Woody’s - Justin
I was only half joking when I said to Brian that what we needed was a real Rage. It would take a super hero – or a miracle - to make this nightmare go away. I know that I should be like Deb, fighting to the last ditch, but there just doesn’t seem to be any point. Far better to sit in here where at least it’s warm and concentrate on making the folds in the paper just perfect. Maybe if I can make a plane that will fly to the other side of the bar then that would be a sign that miracles are possible and Deekins could still win. See, I’m reverting to childhood now; the way as a kid you try to bargain with Fate. But when you grow up, you know that Fate doesn’t do bargains. Fate’s like a designer label store – you have to be prepared to pay top price and there’s no point in haggling. God, bad metaphors, the last refuge of an uninspired mind. I’d laugh at myself if I wasn’t so depressed.
I sense Brian come in and am looking up for him even before I feel the touch of his hand on mine. He’s saying something to the bartender, and he looks – wired, energized somehow. I haven’t seen him look like this since … well, let’s say since he threw away everything he’s worked for for a piece of blond boy ass. I feel guilty about that sometimes. But other times I feel – I don’t know, that somehow even if he doesn’t know it yet, that it was better for him to lose his job than to continue on the path he was on. When he was working for Stockwell, I was really scared for a while of losing him. Not in the not-being-with-him, having-sex-with-him kind of way. But losing HIM, Brian; the Brian who taught me so much about being out and proud, about being a gay man, about being true to myself.
But then, that night in the alley, he was back. He tugged the brush from my hand, and when I was reluctant to let it go, he kissed me, and it was hot, and had somehow a new intimacy, like the kiss was really telling me something about whose side he was choosing. From then on it was the two of us, working together to bring down the bad guy; and I didn’t have to be afraid anymore that he was destroying himself. I guess in the scheme of things, losing your job isn’t the worse thing that could happen. Although it’s really rocked him, I think maybe even Brian has realized that losing a job was a pretty fair trade for keeping his spirit and integrity intact. Especially when there was this piece of blond boy ass thrown in for his own personal delectation. The big downside is that after all that, the bad guy is still winning.
But now the TV is on and across the hubbub of the bar there’s a thread of music, not the usual dance tunes, but a dark and slightly melodramatic drumbeat, and the screen fills with the image of Jason Kemp’s face. At first I don’t take in exactly what the voice over is saying, but as the talk around the bar fades away, I catch my breath. This is amazing. This ad is saying exactly what … and then I glance at Brian and realize who must have put this together. I don’t know how he managed to find backers to do this, but I guess there are gays out there with money: the A-Gays as Ted calls them. Or maybe someone in Deekins’ camp was prepared to fund an ad that has the potential to be so damaging to Stockwell. But whoever supplied the money, the skill and inspiration that put the ad together could only be Brian’s. I want to throw myself into his arms and show him right here in front of everyone how proud I am of him. How proud I am to be with him. Not because he’s Brian Fucking Kinney, Lord of Liberty Avenue. But because he’s himself. Brave and uncompromising and so damn talented!
Once I would have done just that, but I know him now, and this isn’t the time, or the place. Later, at the loft, I’ll make sure he gets the message. But for now, it’s for him to decide if he wants everyone to know who did this. If he doesn’t, that’s up to him. And if they’re too dumb to figure it out, that’s their problem. I know, and as we wash our hands in the restroom I teasingly let him know I know. For now, that’s enough.
*** *** ***
Next day – the loft
I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe he has done this. When I first arrived to find the naked guy painting being carried out the door and realized that practically everything of value was gone, I still didn’t get it. Knowing how extravagantly Brian still lived (as witness his 99 inch liquid TV purchase), I just thought that his executive salary expenditure combined with his lack of any income had finally tipped him into insolvency. I knew the situation must be really bad when I saw that the TV was gone. Despite the fact that the first thing he’d seen on it was the Stockwell ad, mocking him, that TV had meant something to him. Its purchase had been something of an act of defiance, a way of declaring that he wasn’t thrown by his currently unemployed state, that he had confidence in himself and in his future. Its loss, I knew, would also mean something to Brian, and not something good. Pathetic as my resources are, compared to what he’s used to, I had to at least offer to help if I could. When he told me the amount he owed I was stunned, but I still didn’t understand.
Even as he was pacing the empty loft, explaining the details, “The cost of twenty prime time spots at five thou a pop”, I couldn’t take it in.
“You said that was paid for by…” I protested.
He turned to face me and swept his arms wide. For a moment I flashed back: ‘Are you coming or going?’, then present reality crashed in.
“Meet the Concerned Citizens for the Truth.”
I could only gawp at him, mouth hanging open. “You?”
As he came towards me, hand going nervously to his mouth, admitting that he’d maxed out five gold cards to fund those wonderful damned ads, he seemed at one and the same time to be more vulnerably human than I’d ever seen him, and a true superhero. Stunned, not just by his revelation, but by the fact that he was allowing me to see how rattled he was, I could only stare at him in bemused wonder.
“Those concerned citizens really are lunatics,” I offered in an attempt to lighten things a little, and reached out to touch him, to grip his arms, anything to try to steady him and to let him know he had my support.
His: “I think I’m experiencing possession withdrawal,” let me know that he understood.
We clasped hands tightly as we climbed up the steps to the bed.
I am still stunned, though, and lying here beside him as he lays indulging himself in one of his more justified drama queen moments, I struggle to come to terms with what he has done.
“What made you do it?” I ask.
He rolls over to look up at me. This time, when he speaks, the drama queen has gone. He speaks a little wryly, but with sincerity and the confidence of one who knows that he has done what needed to be done, and to hell with the consequences. “Some asshole told me that if you believe in something strongly enough you have to be willing to sacrifice everything.”
His eyes hold mine for a long moment, and I am left amazed, astonished, breathless, at his declaration. Because it is a declaration, and we both know it. It signifies, acknowledges, a major step in this journey we are taking together; he is telling me that I am no longer the pupil and he my mentor, that now we are equals, challenged by and learning from each other.
Then the enormity of what he has done, what he has been prepared to sacrifice for the fight against bigotry and intolerance really hits me, and, I swear, I find myself falling in love with him all over again. This time it isn’t the feverish infatuation of those early days with their exaggerated emotional highs and lows, nor the calmer contentment of these last few months where the highs and lows have been principally those of passion – amazing orgasms followed by the downer of the “little death” that invariably follows – as both of us have carefully tried to find a way to be together that didn’t expose us to the pain we’d caused each other the first time round.
This time the capacity for pain will be there, but set against it is a whole new level of trust and intimacy, symbolized somehow by this extraordinary act, undertaken with no guarantee even that it will bring victory. I find myself flooded with tenderness beyond measure for the man who has had the courage, the extraordinary integrity of being, to do such a thing. Plus a fathoms deep gratitude that in doing it he has opened himself to me in this way; exposing himself to me, as we lie here together fully clothed, more completely than he ever has all the times we have been naked together in this bed; that he has let down so many of the barriers that have been between us for so long and has deliberately chosen this moment to share himself with me.
As I look into his eyes, he raises one eyebrow a little in that way he has, and I am shaken by the depth of the love I feel for him. I bend to kiss him, and then slide my arm under his shoulders and hold him safe, cradled in my arms, as I kiss him again. And in his response, in the way his arm winds round me and his mouth opens for mine, I feel this new union between us ratified and sealed.
*** *** ***
Election Day – Woody’s
Apparently when Brian told Mikey what he’d done, Mikey couldn’t even get the words out. Brian laughed when he told me that at the mere thought that someone could be that much in debt, Mikey’s tongue seized up and refused even to stammer out the amount. Apparently the only thing he could manage to say was “why?”. I didn’t ask how Brian responded, but he knew I wanted to know, and maybe even understood why his response to Mikey was important to me.
“I told him a gay man’s gotta do what a gay man’s gotta do,” he proclaimed rather histrionically. I had to laugh; but something inside me wanted to cheer, and even to cry a little – with relief, I guess. Or for happiness. I don’t know. I only know it meant something that it was me he’d told the truth to, and Mikey he’d deflected with well-honed skill.
I’m not jealous of Mikey, really; not anymore. But for so long it has been Mikey that Brian has trusted with the truth of what he really feels, even when he doesn’t necessarily put anything into words. Brian and I have shared so much, but I’ve never before been the one he’s chosen as the receptacle for that trust – for the truth of anything except what I’ve been directly partner to or have witnessed for myself, like his struggles over what to do about his parental rights. For everything else, it’s always been Mikey that he’s gone to.
And that has hurt. Sometimes it’s hurt really badly, and damaged our whole relationship, although Brian never seemed to see that, or else it didn’t matter to him. When Vance bought out Ryder for instance, and the whole Chicago/Vermont fiasco occurred, I was upset and angry that Brian broke his promise to come with me to Vermont, because I didn’t understand why. But I was even more hurt and resentful when I got back and got an earful from Michael about how selfish I was, and didn’t I know how much stress Brian was under, and that he might have lost his job, and so on and so on. I didn’t give a shit what Michael thought (if I’d ever worried about Michael’s opinion, I’d never have got anywhere near Brian), but what cut me to the heart was that no, I hadn’t known. All the stuff about Vance and his job being under threat and all the rest – Brian had never told me that. He’d told Mikey, who I guess had told the others, 'cause they all knew. But I hadn’t known. I was the one with whom Brian shared his home and his bed, but I wasn’t the one he’d shared that with, and that really hurt. Maybe more than any other single thing I think that was what made me ready for Ethan, ready to give up on Brian, on us. Because I felt cut out of so much of his real life.
So for me it’s an important change that this time I’m the one he’s sharing the real stuff with; that this time Mikey got the bravado, the classic Kinney façade, if you like, while I was trusted with the real Brian, with his vulnerability, with the ‘oh God what have I done?’ moments and the truth of the why. The next few months are going to be tough; I’m not so starry-eyed about this new Brian that I think he’s going to find it easy to deal with being broke and out of work. There will undoubtedly be times I want to strangle him. Not to mention the fact that even if my suspension is lifted, without Brian’s support I can’t afford to return to PIFA beyond this semester. But those difficulties, intense though they’ll be, seem a small price to pay for what I’ve gained, what we’ve gained, in this new way of being together.
Of course, the difficulties will be all the greater, both for us personally and for all of us, if Stockwell wins the election. Poverty will be all that much harder for Brian to take if he feels he did it all for nothing. Not to mention the fallout if Stockwell decides, as he might well out of sheer spite, to keep all his election promises and “clean up” Liberty Avenue.
Which brings us to tonight as we sit in Woody’s trying to keep it together as the election results trickle in. I suppose the very fact that we ARE in Woody’s watching the election results is indicative of the enormity of the change that has taken place around here at least in the past few days. Until the Jason Kemp ads started to show, not one in fifty of the guys in here would have given a shit about who wins the election. Some of them may not even have known that one was happening, despite all the posters (both legitimate and otherwise) and Deb’s best efforts. Now we sit together and watch and wait.
Minus, ironically enough, the people who would be the most likely to have sniffed disapprovingly if Brian hadn’t shown up – Melanie and Ted. Ted is probably on a bender somewhere, but lord alone knows where Melanie is. Funny how whatever she has found to be more important than sharing this event with her community will be accepted as okay, but if Brian had missed being here, everyone would have had something to say about it. For that matter, even Ben and Michael aren’t here. Brian said there had been some hassle about Hunter, something to do with his mother. Maybe that’s where they all are. It would make sense for them to go to Mel for some legal advice if they are really worried about having Hunter taken away from them.
Brian is surprisingly calm. He’s neither getting wasted, nor seeking any of his other usual diversions. The one time when I do feel him ready to snap is when Lindsay of all people (she usually has half a brain at least) starts blathering on about how it’s just like waiting for the results for Prom Queen, or Homecoming Queen, or fucking Queen of the May, I don’t know. It’s such totally shallow drivel that I’m trying not to listen, and I’m not surprised that it’s almost enough to push Brian over the edge.
Vic says something about surviving all these right wing Presidents (I think it’s a Sondheim quote or something) and we can survive this. And I make a toast to the indomitable spirit of queers everywhere. Brian turns and gives me a really strange look, like he wonders where that came from, but he laughs and lifts his glass all the same.
He’s over at the bar buying another round for us both when out of nowhere the guy on TV suddenly announces “With such and such a percentage of the vote counted, the new mayor is …” and my brain freezes for a moment and then I take in “Deekins”. Oh My God. Deb grabs me into one of her life-threatening hugs, and then I’m free and seeking Brian.
He’s sitting on the bar stool, and just looks totally wiped out. Now that it’s over, you can see the strain he’s been under. We reach for each other. Our lips meet, then I put both arms around his neck and hug him tight. He wraps his arms right around me, and letting out a great sigh of relief, rocks me from side to side.
As the crowd washes out of Woody’s to flow down into the street, we cling together for a few moments more. Then we draw apart and get swept away from each other for a moment. When Brian materializes again by my side he is clutching a bottle of champagne that he’s magicked from somewhere.
We come out onto the steps into a party, a true celebration, not just of victory, but of us, of what it is to be young and gay and on Liberty Avenue. And it strikes me as so ironic that while Brian is probably still the undisputed Lord of Liberty Avenue, hardly anyone knows what he has done, what he has sacrificed to preserve this freedom to be ourselves. So by way of letting him know that I at least appreciate it, without getting all intense I say jokingly, “Thanks to Rage the streets of Gayopolis are once more safe for perverts.”
I stand watching the joyous crowd for a moment or two, then realize that Brian is watching me intently. I turn and smile at him. He continues to stare at me. It’s almost creepy and I pull back a little. “What are you doing?”
Straight faced he responds, “I’m using my powers of mind control,” and continues to peer at me almost manically.
I fake going into a trance, and intone obediently the instructions I’m supposedly receiving from Rage: “Drop your pants, bend over.”
A small grin slides across his face, and I shake my head as if to clear it. “Surely you can use your amazing superpowers for something more constructive than that,” I admonish.
His eyes are shining. “Try as I might, I can’t come up with anything else.”
As he reaches for me, tangling his hand in my hair, I can only say in loving pride, “You!”
He smiles, wide and beautiful, then our lips meet and meet again and it is a perfect moment, one to treasure and savor.
Typically, it’s interrupted by Michael, and, oh joy, Hunter.
It seems they weren’t with Mel. When Hunter’s mother turned up with the police, the best Michael could come up with was to cut and run. Now, of course, he’s got no idea what to do next, so he’s come running to Brian.
“So you risked it all?” Brian asks, and gets a look, and a very slight nod in return.
“Mikey, you are so …”
“Pathetic. I know.”
And you know what, in that moment, I actually feel some respect for him. 'Cause he has risked everything to try to help out someone who’s not only in trouble, but has been little else but trouble since he came into our lives. He mightn’t have done it the best or smartest way, but at least he’s trying, and risking a lot along the way, which is way more than most people would have done.
But then Brian gives him the car keys, and I can only stand and watch in bemusement as he takes them with only a token hesitation, and runs off with Hunter. Not without giving Brian a kiss first, of course.
Part of me just wants to go after him and kick his ass clear up the street. He knows how much debt Brian is in. He knows Brian needs to sell the car. He knows how much Brian needs that money. But hey, let’s not think of getting a fifty dollar bus ticket out of town when we can drive off in Brian’s $30,000 corvette. Just when I start to think he might be getting a clue, he reverts to type and becomes once more the impervious, totally self-absorbed prick that I’ve come to know so well. Ever since, in fact, he burst into the loft on that long ago morning and moaned and whined about how I was making him late for work, like that was the worst thing in the world, not mentioning that somehow during the night Brian’s beloved jeep had been vandalized. Of course, that wasn’t important, 'cause it didn’t directly affect him.
But I bite my lip and say nothing. However much he annoys me, Michael is important to Brian, and although I’m no saint, I recognize that and would never try to come between them. At least I’ll be here to help Brian deal, and together we’ll get through all this shit.
As Michael disappears up the street with Hunter, I hope that Brian isn’t going to suffer another onslaught of possession withdrawal. I search for a way to head that off, and decide that attack is the best method of defense – even secondhand. As he stands, looking a little at a loss, I go for it.
“Jesus Christ, Brian,” I whine (and if that reminds him of someone, well, so what?). As he turns to me, I continue, “Now you don’t even have a car.”
“Huh!” he grunts deadpan, knowing he’ll be contradicted, “then I guess I’ve lost everything.” He turns away, looking around once more at the crowd as if he’s lost the thread of why we’re all there.
I touch the back of his neck, and he turns to me. I meet his eyes, and then slide my arm around his neck, as I look proudly out across the street.
“Not everything,” I say.
Then my arm tightens around his neck and his winds around my waist and pulls me close, and as our eyes meet he smiles at me, for me, and I’m left with no doubt that he shares my conviction that what we have now more than makes up for what we’ve lost. Wrapped tight around each other, we walk down into the swirling crowd and allow it to turn us slowly round, and as we turn I watch him looking around as if he’s never really seen the place before. And I know that although many things have changed in the past few days, those changes have opened the door to whole new possibilities.
Right now, it seems to me that adding up the profit and loss columns, the things that we’ve given up and the things that we’ve gained, we’ve wound up with a pretty good deal.
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