his phone to ring.
"Lonely," Justin replied softly. Hearing Brian's voice made him ache even more for home. "How's Pittsburgh?"
"Lonely as well, but it's also fucking cold here. At least you're somewhere warm," Brian teased.
"Believe me, if I was there you'd be feeling the heat," Justin laughed.
They talked for a little while until they couldn't hide their fatigue anymore and finally said their goodbyes, promising to talk again the next night. Justin fell asleep with a slight smile on his face. As sad as he was to be away from Brian, at least he knew that Brian was there waiting for him. A few months earlier and Justin could have left for three months and no one would've even known he was gone. It was comforting to know that someone cared for him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Justin and Tom worked with the new staff trying to get them all on the same page. He and Tom got the rudiments of the new office up and running in a satisfactory manner. Tom was to leave Friday to go back to Pittsburgh to spend New Year's with his family. Justin would spend New Year's alone and stay to fine tune the operation in the weeks to come.
Each night he and Brian spoke on the phone. It sounded to Justin like the big guy really missed him, and he knew that he missed Brian more than he could ever imagine. His body ached for their coupling, and his heart cracked a little each night when they had to say goodbye. He didn't know how he was going to last for two more weeks.
"Justin," a voice in the doorway pulled him from his reverie. "Justin."
"Um … yeah, Ken, what can I do for you?" Justin asked looking up at the head of the art department for the Miami office.
"I wanted to go over some of these recommendations to make sure that we're on the same page. We need to present a united and organized front for the staff meeting on Tuesday. Don't you agree? Justin?"
"Um … yeah. Sure."
"Is something wrong?"
"No, no, not really," Justin said ashamed to admit that he had been thinking of Brian.
"I'd say that somebody is in love," Ken observed.
"You heard me. So who is he?"
Everyone here knew that Justin was gay, so was half of the art department.
"I'd rather not talk about it," Justin said slowly.
"Fine," Ken agreed. "So what are you doing Saturday night?"
"Nothing … that I know of."
"It's New Year's Eve."
"No quick trip back to Pittsburgh to visit the boyfriend?"
"I'm not quite in the jet setting league yet," Justin admitted with a sad smile.
"I'm having a little get together for some of the staff and a few friends. How about joining us? It might cheer you up."
"I … I don't know."
"Oh come on, it'll be good for you. You shouldn't spend New Year's Eve alone."
"Okay, maybe I will," Justin agreed finally feeling like the world wasn't totally bleak. He'd have people around him and he could still call Brian at midnight.
"Good choice! Now help me make some sense out of this diagram."
Justin and Ken got back to work.
When Justin talked to Brian that night, he didn't say anything about Ken's party. He wondered what Brian would do for New Year's Eve but he didn't want to sound like he was prying. Brian told Justin that Michael had just arrived back in Pittsburgh from California. Michael had been Brian's best friend until he had moved away a couple of years earlier. Michael and his partner Ben had moved out to the west coast when Ben got a job teaching at Cal - Berkeley. Michael was going to spend the holiday with his mother while Ben had to catch up on some work to prepare for the next semester. Brian was looking forward to getting together with Michael. Justin wondered if Brian would spend New Year's Eve with his former best friend.
Finally Brian and Justin agreed that they would call just before midnight on New Year's Eve.
Justin found it hard to sleep that night. He missed Brian so much and now there was this Michael person who had suddenly come back into Brian's life. He wondered where all this was leading. He finally fell asleep wishing he was in Brian's arms and that they could be together for the holiday.
Galactic was closed Friday, but Justin decided to go in anyway. Tom had left for Pittsburgh and no one would be around. He hoped he could make some headway with the organization of the office and then he could get back to Pittsburgh … and Brian … that much sooner. He spent the day working and accomplished quite a bit when he didn't have any interruptions. He grabbed some takeout as he went back to the hotel. He figured he would hole up in his room, watch movies and then talk to Brian on the phone. Just another day in Paradise.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Brian met Michael for lunch on Friday. They embraced warmly before sitting down in the café not far from Liberty Avenue.
"It's good to see you," Michael grinned. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Maybe I have," Brian said without any further explanation. "You look good. How's Ben?"
"Great! His health has been excellent lately."
"That's good news. Tell him he's still the hottest professor I've cum across," Brian smirked thinking of their encounter in Miami at the White Party all those years ago.
Michael smiled. He had long ago gotten past the fact that Ben and Brian had slept together. "I'll tell him. He'll be pleased at the sentiment."
Brian snorted. Thinking about Miami made him think of Justin. He sighed.
"What's up with you?" Michael asked staring at his old friend. "Have you found somebody?"
"Maybe," Brian said quietly and chewed on the sandwich that had just been set in front of him.
"Spill," Michael said digging into the humungous burger he had ordered. Some things never changed.
Brian took a deep breath and replied, "His name is Justin and I think I … might love him."
"Are you shitting me? The Stud of Liberty Avenue has a boyfriend! I can't believe my ears."
"I've had other boyfriends," Brian said defensively.
"One! That guy Dillon, wasn't it?"
"What happened to him anyway?"
"We went our separate ways."
"But this is different?"
"So who is this Justin?"
"Actually, he's Dillon's younger brother."
Michael just about choked on his burger, and sat speechless for several minutes until he could finally ask Brian to explain more fully. Brian told him a little bit about Justin and his work. He also admitted that nobody, including Dillon, had ever made him as happy as Justin made him. Michael was surprised but pleased for his friend.
When they finished lunch, Michael got Brian to promise to meet him at Babylon later that evening. He was going to see if he could contact Ted and Emmett and the gang of friends would spend the night together at Babylon … just like old times.
Brian and Michael had been drinking and dancing for over an hour at Babylon. Brian had provided a few bumps and Ted had bought several rounds of drinks. They were having a good time. Everybody was feeling no pain when Brian's cell phone rang. He tried to find a quieter place to talk but the thumpa thumpa was pretty overpowering. He ended up shouting into the phone.
"Hey, Sunshine," he yelled over the noise.
"Where … where are you?" Justin asked hesitantly. He feared the answer as he recognized the familiar sounds of Babylon.
"I'm out with Mikey," Brian replied drunkenly.
"How drunk are you?" Justin asked.
"Just about drunk enough."
"So it seems."
"What's wrong, Sunshine? Are you trying to put a damper on my little party?"
"No, of course not," Justin replied. "I hope you're having a good time." He didn't mean a word of that.
"We're having a blast!" Brian yelled above the noise.
"Just like old times," Michael called into the phone. "Dancing, drugs and hot guys!"
"That was Mikey. You'll have to meet him soon."
"Sure," Justin said. "I better let you get back to the dancing and hot guys."
"I miss you," Brian laughed as Michael grabbed his ribs and tickled.
"Right," Justin said as he closed his cell phone. Brian was apparently having a great time without him, probably fucking everything in sight including this Mikey. Brian had laughed when he said he missed him. He obviously didn't mean it. How could he have been so stupid as to think he meant anything to Brian Kinney? A week apart and Brian had got right on with his life, a life without him. Justin curled up in a little ball on the bed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next day was Saturday and Brian woke with a major hangover. The clock told him that it was already afternoon. He had no idea how much he had drunk or snorted or sniffed. He had kind of got out of the habit of doing all that, and today he was going to pay the price. One massive hangover was building in his head.
He managed to get himself to the toilet and take a piss. He rummaged through the medicine cabinet looking for something to dull the pounding in his head. In the old days he would simply have gone for some of the hair of the dog, but he didn't want to be drunk today. It was New Year's Eve and he wanted to be sober and talking to Justin at midnight. He dropped back onto the bed pulling a pillow over his head. It wasn't long until he was sound asleep.
Justin woke up with his eyes all crusty and red. He didn't remember how long he had cried last night, but he figured it was way too long for the likes of Brian fucking Kinney. He should have known what Brian was like. The man had had no remorse over his breakup with Dillon. Apparently Brian didn't or couldn't love anybody … including him. A tear fell softly from one eye.
Justin stared at the window of his room. He could see a crack of light where the heavy drapes came together. He glanced at the clock wondering what time it was. It was well into the afternoon. He didn't know what time he had fallen asleep after talking to Brian, but it had been a long time. His heart had beaten so loud that it gave him no rest. He wondered if that was what a heart sounded like when it was getting ready to implode. His must be in a million pieces by now.
He had banked everything on Brian Kinney. He had been so happy, and Brian had seemed so happy to be with him. What had happened? What had made the man go clubbing, finding hot guys and getting high as a kite? It had to be that Michael person. He wished Michael had stayed in California. Three thousand miles hardly seemed far enough away for this interloper in Brian's life.
And Brian had laughed when he had said he missed Justin. He hadn't been serious. That had hurt so much. Justin knew Brian didn't really miss him. He wouldn't have laughed when he was saying it if he had truly meant it. Why had Brian said it at all? Justin frowned feeling the beginnings of a major headache. He decided to take a pill and sleep some more. Maybe New Year's would disappear and he could wake up to a new year that would be better than this one.
* * *
Brian rolled over and reached out searching for something. It was Justin he wanted. He felt his hard cock trapped beneath him. He had been dreaming of the beautiful blond, now so far away. He missed him so much. He debated calling Justin. It was a little after seven, already dark outside and he was lonely. His better judgment kicked in though, as he remembered that they were supposed to see in the New Year on the phone. He'd wait until then. He wanted it to be really special. His head felt better and his stomach growled at him. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten. He decided he definitely needed a shower and maybe something to eat. By then it might be time to call Justin.
The ringing of his cell phone woke Justin from a deep sleep. He glanced at the clock noting that it was almost eight o'clock.
"Hello," he said.
"You sound like shit," Ken laughed.
"Actually that pretty much sums up how I feel."
"Well, come on over. The party's getting started and we'll cheer you up."
"I … I don't think I'm going to come," Justin replied. "I'd just bring everybody down."
"Impossible! We're going to bring you up! If you don't say you're coming, I'm sending a posse over to the hotel to get you."
"Okay, okay," Justin chuckled at Ken's persistence. "I'll be there in a while."
"You have the address?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good, see you soon."
Justin groaned and flopped back onto the bed. A party was the last thing he wanted to do tonight. With a big sigh he headed for the shower.
Justin sat in a chair nursing a beer. He had enjoyed himself somewhat in spite of not wanting to attend Ken's party. Many people had spoken to him. He had had a couple of interesting conversations with some of Ken's friends. He had been cruised by at least two good looking guys. He had pretended not to notice, however. That had cheered him up a bit. The big thing that was missing was Brian.
As the minutes ticked off towards midnight Brian wondered if Justin would call him or if he should call his lover. At twenty to twelve, Brian picked up his phone and then set it down again. He could wait a little longer.
Justin's cell phone rang and he opened it and said, "Hello."
"Hi, little brother," Dillon's voice came back to him.
People were starting to make more noise as midnight approached and they were all watching the dropping of the ball in Times Square. That was some minutes away yet.
"What do you want, Dillon?"
"Just to wish you a Happy New Year."
"Thanks," Justin said without any sincerity.
"Chad says Happy New Year too."
"Yeah." Justin grimaced. Dillon was the one celebrating once again. Justin was all alone, just like always. "Where are you?" he asked wearily hearing all the noise in the background.
"We're at the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf."
"Of course you are," Justin observed sarcastically.
"Wish Brian Happy New Year too."
"I would if I could."
"What do you mean?" Dillon asked. "Has something happened between you two?"
Justin wished he knew the answer to that question. "Brian's in Pittsburgh. I'm in Miami."
"What are you doing there?"
"Business," Justin replied bluntly.
"Oh. Well, give my best to Brian when you talk to him."
"Sure," Justin grumbled as he hung up. He looked at the time on his phone noting that it was just a bit over five minutes till midnight. It didn't look like Brian was going to call, and that was what he had expected. Justin had barely got the phone back in his pocket when it rang again.
"You're a popular boy tonight," said one of the guys who had been cruising him all evening and he punctuated his words with a suggestive wink.
Justin laughed out loud as he said, "Hello."
"You sound happy, Sunshine," Brian's voice said.
"Brian," Justin breathed, happy to know that Brian had kept their agreement.
"Who were you talking to? I tried to get you a few minutes ago."
"I heard the beep but I was talking to Dillon. Did you leave a message?"
"No, I wanted to talk to you personally," Brian laughed.
The countdown to midnight had begun and Brian could hear all the voices around Justin counting off the last thirty seconds.
"Where are you?" Brian asked.
"I'm at a party that some of the people from work are throwing."
"Are you having a good time?" Brian asked hoping the answer would be no.
"Yeah, they're great. A couple of guys have been cruising me all night." Justin decided to give Brian back a bit of what he had heard the other night.
"And are they hot?"
"They'll do in a pinch," Justin laughed.
"Five, four, three, two, one," everyone yelled and then the kissing began.
The guy who had winked at Justin grabbed him and planted a big one on him at the same time knocking his phone out of his hand. By the time Justin freed himself from the guy's grasp and picked up his phone, Brian had hung up.
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