Now That You're Here


Chapter 20


Justin had just climbed into bed when his cell phone rang. He knew without looking that it was Jason. “Hey, you’re up awfully late. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to call.”

“Yeah, I think I’m still on Arizona time. It’s almost two in the morning, but I’m still wide awake. I didn’t want to call you earlier in case you and Brian went out. You pretty much stayed close to home while we were there so I figured you’d want to get away for awhile,” Jason replied as he climbed into bed and turned out the light. “And I just finished unpacking and doing my laundry. Ryan called me as soon as I got back and we went to the movies.”

“Did you see anything good?”

“No. Ryan dragged me to see New Moon. That’s the third time we saw it. He’s a total Twilight freak.”

“Oh, he’s one of them. Team Edward or Team Jacob?” Justin asked.

“Edward, of course. He’s the hot one. Don’t tell me you’re one of them, too.” Jason never pegged Justin for a vampire nut.

“Hell no,” Justin assured him. “I’ve just heard enough about it to know there are sides. Although, from the pictures I’ve seen, you’re right. Edward’s the hottie.”

“Yeah, he’s the only reason Ryan was able to get me to go see it three times,” Jason laughed.

“I could see that.” Justin sobered and then asked the question that had been running through his mind most of the day. “How did things go with Sean on the flight home?”

“Jus, maybe we should skip talking about Sean tonight?”

“That good, huh?”

Jason hesitated. “Let’s just say that I don’t think either one of us will be hearing from Sean for awhile and leave it at that.”

“Shit, Jason…”

“Hey, it’s his loss, not ours. We still have each other, right?”

Justin could hear the sadness in Jason’s voice, but he was right. It was Sean’s loss. He was the one who was giving up two of his best friends because of his ignorance. There was nothing they could do but move on. “Right.”

“Good, so how are things there? Anything exciting happen since I left?”

“As a matter of fact, something did happen.” Justin spent the next twenty minutes relaying the story of what happened between him and Brian, laughing every time Jason interrupted with an “I told you so”, or a “Way to go”.

“I knew you guys wouldn’t be able to ignore the attraction. Not by the way you two were constantly looking at each other when you thought no one was looking. So, how was he?”

“How was he what?” Justin asked in confusion.

“Duh, how was the blow job?”

“Jason!” Justin was surprised by Jason’s forwardness. “Are you trying to live vicariously through me?”

“No, I’m just trying to get a mental picture so I have something to dream about when I fall asleep,” Jason teased.

“You pervert!”

“Hey, I never claimed to be anything else,” Jason snickered. “Seriously though, Jus. How was it? I mean, it was your first time, right? I don’t want specific details, unless of course you want to give them to me. I’m just curious. I heard that blow jobs by men are better than by women because men know exactly what they like because they have dicks, too. Is that true?”

“Well, I’ve never had a blow job before, so I have nothing to compare it to…but it was amazing. Like nothing I ever felt before. Feeling Brian’s warm, wet mouth on me…” Justin trailed off, his memory replaying the experience vividly in his mind.

“Um…Jus…do you need me to let you go or something?”

“What? Oh, no. Sorry about that. What was I saying?”

“Like nothing you ever felt before, warm wet mouth, blah, blah, blah.” Jason had to fight the urge to touch himself at the thought of Brian and Justin together. The two of them made a stunning couple.

“Yeah, it was great.” Justin heard a light tapping on his door. “Hey Jas, hang on for a second.” Putting the phone down he called out to Brian, knowing he was the one on the other side.

“Hey, I just wanted to say goodnight.” Brian shut the door behind him and walked over to where Justin was lying in bed.

“Brian, you already said goodnight, remember?”

Brian flashed him a wicked grin. “Yeah, but Chris and Zander were there so I couldn’t do this.”

Justin was surprised when Brian leaned down and took his mouth, but he didn’t protest as he raised his arms up and wrapped them around Brian’s neck, pulling him closer. The kiss didn’t last long; not nearly as long as Justin would’ve liked, but he smiled as Brian stood up. “I thought we had to be careful. Keep things as friends while we’re in the house. That wasn’t a friendly kiss.”

“Yes it was. I’m just being extremely friendly. Goodnight, Justin, tell Jason I said hello.” Without another word, Brian turned and walked out the door, leaving Justin with a silly smile on his face.

“Sorry about that. Brian wanted to say goodnight,” Justin explained when he got back on the phone.

“You guys are so screwed,” Jason said, fighting back his laughter.

“Yeah, we really are,” Justin sighed happily.

It was hard for Justin to get out of bed the following morning. He and Jason had been on the phone until after two and then it took awhile to fall asleep as he thought of Brian and their new found relationship. Eight o’clock came way too early. Brian offered to let him stay home and go back to sleep, but Justin really didn’t want to spend the day home alone and he still didn’t have a car. Sean and Jason had talked him into considering Chris and Zander’s offer, but a last minute business trip came up so Chris was out of town over most of the weekend. Now that Justin had agreed to think about it, he was anxious to start looking for his own transportation. Until then, he was doomed to either spend most of his time at the bookstore or sit at home alone every day. Today was definitely a day he didn’t want to be home alone.

A fifteen minute shower and a large cappuccino did wonders though, and by the time they reached Between the Pages, he was almost starting to feel human again. Brian parked in his usual spot behind the store and leaned over, kissing Justin quickly before jumping out of the jeep. Justin followed at a much slower pace.

“What’s with you?” Justin whispered as they walked towards the door.

“Oh relax, no one saw us,” Brian assured him.

Justin just shook his head and sighed as they entered the store and found Zander building a new display. “Morning.”

“Hey guys,” Zander said and then paused to take a closer look at his cousin. “Justin, are you okay? You look like hell.”

“Gee, thanks,” Justin laughed. “I’m fine. I was just up too late. The cappuccino is starting to kick in, though. I’ll be fine.”

“Why didn’t you stay home in bed? Brian didn’t force you to come again, did he?” Zander shot Brian one of his glares, causing Justin to giggle.

“No, Brian didn’t force me. In fact, he suggested I stay home and sleep, but I really didn’t want to sit home alone again.”

“See, I’m not a complete ass,” Brian said smugly.

“Maybe not this time,” Zander teased before turning back to Justin. “I’m sorry we didn’t get out car shopping on Saturday, but I promise that nothing will stop us this weekend. If Chris ends up getting called away again, we’ll just go without him. Deal?”

“Okay, thanks.”

“So boss, what’s on the agenda for today?” Brian asked as he went behind the counter to set up the registers. The store was due to open in fifteen minutes and by all the work Zander had done on the display so far, Brian knew that nothing was ready for customers.

“Well, I want to change up all the displays today. Not just this one. And I have a special project for Justin.”

“Oh? What’s that?” Justin asked curiously.

“Well, since your friends were here last week, the website has been neglected. And before you apologize, it’s no big deal. I followed the written instructions you gave me and went in to reply to some of the guestbook comments, but I had no idea how to access the order section and apparently we had a few orders placed,” Zander explained.

“Really? That’s great!” Brian exclaimed from behind the counter.

“Yeah, that’s great. I’ll get on that right now.”

“Thanks, Justin. If you just print out the orders, Brian can pull the books, order anything we don’t have in stock, and then I’ll see to the packaging.”

It wasn’t long before the three of them were immersed in work. Justin pulled the orders, there were five of them, and helped Brian pull the items from the inventory. Luckily everything was in stock so it was easy to do. Zander had them packaged up and at the post office by noon. The store was steady, but not overly busy, which gave them time to work on the displays without too many interruptions. Steve had called to see if Brian was free for lunch, but he hadn’t wanted to leave when there was so much work to do. Steve understood and stopped by around one, bringing sandwiches from the deli for all four of them.

Justin was having a good time and was glad that he forced himself out of bed. Not only did he enjoy spending time with Brian, who had stolen two more kisses throughout the day when Zander wasn’t around, but he enjoyed working at the book store. A lot of the people who came in were regulars, stopping by to say hello or in one case, bring in a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, and it was fun to be able to laugh and joke with them. He also enjoyed being able to meet new customers and show them the plus side of having a small shop like Zander’s as opposed to those big chains like Boarders and Barnes and Noble, by offering them undivided attention while they looked for a hard to find novel. He also enjoyed building displays, arranging them just right so they caught the customer’s eye the moment they walked in. Zander was great about listening to his and Brian’s ideas when it came to displays, what books should be a focal point, and overall what they thought would increase sales. In fact, due to Justin’s suggestion, Zander was now considering putting in a small coffee bar in the back of the store to encourage customers to spend more time in the store. It had been a very productive day.

When Stacy came in to relieve them and watch the store until closing, Justin was almost sad to see the day end. He wasn’t really needed the following day, since they’d gotten so much done, and he wasn’t looking forward to being home alone. He really did need to get his own transportation soon. When they were ready to leave, Brian tossed his keys to Justin and told him to go start the jeep, promising to be right out. Justin shrugged and walked out the door, somewhat curious as to why Brian wanted him outside. He had hoped Brian would share the reason with him once they were alone, but the subject was never mentioned.

When Brian and Justin reached the house, they found Chris in the kitchen finishing up the preparations for dinner. It was another night of cooking on the grill. Justin was quickly learning that it was the favored meal preparation at the Kinney-Morgan and now Taylor resident. He offered to help Chris with the salad and stayed downstairs while Brian went up to his room. Justin hated that he couldn’t follow Brian up and take him in his arms like he’d wanted to do all day, but despite the way Brian kept breaking the rules, Justin knew they had to be careful.

Dinner was on the table by the time Zander walked through the door and they all sat down to enjoy their meal. They were almost finished when Chris spoke up.

“So Justin, do you have any plans for Wednesday?”

“Um, not that I know of. Why?” Justin asked curiously.

“Tom James, one of the publishers I’m working with for the children’s books, loved your drawings. He wants to meet with you about using them and possibly drawing up a couple more for another project he’s working on,” Chris explained.

“Oh my God, really?”

“Really. I figured Brian could drive you over to his office in Tombstone on Wednesday. I have a meeting in the morning, but I could meet you there around one so you don’t have to go alone.”

“Does this mean he’s going to be rich?” Brian asked.

“No, not quite. Well, not from this anyway. These projects that Tom is working on are fundraisers. His daughter died about ten years ago from leukemia so he devotes a lot of time to raising money for cancer research. Each participant gets paid, but it’s nowhere near what they would if they were working independently. It will open doors for him, though. Tom is well respected in the community. This will give Justin good exposure so that if he wants to continue illustrating, he’ll already have his foot in the door.”

“That’s fine with me. I’m just so excited to even think about having my work out there for people to see,” Justin replied excitedly. “This is so cool.”

“No, this sucks,” Brian said suddenly, causing everyone to look at him expectantly. “Well, it does. Chris is a soon to be famous author, Zander owns a thriving business, and now Justin’s going to be an illustrator before his 18th birthday. What about me? I’ve got nothing.”

“Brian,” Chris began.

“It’s fine. I’ll be fine. It’s just that right now I feel like wallowing in self pity. Can I be excused? I just need to be alone for while.” Brian stood up and grabbed his keys off the hook by the door without waiting for a reply. “I’ll be back.”

Chris, Zander, and Justin sat there speechless as Brian walked out the door. It wasn’t like Brian to feel threatened by other people’s accomplishments.

“What was that all about?” Zander finally said, breaking the silence.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him act like that before,” Chris sighed.

“I feel really bad. Maybe I shouldn’t sell my sketches,” Justin said, still staring at the door Brian had walked out of.

“Justin, I feel bad that Brian’s upset, but you can’t give up an opportunity like this to make him feel better,” Zander replied. “And I don’t think Brian would want you to. Give him a little time and he’ll come around.”

“I guess,” Justin wasn’t so sure. “Do you guys need me to help you clean up? I think I want to go lay down for awhile. I’m not feeling so good.”

Chris and Zander exchanged knowing glances. “No, it’s okay. We’ll handle the clean up. Thanks again for all your help at the store today.”

“No problem. I like working there. And thanks for giving me this opportunity, Chris. I appreciate it.” Justin cleared his plate and went upstairs, his head consumed with thoughts of Brian.

Brian drove around for over an hour until he finally found himself at the rest area that he and Justin had gone to the day before. He knew he was acting like a child, but he couldn’t help it. He spent the last three years looking up to Chris and Zander for all they’d accomplished and couldn’t wait until he got through school and was able to start a career of his own. After all the years of hearing what a worthless piece of shit he was from his father, he was anxious to show the world that he had what it took to become someone important. The problem was that he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Now Justin comes along and he’s going to be illustrating; something that ties right into what he wants to do with his life. Chris and Zander looked so proud of him. How was he supposed to compete with that? When was someone going to look at him like that?

Justin lay in bed and stared at the clock. Brian had been gone for almost three hours and he couldn’t help but worry. He was sorry that he ever made those sketches, if the end result was only going to hurt Brian. As exciting as it was to have a publisher want to use his work, it wasn’t worth hurting someone who had come to mean so much to him. He reached for his cell phone again, the same as he did every fifteen minutes since Brian walked out the door, and then put it back down. He wasn’t sure what he’d say if Brian answered. He jumped when he heard a knock on his door. Thinking it was Brian, he called out to come in as he sat up in bed. He couldn’t hide his disappointment when the wrong Kinney walked through the door.

“Sorry. I know you were hoping I was Brian,” Chris said as he took a seat alongside Justin. “You do know that this isn’t your fault, right?”

“I know,” Justin sighed. “I just hate that he’s so upset. I’m not even sure why he’s so upset. So some publisher wants to talk about using my sketches. It’s no big deal.”

“Justin, it is a big deal. I don’t know what you plan on doing once you graduate from college, but this could be a huge stepping stone if you want it to be. Brian knows that, and although I know that deep down inside he’s happy for you, he’s just having a hard time accepting that you’re moving towards a possible future career when he’s still stumbling.”

“What do you mean stumbling?”

“Look, when Brian first got here he wasn’t doing so well in school. He wasn’t failing, but his grades weren’t as good as they could be. I gave him a little time to adjust to his new surroundings, but when he wasn’t showing signs of improving, I sat him down and talked to him. We figured out that the problem was so many years of hearing what a screw up he was. Having both parents tell you that you’re worthless over and over again causes a child to believe it. He started seeing a counselor for awhile and eventually got over the misconception that he was worthless, but there’s still a part of him that has a hard time forgetting what he’d grown up to believe. Because of that, he’s been having trouble deciding what to do with his future. We’ve spent hours talking about different options, but his insecurities keep him from believing that he can do anything he wants to do,” Chris explained.

“Brian has insecurities? That sounds so strange. He seems so confident and self-assured most of the time.”

“It’s all an act. He’s pretty good, huh? I really don’t think he’ll get past this until he gets out there and proves to himself that he’s as smart and wonderful as the rest of us think he is. I would imagine that your news hit a sore spot with him. It’s no excuse for the way he stormed out, but from his point of view, you’re just one more person who has an opportunity to be successful. Something that he doesn’t think he’ll ever be.”

“Wow, I don’t know what to say. I really wish I never submitted those sketches,” Justin said softly.

“Well, I’m glad you did. You deserve the recognition that you’re getting. Brian will pull it together. He’ll succeed in the future. We’ll all make sure of it. Right now we just need to give him time to be by himself and work through his issues. He’ll come to us when he’s ready,” Chris promised.

Justin felt better after talking to Chris. He knew Brian better than anybody. If he was convinced that everything would turn out alright, then it would. And he’d be patient and wait for Brian to come to him. “Thanks for sharing that with me. I reached for the phone a few times to call him, but I think I’ll just try to get some sleep instead. I didn’t get much last night and I’m kind of tired.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Zander and I will be up when Brian gets home. We’ll make sure he’s okay. Goodnight, Justin.”

“Goodnight.” Justin was asleep before Chris even made it downstairs.

Brian entered the house just before midnight, and wasn’t surprised to see Zander sitting in the living room waiting for him.

“Chris wanted to wait up too but he was exhausted so I sent him to bed. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Brian mumbled as he took a seat next to Zander. “I’m sorry about earlier. I know I acted like an ass.”

“Yeah, you did. And you had Justin pretty upset.”

“I know. I’ll apologize to him as soon as I see him,” Brian promised. “It’s just that…I don’t know what it is. I mean, Justin’s been here for what? A couple of months? And he’s already got a plan, you know? The poor kid just lost both of his parents and he’s already got his life back on track and I can’t even decide what to wear in the morning. It doesn’t seem fair.”

“Brian, life isn’t always fair. If it was, Justin would be back in Pittsburgh with his parents. We just have to take what’s been given to us and strive to reach for what we really want.”

“Oh yeah? And what’s been given to me?”

“Oh, I don’t know. How about a brother who loves you? His partner who loves you just as much? Friends that respect you and would do anything for you? An IQ that surpasses almost everyone you know? Brian, you have so much in your life, and so many possibilities. I really wish you would stop thinking about what Jack and Joan Kinney taught you and see what everyone else sees when they look at you. Someone who has the potential to be anything he wants to be. All you have to do is figure out what that is and everything else will fall into place.”

“But what if I can’t? What if I can’t forget what my parents taught me? What if I can’t figure out what to do with my life and I end up drifting away? You and Chris took me in and gave me a life better than I ever dreamed of. All I want to do is make you guys proud of me, and I can’t even do that right,” Brian replied tearfully.

“God Brian, we are proud of you. You are such a great kid. Despite the first fourteen years of your life, you are kind, and loving, and would do anything for those you love. You could sweep floors at a rest stop for the rest of your life and I would still be so proud of you, and I know Chris feels the same way. You have to stop putting so much pressure on yourself and just be who you are, because in my book you’re already great.”

“Thanks, Zan,” Brian said, his voice choked with emotion.

“Anytime, kid. I love you, you know.”

“I love you, too.”

Zander stood up and took Brian in a strong embrace before pulling back and looking him in the eyes. “Now why don’t you go on up and get some sleep. Stacy told me that you asked to switch shifts with her tomorrow, so I guess I’ll see you around four.”

“I’ll be there,” Brian assured him before heading up the stairs. He slowed down by Justin’s bedroom door and listened for signs of life. When he got none, he went to his room and got ready for bed. He was exhausted from his emotional breakdown and was thankful that he didn’t have to go to work early. He needed the morning to catch up on sleep and then find a way to apologize to the blond next door. He really screwed up and hoped that Justin would forgive him once again for being an ass.

End of part 20


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