On the surface it all looks normal. On the surface it is all okay. Keep up appearances. Fall apart in private.
I gesture towards the small coffee shop. "As good a place as any," she says as I pull the door open, "I hope they have decent coffee."
We always had something to say. The conversation never ended. I want that back. "I moved out," she says quickly, shattering the silent standoff between us. "I moved out of my parent's house."
I smile. I have to.
"That's great." She looks nervous. I shift in my seat, the sounds of the people in the coffee shop around us muffled and light.
She laughs tensely and locks her fingers together on the top of the table. "No, not really," she says too fast. "I mean, it's a really small place. My bedroom is practically in my kitchen and I think the neighbors might sale drugs. I'm not sure though. But ."
"It's yours," I finish for her. She looks up at me and the time falls away. We are little again, holding each other up against the world and praying for the strength to keep standing. She nods her head.
"Yeah, its mine," she says. We leave the coffee shop and walk, hand in hand down the sidewalk, our memories pressing us forward. I love Brian. I knew I did the first time he looked at me. I have never felt more at ease than I do right now.
Emotional Cheater. Shame, shame, shame.
"You went to rehab." I look at her, her cold fingers holding onto my hand. She doesn't look at me. My step hesitates at her words but we press on.
"The greatest time of my life," I say with a purposeful exhale of heated air. I watch it dissipate. "I never felt more open and connected with my "disease," I tell her, emphasizing the quotation marks with my fingers.
"I'm out," I clarify. She stops walking and looks into the large display window of a jewelry store. She presses deeply into my side as the sun starts to set and the air around us drops.
"I'm not," she whispers, taking a step toward the glass. I cross my arms and stare at the expensive pieces of jewelry. She takes a deep breath and the reflective surface bounces her tears back to me.
She dropped her mask. She lost the game.
"How did that make you feel?" Marc asks. I sit in his oversized chair, trying to drown him out. I don't want to talk. I don't want to feel anything. Fuck recovery.
"What, my best friend holding my hand?" I just want him to be quiet. I just want him to be quiet and let me think. "It was a little cold and "
"To be needed by someone."
"I didn't feel anything. I wanted to," I tell him. I pull my legs into the chair and cross my arms on top of my knees. He stares at me and I stare at him.
"Why didn't you? What stopped you?"
"It would have been a lie," I say, my eyes following his as he sits across from me. I glance at my watch. Brian should be here soon. I need him to come. This session is probing.
"Why?" He asks.
I am devoid of feelings. I have no empathy. This is a cure? No, this is my survival. I am going to die. I am going to die and I am not afraid. I am not afraid to die. Living is another story.
"Why would it have been a lie? Why would it be so bad to feel needed by someone else?" Marc asks as he sits back. He wants to have all the answers. He wants to know it all. I know more than I want to.
"You're the doctor, you tell me." I look out towards the window and let the silence dance around us. Marc is patient. He is way too patient.
"So, what did the good doctor have to say today?" Brian asks, his right hand gripping the steering wheel lightly. I look straight ahead.
"He says that I am a remarkable study and am cured of everything. I never have to see him again and this last session was free," I tell him. He turns the corner.
"Good, that'll save me a couple hundred dollars a month," is his only answer. I smirk. He'd pay double that amount.
"Melanie and Lindsay want to have another baby." I don't answer. I look over at him and wait for him to speak. "I told them I'd do it."
"Wow," I let out, wishing that I had stayed silent. "That's great. Gus is great and I'm sure he'll love having a little brother or sister. Melanie had to have practically shit when you agreed."
"She was slightly less pleased than Lindsay. She won't be a fan of mine anytime soon." He pulls to a stop in front of the loft and shuts off the engine. I move to get out of the car and he stops me. I don't want to do this. Not now, not ever. Not on the street. I can feel my pulse crawling under my skin.
I need to breathe.
"Are you going to tell me what the doctor said?" Brian asks. I sit all the way back in the seat and look over at him.
"He asked me how it felt, to be needed by someone. He gave me more questions than answers and I feel like I'm running in circles," I tell him as I open the door and step onto the concrete. He follows me, our footsteps falling in each others shadow.
Time can pass and shadows can fade. Memories can suffer the same fate. Emotions run deep, long, lasting forever. Everything is slowly falling together and quickly trying to fall apart.
"I like it," Brian says, sitting to my side, a glass of Beam held in his hand. I frown as I look at the canvas in front of me. I look from the canvas, to him, and back to the canvas. I twirl my paintbrush around, tapping it against the pencil, held tightly in the same hand.
"There's nothing there," I say as I look at him with a frown. He leans into me, his lips ghosting against mine as he stares into me. I shift in my seat as my pulse responds to his closeness.
"I know," he says as he presses his lips to mine.
He pulls back, slowly bringing me with him as he stands and leads me into the bedroom. I follow; the brush and pencil still in my hand. He pushes me down on the bed, making quick work of my jeans. I stare at the ceiling as his hands play over my body.
I detach as he slides into me.
I detach and I can feel everything. I exhale as the brush and pencil drop from my hand. I hold onto Brian's hips as he thrusts into me, suspending me in oblivion. "Ugh," I whimper. I can barely hear it. I hold onto Brian, my bottom lip held tightly between my teeth.
"Justin," he calls as his movements still and he fills the condom inside of me. I feel my muscles tense as I follow him, exhaling sharply as I fall back into reality. He rolls to my side and my hand finds its way to my sweating skin, my fingers resting on my taunt muscles.
"That was great," Brian says as he stares up at the ceiling. I move closer to him on instinct, our skin barely touching.
I could watch Justin forever.
I watch him. "Do you think I'm too damaged?" He asks suddenly. I inhale the sex from the air. I think long and hard before answering. He doesn't press.
"Yes." I light a cigarette and shrug. ""But hey, who isn't." He looks over at me and locks his eyes to mine. I expect him to say something, anything. Instead he smiles.
"I'm starting to think that maybe I want to be." He gets up from the bed and walks into the bathroom. I listen to the sounds of water running.
A shot of Beam; another hit of nicotine. Rock-a-bye baby.
He paints all night. I leave him to it, walking around the loft and him. I pick up the proofs for our latest campaign and bury myself in work. Babylon is for another night, another time. I feel uneasy.
I can hear his voice coming from behind the canvas, low and purposeful murmurs. "If it starts to talk back I'd be worried." He laughs as his hands fly over the white. He moves frantically.
I leave him in the living room in front of the canvas. I hate the smell of paint.
5:23 in the morning. I listen to the faint sound of Brian breathing. I light a cigarette as I look at the finished painting, flecks of paint stuck to my skin. I step back from the canvas and take a long pull from the cigarette.
You look from your angle, I'll look for mine.
I walk into the studio and sit the canvas on the desk, dropping my portfolio. Leslie looks up at me, her long black hair falling over her shoulders. "Justin," she says with softened surprise, "I was sure you would be avoiding me."
"Why?" I ask. She walks from behind her drawing table and stops in front of me. "You said the painting was due on Monday. It's Monday, here I am."
"Yes, it is and yes you are." She turns toward the covered canvas and smiles, crossing her arms. "Are you ready to show it to me?"
"No," I answer. "If I had my choice I'd never show it to you. I'd never show it to anyone."
"Not even yourself?" I shift my weight and look at her, directly in the eyes. She stares back at me. Brian is the only other person who has ever looked so deep. She makes me nervous.
"Least of all me," I say.
She blinks, a small smile pressing against her lips. She gestures towards the painting. "Okay, enough talking. Let's see it." I step forward and pull the cover from the painting. She makes no movement, no sound. I expect nothing from her. I want nothing from her.
I <i>need</i> nothing from her.
"Well?" I ask after fifteen minutes of silence. She leans forward. I cross my arms over my chest.
"Do you really care?" She asks. She thinks I am asking her because she asked me. I hold my arms tighter around me and look out the large windows, perfect for light.
"No, not especially," I say as I watch the light dance through the panes.
"Then why did you ask?"
"You expected me to."
"You didn't want to paint the painting."
"But you did."
"Because I had every reason not to," I tell her. I turn to look at her as she keeps her eyes locked on the painting, a prism portrait faded in hues of black, red and living.
"Destroy it," she tells me.
"Destroy it?" She turns to look at me and he eyes are heavy.
"It is too beautiful, too complicated," she surmises and her eyes burn into mine, a cold white heat. She turns away from me and walks back around her desk, sitting back on her stool. I turn to look at my painting. "Unless of course, you have the balls to let it exist."
She's talking about the painting. I'm thinking about me. My pulse is shaking.
I can taste blood.
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