You Can't Always Get What You Want
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Justin was thriving in New York. Or at least his career was. He'd found a decent agent, he'd had one or two pieces hung in three small but prestigious galleries; he was being invited to all the "right" openings, and was fast becoming a recognized "face" at these events; his latest piece had sold for five figures (which would keep him in paints and canvases for a while at least), he had a day job as a glorified gopher at one of the larger galleries and, thanks to a very fortuitous meeting at one particularly boring opening, he'd been taken on as the "teaching artist" for the Frick's Sunday Sketch program which ran one Sunday every month. A "part time job" that had brought him to the attention of a number of prominent gallery members as well as a few critics.
He'd even managed to find a tiny room in a five story walk up. It had a gas ring and a microwave, and an even more tiny bathroom, but it was all his – as long as he could pay the rent, which so far he'd had no problem with.
That was the "best of times" bit.
On the other hand, he was lonely, he was emotionally, if not sexually, frustrated and in his heart of hearts he felt like a fraud and a failure. During his brief stint with Ethan, he'd promised himself that he would never do what Ethan had done - he would never "sell out", never trade authenticity for a chance at fame and fortune. But what else had he done when he'd made this move to New York? He'd walked away from the core truth of his being – his love for and need of his lover, his partner – in order to pursue some kind of phantasm of "making it" as an artist in The Big Apple.
And of course, once Justin had left him behind yet again, just like he had for Ethan and for Hollywood and for his dream of a white picket fence existence, his partner had decided to cut the ties between them. Phone calls always went to voice mail and were never returned, emails bounced back as 'not accepted', attempts to connect by any and all of the social media Justin could think of were rejected and friends simply sighed when he forced himself to ask them how Brian was. He'd even gone back to Pittsburgh twice to try to convince the stubborn prick he was in love with that he had every intention of returning permanently as soon as his career was on solid ground. Both times Brian had taken off for last minute out of State business meetings.
If he'd been honest with himself, Justin had known this whole scenario was likely to happen, he'd known that Brian would likely believe that it was better for him to move on, to leave Pittsburgh and his past behind; but he'd gone ahead with the move to New York anyway. He wasn't even sure why. Once Brian had gotten the notion into his head, once Linds and Mel had planted that notion in his head, it had seemed inevitable. But Justin knew that he could and should have fought it, should have refused to even contemplate throwing away everything that was of most value in his life for an ephemeral chance at some kind of fame in the fickle art world; instead, he had simply gone along with it.
So now, while on the surface he was "living his dream", inside he was living in a nightmare world where the only thing worse than the pain of remembering was the utter numbness of the void inside him that came from lack of hope.
That was the "worst of times" bit.
So now the question was … what was he going to do about it?
Was he going to go on wallowing, or was he going to try to reclaim his life? The life he wanted to live, not this half-life he'd been suffering for the last few months.
It was typical of his ass-witted, pig-headed prick of a partner that he'd do something so fucking stupid and self-destructive, not to mention just plain hurtful, out of some misguided belief that it was for Justin's own good.
It was just like when he'd shoved him out the loft because he'd had the temerity to find out that Brian had cancer. Mikey got hugs and a shoulder to cry on; Justin got literally thrown into the hallway, and threatened with a court order.
Or the whole Ethan fiasco. Brian decided that he couldn't give him picnics on the floor and all that idiotic shit, so rather than do anything as normal as actually telling him that maybe he was never going to be interested in doing all that romantic stuff, but he loved him, and he wanted Justin to stay with him, he'd all but shoved him into Ethan's arms.
Or when he'd gone off on that trip to Chicago with never a trace of an explanation that if he didn't go he'd lose his fucking job. So Justin had taken himself off to Vermont, where he'd been fucking miserable, but too proud to come home early, and so they'd both suffered.
Or the biggie, the one that had set the pattern for their whole fucked up relationship – the weeks and weeks where Justin had been in the hospital and Brian had never once come to visit him.
Even now, Justin couldn't believe how much resentment still simmered inside him over that defection.
He knew that Brian felt guilty, still felt guilty, still felt responsible for Chris Hobbs taking a bat to his head; knew that Brian in some particularly dysfunctional part of his heart, believed that Justin would be better off without Brian anywhere near him; but knowing that, understanding that, still didn't soothe the hurt he'd felt every day of those weeks, knowing that Brian could just walk away from him and never even come to see if he was doing okay, never show the least interest in his progress or his healing; that he could simply shut Justin out of his life at the time that Justin needed him the most.
That, Justin didn't understand.
Never had understood.
And sometimes it ate away at him, at his confidence in their relationship, in "them", at his belief that Brian truly loves him.
Brian did love him. He knew it. Most of the time. But then memories of that time crept back and he wondered …
'What if', he thought, 'what if something happened now … if I got hit by a car or something and went into another coma … would he even care? Or would he just walk away again and not look back, just pretend I'd never happened?'
He knew it wasn't fair … but it was how he felt.
And at times like the present, when the difficulties of rebuilding their relationship seemed so … so huge, and intimidating and almost insurmountable … at times like this he wondered if it was even worth the effort, given the doubt that stubbornly lingered in his heart.
He was still mulling over his options and trying to work out a strategy when Fate – or his Fairy Godmother took a hand.
He was listlessly wrapping his Christmas gifts for his Mom and Molly and trying to work out if he was going to deliver them in person or if he should mail them and just stay in New York for the Holidays when he got a phone call from Emmett.
A little to Justin's surprise, the usual gushy greetings were cut short as his friend said, "Now, honey, I don't want to worry you, but …"
Justin felt his stomach drop.
Brian! Something must be wrong with Brian.
He stammered out his lover's name.
Emmett gave a little gasp. "Oh, honey, no. Brian is fine. Well, he was the last time I saw him. And anyway, if he wasn't, Teddy would tell me. No, it's not Brian."
"Well, what the fuck are you calling about if it's not Brian?"
Relief may have made Justin's tone a little sharper than was maybe warranted.
"Now calm down, sweetie," Emmett soothed while Justin became more agitated. "It's just that I got a call from your Mother a few minutes ago. She wants me to cater her Christmas dinner. You know your grandparents and her sister and family are going to be in town?"
Justin tried to get his head around what Emmett was telling him. "I don't understand," he said. "Mom … she loves cooking Christmas dinner. I mean, it's a big deal, but she's never …"
"Well, honey, seems she had a little accident and she sprained her ankle and broke a teeny weensy little bone in her wrist. She's going to be fine, of course, but she just couldn't manage …"
"When?" Justin demanded. "How? Why didn't she call me?"
"Well, she said she didn't want you to change whatever plans you might have made on her account. But I thought that you'd want to know, so I …"
"Em, thank you. Of course I want to know when my Mom's been hurt. How did it happen?"
"Well, she was showing a house and slipped on some ice on the path. She said it was lucky because the potential buyers had just left - they called later and put in an offer. She said her commission will pay for Christmas this year."
Justin couldn't help but grin. That sounded like the smart businesswoman his mother had become. He felt a flash of pride in her. She'd come through so much and she'd not only survived, she'd thrived.
Even as he was thinking that, part of his brain was whirring with plans. He had some personal time due from the gallery. And he'd just done his Sunday at the Frick, so he didn't have any commitment there for another three Sundays. Hopefully he would be able to take some time and get home as soon as possible.
"Em, thank you so much for calling me. I can get home sometime in the next couple of days, I hope."
"Now don't you rush, or do anything foolish. Your Mom is fine; Tucker has taken a couple of extra days so he's free to drive her to all her client appointments, Deb and I are making sure she doesn't have to live on takeout and Molly is helping around the house. I just thought you'd like to know."
Justin took a deep breath. "Thanks, Em. But I need to come home. I need to be there."
"I understand, honey. We'll all be very glad to see you."
There was a slightly strange tone in his voice at those words, but Justin didn't get a chance to ask why, because Emmett said, "Oh, I have another call coming in. I'll have to go. It's busy busy for us party people at this time of year."
And then he was gone.
By that evening, Justin was in a taxi, heading towards his mother's townhouse.
He hadn't intended to leave so soon, but the prick who was managing the gallery while the owner was in Europe for the Holidays had refused to allow him any personal leave at all during the Christmas period, so Justin had promptly resigned and told him he could keep the week's salary he was owed in lieu of notice.
He knew he'd probably been foolish but he didn't need to be working in a place where they weren't prepared to make any allowances for family emergencies. True, his Mom wasn't that badly hurt, but the prick at the gallery hadn't known that. Even when Justin had explained that his mother had had an accident he'd just looked down his nose and said that it was "unfortunate, but you have responsibilities here".
Well, fuck that!
He'd called his agent and warned her that she'd probably get a call from them to complain and maybe even to tell her they were taking down his paintings, but he didn't give a fuck.
His Mom was more important than any damned job.
For that matter, he'd realized as he'd sat fuming on the plane, his life was more important than any job, or than selling a painting or two. And he was going to claim it back. Somehow.
He just wasn't sure whether that life would include Brian.
But he'd worry about that later, he thought as the cab pulled up outside his Mom's building.
As it turned out, "later" turned out to be rather sooner than he'd imagined. Molly opened the door, welcoming him with a quick, almost embarrassed hug, and when he walked into the living room the first person he saw, sipping coffee and apparently very much at home, was Mr. Kinney himself.
"Justin!" his mother said, her surprise and delight clear in her face. She made as if to get up, but Brian put his hand firmly on her arm. "You sit there, Mother Taylor," he said, tongue firmly in cheek. "Let the prodigal son come to you."
Justin did his best to ignore him, not sure of what else he could do and bent to kiss his Mom.
"How are you feeling? Why didn't you tell me you'd hurt yourself?" he asked.
"Oh, Justin! I didn't want you to rush back here. I'm fine. And everyone has been so kind. Emmett and Debbie have sent so much food we could feed a football team, and Molly has been such a help. And …" she broke off, glancing slightly guiltily to her right where Brian sat serenely sipping from his coffee cup.
"Well, Tucker and Brian have been driving me all over the place," she said a little hastily.
Justin could hardly believe what he was hearing. "So you told Brian," he half shouted, "but you didn't tell your own son?"
"Simmer down, Sunshine," Brian said, finally deciding to join the conversation. "Your Mom couldn't reach Tucker when she fell because he was running a class, so she called me."
Justin gaped at him, and then at his mother, who looked a little shame-faced.
"Do you want a drink or something, Jester?" Molly intervened. "You look like you could use one."
He shook his head numbly. "No thanks, Mollusk," he replied, automatically using the childish nickname.
"I knew Brian would be able to get me to the hospital and run interference with the staff there if he had to, make them keep me informed. He became so good at that."
She broke off then and flushed a little, knowing she was bringing back bad memories for both men. "It was clear once you got out of hospital that the nurses had told him far more than they ever told me about what was involved in your rehab, and what to expect, and all that sort of thing."
Justin stared at her. What the fuck was she talking about? Just when did Brian have these in depth conversations about his prognosis with the damned nurses? He was never there after the first few days.
Brian cleared his throat. "Time for me to be going," he said, standing and handing the coffee cup to Justin.
"Now that little Sunshine is back to drive you around, I'll leave you to get on with your Christmas plans."
"You'll do no such thing!" his mother snapped. "You'll be here as arranged tomorrow morning to take me Christmas shopping. How else am I going to be able to buy my son's present?"
Brian grinned at her. "I could buy it for you," he suggested.
His mother got that "Mom" look in her eye and said severely, "If I'd wanted to buy him that kind of gift I would have bought it online and had it delivered in plain packaging!"
Brian, the asshole, grinned but before he could say anything more, Justin moved to block his path to the door.
They stood face to face for the first time in far too long. Justin could feel his heart beating so fast and hard it was like he'd just run some kind of marathon.
Brian smiled at him, a little sadly. "It's okay, Sunshine. Now that you're home I'll make myself very very scarce."
"When did you ask the nurses?" Justin blurted out.
Then he ran the fingers of one hand gently down Justin's face.
"You have a happy Holidays now, y'hear?" he said in a fake Southern drawl, and stepping past him, he moved towards the door.
"Hold it, mister!" His mother's voice came sharply. "Are you telling me you've never told him?"
Slowly, reluctantly, Brian turned.
"It didn't seem particularly relevant," he said tiredly. "You can tell him all about it if you want, but I need to …"
"Brian," she said, struggling to her feet. "Of course it's relevant. Honestly, I can understand why sometimes my son is tempted to just give up on you."
To Justin's surprise, Brian flushed. Then, pulling in his lips for a moment, he said, "That's what he should do. That's what I've been telling you all along."
"And I've told you that's bullshit!"
Later, when Justin questioned when they'd done all this "telling", he was to discover that in his absence his Mom seemed to have taken over his "stalking" duties with Brian. She called him several times a week, and when at first he didn't answer, she'd simply turned up at Kinnetik. After one occasion when she'd walked into a client meeting and had sat, primly silent, waiting till the meeting had finished before insisting that he took her out for coffee, Brian had learned it was easier to just answer his phone. She hadn't even really had to threaten him to get him to come to dinner every couple of weeks. Brian, in fact, had been made to realize where Justin learned his persistence.
Right now however, Justin wasn't ready to question the apparent closeness between him Mom and his partner, he was too taken aback by her bluntness. He blinked in something like shock. It wasn't often his mother used language like that.
With an exasperated snort she turned to him. "Justin, this man of yours was at the hospital every single night that you were in there. For some fucked up reason of his own, he didn't want anyone to know that; but the nurses told me. They said he never went into your room, just stood at the door for most of the night and watched over you - and, apparently, grilled them on all your treatments and your progress."
To his horror, Justin felt tears sliding down his cheeks. For a moment he couldn't move, couldn't speak. This was a revelation that rearranged the very foundations of what he understood of their relationship. His resentment, his pain over the belief that 'Brian didn't even care enough to come and see me when I was in the hospital' had been the underlying cause of so many of their problems. And as it turned out, that was a complete … well, misconception, if not an outright lie.
Brian, his beautiful, fucked up, emotionally dysfunctional partner, loved him; had loved him back then, however incapable he'd been of showing it the way any normal human being might have done.
Infuriated, he turned again to Brian and punched his chest. "Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded, his voice high and unsteady. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me?"
Brian stood there staring at him, his expression somewhere between petulance and a kind of bewildered longing.
"I didn't think it would make any difference," he said softly, so softly Justin hardly heard him.
"You didn't think …" Justin broke off, unable to comprehend the sheer idiocy of that statement. "You didn't think it would make any difference. Jesus fucking Christ, Brian!"
He punched him again.
And then, realizing through the anger and the joy and the bone deep sense of relief that swamped him that his fucking idiot partner had no idea where this scene was going next, he wrapped his arms around him and hugged him hard.
"You are a complete fucking moron," he told him firmly. "And so am I for not remembering that you're some kind of emotional retard who needs every fucking thing explained to him."
He took a breath.
"It makes a difference. Alright?"
Tongue in cheek, Brian looked down at him, then scrunched over so their eyes were level and said, "If you say so, Sunshine."
The words were slightly mocking, but his voice, seemingly despite himself, was soft and sincere,
"I do fucking say so," Justin said firmly. Then he kissed him, brief but hard.
"Take me home," he said. "We've got a lot to talk about."
Justin heard his mother say something about being ready by eleven to go shopping, and Molly giggling, but most of the farewells were just a blur. So was the drive back to the loft.
Walking in the door the words of an old song came into his mind and for the first time he understood them.
He'd wanted – or thought he had – the chance to make a name for himself in New York; just like he'd once wanted – or thought he had – floor picnics and romance. Maybe he had wanted them. Maybe he still did.
But they weren't what he needed.
What he needed was moving towards the fridge, probably to get some water, definitely stalling, trying to avoid the conversation he sensed was coming. Typical Kinney move.
Justin found himself grinning.
Brian wanted to avoid this conversation – the one about why the Hell Justin was in New York and their fucking house was sitting empty and all that stuff. Well, his dickheaded partner might just have to live with not getting that particular wish.
But what he was going to get instead was what they both needed – a future together, in the same city, in the same fucking loft, or house or wherever else they finally decided to live. That's what they both needed. Everything else was just the smoke and mirrors of transient desires.
That's what those corny old song lyrics had put into perspective for him.
You can't always get what you want. But if you try real hard, you just might find you get what you need.
Justin finally understood how big a difference there was between the two. Now he just had to explain it to Brian.
Final Note:: The lyrics quoted are of course written by Jagger/ Richards.
And the Sunday Sketch program at the Frick is a real one. Details here, for anyone interested. Frick's Sunday Sketch program – open to all.
Oh, and the "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times" line is from Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities.
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