Close to Home II
+ Three +
Several days had gone by since Justin had made his trip to the comic book store. There had been no call from Michael, at least none that Brian had mentioned. Justin was pretty sure Michael would tell Brian what had prompted him to call and Brian would be either pissed at Justin or would thank him for his intervention. Either way Justin would know that Michael had followed through on his suggestion. Brian said nothing, so that could only mean that Michael hadn't called.
Justin could hardly believe that Brian's best friend would not pick up the challenge that Justin had laid down in front of him. He knew he had done just about everything he could to make Michael contact Brian. About the only thing left would have been to beg Michael to call. Justin was sure that Brian would never forgive him if he did that.
What puzzled Justin was why Michael didn't want to rekindle the friendship. He had seemed genuinely eager to hear about Brian. He also seemed to regret that he had walked out of Brian's life. All he had to do to make things right was to pick up the phone. But he hadn't done that.
Justin put some of the finishing touches on his latest piece of artwork. He was trying something a little different. He had discovered that if he sketched something, usually a person, and then encapsulated the sketch in thick paint that expressed the emotion he had tried to capture in the sketch, he got some interesting results. He had finished one of Gus surrounded by baby blue with royal blue accents to show how special the baby was. He had added some hints of deep pink and red, the heart colors, because the little boy was so loved by all three of his parents.
Now he was working on one of Brian in his wheelchair. You saw the man from the back so no one would know it was Brian, except of course for Justin and Brian. Justin thought that would be the way Brian would want it. He was trying to capture the feelings of loneliness and despair and anger that had radiated off Brian when he had first met him. Justin wasn't sure he had the right combination yet, but he was getting close.
His next piece would be Brian's face. Everyone would see the beauty that Justin saw, and they would also feel the peace and happiness that Justin had witnessed develop in Brian over the last month. He liked to think he had a lot to do with these new emotions that Brian was experiencing. Justin smiled as he cleaned his brush.
It was late afternoon so Justin decided to make his way up to Brian's loft. He knew they had bought tenderloin of pork the day before and Justin decided that he would roast it for dinner.
When Justin shoved back the loft door, he expected to see Brian working at the computer. That was usually where he was. No one was behind the desk, but the curtains had been drawn back on one of the tall windows. Brian sat in front of it staring up at the sky.
"Is something wrong, Brian?" Justin asked softly.
There was no answer so Justin moved across the apartment to stand beside Brian. He looked at the man's face. It was expressionless, but Justin was sure he could see fierce emotions flicker across it.
"Brian, what is it?" Justin asked squatting down so he could look at Brian's face dead on.
"Have you heard the news today?" Brian asked.
"The news? No, why?" Brian shook his head. "Brian, tell me what the fuck is wrong."
"It's it doesn't matter."
"It fucking obviously does matter! So tell me!"
"Christopher Reeve died this morning."
"Christopher Reeve? The guy who played Superman?" Brian nodded. "I don't " Justin hesitated and then it dawned on him.
"He was confined to a wheelchair. Didn't he fall off a horse or something?"
"Yes," Brian whispered, "and it was a lot more than being confined to a fucking wheelchair."
"Why are you so upset?"
"Go home, Justin. Just leave me alone for now," Brian said.
"I don't want to leave you like this. Please tell me what this is about."
"Justin, I need some time alone. Please, just go."
Justin wanted to take Brian in his arms and hold him tight. He wanted to make everything all right, but he didn't even know what was wrong. All he could do was follow Brian's wishes. He moved over to the loft door. No roast pork tonight, Justin thought.
"Brian," he said aloud, "if you want me I'll be home. Or call or e-mail."
There was no response so Justin left the loft drawing the door quietly shut behind him. He hoped Brian would call. He needed to know more about what had happened.
As soon as he got home he went on the internet to see what they were saying about Christopher Reeve. The most recent pictures of Reeve were kind of frightening. He had lost all his hair and he seemed kind of grotesque. They had pictures of Reeve as the young Superman when he was so strong and handsome. Justin wondered why Brian was so upset about Reeve's death. Wouldn't you want to be dead when you had to struggle even to breathe?
Justin continued reading and to his amazement he discovered all the things that the crippled Christopher Reeve had been involved in. He read about his fight to walk again and all the research that had been spurred on and funded by Reeve's efforts. According to one report that Justin read, Reeve, a quadriplegic had recently been able to move one of his fingers and had taken breaths on his own without a respirator.
He was a major advocate of stem cell research which according to the articles Justin read held great promise in healing spinal cord injuries. Justin read on and on. He had been reading for over two hours when his computer sounded indicating that he had an e-mail.
"Brian," was Justin's first thought.
Justin quickly clicked on his e-mail program and with a sigh of relief he opened the e-mail from Brian. It said:
I'm sorry that I was so abrupt with you, but I needed some more time to come to terms with the death of Christopher Reeve. I guess you're wondering why on earth I should be upset by the death of a movie star, but he was so much more than that, so much that I can hardly express it. That's why I'm sending you this e-mail. I thought if I could put my feelings down in writing it might make more sense.
Do you believe that I am actually writing about feelings? I don't. I can hardly believe that I'm doing this, but I want you to understand. The fact that it took the death of this man to make me do this is very significant. It should give you some idea of what he meant to me and to many other people confined to wheelchairs.
Christopher Reeve became my hope, my inspiration that I would someday walk again, my reason for living on some of the black days that I went through. If you know anything about the man, you know that his condition was a hundred times worse than mine. And yet I never fucking heard him complain once. He took up the cause of spinal cord research and relentlessly went ahead making researchers take notice and inspiring them to try new techniques. He raised mountains of money for research too.
But the thing about him that was so significant was his unalterable belief that one day he would stand up from his wheelchair and walk again. And if he could do that, then so could I. He truly believed that day would come, and because he believed, so did I. I guess that's what threw me for a loop today when I heard that he was dead. It was kind of like a part of me died with him. I lost that faint hope that I might someday lead a normal life.
Christopher will never get his chance to walk, and it struck me that now I wouldn't either. It left me feeling so empty and hopeless. I still feel that way, but I guess I've come to terms with some of it. I have you, just like Christopher had his wife. She never wavered in her faith in him, and I'd like to think that you will do the same.
If you want to be with me, come on up. The door's open.
Justin logged off his computer and locked up his loft. He would stay the whole night with Brian. He knew the man needed him and he intended to be there.
As he climbed the flight of stairs to Brian's loft, he thought about Brian's words. He wondered what it must have taken for Brian to write that e-mail, and expose his innermost thoughts and fears. He knew that Brian liked to appear strong and invincible even from his wheelchair. He hated people to pity him or think that he couldn't do things for himself. That is what had kept him locked up in the loft, alone, for so long. Maybe this was a breakthrough of some sort.
True to his e-mail the loft door stood open. Brian was at the windows looking out into the now black night sky. "Come in," Brian said softly.
"Are you feeling a little better now?" Justin asked coming over beside Brian.
Brian nodded ever so slightly. Justin knew he was far from all right. "Sit down, please," Brian said indicating his lap.
Justin sat down and put his arms around Brian's neck. His lips sought the soft ones that he loved so much. The kiss was tender and gentle and lasted for a very long time. Justin rested his forehead against Brian's.
"I'm sorry, Brian," Justin whispered. "I spent all the time since I was here reading about Christopher Reeve and all he has done for spinal cord research. I think I understand a little better why you were upset."
"That's good," Brian said glad that Justin had taken his worries to heart. "But I don't want to talk about it right now. I need you. I need you beside me and inside me. I need to be close."
"I need that too. And I'll try to always be there for you."
They made love tenderly, carefully, cherishing each touch and each moment. It was an affirmation of life, that Brian was still alive, and that they had a future ahead of them. When they were through they lay on Brian's bed, fingers entwined, facing each other.
"Do you feel a little better now?" Justin asked.
Brian looked into the blue eyes but didn't answer. Justin leaned closer and kissed Brian gently on the lips. They just lay there for several minutes, neither making a sound.
"I'm not sure what I feel at the moment," Brian finally said. "I wish I could feel positive. You have changed my life so much already, but now "
"I understand that this is hard for you, but don't give up. Okay? Just don't give up."
"What if you did something positive instead?" Justin asked suddenly.
"I don't know " Justin replied wracking his brain to come up with something. "What if you went back to Ryder full time?"
"You mean work at the office?"
"Why the fuck would I want to do that?"
"It would it would mean that you had reclaimed your place in the world."
"I have my place in the world," Brian stated with a frown.
"What? The twelve hundred square feet of the loft? The world's a lot bigger than that."
"It's twelve hundred and eighty to be exact. And it suits me just fine."
"Maybe it's too fine, too comfortable, too easy."
"What do you mean?"
"When I was reading all that stuff about Christopher Reeve it struck me how in your face he was prepared to be. He made personal appearances all the time. He was always available to help promote new research or to help in fund raising. He never hid away or backed away from meeting people."
"And you think that's what I'm doing? Hiding away here in the loft?"
Brian stared at Justin. He knew the man was telling him the truth. He just hated to admit it to himself. He had hidden here for two years before Justin found him. Justin had made him go to the hospital for the birth of his son. Justin had convinced him to go out for coffee. Justin had taken him to visit Gus. Justin had changed his life.
But the big question was, could he change it any more, even with Justin's help? Did he want to change? Could he stand to change? He still hated people looking at him, pitying him. If he went back to work at Ryder he would have to see people every day and they would see him. Many of them would remember what he had been before and the comparison with what he had become could be nothing but bad. He didn't think he could stand that.
"I don't think I'm ready to do that," Brian finally said.
"I don't think that's what Christopher would have said."
"Fuck you! I'm not Christopher Reeve."
"That's for sure."
"And what the fuck's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that he never gave up. He must have been afraid all the time. Can you imagine what it must have been like not to even be able to breathe on your own? I read where the machine quit on him a couple of times and he almost died. But he never let his fear conquer him. He fought against it all the time. And I guess that's what I'm asking you to do, Brian. Fight it, fight for what you want your life to be, fight for us, fight for Gus and the strong young man he will grow up to be. Don't you want to see him grow up?"
Brian swallowed several times. He couldn't get his tongue to work to reply. He felt like he was drowning. "Of course I want to see my son grow up," Brian managed to get out after a minute or two. "I I want him to be proud of me, just like I'll be proud of him."
"Then don't give up. Try to move forward. I'll be beside you every step of the way. That is, if you want me to be."
Brian pulled Justin toward him and his arms captured the slim body. Justin had to know that Brian wanted him right by his side. He couldn't imagine a life without Justin there beside him. How quickly things had changed. He wondered if he could keep changing. Justin had no idea how hard it was for him. Every change upset his neat, orderly world, and meant hours, days of adapting and finding a new routine. Brian sighed heavily.
"I understand that it's hard Brian," Justin whispered against his throat. "But it will be worth it."
"How can you know that?"
"I'm an optimist," Justin chuckled.
"Do you really believe that your optimism can cancel out my pessimism?" Brian asked.
"I don't think you're so pessimistic," Justin said softly.
"What? Just a coward?"
"I think you've been depressed after this news."
"So I'm a depressimist?" Brian asked.
"That's a good word for it," Justin chuckled. He always enjoyed the way Brian's mind worked with words.
"Glad you find me entertaining," Brian said cryptically.
"What if you talked to Ryder about coming in mornings or afternoons, just for half days to begin with?"
"And why would that be a good idea?"
"It would let you settle into a routine and see if you liked it. If things bothered you, you would only have to be there for a few hours. Then you could come home and leave it all behind you."
"You see," Brian said with what might be construed as a smirk. "You think it's going to be awful, that I'll only be able to stand a few hours of it, that I'll want to run home."
"That that's not what I meant," Justin contradicted. However, that was basically what he thought. He had tried to give Brian an out and the man had seen right through it. Sometimes Brian was just too smart.
"I like things the way they are," Brian stated.
"Fine," Justin said. "I won't bother you about it anymore."
Justin had quickly learned that pressing Brian to do something usually meant that he would dig in his heels and refuse to do it at all. Sometimes by giving in and letting Brian make his own decision, the man would make the one you wanted him to. That was all Justin could hope for now.
"Do you want me to stay with you tonight?" Justin asked after a minute or two.
"Yeah, I'd like that if you want to," Brian admitted with some hesitation.
Justin chuckled. "I want to. I like being with you."
"Except for the mornings."
"It's all right," Justin said trying to make things easy for Brian.
"I've been thinking about that," Brian said.
"Yeah, but "
Before Brian could finish his statement the phone rang. Brian reached for the cordless sitting on the nightstand.
"Yeah," he said. It better not be a fucking telemarketer. "Who's this?... What? Yeah, yeah, I remember... I guess so I, I suppose that would be all right Okay, tomorrow morning."
Brian hung up. He flopped back on the bed staring up at the ceiling. Justin waited for him to explain the call.
When nothing was forthcoming, Justin ran his hand along Brian's arm and asked, "Who was that?"
"Michael, as in Michael Novotny, your best friend?" Justin asked in amazement.
"The very same."
"What did he want?"
"He's coming over tomorrow morning."
"Wow!" Justin reacted.
Brian turned towards him. "I wonder what brought this on after all this time."
"I guess you'll find out tomorrow," Justin said.
"I guess I will."
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