Justin shifted the boxes in the storage closet. He had decided he needed some space for himself in there. When he had come home from the gallery, he had looked at all his mess on the table and decided that it was time to rearrange some things. Brian was in Chicago for the day on business, so he had taken it upon himself to create some extra room for his art supplies. He knew Brian detested all of his clutter on clear view for anyone who came to the loft. The man never said anything about it, but Justin was well aware of his attitude about things being out of their place and looking messy. If Brian was anything, he was meticulous about his looks, his belongings, his loft.
He dug through the boxes to the back of the storage closet. What the fuck was this? Justin gasped in amazement. It was his framed sketch of Brian asleep, the one with his dick clearly on display, the picture that someone had bought from the GLC the night he had first displayed his art. Brian had bought it! Even back then when he was being so mean and aloof, turning Justin down all the time, telling him to get lost, he had cared enough to buy this piece of his art. Justin couldn't help grinning. Maybe that fairytale that Brian had told to Gus about seeing his true love under the moon the night they had met was real. It was the same thing that he had told Trip Bedford, that he knew from their first meeting that Justin was someone special to him. This merely confirmed it.
Justin carried the picture out into the bedroom and laid it on the bed. He would talk to Brian about this when he got home.
He went back into the closet. There were several cardboard boxes with nothing marked on them to indicate what they were. He wondered if he should open them and see if he thought he could get rid of some of this stuff and make more room for his own belongings. He hesitated. He knew how much Brian valued his privacy, but Brian had never told him that he couldn't come in here, that these boxes were off limits.
He lifted one up. It was light and he carried it easily out to the bedroom. The flaps were merely folded in, not taped or sealed. He pried the flaps open to reveal clothes. He pulled some items out of the box. They were nothing he had ever seen Brian wear. In fact they looked a little dated, maybe a few years old. These could probably be thrown out or given to Goodwill. He'd ask Brian about that when he picked him up at the airport later tonight.
Another trip into the closet and another box lugged out. This one was much heavier. He pulled open the flaps. Books textbooks from high school and university by the looks of it. Why would Brian keep these old things? Most of the information in them was probably outdated. This was a possible one to get rid of. He set it down beside the box of clothes.
The next box he hauled out had been way in the back. It wasn't too big and also was quite light. When Justin opened it, he had a funny feeling that this one was different from the others and maybe he shouldn't be poking around in its contents. That feeling lasted for a split second before his curiosity got the better of him.
Right on top was a framed photograph, and that was what had grabbed his attention. It was a picture of a man, a beautiful man. He appeared to be Brian's age or a little older. He had light brown hair and violet eyes, Elizabeth Taylor eyes, Brian would have called them. He had heard Brian once say that Elizabeth Taylor had the most amazing eyes. Justin remembered making some remark about her being old and Brian had got mad at him. Brian had rented a movie, "Butterfield 8", he thought he remembered it was called, and they had watched this gorgeous woman with the mesmerizing eyes. When it was over, Justin had to admit that Elizabeth Taylor had fucking amazing violet eyes.
Justin stared at the picture. He wondered who this could be. He noticed something in the bottom corner. He moved it into better light and saw that it said, "Love always, Eamonn" written in a sprawling hand. Who was Eamonn? He had never heard Brian mention anyone by that name. It sounded Irish. He wondered if he could be a relative of Brian's, but a relative probably wouldn't sign a picture that way.
Justin set the picture aside on the bed and looked into the box to see what else it contained. He picked up a silver ID bracelet with the word "Brian" engraved on it. Why would Brian put his bracelet into this box and stick it in the back of the cupboard? A sweater was next, a pale blue cashmere sweater that felt so soft to the touch. It was like handling air. He lifted the sweater out of the box to find two more items.
He picked up a book, "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. He knew that Ayn Rand was one of Brian's favorite authors. What was the book doing in this box instead of being on the book shelf behind the computer? He flipped open the cover. The words leapt out at him: "You are my life. Love forever, Eamonn." This had to be someone who loved Brian and probably Brian loved him back. He had never heard of this man before. He wondered if any of Brian's friends knew about this.
The last item in the box was a watch, a rather expensive looking watch. He turned it over, moving it into the light to read the inscription that he knew would be there. "To B. Love, always and forever, E."
Justin looked at the contents of the box now spread out on the bed. He had so many questions, but he knew that getting answers out of Brian was highly unlikely. He would probably be mad that Justin had found all of this stuff long buried in the back of a closet. He wasn't sure what to do. He carefully laid everything back in the box and closed it up. He set it on top of the other two boxes he had carried out from the closet.
"Shit!" he said aloud as he glanced at the clock. Brian's plane would be landing in half an hour and he was supposed to pick him up. He debated moving the boxes back into the closet, but decided he didn't have time and he really wanted to get rid of the clothes and books. He'd talk to Brian about this when he collected him from the airport.
About forty-five minutes later Justin pulled into the airport. Brian had called on his cell when he got off the plane. He would be waiting on the arrivals level for Justin to pick him up. Justin began the slow trip along the arrivals area looking for Brian. He saw him down the way, standing nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Justin pulled up in front of him. Brian crushed his cigarette under his shoe, tossed his briefcase into the back of the Jeep and climbed into the passenger side of the car. He leaned over and gave Justin a lingering kiss.
"Miss me?" Justin asked.
"Always," Brian replied. That word had a funny ring in Justin's ears as he thought about the contents of the box he had discovered.
He smiled at Brian and took off out of the airport. Justin asked about the trip and Brian told him that he had won a new account. He was in a particularly good mood as a result.
"I'm going to fuck you so hard!" Brian grinned at his partner.
"You weren't even gone overnight," Justin giggled.
"I'm still horny."
"You're always horny."
They smiled at each other. This was one of the best things about their life together. They suited each other so well in their attitudes and needs. What one lacked the other made up for. They were the same and yet opposite and such a complex combination of ideas, emotions and beliefs. They complemented each other perfectly.
When they arrived at the loft, Brian headed up the stairs not wanting to wait for the elevator. He slammed the door behind them and pinned Justin against it. His kisses were insistent, caressing the boy's lips and teeth and tongue, then probing and becoming more demanding. He pulled off Justin's shirt and ran his hands over the bare flesh that was so warm and yielding and inviting. He moaned into Justin's mouth.
"Come to bed," he ordered pulling Justin behind him up the steps.
Unexpectedly Brian stopped and Justin bumped into him. "What?" Justin asked surprised.
"What's that?" Brian asked seeing the sketch of himself still lying on the bed.
"Oh," said Justin, "I was cleaning out the storage cupboard when I found that."
"What were you doing in that closet?" Brian asked warily.
"I know you hate my mess all over the loft and I thought if I could make some room in there, I could store some of my art supplies out of sight."
"Did you now?" Brian asked.
"What made you decide that?"
"I had nothing else to do when you were away. Nobody here to keep me permanently pinned to the mattress," Justin joked. "Speaking of which "
Brian stared at him. He
looked back at the sketch. "Aren't
you going to ask why I have that and why I didn't tell you?"
"Eventually," Justin said. He was engrossed in the process of removing Brian's shirt.
"I bought it because it showed how big my dick is," Brian said sarcastically.
"Mmm," Justin responded nibbling and licking on one of Brian's nipples.
"Did you hear me?"
"Aren't you going to chew me out for being so egotistical?"
Brian allowed Justin to push down his trousers. His stiff cock leapt free. He pushed Justin back towards the bed and they fell together onto the blue duvet. Justin's legs came up around Brian's torso, holding the man trapped against his body.
"I want you inside me now!" Justin ordered.
"Bossy little bottom!" Brian chuckled.
He grabbed a condom and was inside his lover in one deep thrust and gasp. They rocketed toward orgasm, pumping and thrusting and shouting out their need of each other. When they came, time stopped for a moment and the world exploded in multi-colored light.
"Shit, Brian! You should go to Chicago more often. That was amazing!"
"Maybe I should try New Orleans or San Francisco."
"Whatever! It was worth the trip," Justin stated leaning against Brian's chest.
Brian held his boy against him, running his hand over Justin's back and down to his ass. He squeezed each perfect orb and heard Justin sigh his satisfaction. As Brian glanced up, he saw the cardboard boxes stacked against the wall.
"What are those doing there?" Brian asked, a tiny seed of fear erupting in his brain.
"They're the boxes from the closet.
I wanted to ask you about getting rid of some of
them. Then I could use the space
to put some of my art stuff out of the way."
"Did you look in them?"
"Yes," Justin said honestly, studying his lover's face and not liking what he saw there.
"In all of them?"
"And what do you want to get rid of?" Brian asked trying to discern which boxes sat before him.
"There are clothes in one. They look outdated, so I thought maybe we could give them to Goodwill."
"That's fine," Brian agreed.
"The other one had books, mostly textbooks. Do you need them for something?"
"I sometimes refer to them when I'm researching a product," Brian replied thinking about the glue he had made to stick that asshole judge to the toilet seat.
"So we'll keep those then."
"Yes. You never know when
I might need them."
"Brian, why did you buy my sketch?"
Brian realized that Justin had switched the topic and avoided the contents
of the last box. His fear
escalated. "I bought it because
I wanted it."
"Of course you did, but why did you want it?"
"It was something you had made, and you really are a very good artist, even back then."
Justin beamed at him. "Why
didn't you let on that you had bought
it? Why did you hide it in the
back of the closet?"
"I wasn't ready to let you know how important you were becoming to me," Brian said simply. "After a while I kind of forgot about it."
"When you told that story to Gus, you really meant it that you knew I was your special someone right from the first moment, didn't you?" Justin still wanted reassurance about that fact.
"Yes. I don't know that
consciously I could have admitted that at the
time. I was so busy fighting
against the whole idea that I couldn't allow myself to even think about such
"Why was that so hard to accept? Does it have to do with the contents of that last box?"
"What do you mean?" Brian asked, all too afraid that he knew exactly what Justin meant.
"I looked in the last box too," Justin
admitted. "Who was Eamonn?"
Justin felt Brian's body stiffen against him, and the next thing he knew Brian was gone. He had leapt from the bed and was pulling on jeans and a t-shirt.
"Brian?" Justin said.
The man ignored him and went down the steps having donned a pair of sneakers. Justin could see him grab his keys from the counter and he was out the door as Justin called his name in one last futile attempt to get him to stay.
Justin had been sitting in the living room for two hours. He was slowly going out of his mind. He had figured that the contents of that box were going to cause a problem, but he had hoped that he and Brian had come far enough to avoid this kind of outcome. Brian was able to talk to him about most things now, and hadn't walked out on him in months. This time had been worse, if anything. Brian had said nothing, just left. He hadn't yelled at him or used their old words of warning "Work in Progress". He had merely left without a word or a backward glance.
As the hours ticked away Justin became less and less sure that Brian would come back at all. He had tried Brian's cell phone again and again, but it was shut off. By two in the morning Justin was ready to scream. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't call Lindsay or Michael at this hour of the night.
Suddenly an idea hit him. He picked up the phone and called a cab to pick him up at the loft. While he waited for it to arrive, he rifled through Brian's drawers to find some cash that he could use for what might turn out to be a lengthy cab ride.
Ten minutes later he was in the back seat of the taxi heading towards the destination he had given the driver. As they drove along the river, Justin's heart leaped. The Jeep was parked where he had thought it might be, near the bench where they had first begun to find their way back to each other. He asked the cabbie to stop and paid him off, hoping that he and Brian would be going back to the loft together in the Jeep.
Justin half slid down the slope to the river in his haste to get to Brian. He could barely make out his back as he sat staring out at the water. When he came up to the bench, he stopped, suddenly unsure what to say or do now that he had found his lover.
"Took you long enough to get here," Brian said.
what do you mean?" Justin
asked. Had Brian been waiting
for him all this time?
"I thought you'd figure out where I was only sooner."
"You wanted me to find you?"
"I always want you to find me."
"Oh, Brian!" Justin gasped and wrapped his arms around Brian half sitting in the man's lap. "Why did you take off like that?"
"I couldn't talk about that box. I'm not sure I can even now."
"You don't have to if it's too painful," Justin conceded.
"I may have to take you up on that, even if I want to tell you about
"I can wait. I really didn't mean to snoop. I found it by accident, just like the sketch."
"I know. I had almost forgotten
that the box was still in the closet.
It's ancient history."
"Can you tell me who he is?" Justin asked.
He saw the pain flash across Brian's
face. "He was someone I knew
a long time ago."
"Yes, he was, very beautiful
in some ways."
"I meant physically."
"I know but there other things besides physical beauty."
"Like what?" Justin asked interested to hear Brian's answer to that question.
"Like truth and strength and integrity."
"Didn't he have those?" Justin asked knowing that these were important traits to Brian and he wouldn't have mentioned them in this context unless they were lacking in that beautiful man.
Justin felt Brian turn his face away. He tried to make eye contact with the man, but he wouldn't look at him.
"I can't do this now. I don't know if I'll ever be able to," Brian whispered.
"That's okay," Justin said firmly. He took Brian's chin and gently forced it around so that Brian had to look at him. "All you have to do is tell me to butt out. You don't have to run away from me."
"I know that intellectually. It's just that when something like that takes me by surprise,
I have to get away, be alone, think."
"Can we go home now and put that box away until I can deal with it."
Brian took Justin's hand and they climbed up the bank to the Jeep. "We have come a long way," Brian said giving Justin a kiss on the cheek.
"Yeah, I knew where to find you, and you're coming home with me without a fight."
"And you're not pushing too hard. You're giving me some space until I'm ready to deal with this."
"I hope you're prepared to fuck the rest of the night away," Justin said.
"That goes without saying," Brian responded.
As it turned out they didn't fuck at all. They lay in each other's arms, unspoken thoughts and worries heavy between them, but safe in the knowledge that they were together whatever might come.
For the next week neither mentioned the box or the effect it had had. Brian went to work and Justin did his shifts at the diner and gallery. The meaning of the contents of the box remained a secret. However, it hung between them like a huge weight ready to crush them when it finally fell.
Justin had talked to Michael, casually bringing up the name Eamonn. From Michael's reaction he was pretty sure that he knew nothing about the man or his relationship with Brian.
More disturbing was Lindsay's reaction. When he had asked her if Brian had known a man named Eamonn, she had turned even paler than normal and said that Justin would have to talk to Brian about that. She had refused to say anything more about it. Justin didn't like the implication that this was something so serious that it could never be discussed.
During the week Justin carefully studied Brian. He seemed to have returned to his old self, sarcastic and egotistical, but there was something different too. Justin would catch him staring off into space when he was supposed to be watching television or working on the computer. Justin could tell he was in a different place and time at those moments. He wondered if Brian was reliving his experiences with Eamonn. He was very sorry that he had found that box and made Brian face again whatever had happened with that man. It couldn't have been pleasant from everyone's reaction.
Justin had promised Brian that he would back off and he did his best to keep that promise. Aside from mentioning the name to Lindsay and Michael he did nothing else. He never brought it up with Brian; instead he hoped that eventually Brian would broach the subject himself. It seemed that they needed to discuss it before either of them could lay it to rest.
When Friday rolled around Brian told Justin that he wanted to go out when he got home from work. He said they could go to dinner, then Woody's and eventually Babylon. They didn't go out nearly as much as they used to, so this would make a nice change in their routine. Justin hoped it would help Brian relax and either forget about that box and its contents or hopefully decide to talk to him about it.
They had a nice dinner, played a bit of pool at Woody's and arrived at Babylon to find Ted and Emmett at the bar. They said they were meeting Michael and Ben who should be there any time soon. Ted and Emmett seemed really happy together to everyone's amazement, and there was genuine good will that it seemed to be working out for them.
"Hey, Brian!" Michael gushed when he and Ben
arrived. "Good to see you guys
out for once."
"Are you implying I'm a stick-in-the-mud?" Brian snorted. "We just have other things to do."
"Wanna dance?" he asked Brian.
"You're on," Brian said leading the way to the dance floor.
Justin watched them as they started to move together. He knew that Brian always found solace in being with Michael if he was sad or upset. Michael gave him such unconditional adoration and support.
"The dynamic duo," Ben said, "just like Rage and Zephyr."
"Yeah," Justin agreed.
"We haven't seen much of you two lately."
"Things have been a little
"Hectic? Are you sure it isn't something else?" Ben asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Michael told me you were asking him about someone named Eamonn."
"Oh?" Justin said not wanting to give away anything more.
"Is this something to do with Brian's past?"
"I I really can't talk about it," Justin stammered.
"Sure," Ben agreed, "but knowing Brian, it's probably something he should talk about."
"I think so too," Justin admitted staring at Brian on the dance floor.
"Hey, boys!" Emmett said returning from the restroom. "Did you hear that Tad Benson was in a horrible car accident? He didn't make it. Dom will be devastated."
Dom was one of the dancers at Babylon. Justin knew him a bit from his brief stint working there. Dom and Tad had been together for a few months. "Shit! That's awful," Justin said shocked that someone his age had died.
Just then Brian and Michael came back from the dance
floor. Brian took one look at
them all and asked, "Who died?"
Justin blinked. "Dom's lover,
"What?" Brian gasped. "I was kidding."
"I just heard he was in a head-on car crash," Emmett explained. "Killed instantly."
Justin glanced at Brian and saw a look of torment cross his face. He had only seen the man look like that once before in the parking garage when he had tried to help Justin remember the bashing and had relived it himself.
"Come on, Brian," Justin said taking his hand and leading the man away. "See you later," Justin called to get them out of there without anyone asking questions that Brian would be unable to answer.
"What the hell was that all about?" Justin heard Ted ask as he and Brian made their way out of the club.
"Brian?" Justin said. The man made no response, just allowed himself to be led out the door and over to the Jeep. Justin half pushed him into the car and got into the driver's seat. "Brian?" he said again. There was no response. He started the car and drove as fast as he could to the loft. He knew that Brian was in some kind of crisis and would not want anybody to see him in this state. He just hoped that he could help the man once they got home. "Brian?" he said once more, again to no response.
Once inside the loft Justin sat Brian down on the couch. Brian looked almost catatonic making no visible sign that he knew where he was or what had happened. Justin took Brian's chin in his hand and turned the man's head to face him.
"Brian, look at me," he said softly. When there was no response, he tilted Brian's head back so that his eyes were level with his and said sternly, "Brian! Listen to me! Look at me and listen to me!"
Brian's eyes flickered for a moment seeming to recognize
Justin. The man let out a groan,
a sound so tortured that it tore Justin to the core.
"Jesus, Brian, what the fuck is going on?"
Arms came up around Justin's chest and he felt Brian hold him in a viselike grip that took his breath away. He could feel Brian's silent sobs and decided the best thing he could do was to sit silently and hang on for as long as Brian needed to do this.
Justin wasn't sure how long they sat like that, but at some point Brian's body stopped sobbing and he merely clung to the younger man not ready to release him.
Finally Justin said, "Brian, talk to me, please."
He felt Brian's grip relax a little bit and the man let out a long sigh.
"I'm sorry," Brian whispered.
"I don't know why I did that."
"Maybe because you needed to. Fuck, Brian! Don't lie to me and to yourself. Tell me what's going on."
"I just had a bout of temporary insanity. I'm fine now."
"Don't do this!" Justin shouted. "You're not fine! Don't shut me out again. I know I said I wouldn't push, but after what just happened, we have to talk about this."
The pain in Brian's eyes was clearly visible but he stared into Justin's blue ones like he was searching for something only he understood. Justin waited. Brian hadn't refused to talk and he could wait till the man was ready. He just hoped it would be soon.
Finally Brian sighed and shook his
head. "I don't know if I can
"Brian, I've seen you at your best and your worst and I love you either way, and everything in between. I was here through what just happened. What makes you think I can't stand whatever you might tell me?"
"That's not what I think, Justin. I know you're the strongest person I've ever met, and I love you for that. It's me. I'm afraid if I talk about this, I'll break into a million pieces and nothing will ever put me back together again."
"Now you're really scaring me!" Justin said not sure what to say or do. "But please tell me. Knowing has got to be better than not knowing and I think you need to talk about it," Justin said remembering Ben's admonition.
"I need a drink," Brian said.
"I'll get some Beam, but I'm not letting you get too drunk to talk. I want you to tell me what this is all about." Justin got up and went to the kitchen for a bottle of Beam and a couple of glasses. He was sure he was going to need a few drinks too before this was all over. "Here," Justin said, handing Brian a glass of the bourbon. Brian downed it in one gulp and held it out to be refilled. "Take it easy," Justin cautioned, but he did refill the glass.
Brian took a smaller sip and sighed once more. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" he asked Justin. "There's going to be a huge mess to clean up when I'm finished."
Justin wasn't sure what kind of a mess Brian was talking about, but he prayed he would be able to handle the fallout. "You keep telling me I'm so strong. I guess we're going to find out if that's true." He gave Brian the best smile he could muster.
"We can still call this off," Brian offered trying to avoid this for both of them.
Justin shook his head. "Just start," he ordered softly.
Brian began, sipping at his drink to fortify his resolve, "That box in the closet is where we need to start."
"Oh," said Justin, "I thought this was about Tad's death."
"We'll get to that," Brian said. He polished off what was left in his glass and set it down on the coffee table. "I'll try to tell you the whole story."
Justin nodded. He took it as a good sign that Brian had set down his glass and not asked for any more liquor.
"Eamonn," Brian said with a grimace, "was my English professor the last
year I was at Penn State. He taught the romance novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. And if you can believe
it, I actually signed up voluntarily for that
course. Does that tell you where my head was back in those
"And your heart too," Justin felt compelled to say.
Brian glanced at him, but chose not to respond to that statement. "I knew he was gay the first time I walked into his class. My gaydar was pretty good even back then. Plus, he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He would have been about the age I am now or a little older. He came from a family that had money, but he loved the academic life. He was a good teacher, not just a professor. I loved his class, and before long I was sure I loved him too." Brian stared off into space for a minute, remembering.
"After a couple of weeks of his classes, I felt like he had some interest in me too, so I stayed behind after class supposedly to ask him about the significance of Jane fucking Austen in the global scheme of things." Brian gave a little chuckle, and Justin smiled at him.
"Did you gain some new insight?" Justin asked.
"I don't know about insight, but I had a cock up my ass before the day was over. I sure learned some things about how to fuck. He was one helluva lover. I was still relatively inexperienced and he taught me so much. I was so fucking in love with him that I could barely see straight."
Justin grinned at Brian's use of that word.
"We began to spend every minute together that we could manage. We rarely went out, since our relationship would have been frowned on both because it was homosexual, but also because it was professor-student. We fell more and more in love during that semester. We declared our undying love for each other and swore to be together forever." Brian grimaced.
Justin remembered all the things in the box that said 'always' and 'forever'. He was surprised that Brian was admitting his love for this man. He wondered what had happened to their great love.
"Eamonn taught me a lot about sex as I said, but also about culture and clothes and manners. As you may have figured out, I didn't get much of that from my fucking family. Gradually he began to take me shopping with him and to plays and cultural events away from the university. As the semester drew to a close, I was applying for jobs all over Pittsburgh. I could hardly wait to graduate, get a job and find an apartment to share with Eamonn. We could build our life together." Brian sighed.
Justin had never heard Brian talk like this, even about their relationship. He couldn't help it, but he was jealous, even though he knew he shouldn't be.
"I got a job with the Ryder Agency, and I thought I was on my way. Eamonn seemed pleased for me, but what I didn't know was that he was seeking a job at UCLA. He wanted to go to the warmth of California and a more prestigious university. A few days after I graduated, he told me that he had been offered a position at UCLA and he was going to take it." Brian snorted. "At first, I thought he was joking, but it soon became clear that he was serious. He hadn't even told me about it or asked what I thought before he applied."
"What did you do?" Justin asked.
"I asked him my least favorite question of all time 'What about me?' Can you guess what he said to me?" Brian asked.
"Something like 'It's your call where you want to be. You decide.'" Justin parroted Brian's words to him about his own choice between Brian and Ethan.
Brian was surprised at that. He still regretted how that had turned out and could hardly believe that Justin had reminded him of it. "No," he said, "nothing like that. He begged me to come with him. He said I could find a job out there and he could support both of us until I found one."
Now Justin was surprised. That was the opposite of what he had expected.
Brian continued. "I had just started at Ryder and I really liked it. I knew it would be much harder to get a job in California, especially with no experience. I asked him not to go, to turn down the job. He, of course, refused. He really wanted that job. We tried to reconcile what we could do to make each of us happy. We wanted to be together. Anyway, Eamonn decided to take the job, I decided to stay with Ryder and together we would try to carry on a long distance relationship. What a fucking disaster that was!"
"What happened?" Justin asked.
"He stayed in Pittsburgh with me till the term began at UCLA, and then he left. I thought my heart would break in two when he got on that plane, but he had sworn his undying love and so had I. He had given me all those tokens of his affection that were in the box. They proclaimed our love that would last forever."
"Why did you keep them?" Justin asked.
"To remind me to remind me that love is a lie and words are lies. Like I needed fucking proof of that!"
"So what happened?"
"I was here, heartsick and pining away for my great love," Brian said sarcastically. "Two weeks into the new semester he calls me to say that he's met someone, a teaching assistant, and they have fallen in love."
"Oh, Brian," Justin whispered.
"That must have killed you."
"It almost did. Then I wanted to kill him, for making me suffer such pain. Then I wanted to forget. Drugs and alcohol and fucking are good for making you forget for a split second or two." Brian's face revealed some of the intense pain he must have felt during that time.
"So he hurt you, but you got over it. It's done and gone," Justin stated.
"Unfortunately that's not all of the story."
Brian nodded and Justin caught a glimpse of that same look on his face that he had seen at Babylon and in the parking garage of his prom. Brian sucked in a breath. "A month or two went by. I'm not really sure how long it was, but a while. The phone rang one night and it was Eamonn. He sounded kind of messed up himself. I wasn't in much better shape. He told me that he had made a big mistake with his new lover. He realized that he didn't love him; he still loved me."
When Brian paused, Justin asked, "Were you happy that he wanted you back?"
Brian took a long drink from the Beam bottle. To hell with a glass. Now he was getting to the really shitty part. "My heart leapt in my throat. I still loved him. You know how first loves are?" Brian said sadly, staring into Justin's blue eyes. "He begged me to come out there and I almost said I'd go, screw my job and my new apartment. But something stopped me. I asked him how I could be sure he wouldn't find someone else before I got there."
Justin snorted. "You are a sarcastic son of a bitch, aren't you?"
Brian snorted and let that pass without comment too. "He swore his eternal love, that nothing or no one would ever come between us again. I wanted that to be fucking true, but I had those same protestations written on most of the items in that box, and he had already left me once. I couldn't let him destroy me like that again. I told him he better find someone else. He kept telling me there was no one else for him. I thought he was going to rip me to shreds if I heard that once more from his lips. Finally I hung up. I had to leave the phone off the hook, because he kept calling back. I changed my phone number to an unlisted one the next day and I didn't hear any more from him for a couple of weeks."
"Did you think it was over?"
"I guess so, but it didn't really feel finished. Anyway, about two weeks after that I got another phone call from him. I wanted to know how he got my number, but he wouldn't tell me never did find out. He had driven across the country; apparently he'd left his highly sought after job to come back to me. He was on the outskirts of Pittsburgh at a truck stop. He wanted to know if I was still in the same apartment, because he was on his way to see me. I told him he should turn around and go back. The whole thing sounded so crazy to me. Even if I still loved him, I wasn't sure I could stand the roller coaster ride. All the fucking things he said had already turned out to be untrue."
Brian took a long drink from the bottle of Beam. "I can't ," he moaned.
"Brian, what happened that's so
terrible? Please, tell me."
The haunted look in Brian's eyes turned cold and he said, "All right, but remember that you asked for it." Another shot of Beam and he began, "So he begged and cried and I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to leave me alone. I had been in pain, but this made it a hundred times worse. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I told him not to come to the apartment because I wouldn't let him in. I said he had finished it when he found someone else, and he could always find another fucking someone else. I hung up on him."
"Was that the end of it or did he show up at your place?" Justin asked.
"I waited, half expecting him to arrive at any moment. I dreaded it, because I truly felt we would destroy each other. He had hurt me too much. I knew I couldn't trust him anymore. He had lied to me. Anyway, hours went by and he never came. About two in the morning the downstairs buzzer began ringing. Someone was leaning on it. I thought it must be him. When I couldn't stand the noise any longer, I pressed the intercom and someone said it was the police."
"The police?" Justin asked. "Oh, no." Justin dreaded what he would hear next.
"Oh, yes. They found his car slammed into an abutment on the Interstate. My name and phone number were on the seat next to him. They had come looking for me to help them get in touch with next of kin."
"He was dead?" Justin asked in a very small voice.
"As a fucking doornail!"
"Brian," Justin whispered, shocked that Brian would talk about the man he had loved like that.
"But you haven't heard the best part, Sunshine. There were no other cars involved and there were no brake marks. He offed himself by driving into the fucking concrete wall at eighty miles an hour."
"Shit!" Justin groaned. He reached for Brian, but the man pushed him away.
"Don't touch me! Just fucking
leave me alone! Go to your mother's
for tonight. I can't stand being
"But I'm not anybody. I'm not leaving you," Justin declared.
"I swear, Justin, if you don't go now, I'll fucking leave and I might never come back."
"Brian, don't say that."
"Please " Brian's voice faltered. "Please let me lick my wounds alone. You could come back in the morning," Brian conceded. "Take the Jeep if you want, but just go!"
Justin was torn. He wanted to comfort his lover, but Brian was so raw and ripped open right now. He decided he better do what the man asked. "If I go, will you promise not to do something stupid?" he had to ask.
"I won't off myself like Eamonn, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'll be here early in the morning Justin promised and quietly closed the loft door behind him. He hoped he was doing the right thing leaving Brian alone.
Brian heard the click of the loft door behind Justin and he started to shake. He felt cold and miserable and exposed. He hunched into a ball and curled his legs up into a sitting fetal position. He rocked back and forth and moaned his pain. This was what he didn't want Justin to see his weakness, his vulnerability and his guilt. It was too much to bear.
Justin called his mother on his cell phone and asked if he could spend the night. She had questions, but he begged her not to ask them. He said that he and Brian were all right. They just needed some space from each other for the night. He would go back to the loft in the morning. He hoped all these things he said were the truth. He felt cold and scared deep down inside.
At six in the morning Justin pushed back the door to the loft. He had spent a mostly sleepless night, although he supposed he had dozed fitfully every now and then. He had been so worried about Brian. When the first rays of light broke the horizon, he got up and drove back to the loft. He was very afraid of what he might find.
He closed the door behind him, not seeing any signs of his lover on the couch. He walked towards the bedroom trying to see through the partitions if Brian was there. When he reached the steps, he looked at the bed to see Brian staring back at him.
"Surprised to find me in one piece?" Brian asked ruefully.
"Yeah," Justin had to admit.
"Told you I wouldn't kill myself."
"Did you get any sleep?"
"Me either," Justin admitted. He noticed a cardboard box sitting on the floor next to the bed. He was sure it was the one with the remnants of Brian's life with Eamonn contained inside.
"I had enough strength to open the box and look at the contents," Brian said.
"That's good," Justin encouraged him.
"But I couldn't bring myself to touch them."
"Oh," Justin responded. "Did you want to look at them more closely?"
Brian looked from Justin to the box and then back at the young man's eyes. "I think so," he said in a barely audible whisper.
"Do you want me to help you?"
"Yes," again barely audible.
Justin walked over to the bed. He removed his clothes because Brian was naked.
"Going to fuck me first?" Brian asked, breaking the tension a little bit.
"If you want "
"Let's get this over with first," Brian said pointing to the box.
Justin lifted it up onto the bed and set it between himself and Brian. "Are you sure you want to do this?" Justin asked.
" Brian said in a small voice, "but let's get it over with."
Justin pulled out the sweater which he had put on top when he repacked the box. It still felt heavenly. "This is like air," he said handing it to Brian.
Brian touched it tentatively, then took it into his hands and pressed it against his face. "He gave me this when he was teaching me about style. He had very expensive tastes and a wonderful feel for clothes. He made me appreciate the finest of things."
Justin smiled at him to encourage him to continue. He picked up the photo of Eamonn from the box. Brian looked at it but seemed reluctant to touch it.
"I wish I could remember him like that," Brian said.
"Why can't you?" Justin asked.
"The police took me to the morgue to make positive identification of the body. His face was so smashed up I could hardly tell it was him." He rubbed his fingers across his shell bracelet and closed his eyes.
Justin winced hoping he would never have to do something like that. "He had beautiful eyes," Justin said.
"Elizabeth Taylor eyes," Brian whispered.
"That's exactly what I thought when I first saw the picture."
Brian tried to give him a little smile but it was more like a twisted grimace. Justin laid the photo on the bed and took out the watch. He handed it to Brian.
"Did you ever wonder why I never wear a watch?" Brian asked. When Justin nodded Brian said, "Eamonn was a time freak. He was never late and he hated people who kept him waiting. He gave me that watch so that I would always be on time if I was meeting him. I don't think I was ever late for him. After I took it off, and I decided that time wasn't that important to me anymore."
Next Justin lifted out the book. Brian took it and opened the flap to read the words he knew so well. He closed it with a snap and dropped it on the bed. "Aren't you going to say anything about it?" Justin asked.
"Why? It's just another example of his hypocrisy!"
"Oookay," Justin responded. He pulled out the ID bracelet. This was the one that really puzzled Justin. "Did he give you this too?" Justin asked.
"No, I bought that myself with my first paycheck. I liked it, so I bought it." He was rubbing the shell bracelet again.
"So why is it in the box?" Justin asked.
"When I identified Eamonn's body, they gave me the envelope of his effects. The bracelet was in it. I had given this to him just after we first met. I got it from a street vendor and debated about whether he would wear it. He actually liked it which surprised the hell out of me. I gave the rest of his stuff to his parents when they arrived, but I kept the bracelet. When I packed up this box, I dropped my bracelet in and put this one on to remind me never to trust words of love and promises of forever. I vowed never to be hurt like that again. That's when I decided that I believed in fucking not love. I never loved anyone again until you."
Justin stared at Brian trying to comprehend what he had just been told. Finally he said, "He had such a profound effect on your life. It explains so much about you."
"Explains why I'm an asshole and treated you like shit for so
long. I couldn't
I wouldn't allow myself to love you.
I was too afraid where love led.
I didn't want you to end up like Eamonn."
"And that's why you sent me with Ethan?"
"Yes. Partly. I didn't feel that I deserved you. I might destroy you just like him.
"You don't still believe that, do you?"
"I I I don't know."
"Well, you fucking well better know!" Justin declared. "I'm not stupid like he was. I let you push me away once, but that will never happen again."
"I love you," Brian whispered. "It took me so long to say that to you, because all the times I heard it from Eamonn were lies. It didn't mean anything when the going got tough. I tried to show you I loved you. Actions speak much louder than words."
"I understand that now, but it's still nice to hear the words every now and then."
Suddenly Brian had Justin in his arms. He swept the box and its painful contents off onto the floor and crushed Justin beneath him. "I love you," he whispered again, "and I'm going to show you how much."
"I love you too, and if you never said it again, I'd know it was true as long as I had your arms around me."
They spent the night demonstrating with their actions how much they loved each other. Neither said the "L" word again that night, but each knew to the core of their being that they were showing the other one the strength and integrity and truth of their earlier declarations.
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