Complications of the Mind

Chapter 12

"What about John?"

"He's going to stay here with Justin, Peter," he responded honestly. "I think he needs some space."

With a maturity that belied his age, Peter nodded with solemnity. "Okay."

"Hey, Brian," John said, "Mom wants to talk to you."

Brian stood, smiling reassuringly at Peter, and walked over to retrieve the phone from John. "Hey, Claire. We need to talk. Want to meet somewhere?"

He listened a moment and then said, "Peter wants to come home."

A few minutes later he broke the connection and looked at the three younger males. Addressing Peter first, he said, "Your mom said that she'd like that. She sent your grandmother home. So it'll just be you and her." He looked at John and Justin and said, "I'm leaving you two here, together. I trust you won't kill each other."

Peter scrambled to his feet and grabbed his backpack and pillow, suddenly looking like a very young twelve-year-old. Brian marked the action and wondered how he'd not noticed how very like a scared rabbit his younger nephew was. "You ready?" he asked.

Peter nodded and slowly approached Brian. He hugged his older brother and John whispered, "If you need me, send me an email."

"Okay," Peter said.

Brian kissed Justin goodbye, a bare brushing of lips. He touched a fingertip to Justin's mouth and then glanced at Peter. "Let's go, kiddo."

It was an uncomfortable car ride with a silent Peter. As they approached the comfortably blue-collar neighborhood of Claire's, Peter said, "Thank you, Uncle Brian."

"You're welcome, Peter."

He pulled into the driveway and Peter made posthaste to get out of the car. Claire must have been watching from the window in the living room because the door opened before Peter had a chance to knock. She met her brother's eyes with a questioning glance and Brian made his way carefully up the walkway. "I've got a neighbor here who will stay with Peter. I guess you're happy I sent Mom home."

He simply shrugged, saying only, "I think Mom will do more harm than good, Claire. You and I need to talk and she'd only complicate things. You ready?"

Claire grabbed her purse off the hall table and nodded. She felt uncomfortable and hated that she always felt this way around her brother. As if he were likely to tear her head off at the slightest provocation. "Where are we going?"

"I thought I'd buy you an early dinner."

Claire's eyes widened. She couldn't remember the last time she had ever eaten with her brother. "Do I need to change?"

Brian looked at her, careful not to appear too critical. Claire looked tired and drawn and older than her thirty-six years. He wondered how much of that was due to their childhood and how much was due to raising two sons alone. "You're fine. I'm not taking you anywhere that has a dress code."

She looked relieved suddenly and Brian said, trying not to sound irritated. "Come on, let's go. I left John and Justin at the loft."

Claire climbed into the car, marveling at the feel of leather. She'd never owned a car with a real leather interior and somehow she doubted that her brother would settle for anything less than the best. "How's John doing?"

"He doesn't seem to hate me so much," Brian admitted. "He and I had a good talk, Claire. He's not such a bad kid."

"I'm sorry he accused you of touching him inappropriately, Brian."

"Water under the bridge. We're dealing with real trouble now, Claire."

She gazed out the window as the landscape changed, as they moved into the more industrialized area. For a moment, Brian entertained the thought of taking her to the diner on Liberty Avenue but realized that would be cruel and unusual punishment for both of them. She fumbled with the strap on her purse nervously until Brian said, "For Christ's sake, Claire, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not Pop."

She had the grace to flush as the meaning of his words hit home. "I'm just not used to being alone with you, Brian."

"Jesus," he sighed. "Claire, I have no intention of hurting you. I'm not your husband and I'm not a violent man."

"That surprises me," she retorted.

"I worked really hard to make sure I was nothing like Pop."

"You fuck everything that moves, Brian. You drink and do drugs. The only thing that is different between you and Daddy is that he liked women and you like men."

"That's not the only difference, Claire," he said, trying to keep his voice from rising. He didn't want to fight with her. What they had to talk about was too important and he didn't want to fuck up his nephew's future just because he and his sister couldn't come to an amicable conclusion. "I happen to love the man I'm with and I love my kid. I'm in a happy relationship."

"But you're not married?"

"All but," Brian admitted. "A partnership is pretty close in the eyes of the state but he and I won't be having a civil union, if that's what you're asking."

"Oh," she said, going suddenly quiet. Seemed her brother was able to maintain a relationship when that was beyond her. Just another area where Brian succeeded and she'd failed. It was no wonder she resented him. Brian had all the attributes she'd kill for. It never occurred to her that his happiness was hard fought and had not come easily to him or been accepted easily for a long time.

He pulled into a parking place at a small, intimate restaurant and Claire looked down at her drab attire and then at her brother who looked immaculate even in fairly casual clothes. "You sure I'm dressed okay?"

"Yeah, Claire, you're fine. You're with me. They're not going to kick you out for not dressing like you've just come out of Saks."

They were seated quickly and Brian silently remembered fucking the host once. It appeared the host remembered also because he looked Brian over, from head to toe, paying careful attention to his package until Brian met his eyes directly and he had no choice but to conform to social conventions or risk a public humiliation.

Claire ordered a glass of water and turned up her nose when Brian ordered a Glenlivet on the rocks. "Just like Daddy," she murmured.

"He could never afford the good stuff, Claire," Brian corrected. "I didn't come here to cross swords with you. Let's just enjoy a pleasant meal or try to."

She glanced over the menu and gasped as she saw the prices of the entrees. "Brian, it's so expensive."

Christ, he thought. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I can afford it. Order what you want and for God's sake don't just order some little thing because of some misguided guilt. I don't intend you to go home hungry, Claire."

She stared at him with barely disguised shock and he felt vaguely uncomfortable. "Okay," she finally said, smoothing the napkin in her lap.

Brian sat back in his chair, and sipped his scotch. This was going to be a long night, he thought with resignation. Their waiter finally returned after what seemed to be an interminable time and Brian ordered a rare steak with a side Caesar salad while Claire ordered a steak medium well and a salad, looking with apprehension at Brian. He nodded at her order and then smiled slightly. "Thank you," she murmured.

While he didn't want to do this more often, Brian felt an unfamiliar sensation of guilt as he realized that he'd made a conscious effort not to get to know his sister. Not that she'd made it a welcome proposition but the fact remained that she was his only sister. "So what do you want to talk about?"

"You don't want to eat first?" he asked, glancing warily at the glass of red wine he'd finally convinced her to order. He had images of her throwing the contents in his face as he made his proposition.

Claire shook her head and said, "Peter came home. I want to know why."

"He wasn't very comfortable. He missed you and his room and his bed."

"And John?"

Brian took a deep breath and said, "That's a bit more problematic."

Instantly on her guard, Claire narrowed her eyes at him. "Why?"

"He wants to stay with me and Justin."

Claire inhaled sharply and then took a sip from her glass of wine. "Your loft isn't exactly conducive to having a teenager around. You wouldn't be able to have a sex life, Brian. Do you want to have him around? He hasn't exactly been your biggest fan."

Brian just barely kept his jaw from going lax as he marked his sister's reaction to his news. She looked up and saw his expression, then laughed bitterly. "I do believe I've shocked you. I didn't think that could be done, Mr. Jaded Executive."

He took another sip of his scotch, savoring the burn at the back of his throat. Before the night was out, he had a feeling he'd be switching to icy cold vodka. He'd expected more of a fight from her. "The loft below mine is up for sale, Claire. I talked to Justin today about putting an offer in. We could open the loft up and enclose a room for John. Install a staircase so that there would be an upper level and a lower level. Justin would have a studio and John would have his own space."

"Are you really open to this?" she asked, calmer than she'd expected to be. After all, this was still the man she'd once believed capable of the worst act she could imagine.

"Yeah, Claire."

"How long?"

"Maybe till he graduates. It depends on what John wants."


"I'll start a college fund for him," Brian said. "It won't be bad, Claire. I won't be exposing him to unsavory influences."

"How does your partner feel about this? I remember him standing in my living room when John stole your bracelet. He's fiercely protective of you, Brian."

"He's okay with it, Claire. I think he and John will be okay. They are closer in age than he and I are, after all."

She took another sip of red wine and studied her brother closely. "It's a big responsibility, Brian. Are you sure you're up for it?"

"Yeah, Claire, I'm sure. There are a few good schools nearby and I can get him enrolled for the fall and see if he can take makeup classes to make up the credits he's losing this semester." He glanced at his sister and quietly said, "Are you okay with this? Are you okay with your son staying with me?"

"His dad doesn't give a shit about him. Mom's perfectly useless, Brian. I have enough on my hands trying to deal with her alcoholism and two teenage sons. I love John but he's fourteen. It's a difficult age for anyone but the stuff he's dealing with I don't really understand. You're stable, Brian. You have a committed relationship with a man who loves you and you're in love with him. Considering the environment you and I grew up in, it's a wonder that either of us are able to have a relationship."

Brian laughed sharply. "It hasn't always been easy, Claire. It's been fucking hard but somehow Justin and I have made it work."

"Where's he sleeping?"

"Our bed," he said, and then hastened to add lest she draw the wrong conclusion, "Justin and I have been sleeping on the floor on a futon. We had to get rid of a lot of furniture when I lost my job. I haven't had much time to interior decorate."

"A friend of mine at work has a truck. John has a twin bed. I can ask him to bring the truck and load it. Let me know a convenient time and I'll have him drop it off."

Brian stared at her in abject shock and slight confusion. She'd acquiesced way too easily which made him wonder what she was up to, whether or not she was setting him up for a fall. "You promise me that you aren't preparing to fuck me over?"

Claire smiled slightly and then said in a voice, colder than the depths of hell, "You're taking my son, Brian. You have made a difference in John's life, which is more than I've been able to do. If you can help him, then I want him to be with someone who can understand what he's going through."

Brian glanced at her as she focused her attention on the linen tablecloth. "What makes you think I understand?" he cautiously inquired.

She met his eyes with a blank expression of her own and Brian recognized the mask for what it was. "Because I know what happened between you and Coach MacKenzie, Brian. I know that you had a sexual relationship with him when you were John's age. I know it's not exactly the same thing because you consented and liked it, at least for a little while until he began to use you roughly. But as a woman I can't countenance it. I know that young boys have urges and you're better equipped to deal with that, than I."

He drained his glass of scotch and motioned to the waiter for another. He didn't want to get quietly drunk but he didn't see how he could maintain sobriety in the face of this revelation. He'd had no idea his sister knew. "I didn't know you knew," he finally managed.

Her answer was delayed by a few moments by the arrival of their salads. Claire took a bite of salad and then responded to her brother. "I know it happened because I heard you talking to Michael about it."

"What else did you hear?" Brian asked.

"I heard enough to know that you were gay long before I found you fucking Sean Cannon in our bathroom, Brian. I knew the time Mom found you masturbating, it wasn't because of that picture of Bo Derek in that swimsuit from 10 like you told her. There was a picture of a young Tom Cruise opposite that article. I wasn't blind, Brian."

"I had sex with girls, too," he said, taking a bite of his own salad. "A few times. Just enough that I knew it wasn't what I wanted."

"Experimentation and it wasn't what you really wanted. You think I didn't notice how your eyes lit up that first semester of college when you came home talking about your art history class and the pictures of Greek statues. God, Brian, I wasn't naïve but Mom and Dad had no clue."


Claire stared at him and then said, "If Dad had known, you wouldn't have lived to be nineteen, Brian. He would have beaten the ever living shit out of you. It would have been the worst beating of your life and I don't think you'd have made it out alive. Concealing it as long as you did took work and was the only way to keep yourself safe. I understand why you disassociated yourself from us because of that and because growing up the way we did was pure unadulterated hell." Her eyes glittered with emotion and he suddenly wondered how it had been hell for her. Jack seemed more likely to raise a hand to him than to his daughter. He'd always counted himself lucky that Jack hadn't abused him in other ways.

"Claire, why was it hell for you?" he asked, voice suddenly quiet.

"I can't talk about it, Brian."

Brian remembered nights when his father's footsteps passed by his door and heard him open his sister's. He'd thought it was because he adored Claire; in a way, that he couldn't countenance his own son. "Claire?"

She dragged her eyes up to meet his and, with complete misery, slowly nodded. "It's what you think," she said, tears overflowing.

"That fucking bastard," he said, eyes glittering with rage. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

"Because you'd have killed him."

"I thought you'd have been glad to see him dead, Claire. I thought I had the worst of Jack Rory Kinney. I remember him taking me out into the garage, making me strip down, and then lashing me with that bullwhip he'd gotten from a cousin in Texas. I was surprised that he didn't take away strips of flesh. But I didn't think he was doing bad things to you. I never thought that he was having sex with you."

"He raped me," Claire said. "You weren't the only one hurt by Daddy, Brian. I didn't tell you because I knew that you'd have beaten the shit out of him. And if Mommy had seen you do it, she'd have pressed charges because she was so codependent on him that she couldn't see beyond the bottom of her liquor bottle."

Brian drained the glass of scotch that had mysteriously appeared on the table. The wine steward was remarkably unobtrusive. "Christ, Claire. I don't know what to say."

"Not your fault."

"Why were you such a fucking basket-case at his funeral?"

"Because despite everything I loved him!" she wailed, drawing attention from the next table over. Brian simply glared at the other patron and the man finally dragged his eyes away from them.

"He hurt me and I loved him. You can't understand that, can you?"

Brian laughed, a sound that was more akin to a bark than anything else. "The night of the funeral I wore Dad's Eastway Kings bowling shirt. I had his bowling ball in the back of my jeep. I'd picked up Michael. It must have been forty degrees out and I didn't even feel the cold. I took the bowling ball out and rolled it down the street. When it disappeared out of sight, I said 'so long Jack, you son of a bitch' and then I lost it. Michael had to drag me home, Claire. The only thing I ever wanted from him was approval because I was the child he didn't want. Yeah, I can understand loving the old man despite the pain he caused both of us."

"And I was the child he wanted," she said, miserably. She took another bite of salad and it took effort to swallow. "Brian, I don't have any intention of fucking you over. If John has any hope for survival, it's with you. At least with you, he'll be out from under Mom's thumb. She won't be espousing her Catholic shit at him and making him feel guilty. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I have no intention of playing you for a fool."

She became quiet again as their steaks were placed in front of them. Brian took a deep breath and then said, "If I'd known, things would've been different. I wouldn't have let him hurt you."

"I know, Brian. I believe you. I know you and I won't ever be great friends, won't ever be close like some brothers and sisters, but can we at least stop the cold war between us?"

"Yeah," he said. He scooted his chair back and said, "I'll be right back. Enjoy your steak, Claire."

Brian walked away from the table, tears obscuring his vision. He walked blindly into one of the stalls and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the closed door and felt the tears come, unbidden and unwanted. Why? He asked silently. Why did the children of the Kinneys' deserve this? He'd never dreamed that something so horrific had happened to Claire. It explained a lot and it even explained her resentment of their mother and her frequent pleas for him to take more of a role in their mother's life. He wiped away the tears and then returned to the table.

The steak lay untouched in front of Claire and he said, wryly, "You lose your appetite, big sister?"

"Yeah," she admitted. "You mad?"

"No, I'm not mad. I've kind of lost my appetite, too. Want to get out of here?"

She nodded and Brian caught the waiter's attention. "Two to-go boxes and one slice of your chocolate mousse cake."

She looked at him with a curious expression and he smiled an unforced smile. "I think you need chocolate."

"Thank you," she said, amused despite everything.

He shrugged with an uncomfortable expression on his face and she smiled to see his discomfort. It was a few minutes later when the waiter returned. "Was everything to your liking, sir?"

"Yes, thank you." Brian reached for his wallet and the waiter shook his head. "The owner said your meal is on the house."

Brian gave him an inquisitive look and then handed him a twenty anyway. "Consider it a very grateful tip."

"Yes, sir," the waiter said, as he disappeared to check on another table.

"Quite generous, Brian," she said, as they turned to exit. He held out his arm and Claire glanced down at it incredulously and then took it.

Brian opened the door for her and Claire said nothing, wondering where her brother's sudden solicitousness had come from. Brian was wondering the same thing but he had come to the conclusion that he could no longer hate his sister as much as he hated his mother and father. She'd suffered too and, in some ways, greater than he. Before leaving the parking lot, he flipped through his wallet and pulled out a few bills, putting them in the palm of Claire's hand, and closing her fingers around them. "Brian, why?"

"Because you need it more than I do. Treat yourself to a manicure and a pedicure, Claire."

Recognizing what he was doing and feeling warmer towards him, she took his hand in hers and said, quietly, "You have nothing to atone for, Brian."

"Somehow I think I'll be lighting a candle anyway," he said, wryly.

"I didn't intend to send you back to the church," she said.

"You're not. I never said I'd be going to a church," he said, expression suddenly mischievous.

Claire blushed as the meaning of his words became suddenly clear. "Thank you, Brian. For everything. Dinner and John and letting me talk to you. For the first time, I feel like I actually have a brother."

"I feel like I have a sister for the first time," he admitted.

"Well," she breathed, "I never expected this outcome."

"And you think I did?" he said somewhat sarcastically.

"No, I know you didn't, Brian. I just meant that I'm glad that you and I had a fairly civil dinner."

Realizing that she wasn't trying to needle him for once, Brian calmed down a slight bit. He wanted Justin, he realized. He wanted Justin to hold him and comfort him and make everything all better. Once, he realized, it would have been Michael he'd have turned to, but that ship had passed. "Me too," he said. "Don't use that money to pay bills, Claire. That's not what I intend it for."

Recognizing that he was deadly serious, Claire nodded. "Okay. I'll use it to get some tips and a pedicure. It's been a long time since I've been able to spend money on myself."

"Claire, if you need help, I want you to call me."

"I don't want to impose on you, Brian. You were right when you told me about how much of my medical expenses you've ended up paying for. I have to stand on my own two feet."

"Claire, don't let stubborn Irish pride prevent you from asking me for help, if you really need it."

Brian pulled into her neighborhood and then into her driveway. "I'll bring John by this weekend to pick up some more stuff. I'm not sure when I'll be able to make an offer on the loft but I have a new client and it should grant me some leeway."

She opened her door, both boxes in hand, and looked back at her brother, noticing the regal profile. "Thank you," she said, voice quiet.

"Yeah," he said, brusquely to cover his own emotions. Hell, he thought, as he watched her close the door behind her, taking a moment to pause on the sidewalk and wave to him. He reached for his cell phone and hit the number for Justin's cell. When Justin answered, Brian said, without preamble, "I'm stopping by a store to pick up a new phone. Ask John if he needs anything."

Justin put his hand over the phone and looked at John. "Your uncle wants to know if you need anything."

"Um, another blanket would be good. One of those goose-down things."

Justin grinned at him, knowing full well what the teen was up to. "And some earplugs," he said mischievously.

"You hear that?" Justin asked.

Despite everything, Brian found himself smiling. "Yeah. I'll pick up some DVDs while I'm there."

Recognizing an unfamiliar note in Brian's voice, Justin said, "You okay? You sound funny."

"Long night," Brian said. "I'll tell you when I get home."

"I love you, Brian."

"I know. I love you, too."



Justin set the phone down on the desk and met John's inquisitive eyes. "Everything okay with Brian?"

"I don't know. He sounded funny." He wasn't about to admit to the kid that Brian had told him that he loved him again. And it hadn't seemed to cause him any agitation, either. He was glad that Brian felt that way but something just didn't seem right. He thought he'd known his lover long enough to know when things weren't all right with Brian.

"Brian always sounds funny," John said, ducking as Justin launched a pillow at him, giggling.

At the store, Brian knew the guy in the electronics department was cruising him and felt a familiar tug in his jeans. "I have a key to the supply room," the guy said, intent clear.

"I'm in a relationship."

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him."

"I just want to buy the fucking phone," Brian said. "I don't fuck around on him." He heard the words as if they'd been said by someone else. For a brief instant, he entertained the thought of taking the man up on his offer. Then he thought of the blond waiting for him at home, and the fleeting thought was pushed out of his mind.

"Okay, man. Sorry."

Brian nodded curtly and asked, "So you come on to random guys, often?"

The guy smiled and Brian felt like a piece of meat. It had been a long time since he'd allowed himself to be perused like this, and not felt anything. "Only when they are as smoldering as you. You've got that sense of danger about you. You even smell like pure sex."

Brian stared at him and realized that if Justin wasn't in the picture, he wouldn't have waited or turned him down. He'd have shoved him up against the wall in the supply room, and fucked the shit out of him. Am I getting old? He thought.

"Hey, I won't ask again," he said.

"Eight hours ago, I wouldn't have turned you down," Brian admitted. He picked up the box carrying the phone and then looked back at the guy. "It would've been hot."

He felt the guy's eyes boring into his back as he walked away, shocked that he'd turned down a casual trick. He picked up a few DVDs for John and a couple for him and Justin and went through the express checkout, ignoring the checkout girl's blatant interest in him. He handed her his credit card and waited for her to swipe it. He signed the sales ticket and fairly tore out of the store.

When he reached his car, he realized he was shaking. In no condition to drive, Brian took deep cleansing breaths reaching for his phone as he did so. He pushed a number programmed into speed dial and was relieved to hear Miranda's voice answer. He'd been hoping to get her and not her answering service.

"It's Brian," he choked out.

"Brian," she said. "What's wrong?"

"Think I'm having a panic attack. Got ginger ale in my skull."

"Is Justin with you?"


"Are you driving?"

"No, I'm sitting in a fucking parking lot. I just turned down a casual fuck. I'm having difficulty breathing."

"Tell me where you are," Miranda said, ignoring the baleful look her companion of the evening gave her. He let the sheet slip, revealing his dick which was impressive even while soft. She glared at him and he began to idly stroke it, knowing full well what he was doing to her. She found it difficult to pay attention to Brian and then forced herself to focus on her patient.

Brian gave her the direction. "I'll be there in twenty minutes. Stay calm, Brian."

She hung up the phone and looked at Luis, or at least that's what she thought his name was. "It's been fun, but you've got to get out."

"But we're not finished playing," he protested. "I thought you wanted to play mistress and pool boy."

Despite herself, Miranda found herself smiling. "Leave your number on the table. I need to go see a patient."

"He can't be more important than me, Luis."

"If you ever want to play that game, you'll write down your number and leave," she said, voice growing progressively colder.

Seeing the intent in her eyes, he nodded and slipped out of bed. He donned the jeans, bending down to give her an unobstructed view of his ass and balls. It was a deliberate ploy and one she might have admired were she not so worried about Brian. He pouted and then scribbled his number on the notepad she kept by the bed for just such occasions. She heard the door close behind him and pulled on a t-shirt and jeans and a pair of mules. For once, she wasn't very concerned about her appearance.

It was a little over twenty minutes when Miranda pulled into the parking lot next to Brian's car. She was reminded for a brief moment of the episode of The Sopranos where the psychiatrist had met the troubled mobster for a session in her car. She tapped on Brian's window and saw him jump. He rolled down the window, face pale and eyes dark.

"You look like shit," she observed.

He glared at her and said, "That's just what I needed to hear, Doc."

"Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"I just found out that my dear old man was banging my sister on the nights when he wasn't treating me to the back of his hand."

Miranda blanched. "Jesus, Brian."

"Yeah, you could say that. I told Justin I love him today. I'm seeking partial custody of my son. Michael and I had a huge blowout fight and I think our friendship is over. Oh, and I'm taking care of Claire's son because the priest at their parochial school has been fucking him and making him suck his cock. The younger one is staying with her for the time being but I've got the older one with me." The words came out in a rush and Miranda stared at him.

"Holy shit, Brian."

"And I turned down a casual meaningless fuck because Justin and I are going to try monogamy. He wants me to fuck him raw and, God help me, I want that more than anything."

She stared at him and said, "Open the passenger door."

Brian hit the button to unlock the door and Miranda climbed inside. "I want you to make an appointment for you and John to come in to my office sometime this week."


"Somehow I expected more of a fight from you, Kinney."

"Yeah, well, I don't know who the fuck I am. And somehow I think I've been fighting the wrong people all these years, Miranda. I'm fucking tired. I'm at odds with Lindsay and I made Michael give me back his key."

"That's good," she said.

"I know you've never really liked Michael but he's been there for me."

"Michael never really liked me because I had something he never did."

"You know people keep reminding me of that fact. Justin even suggested we have a foursome so he'd know what it would be like to be with me."

"What did you say?"

"I think it's a crazy idea," he said. "I think it'll be fucking difficult for Justin to watch me and Michael together. He had a hard enough time when I kissed him on the mouth, much less seeing me fucking Michael."

"What do you want, Brian?"

"World peace. An end to a fascist regime."

"Drop the sarcasm, Kinney. I kicked a lover out of my bed tonight to come see you. So answer me: what do you want?"

"I think that fucking Michael even if Justin is there would be the ultimate betrayal of everything we've worked so hard to attain," he said, thinking that it would be difficult for him as well when he'd rather be with Justin. "I think it would jeopardize everything. I offered a long time ago to fuck Michael and was relieved when he turned me down."

"Why were you relieved?"

"Because the tricks don't mean a goddamn thing to me. It's just habit, Miranda. If I had fucked Michael, I would really have been cheating on Justin."

"I thought you didn't care about fidelity."

"The tricks aren't cheating 'because we both do that, Miranda. If I'd slept with Michael, I'd have cheated on Justin and he would walk away from me. I'd end up losing him for good."

"And you don't want that?"

"Absolutely not. I love Justin. I've lost him twice, Doc. I can't do it again. He's like the other part of my heart."

"Well, that's a sentiment I never thought I'd hear you utter."

"Don't patronize me, Miranda. It's taken me four years to tell the kid I love him. Don't disparage me. It's a big fucking deal and I don't want to betray what we have. Besides, I don't think Michael's that good."

"Are you willing to lose Michael as a friend?"

Brian took a deep breath, realizing that the worst of the attack had long since passed. "He forced me to make a choice, Miranda. He lost, and he never thought he'd lose me. He thought it would be 'Brian and Mikey' forever. That we'd end up a couple of old queens in Palm Springs. What he doesn't realize is that he's married now and I'm as good as married. My forever is not him. My future is tied up with that of a certain blond and I'm happy. For the first time in my life, I'm happy."

"You don't seem happy, Brian. You seem resigned to your fate. You turned down a casual trick who you wanted. You've said yourself that Justin accepts your tricking and doesn't consider it cheating. So what stopped you?"

"Monogamy was my idea, Miranda. Justin hasn't brought it up since we reconciled. It hasn't even been on his radar screen. The only rule we stuck to was no names and no numbers received. He didn't even ask me not to kiss anyone else on the lips, and frankly, I wouldn't have minded keeping that one. I'm thirty-three, Miranda, nearly thirty-four. I'm fucking tired of the grind. Frankly, anonymous sex is just too much work and I'm a legend on Liberty Ave. It's hard living up to that reputation especially when it's well known that I'm in a relationship."

"Peter Pan's grown up," she quipped.

"Yeah, I guess so. Then why am I fucking terrified?"

Miranda suppressed a smile. "Because the young blond feels something for you that you never thought possible. He loves you without reservation. He's willing to take you on whatever terms you offer. And you're finding out that coming home to Justin isn't such a bad proposition."

He heaved a heavy sigh and said, "Commitment scares the holy fuck out of me, Miranda. I don't know how to do commitment."

"You'll learn, Brian. That kid loves you and you love him. Just go with it. It'll be a period of adjustment but you'll do fine."

"Why do you have such faith in me?"

She smiled then. "Because, Brian, I remember the kid who came to me scared shitless after realizing that he had gotten hard watching the sweaty boys playing soccer. I remember that scared kid and I see the man you've become. You can do this. You deserve this. You found love, Brian. Don't run away from it."

He sighed again and said, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. I'm serious about you bringing John in for a session and I want to see you and Justin again. You both need to talk to me before you participate in unprotected sex."

"Yeah, Doc," he said. He reached to hug Miranda and felt her whisper, "I love you, Brian. And you deserve to be happy. If Michael can't deal with you being happy, then fuck him."

Brian sat in the car, replaying Miranda's words, before he finally turned the car on. He'd never imagined that his friendship with Michael would come to such an end. Hell, he'd thought that it would be Michael who would finally get fed up with him for not ever offering what he so desperately wanted. He wondered if maybe Justin was right and he should just bite the bullet and offer again. With those thoughts whirling through his mind, Brian thought about the blond waiting at home with his nephew and dismissed them as a bad, very bad idea.

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