Justin dropped his portfolio and knapsack and armload of books at the loft door. He knew he would never be able to open it holding on to everything. It had been all he could do to get home with all of this stuff. The summer was half gone and he had to start thinking about and getting ready for his return to class. He had been to PIFA to pick up the course syllabus for most of his classes and had bought a few books that he thought might be hard to get hold of later on.
It had been a struggle to get all this stuff home on the bus, but he had managed to get this far. He really needed a car, but he knew that was only a dream. He had saved a bit of money from his two jobs this summer, but the few books he had just bought had already eaten a sizeable hole in that amount.
He finally got the door open and began hauling his load inside. He had gotten off early from the gallery so that he could go to the IFA, but it had taken him longer than he thought. He looked at his watch, realizing that Brian would be home soon. He should have had dinner started an hour ago.
He kicked his knapsack through the doorway and looked at the pile of crap he had lugged home. Now he needed to put it away. The last thing he wanted was Brian tripping over his mess when he came into the loft.
He slid the door closed and stared at the pile in front of him. A sigh escaped his lips as he leaned against the door. He was tired and a bit fed up, a lot fed up! His plan to work two jobs over the summer was wearing him out. He seemed to do nothing but work. He wanted life to be simpler and easier. Brian was a mess right now and had very little time for him. When they had some time together they seemed to be on tenterhooks, afraid of making the other one mad, or else openly fighting. It was wearing him down.
His back slid down the door and he found himself sitting on the floor leaning against the cool metal. He didn't have the energy to get up and go put this stuff away. He closed his eyes and thought about how he wanted his life to be. This wasn't it.
After awhile, he wasn't sure how long; he heard the drone of the elevator through the closed door and knew that Brian would be there in a minute. He pushed himself away from the door, but didn't get up. Brian slid back the door.
"What the fuck is all this?" he asked.
"I picked up some stuff from the IFA today," Justin explained wearily.
"Why are you sitting on the floor?"
"I just got home and I didn't have the energy to go any farther."
"And you're what nineteen?"
"Fuck off! I'm tired!"
"So am I. What do you want sympathy?"
"I obviously came to the wrong place for that!" Justin said sarcastically.
"Damn right you did!"
Brian stormed up the steps to the bedroom. Justin could hear him taking off his clothes and rifling through the closet for something more comfortable to wear.
"Double monkey crap!" Justin muttered leaning back against the door and closing his eyes once again.
"Are you going to sit there all night like some homeless person on the street?" Brian asked stepping down from the bedroom.
"If I want to." Justin retorted.
"Suit yourself." Brian grabbed his keys from the counter and took hold of the loft door where Justin was leaning.
"Where are you going?" Justin asked.
"Out!" said Brian shoving the door back and almost knocking Justin over.
"Brian " Justin began, but the man vanished down the stairs before Justin could question him any further. "Triple monkey crap!"
Justin leaned his head back against the door and closed his eyes. He wished all of this would disappear and he could go back to the days when he first returned from New York and he and Brian had been happy. He had tried to do a good thing by taking on his two jobs, and certainly Jane was pleased with his work at the gallery. Brian had been against him trying to work two jobs and things had gone downhill from there.
Jack's funeral and Brian's reliving of the death of Eamonn had shaken the man on some unspoken level. He remained quiet and drawn into himself, unless he was openly hostile. Justin had tried to get through to him, but Brian wouldn't let him in. Brian had said there would be a mess to clean up, but this wasn't the kind of mess he had thought the man meant. How do you clean up someone's psyche? How do you make a damaged life whole? He never thought he would admit it, but he was sick of trying.
Justin felt a tear roll down his cheek. He was too tired to really cry, but this wayward drop symbolized the despair he was feeling. He took a deep breath and pushed himself up. He kicked his pile of junk back into the corner, closed the loft door and began taking off his clothes. He was going to bed, and Brian could go fuck himself. He was done trying to fix things.
Justin awoke to the unmistakable urge to piss. He threw back the sheet and headed for the bathroom, only half conscious that the rest of the bed was unoccupied. Once he finished peeing he turned back to the bedroom and took full note of the empty bed. He looked at the clock to see that it was after two a.m. He had slept for over six hours already. That meant that Brian had been gone that long. Where the fuck could he be?
Crawling back into bed, Justin was determined to go right back to sleep and not worry about where his lover might be. He tossed around in the bed unable to find a comfortable spot. Gradually he realized that sleep was not going to return any time soon.
As the clock inched its way closer to three a.m. Justin threw back the sheet and got up. He walked into the living room and looked out the windows to the street below. Had he and Brian made another mistake? Was it impossible for them to be in a committed relationship, hell, in any kind of relationship? He had thought they were happy for a while, but that never seemed to last. What was he going to do?
Justin sighed. When he and Brian had got back together, he had decided that he wasn't going to let things fester between them. If he wanted something, he was going to ask for it. Maybe it was time to put his money where his mouth was. He had to confront Brian about what was going on.
The loft door jerked back and Justin whirled around in time to see Brian stumble through the doorway. The man turned and slammed the door behind him. He dropped his keys on the counter and began to weave his way towards the bedroom.
"Where have you been?" Justin asked.
"Been waiting up for me like a good little wife?" Brian asked drunkenly.
"Shut up and tell me where you've been!" Justin snarled.
"How can I shut up and answer you at the same time?"
"You're oh so clever when you're drunk," Justin retorted.
"I'm going to bed," Brian stated and turned towards the steps, swaying rather unsteadily.
"Not till you answer me!" Justin declared moving close to Brian and getting in his face.
"Back off, Sunshine! We can do this later."
"No, we're doing it now!"
Brian sighed. "I went to the diner, to Woody's and then to Babylon, and now I'm home to the loving arms of my one true love," Brian said in a sarcastic slur.
"And how many backrooms did you visit in those fine establishments?" Justin asked with his own quota of sarcasm.
"Enough!" Brian snarled.
"And what happened to our committed relationship?"
Brian ran a hand across his eyes. "I don't want to do this now," he sighed.
"You don't want to do what, answer the question or be in a committed relationship? Well, I don't care what you want. I want some answers. What the fuck do you think you're doing? What kind of a relationship do we have?"
"A fucking miserable one at the moment!"
Justin recoiled at Brian's words. He wasn't sure what to say. "Do you think it's that bad?" he asked softly.
"Yes!" Brian snapped.
Justin turned away and walked back to the windows. He stared out not wanting Brian to see how much his words had hurt him.
Brian watched his lover and knew he had been terribly cruel. He didn't mean to fight. It seemed that lately he couldn't help doing and saying things that hurt Justin. He seemed to be lashing out all the time. Everything felt wrong.
"Justin," he said softly, sobering up enough to stop careening into total self-destruction. "I went to the backrooms, but nothing happened."
"Yeah, sure," Justin responded still staring out the window.
"I mean it. I walked around and looked, but I didn't touch."
Justin turned back to face him. "You mean it?" he asked.
"I mean it. I told you that we are in a committed relationship and I don't intend to fuck that up."
"Even if it's miserable?" Justin asked, using Brian's word to describe what was happening between them.
"Even then. I still want only you." Brian grimaced. "But I have to get away from you sometimes. Things have been so tense lately, and I know it's mostly my fault, but I can't help it."
"Are you telling me that you have been faithful since New York?"
"What do you mean? Of course I have."
"What about after Jack died? You said you were in the backroom of Babylon that night."
"I was, and I had my dick out ready to be sucked, but I remembered how far we had come and I shoved it back in my pants and came home to you."
"But you said there were lots of willing mouths and you made use of them."
"There were lots of willing mouths. There will always be lots of willing mouths. You thought I had used them and I was angry at your lack of faith in me, so I let you think that I had gotten sucked off."
"I almost let you think the same thing tonight," Brian admitted.
"And why didn't you?"
"Because because I could see I was hurting you and I don't want to do that. I know I'm to blame for creating this mess we're in."
"What mess is that?" Justin asked wanting Brian to articulate what was eating away at him.
Brian frowned. He was far too sober now for this conversation, but something told him he needed to say it and Justin needed to hear it. "The mess I told you you'd have to clean up after you found out about Eamonn."
There it was out in the open, rising up between them like the megalithic giant they both knew it was.
"I don't think I can clean up this mess," Justin admitted slowly. "I'm tired, Brian. I can't do it anymore." He looked sadly at his partner. Neither spoke for a moment not knowing what to say to make things better. Then a thought hit Justin. Brian probably wouldn't like it, but he was going to say it. "Maybe you, or we if you want, should go talk to Frank." Justin remembered how much Dr. Frank Jamison had helped them when they had first gotten back together after Ethan. Justin had been having those awful nightmares.
Brian stared at him, not speaking for a minute or two. Justin could see that he was thinking.
"Do you think I'm that much of a mess?" Brian asked.
"Look at you! Look at us! We do nothing but fight, even when we don't want to. I'm worn out. I can't do it anymore, and I'm not sure I even want to."
"Fuck! I didn't think it was that bad. I know I'm a bitch to be around, but I can't seem to help myself."
"Which is why we need to go to someone who can help us," Justin explained softly. He felt like maybe he was starting to get somewhere with this obstinate man.
"I don't know," Brian began, not wanting to admit things were so bad.
"Come to bed, and promise me that you'll at least think about it," Justin pleaded.
"Okay," Brian said grudgingly. "Can I fuck you? I got all horny watching the guys in the backroom and not getting any for myself."
"When have I ever turned you down?" Justin asked. He was hopeful that maybe some sessions with Dr. Frank could help them. This idea was the best thing that had happened in a couple of weeks.
Two days later they sat in the waiting room of Dr. Frank Jamison's office. Brian fidgeted and rolled his eyes. Justin knew he didn't really want to be there. The last time they had gone to Frank it had been his problem with nightmares that had brought them there. Brian had been willing to go in order to help Justin. Seeking help for himself was an entirely different matter.
Frank opened the door and a man left. Dr. Frank called Brian and Justin in. "It's good to see you two again. What's it been, almost a year since you were last here?"
They nodded and Frank indicated they should sit in the two chairs across from him. He noted their silence. Something was obviously wrong.
"So what can I do for you?" he asked getting right to the point.
Brian kept his eyes on the floor. Justin looked at him and sighed. "We seem to be fighting all the time. It's like we can't stop ourselves," Justin explained.
"Oh?" Frank replied.
"He's being kind," Brian began. "I've been a fucking mess for a couple of weeks, maybe longer. I keep lashing out all the time. I can't stop myself."
"Why do you think you're doing that?" Frank asked.
Brian shook his head and remained silent. Justin looked at him asking silent permission to explain. When Brian said nothing, Justin began. "About a month ago one of Brian's co-workers had a heart attack at the office and died."
"Why are you starting there?" Brian asked.
"Do you want to tell this?" Justin snapped.
"No," Brian responded.
"Then let me continue." Brian turned his eyes back to the floor and Justin went on. "After that Brian was very upset and withdrawn, but he eventually seemed to come out of it. Then I did something I shouldn't have." Brian glanced up, but said nothing. "I cleaned out a storage closet and found a box that brought back some very painful memories for Brian. Ever since, we have been fighting and hurting each other."
"Why did you say that you shouldn't have cleaned the closet and found the box?" Frank asked Justin.
"Well, look what happened as a result! We fight, we snipe at each other all the time. I'm worn out trying to deal with Brian's sullenness and withdrawn state."
"And how is that your fault?" Frank questioned.
"We wouldn't be like that if I had stayed out of that closet."
"Don't you think at some point it would have surfaced?"
"Maybe," Justin admitted slowly. He always liked how Frank could see through to the real problem without placing blame.
"So Brian," Frank turned to the older man. "What do you have to say about this?"
"Not good enough."
"What do you want to know?" Brian sighed.
"For starters, what was in that box?"
Brian grimaced. He didn't think he could talk about it again. He remained silent, eyes on the floor.
"Brian, do you remember when you came here the first time with Justin?" Frank waited and finally Brian nodded. "Justin didn't want to be here and I asked him why he didn't just leave. I'm asking you the same thing now."
"I I can't leave. We need help," Brian said softly.
"Don't you mean you need help?"
"Yes," Brian whispered.
"Then you have to talk to me, or I can't help you."
Brian sighed again. "I'll try."
"What was in that box,
Brian looked at Justin, seemingly wanting the younger man to explain for him.
"Don't say any more, Justin," Frank
ordered. "This is Brian's story
and until he can tell it, we're not going to get
"I don't know if I can," Brian whispered.
"I know that you can," Frank said. "You've obviously told Justin, and that's what has gotten you into this mess. Now you need to tell me."
Brian sighed again. "I told Justin there would be a big mess to clean up after we went through that box, and I'm afraid it will be an even bigger mess if I go through all this again."
"But this time I'll be here to help you clean it up. Justin will have some help."
Brian looked at his partner who did his best to give a smile of encouragement. "All right," Brian said, "you asked for it. The box contained all that remains of the only other man I have ever loved. It brought back all the bad memories and made me remember things I had pushed so far away that I thought I would never have to deal with them again."
As usual, Brian had gotten to the heart of the matter in as few words as possible. "So what you're telling me is that the contents of that box made you relive a terrible time in your life, and now you're making Justin pay for opening that can of worms."
Brian's head snapped up. He looked questioningly and then angrily at Frank. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said."
"You think I'm punishing Justin?"
"Well aren't you?"
"I I didn't mean to," Brian looked confused.
"I'd say you're doing a pretty good job of punishing yourself as well."
Now Brian really looked askance at Frank. "What are you saying?"
"I don't know who this other man was, but obviously he hurt you on some very deep level. I think you feel guilty about something too, and you're taking out that guilt on Justin and yourself."
Brian's mouth hung slightly open as the import of Frank's words sunk in. He knew the truth of them. "Fuck!" was Brian's verbal reaction.
"Does that mean I'm right?" Frank asked.
Brian did not answer. Both Frank and Justin stared at him. Suddenly Brian stood up and walked out of the office. They both stared in shock as he disappeared through the door closing it quietly behind him. Justin stood, wavering between going after his lover and wanting to talk to Frank about what had just happened.
"Should I go after him?" Justin finally asked Frank.
"Do you usually?"
"Sometimes, but he often tells me that he needs some time alone when something unexpected hits him between the eyes."
"Is that what you think just happened?"
Justin nodded. "I don't think he ever thought about his actions punishing me, and certainly not that they were punishing him. He felt he couldn't stop lashing out, but he didn't really know why he was doing it."
"How have you been handling all this?" Frank asked.
"Not very well. I've been trying to get him to talk to me, but he has become so inward and closed off since the night he revealed the meaning of that box."
"So when he won't talk to you, what do you do?"
"I I try to give him space and not bug him too much. He hates it when I push."
"It must be hard for you living with the uncertainty of his reactions."
"Actually, that's why we're here. I told him I didn't think I could do it anymore. I've been so tired and worn down lately. He's not easy to deal with."
"That's the understatement of the year!"
"You mean it's not all my fault because I don't know how to handle this situation?"
"Justin, is that what you've been thinking? Because that's wrong. It's nobody's fault. Brian feels how he feels. You can't change that. You can only try to help and bringing him here was a step in the right direction."
"Do you think so? He just walked out on us."
"From what you've said, he left because we were getting too close to the truth, too near the bone."
"Yeah maybe. I'm not sure what he'll do now."
"Neither am I."
"You mean you don't know what will happen?" Justin asked glancing nervously towards the door.
"No, but I know from past experience with Brian that there is no point beating around the bush. He will have to deal with the truth eventually, and he appreciates not having his time wasted. He's going to be a 'mess' for a while, but he might as well confront it immediately as drag it out."
"What can I do for him? I'm at the end of my rope. Nothing seems to help."
"Whether you know it or not, he draws a lot of strength from you."
"I don't seem to have much strength right now," Justin admitted sadly.
"That's because you have been beating your head against an immoveable object. Why don't you stop trying to fix things and just be with him? He needs to lean on you. Leave the fixing and analyzing to me."
"Really? You think that's all I need to do?"
Frank nodded. "Support him and hold on to him."
"I can do that," Justin said brightening noticeably.
"Good," Frank said with a smile.
"But how do we get him to come back?"
"I think he will, once he's had time to digest what I threw at him."
"I hope so," Justin said. "Should I fill you in on what was in the box and how it affected Brian?"
"No, I think Brian needs to tell me that himself. It obviously is something very profound in his life."
Justin nodded. "I think maybe Brian should see you by himself next time."
"Suggest that to him when he seems more agreeable, but if he wants you here for moral support, then you should be."
"Okay," Justin agreed. "Thanks, Frank. I should go see if he took the car and I have to take the bus home."
Frank chuckled. "Sounds like that has been something you've had to deal with before."
"Once or twice," Justin smiled. "I feel better, even though I'm not so sure about Brian."
"Well then, something good came out of today," Frank said rising and shaking Justin's hand.
Justin walked along the sidewalk towards the spot where
they had left the Jeep when they went in to see Dr.
Frank. He fully expected to
find an empty parking space or at least no sign of the
car. When he neared the area
where they had parked, he could see that the Jeep was still there, and it
looked like someone was sitting in the passenger
He smiled. Brian hadn't run so far this time. He walked around to the driver's side and climbed in. He could see the keys in the ignition. Brian stared straight ahead, not acknowledging his presence. Justin looked over at the man not knowing whether he should speak or not.
After a minute he said, "Are you all right?"
Where do you want to go?"
"Okay," said Justin and turned on the car.
They drove to the loft in silence. Justin wasn't sure what he should do, but he would try to be there and support Brian however he could. Once in the loft Brian sat down on the couch. Justin sat beside him, waiting. Finally he reached over and put his hand on Brian's thigh.
He heard the man sigh and then hazel eyes stared into his. "I'm sorry," Brian whispered.
"Sorry's bullshit!" Justin responded, using Brian's own words.
"No," Brian said. "Sometimes sorry means that I am really sorry. I didn't even know that I was punishing you."
"It's all right," Justin said softly.
"It's not all right. I hate hurting you. I don't know why you put up with me."
"I love you."
"But that almost wasn't enough. You said you didn't think you could do this anymore," Brian managed to get out. "I can't lose you again."
"I'm not going anywhere. I talked to Frank after you left. He said he would help us. I just can't do it all by myself."
Brian stared into Justin's eyes. "Do you think we can get back to where we were?"
"I don't know about that. I think that we need to go forward, hopefully to a better place."
"I don't know if I can rehash this fucking nightmare again," Brian groaned.
"I'll help you, and Frank will help you. We'll both be there."
"You mean it?" Brian asked.
Brian's arms came around Justin's slender frame and held him close. "You won't leave me?"
"I won't leave you " Justin promised. He almost had said that he wouldn't leave him like Eamonn had, but he had stopped himself in time. He was beginning to realize the parallels between his relationship with Brian and Brian's with Eamonn. No wonder the man was so frightened.
Brian held on, refusing to release Justin from his grasp.
"You will go back to see Frank, won't you?" Justin asked.
"I guess so. I hope I can do it."
"You can do it."
"I'm glad you have faith in
Brian sighed and rested his head against Justin's shoulder. They stayed that way for a long time. When Brian finally relaxed his grip, he knew he would try to do this, for Justin and for himself.
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