"Hobbs! Chris Hobbs?" Brian repeated. He couldn't believe his ears. "What the fuck was Chris Hobbs doing there?"
"Looking for me."
"For you? Why? I'm going to kill that motherfucker!"
"Calm down, Brian. He saw the article on the bashing and then this morning there was the picture of the two of us." Justin's words were slow and hesitant. He yawned and closed his eyes.
"Do you need to sleep now?" Brian asked watching Justin and realizing the boy wasn't really up to talking about this.
"I think whatever they gave me is finally kicking in," Justin mumbled.
Brian wanted to hear the rest of the story, but Justin needed to rest. He kissed the forehead of his partner and pulled the covers up a little further. He looked at the impossibly uncomfortable hospital chair and knew that was his bed for the night.
Brian had been awakened several times during the night as nurses came to rouse Justin and make sure he was all right. The boy would answer and then drop right off again. Brian knew that sleep was good for him, but he wanted to know what had happened last night. What had Chris Hobbs done to Justin? It was like reliving the bashing all over again.
About 6 a.m. Brian jumped and woke up. He had been sleeping sitting in the awful chair with his head and arms resting on the edge of Justin's bed. He could feel fingers running through his hair. He looked up into blue eyes that smiled back at him.
"You look better," Brian said softly.
"I feel better, but then I don't think I could have felt any worse. That was one mother fucker of a headache."
"Language, Justin," Brian grinned. "We're in a fine medical establishment. We don't want to scare your caregivers away."
Brian sat up and groaned. His back and neck felt like they had been tied in knots by some world champion knot practitioner.
"You're going to pay for sleeping like that," Justin told him.
"I already am," Brian said trying to stretch his back and shoulders.
"You should have gone home and got a decent night's sleep. What do you and Charles have planned for today?"
"Nothing," Brian said.
Justin was about to question that when Brian said, "I want to know what happened with Chris Hobbs last night. Did he attack you?"
"No, he didn't physically hit me, but he scared the shit out of me."
"Tell me what happened."
"Well, I came out of the Italian Club, after I'd relieved myself. Did I tell you that part?"
Justin grinned and Brian was happy to see that he felt well enough to tease and smile.
"He called my name," Justin said softly, his grin changing to a clenched jaw, and some of the color draining out of his face. "I knew it was him as soon as I heard him say, 'Taylor', just the way he had done so many times at St. James."
"Did he threaten you?" Brian asked.
"Not at first. He said he'd been looking for me and I asked why. I couldn't think why he'd want to see me any more than I would want to see him."
"So what did he want?"
"He'd seen the piece in the paper about the bashing. I never thought about how it might affect him. I just wanted the world to know what he had gotten away with."
"Tell me what happened," said Brian rapidly losing patience.
"He said he had tried to forget about the bashing and about losing his football scholarship after you cracked him in the knee. When he finished his community service at the hospice, he started looking for some place to go to school. He goes to Robert Morris University just outside of Pittsburgh. According to him it's costing his parents a mint."
"And you were duly sympathetic?"
"Of course not! I asked if I should cue the violins."
"Good for you, Sunshine, but couldn't you have picked a different instrument? Fucking asshole!"
Justin wasn't exactly sure which fucking asshole Brian was referring to. "Brian, let me finish." When Brian didn't say anything more, Justin continued, "Apparently he has been doing all right academically and nobody made any connection to the bashing. He said it began to seem like it never happened. And then the article appeared."
"Chris never even knew about it until one of his classmates came up to him in the lecture hall, threw the article down in front of him and asked, 'Are you going to bash me too? I'm gay.' Most of the class heard what was said and apparently he got royally roasted all day."
"Too fucking bad! Get a taste of his own medicine," Brian muttered.
"Yeah, just a small piece of what he deserves," Justin agreed. "So I asked him what he wanted me to do about it. He said he wanted me to keep myself and his name out of the papers. Then he said he'd seen the picture of the two of us flaunting ourselves just like we did at the prom."
"Fuck!" Brian reacted. Michael had been right. "How did you get hurt?"
"The more he told me what had happened the louder and more agitated he got. He was screaming at me by the end of it, yelling that I had ruined his life. He started coming towards me and I backed away. He must have gained thirty pounds since the last time I saw him. I was really scared. He was screaming and saying he wished he had finished me off. I backed up some more and my foot slipped off the edge of the curb. He yelled that he never wanted to hear my fucking name again, and I lost my balance and went backwards. I grabbed at the cars on each side of me but I couldn't stop myself. I guess I hit my head and blacked out for awhile. The next thing I remember is you beside me."
Justin looked worn out from describing the events of last night.
Brian looked ready to kill. "That son of a bitch! I'm going to find him and wring his nasty little neck."
"Brian, I think we should let it go," Justin said.
"Let it go? He threatened you! He assaulted you! We're calling the police."
"What do you mean no?"
"He didn't hit me or hurt me. He scared me."
"And you're in the hospital as a result."
Justin realized that Brian wanted to punish Chris for hurting him, but he hadn't really touched him. Justin felt he had fallen not been knocked down. He didn't want to cause more trouble. "Brian, I don't think we should go after Chris. I fell. He didn't push me, and it will just make things worse for your campaign."
"Fuck the campaign! It's over anyway."
"Over? What do you mean?"
"You missed the best part of the candidates' meeting. The audience was stacked with fine upstanding anti-gay citizens. They wanted to know why a pervert like me was running for office. They told me that I was setting a bad example for their children. That picture of you and me really brought them out of the woodwork." Brian said in his most sarcastic tone and shook his head still not believing what had happened.
"Shit, Brian! I had no idea that was going on. Is that what you meant when you said you and Charles didn't have anything planned for today? What are you going to do?"
"I'm quitting. I don't need this shit, and I sure as fuck don't need you getting hurt again because of me."
"Because of you? How do you figure that?"
"Going public about our relationship was my idea. Our picture would never have been in the paper if I wasn't running for fucking mayor and you wouldn't be in the hospital as a result."
"And you probably wouldn't have asked me to be your partner either," Justin said staring at Brian.
Brian stared back. He knew on some level that Justin was right. Being in the limelight in this campaign magnified and intensified everything. Brian had felt he had to take a stand and show the world what kind of gay man he was. He would have dragged his feet about their relationship under different circumstances. Unfortunately it was too late to change anything now. The best he could do was to take them out of the spotlight.
"I don't know," Brian said quickly. "Anyway I'm quitting."
"Have you talked to Charles about this?"
"What's to talk about? It's over."
"Brian," Justin sighed, "do you remember when I ran into Chris Hobbs at the hospice and I refused to go to the Pride Parade. You made me go so Chris Hobbs wouldn't win, and and I'm glad you did. After that everything got better."
"So?" Brian asked not willing to back down from his decision to quit.
"So, if you quit now, Chris Hobbs wins again, and so do all the assholes who attacked you at the meeting. Is that what you want? For Allan Billings and all the other Stockwell wannabes to win, to force you out?"
Brian didn't know how to answer that. Of course he didn't want them to win, but he didn't want to put Justin in danger, and he doubted he had a snowball's chance in the election after last night.
"Brian," Justin said, "at least talk to Charles before you decide. Get his point of view. And know that if you decide to continue I'm behind you one hundred percent."
Brian looked into those blue eyes, so clear and so sure. He wished he had half the faith Justin did. This was exactly why he needed Justin so much. The boy gave him strength and perspective and hope.
Brian leaned over the bed and kissed the sweet lips. He held Justin tentatively not wanting to hurt him, but he felt Justin mold himself up into his body and press himself against him. The kiss deepened and grew more intense. He understood that Justin was telling him that he was all right, that they were all right and that he would never abandon him.
"Umm hmmm," a voice cleared its throat. The nurse stood in the doorway watching them.
Brian stood up.
"Try to leave a little air in his lungs," the smiling black woman said to him.
Brian cleared his own throat. "Can he go home soon?" Brian asked.
"I think you better get him out of here right now before I bring in my sex-ed group for a little refresher course."
Justin giggled and Brian looked startled.
"Yes, ma'am!" Brian saluted.
The nurse's grin broadened even farther. "His papers are ready. He had a decent night, but he needs to take it easy for a few days. No stress and not too much strenuous sex," she cautioned trying to look serious.
"I'll do my best," Brian grinned back.
"I just bet you will," she said. "Seriously he needs to be a little careful for the next week or so."
"I'll see that he is," Brian promised.
Justin was already getting out of bed. "I'll be back with a wheelchair in a few minutes. You can gather everything together while you wait," the nurse said as she walked through the door.
"I need to use the toilet," Justin said and headed to the open door of the bathroom. He heard Brian groan. "What's wrong? Your neck bothering you?" he asked.
"Pull your gown over your ass or we'll be having that sex-ed group in here in a hurry."
Justin giggled and wiggled his butt as he closed the bathroom door behind him.
An hour later they were back at the loft and Brian insisted that Justin get into bed. The boy wanted Brian to come with him, but Brian knew what that would lead to and refused. He wanted Justin to get some sleep, knowing that he had been awakened every couple of hours all night. Justin gave in after Brian promised to call Charles. Brian sat on the bed gently rubbing Justin's arm. The boy was asleep in a few minutes.
Brian slowly got up from the bed after gently kissing Justin's forehead. He looked so peaceful and so beautiful when he slept. Brian sighed and walked down to the computer desk. He knew he needed to call Charles and he knew what he was going to tell him. He hit the number.
"Charles," Brian said when the man picked up. "It's Brian. We need to talk."
"We certainly do. How's Justin?"
"I brought him home a little while ago. He's sleeping. They think he'll be all right, but he has to take it easy for a few days."
"Glad to hear that he's okay. What happened?"
"It's a long story, but basically it was an accident," Brian said following what Justin had told him as his version of events.
"Can you come over here?" Charles asked.
"I don't want to leave Justin alone. Could you come here?"
"Yes, but won't we disturb the young man?" Charles knew the set-up of Brian's loft.
"He sleeps like a log," Brian said. "Nothing will wake him."
"I'll be there in an hour," Charles said.
"Just so you're not wasting your time, I'm going to withdraw my candidacy."
"I was afraid you were going to say that, but hear me out first," Charles asked.
"All right, but it won't change my mind."
A little over an hour later Charles and Brian sat in the living room of the loft. Justin slept on up in the bedroom. Brian had related the events of Justin's 'accident'. The two men kept their voices low.
"I'm serious, Charles," Brian said. "I'm not going to put Justin through this. He had enough trouble recovering from his first round with Chris Hobbs and now this. It's too much."
"I know you're worried about him, but what does he say about this?"
"I've told him what I'm going to do."
"You didn't answer my question."
"He doesn't want me to quit. He thinks that would be letting people like Stockwell and Hobbs win."
"Well, wouldn't it?"
"After last night, seeing and feeling the hatred directed towards me, I don't know why the fuck I ever tried to do this," Brian said defeat clear in his voice.
"Yes you do," Charles stated. "You got into this because you thought you could make a difference. You thought you could stand against the bigots like Stockwell and Allan Billings. You thought Pittsburgh might be ready for a gay mayor. You thought you could win. And you know what?"
"After what happened last night?"
"Yes, even after that. What do you think happened last night?"
"You were there. You saw what happened."
"I want to hear your take on it."
"The place was packed with homophobes who had seen our picture in the paper. They were laying in wait to attack me."
"Correct. That wasn't your normal audience at these affairs. I was surprised by the number of people in attendance when we first walked in, but I thought it was due to the picture and publicity in the papers."
"Well, wasn't it?" Brian asked eyeing Charles suspiciously.
"No, it wasn't. After I left you at the hospital, I put out some feelers. I get the distinct impression that the whole thing was orchestrated. There were several fundamentalist church groups there. We never had any hope of getting their votes in the first place. There were also clusters of ultra-conservatives, anti-abortionists, anti-feminists, anti-anything."
"What are you getting at?"
"If someone hadn't got all these groups to attend, there would have been a smattering of questions about you and Justin and some disapproval, but there would also have been support. You attract a liberal audience. They were totally drowned out last night. I think there were many there, but they were afraid to speak up in that mob scene."
"So you're saying I still may have some support out there."
"Right, and that's who we need to appeal to."
"But how do we stop another hijacking like last night?" Brian asked.
"We don't attend any public hearings like that for at least three or four days."
"But the other candidates will be there."
"Yes, but we send a letter to be read at the beginning of the proceedings stating what we think happened and encouraging liberal voters to take a stand."
"Will that be enough?"
"No, I want you to go on the local talk shows and give interviews for the newspapers stating what you think happened last night. Let everyone know that you have been targeted by hate groups and you're not going to let them force you out. We're just going to take a different tack for the next few days."
"Do you really think that could work, that I still have a chance?" Brian asked.
"I certainly do."
"I don't know," Brian said shaking his head.
"Yes you do," Justin said from the top of the steps. "You can do anything you set your mind to."
"But what about you? I don't want you involved in any more incidents like last night."
"Sometimes you have to be willing to risk everything for what you believe in. I believe you should do this, and I believe in you," Justin said with his trademark smile.
"Are you sure?" Brian asked him.
Justin nodded. Brian grinned back, still a little unsure about the whole thing, but loving Justin for his confidence in him. "Come here," Brian ordered.
Justin came down the steps and Brian pulled him into a delicious kiss that had them both forgetting that Charles was still sitting on the couch.
"Umm hmmm," the man cleared his throat.
Brian released Justin's lips long enough to glance at Charles.
"Sorry," Charles said, "I know I should just fade away and leave you two to it, but we have work to do."
Brian groaned. "That's the second time today we've been interrupted by someone clearing their throat. I'm sensing a trend here."
Justin giggled. "Get back to work. I want you to win. I'm going to get some water and lie down again, so that I can be well rested for when you and Charles are finished and we are finally alone."
"Deal," Brian said giving Justin's butt a gentle slap as the boy headed to the fridge.
Hours later Brian and Justin lay together on the bed. They had made love slowly and gently. It wasn't their usual method, but it had been sweet and Brian didn't want to overtax his lover.
"I hope I'm doing the right thing by staying in this," Brian said.
"You are. Do you think Stockwell had something to do with sending all those groups after you last night?" Justin asked.
"I'd bet my last dollar on it."
"Then the best way to show him up is to win."
Brian kissed Justin and they forgot all about Stockwell and elections and ambushes and bashings and bigotry. They had better things to do.
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