Of course the argument about what type of car starts as soon as we pull out of the garage. Id thought second hand, Brian insists on new. His rationale is that there is a reason that someone has got rid of any second hand car, and its likely to be something that the new owner is going to suffer over. He figures he doesnt want to buy someone elses past problem. (I try to ask how this fits with getting the Vette, but he brushes this aside - apparently classic cars are different.)
Hes possibly right about the probable risks, though, and since neither of us want to be driving Gus around in a potentially unsafe car, and my argument on the depreciation on new cars the moment you drive them out of the sale room doesnt go anywhere, we reach an agreement that new is the way to go.
Then we get into the type of car. Brian has his mind made up already. A Jaguar XK8 convertible. Preferably red. Leather upholstery. Four seats. 5 speed manual. Room, he argues, for Gus in the back, but still classy, still smooth. Still sexy as hell.
I dig my toes in.
Its nothing like what I want, or what I would feel comfortable driving. Parking that at PIFA would be an invitation to have it broken into every second day. Hub caps, stereo, youd never be able to keep anything. Even if they left you the car. Besides, if ever anything screamed Kept Man it would be a fucking car like that.
Not to mention that Brian would have conniptions over every scratch, every mark on the upholstery. And with my lifestyle, climbing into the car in paint stained jeans, and wanting to be able to eat a BigMac without worrying if the sauce escaped and dripped on the seat - no. Simply not happening. Not to mention that even if a child seat could be fitted for Gus, hed only have to spill something for the anal label queen over there to throw major hissy fits. Which just isnt fair. Gus isnt a messy kid, and he does his best, but hes only little. I want something that he feels comfortable in as well.
We argue all through breakfast, but without getting anywhere. Finally I say, Brian, who is going to be driving this car most?
He huffs. Well you didnt want to drive it at all, he pouts.
Okay. If you dont want me to drive it, then get your Jag.
He glares at me.
But if you do want me to drive it. And feel comfortable driving it.
He looks at me from under his lashes.
And feel like it really is *our* car - and mine to drive
He sighs, and turns his head to check out the waiter whos nothing special, just a way to make a point, he thinks.
Then I want something that fits *my* lifestyle. That is what *I* need, I finish, refusing to let him phase me.
He sucks his lips in and gives the waiter the eye for just a second before he looks back at me.
So what do *you* need? he asks.
I rub my foot against his calf under the table, and his lips twitch, but he pulls his foot away.
Stop that shit, and tell me what you want to get, he orders.
I like the new Honda 4 wheel drive - the Element.
Mr. Label Queen rolls his eyes at the word Honda, but I persist.
Brian, its perfect for what I need. For what we need.
He gives me the Im so totally unconvinced look, and I have to grin at him.
Look. Its got doors that open out from each other so its easy to get to the back seat. Which means a lot less drama getting Gus in and out of his child seat than in any normal four door - let alone a two door.
He wriggles a bit, which pretty much equates to a yes, okay in Kinney-ese..
Its got wipe clean upholstery
Yes, alright. But thats important for me - with all my paint and shit. I dont want to have to worry every time I get into the damned car that Im going to mark the upholstery.
He meets my eyes full on then, and nods. I relax, because hes really listening now, really hearing me.
Its got lots of room if I have to cart canvases or sculptures around.
Again he nods.
Its got a sunroof, so you can at least open that, even if its not fully convertible.
He just grins at that.
And the seats lay right back - all four of them. So theres lots my foot brushes his ankle again, and this time he doesnt move it, and lots of room.
For your artists supplies, he says with the tongue in cheek grin that always, always gets me hot.
Mm-hm, I nod, running my tongue over my lips. And for other things, but I dont have to say that. Its very clear in both our minds.
He looks down at his coffee cup for a moment. Then he looks back at me. His eyes are strangely vulnerable now.
So that means youre going to drive it? he asks off-handedly.
Yes, I say. That means that Im going to drive *our* car.
He looks down again for a moment, as if he knows how much I can see in his eyes. Then he looks back up and hes smiling almost shyly at me.
Good, is all he says, but it makes me reach my hand across the table to touch his and he smiles again , his lips tucked in, but his eyes shining.
God! I wish there was a way to show him, really make him know, how much I love him.
But from the look on his face, maybe I just did.
The little shit. It should scare the bejesus out of me that he can read me like that, but instead
I guess Im starting to learn that the only time I have to be afraid with Justin is when he cant read me. Its when he stopped seeing past all my usual bullshit that we crashed and burned last time. So long as I can see that hes onto me, then everythings okay.
Fuck, better than okay. Much, much better.
Were just about done with breakfast when his cell rings. He answers of course.
Oh, hi, Lindz, he says.
So I settle down again and signal for another coffee. She left a message last night, so if shes chasing him already, its likely to be her idea of urgent.
I try not to listen. Its probably about Sunday, and I dont want to have to be reminded of all that shit today. Fucking birthdays.
I watch him though, so I see when his face changes, and he gets this look that tells me hes not upset, that makes him sound like some little pussy faggot mad. To be honest he looks madder than hell, and trying not to show it, not to scream at her, not to draw attention to himself in the middle of this diner-away-from home. Trying to behave like the good little WASP boy his mother reared. When I see that look I stop even pretending not to listen.
Look, Lindz. I think you and Mel should do whatever you think is best about that. Its your house.
I was right. He does sound pissed. I raise an eyebrow at him. He ignores it, and turns away a bit.
Lindz, I am not going to be the bad guy here. If you and Mel cant agree No! No, fuck that!. No. Look Lindz, I have to go. You its up to you. Bye.
He prods the end button savagely, as if he really wants one of those old receivers that you could slam into place and let the phone at least know how you felt.
I dont say anything. If he wants to tell me he will. Im guessing its about Sunday. Id even bet Ive got a good idea what Lindz the lets see the best in everyone and her partner might be disagreeing about, and for once its not me.
But Justins right. Its up to them.
He looks as if he might say something for a minute, then he shrugs it away. Hes picking at the few crumbs he left on his plate while I finish up my second coffee when his cell rings again. For once I think hes going to do the smart thing and turn the fucker off, and he looks as if hes seriously considering it, so it must be fucking bad. But then he answers, good little WASP that he his. Not to mention curious as a cat.
He sounds excited and happy. Must be good news about the money.
Now he sounds rattled.
Yes, I see.
Shit! Now hes just flattened like a pancake. What the fuck? What has that bitch said to him?
No, I know. Yeah. Okay.
All in a string, like shes talking real fast and he can hardly squeeze the responses in there.
Yeah, I know that. Okay. We can talk about it on Sunday.
He sounds sad and tired. What the fuck has she said?
I raise an eyebrow at him. This one he needs to tell me. I need him to tell me.
He picks at his empty plate. Then he says, Mel says
He looks up at me and his eyes are dark, angry and sad at the same time.
The money from Rage there should be about four thousand dollars.
Fuck! I stare at him. Id had no fucking idea it had been selling that well.
Apparently Michael has been shipping it to stores
all over the country. Even to
And thats bad news because ? I ask cautiously.
Because my friend has ripped my lover off for his share of the proceeds. But we already knew that. There better not be any loopholes in that fucking contract. I will not stand by and see Justin cheated. Least of all by my so-called best friend.
Justin sighs. It sounds like defeat.
Michaels been using all the money to pay off Debs mortgage.
I didnt want to tell him. I dont want him to have to deal with this shit, but I know him. I saw the look he had in his eyes when I was talking to Mel, and I knew then he wasnt going to let this drop. So its best just to get it said, and out there, and then we can deal.
Except how do you deal with this?
How can I tell Michael sorry, but I need that money, and if that means that you have to remortgage your mothers house, too bad? It would be bad enough if it werent Deb. But it being Deb makes it impossible. Both Brian and I owe her so much. More than a few thousand dollars could ever repay.
Mel says it was still my money and he had no right. And I guess thats true, but he did it. And what the fuck can I do about it now without being the biggest jerk in the history of the planet? Sue him?
Whats worse, is that I know Brian is going to try to fix it. Hes going to want to find the money, and give it to me, and say that Michael can just owe him. Which is the last thing Brian needs. The last thing we need. And its not what I want. Its just not right. I dont want him involved in this. Well, anymore than he has to be because one of the people who set up this mess is his best friend and the other is his partner. Im his fucking partner. Whether he ever says it or not, thats what it means when he talks about we and us. No matter what anyone else thinks or knows or what the fuck were partners.
I have to look away from him for a moment because I can feel my eyes stinging. Im angry. And frustrated as hell. Only Michael could manage to cheat someone out of thousands of dollars and come out of it making it look like hes the victim if they want it back. He is such a
I take a deep breath. This isnt going anywhere, and Brian is being frighteningly quiet.
I shake my head a bit to clear it.
Look. It doesnt matter. Not really. I didnt have the money yesterday, and I was okay. Im okay today.
He looks at me and nods, and then he totally blows me away.
I think we need to talk to Deb, he says.
I stare at him.
Justin shes going to find out. Mel knows, Lindz probably knows. Emmett is living there for fucks sake. You think hes not going to find out? And he works with Vic Debs going to hear about it. It concerns her, and its best that she hears about it first from you. Not as part of a parcel of gossip and God knows how its going to sound.
He sighs. Once she knows, we can deal with Michael.
Brian, I cant, I hear my voice shake and I despise myself, but I cant help it.
He gets up and comes round to me, so I stand up too. He tangles his fingers in the back of my hair.
Justin, he says quietly, you havent done anything wrong.
I shrug. Maybe I have. I left it all to Michael maybe I should have
Justin the contract isnt a fifty-fifty split is it?
No. I get thirty five percent of any profit, but
Michael gets the extra thirty percent for doing the sales.
Fifteen, I correct.
No. You each get thirty five percent for your work on the comic. If anything, you should get more, because the drawings are more work than the words.
But he has to think up
Justin, Ive heard you two its not like he comes up with the ideas and the story, and all you have to do is draw. You work out the basic idea together, you draw, he puts the words together, and for that you each get thirty five percent. Thats seventy percent. The other thirty percent is his fee for doing the sales work. You were entitled to leave that to him.
Well, but I should have
What? Checked up on him?
I shrug and then nod.
So what you did wrong was to trust someone who is supposed to be your friend, my best friend and your business partner?
I look up at him now and his lips twist into a rueful grin. I dont think that ranks high in the catalogue of unforgivable sins, Sunshine.
I punch him. He only uses that nickname now to tease me.
He grins. Come on. If Debs on the lunch time shift at the diner we can catch her before she leaves. Lets get this over with and then go back to our day.
I nod. Hes right. Debs going to be really upset about this, and I dont want her to hear it as some sort of back-stabbing gossip. I want to be up front with her. Its not like Im going to demand the money back. I just dont want her to hear it from someone else first.
And on the way to Debs I can work out if I need to do something about the other problem that Lindz tried to drop in my lap.
Mel doesnt want Michael at Brians birthday lunch
on Sunday. She is really pissed off with him over this, and over the business
Lindz doesnt really want him there either, she says. Mel has said that she doesnt trust him not to make another scene like he did that night at Debs, and Lindz agrees. She just thinks that Brian might be hurt if hes not there. And, of course, she doesnt want to have to face Deb and explain why they havent invited him.
So she wants me to say what I think they should do. Or, even better, ask Brian.
Fuck that! They are so not making him responsible for this mess. If they want to invite Michael, fine. I will try to remember my manners, and I will remember that its Brian whos going to be caught in the crossfire, hes the one whos going to be hurt. And I will keep my tongue between my teeth and just get through it.
Or if they dont want Michael there, thats even better. But either way, I am not making the decision for them. Much less let them palm it off on Brian. Because if I do, we cant win. If Brian says, let him come and its all shitty uncomfortable which its bound to be, then it will be all oh, we didnt really want to invite Michael, but Brian wanted him here, and if he says no, then when Deb goes off her rocker about it, it will be oh, Brian thought it would be better for Justin if he wasnt here. So either way, Brian is the asshole whos to blame. And theres only one person to blame here, and it sure as shit isnt Brian.
Mind you, I guess that after this visit to Debs shell at least know what part of the problem with Michael is.
I could kill Mikey right now for creating this fucking mess. We get to the car and get in and I turn to look at Justin. Hes still looking tired and sad and pissed off all at once.
I want to fucking hold him and comfort him and find a way to tell him that everything will be okay. But Im no good at that shit. And its easy for me to say. As long as hes sitting right here, then everything is okay for me.
But for him?
Hes staring straight ahead of him as I start the car. His lips are pinched together and I can tell hes mad as hell and I dont have a fucking clue what to say. Then he turns to me.
I look over at him and he puts his hand on my arm.
I dont want you to get caught in the middle of this. You should just stay out in the car and Ill go in and talk to Deb.
Fuck that! Thats my first reaction. Then I hear what hes really saying to me. Hes not mad at Mikey because of the money, or because hes behaved like such a little asshole. Well, he is. But thats not the real issue for Justin. Justins mad at Mikey because of me. Because he because he knows that this hurts. All this shit hurts. It hurts to be losing my best friend.
Thats a joke.
My best friend is sitting here in the car with me. And as long as he is, as long as hes with me anywhere, Im okay. I just have to figure out a way to let him know that. I take a deep breath.
Besides, he says. Shell go easy on me. If youre there, shes just going to
He breaks off then, but its clear what he was going to say. My being there is going to make it worse is what hes telling me. And hes probably right. Its sure as hell not going to help. But I dont want him to have to face this alone. Ive left him to face so many problems alone when I should have been there for him. I dont want this to be added to the list.
Just be waiting for me okay? His voice sounds a little shaky, and I want to hug him so fucking badly
Count on it, my voice sounds strange and he looks at me and gives me a little smile.
I am. I do.
I pull up the car then, right outside Debs door, and he leans over and kisses me.
Wish me luck, he breathes.
I grab him and kiss him properly. Well, as well as I can in this stupid fucking car. He leans against me for a moment, then he opens the door.
Should I keep the motor running? I ask.
He gives a bit of a laugh, and says, Might be an idea.
Hes halfway out when he stops and says, I might be a while, Bri.
I just nod. Then I say, If youre not out of there in thirty minutes, Im coming in.
This time he nods. If Im not out by then I might need the cavalry
Ill be there.
He leans in to give me another kiss, then he closes the door. I see him straighten his shoulders and off he goes up to the door. Alone.
Who needs Rage? There goes a real fucking super hero.
On the way to the front door I should be working out what Im going to say to Debbie, but all I can think is that I cant believe that Brians letting me handle this. I was sure he was going to argue, sure that hed insist on at least coming in with me. But Im glad that hes not. Deb would only find a way to blame him for all this, and it has nothing to do with Brian. Well, except that everything Michael does seems to have something to do with Brian, but thats not Brians fault.
Im not stupid. I know that when Deb says that Brian kept Michael on a string that theres some truth in that. But what she doesnt seem to get is that Michaels had Brian on a much tighter one. I know. Ive watched him jerking on it.
But not this time. This time its between Michael and me.
I just wish that Deb wasnt involved.
Vic opens the door. From the look on his face when he sees me I realise that he already knows something.
Youd better come in, he says in that calm, resigned sort of Vic way.
As I walk in I hear Debs voice, loud and with an almost frantic edge, saying, So what are you saying? If he sues if he sues I could lose the house?
I walk into the room and they both turn to look at me, Debbie and her son. Its all I can do not to just punch him in the face. What the fuck has he told her thats got her so upset?
Michael practically snarls at me, What do you want? Wheres Brian?
Brians not here, I say firmly. This has got nothing to do with Brian.
The fuck it hasnt! Deb shouts. Its always about Brian.
I stand and wait till she stops. Then I say quietly, I just came to tell you I didnt want you to worry. Thats all.
Her face crumples then and I see her clearly for the first time and realise that shes been crying. I go and put my arms around her and she holds on to me so tightly Im afraid my ribs are going to crack.
Deb, its okay. You know that that I would never
Oh, Sunshine, I know. Im just so worried.
Ma, theres nothing to worry about. I told you. Justin doesnt really need the money
She lets go then alright. She rounds on him and hits him. Not just a love tap, either. She really slaps him hard. His head jerks back and that side of his face is now dark red.
How the fuck would you know what Justin needs? Hes got his school to pay for and clothes - everything. How could you think Id let you steal money from him to pay my mortgage?
She starts crying again then and mumbles something to me about being sorry, but its all so damp and smothered that I cant really hear it.
Michael just stands there, and says, Brian will get him anything he wants. He pays for everything anyway.
That does it. I go up to him and get right in his face. Is that what you were telling yourself two weeks ago, Michael? When he was broke and out of work and had debts up to his eyeballs. While you had MY money that we could fucking have used to just put food on the table, let alone try to pay of some of the debt. Were you telling yourself then that we didnt really need it?
He backs up a bit and says, Well, we all knew hed get his job back.
No. We didnt.
Surprisingly, that comes from Vic.
Michael and I both turn a bit to look at him and Debbie goes to say something, but he goes on, And anyway, this must have started months ago. Before Justin got back with Brian. While he was still on his own.
He looks at Michael and I realise that hes really angry. Ive hardly ever seen him angry before. Except when that cop had him arrested, but this is different. This is with one of the family. Ive never seen that before.
By the look on his face Michael hasnt either.
Back when Justin thought he was going to have to drop out of school, because he couldnt pay the fees. There would have been money then that might have helped.
But Mom needed
He doesnt get any further, because he has to dodge quickly as Debs hand snakes out again. Dont you dare! she shouts. Dont you fucking dare pretend this is about me. This is about Brian. Because you want him to fucking sweep in here and lend you the money so that you can keep keep
And then she starts crying again, and were all silent because theres not a lot to say. Shes right. Shes absolutely right. But if thats what Michaels counting on, hes in for a shock.
No, Ma! he protests, trying to put his arm around her, but she pushes him away. I was just worried about you. You were working so hard. And since I took on the shop, I havent been able to do as much
Her head comes up then. Since you left with David, you mean.
His mouth opens, but nothing comes out.
You left with David, and the whole time you were gone, we managed, Vic and I. We managed just fine. And now that Vic and Emmett are doing so well, her voice gets wobbly, and she looks across at her brother. He gives her that rueful little Vic smile, and she smiles back at him proudly, Theyre doing great and Vics paid a fucking lot off the mortgage. Youd know that if youd bothered to ask. So dont you pretend that all that isnt just some sort of excuse.
Her voice breaks then and she says pitifully, Michael, whats wrong with you? Youve got Ben now. And hes hes so good to you. Hes why isnt he enough?
Ma, Ben and I we
She waves her hand like shes brushing away a fly. No. No. I dont want to hear it.
Michael sighs. That fucking martyr sigh that makes me want to punch him so hard his teeth will rattle. Look, Brians my friend. Im sure if Justin really needs the money then Brian can
Ive had enough.
No, Brian cant. Brian wont. Hes not getting involved in this. I push my face into his again and say real quiet but as forcefully as I can, Youre not getting him involved in this.
Where is he? the asshole asks again suddenly. What have you told him?
Ive told him exactly the truth Michael. That I trusted you to handle the sales for Rage, and that according to Mel you owe me around four thousand dollars. And that you seem to have been using my money to make payments off Debs mortgage.
Four thousand? Deb and Vic say together, and I realise that he might have told them some of the truth, but apparently not all of it.
Debbie is just staring at him now, like she cant believe it. Like she doesnt recognise him. You you owe Justin four thousand dollars?
He shrugs. Well some of that is mine for the work
No! I say firmly. Hes not getting away with that shit. No, Michael. You got paid for the sales work. That was the other thirty percent. This is just the thirty five percent that I get under the contract.
He shrugs again. Whatever.
Debbie sinks down onto a chair.
Justin, honey, I had no idea
Deb, its okay. Well work it out.
We could extend the mortgage maybe
No, Deb! Thats not what I want.
Vic comes and puts his hand on my shoulder. Justin, a few hundred is one thing. But four thousand
He turns again to stare at Michael. All that time that Brian was in all that trouble with money, and you owed Justin
Well, its not like Justin would have given it to Brian
Of course he would!
To my surprise Deb jumps straight to my defence.
If the asshole would have accepted it, she adds. Shes known Brian a long time.
And thats not the point, Vic says firmly. The point is that it would have been Justins choice. But you took that choice away from him.
Look, I know what I did was stupid. But Ill pay Brian back
Its not Brian you owe the fucking money to, Michael! Vic roars, before I could say anything. Why cant you get that through your head?
Well, Brian can
I spin him round to face me. Michael, Ive said. Brian wont. Will not.
Hes just looking petulant, so I continue. He couldnt, even if he wanted to. Where do you think hed find the money?
Well, he hes back at work. He owns the company
Yes, I nod. But hes just paid for it. And paid off his debt. He doesnt have a shit load of cash lying around. He hasnt even had a salary check yet. Wont for another week or so.
Were living off my money at the moment, and racking up the credit cards a bit for stuff like last nights dinner, but theres no need to tell Michael that.
He stands staring at me. I guess hes so used to Brian having all the money he could need, splashing cash around like water, always being the one to buy the drink and the drugs and always ready to hand over cash if Michael needed it for anything, that he just cant it in take in that things have changed.
Well, he could get a cash advance
Michael! Debs not shouting now. Shes got control of herself, and shes gone into that Im a mother, dont fuck with me mode that makes all of us watch our steps around her, even Brian. Thats enough. Justins right. This is not Brians problem. You shouldnt be expecting him to fix it for you. You need
Then, fuck me, he says *it*; the line that drives me crazy.
Hes my best friend. Were always there for each other.
Thats absolutely fucking it.
Deb, Vic, could I have a moment to talk to Michael, please.
Deb looks as if she might argue, but Vic nods at her and they go into the other room. Michael pouts at me.
I still dont see why youre making such a big deal of this. Its not like
I need the money, I nod. I do need it. But thats not the point, Michael, is it?
I nod again. And take a deep breath.
Shall I tell you whats going to happen?
He looks at me warily.
You are going to go to Boston with Ben. Or not. I dont really give a fuck. But you are going to leave Brian alone.
Hes going to be what he wants to be, Michael. Thats all. You will not call him. You will not come around. You will leave him the fuck alone.
He sneers at me, but I expect that.
Because if you dont, Im not only going to sue your ass for the money, and for damages, Im going to take Mels advice and file criminal charges for fraud.
Hes not sneering now. Hes just staring at me like he cant believe what hes heard.
I nod one last time. I mean it, Michael. You are going to keep the fuck away from Brian. If he wants to call you, see you, hell, if he wants to fuck you, thats up to him. But until he calls, you stay the fuck out of his life or I swear I will do it.
Hes still just standing staring at me, so I get into his face again. I told you once before that if you hurt Brian again Id make you pay for it. You didnt believe me, but youd better believe me now. Because I mean every word of it.
Hes still gawping at me, but then his face changes. One minute hes looking like hes going to be sick, the next he gets this totally smug smirk on his face. Hes staring over my shoulder, and as I turn I already know what or rather who, Im going to see.
I guess the cavalry got impatient.