Barefoot Blond And Befuddled by Jazzepoet, Tagsit, samcdee
Summary:

Brian and his Barefoot Blond are settled back in Pittsburgh, but their adventures haven’t stopped. What will happen when our favorite barefooted boy gets a little lost? 

***STORY IS NOW COMPLETE***


Categories: QAF US Characters: Brian Kinney, Debbie Novotny, Justin Taylor, Michael Novotny, Original Male Character, Other Cast Regulars, Ted Schmidt
Tags: None
Genres: Alternate Universe, Humor, Romance
Pairings: Brian/Justin
Challenges: None
Series: Barefoot Blond Series
Chapters: 22 Completed: Yes Word count: 87775 Read: 10702 Published: Mar 09, 2020 Updated: Apr 19, 2021
Story Notes:

Part 2 of the Barefoot Blond Series - We recommend you read that story first!

1. Chapter 1 - Double Trouble by Jazzepoet

2. Chapter 2 - 50 First Dates by Jazzepoet

3. Chapter 3 - Random Tropical Paradise by Jazzepoet

4. Chapter 4 - The Mix Up by Jazzepoet

5. Chapter 5 - The Double by Jazzepoet

6. Chapter 6 - Po Pimpin by Jazzepoet

7. Chapter 7 - Take Me Home Tonight by Tagsit

8. Chapter 8 - Adaptation by Jazzepoet

9. Chapter 9 - The Identical by Tagsit

10. Chapter 10 - Another Me by Jazzepoet

11. Chapter 11 - Everybody Has A Plan by Jazzepoet

12. Chapter 12 - The Social Network by Jazzepoet

13. Chapter 13 - Adult Life Skills by Jazzepoet

14. Chapter 14 - Big Business by Jazzepoet

15. Chapter 15 - Old Dogs by Jazzepoet

16. Chapter 16 - The Vanishing Half by Jazzepoet

17. Chapter 17 - The Same But Different by Tagsit

18. Chapter 18 - The Lost Stories by Tagsit

19. Chapter 19 - Stranger With My Face by Jazzepoet

20. Chapter 20 - Among Others by Tagsit

21. Chapter 21 - Untwine by Tagsit

22. Chapter 22 - We’ll Never Be Apart by Tagsit

Chapter 1 - Double Trouble by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

We're Back! J.S.T.



Chapter 1 - Double Trouble.



Justin waited while Brian got out of the Jeep and sauntered around the front of the vehicle, coming up to the passenger side and pulling open the door. The boy was a little reluctant to get out of the car. His boyfriend had talked him into wearing the tight black leather pants and almost see-through, too-small blue shirt that he still had left over from their trip to Portland, but Justin still wasn’t sure about this outfit. He almost felt like he wasn’t wearing a top at all; you could see his chest berries through the shirt! And to make matters worse, Brian had insisted Justin HAD to wear the fancy new boots that he’d given him as a present, despite Justin’s ongoing complaints that even nice, expensive shoes that had their own special name - Prada - hurt his feet. 


“You’re not going to hide in the car all night, are you, Sunshine?” Brian asked teasingly.


“Maybe.”


That caused Brian to laugh. Justin really loved Brian’s laugh. He didn’t think Brian laughed often enough, but when he did - and it was a real, truly happy, laugh - it made his eyes crinkle up with happiness and the sound caused little ripples of happy to squiggle in Justin’s belly too. 


“Come on, you twat. I want to dance,” Brian ordered when it looked like Justin still wasn’t going to leave the safety of the Jeep. 


Justin climbed down out of the vehicle and tried for the hundredth time to pull the too-small shirt further down so his tummy wasn’t peeking out. He wanted to cover himself up with his hands but he knew that Brian would laugh at him again, so he resisted that urge. 


“You look fabulous, Sunshine. Stop fidgeting and let’s go. I’m sure the guys are already inside waiting for us,” Brian directed, pulling Justin along behind him towards the entrance of the dancing place.


Justin knew he shouldn’t be so worried about going out dancing with his boyfriend. He’d had a wonderful time the last time they went out. But this was the first time he’d be going out to Babylon - the dancing place that Brian always went to with his friends - since they got back from their trip and it was also the first time they’d be spending any real time with ‘the guys’, so he was a little nervous. He knew that Brian was looking forward to a little down time after all the work they’d been doing since they got back to Pittsburgh; they’d been so busy that Brian hadn’t had been able to spend hardly any time at all with his friends. But that only meant that the unsure little tyro was even more anxious than ever. He so wanted to make a good impression on ‘the guys’. But that pressure, combined with the uncomfortable and revealing clothing he was wearing, and the fact that this dancing place was loud and packed to the rafters with so many people, made it all a little daunting.


Brian obviously sensed his companion’s hesitation and grabbed Justin’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “You’ll be fine, Sunshine. You’re young, blond, hot, and you’re fresh meat. Hell, these fags are going to eat you up.”


Justin came to an abrupt halt, stumbling over his shoes in the process. No way was he going to go into that place if the people inside were going to try and eat him. That didn’t sound fun at all. 


“What now?” Brian asked, his voice betraying the fact that he was getting a little fed up with all the delays.


“You won’t really let anyone try to eat me, will you, Brian?” Justin asked with a worried frown instead of his usual bright smile. “I don’t want any strange people to bite me. I mean, sometimes when you bite me, like when we’re doing boyfriend things, it’s okay. You don’t usually bite hard or anything, but I don’t think it would be nearly as nice if other people bit me.”


Brian snorted and shook his head. “No, Justin. Nobody’s going to really bite you. It was just an expression - I meant it as a compliment, because you look so good. Good enough to eat.” And Brian emphasized his point by leaning down and taking an experimental nibble at the side of Justin’s neck. 


“See, I like those kinds of bites, Just Brian. But only from you, okay. I don't want anyone else eating me. Okay?”


“Okay, you twat. I promise to defend you from any and all vampires that might be at the club tonight who may want to take a bite out of you,” Brian answered with another little huff of laughter. 


“Vampires?” Justin was alarmed. “That’s not a real thing . . . is it, Brian? You told me that wasn’t a real thing when we watched that scary movie the other night. There aren’t any REAL vampires here, are there? The movie was really scary . . .”


“Stop,” Brian ordered. He’d been trying to slowly drag his ‘date’ from the car towards the entrance to the club, but now he stopped and turned to face Justin directly. “There are no vampires. Nobody is going to try and eat you. And you have to quit taking everything I say so literally, Sunshine.” Justin looked down at his toes bashfully. “Come on, kid. Work with me here, okay? All I want to do is take you out, show you off a little, have a few drinks, and dance. You can do all that, right? You’ve even been here at Babylon before and it wasn’t so bad that first time, was it? You can do this, Sunshine. Now buck up already.”


Justin tried to buck up. He stumbled along beside Brian as they walked down the alley towards the entrance of the dancing place. There were so many people lined up outside the building, it looked like a party. Justin was a little surprised when Brian didn’t lead him over to stand at the back of the long line. Instead, Brian boldly marched right up to the door, ignoring all the cat calls of the men they passed. Justin clung to Brian’s arm, feeling very self-conscious in his revealing clothing.


“Hey. Looks like Kinney’s got some fresh meat . . .” commented one guy who was wearing a pair of assless chaps and a mesh top with the chest area cut out. Justin almost tripped over his new Prada boots as he paused to stare at the man. 


Then another man in the line added, “. . . and he’s a tasty morsel, too. Hey, cutie! You sure you want to waste your time with Kinney? My cock is bigger and I promise to treat you right.”


“Fuck off. He’s not interested,” Brian growled at the men and moved around to Justin’s other side so that he was between his boyfriend and the ravening hordes of horny homos. 


“Come on, Kinney. Don’t be like that. We could at least share, right?” said a third, over-eager jokester.


“My mother always did say it was good to share, Brian,” Justin agreed, eyeing the man with the hairy, bare chest a little warily.


“Take it from me, Justin, this is not the kind of sharing your mother was talking about.” Brian explained.


Brian towed Justin away from the hecklers as fast as his stumbling feet could go. By that point they were already at the foot of the stairs up to the entrance, though, so Justin was distracted from the line of waiting guys. He remembered the huge, bald, mountain of a man that was standing by the front door from his last visit to the dancing place. Brian nodded at this big behemoth without a word. Justin thought that was a little rude. Brian and Mountainous Man seemed to know each other, so it was only polite to say hello, right? Sometimes Justin thought that Brian was a little bit unfriendly to people.


“Hello, Mountainous Man,” Justin took it upon himself to greet the man. “Thank you for letting us come into your dancing place. I really enjoyed myself the last time I was here, even though I was a little bit scared by all the noise and the people. My Brian has been teaching me all about people, though, and he promised that he wouldn’t let anyone here eat me, so I suppose it will be fine. I only want my boyfriend to eat me. We do lots of boyfriend things like that when we’re at home, you know? I’m even getting really good at hand jobs.”


“Uh . . . I bet you are, Sweetness. I bet you are,” Mountainous Man answered, giving Justin a little wink which caused Brian to growl under his breath. 


“Let’s go, Sunshine,” Brian ordered, putting his arm around Justin’s shoulders and possessively steering him away from the now-leering bouncer. “And, please, promise me you won’t be offering anyone here a hand job tonight, Justin. ‘Cause, if you’re not careful, one of these reprobates is gonna take you up on the offer.”


“Well, I do already have a job being an artist for your company, so I probably shouldn’t be doing those other jobs anyway,” Justin readily agreed as Brian paid the door charge for both of them and then towed him into the main room of the dancing place. “Except with you, in our home, of course. I don’t mind doing jobs with you, Just Brian.”


Brian couldn’t help but chuckle at the eager little blond. Justin’s enthusiasm for hand jobs, blow jobs, and any other little jobs Brian might come up with, was phenomenal. He’d been keeping Brian quite busy in the month since they’d come back from their big cross country adventure. Between all the fucking ‘Boyfriend Lessons’ and the towering workload of new ad campaigns they’d had to plow through, Brian had barely had time to take a step out of the loft in all that time. Needless to say, he hadn’t made it to Babylon once since their return. And, even more surprising, Brian hadn’t had the usual urge to go trolling for tricks. In fact, he hadn’t been with anyone other than Justin since before their trip. That was practically a miracle. But, with his insatiable and curious blond on hand all the time, he had felt uncharacteristically content. 


Maybe that was why he was feeling a little unsure about this first foray back into the world of Liberty Avenue’s night scene. He had rather enjoyed playing ‘boyfriends’ with his blond. Now that he was back in his familiar old playground, though, it was going to be hard not to fall back into the same patterns he’d had before Justin came along. The only reason he was here now was because Mikey had been so insistent about meeting up and had been giving him shit about letting his reputation as the Stud of Liberty Avenue be tarnished. Brian had eventually caved into Mikey’s demands but he still didn’t want to let Justin down. Somehow he would have to cope with the competing demands of his friends, his prior reputation, and his brand new relationship, all while fighting off his admiring fans. 


“Oh, look! There’s your tall friend. He’s waving at us,” Justin interrupted Brian’s mental litany of worries, pointing to where Emmett was, indeed, waving at them over the heads of the crowd. 


Brian wove through the mass of half-naked club boys towards where his friends were waiting for them, towing Justin along behind him. They’d barely reached the bar before Emmett was jumping up and down, clapping and glomming all over his blond. 


“BABY! I’m so happy you’re here. We were beginning to think that Brian was going to keep you locked up in the loft forever. I bet you’re glad you finally got cut loose from the Kinney Jail,” the tall Southern Queen exclaimed after kissing Justin’s cheek.


“Oh, no. Just Brian would never keep me locked up. He’s too nice. My mother used to keep me locked up all the time, though, and I didn’t like it one bit. Of course, that was mostly because of the voices, and I know she couldn’t help it, but I still didn’t like it. Brian would never do that to me. He likes to go out of the loft all the time so we can do adventures together. He’s getting pretty good at having fun. I’ve been teaching him,” Justin guilelessly over-explained.


“Okay . . . Well, that’s . . . revealing,” Em replied, looking to his friends for help with this odd conversation, without luck. “But, all I meant was that I was happy you came out tonight. We’ve all been dying to get to know you a little better, Baby.”


“Not to mention that Brian was probably more than ready to get a break from babysitting duty,” Michael added snottily. “It’s about time you got out to have some fun, Brian. You can’t stay holed up in your loft forever. Your public has missed you.”


“We weren’t on babysitting duty tonight,” Justin answered promptly. “We did get to keep Gus overnight last weekend - although Ms. Attorney didn’t seem very happy about it at first - but I think babysitting is fun. We took Gus to the park and then Brian let us eat junk food and we watched Disney movies. Gus wanted to watch a pirate movie too but I talked him into coloring instead. Actually, I wish we could do babysitting duty a lot more often. Gus is so sweet.”


“That’s not the baby I was talking about,” Michael groused under his breath. “Isn’t your blond boy a little young to be in a club like this, Brian? I didn’t think they let in fourteen year olds.”


“Now, Michael. Be nice,” Emmett warned him, which was a good thing because Brian was about to pop his old friend in the mouth if he kept that shit up. “How about this; while you and Brian take a minute to chat and get caught up, I’ll take Baby out on the dance floor. That way you can have Brian to yourself for a couple minutes. What do you say, Baby? Wanna go shake your tail feathers?”


“Well, I DO like to dance, but I don’t really have tail feathers,” Justin started to protest as Em pulled him away. “I can shake the rest of me pretty well, though.”


“Hands above the waist at all times, Honeycutt,” Brian warned with a glower as Emmett’s arm snaked a little too familiarly around the boy’s back. 


“Oooo! Jealous Brian; that’s so cute.”


And then they were gone, disappearing into the heaving mass of mostly-naked men gyrating to the thumpa-thumpa beat. 


“Finally! I thought that little shit was going to hang on you all night,” Mikey commented as soon as Justin was out of sight. “I can’t believe you actually let him move in with you, Brian. He’s totally cramping your style. And all his pretend innocence - how do you stand that? It would drive me nuts.”  


“Well, it’s a good thing you're not the one living with him then, Mikey.” Brian stated. “I, on the other hand, like having Justin around. He’s . . . refreshing.”


“Oh, come on, Brian. You can’t be serious. He’s so needy all the time; hanging on you like a little scaredy cat. Aren’t you tired of taking care of him 24/7? You’ve barely been out at all since you got back from your big trip.”


“I don’t know, Michael,” Ted intervened with his usual dry wit. “If I had a hot little blond with an ass like that around, I wouldn’t need to go out. Ever.”


Brian shot the accountant a warning glare, but Ted only shrugged and lifted his seltzer water in a silent toast to Justin’s admittedly glorious ass.


Michael apparently didn’t agree with the prevailing sentiment, though. “I suppose his ass must be okay - I mean, he’s cute enough, I guess - and if it wasn’t, Brian never would have bothered in the first place. But I’m sure by now you’re just dying to get some fresh meat, right, Bri? Face it, you’re not the kind of guy to limit yourself like that. Not for long, at least. So, who are you looking at for your first conquest of the night?”


Brian just shook his head at the idiocy of his oldest friend and turned his back on the man. Michael just didn’t get it. Brian wasn’t sure he got it all the time either. Whatever this thing was between him and Justin, it was too new and too fragile for him to have fully absorbed it yet. But, truthfully, Brian hadn’t missed the tricking or the club scene. Maybe Ted was right; once you had a hot little blond like Justin, you really didn’t need more. But, whatever the reason, Brian had to admit to himself that he wasn’t the least bit interested in tricking. In fact, all he really wanted at that moment was to go find his blond, dance a little, and enjoy their night out. So, ignoring Michael, Brian waved over the bartender, ordered a soda for his blond and a Beam for himself and then turned to survey the dance floor, hoping to catch a glimpse of his boy. 


Meanwhile, out in the middle of the club, Emmett was explaining his favorite dance move to the little neophyte. “I call it the ‘Praise Jesus’,” Em explained as he raised one arm into the air and waved it around his head while shimmying his hips from side to side. “It’s the only holdover from my days back in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, where I grew up. A move that’s equally acceptable in church and on the dance floor. What more can you ask for?”


Justin tried the new move, but wasn’t really feeling it. He quickly went back to his own, VH1-derived moves, and felt much more comfortable. He really liked the fun music they were playing here at the dancing place tonight. He could feel the pounding beat in his blood. Brian’s Tall Friend was nice, too, even if he did dance funny. Now, if only he didn’t have to wear the annoying shoes that were making his feet feel heavy and awkward. Justin was sure he could dance much better without the Pradas, as pretty as they were. 


So, without further ado, Justin kicked off the boots and really started to kick up his heels. 


“Oh, Sweetie, you’re hilarious!” Emmett crowed as he bent to gather the shoes up before they went missing. “You just be you, though, Baby. And keep on shaking that groove thing of yours. You’ll have all the boys here panting after you in no time.”


“If they’re panting, maybe they need to sit down and take a break from dancing. Once they catch their breath they’ll be able to dance much better, I would think,” Justin surmised innocently, causing Emmett to throw his head back and laugh. 


“Oh, Honey, you’re adorable. You really are. I could just eat you up.”


“Sorry, but Brian promised that he wouldn’t let anyone else eat me. I don’t want to be bitten by anybody but my boyfriend. I trust him not to bite too hard. It’s a boyfriend thing, you know?”


Emmett giggled at this declaration, “Have no fear, Baby. I won’t even take a nibble. I promise. I’ll just save up that little fantasy for later.”


Justin wasn’t sure about that statement. He didn’t think it was right for Brian’s friend to fantasize about biting him. What a strange thing to say, right? But, since the Tall Friend didn’t make any scary moves on him, Justin simply kept dancing. Now that he was unburdened by his shoes, he was really feeling it. He could dance for hours. It felt so freeing. 


“Hey, Todd! How’s tricks?” Emmett greeted someone walking past where he and Justin were dancing a few minutes later. 


“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine,” 


Justin saw Todd walk through an opening with hanging chains, “Doesn’t that hurt?” Justin, who didn’t remember seeing those hanging chains before, asked Emmett.


Emmett let out a soft chuckle while giving Justin an affectionate pat. The boy really was too adorable for words.


“Not in the least Baby, it’s like a door . . . only you don’t need to turn a knob to open it and go through.”


Justin nodded in acceptance of Emmett’s answer and continued to dance the evening away to the thumpa-thumpa of the music Babylon was famous for. After about two songs, though, a big man with no hair on his head and lots of hair on his face and chest danced closer to their spot on the floor and started to put his big meaty hands around the Tall Friend’s waist. Bald-But-Hairy was only wearing leather pants and no shirt, with some strange looking suspender-like straps that not only went over his shoulders, but we’re hooked across his chest with a big silver metal chain. Justin thought the man’s dancing costume was even more revealing than his own skimpy blue shirt. But, considering how hairy his chest was, at least the man probably didn’t feel cold. Justin giggled softly to himself, thinking privately that Bald-But-Hairy’s hairy chest reminded him of Sue Ellen Ewing’s fur coat from the episode of Dallas where they’d all gone skiing. It was THAT hairy.


As Justin watched, Tall Friend pushed his butt back against Bald-But-Hairy’s front parts. Next, the big man reached around and started playing with Tall Friend’s chest berries with one hand, as the other hand snaked down to squeeze Tall Friend's willy. Since Tall Friend didn’t seem to mind, Justin didn’t say anything, but what they were doing looked a lot like what Brian would do to him during their boyfriend lessons. He hadn’t known that Tall Friend had a boyfriend too, although they looked very happy together. Maybe even happy enough to be gay. Justin was very happy for them as well, because everyone deserved a boyfriend; not that any boyfriend could be as good as Brian.


When the music shifted into a new song, Bald-But-Hairy leaned down and whispered something into Tall Friend’s ear. The big southern queen nodded his head and moaned happily. Bald-But-Hairy hooked his finger into the front of Emmett’s pants and started to tug him off the dance floor. 


Tall Friend only paused long enough to turn back and toss Justin’s Pradas back at him with a, “bye Baby! Have fun!”


Justin grabbed the shoes but wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do next. Without Tall Friend there, he felt a little scared. There were lots and lots of men all around him, many of whom weren’t wearing very many clothes at all, and he didn’t know any of them. He quickly looked around, but couldn’t see Brian anywhere and, what with all the bright lights and loud music and too many people, he’d become a little turned around. He didn’t know which way to go in order to get back to where he’d left Brian standing near the bar. Without any other good options, Justin decided to follow along behind Tall Friend and Bald-But-Hairy and ask them for directions back to his Brian.

 

Standing on his tiptoes, Justin could see Tall Friend going through the opening with all the hanging chains over it, so he headed off in that direction as well.

End Notes:

3/9/20 - Yay! We finally got around to that BB sequel you've all be asking for! Go, us! Enjoy! J.S.T. 

If anyone wants to write with us online, you can find the Working Doc for this story at: BBB Working Doc


 

Chapter 2 - 50 First Dates by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Justin's having fun at Babylon and Brian's having fun watching his Sunshine have fun! Enjoy! J.S.T.



Chapter 2 - 50 First Dates.



“So, yeah, ever since we got back from our crazy cross-country trip, Kinnetik has had more business than we know what to do with,” Brian bragged as he nursed his Beam. “It’s been fucking great. Who knew RV folks were such great marketing leads?” He laughed and shook his head. “Definitely not me. But if I ever need to drum up business again, I’m not gonna bother going to a convention or trade show, I’ll just load Justin into the fucking RV and hit the road for a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a whole new portfolio of clients by the time we get home.”


“That’s great, Bri,” Michael replied as he sipped at his own beer. “Seriously, though, I’m just glad you’re back. You have no idea how freaked out we all were when you disappeared like that. And then, when the cops started asking around about you, saying you’d helped a dangerous psychopath escape from a mental hospital and all, I almost lost it.”


That got Brian to laughing because he just couldn’t see Justin as a ‘dangerous’ anything. “Yeah, well, don’t believe everything you hear, Mikey.”


“Well, now that you’re home, I hope your workload finally lets up enough so you can get back to your life,” Michael insisted, adding a raised beer to toast his friend’s return. “So, what’s it going to be? Getting your cock sucked in the backroom? Orgy at the baths? Or maybe another threesome at the loft?” 


“Mikey . . .” 


Brian growled quietly into his highball glass. He had realized he was going to have to set his friend straight on this point eventually - Michael had been making similar comments about Justin from the first day he and the blond had met - but he’d hoped to put it off for at least a little longer. Michael just wouldn’t let it go, though. He was like a dog worrying at a particularly juicy bone. And, even though a crowded and noisy club really wasn’t the best place to have this discussion, Brian knew he had to clear this up before Michael’s comments hurt Justin. 


Brian upended his drink, set the glass aside, and turned to confront his friend. “Listen, Mikey; are you listening?” he started, immediately gaining his friend’s attention.


“Yeah, I’m listening,” Michael responded.


“You need to back off with all this crap about Justin, okay?” Brian began with a determined frown. “Justin’s NOT going away any time soon.” Michael looked like he was about to interrupt, so Brian held his hand up in a ‘stop’ gesture. “I’m serious, Mikey. Justin’s different. I . . . I want him with me. I care about him. I don’t know why, or even how it happened, but . . .” In his mind he saw a flash of the youth’s bright, happy, sunshiny smile, and couldn’t stop the echoing smile that erupted on his own face. “He just makes me so fucking happy, Mikey.” Brian looked up again, noting Michael’s very confused face. “He’s the most genuine thing I’ve ever had in my life, so I’m going to do my best not to screw this up, and you’re going to help me by not ragging on the kid all the time. Got it?”


“So, what? You’re going to change your whole life for this kid?” Michael just had to argue, because . . . Michael.


“No. I’m not changing my whole life, Mikey,” Brian was quick to correct him. “But I’m not going to fuck a string of random losers just to prove a point or shove my old reputation in the kid’s face either. Quit trying to pimp me out just so you can get your vicarious jollies.”


“Shit, Brian, that sure as fuck sounds like you’re changing your whole life,” Michael groused, looking at his best friend as if he didn’t recognize him. “But, whatever. I’m not sure a piece of blond boy ass is worth all this crap - no matter how much money the kid has - but I guess . . .”


Brian was about to go off on Michael when, thankfully, the conversation was interrupted at that point by a big leather-wearing bear. “Hey, Kinney. That twink you came in with tonight is about to get himself in trouble in the backroom.”


“What the fuck?” Brian pushed past Michael so he could question the Bad News Bear. “He was supposed to be dancing with Emmett.”


Bad News was chuckling to himself and shaking his head. “Not anymore . . . Last I saw, the kid was being pulled off to the side by his belt buckle by some bear looking for a new cub. Not sure why he kept babbling about how nobody was allowed to eat him, though. He’s a real gas, that one.”


“Shit. I’ll be right back, Mikey,” Brian commented as he raced off to save his Sunshine. 



Tristan had been about to make a try for the tall, auburn-haired stud at the bar when some stupid fucking bear came up and said something that had the guy running off like his hair was on fire. 


Tristan cursed under his breath. He’d been counting on that mark for the night’s take. Hugo was going to skin him alive if he came back to the hotel without some serious cash in hand. And word on the street said that this Kinney guy was a relatively easy pick up, provided you got him drunk or high enough first. Unfortunately, so far that evening, Kinney had been staying away from drugs altogether and only nursing along the one drink. Tristan was going to have to rethink his plans if things didn’t change soon.


Tristan pulled the last ten bucks he had out of his jeans’ pocket and waved down the bartender to order a beer. With bottle in hand, he turned back to survey the action going on around him in the club, trying to scope out a new mark. He spotted one slightly older guy, not bad looking, and wearing what looked like a fancy gold watch on his wrist. The man had an air of just barely muted desperation to him. Yeah, he should be easy, thought the young hustler. 


“Justin? I thought Brian was looking for you in the back room,” said the short brunet who had been speaking with Kinney earlier as he put an arm around Tristan’s shoulders.


“Hey, buddy. Hands off the merchandise,” Tristan shrugged away from the overly familiar touch. “Unless you’re paying, that is . . .”


“What the fuck?” The brunet pulled back so he could get a better look at Tristan, which wasn’t easy in the darkness of the club with only the flashing strobe lights to illuminate the scene. “Justin? Is that you?”


“For the right price, I’d be happy  to be your Justin, Mister,” Tristan offered with his best simpering smile. “I’ll be anyone you want.”


“Oh, shit!” The brunet backed off, hands held up in a gesture of surrender. “Sorry. I guess I mistook you for somebody else.”


“No problem. But if you change your mind, I’ll be around,” Tristan replied with a suggestive wink. 


Just then they were interrupted by the arrival of a tall swish of dirty blond with a huge gap-toothed smile. “Michael! Oh my word, Michael, you’ll never believe what Brian’s little boy toy did!” 


“He’s in the back room; I heard,” the one named Michael responded with a shake of his head. “Wayne Jenkins came and got Brian a couple minutes ago to go rescue him.” 


“That boy is hilarious,” the taller man was still laughing as he related the story. “Apparently, he followed me into the backroom - I got pulled away from dancing by this huge hunk of hairiness that was just all kinds of Dom yummy, you know - but, anyways, the next thing I know, I look up from where I’m getting pummeled into the wall by my new acquaintance, and there’s Baby, sitting on one of the couches, critiquing the technique of a three-way. Seems he didn’t think the one on his knees had very good blow job skills, and was offering advice. Todd Peters, who was the one on the receiving end, started laughing so hard at everything Justin was saying he completely lost his hard on. The guy on his knees got so embarrassed that he turned beet red and ran off. And then some big old bear came up, saying that if Justin was so knowledgeable, it was time to prove his expertise with a live demonstration.”


“You stopped him, right?” interjected the desperate-looking mark Tristan had been eyeing earlier. “That poor kid doesn't know what he’s getting himself into. I’m pretty sure Brian would blow a gasket if anyone laid a hand on Justin. I’ve never seen him act so protective.”


“I know, right? Who knew the secret to winning The Stud’s heart was a cute, naive, little blond?” tall and swishy commented.


Tristan’s brunet friend huffed an unamused laugh and shook his head. “Personally, I just don’t get it. I mean, the kid isn’t even Brian’s type. Brian never goes for chicken. Or blonds for that matter.”


“I don’t know. I always thought Brian was the equal-opportunity-fuck kind of guy,” Mr. Desperation said with a snicker. 


“Maybe, but he usually likes them to at least be legal,” Michael insisted. 


“Oh, come on, Michael. Don’t get all catty on us. Baby’s not that young. Plus, he’s a total sweetie,” Swishy argued.


“And it doesn’t hurt that the ‘kid’ - as you call him - is loaded,” Mr. Desperation replied, causing Tristan to pay even more attention to the conversation. “If it hadn’t been for Justin’s inheritance, Brian’s business might have tanked. And now look at him. From what Brian was saying earlier, Kinnetik has never been more profitable.”


“We should all be so lucky as to find an adorable twinkie lover that dotes on us and comes with millions of dollars in disposable income,” Swishy added with a dismissive laugh. 


“That’s the only reason I can think of that Brian’s still with him,” Michael posited with a scowl. “I don’t care what he says; I still think, if it weren’t for the twink’s money, Brian probably would have already kicked the kid to the curb and moved on to the next available fuck. I mean, it’s not like blond twinks are hard to find or anything. Hell, right before you came over here, Em, I saw another kid who could have been Justin’s lost twin. For about half a second, I even thought it was Justin.”


“Ooo! Baby has a secret twin? That’s so romantic!” Swishy gushed.


“It’s true. Except for the blue hair and the attitude, this guy could have been Brian’s twink’s double,” Michael maintained.


“Does he come with a million dollar bank account too?” Mr. Desperation asked. “If so, sign me up. I’m one hundred percent in favor of rich, hot, twinkie boyfriends.”


Tristan’s ears were burning by that point, but to his disappointment, the discussion of his supposed ‘twin’ was cut short by the arrival of the twink in question. 


“Don’t be angry, Just Brian,” the little blond Kinney was dragging along by the hand was saying. “I tried to tell Mr. Leather Man that I wasn’t a ‘bear cub’ - I’m a person, not an animal - but he just kept laughing at me. And when I refused to let him do any boyfriend things to me, he got a little angry. Why was that? He’s not my boyfriend; he should have known better. But he didn’t listen to me at all. Not even when I told him you promised nobody would eat me except for you, Brian.”


“Justin . . .” Kinney chuckled, setting Justin’s abandoned boots on the nearby bar and towing the little blond around to stand in front of him in the protection of his encircling arms. “You have to be more careful, Sunshine. You can’t go off with just anyone.”


“I didn’t go off with Mr. Leather Man, Brian. He went off with me. I was just following your Tall Friend because I didn’t know how to find you and then, all of a sudden, I found myself in that dark room where all the men are naked and doing all those . . . things . . . to each other’s willies.” The blond kid sounded a bit scandalized, which caused Tristan to laugh - who was this rube? “I didn’t really understand that room when I was there the one time before our trip, Just Brian, but now I know more about what they’re doing because of all our Boyfriend Lessons. Only, I think some of them were doing it wrong. I tried to explain to the one guy about how you showed me to cover my teeth. He didn’t seem happy about the advice though. He kinda yelled at me. And then that Mr. Leather Man came up and tried to take me away, and I got a little scared, but, thankfully, you came and saved me again, so I’m better now.”


“We’ve talked about this, Sunshine,” Kinney replied, giving the kid he was holding a squeeze. “You can’t just talk to everybody you meet. Remember what I told you? Not everyone is nice.”


“I remember. Some people don’t like us to be happy. Like that nasty Cletus and his brother Buster.” The kid turned to address the rest of his comments to Kinney’s friends. “When we were in Wyoming these mean guys caught me and Brian being happy and got really upset about it. They were going to hurt Brian, but luckily my friend, Mama Skunk, sprayed them with stink and they both fell over and knocked themselves out so Brian and I could get away. But I don’t have a skunk friend here, so I guess Brian is right and I probably should be a little more careful.” Then he turned back to Kinney and asked. “Just Brian, why did that Mr. Leather Man think I was a bear cub? There aren’t any baby bears here in the club, are there?” He looked around himself as if he wouldn’t be surprised to find a real bear nearby and Tristan had to laugh into his beer so as to not draw attention to himself. “If there was a baby bear somewhere here, though, he probably shouldn’t be playing with it, because I saw on television once how Mama Bears get really angry when you come near their cubs. Doesn’t he know about Mama Bears, Just Brian?”


‘This guy can’t be for real, can he?’ Tristan thought to himself. ‘Nobody’s THAT clueless.’


“Oooo! Can I explain it to him, Brian? Please. Please, please, please . . .” Swishy was so excited he was jumping up and down and spilling his cosmo on Mr. Desperation.


“No, Emmy Lou,” Kinney immediately shut that suggestion down. “Justin doesn’t need to hear one of your Southern fairy tale explanations.”


“A fairy tale?” The blond kid perked up at that. “I love fairy tales. Ooooo! Is that what Mr. Leather Man meant about the bear cub? Was he talking about a fairy tale like Goldilocks And The Three Bears? Like Baby Bear, whose bed is just right? But what does that have to do with the naked men in the dark room over there . . .”


All three of Kinney’s friends got a good laugh out of that nonsense, especially Mr. Desperation, who elaborated on the theme by adding, “well, you see, in this version, you would be Goldilocks and the three bears would tie you up in their man cave and eat you alive . . .”


“Enough, Theodore!” Kinney ordered before turning to reassure his shocked-looking blond boy. “Don’t listen to these idiots, Sunshine. Ted’s just teasing. Nobody’s going to tie you up. I promise. And I’ll explain it all later.” 


That, and a sappy kiss to the younger man’s cheek, seemed to comfort the blond kid. Kinney, meanwhile, was busy glowering at all his friends, like it was their fault the kid was so slow. Tristan didn’t know what to think about all of it. What was with that kid? Nobody was THAT extra, were they? Was he mentally challenged? Or was it just an act? 


While the whole three bears story was unfolding, Tristan had managed to work his way down the bar so he was standing just behind the little knot of friends. Looking over the shoulder of the one named Michael, Tristan was able to finally get a better look at the young blond at the center of the group. He was surprised to see that it was true; he and the clueless kid really did look a lot alike. That was kinda weird, huh? Except for the fact that this kid’s hair was shorter - without the sparkly blue gel in it that Tristan had used that evening - and his clothing was much nicer, he and Tristan could be brothers. What the fuck was going on here?


“Oooo! Look, Just Brian, it’s one of the Underwear Dancers,” the kid, Justin, squealed with glee a minute later, pointing to the go-go dancer who was slowly making his way down the bar, stepping daintily around the various drinks sitting on the bar top. “Can I have some money to give him? I had so much fun the last time I was here when I got to dance with the other Underwear Dancers up there. I still don’t know why the people want to stuff money down their pants though. If they like the boys’ dancing, couldn’t they just hand them the money? If they put the money in their briefs it’ll get all yucky and they’ll have to wash it and . . .”


To cut him off, Kinney pulled out his wallet and handed the kid a whole wad of money. “Here, Sunshine. Have fun.”


“Oh, thank you, Brian,” Tristan’s doppelgänger beamed up at the older man, exchanging the money for a kiss, before he trotted off down the bar to talk to the go-go dancer. 


“What’s he doing now?” the one known as Michael asked a minute later as the little tryo climbed up on the bar, talking earnestly to the dancer there.


“Isn’t it obvious?” Kinney replied with a doting look aimed at his little boy toy. “He’s explaining to the go-go dancer how unhygienic it is to put money in your thong.”


“You do know that kid is nuts,” Mr Desperate pointed out.


“Nah. He’s perfectly sane; if anything, he’s saner than me. And probably smarter too.” Kinney was grinning at the little blond’s antics like a total sap. “I mean, at first even I thought that maybe there was something kinda off about him, but it turns out that’s just because of how sheltered Justin was growing up. That, and the fact that his mother did a number on his head. But, then again, who’s mother didn’t fuck them up, right?” Kinney waved the bartender over and ordered another drink for himself before picking up the still unopened soda waiting on the bar next to Michael. “No, Sunshine just looks at the world a different way than the rest of us jaded souls, is all,” Kinney continued. “Frankly, I find it refreshing.” Tristan was amazed to see the guy everyone called ‘The Stud of Liberty Avenue’ acting like a love-struck fool - it went against everything he’d ever heard about Kinney’s heartlessness. “And, if nothing else, he keeps me on my toes.”


“Well, well, well,” Swishy declared with a wink to his friends. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say our fearless leader has finally been bitten by a big old love bug.”


Kinney laughed as he started to walk towards the end of the bar where his boy was now dancing up a storm. Tristan didn’t think he was the only one who noticed that Kinney hadn’t even tried to deny Swishy’s accusation. That was something to think about. Kinney in love? Hmmm. 


Unfortunately, that meant Tristan wouldn’t be able to make his nightly take by luring The Stud into paying for a night of professional pleasure. Too bad. Word on the street had it that Kinney was not only a good tipper, but also a pretty good lay. Now Tristan would have to find another John for the night. 


Oh, well. Work called. Another night, another fuck. Or at least there better be a fuck soon, or Hugo would have his balls.

 

Tristan decided it was time to move on, but he couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder at the laughing blond dancing on the bar and smiling artlessly down at a grinning and obviously dick-whipped Kinney. 

End Notes:

3/11/20 - This is going to be a really fun story... J.S.T.

Chapter 3 - Random Tropical Paradise by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Justin show off his new advertising skills... Sorta. LOL. Enjoy! J.S.T.



Chapter 3 - Random Tropical Paradise.



Brian’s eyes began to flutter open. It took him a minute to figure out what had awakened him, but the giggling coming from the lump crawling around under the covers of the bed eventually explained things. The giggling was followed by a series of nibbling kisses that crept up Brian’s leg, starting at around his calf, tickling up his thigh, and then hovering somewhere over his left hip. That was followed by another spate of giggles - a liquid, uninhibited, and utterly joyful noise that did more to rouse Brian’s interest than the ticklish kissing - before the lips doing all that kissing and giggling moved over to meet Brian’s suddenly interested dick. The giggling suddenly stopped right when his cock was enveloped in a wet and welcoming warmth. 


“Ahhhhhh!” Brian sighed happily.


Brian had to say, based on the advanced techniques the bed lump was employing, his boy certainly was getting good at all sorts of boyfriend-related ‘jobs’. Brian silently congratulated himself on his training regimen. Or maybe Justin was simply a natural; with lips like those, it was a given he’d be able to master the fundamentals of a blow job without any real difficulty, right? 


All Brian could say, though, was a garbled, “Gahhhhh!” as the talented little tyro quickly sucked and licked him past the point of no return.


When a blond head turtled its way up from under the duvet a second later, wearing nothing but an incandescent ear-to-ear smile, Brian couldn’t resist pulling the nubile warm body up so he could kiss the living shit out of the smile’s owner. 


“Good morning, Sunshine!” Brian said, and then began to devour those happy lips with kisses of his own.


When he finally let his boy up for a breath, Justin was still smiling, but now his lips were an even more pronounced cherry-red and the sight made Brian’s cock perk up all over again. 


“Good morning, my Brian,” Justin burbled with happy innocence. 


“You do know that you’re too fucking adorable for words, right?” Brian admitted before he realized he’d lost control of his sentimentality and probably blown his ‘Stud Quotient’ for the entire year. 


Justin merely giggled again in response, his blue eyes sparkling with so much love and devotion that Brian felt like he couldn’t breathe.


“Fuck, Sunshine. You know I’m completely unable to resist when you look at me like that. Shit! I’m turning into a fucking lesbian as I speak. Is my dick even still there?” Brian’s left hand snaked down under the covers to make sure the appendage in question was actually still attached, even as his other arm squeezed the boy who had engendered all those ridiculously sappy feelings closer to his side. 


“Oh, I’m pretty sure it’s still there,” Justin was quick to reassure him, adding in yet another giggle and making Brian’s dick twitch enough that he knew the assertion had to be true. “At least it was a minute ago, and I promise I didn’t eat it, even though I am kinda hungry for breakfast.”


“You mean that Brian Smoothie you just consumed wasn’t enough to satisfy you, Brat?” Brian teased.


“What’s a ‘smoothie’?” Justin asked, his brow crinkling up with confusion. “You don’t mean your stones, do you? Because they are really smooth after we went to your groomer person last week. I’d never had my private bits waxed before, and it was sorta painful, but you were right that it feels so nice to be all clean and soft and smooth down there. You know, I’d never even imagined people did that kind of thing before. I don’t think my mother would have approved . . .” 

 

“Remember . . . we agreed not to worry about what your mother would have thought?” Brian counselled with a chuckle over the kid’s irrelevant concerns. 


“Right. Because my mother didn’t know . . . *shit*” Justin replied, whispering the final word as if his deceased mother might hear him cursing.


“Exactly!” Brian readily agreed with the boy, adding in a kiss to those bee-stung lips to show his overwhelming approval. “But that’s not what I meant by a ‘Smoothie’,” Brian laughed. “I meant that you should be less hungry after that high protein snack you just had from the blow job. That should have at least taken the edge off the bottomless pit you call a stomach.”


“Oh . . . That.” Justin beamed at him with a smile that was so sweet and happy - and a little bit embarrassed - that it literally warmed Brian from the inside. “Well, yeah . . . That WAS pretty yummy. But I think I’m still hungry. You know that your cream isn’t all that filling right? Because I can eat a LOT more than what your willy shoots out in one go. You know that, right?”


Brian laughed out loud because the kid was so obviously concerned about whether or not he knew how filling his jizz was. “Damn it, Sunshine. You’re so fucking sweet I want to eat YOU up.”


Justin giggled again, so Brian was left with no alternative but to bite him on his imminently biteable neck, which just raised more giggles, and from there the whole scene devolved into untold debauchery for about the next hour or so, until they were both finally sated and Justin was too tired to tempt Brian with more giggles.


“Damn it. Look what you did,” Brian growled, pretending to be angry as he pointed to the clock. “Now we’re late to work again, Sunshine.”


Justin wrinkled up his nose and shrugged. “I can’t help the fact that your willy does those *THINGS* all the time, Brian. It’s, like, a force of nature; you can’t stop it when it wants to do what it wants to do.”


Brian was swept away by yet another wave of adorableness, damn the boy. He was way too distracting. Didn’t he know that it was unnatural for anyone to be that fucking tempting? 


Just then Brian’s phone pinged, reminding him that he couldn’t stay in bed all day, no matter how tempting his blond was. He grabbed the device off the nightstand and grumbled at the inevitable message from Cynthia letting him know he had a new appointment on his schedule for that afternoon. It was past time to get moving if he hoped to try and stay ahead of all the business that seemed to be pouring in these days. Not that he was complaining about that circumstance, though. The money was also starting to flow in and that was making Brian a very happy guy. At this rate, he’d be able to pay back the money they’d taken out of Justin‘s trust to keep the business afloat sooner than expected. Hopefully, within the next 90 days.


“Come on, you,” Brian announced with a smack to the distracting blond’s rear, earning him a little welp. “I’ve got another new client meeting this afternoon to prep for and you’ve got shit to draw.”


That got the boy grinning even more brightly than before - if that were possible - as Justin began thinking through all the fun projects he had waiting for him at the office. In all the years he’d been virtually held hostage by his mother, he’d never even imagined a life where he got to draw and paint and color as a means of employment. It was almost too fun to be considered work. And the fact that his efforts helped out Brian’s company made him enjoy it even more. Everything had turned out so perfect, he felt like he was living in a dream.


To test that it was real, Justin reached down, pinched his thigh, and gave the flesh a sharp twist. “Ow!” he yelped in response.


“What?” Brian asked with concern.


“Just making sure that I was really awake and that all this happy wasn’t only in my imagination,” Justin explained with a slightly embarrassed grin.


Brian tilted his head to the side, thought about it for half a second, and then pinched his own thigh as well. “Ouch!” he echoed his blond’s earlier sentiment. “Nope. Looks like we’re both awake and not dreaming. I guess we’ll just have to accept the fact that happy is our new normal.”


“I like you happy, Brian. You’re getting really good at it too.” A rumble from Justin’s stomach interrupted all the discussion about being happy right about then. “But, can we stop with the happy for long enough to have breakfast now, cuz I’m really hungry, even after playing with your smoothies.”


“Yes, you bottomless pit, you can go have breakfast now. But hurry. We’re leaving for work in twenty minutes whether or not your stomach agrees,” Brian warned, heading towards the coffee maker for his own morning pick-me-up.


It actually took them more than thirty minutes to get out of the house, on account of yet another irresistible encounter in the shower, not that Brian was objecting. They eventually made it to work just after 9:30. Justin gave Brian one last kiss as the elevator doors split open before they went their separate ways. Kinnetik was still using the temporary office suite facilities that they’d been in since before Brian and Justin‘s trip, but hopefully, if all went well, they’d be moving into a real office within the next month. In the meantime, though, they at least had a space in which to work, meet with clients, and receive mail. However, considering how much new business was flooding in, it was clear they were going to need a lot more staff and a lot more space really soon. Brian hoped that Cynthia had found some better office space prospects for him to look at that afternoon; the graphic designer he’d hired to help Justin was starting the following week and he had no idea where they were going to put him.


“Morning, Boss!” Ted was there to greet them the second they walked off the elevator. “Morning, Justin. Don’t you two look happy today!”


“That’s because my Brian let me play with his ‘smoothies’ first thing this morning, Mr. Money Man,” Justin overshared with a disconcertingly huge grin on his face. 


Ted had the good grace to blush at the blond’s unrepentant admission.


“Um . . . Uh . . . Okay. Good to know,” Ted responded.


“Go draw something and stop embarrassing our brand new CFO, Twat,” Brian ordered, raising his hand to point down the hallway towards the office that Justin had been using as a makeshift studio.


Justin waved and then skipped off down the hallway, his bare feet skimming along the carpet, humming the tune from the song that had been playing in the car on the way over. Brian caught himself smiling like a love sick fool after the retreating blond. He immediately wiped the silly grin off his face before turning to address his new employee. Ted hadn’t been quite as quick at blanking out his expression, though, meaning that Brian registered the lustful look his CFO was directing after the retreating artist.


“Stuff your eyes back in your head, Theodore. That blond is already taken. You’ll have to go find your own.”


“Right. Sorry,” Ted was quick to respond.


“Did you have something to say to me, Theodore, or did you just come to greet me at the elevators because you have a crush on our resident artist?” Brian couldn’t help poking at the poor man.


“Oh, yeah . . . So, I’ve got those budget forecasting numbers you wanted for the Zoobabies account . . .” Ted replied, switching easily into business mode as he rattled off figures and projections and numbers with his computer-like brain going at light speed.


Brian listened without comment as they walked together down the hallway towards the office he’d been using as his own. He mentally congratulated himself yet again for hiring his old friend as the CFO for the business. Ted might have gotten royally screwed up by his foray into addiction, but he was also a brilliant accountant. And, as long as he stayed clean, Brian was happy to help him out while taking advantage of Ted’s formidable skill set. Besides, the money thing was never one of Brian’s favorite parts of running a business anyway, and he was more than happy to let someone else have that mundane task while he did what he was best at - selling ideas to people. 


“. . . I think it makes perfect financial sense, provided you can get that discount you proposed for the airtime,” Ted rambled to a finish.


“Not a problem. I’ve got contacts in the area from back in my Ryder days,” Brian reassured him. “Alan will be happy to give us a deal on the media buy if we can guarantee him a certain percentage of prime time purchases.”


“Alan, huh?” Ted teased with a chuckle. “Just what sort of ‘contact’ is this Alan guy, Brian? The kind where all your negotiations happen on a hotel room mattress? And what does Justin think of those kinds of contacts?”


Ted’s comment rankled. Okay, so yeah, he HAD fucked Alan that one time back when he’d been trying to land the Bswift account for Marty Ryder. And maybe that had something to do with the great deal Alan had offered on the media buy for their campaign. But that had been a long time ago. Things were different now. That had been back when Brian was just trying to get a foothold in the industry and he’d been willing to use whatever it took to get ahead. Now that he had his own agency, he shouldn’t have to do that kind of shit anymore. It didn’t have anything to do with Justin, either. Not really. It was just that Brian didn’t want to have to fuck his way up the business ladder anymore. That kind of crap was beneath him. 


At least that was what Brian was telling himself.


“I’m pretty sure that speculating on your boss’ sex life isn’t one of the bullet points in your job description,” Brian countered as snarkily as he could, trying to distract from a topic he didn’t want to examine too closely just then. 


“Right. Sorry, Boss,” Ted immediately relented, taking a step back and holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “So I’ll just go back to my office and . . . do something CFO-like.”


“Good call.” Brian gave him a weak smile of dismissal and then turned to greet Cynthia. “Morning, Ms. Switzer. So, how many new appointments did you put on my calendar between your earlier phone call and now?”


“Only two more,” Cynthia admitted with a brash and unapologetic smile. “But this is actually more important.” 


She handed him a phone message slip bearing a name he didn’t recognize and a phone number with a Chicago area code. 


“Who the fuck is Barry Brownwell?” Brian asked disdainfully.


“Barry Brownwell is the guy who took over the ClearOutdoors Media account for southern Illinois. He’s the guy you’ll have to work with to get the airtime for Zoobabies set up.”


“What happened to Alan Pyong?”


“Apparently Alan was transferred to the Missouri branch last year. This Barry guy took over. And, I’m afraid, he doesn’t seem like he’ll be quite as . . . accommodating . . . as Alan was, if you catch my drift,” Cynthia added with a wink. 


“A breeder?” Brian surmised.


“Afraid so. And, judging by the way he repeatedly called me ‘Honey’ when we were talking on the phone, a misogynistic breeder at that,” she added with a shake of her head. “I’m going to let you take over with him because if he makes even one more off-color comment to me, I’m going to rip him a new one through the fucking phone lines . . . which would not only be unprofessional, but would probably tank your media buy. So, from here on out, Barry is all yours, Brian. Have fun.”


Brian grumbled under his breath but didn’t bother to argue the point. Cynthia was way too valuable to him, and he didn’t pay her nearly enough, to force her to deal with sexist assholes. Nope. As the boss, that was his job. Unfortunately. It was a shame about Alan though. Not that he’d planned to fuck him again, but at least Alan was someone Brian knew he could work with. This Barry guy . . . Well, Brian would figure out some way to win the guy over. He had to.


Before he could retreat into his office to cogitate on the problem, however, Cynthia stopped him and offloaded a stack of mail, three more phone message slips, and a preliminary mock up board into Brian’s arms. 


“Oh, before I forget, I arranged for a car service for Justin starting tomorrow. The driver comes highly recommended by an old college friend of mine. Simon will pick Justin up here, take him to his graphic arts class at Allegheny Community College, and then wait to take him home. That way you won’t be disappearing on me every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to ferry him around . . . Inevitably not making it back to the office afterwards when ‘something’ comes up.”


“Party pooper,” Brian frowned at his assistant.


“Sorry, but I’ve been your assistant for long enough to know that you can’t be trusted, Brian,” Cynthia laughed at the pouting man. “Especially not around a temptation like Justin. If I let you two out of the office together, we’ll never get through all of the work that’s piling up around here. Trust me; this is a better alternative and it means I won’t have to be constantly tracking you down and threatening your manhood to get you back in the office.”


“You leave my manhood out of this,” Brian warned, softening the admonition with a hint of a smile. “Fine. Whatever. Car service it is, I guess. At least until I can talk him into learning to drive himself.” He started to turn away again, only to remember one last item he needed to discuss with his assistant. “Oh, can you also order Justin a phone? If he’s going to be traipsing all over the city on his own, I’d better have a way to find him.”


“No problem, Boss. I’ll pick one up for him this afternoon.”


With that problem being seen to for him, Brian was finally able to escape into his office and start digging through the pile of work that Cynthia had amassed for him. A task that took him well past the lunch hour. Damn, there was a lot of stuff in that fucking pile. Why had he wanted to be his own boss again? 


He might have gone on working indefinitely if his concentration hadn’t eventually been interrupted by a cheerful knocking on his door, followed a second later by a cheerful, smiling, blond artist barging in uninvited.


“NOW I know what you meant by ‘smoothies’, Just Brian!” Justin burbled happily as he plopped down a large paper cup in the middle of the blotter, making himself at home in Brian’s lap at the same time, and taking a huge slurp out of the second cup he held in his own hand. “They’re delicious! I never had anything like this before. Here, try it!” Justin held his cup up to Brian’s mouth, almost forcing the straw between his lips, waiting till Brian took a sip. “This one is watermelon, cucumber and lime - can you imagine that? Who puts cucumbers in a drink? - and it’s called Summer Juice. Isn’t that amazing? I love Summer Juice.” The boy took another big sip and smiled at Brian with a little dribble of the red liquid running down from the corner of his ruby-red lips. “I got you the Acai Berry Boost - it’s really spicy but good too - because Cynthia said you could use something to energize you after how much work she’d made you do today. It’s got all sorts of yummy things in it like bananas and berries and . . . Here, try it!”



Justin picked up the second cup and shoved it into Brian’s hands. Brian had to grab it or it would have spilled all over his shirt. With the boy waiting and watching his every move, Brian obediently took a sip. And, to his surprise, it was actually quite good. He usually wasn’t a huge fan of sweet drinks; the closest he ever came to drinking a smoothie were the protein shakes he made for himself before a workout, but this was remarkably good. It was sweet but not at all cloying. Brian looked at the logo on the side of the cup to see where it came from.


“Tropical Smoothie Cafe?” he read the name. “Where’d you get this, Sunshine?”


“Cynthia got them for us. I was apologizing to her for making us late this morning because of playing with your smoothies and then she started explaining what a real smoothie was - not that YOUR smoothies aren’t real, Brian, because I love your smoothies - but when she finally stopped laughing, she offered to explain and then she went out and bought these for us along with lunch. Oh, wait, I forgot the lunch.” Justin popped up off Brian’s lap and trotted out of the office, coming back ten seconds later with a paper take-out bag. “Here. Cynthia said the Thai Chicken Bowl is yours and the Chicken Bacon Ranch sandwich is mine. Yum!”


Before Brian knew what hit him, he found himself being led over to the couch where the boy began laying out lunch on the coffee table. He didn’t know when he’d become the kind of person to take an actual lunch break, but there you had it; Justin could make him do pretty much anything. And he had to admit that the food was almost as good as the damn smoothies. 


“You know,” Justin commented a few minutes later, once he’d finished inhaling the flatbread sandwich he’d been slavering over. “These smoothies and this food is really good, but that picture - the logo? That’s the right word, isn’t it? - that logo on the packaging isn’t very good,” the artist concluded, trying out some of the new vocabulary he’d been picking up in the month or so he’d been working with Brian in the advertising world. “It’s kind of boring. It doesn’t tell you how yummy all the food and the smoothies are. I could draw them a pretty logo with berries and fruit and stuff surrounding their name and it would be so much nicer than that.”


Brian took a second look at the logo and realized that Justin had a good point. The logo was really dull. It wasn’t eye-catching at all. And in a highly competitive field like specialty food service, your product, no matter how good it was, would never get seen if your logo was mediocre. 


“You know what? You’re one hundred percent right, Sunshine,” Brian agreed with his artist, earning a huge sunshiny smile. “You have pretty good instincts for somebody so new at this. And you could definitely do a better job than this piece of shit.” 


Brian sat back and thought through what he might do in an advertising campaign for a company like this, his brain spinning through several ideas, each one better than the one that came before. And, while Brian was mentally creating a whole new pitch for the company, his resident artist had picked up a pen and one of the napkins that came out of the take out bag, and started doodling. 


“See? Something like this . . .” Justin held up his quick sketch.


The picture he’d drawn had used the same font the current logo employed, but he’d surrounded the lettering with berries, flowers and fruit, including tendrils of vegetation that curled through the lettering. Even that incomplete and messy sketch was ten times more eye-catching than the plain logo the company used. Brian knew he could work up a pitch around Justin’s concept that would surely blow the company away. 


“You know, I think you’ve got something there.” Brian nodded at the sketch. “Maybe you should finish that - do it right, with color, and digitize it - and then we’ll see if this Tropical Smoothies Cafe company is interested in hiring a new advertising firm.”


“Yay! More fun artwork for me to do!” Justin cheered as he began to clear away the detritus from their lunch. “Oooo, maybe I can work on this for my new Graphic Arts class! Remember how you showed me the course information on the Devil’s Box? The professor requires every student to do a term project that incorporates all the techniques she’s going to teach us. Do you think I could use this for my class?”


“Why not? That way, even if we don’t win the account, you’ll at least get credit for the project,” Brian concluded as he took a last slurp of his own smoothie and then tossed the cup into the wastebasket next to the desk. “But that can wait, Sunshine. Right now, I need your help burning off all the calories from that damn lunch you just made me eat.” Brian’s waggling eyebrows and leering smile immediately gave away exactly what type of workout he meant.


Justin giggled as he stepped into Brian’s arms and offered up his agreeably kissable lips. “Goody. Looks like I’m going to get more Smoothies for dessert after my smoothie lunch!” he commented as he sank to his knees and took care of Brian’s instant post-lunch woody right there and then.


 

 

End Notes:

3/24/20 - Not too much action here, but we've got to get our plotlines all set up, right? Next chapter is when all the fun stuff starts. Hold on to your hats. J.S.T. 

Chapter 4 - The Mix Up by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

This chapter is dedicated to TAG's Twitter buddies, Sabine & PAGamma, who reminded me that I shouldn't just mope and worry when I had a story to write. Thanks for inspiring me to finish this chapter. TAG



Chapter 4 - The Mix Up.

 


“Look! Look! Look!” Justin demanded as he barged into Brian‘s office about a week later. “What do you think? Isn’t it pretty?”


The young artist shoved a display board into Brian’s face, holding it so closely that the CEO couldn’t even see what was on it until he managed to push the boy and the board about a foot away from him. Once he could see the board properly, though, he was thoroughly impressed. The logo displayed there bore only a passing resemblance to the forgettable design he’d first encountered on the side of a takeout smoothie cup. The name of the business, Tropical Smoothie Café, was centered in the middle of the board, but now the relatively uninspiring font was adorned by curlicues shaped out of tropical vines, berries, slices of delicious looking fruit, and colorful flowers. It was a bona fide work of art. It was also an eye-catching and easily marketed logo.


“Wow! That’s . . . Not bad,” Brian praised with his signature understatement.


Justin was undeterred. He’d long since become accustomed to Brian‘s reticent ways. He knew approval when he heard it and responded with a blindingly bright, ear-to-ear grin.


“It turned out really good, didn’t it? I used that new program you let me buy that my professor recommended. It makes it so easy to create really pretty pictures. I can’t wait to show Ms. Teacher when I get to class today,” the artistic youth burbled.


“I’m sure Professor Zittenfield will love it,” Brian assured him while pulling Justin down to sit in his lap behind the big office desk. “And so will the Board of Directors at Tropical Smoothie Café when we pitch it to them next month.”


“You got the smoothie people to let us give them my logo?” Justin was so excited by the idea that he started bouncing around In Brian‘s lap, which inevitably led to a certain amount of excitement on Brian‘s part as well.


“Hold onto your horses there, Trigger. They haven’t bought the campaign yet and we’re not going to just GIVE them your work,” Brian cautioned, earning a pout from Justin. “But I’m pretty sure that, once they see what you’ve done, they’ll be begging us for the license rights if not the whole campaign.”


Justin’s smile gave a resurgence at that promise, but then died again as he asked, “who’s ‘Trigger’?”


“You are, you little nut,” Brian replied, adding in a kiss to the boy’s round-tipped nose because he just couldn’t resist kissing him all the fucking time no matter how hard he tried. 


“I’m not a trigger, Brian. And I’m not a nut either. I’m a Justin,” the kid responded with a serious expression and a lecturing tone, as if Brian really wasn’t clear on the concept.


Soon, though, Brian’s laughter at the youth’s reprimand was cut short when Cynthia’s voice came trilling out of the intercom speaker on Brian’s phone. “Sorry to interrupt, Boss, but Justin’s driver is here.”


“Yay!” Justin jumped up off his perch on Brian’s lap with a cheer and leaned closer to the phone to answer. “Tell Mr. Simon Says I’ll be right there, Ms. Cynthia.”


“Simon Says?” Brian questioned the nickname.


“Simon says all sorts of things while he’s driving me,” Justin explained. “He says he’s in charge of making sure I’m safe when he drives me. He says I have to pay attention to his directions. He also says a bunch of other stuff, like where I have to meet him when I’m done with class, and all sorts of interesting things about the places we pass by while we’re driving, and funny stories about his kids. I really like all his stories. So I call him ‘Simon Says’ cuz he says so much stuff.”


“Wow! Someone who talks more than you? That’s hard to believe, Sunshine,” Brian teased, pulling the enthusiastic young man back for one last kiss before he let him go to his art class.


Justin reluctantly pushed Brian away a minute or so later. “You can’t keep me here kissing you all day, Just Brian. I’ll be late for Ms. Teacher’s class.”


“You could always skip class and I’ll teach you something a lot more interesting.”


“I’m sure you would,” Justin responded but nevertheless slapped Brian’s wandering hands away. “But it’s not time for boyfriend lessons right now. It’s time for art lessons. You and Willy will just have to wait until later.” The kid gave Brian’s bulging crotch a familiar little pat in lieu of goodbye and then was trotting off towards the door.


“Hey, aren’t you forgetting something?” Brian called after the retreating figure before Justin could get more than a meter down the hallway.


Justin stopped, looked back, and then laughed. “Oh, right! My picture. I don’t want to forget to show that to Ms. Teacher.” Justin ran back in and grabbed the board. “Thanks for reminding me, Brian.”


Brian shook his head. “I meant your shoes, twat.” Brian tilted his head over towards where the boy’s boots were waiting next to the coat rack in the corner - the spot where Brian usually ended up depositing the footwear when he inevitably found Justin’s shoes abandoned in some random corner of the office every morning. “I’m pretty sure the school won’t appreciate your dirty bare feet wandering down their halls.” 


“Oops,” Justin shrugged and plopped down on the carpet right there so he could pull on the hated things. “I don’t know why wearing shoes is so important to a school, though. I don’t use my feet to paint; I use my hands. Besides, it’s not like I can’t learn to paint without uncomfortable pieces of leather on my feet.”


Brian didn’t bother to argue the point - he’d already tried that about a thousand times and still had never gotten through to the kid who was congenitally incapable of keeping his shoes on his damned feet for more than an hour at a time - merely shaking his head with an amused smile.


“And make sure you have your phone too,” he warned as Justin climbed back to his feet. “I want to be able to get a hold of you if I need to and it doesn’t do any good if you’re constantly leaving it laying around. Hell, you’re worse about the damned phone than you are about the shoes, and that’s saying something.”


“I’m not used to phones that go places with you, Brian. Our old phone just lived on the wall of my mother’s house - you never had to worry about forgetting it because it was always there, you know? - but these new travelling phones are tricky things.”


“Yeah, well, as long as you’re a travelling boy, I need you to keep your damn travelling phone with you. Okay?” Brian repeated.


“Okay. I’ll try, Just Brian,” Justin promised. “Now, I have to go or Simon Says will have to say that we’re going to be late again.”


As the young artist finally made his way out of Brian’s office on his way to pick up his bag from the studio space, he had to dodge around Mr. Money Man who was heading in to talk to the Boss. 


Justin gave him a smile and a wave but didn’t stop to talk. Ted waved back, watching the boy’s retreating back with a longing sigh. Unfortunately, his boss, who’d come out of the office right then, caught him once again looking after the blond. Poor Ted obviously had a bit of a crush on the kid. It was totally pathetic. Seriously, if the accountant didn’t cut it out, Brian was going to have to have a talk with him. Brian hadn’t ever thought he was the jealous type, but then again he hadn’t thought he was the boyfriend type either. Not until a certain barefoot blond came into his life. Now, though, he was starting to realize everything was different.


“Eyes back in your skull, Theodore,” Brian warned, adding in a little tap to the back of the lusting man’s head by way of reminder. “Did you need something or just come by to ogle my blond again?


“Oh, uh, yeah,” Ted recollected himself and quickly turned his attention back to business. “I’m afraid it’s not good news, Boss. I just got this,” he handed over a price sheet listing airtime costs, “from ClearOutdoors. They’re still trying to gouge us on the airtime for Zoobabies. I thought you’d managed to work something out with their guy?”


“I did!” Brian grabbed the sheet of paper out of Ted’s hands and growled at the pricing list. “This is NOT what Barry Brownose promised me! This is . . . This is shit! Damn it!”


Brian stomped back into his office, yelling over his shoulder, “Cynthia! Get Brownose on the phone right now! The deadline to make those ad buys is midnight tonight so we need to get this sorted out asap! I’m not going to be strong armed into doubling our clients’ costs like this!”

 

 

Brian’s screeching sent both Ted and Cynthia scrambling and everything was utter chaos around the office for the next hour or more. 



“Justin. Justin! HEY, JUSTIN!” the little man with the dark hair yelled, eventually coming up to tap on Tristan’s shoulder when he didn’t get a response. “Shit. Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been yelling for you from the car for at least five minutes.”


Tristan was confused. Was this guy talking to him? Tristan looked around himself to see if there was someone else the guy might be addressing, but since he was standing there all alone it must mean the brunet really was talking to him.


“Well, don’t just stand there. The car is waiting.” Brunet Guy pointed with his thumb over one shoulder to where a sleek, black town car was idling at the curb. “Shit. Would you come on already. I don’t have all day; I’ve got to get back to the store to meet a delivery in twenty minutes.”


“W-w-what’s going on?” he managed to stutter as the brunet began to tow him down the sidewalk towards the car. 


“Brian called and asked me to come get you. He said he’d tried to call you, but apparently you left your phone in the car when Simon dropped you off earlier,” the brunet explained as he placed the small black smartphone into Tristan’s hand, opened the rear passenger door, and virtually shoved Tristan inside. “Brian got called out of town for some emergency business shit. He had to fly to Chicago. He said to tell you that he’ll probably be gone at least a couple of nights, and he didn’t want you to have to stay all alone in the loft while he was gone, so he asked if you could stay with me and Emmett till he gets back,” the guy continued as he got into the front seat of the car next to the driver. 


Tristan was just about to speak up and correct this guy’s misconception about his identity when the words he’d spoken finally percolated through to Tristan’s consciousness. 


This guy obviously thought he was the OTHER blond - the one Tristan had been following around for the past week - the one who seemed to have such a cushy set up going. Tristan had been fascinated with this Justin kid ever since he’d first seen his double at the bar a couple weekends back. He’d sort of been stalking him and the kid’s rich boyfriend. This Justin character seemed to have it made and Tristan had to admit he was jealous. 


Tristan had easily managed, through the gay grapevine, to find out where his erstwhile trick, Kinney, lived and had staked the place out the day after that encounter at Babylon. He’d seen what a nice neighborhood it was - despite the building’s unassuming exterior, it was reported to be a pretty swanky fuck pad on the inside too - and noted the nice new Jeep the guy drove. On Monday morning, he’d followed Kinney and the kid to a fancy downtown office building and, after asking around, found out that Kinney’s new advertising agency seemed to be doing well. He’d even followed the other blond to Allegheny Community College one day and found out the kid was taking some artsy-fartsy classes. Tristan wasn’t one hundred percent sure why he was wasting all his time following the kid and Kinney around, but he just couldn’t let it go. I mean, it wasn’t every day you met someone who could be your exact double, right?


Now, though, Brunet Guy was once again mistaking him for the Justin kid. To be honest, Tristan didn’t think they looked THAT much alike. Yeah, they had the same build and similar features and the same blond mop, but he wore his hair longer than Justin and his clothing was obviously not nearly as nice. You’d think his friends at least could tell the difference. But maybe not. And if they couldn’t tell the difference, what was stopping Tristan from taking advantage of the situation? Didn’t the Brunet Guy say something about having him stay over for the next couple of days? That didn’t sound half bad, you know? Wherever they were taking him, it had to be better than the rundown hotel room where Hugo had them all holed up this week, sleeping five or six to a room. Not that Tristan actually got much sleep most nights, seeing as they were interrupted whenever Hugo brought in a new trick for the boys to service. It might be nice to sleep somewhere else for a night to two; kinda like a vacation. And as long as this guy didn’t twig onto the fact that he wasn’t the real Justin, maybe he could scam them out of a free place to bunk down for a bit. He just had to play along and pretend to be the naive little artist kid. That couldn’t be too hard, right?


The town car was already pulling away from the curb before Tristan had come to a firm decision about what he was going to do, which effectively decided things for him. He relaxed back into the comfortable leather upholstery of the big back seat and sighed. This was definitely the life. He could get used to being treated like this.


The only thing to give him any pause was that, as they were pulling out of the parking lot onto the street that fronted the school, Tristan caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of a blond head. He turned and saw the Justin kid coming out of the building. The guy was standing there on the sidewalk, looking around, a little lost, as if trying to locate his ride. 


The ride that Tristan had already absconded with . . .



Justin was late leaving his class. He’d somehow managed to lose track of the Pradas again and had spent almost a half hour looking for them, to no avail. He was worried that Brian would be angry at him. He knew the Pradas had cost a lot of money but his feet just didn’t like being all cooped up inside that hot leatherness. And when his feet weren’t happy, he couldn’t make his art. Eventually, though, he’d been forced to give up looking for them and just gone outside to try and find Simon. Maybe Simon Says would help him round up the missing shoes?


Only, Simon Says wasn’t where Simon had said for Justin to meet him. Neither the driver, in his crisp white shirt and jaunty black cap, nor the big black car were anywhere nearby. Which was a little worrisome because, as late as Justin had been, Simon Says should’ve already been there. Shouldn’t he?


Justin stood next to the big alder tree in the exact spot Simon Says had said to wait for him. He kept looking around himself nervously as he waited. And waited. And waited some more. Until the waiting got to be too much. By that point it was starting to get late and all of the students that Justin knew had already left. He began to get that anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach that he hadn’t had since he and Brian had returned to Pittsburgh. He didn’t like that feeling. He didn’t like being alone; it brought back bad memories of the time right after his mother had died.


After more than forty-five minutes, Justin finally acknowledged that Simon Says wasn’t coming for him. Which was when he finally remembered the travelling phone that his Brian had given to him. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten about it. This was just the type of situation where a travelling phone would come in handy, right? 


Justin sat down on the sidewalk and fished through his bag, trying to locate the device. He couldn’t seem to find it. He even went so far as to dump all his books and stuff out onto the sidewalk. But, unfortunately, the little black phone was nowhere to be found. Maybe it was off with the Pradas somewhere? 


That’s when Justin began to truly panic. 


Not only was Justin sitting there, seemingly abandoned, but it was starting to get kind of stormy out. He didn’t know where Simon Says was and had no way to contact Brian. He was getting cold and it looked like it was going to rain any moment. And he was alone. All alone. Again. Flashes of a dirty, scary bus station came to mind. But Brian wouldn’t leave him, would he? He said he wouldn’t make any more phone calls. He’d promised. He wouldn’t leave Justin alone like this, would he?


Justin had worked himself up to the point that he wasn’t being at all rational. It didn’t occur to him that he could just go back inside the building and ask someone else to call Brian for him, or maybe go to the computer lab and use one of the school computers to email his partner. All he could think about was that he was all alone again. Alone and scared out of his wits.


When the storm broke and the first big, drenching drops began to fall from the sky, Justin finally gave up and started to cry. He was cold and wet. He was all alone. He had been abandoned. A part of him knew that crying like a little baby wouldn’t help, but he just couldn’t help it. He was so overwhelmed. All of a sudden he felt like he’d been thrown back into that scary before time, prior to his meeting Brian, when he was on his own and the world was too big and too incomprehensible. Or, even worse, back when he was at the mercy of his unpredictable, neglectful, and sometimes violent mother.


“Hey, kid. You okay there?” Justin was startled out of his misery for a moment when a hand descended onto his shoulder and a scritchety old voice spoke up. “You shouldn’t be sitting out here in the rain, son.”


Justin looked up into the face of the stranger who’d approached him and was spooked even more by the older woman he encountered. She was probably about sixty or so and looked like she’d had a hard life. Her face was haggard and lined, probably from years of smoking, which had also yellowed her teeth and discolored the skin on the hand she was holding out. Her hair was a grizzled white, streaked with the occasional black strand or two. She was wearing one of those clear-plastic, hooded rain jackets that allowed people to see your clothing underneath; clothing that was a little ratty and definitely dowdy. 


In other words, she reminded Justin of his not-so-dearly-departed mother. 


Right then, in his moment of irrational terror, it felt almost like his mother had somehow returned from the dead to mock him. Justin sprang to his feet and started to back away from the women in alarm. Unfortunately, the woman mistook the situation and followed, intent on helping the clearly distraught boy. Justin continued to flee, abandoning his bag and books completely as he shuffled away from the specter that seemed to be chasing him, calling out to him to ‘Come back, son! Come back!’


“Get away from me. I’m not going back to that house. Get away!” Justin muttered, almost hysterical, as he stumbled off the curb, tripping when he stubbed his bare toe in a pot hole and then falling headlong into the middle of the busy street that fronted the school building. 


The last thing Justin saw before everything went black was the big truck that was barrelling down the street, coming straight at him, it’s headlights flashing and the windshield wipers futilely trying to contend with the downpouring rain that was obscuring the driver’s vision. 


 

 

End Notes:

4/5/20 - Dun dun dun! How do you like that cliffhanger, huh? Now the fun parts of the story start. J.S.T.

Chapter 5 - The Double by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Time to get you down off that cliff? J.S.T.


Chapter 5 - The Double.



“You’re awfully quiet back there, Sir. Is everything alright?” The driver interrupted Brunet Guy, who’d been babbling for ten minutes nonstop while raving about some ridiculous comic book shit that Tristan didn’t know anything about.


Tristan could see the eyes of the chauffeur scrutinizing him via the rearview mirror. There was something judgmental in that gaze that worried the interloper. Brunet Guy might not have known the difference between the two seemingly identical blonds, but Jeeves up there seemed to suspect something was wrong.


“I’m fine. Just a little tired I guess,” Tristan lied.


“If you’re not feeling well, Sir, perhaps we should go straight back to the loft,” Driver Guy suggested. 


“Fuck that! I’ve got to get back to my store. I’m sure Boy Wonder will be just fine. At least long enough for me to meet the delivery I’m expecting and put the stock away,” Brunet Guy insisted. “Besides, the kid’s coming back to my place until Brian gets back from his trip to Chicago.”


The twitchy eyes underneath the black chauffeur cap gave a quick sideways glare at Michael but the driver didn’t say anything. Then the penetrating stare returned its focus onto Tristan, causing shivers to run up the boy's spine. He’d bet anything he had that Jeeves was hip to his little switcheroo. Without any better idea what to do to save himself, though, Tristan opted for playing possum. He shut his eyes and snuggled even deeper into the cushioning of the backseat. He couldn’t give himself away if he was asleep, right?


He didn’t get to pretend nap for long, though. It was less than five minutes later when the car came to a stop. Tristan squinted out from underneath his lashes, trying to maintain the pretense of being asleep while checking out the scene around him. It looked like they were down on Liberty Avenue somewhere; the young hustler easily recognized one of the city's prime pick up venues - a place where he’d spent many a night over the years - although the dive they’d parked in front of didn’t look familiar. The tiny shop with the gaudy sign over the door - ‘Red Cape Comics’ - looked even seedier than the rest of the places on that block. Tristan had never had much use for comics himself; in his opinion, that kind of escapism was only for losers who couldn’t handle the real world. But since he didn’t know his double’s position on comics, he decided to keep his opinions to himself.


Brunet Guy was already out of the car and knocking impatiently on the passenger window in an attempt to ‘wake up’ the blond. Tristan made a show of blinking his eyes open and stretching, all the while trying to avoid the eyes of the driver, which were still surveying him through the mirror. If he really was going to do this, it was show time. Tristan was going to have to leave the relative safety of the town car’s back seat and face the world. He just hoped his acting skills were up to the task.


With a half-smile and a nod to the chauffeur, Tristan opened the car door for himself and started to get out.


“Oh, Sir. Don’t forget your shoes again!” the driver reminded him before he could close the door behind him. 


Tristan looked down at the holey sneakers on his feet and wondered silently what the guy was talking about. “Huh?”


“Don’t you remember? Mr. Brian made me promise to remind you about your shoes so you don’t leave them in the car every time we drive anywhere?” Driver Guy replied, sounding suspicious again.


“Oh . . . uh . . . right,” Tristan stuttered, not sure why anyone would need to be reminded not to forget their shoes. “No problem. They’re right on my feet where they belong. Thanks, Jeeves.”


But that must not have been the right thing to say since both Driver Guy and Brunet Guy stared at him when he said that. Tristan didn’t know what to do. He offered up a little half-shrug and tried to mimic the stupid ingenuous smile he’d seen the other blond wearing all the time. He must have done it right since both the men who’d been giving him those looks eventually looked away. Whew. That had been close. He’d have to try and figure out the thing with the shoes somehow so he didn’t make that mistake again.


“Very well, Sir,” the driver spoke up again, talking through the rolled down window. “See you again on Thursday. I hope you feel better by then, Justin.”


“Yeah, right. Thursday,” Tristan echoed with a wave and then turned to follow the Brunet Guy who was already unlocking the front door of the comic book shop. 


He could feel the driver’s eyes still glued to his back as he walked away. He wondered if he’d already screwed up somehow. Oh well. If he’d been found out, he could always do a runner. It’s not like he’d actually done anything illegal. Just letting someone mistake you for another person wasn’t something they’d arrest you for, right? He figured he’d get found out sooner or later anyway, but if he could just hold out long enough to get a good meal and maybe even a comfortable place to bunk down for the night, Tristan would be happy. The other kid - Justin - he’d probably just go back to Kinney’s fancy loft and be fine. Meanwhile, Tristan would try to keep this friend, Brunet Guy, distracted enough that he wouldn’t notice he had the wrong blond, and everything would work out for the best. Then Tristan could go on his way in the morning and the rube probably wouldn’t even know he’d been played. 


Everything would work out.



“I’m sorry, I don’t know his name. I don’t know anything about the boy, really. I just saw him sitting on the sidewalk in the rain so I went up to talk to him. I wanted to make sure he was alright. That’s when he freaked out and ran into the street. Thank goodness that truck driver was able to stop in time,” the scritchety voice was declaring as Justin began to wake up. “But after the nice truck driver picked up the boy to bring him here, I remembered to grab the kid’s bag and brought it with me when I followed the truck here to the clinic. Maybe you can find his ID in the bag?”


The confused blond opened his eyes and looked around himself, growing more alarmed by the second. The place he found himself in looked just like the hospital where they’d taken him after his mother died. There were the same stark white walls, the same blinking and beeping machines, and the same antiseptic smell. He looked down and was happy to see that he was at least still wearing his own clothing rather than one of those flimsy, back-less, hospital gowns. He couldn’t remember how he’d got to the hospital though. Had the hospital people changed their minds and decided to take him back? He thought that Ms. Attorney had worked things out with Dr. Gilcrest, but what if the doctor had changed his mind? What if they were going to keep him here this time? What if they were going to keep him away from Brian?


“Nope. I don’t see anything in here that looks like it would help identify our patient,” a different, more calming voice was saying. “And he didn’t have a wallet or a phone on him either. I suppose we’ll have to wait and ask him who he is when he wakes up.”


Justin was already awake enough to determine that the voices were coming from the other side of the blue curtain that had been pulled around so it was blocking off the small space where the bed he was lying on lived. 


“So you think he’ll be okay?” Scritchety Voice asked.


“It doesn’t appear that he was badly hurt,” Calming Voice replied. “I think he just hit his head when he fell. We’ll take him down to get an MRI as soon as he’s awake to rule out a concussion, but besides the bump on his head, he doesn’t appear to have any other injuries. I’m still concerned about why he would have run into the street in the first place though. If we could ID him, and perhaps contact his relatives, we could get a more complete medical history and rule out any psychological problems . . .” 


That didn’t sound good. ‘Psychological problems’ sounded a lot like what the doctors were saying was wrong with him when they’d tried to keep him at Dr. Gilcrest’s ward. But he’d told them that the voices weren’t talking to him - the voices only talked to his mother - so why had they taken him back to the hospital? Justin didn’t want to stay at the hospital any more. He wanted to go home with Brian. Where was Brian? How did he get here to the hospital again? What had Scritchety Voice said about a truck?


That’s when Justin remembered what had happened at the school. He remembered that Simon Says hadn’t come to pick him up and he’d been scared. He remembered the creepy woman who’d come up to him. He remembered trying to run away from her. And he even remembered the big truck that was about to run him over. But then it all went blank. 


He did a quick internal body scan and discovered that, except for a really bad headache, he didn’t seem to be hurt. If the truck had run him over, he’d be a lot more hurt, right? He was happy that he wasn’t badly injured, but that still didn’t explain why the Calming Voice was talking about psychological problems. Justin didn’t want to talk to more doctors asking him intrusive questions about that kind of stuff. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer them the right way - those kinds of questions made him nervous and when he was nervous he got confused - and if he answered wrong, they’d probably try to keep him here at the hospital again.


“No! I won’t stay here again. I won’t let them keep me away from Brian,” Justin declared, only he did it quietly, so that nobody but himself would hear. “Brian says to ‘listen to my gut’ and my gut tells me I need to go find Brian. Which means I need to get out of here. Now.”


Justin sat up on the uncomfortable hospital bed and tried hard to listen for the Scritchety Voice and the Calming Voice. He didn’t hear them talking outside the curtain any more. That was good. He scooted over to the edge of the bed and, since there still wasn’t any sign of either voice, he hopped down, tip-toeing across the cold tile floor till he could peek around the edge of the blue curtain. Outside the little cubicle where he’d been sleeping there was a long hallway populated with other, identical cubicles. There were a bunch of people wandering around, all of whom looked very busy. There were other people in other beds in the other cubicles and most of the wandering people were coming and going and talking to the people in the beds. But, for the moment, there wasn’t anyone near Justin’s cubicle. 


Justin looked to the right and then to the left. There weren’t any hospital people paying any attention to him or his cubicle. He noticed a chair sitting in the corridor right between his cubicle and the next cubicle on the right; waiting in the chair was the messenger bag that Brian had bought him so he could carry his school stuff around. He picked up his bag. Then Justin left his cubicle and walked as quickly as he could down the hall, following the signs that said ‘Exit’.


Justin easily made it to the end of the hallway but stopped when he saw the long desk that was blocking his path to the big outside doors. He paused and tried to think about how he was going to get past the nurse sitting there. He didn’t think the nurse lady in the pink scrubs was going to let him just walk out. The last time he was in the hospital, Dr. Gilcrest had told his people to keep Justin locked in his room. At least until Ms. Attorney had come to save him. But Justin could see the big sliding glass doors just beyond the desk and they didn’t seem locked. As he watched, two people - A woman and a boy hobbling on crutches - walked out, the doors sliding open magically as soon as they neared. If those people could leave, he should be able to as well, right? If he could only get past the Pink Lady at the desk.


He wasn’t sure how to work that part of his plan though. Pink Lady didn’t look like she was going anywhere; not anytime soon. And Justin was starting to feel panicky again. He just HAD to get out of there and go find his Brian. But how?


Right when he was starting to get desperate, though, there was a loud commotion outside and the exit doors sprang open allowing two EMTs pushing a gurney to come barreling inside. The person on the gurney didn’t look like he was doing well. There was a lot of blood involved. Justin winced and pressed up against the wall of the corridor as the group of people and their patient bustled past. The Pink Lady jumped up from her seat at the desk and ran after them.


“What have we got?” Pink Lady questioned.


“Damn rain. Caused a five car pile up on I-579. This guy’s the worst, but there’s three other ambulances on their way behind us,” the tall, muscular, kinda hunky, black guy pushing the gurney replied. 


“And here I was thinking we’d have a nice quiet evening,” Pink Lady sighed. “Put him in curtain three. I’ll page Dr. Silliassen and make sure we have a couple of ORs ready.”


Pink Lady ran back to the desk, passing by Justin without even a sideways glance, as more chaos erupted in the cubicle where the gurney had been taken. All the hospital people that had previously been wandering around fairly calmly, now started running around. It was like an anthill that had been stirred up by a malicious child’s stick, with the ants all rushing about madly, each apparently doing something very important, even though it all looked like chaos to an outsider. Chaos that Justin was very grateful for right at that moment because it provided the perfect cover for his escape.


The big glass door slid open, admitting a second group of EMTs and an equally bloody patient. Pink Lady was busy yelling into the phone at her desk. Justin waited until the gurney passed and then quietly slipped through the still open doors. Nobody seemed to notice or care that he’d left. He quickly walked down the sidewalk away from the hospital exit, not really caring which way he was going, as long as it was away from the building. 


At the end of the short driveway, Justin came to a normal city street. He looked both directions but nothing seemed at all familiar. It was dark by that point and still drizzling, the heavy clouds overhead blocking out any ambient light from the sky, making the night seem darker than usual. He hesitated, not knowing which way to go and wondering, for a moment, if he maybe shouldn’t go back to the hospital even with the scary prospect of Dr. Gilcrest looming there. But the advent of another ambulance careening around the corner with lights and sirens wailing got Justin moving again. He moved down the sidewalk towards the left, the only direction he could go without getting run over by the ambulance, and then just kept walking.


Justin hadn’t made it more than a handful of long city blocks before he was seriously regretting his escape, though. The rain was getting heavier and his clothing, which had been damp to start with, was now drenched. His bare feet were cold and getting scraped up from walking along the rough pavement. When he inadvertently stepped on a jagged little pebble, he almost fell over again, it hurt so much. Since he didn’t see anyplace he could go to get out of the rain, though, he just had to keep on walking. 


The area of town Justin found himself in wasn’t very nice. There had been a few shops and office buildings closer to the hospital, but the farther he went, the more deserted the neighborhood became. Instead of office buildings, this section seemed to be populated by big, empty warehouses and dirty, old buildings that didn’t look like they were currently occupied. The streets in this area weren’t as well lit and the alleyways between buildings were as dark as pitch. The rainy night seemed to suck up any feeble light that did come from the dilapidated rattrap buildings, leaving the streets around him mostly dark and full of frightening shadows around every corner. The only sign of life Justin encountered was when a big semi-truck came driving down the street, blaring it’s horn at Justin to warn the boy to move over so it could turn into an alley in front of him, and dousing him with sludgey rain water when the gargantuan tires rolled through a curbside puddle. 


Justin was soaked to the skin. He could feel the panic welling up, forming a choke-point in the back of his throat. It was dark. He was cold and alone. He didn’t know where he was or how to find Brian. And there didn’t seem to be anyone around he could ask for help. But he didn’t know what else to do, so he just kept walking.


Eventually, after what felt like miles and miles, Justin spied a more populated area of town at the end of the street he’d been walking down. He picked up his pace, practically trotting towards the lights that beckoned. He still didn’t recognize the area, but he was just so glad to see evidence of other people that he didn’t care. It was the first glimmer of hope he’d had since he left the hospital. 


“Hey! That you, ‘Stan?” a stranger voice surprised Justin as he passed by a recessed doorway where the voice’s owner had been huddling out of the rain. “Where ya been, man? Hugo has been looking for you all day. He’s a hundred percent ass-chapped over you up and disappearing first thing. He pulled a Lewis Black on all of us this morning, complaining about you shirking all the time, and promised he’d kick your ass when he did find you. You better have some serious cabbage on you by the time he finds you or he’s gonna go all angry monkey on your hide.”


“I’m . . . I’m sorry . . .” Justin looked around, wondering who the voice was talking to. “You . . . You’re talking to me?”


The stranger voice emerged from the shadows and it turned out the voice was attached to a skinny boy who didn’t look like he could be more than fourteen. “Do you see any other blond boys with killer asses around here? Of course I’m talkin to you, dorkhead.”  


Justin looked at the boy who’d come sauntering over to stand next to him. The kid was ordinary looking. He had greasy, dirty-blond hair peeking out from under a knitted beanie cap. His face was thin and pinched-looking with a frown that seemed pretty close to permanent. His clothing was too big on his lanky frame, however even with all the layers you could tell the kid was ridiculously underweight. But at least he was friendly and, since this was the first non-scary face Justin had encountered in hours, he was inclined to accept the newcomer as a potential ally.



“You okay, ‘Stan?” the kid questioned, looking at Justin askance. “You seem . . . off.” Then the boy reached up with gentle fingers and brushed against something on Justin’s forehead. “What happened here?”


Justin reached up and his fingers touched on an adhesive bandage that had been affixed to his right temple. He hadn’t noticed that before. He guessed that must be what the Calming Voice at the hospital had been talking about when it had said he had a bump on his head. His head did still really hurt pretty bad. 


“Simon Says wasn’t at the school to pick me up and then I fell down and almost got run over by a truck and when I woke up I was at the hospital again but I got scared so I left and then I walked and walked and got lost and then I was here . . .” Justin blurted out his entire story in one lungful of air, only stopping when he looked around himself and got worried again. 


“Shit! That totally sucks. No wonder you’ve been MIA all day, ‘Stan,” the boy commented, looking at Justin sympathetically. 


“Why are you calling me ‘Stan’?” Justin asked, confused. “I’m Justin. I don’t know anyone called ‘Stan’.”


“What are you talking about, Tristan?” the skinny boy looked equally confused by that point. “I always call you ‘Stan. You told me the first day we met that you hated your name because it sounded so stuck up. Just like you always call me ‘Hunter’ because you know I hate my first name.” Justin must have still looked lost though since Skinny Boy shook his head and got a concerned look on his face. “How hard did you hit your head, anyway?”


Justin raised his hand to the side of his face and cringed as the added pressure only increased his headache. “Hard. I think. It hurts.”


“Shit, man. That’s not good. Hugo is gonna be pissed off if you’re outta commission for too long.”


“Who is Hugo,” Justin asked even as the Skinny Boy grabbed hold of his sleeve and started towing him away down the street. “And what do you mean that he’s out a commission? You mean a commission like when Brian’s clients ask him to do new art stuff for them? Brian said that some of them liked my art enough that they might give me a commission. But why would your Hugo be out of a commission because of me? I promise I won’t take his commission if he had it first . . .”


Skinny Boy stopped and turned to look at Justin like he had grown another head or something. “We better get you back to the motel and out of the fucking rain. You can lay low there for a while. Hopefully your brains will have unscrambled themselves before Hugo comes in from his rounds tonight.”


Justin tried to struggle but the kid just kept pulling him along. “I don’t want to go to a motel. I want to go home to Brian,” he insisted, eventually planting his heels in and yanking his arm out of Skinny Boy’s hand. 


“You’re not making any sense, ‘Stan. Home is the Starlight Motel. At least it is this week. And there isn’t anyone named Brian there,” Skinny Boy insisted. “Come on. Pull it together, man. Hugo will not be amused by this shit. We ain’t got no company health plan, you know. Hugo’s policy is, if you’re too sick to service your tricks you better be dead, cuz that’s what he’ll make you if you hurt his bottom line. Which is why, if you keep babbling on like this, you’re gonna get your ass kicked. Best thing you can do right now is just nut up and stop complaining and do your tricks as they come.”


“But . . . I live with Brian. Not at a motel. Where is Brian? I need to find Brian,” Justin kept repeating, without Skinny Boy taking any notice as he resumed pulling Justin after him down the dark, dingy street. “And I’m not a magician, so I don’t know any tricks.”


“Ha-fucking-ha,” Skinny Boy responded without looking back as the two of them continued down the block and around the corner.



 

End Notes:

4/28/20 - Endless thanks to Lorie for helping TAG finish up the last of this chapter. Quarantine Brain stuck bad the last couple weeks and we’ve all been totally blocked. But Lorie gave that kick in the butt needed to get through the end of this. Much love, Lorie. 

 

Also, since we’re now past the plot setup point of the story, and because we can always use the input and typo-catchers, it’s time to open up this story to our readers. If you want to come by the working doc and help us write, chat with us, or just hang out and watch as we write, we’d love to have you. Generally, we’re online in the evening hours or daytime on weekends. Please come by and say hello. Here’s the link: BBB Working Doc. J.S.T.

Chapter 6 - Po Pimpin by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Our BBB is off on his adventures... Enjoy! J.S.T. 




Chapter 6 - Po Pimpin.



Justin and Hunter walked several blocks through mostly deserted streets as the rain began to gradually taper off. Their progress was slow because Hunter seemed to know every single person they did meet and stopped to chat with almost all of them. Justin didn’t understand a lot of what the Skinny Boy and his friends were talking about, and some of them looked a little intimidating, but he smiled and nodded to everyone who greeted him. He still wasn’t sure why they were all calling him ‘Stan, though. 


Eventually they made it to a slightly more populated part of town and turned to walk along the sidewalk edging a busy four lane commercial street. They passed by two used car lots, a seedy-looking Vietnamese restaurant, a tattoo parlor, and a liquor store before Hunter turned into the driveway of a run-down motel. The flickering neon light over the door to the motel office proclaimed this was the ‘_tarlight Motel’; the capitol ‘S’ at the beginning of the word didn’t light up, but that seemed even more appropriate judging by the motel’s surroundings. It was a typical two-story construction, with rooms on both levels, a balcony of sorts along the upper level, and three rickety staircases connecting the upper rooms to the parking lot below. Justin didn’t think it looked like a very nice place to stay, seeing as how the building was in need of a lot of repairs, the paint was peeling off the side of the building, and the parking lot was filled with broken down old cars and trash. Even so, it seemed like a very busy place, with people going in and out of several of the rooms and small groups of guests hanging out together on the balcony. 



Justin followed Hunter up the stairs and down the balcony towards the rooms on the far end of the top floor. As they passed by the other rooms, the doors to many of which were wide open, Justin got a glimpse of what the occupants of the rooms were doing. They were all doing boyfriend things. He wondered what kind of place this was where so much loving was going on, or why all these couples would come to such an unromantic place for their dates, but what did he know, right? He was new to the whole boyfriend thing himself. Maybe this was something boyfriends did? Maybe, someday, he and Brian could come back here and Brian could explain it to him; he supposed it could be fun to have one of their boyfriend lessons here . . . Maybe. If the motel people cleaned the rooms up a little better first.


Hunter went inside the second to last door on the top floor and, not having any better idea of what to do with himself, Justin followed his new acquaintance. Inside, the room was almost as run-down as the motel was on the outside. There were two king-sized beds lining the left-hand wall, a desk with built-in drawers along the right-hand wall, and a small table with two old chairs in the corner next to the door. One of the bulbs in the overhead light fixture was out, so it was kind of dim inside the room, but even in the dimness, Justin could tell the room was a mess. There were empty food containers lying all over, the trash can in the corner was overflowing, and there was clothing strewn over every piece of furniture. Meanwhile, the beds and chairs were occupied by half a dozen boys of every age, size, race, and build, most of whom were either naked or only partially dressed, all of whom appeared to be engrossed by the show that was flickering away on the screen of the television that was bolted into the wall above the desk. Justin wondered if Hunter had brought him to some kind of party, although he’d never heard of a naked party before. This was really a very strange motel.


Hunter didn’t seem to notice the fact that all the boys at the party had forgotten their clothing. He led Justin towards the desk where there was a small fridge, pulled open the door, and grabbed two cans of soda, throwing one to Justin. Justin managed to catch the drink and, since he was really thirsty, he popped the top and guzzled it down. Meanwhile, Hunter had dug through the detritus on the desktop and served himself two slices of the cold pizza he found there. Justin was hungry too, but the greasy, stale pizza didn’t look all that appetizing so he decided to skip it for the time being. 


As the Skinny Boy was busy eating, Justin peeked through the partially opened doorway into the adjoining room and was surprised to see a fat, balding, middle-aged man rolling around on the bed with a light-skinned black boy who looked like he was about the same age as Justin’s new friend, Hunter. Justin was so surprised that he just stared at the couple for a bit. He’d never watched other people doing boyfriend things like that - well, except for in the movies that Brian had shown him that he said would ‘inspire’ them - but he certainly hadn’t seen anything like that in real life. As he watched, though, he noticed that the boy didn’t seem very excited by what the man was doing. He actually looked a little bored, to be honest. That didn’t seem right because Justin was never bored when Brian did THOSE things to him. Maybe the man wasn’t doing it right? 


Justin was about to go in there and give the poor man some tips on how to correct his technique, according to the way Brian had taught him to do things, when an exasperated Hunter pulled Justin back from the door and pushed him down into an empty chair so he could continue the lecture he’d been delivering off and on for the whole trek to the motel. 


“Hugo is going to be super pissed at you, you know. Even with a knock on your head, I can’t believe you didn’t manage to turn even one trick while you were gone. Hugo’s gonna tear you a new asshole.” Confusion must have shown on Justin’s face a moment later; Hunter was implying it wasn’t some huge epiphany that he was more than likely going to get torn a new asshole? That didn’t sound like fun. It sounded like it would hurt . . . a lot.


“I told you before, Mr. Skinny Boy, I don’t know any magic and I’m not in the circus, so of course I didn’t turn any tricks. I mean, Just Brian showed me how to juggle once - even though he’s not very good at it - but I always drop all the balls. And that’s the only trick I ever tried to do. But that’s no reason to get mad at me or hurt me, is it?” 


Hunter let out a deep belly laugh, doubling over in what appeared to be pain judging by the way he was furiously wiping the tears from his eyes. “Boy, ‘Stan, you really are on a roll today. Maybe that little knock on the head did more damage than I thought.” 


Justin was about to tell him he really had no clue what the Skinny Boy was talking about, but they were interrupted when a new person came through the door. This new person did not appear to be pleased with what he saw, either, judging by the unhappy frown on his bloated and flushed face. The newcomer was a huge man - both tall and bulky - and Justin felt immediately dwarfed by him. Justin heard a couple of the boys answer the man’s greetings, calling him ‘Hugo’ or, in some cases, ‘Daddy’. Obviously, this must be the man Skinny Boy had been talking about; the one the other boy seemed frightened about meeting. Justin was a little confused by the way all the boys were acting towards the newcomer. Even Skinny Boy called the man, ‘Daddy’. Justin didn’t know how this one man could have so many children, though, especially when none of the boys looked anything like the Hugo man and they were all about the same age. It was clearly a very odd family. 


The man slowly approached the groups of younger men who were sitting around on the floor and lying on the beds, grunting out a terse comment to one or another as he passed, but not paying special attention to anyone in particular until he approached the chair where Justin was sitting. 


“Well, well, well . . . look what the fucking cat dragged in,” he drawled as he reached down and ran a finger over Justin’s shoulder, the digit ending under his chin and forcibly tilting the boy’s head upward so he was looking right in Hugo’s eyes. “You think you can just fucking come and go as you please, huh? You should know by now that you can’t even piss sideways without getting my permission first, boy.” 


Justin was more confused than ever. Did this man think that Justin was another of his sons? And even so, why did he think he could order Justin around like that? Because if he’d learned nothing else being with Brian, Justin had learned that he didn’t need anyone’s permission to go anywhere or do anything. No one had the right to tell him how to live his life, period. And why would anyone need to ask to use the bathroom? Justin wasn’t a baby who needed help to go potty. 


“Excuse me, Big Angry Man, but I don’t have to ask you if I want to go anywhere . . . You’re not MY daddy. And I definitely don’t need your permission to go to the bathroom either. Now, if you don’t mind, I really need to get back home to Brian.” Justin pushed Hugo’s hand away and started to get to his feet.


An audible gasp could be heard throughout the small space in response to the blond’s audacity in challenging the husky man. The group of young boys just knew something bad was going to happen to the kid if he didn’t shut his mouth pronto. Angry Man looked like he was going to yell at Justin for a minute, but then one of the boys who’d been sitting on the bed spoke up.


“Hey, ‘Stan, cool it man. It’s not worth getting your pretty little ass kicked just so you can prove a point. Just apologize and keep it moving, bruuh,” the tall, toned, caramel-skinned boy who he thought Hunter had addressed as ‘Trey’ commented from where he’d been lounging in the far corner of the room. “Hugo . . . Cut him a break, Daddy. I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” the boy pleaded, his warm hazel eyes reminding Justin again of just how much he truly missed Brian. 


Justin gave the boy a small smile before responding. “Thank you for your concern, Pretty Eyes, but I don’t have anything to apologize for. Angry Man is the one who should say sorry for being so mean to ME when I haven’t done anything wrong.” Then Justin turned to face the Angry Man directly. “So, no, I’m not sorry and I did mean it.”  


Hugo’s face turned a deeper shade of red and the veins in his neck began to visibly pulse with anger. “You better not be disrespecting me, boy, or I’ll whore your ass out to ALL of my worst buyers . . . You know the ones I’m talking about, right?” Hugo tilted his head towards a boy huddled on the floor at the foot of one of the beds who had a painful-looking black eye, a swollen lip, and several cuts marring his bruised cheek. “Ask Beauty here if you need a reminder about what happens to family that don’t behave right.” Angry Man laughed in a not-so-nice way that made Justin a little scared. “So, either you get on your knees and apologize right now, Baby, or you’ll be in the next taxi to hell.”


Justin knew what the word ‘whore’ meant - it wasn’t a nice word at all, but he’d heard it a couple times when he’d snuck in and hidden behind the couch and listened to the shows his mother watched late at night - but he didn’t know what Angry Man meant about doing that to his ass. Why were all these motel people always talking about each other’s asses, anyway? They were kicking asses, and tearing asses, and now whoring asses. Justin didn’t think it was right to be using that word all the time like that. It wasn’t a very polite word. Don’t get him wrong, Justin loved when Brian did things to his behind, but he still cringed whenever his boyfriend said the word. He certainly didn’t want to have any of these motel people doing nasty things to his behind, though. Only Brian got to do those things.


“No thank you, Angry Man.” Justin said, his voice was a little  shaky due to his nerves getting the best of him, but he still wasn’t going to back down. 


The boy Angry Man had called ‘Beauty’ whimpered a little when he heard Justin’s insolence. Justin looked over at the kid and noticed how scared he seemed. The kid also looked like he was in a lot of pain. No way was Justin going to allow something like that to happen to him, Angry Man or no.


Justin squared his shoulders and tried to remember to be brave the way Brian had told him he could be. “Brian is the only one who gets to do things to my behind - by the way, ‘ass’ isn’t a very nice word, you know - and I WON’T let you or your friends hurt me. I wouldn’t let you do that even if we were family, but we’re not. My only family was my crazy mother, and I didn’t like what she did to me either, which is why I kinda, sorta, killed her, although Ms. Attorney said it wasn’t really my fault cuz I wasn’t the crazy one and it was my mother that heard the voices, not me, and then Ms. Attorney made it so the hospital people had to let me go and told the police to let Brian go too and . . .” Justin realized he was running on, so he cut his story short and moved on. “My point is that I won’t let you hurt me, Angry Man. And I won’t get on my knees either - especially since this floor is way too icky, so I think I’ll just keep standing, although this is one time I really would prefer to have my shoes on - and I’m not going to apologize either since I’m not the one being rude.” Justin ended defiantly, but then ruined it all when he scrunched his nose up adorably and curled his toes as he again contemplated the crusty carpet touching his bare soles. 


The whole room fell silent, waiting anxiously to see what the Big Angry Man would do.


Hugo scrubbed an irritated hand over his face before turning so he could instruct the rest of the group and pointedly ignoring the insubordinate blond. He brusquely ordered the rest of the group to finish what they were doing, pretty themselves up for the night, and get the hell out. The boys quickly followed orders, kissing Hugo on the cheek and receiving an obligatory pat on the ass as they tended to their tasks. It didn’t take long since most of the boys were used to their Daddy’s mercurial moods and more than happy to get the hell out while the getting was good. 


As they were leaving, Hugo casually commented that they better bust their asses extra hard; they were going to have to work twice as hard to make up for the money he’d be losing because of their wifey’s lazy ass. Many of the boys gave Justin a dirty look as they walked past on their way out of the hotel suite. When Justin went to follow the last one out of the room, Hugo grabbed Justin’s shoulder and towed him back inside. Hunter hesitated in the doorway, but then Angry Man growled at him and even the Skinny Boy fled. Which left Justin standing there, alone, trying not to show any fear while the angry giant of a man stared him down. 


Hugo, meanwhile, was trying to decide what the hell he was going to do with his wayward boy. He usually didn’t put up with anyone in his stable defying him or questioning him in any way. It was bad for business. That being said, he’d always fancied himself more of a Finesser than a Gorilla, not to mention that he had a bit of a soft spot for Tristan. The boy had been with him longer than almost any of the others - hell, the kid had been practically a baby when Hugo had tempted him away from the shithole foster home he’d been parked in and turned him out for the first time - so Hugo felt even more paternalistic towards this boy than any of the rest. Plus, there was something about the way his blond beauty had stood up to him that made Hugo the tiniest bit proud.


Hugo had felt something was off with Tristan for a while now. He’d been watching the kid for the past week or so and noticed that Tristan had been acting distracted; he’d worried that the kid might be contemplating going renegade, which would be even worse for business than letting the kid have a night off. So he really wasn’t surprised when Tristan had acted up. The question was how to handle the situation without losing his prize worker or his reputation.


“Listen, Baby, I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight, but I get it. You’re growing up. You’re testing your limits. I kinda respect that. You gotta be strong to survive in this game and if this is your way of showing me that you can handle yourself, I like it. Maybe, I don’t know, but I’m thinking you just might have what it takes to be my bottom. What do you say? You think you could help me keep the rest of this brood in line?”


Justin couldn’t help but laugh at the big man asking him to be his bottom. I mean, didn’t he already have a bottom of his own? Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to keep his pants up.


“Don’t be silly, Angry Man. I can’t be your bottom.” Justin snickered softly. “You already have one. In fact, it’s what’s holding your pants up. Besides, I don’t think it would be very comfortable having you sit on me all the time.”


A low laugh rumbled through Hugo’s chest and he shook his head at the boy’s antics. He decided right then and there that Tristan was definitely ready to be his bottom bitch, which meant no more road work for his beauty. Going forward, this was one commodity that was officially off the market. Well, within reason, of course.


“Don’t be a smartass, Baby. Take the offer and be glad I’m not tanning your ass for giving me lip,” Hugo warned, trying not to let on that this boy had him by the balls. “And you better not fuck up or I’ll change my mind and give you that beating you should have got for not bringing Daddy home your quota money.” Then the big man fished around in the inside pocket of his worn leather jacket and pulled out a small manilla envelope. “Here. You can start by taking this to Demarcus. He still owes me for the new merchandise I brought him last week. You give him this and make sure you wait around till he pays up. When you get back we can go over the books and I’ll start showing you how the business end of things works. Got it?”


“Say ‘please’ first, Mr. Angry Man, or I won’t help you,” an insistent Justin demanded, earning himself a sub-vocal growl from the pimp.


“Enough, Tristan. Get your ass in gear and get the hell out of here or I’ll give you a please . . .”


“Fine, but, what’s a ‘demarcus’?”



 


End Notes:

5/10/20 - Happy Mother's Day! Finally we get to the part of the story where we see all Justin’s adventures. We want to reassure the readers that, although Justin’s travels might take him to scary places, we don’t plan to have this be a super angsty story. We want to keep this light. So, please, don’t panic when you see our BBB Justin getting into strange situations. He’ll be fine. He’s stronger than you think. And smarter. Just wait and see how well he does. ;) J.S.T. 

 

BTW, if you need definitions of the terms we used in this chapter, it comes from here: Human Trafficking Terms.

Chapter 7 - Take Me Home Tonight by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Miss us? Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 7 - Take Me Home Tonight.




Tristan sighed and flopped down on the ratty old couch in the back office of Red Cape Comics. They’d been at the comic book store for more than an hour already and he was beyond bored. Brunet Guy, aka Michael, was way too into super heroes for a grown man. Talk about escapism. This guy was probably the biggest, most pathetic loser, Tristan had ever met. Which was saying a lot because he’d met some serious losers in his day.


After spending about a half hour jawing with the delivery guy, Michael had taken his time opening up and unpacking the boxes. He’d tried to get Tristan interested in whatever crap he was going on about, but Tristan wasn’t biting. He’d only gone along with this charade because he’d been promised a place to stay for the night. There’d even been talk of dinner. But, instead, he’d been subjected to an hour plus of Michael going on and on about various fictional characters as if they were real people. Was this guy a few fries short of a happy meal or something? Where was the swanky place to stay? When was dinner? If Tristan was gonna be forced to sit around in this dusty little storefront for much longer, he was gonna bail on the whole con. 


“Hey, do you know how long this will take. I’m dying here,” Tristan asked snarkily. “I’m still a growing boy, you know. I need sustenance.”


“I’m sure you won’t starve. Or doesn’t Brian feed you?” Michael answered, getting nothing but a shrug from Tristan in return. “Just hold your horses, okay? After I get this stock put away, we can get some food.”


Tristin huffed with exasperation and sank back into the couch again. He was totally bored. He hoped that they’d go get some food soon. Even if he was eventually found out, he was confident he’d be able to maintain his little charade long enough to get something in his stomach before anyone figured out that they had the wrong ‘friend’. Provided, that is, this loser didn’t spend all night thumbing through his superhero porn.


“Okay. I think that’s good,” Brunet Guy finally said as he placed the final stack of comics in a display rack next to the front door. “I can do the rest of this tomorrow.”


“‘Bout time,” Tristan grumbled and rolled off the couch. 


“Well, you could have helped a bit and then I would have finished faster,” Michael complained, as he tossed the last empty carton out the back door and locked it behind him. 


“Yeah . . . I don’t think so. Don’t want to ruin my manicure,” Tristan replied, pretending to look at his ragged nails which were bitten to the quick in places. 


Michael rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. He hadn’t spent much time with Brian’s new boy toy so he didn’t know if the kid was joking or not. So far Michael hadn’t been impressed. Yeah, the blond was pretty good looking, and he definitely had a nice ass, but as far as the kid’s personality was concerned, Michael thought he seemed like a lazy, rude little cunt. It just reinforced the notion that Justin had latched onto Brian for some alternative purpose. Michael didn’t know if he believed that shit about the kid being loaded or not. If he was, there was even less of a reason for him to be hanging on Brian all the time the way he did. Michael wasn’t sure what the kid’s angle was, but he just didn’t trust him. 


Ignoring the boy’s snarky demeanor, Michael tried to focus on the fact that he’d promised Brian he’d take care of the kid for the night. “So, how hungry are you ? We could meet the guys at the Diner for dinner or just order pizza later if . . .”


“Diner. Definitely Diner,” Tristan insisted, his empty stomach growling at the mere thought of food. 


Michael gestured towards the door, inviting the kid to precede him out, and then locked up behind them. By the time Michael looked up the kid was halfway down the block, heading in the wrong direction. Which was weird, right? Not that the kid had been around for that long, but he and Brian had been to the Liberty Diner quite a bit, so he should know which direction to head, right?


“Hey, Boy Wonder!” Michael hollered after the wayward youth. “It’s this way, you derp!”


“Right . . . I guess being half starved is making me confused,” Tristan answered as he hurriedly ran to catch up with the annoying brunet geek.


“You know, if you’re that hungry, maybe you should tell Brian to let you up out of bed long enough to eat once in a while,” Michael joked snidely.


“Jealous?” Tristan shot back with a smirk in Michael’s direction. 


“Hardly,” Michael replied lamely. 


Tristan could tell from the longing look Brunet Guy barely managed to cover up that he’d hit the nail on the head in his first attempt. So that’s how it was, huh? This Michael guy had the hots for Blondie’s boyfriend. Figured. Tristan just chuckled softly as he continued to follow his temporary keeper.


“Hey, don’t get your panties in a wad, Dude. If fantasizing about me and the Stud being together bothers you so much, I can always go back to Kinney’s place on my own,” Tristan offered. “It’s no skin off my back. Why do you want me to stay with you anyway? I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”


“No.” Michael sounded totally exasperated but determined nonetheless. “Brian said for Emmett and me to look after you so you won’t get into trouble, and I promised him I would do it. Which means you’re stuck with us for at least the next couple of nights, kid.”


Tristen shook his head but didn’t say anything. What he wanted to do was rip Brunet Guy a new one, but he didn’t want to give himself away by arguing with the idiot. He was trying hard to remember just how this Justin-kid talked, all sweet and naive . . . It might be harder to imitate his double than he’d thought. Especially if he was constantly having to bite his tongue to avoid a confrontation with this clueless creep.


“Whatever. But I’m gonna need to go get some clothes if I’m going to stay with you, so we need to go to Kinney’s and get stuff after we eat. And you better be nice to me because Brian doesn’t like when guys mess with me,” Tristin added, causing the brunet to look at him disdainfully.


“Believe me kid, I’m not into chicken. I’m not even remotely interested. Frankly, I don’t get why my best friend is with you at all since he never was either . . .”


“Maybe you just don’t like that I get to do shit with him that you only WISH you could do,” Tristen challenged, batting his eyes and trying to look as innocent as Justin when he said it.


Michael gave him an odd look but didn’t bother responding, letting Tristan know he’d scored another direct hit. He tried not to gloat, though, because that would be totally out of character for his goody-two-shoes double. Tristan totally had Brunet Guy figured out now and he knew he’d find a way to use that knowledge to his advantage somehow. He just had to wait for the right moment. 


While he was contemplating his options, the two of them crossed the street and came up to a tacky little dive that Tristan recognized from his time trolling the Avenue. He’d never been inside the Liberty Diner - mostly because he rarely had enough money over and above his quota for Hugo to waste on food - but he’d peeked in the windows a time or two. It had always looked like a welcoming place. So he was more than a little excited by the prospect of finally getting to go inside. 


He and Michael were seated in a comfortable booth in the back of the diner, looking over the menus, when Brunet Guy’s tall swishy friend strolled in a few minutes later.


“Hello, Michael. And Baby. How are we today?” Swishy burbled as he took up a place on the bench seat next to Tristan.


Knowing he had to be careful, Tristin smiled sweetly and answered, “I’m kinda tired. Brian and I were really busy with boyfriend stuff last night, so I didn’t get much sleep.” 


He was glad he had listened while Justin was talking at the bar the other night, so he could copy the kid’s stupid mannerisms. The scowl on Michael’s face when he said ‘boyfriend stuff’ almost made Tristan laugh out loud. Jerking this guy’s chain around was gonna be fun. He made a mental note to use that stupid phrase as often as possible around the lovesick loser.


Meanwhile, Swishy gave his seat companion a questioning look. In the short time Emmett had known Justin, he’d never known him to be one to talk openly about private moments like that. Maybe the boy was finally loosening up a bit? 


“Well, we should all be so lucky to be sleep deprived in such a delicious manner,” Emmett cooed dreamily, fanning himself ostentatiously in the process.


“You know,” Tristan leaned closer to the big queen and lowered his voice to a seductive whisper that had never failed to win him a John, “I’m sure Brian wouldn’t mind me showing you what he’s taught me . . . It could be fun.” Tristan punctuated his statement with a saucy little wink.


“Baby, are you trying to get us both killed? Big Bad would tear me a new one, and not in a good way, if I even attempted to lay one glorious finger on you,” Emmett quickly reacted, scooting a couple inches away from Tristan so as to add a modicum of physical distance between them.


Tristin immediately realized he’d made a mistake. He needed to be careful around this one; this Emmett might seem scatterbrained but he was smarter than he looked. Swishy would certainly be more likely than the comic geek to realize that Tristan wasn’t the right blond. He’d need to be more careful if he didn’t want to get caught.


Luckily, a harried, red-haired waitress came up at that point to take their orders. Tristan ordered as big a meal as he thought he could get away with; a double cheeseburger with chili fries, a salad, and a chocolate shake. When nobody blinked an eye at the feast he’d requested, he added a piece of pie ala mode for dessert. Red just winked at him, commenting about how she loved seeing a boy with a healthy appetite, and wrote it all down. Meanwhile Brunet Guy & Swishy chattered about shit that Tristan had no interest in. That was fine with him, though, because it gave the hungry boy more time to enjoy the delicious hot meal he was served - something that wasn’t the norm in his current life. By the time he was done eating, his stomach was so full he almost felt like barfing, but since he knew that it might be a long time till he got another meal like that, Tristan didn’t care. 


After finishing their meals, which Michael paid for while commenting that Brian had promised to pay him back later, they all three headed off to the loft so ‘Justin’ could get some clothes. Luckily, Michael had a key because ‘Justin’ seemed to have forgotten his own. Tristan couldn’t believe how gullible his two companions were; had any con in the history of the world been this easy? Next thing you knew these two would be handing over the family jewels and holding the door open for him while he robbed them blind. Sheesh. 


“You know, kid, between your shoes and your keys and all the other stuff you can’t seem to remember all the time, you really need a keeper,” Michael groused as he unlocked the door. 


Tristan merely shrugged, which the dupes seemed to accept without question as Michael led the way inside.


Tristin tried not to gape as he stared at the loft apartment that his double shared with this Brian character. Damn, that Justin kid had it fucking made! He’d heard rumors that Kinney was loaded, but he hadn’t expected this. This place was like something you’d see in a movie. It was a totally sleek pad. Tristan couldn’t even imagine living in a place half as dope. It made the fly-by-night motel he’d been holed up in with Hugo’s crew for the past few weeks look like a dump. Which it was, of course. But this . . . This was the life, right?


“You okay, Baby?” Swishy asked, looking at Tristan with a funny expression as the young hustler stood gazing around himself in wonder. 


“Uh, yeah . . . Sorry . . . I was just . . .” Tristan scrambled to find some excuse for why his counterpart would be standing there looking around himself like a dolt. “I guess I’m just missing Brian, you know?” He tried to look innocent and wistful but wasn’t sure if he totally pulled it off because that just wasn’t him, but whatever.


“Just hurry up already,” Michael grumbled, apparently buying the lovelorn thing, although Tristan wasn’t sure the tall swishstick who was eyeing him with confusion was convinced.


Tristan decided he better not look around too much longer or Swishy would figure out what was up. Luckily the loft was laid out so that you could see everything as soon as you walked in the door making navigating around fairly simple. While Kinney’s two friends went over to sit on the sofa, Tristan headed up to the bedroom area to begin gathering what he could, hoping not to arouse any more suspicion. Of course, even that was tough since he didn’t know where anything was in the closet or drawers there. 


Luckily, one of the first things he saw when he opened the closet was a big black duffle bag. With that in hand, he pulled a couple of shirts that looked like they’d fit off some hangers, rifled through the dresser till he found some underwear, socks, and a pair of designer jeans in the right size, along with a nice pair of boots that were clearly too big for his own feet, but that he thought he might be able to trade for cash. Next, he located the bathroom and loaded his bag with whatever toiletries he could stuff in. Then - after making sure the dweeb brothers weren’t watching - he took one more look around and grabbed a gold watch, a silver bracelet, and some cash that had been left sitting out in a little tray on top of the dresser. In the top drawer of the same dresser he found a small wooden box full of pills and some pre-rolled joints, which he also added to his haul. 


After zipping up the bag, Tristan wandered down the steps to the main room and surreptitiously pocketed a digital recorder he saw sitting on the kitchen counter along with a nice little chrome and glass box that he thought he might be able to sell for a buck or two. What the hell, right? A guy’s gotta make a buck however he can in this world and Tristan wasn’t gonna pass up easily fensable shit like that if saps like Brunet Guy and Swishy were practically handing it all to him on a silver fucking platter. 


“You finally ready?” Michael asked when Tristan came around the end of the couch with the strap of his now full bag over his shoulder.


“Hey, I’m not the one who’s ass is busy making a dent in the couch,” Tristan replied, unable to control his natural snark.


Swishy gave him another of those confused looks as he unfolded his lanky self off the couch. “You sure you’re feeling okay, Baby?”


“Yeah . . .” Tristan hesitated, trying to think up a way to cover his mistake, but didn’t come up with anything and had to go with the lamest excuse ever. “I just have a bit of a headache, actually. Don’t mind me.”


“Oh. Poor baby. Let’s get you back to the apartment and you can crawl into bed early,” Swishy exclaimed, wrapping a consoling arm around Tristan’s shoulders as he ushered the boy out of the loft and on his way towards the next stop on his con tour.


 



Since ‘Stan claimed not to know where to find Demarcus - which didn’t make much sense because Demarcus was one of the biggest players on the circuit and everyone knew the man, but whatever - Hugo agreed to go with him to find the other runner and, in the process, show his new bottom bitch the ropes. 


Hunter and a few of the other boys had hung back rather than heading off to the track to start their own stroll and decided to tag along behind to watch what went down. There was a lot of whispered speculation about what the fuck was going on with Stan. The boy was acting hella weird. In whispers and gestures, Hunter managed to tell the others about Stan’s little accident and that he thought the kid had probably knocked himself silly. 


A still barefoot Justin, who’d fallen far enough behind Hugo that he overheard the comments directed at his behavior, stopped. “I don’t know why you keep calling me ‘Stan, Skinny Boy. I told you, my name is Justin.”


“Yeah, right . . . And I’m Lil Nas X,” teased a short, plump, black kid who looked like he was maybe twelve. 


“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. X,” Justin smiled at the other boy, causing all the rest to break out in gales of laughter. Justin, who apparently didn’t get the joke, chuckled along awkwardly and then added, “as soon as I finish this favor for the Big Angry Man, do you think one of you guys could help me find my way back to Tremont Street? I really need to get home to my Brian. I’m sure he’s probably worried about me by now. I hope he’s not mad because I forgot my phone again. I know he says I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on, but I can’t help it that I never had a travelling phone before so I don’t remember to take it with me. They’re tricky, you know?”


“You’re a fucking kick tonight, Stan,” Mr. X replied with another laugh directed at Justin over his shoulder as he headed off into the night on his own. “Delusional, but a kick.” 


Justin turned to face Hunter with what the other boy was coming to think of as his new normal confusion. “Why does Mr. X think I’m delusional? I’m just trying to get home to Brian. Why won’t anyone listen to me, Skinny Boy?”


Hunter put his hand on Stan’s shoulder and began to lead him down the sidewalk in Hugo’s wake before their Daddy got too far out of sight. “Whatever you say, Stan.”


“I’m NOT this Stan you keep talking about!” Justin was getting just a little bit annoyed and it showed in his tone.


“Okay. Okay . . .” Hunter sighed, getting a little worried by that point. 


“Hey! Boy! Get your ass moving. I ain’t got all night!” Hugo yelled back at the boys straggling along more than half a block behind him by that point. 


Justin sighed and looked back and forth between the Angry Man and his new friend. “I just want to go home . . .” he whimpered a little in his frustration.


“Fine. Whatever,” Hunter relented in the face of his friend’s stubbornness. “But don’t piss off Hugo too much, please. He’ll make life hell for all of us if you keep this shit up. Just go along with him tonight and do what he says and if you still want to go find this Brian guy in the morning I’ll help you try and find him. Okay?”


Since Justin didn’t have any other choice, he reluctantly shrugged and then trotted along so as to catch up to the Hugo man as his skinny friend had requested. 


It only took a couple more minutes of walking before they got to the apartment where Demarcus lived. Hugo led the way up the poorly-lit back stairs and hammered on the sturdy-looking metal door. Demarcus let them in with what passed for a friendly greeting for Hugo and an appraising look in Justin’s direction. Before Hugo could get to the point of his visit, though, there was a shout coming from somewhere upstairs and the pimp excused himself saying he’d be right back after he dealt with ‘that problem new boy’. Hugo waved him off, the Big Angry Man’s expression seeming to convey a sympathetic understanding of the trials and tribulations the other man was subjected to. Meanwhile, Justin, who didn’t really know what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing here in the Demarcus man’s apartment, started to look around himself with curiosity. 


The apartment was messy and crowded. There was a huge sectional couch that took up most of the middle of the room, its chocolate brown, velveteen upholstery ratty and dirty and marked by holes. Against the wall was a huge piece of furniture that framed the obvious center piece of the decorating scheme - a gigantic 85” television screen with accompanying waist-high speakers. On the scratched and dented coffee table between the couch and the tv was an expensive-looking gaming system, with various game cartridges scattered around amid the detritus of an overflowing ashtray, a bong filled with nasty-looking dark-brown water, and a few small baggies filled with white powder or pills. The few other pieces of furniture in the room were nondescript. Everything was either broken or dirty or both, except for the electronics, which looked brand new. The apartment didn’t even smell clean. It smelled like the funny cigarettes that Brian sometimes smoked that made him sneeze. Justin didn’t like it there very much.


That’s when Justin heard a small whimpering noise coming through a doorway that appeared to lead off into the kitchen area. Curious, Justin poked his head through the opening and saw a huge plastic and metal cage pushed up against the wall. There was a rustling sound inside that drew him closer. When he bent over and peeked through metal grating at the front of the crate, the boy discovered a furry brown snout and two golden-brown eyes staring back at him.


“It’s a puppy!” Justin exclaimed and immediately reached down towards the latch that would open the kennel door.


The dog started growling almost immediately. The Big Angry Man, who’d followed Justin into the kitchen, growled right back at the caged beast. The dog seemed to take that as a threat and his growling escalated to angry barking. Hugo kicked off his shoe and threw it at the dog. When the shoe hit the cage, the dog retreated to the back of the small enclosure and started to whine. 


“Why did you do that? That wasn’t very nice, Mr. Angry Man.” Justin gave the big man a judgmental look. “This poor puppy just wants someone to pay attention to him,” Justin insisted as he reached out towards the cage again.


“What did you do, take a stupid pill today?” Hugo pulled Justin back away from the crate, yanking him so roughly that the boy almost fell over. “That fucking dog is a menace; he’ll take your arm off,” Hugo warned as he picked up an empty beer bottle off a nearby counter and started to throw that at the dog as well. 


Justin grabbed the beer bottle out of Hugo’s hand and set it aside. Then, ignoring Hugo, he approached the cage again, talking softly to the dog and reaching through the grating without any fear. Hugo just stared in wonder as the dog tentatively sniffed at the boy’s fingers then licked Justin’s hand before nuzzling it. Even he was nervous around this dog - the big Doberman Pinscher was known to be vicious, which is precisely why Demarcus kept the beast around - but Stan was acting like the creature was his best friend. Something was wrong; all the boys were afraid of Demarcus’ dog. So what the hell was going on here? 


Meanwhile, Justin kept talking softly to the dog, telling him that he was a sweet baby. He could sense how scared the poor animal was. After a few minutes, Justin pulled up the latch on the cage and coaxed the animal out. The monster came right up to him, rubbing up against his leg, frisking like a puppy. 



Hugo backed away, knowing that the dog didn’t like him. He took a deep, nervous breath as Justin sat down and let the dog climb into his lap. Hugo wasn’t sure what to do. Should he grab a knife to protect the boy or should he just leave, abandon ‘Stan to fend for himself, and let Demarcus clean up the mess if the dog killed the kid?


Justin took the collar off the top of the cage and looked at the tag. “So, your name is ‘Boss’, huh? Well, it’s nice to meet you, Boss. I’m Justin,” he said, shaking the dog’s paw before leaning down to attach the collar while whispering into the canine's ear, “even though everyone around here keeps calling me Stan for some strange reason.”


Hugo saw a box of dog treats on the counter and thought they might use them to appease the dog long enough to make a break for it. He started to toss Justin a dog treat, but when he raised his hand Boss growled and began to advance menacingly towards the pimp. Justin grabbed the Doberman by his collar and told him nicely to sit. And, to Hugo’s utter amazement, the meanest dog he’d ever encountered, did just that. Boss let out a happy little yip and hunkered down on his haunches, his snout raised toward the boy with what Hugo could have sworn was a smile. 


Justin smiled back and told Boss he was a, “Good Boy.” The youth looked up at Hugo with an ear-to-ear grin. “See, Angry Man? If you’re nice to animals, they will be nice to you.” Then he turned to Boss and told him, “The Big Angry Man will need some training, Boss, but we can get him fixed if we work on it together.”


For some reason, Hugo thought he saw the dog nodding at the boy in agreement. But that was crazy, right? He was just imagining things. Dogs didn’t understand people, did they?



 

 

End Notes:

6/30/20 - I’m back... Thanks for your patience. I’ve been struggling with a bad case of quarantine brain for the past couple of months. It’s been hard dealing with the abrupt changes to all our lives, not to mention the constant stream of increasingly bad news, and I just haven’t had the strength to write. But maybe I’m ready to find a new normal? At least long enough to get some writing done? I certainly hope so. Special thanks go out to Lorie on this chapter - she always writes great animal scenes & we can thank her for naming our dog, Boss. Now, do you think Brian is ready for a dog? Hehehe. TAG

Chapter 8 - Adaptation by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

It's baaaaacccckkkk! TAG



Chapter 8 - Adaptation.



It appeared that the Demarcus Man was not amused by the way Justin had tamed his formerly vicious guard dog. 


When the pimp came downstairs and found little Justin petting Boss into submission, he pretty much lost it. The Big Angry Man sputtered and apologized but nothing seemed to placate Mr. Demarcus. He just kept yelling about how Stan had broken his dog and demanded that Hugo compensate him for the loss. Hugo, staunch businessman that he was, absolutely refused to even entertain such a ludicrous idea. The two men spent the next ten minutes screaming at each other. At one point it looked like they might even come to blows.


All the yelling and testosterone flying around only served to frighten the poor animal more. But when the beast climbed into Justin‘s lap and hid its head against the young man’s shoulder, that was the last straw for Demarcus Man. The enraged black man stomped his foot, pointed towards the door, and then, in essence, threw them out. Angry Man pulled Justin up to his feet and forcibly dragged him out of the apartment. The last thing the youth saw before the door was slammed behind them was Demarcus tugging cruelly at the snarling dog’s collar to restrain the animal from following his new best friend.


Justin was too worried about the poor puppy to listen very closely as Hugo grumbled and cursed for the next several blocks. It wasn’t till Hugo moved on from grumbling and complaining about being thrown out without being paid all the money Demarcus owed him, and started lighting into Justin for being the cause of his pecuniary loss, that the young blond man finally looked up from his own bare feet and tuned in again. Without any better target for his pissy mood, all of Hugo’s animus quickly refocused on his rebellious boy.


“I don’t know what the fuck’s got into you tonight, Stan. All the babbling and shit you were spouting off about back at the hotel is one thing; that was just among family and I can deal with any of the boys that might start acting up because of your nonsense. But it’s a whole ‘nother shit pile when you start disrespecting me in front of my business associates. I’m not gonna stand for you costing me money, boy. Do you hear me?”


Justin didn’t immediately respond, which seemed to piss Hugo off even more. Mr. Angry Man stepped around the slightly-built youth and physically blocked the sidewalk with his massive presence. He was so angry by that point there were little flecks of spittle sticking to the corners of his mouth and all the veins on the forearms crossed over his chest were throbbing. Justin, rightfully, felt threatened. But when he tried to take a couple of steps back, Hugo pressed down on his shoulder with one massive meat paw, effectively holding him in place.


“Fuck this shit!” Hugo exclaimed. “I’m done coddling your ass, Stan. You’re on the top of my shit list right now, kid.” Angry Man blew out a huge huff of air, shook his head, and seemed to come to some decision about Justin’s fate. “You know, I thought maybe you were ready to take on some more responsibility but fuck that. I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to make you my bottom bitch . . .”


By that point, however, Justin felt like he’d really had enough. No matter how intimidating this Big Angry Man was, Brian had always told him never to take shit from anyone. So, in spite of his fear, and the rather obvious difference in their sizes, the courageous young man decided it was time to leave.


“I don’t know why you keep saying that, Mr. Man,” the youth spoke up, interrupting Hugo’s diatribe mid-sentence. “I know I have a nice bottom - Brian mentions that quite often, actually - but I’m not interested in letting anyone other than my boyfriend get near it. And I don’t appreciate you using bad words around me all the time. I’m not anyone’s ‘B-Word’; that’s just a mean thing to say. Especially after I stuck around to try and help you with the Demarcus Man, who, by the way, doesn’t seem very nice either considering the way he was mishandling that sweet puppy . . .”


The longer Justin spoke, the more furious Hugo became. The tenacious blond was just getting started though. He’d had a really troublesome afternoon and an even worse evening and his patience was at an end. He needed to get home to Brian. He was tired of trying to be nice to this Angry Man who was saying all sorts of unpleasant things to him. He wasn’t going to back down again.


Luckily, the simmering impasse was interrupted right then by the timely arrival of the one Justin thought of as Skinny Boy. 


“Hey, Daddy. Trey’s got a problem customer; the guy’s giving him a hard time about your new pricing plan. Can you come sort the guy out before Trey gets himself decked?” Hunter asked, looking as contrite as possible for having to intrude on Hugo’s impending meltdown. 


“I bet it’s that fucking Porsche guy, isn’t it?” Hugo replied, easily distracted, already turning to stomp off down the street. “That entitled asswipe is always trying to get a discount. It’s not like he’s hurting for money either; he just doesn’t want his wife to notice how much cash he keeps dropping; she might find out what he’s doing on the down-low. Closeted rich guys make me sick . . .” Hunter breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he’d managed to stave off another Hugo beat down and save his buddy Stan’s hide, only to tense up again when the pimp called out to them before rounding the corner at the end of the block. “Don’t think this means I’ve forgotten about the shit storm you caused tonight, Stan. I’ll be back to deal with YOU later; after I get Trey sorted out.”


“Damn. You in some serious trouble, brother,” Hunter sympathized, putting a friendly arm around Justin’s shoulder. “What the hell happened at Demarcus’ pad? Did you piss in his cornflakes or something? I ain’t seen Hugo that chapped since Stefano stole his east-side territory.”


“I would never relieve myself in anyone’s breakfast cereal. That would be gross,” Justin responded, wrinkling his nose.


Hunter laughed and put his arm around Justin’s shoulders as he began to lead the older boy down the street in Hugo’s wake. “You’ve fucking lost it tonight, Stan.” 


Hunter side-eyed the youth shuffling along beside him, noted that his friend was barefoot again despite the rather cold and dirty sidewalk they were traversing, and wondering again what had gotten into Stan. The kid had seemed off since Hunter had found him wandering around in the rain. It was more than that bump on the head making him forget shit; there was something more going on here. All the weird shit Stan was saying, the odd way he was talking, and the strange way he was acting . . . It was all kinda spooking Hunter. His friend just wasn’t acting like the Stan they all knew.


As they continued down the block, Hunter surreptitiously scanned his friend but, except for the now-dirty scrap of gauze on his temple, Stan looked just like he always did. Maybe Stan’s hair was a little shorter than it had been - Hunter wondered where the other boy had found the dough to get what looked like a professionally styled cut - but otherwise he appeared pretty much the same. Then Hunter noticed that Stan’s clothing was a better quality than Hugo’s boys usually sported. Where had Stan scored a pair of G-Star jeans - that shit was pricey - and was that shirt from J. Crew? Definitely a step up from the usual Big Q apparel and hand-me-downs the working boys usually made do with. In fact, except for the fact Stan seemed to have lost his shoes, the kid was dressed better than anybody else out on the streets that night. So how’d a street rat like Stan manage such an upgrade to his wardrobe, huh?


Despite looking vaguely normal, though, Hunter’s long-time friend was acting completely lost. The kid was staring around himself, looking at what should have been the familiar surroundings where the boys always worked their trade, as if it was all new. Hell, Stan had been on these streets for longer than almost anyone; he’d been the one to show Hunter the ropes and give him the requisite tour of the ‘hood only a year or so before. But now he acted like he’d never seen the place before? That was weird, right?


Not to mention the way Stan had been talking back to Hugo . . . Did the kid have a death wish or something? That bump on Stan’s head must have knocked out more than just his memory; the boy seemed to have lost all common sense as well. Even though Stan had always been one of their Daddy’s favorites, not even the pet could get away with shit like that for long without a serious beat down. Concussion or not, you’d think a streetwise hustler like Stan would be smarter about not pushing the buttons of the guy who owned his ass. 


Yeah, something was definitely off with Stan.


They didn’t have time to get into all that, though, so Hunter merely shook his head and sighed. It was show time. Hunter’s nightly quota wasn’t gonna earn itself. Besides, Hunter was tired of the drama for the night. So, when it looked like Stan was about to open his mouth and spout more stupid shit, Hunter cut his friend off.


“Enough already, Stan. It’s one thing if you get yourself in trouble, but pissing Hugo off makes life harder for all of us, so just give it up already. Okay?”


Justin sighed. “I just want to go home, Skinny Boy. Please? Brian’s probably getting really worried about me by now.”


Hunter stopped and looked at his friend - really looked at him - for a long time. Again with the crap about this ‘Brian’ guy and going ‘home’? What the fuck? Maybe that knock on his noggin really had done a serious number on his brain or something? 


Not that Hunter knew what to do about it if that really was the case. The best solution he could come up with was to try and humor the other boy and hope that Stan would eventually snap out of it. If not . . . Well, they could figure out what to do later if this condition turned out to be more permanent, right?


“Come on, Stan,” Hunter spoke up, grabbing the blond by the arm and starting, once more, to lead him down the street towards the strip where Hugo’s boys usually plied their trade. “We can’t go traipsing around town this time of night. Especially not with Hugo already in a shitty mood and us still with our quotas unmet.”


Justin, who didn’t know what a quota was or care about Hugo’s mood, tried to dig in his dirty bare heels, shrugging off the hand on his arm. “No. I want to go home. NOW!”


Hunter groaned and scrubbed at his face in frustration. “What do you want from me, Stan?” Justin continued to stare at him with an expression somewhere between anger and tears. “Look, we can’t bug out now. There’s just no way. I’m not gonna risk going against Hugo - not tonight. But, if you shut the fuck up and stop acting like a fool for the next couple of hours, I PROMISE, I’ll help you look for this Brian dude tomorrow morning, okay?”


Justin looked around himself. He didn’t recognize anything. He had no way to contact Brian. It was getting really late and the thought of wandering around Pittsburgh alone, at night, was more than a little daunting to the boy who, until recently, had lived his entire life locked up with his crazy mother in a two-bedroom house in the suburbs. Even though he didn’t really know this Skinny Boy, or any of the rest of them, staying with them seemed a lot less scary than leaving on his own. 


“I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” Justin muttered unhappily. “I suppose . . . If you promise to take me to Brian tomorrow . . . I guess I can stay, at least for one night.”


“That’s my boy.” Hunter grinned at his friend and resumed his path heading down the block. 


Justin reluctantly followed his companion. When they turned the corner onto a much busier street, the lost blond boy suddenly found himself amidst a small crowd of people. There were several shops opened up along this stretch of road: all-night markets, pot shops, a tattoo parlor, and even one particularly tacky-looking dive bar down on the far corner. The traffic along this stretch - both the foot traffic as well as the vehicular traffic driving past - was remarkably heavy for this time of night, especially on a Tuesday evening. Justin wasn’t sure about all the strange people wandering around and bumping into him; he still wasn’t used to people much when he didn’t have a protective Brian nearby to reassure him. Altogether, though, this lot seemed too intent on their own business to pay Justin much notice, which was good as far as he was concerned.


Justin stuck close as the Skinny Boy took up a position next to the pole holding up the traffic light on the corner. The nervous young blond looked around himself, trying to figure out what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing. Scattered amongst all the customers coming and going from the local businesses were most of the boys that Justin had seen in the hotel room where he’d first met Hugo. The entire motley crew of young men were slouching around in doorways, laughing and joking with each other, smoking cigarettes, flirting with the folks walking by, and just basically goofing off. Or so it seemed. 


But then, every so often, Justin would see one of them walk over to the curb, gesture to a driver in a passing car, and lean in to talk through the window of the vehicle when it stopped. Sometimes the passenger-side door would pop open and the boy would get in with the unseen driver before the car drove off again. A few minutes later, the same car would return and the boy would climb out of the car and return to his friends. Once, Justin saw the boy called Beauty take a rather large wad of cash from the driver of a big, silver Audi as the kid was getting out of the vehicle; when Beauty met up again with his friends waiting next to the door of the market, he waved his fistful of money at them and bragged about how he was having a pretty good night. 


Justin didn’t understand any of it. 


A couple of minutes later a short, fat, greasy-looking man sporting an ugly comb-over came out of the bar and made his way down the street. As soon as he neared the spot where Justin and Hunter had been standing, Skinny Boy stepped into the man’s path and offered up a simpering little smile.


“Hey there, Felix. You lookin’ for some company tonight?” Hunter offered with a leer. 


“Sorry, Baby. I can’t tonight. I’m supposed to meet a guy in,” the man looked at his watch, “twenty-five minutes.”


“Come on, Felix. Help a guy out, wontcha? I’m nowhere close to making my quota tonight,” Skinny Boy pleaded. The Felix man looked at Hunter and Justin could almost see the wheels spinning in his head. “How about if I give you a discount on a quickie? One for the road?”


That seemed to convince Mr. Felix, who nodded and then tilted his head towards a dark side street a few meters down the block. Hunter grinned and led the way in that direction. Felix was only a step or two behind the youth. Justin, who didn’t know what to do with himself and didn’t care for just waiting around alone, chose to follow as well. 


Skinny Boy led the whole parade down the side street and then ducked into an even darker alley behind the strip of buildings they’d been standing in front of. About ten meters down the alley there stood an assortment of teeming and noisome dumpsters. Hunter backed into the sheltered nook between two of the waste receptacles and then reached out with one hand to pull Mr. Felix into the smelly retreat after him. 


Justin, who still didn’t have a clue what was going on, peeked over the edge of the big metal dumpster and was a little surprised to see Hunter leaning against the dirty brick wall with his pants sagging down below his butt. Mr. Felix was already unzipping his fly with a business-like air. 


“Oh. Okay, I see. You’re doing boyfriend things. I wasn’t expecting that,” Justin announced, his voice echoing around the narrow alley rather loudly. There was a smattering of laughter coming from a little further down the alley, causing Justin to look up and note that there were at least two other couples hiding in similarly unobtrusive spots in the dark passageway. “It’s not the nicest place to have boyfriend lessons, though. Wouldn’t you rather take your boyfriend home and have sex in a nice clean bed rather than in this smelly alley, Skinny Boy?”


“Fuck off, Stan. Can’t you see I’m working here?” was the annoyed response from Skinny Boy. “You’ve got your own quota to fill, don’t you? Go find your own John and leave us alone already.” Then Hunter turned back to speak to Mr. Felix again. “Ignore Stan; he’s having a bad night.”


“It’s true. I really am having a bad night,” Justin couldn’t help but agree with that statement. “But I don’t want to interrupt you and your boyfriend, though. I guess I’ll just go back and wait for you in front of the store . . .”


“You do that,” Skinny Boy replied. Then both he and Felix seemed to forget about Justin’s presence altogether. However, Justin hadn’t taken even one step away when he heard Hunter grunting in pain as Mr. Felix stepped closer, pressed the youth’s face to the wall with one hand, and thrust with his hips against the younger man’s nether regions. “Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about, Big Boy. Fast and hard. Just the way you like it, right?” Hunter commented as if trying to egg the older man on.


Justin continued to stand there and stare in mild fascination. He didn’t much care for this Felix man; what kind of name was that anyway? The only Felix Justin knew was Felix The Cat - one of his favorite old-time cartoons -not that Skinny Boy’s balding, overweight, awkward boyfriend looked at all feline. This Cat Man didn’t seem like the nicest boyfriend, either, especially judging by the way he was pressing Skinny Boy’s head rather roughly against the dirty bricks of the alley wall. But who was Justin to judge true love, right? He didn’t want to intrude, so he started to walk back down the narrow passage, leaving the love birds to do their boyfriend things in peace.


When he came to the corner, Justin was almost run over as the boy called Trey came around the bend with another, older man, who looked like he was at least fifty, in tow. “How much is this going to set me back?” Oldster asked.


“That depends on what you want,” Trey explained with a flirty little tilt of his head. “Fifty for an appetizer. Hundred for the full meal deal. Or, if you want to spring for a hotel room, you can supersize and order off the menu a la carte, but that’ll cost you more depending on all the options.”


“What about condom-free? Is that one of the menu options?” Oldster asked as he shouldered his way past Justin, totally ignoring the shocked blond boy.


“Honey, you can’t afford that option,” Trey replied with a laugh. “PrEP ain't cheap, you know.”


“Would five Benjamins be enough?” The Oldster reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash with a $100 bill clearly evidenced on the outside. With his other hand, the man held up a small white plastic packet with writing on it that Justin couldn't read in the darkness. “And I’ll even throw in your first dose.” 


Trey tilted his head to the side, smiled toothily, and snatched the packet out of Oldster’s hand. “Sure. Why the hell not.”


Justin had watched all this going down in silent shock. He didn’t know what was in the little packet, but it really didn’t matter; Brian had warned him from the very beginning that you NEVER had sex without a condom. Never. He’d even directed Justin to a page on the Devil’s Box - it was called ‘Planned Parenthood’, although he still didn’t understand why it was called that if Brian was right and there was no way for two gay men to get pregnant while doing boyfriend things - which had detailed all sorts of icky things about diseases you could get if you didn’t use condoms. But perhaps these boys didn’t know about Planned Parenthood or diseases?


“Excuse me, Mr. Trey, but that’s not a good idea,” Justin interrupted, trotting over so he could grab hold of the boy’s shoulder and pull him to a halt before the pair could reach an empty wall section beyond the furthest dumpster. “My Brian says you should ALWAYS use a condom. It’s just not safe without. You could get very sick. Not to mention it’s just way more icky without one; I mean, I don’t mind getting love juices all over me when I’m at home and can take a shower, but I don’t think it would be very nice out here in the alley when you can’t clean up afterwards.” Justin reached into the back pocket of his own jeans where, following Brian’s suggestion, he always kept a few condoms, just in case, and handed one to Trey. “Here. Always play safe, Brian says.”


Trey took the condom that Justin had thrust into his hand while exchanging confused looks with his older companion. Justin smiled and waved as he backed away, happy to have been of help to the younger boy. As he passed one of the other couples in the alley, though, he stopped one last time to offer yet another piece of helpful advice.


“You know, if you tuck your lips in more, you’ll not only cover your teeth better, but you get better suction,” he suggested to the Hispanic lad on his knees in front of a seedy-looking man with a bald head and a tattoo on his neck. “Brian also likes it when I stick a finger or two up his you-know-where at the end. I’m sure your boyfriend will like it too.”

 

And then Justin skipped away, leaving a whole alley full of bemused hustlers to carry on. 

End Notes:

9/6/20 - The lost summer of coronavirus is over. I'm sorry I haven't been very productive for the past few months. but life has felt so uncertain that my creativity took a decided nosedive. The good news is that I'm working to get my head in a better space and part of that is to get back to my writing. So, with that in mind, I offer you a Birthday Update! Enjoy! TAG

Chapter 9 - The Identical by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

What's Tristan been up to, you ask? Read on and see. Enjoy! TAG




Chapter 9 - The Identical.



Tristan and the Clueless Brothers were barely out of Kinney’s loft when the cell phone he’d put in his jeans’ pocket earlier began to chime and vibrate. Tristan was tempted to ignore it, since the phone wasn’t his to start with, but then he changed his mind. If he’d learned nothing during his years on the street, it was that knowledge was power, especially when you were pulling a con. The more you knew about your mark, the more likely you’d be able to pull off the job. So, shifting the heavy black canvas tote bag containing all his loot to the other shoulder, the little con artist dug out the phone and looked at the brightly illuminated home screen. 


The display showed a series of little ‘notice’ windows, evidencing a series of unanswered text messages. They were all from ‘My Brian’. Tristan swiped upward on the screen so he could scan through the ten or more messages. The earliest ones were short and playful but over time the messages had gotten more terse, insistent, and worried. 


The first message: ‘Hey, Sunshine. How’d your prof like the Tropical Smoothie design? Did she agree with me that you’re an artistic genius?’


Became: ‘Sunshine, there’s a change of plans. Call me.’


Followed by: ‘Where the fuck are you, Sunshine?’


Which then became: ‘Justin, answer my damned calls already!’


And then the penultimate text: ‘Damn it, Justin! You’ve lost your fucking phone again, haven’t you? I’m calling Simon.’


The most recent message - the one he’d just missed - read: ‘Mikey just texted to say he’d found you AND your fucking phone. I swear I’m going to have that thing surgically implanted in your wrist so you don’t forget it. Hope you’re okay staying with him tonight. I’ll call as soon as I get out of this fucking meeting.’


Tristan thought it wise to reply on Justin’s behalf; he wanted to keep the guy reassured that all was well so Kinney didn’t rush home and uncover the masquerade Tristan was perpetrating. Unfortunately, when he tapped on the screen to open the latest text notice, the phone asked for him to unlock the device using his fingerprint. He knew that wasn’t going to work even as he placed his right index finger over the home button; the ‘Enter Passcode; Touch ID does not recognize your fingerprint’ warning he received in response wasn’t a surprise. With a sigh, he shoved the useless phone back into his pocket and trotted to catch up to Brunet Guy and Swishy. 


It turned out to be quite a trek from where Kinney’s loft was located, in the ‘Strip’ district that paralleled Liberty Avenue downtown, all the way to the Crawford-Roberts neighborhood northeast of the city proper. Tristan was starting to regret how full he’d packed the bag full of stolen shit he was lugging around. By the time the Clueless Brothers turned in at the entrance of a mid-century era apartment building, it’s brickwork entry gate looking blackened and worn, Tristan almost cheered. He couldn’t wait to put the fucking bag down somewhere so he could rest his shoulder where it was starting to get rubbed raw.


One quick look made it clear that this place was not nearly as nice or upscale as Kinney’s loft. This was just an ordinary apartment building in a blue-collar neighborhood that wasn’t the greatest anymore. Still, it was better than the places that Tristan was used to staying, so he wasn’t going to complain. They all climbed the stairs up to the second floor and Swishy unlocked the second door on the right side of the hallway. Tristan followed the other two inside, scoping out his new environs with a cautious eye.


It was a nice enough apartment, as those things go, he supposed. The door opened up on a smallish room that served as a dining room and living room combined. There was a small kitchenette in an alcove to the left and an open door beyond that which looked like it led to a bedroom. On the right there was a bathroom, tiled in the most hideous Pepto Bismol-pink ceramic you’d ever seen, and a second, seemingly larger bedroom. The furniture was an eclectic mix of second-hand pieces but at least everything looked clean and sturdy and the place was picked up. The decorating left something serious to be desired, though; it seemed to be a weird mix of comic-book paraphernalia and gay nightclub chic. To a street kid like Tristan, though, it was paradise. 


“So, where do you want me to put this?” he asked, shrugging off his overstuffed bag.


“Just dump it anywhere,” Swishy replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “We’ll make up the couch for you later.”


“Cool,” Tristan quipped, offloaded his bag onto the floor next to the sofa, and launched himself with a little leap so that he landed with a creak of springs on the closest couch cushions. Unsure what was supposed to happen next, though, he questioned, “so, what else is on tonight’s agenda?” He leaned forward, picked up the remote control off the coffee table, and then, nudging aside a pile of comic books so he could put his feet up, he suggested, “You losers get porn on here?”


“Shit! Don’t you get enough live action porn living with Brian?” Brunet Guy complained as he grabbed the remote control out of Tristan‘s hand. “I’m not gonna sit around and watch porn with my best friend's boyfriend.”


Tristan rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest but didn’t bother replying. It looked like he was in for a long boring night. He started to rethink his decision; was a clean, uncrowded, relatively upscale place to sleep for the night worth all this?


Just as he was about to give up and leave, he noticed the PlayStation4 console sitting on a shelf of the entertainment center below the wall-mounted TV and smiled. That would do. Assuming these geezers had a decent game or two. 


Hoisting his ass up off the couch, Tristan walked over to peruse the titles of the games arrayed on the shelf. Not bad. There were a couple classic games that he’d heard of but never played, a lot of superhero-based games he wasn’t interested in, but also, the last one in the line, a copy of the hottest new game on the market - Ghost of Tsushima. 



“Sweet!” He pulled the game out of its case, popped it into the console, and hit the power button. “I love this game! My buddy swiped a copy of it the day it came out and we played it for, like, a week straight. The graphics are so dope. I was THIS close to reaching the Shadow Samurai Legend Level when some asshole spilled a beer on our console and it crapped out . . .” Tristan stopped commenting when he noticed that both the losers were standing off to the side of the television, staring at him like he was an alien life form. “What?”


“I thought you didn’t like video games, Baby?” the Swishy one commented. “The last time Michael asked you if you wanted to play, you said you didn’t understand why the little people on the ‘Devil’s Box’ were always trying to hurt & kill each other.”


What the fuck? Did his doppleganger really say something so basic? What the fuck was wrong with that guy anyway? Maybe the kid was mental or something? Nobody actually said shit like that these days, did they?


“I was just busting on you, dude,” Tristan offered, by way of explanation. When both his interrogators continued to stare at him unbelievingly, he shrugged. “You wanna play?”


Michael took him up on the offer, synching the second wireless controller and taking up a position next to Tristan on the couch. Swishy declined the opportunity to join them, explaining that he had a date that night with the ‘dreamy’ new trainer from Ript Gym so he needed the time to get himself ‘all dolled up’. Tristan wondered to himself how the guy could possibly be more obvious. Was he planning to go all ‘strip club tux’ or something? He’d never been into that kind of super-pussy faggot himself, but whatever. Who was he to judge? 


So, ignoring Swishy, Tristan applied himself to the game. Michael turned out to be not a half bad gamer. Working together they managed to get through most of the first act missions before their gaming was interrupted around 9:30 by the insistent ringing of Tristan’s double’s phone. The picture that popped up on screen to identify the caller showed an almost naked Kinney lounging on the big platform bed Tristan had seen back at the guy’s swanky loft. Nobody could argue that the dude wasn’t seriously snatched. If he’d encountered that piece of ass back in his other life, Tristan would probably have offered to do Kinney for free, just to get some of that something, something, ya know? 


Luckily the phone let him swipe to answer the phone call without having to input any code or use the damn fingerprint ID function. “Hey,” he greeted the caller.


“Hey there, Sunshine! Glad to see you’ve finally been reunited with your phone.” The voice that came over the phone line was a smooth, sultry baritone that caused Tristan’s dick to twitch involuntarily; it was the first time he’d heard Kinney speak, other than the time at the club when they were all shouting over the music, so the voice was a pleasant surprise. “If I hadn’t heard back from you soon, I was going to have to blow off my meeting tomorrow with Cliff Carter so I could fly home, hunt you down, and punish you for losing the damned phone again.”


“Now that I know that’s an option, I might just lose the thing all over again,” Tristan replied, momentarily forgetting that he was supposed to be playing the timid ingenue. 


Kinney didn’t immediately seem to catch on to the switch, though. “Don’t be a tease; not when I’m four hundred miles away and can’t do anything about it . . .” Kinney growled a little in frustration. “How about if I promise to save your spanking for when I get back?”


*Mmmmm* Tristan moaned, wishing for a half a second that he’d still be around to collect on that promise after Kinney returned. Of course, that wouldn’t be at all wise, but it really was a shame that he’d never get to experience first hand what the Kinney mystique was all about. Based on what Tristan had heard on the street, it would have been an experience to write home about. 


“So, you’re not pissed at me for taking off, are you?” Kinney asked, sounding contrite. “I didn’t mean to just disappear on you, Sunshine. The fuckwad that took over the advertising for the Zoobabies account screwed everything up and I needed to be here in person to kick his breeder ass if he didn’t fix it before the purchase deadline passed. I think he figured, since I was just a fag, he could get away with fucking us over. When I showed up at his office and threatened to make a scene big enough to scare off all the rest of the ClearOutdoors Media clients, he finally caved. Or course, now that I’m here, I’m kinda obligated to take time out to meet with the Carter’s people, and the Shaw’s Catering people, not to mention the Zoobabies people . . . Remind me, next time we go on a cross-country marketing run, to find less needy clients, Sunshine.”


Tristan assumed from the low laughter that Kinney was only kidding about being annoyed by his clients. Doubtless, it took a lot of client schmoozing to make the kind of money you’d need to buy a loft like the one he’d seen earlier that evening. Not to mention the fancy office and the expensive clothing he’d noticed while spying on Justin and his obviously rich boyfriend over the past week or so. 


“. . . I’ve got meetings scheduled all fucking day tomorrow,” Kinney continued explaining, “and dinner tomorrow might with the Shaw’s in-house marketing team. That account could end up being huge, if I can work it the right way, although I’m not sure we have enough staff yet to take on all their divisions. Not even you can draw that many ads, Sunshine. It’s something to work up to, though. Right?”


Tristan didn’t know how to respond so he went with a vague, “sure.”


Apparently that wasn’t a good enough answer, though, because Kinney instantly asked, “you okay, Sunshine?”


“Yeah. I’m good,” Tristan replied, trying to sound upbeat.


“And you’re okay staying with Mikey and Em?” Kinney asked, sounding un-reassured by Tristan’s assertion. “I didn’t want to just leave you alone in the loft all by yourself - not the first time I had to be away overnight - but if you’re not comfortable at Mikey’s you can always go home, you know . . .”


“Nah. I’m cool here.” He tried to sound cheerful; it would ruin all his plans if Kinney freaked out and came back early. 


“You sure? You don’t sound like your usual, sunshiney self, Sunshine.” Kinney’s voice dropped to a confidential whisper. “You know it’s not like before, right? I didn’t WANT to leave you tonight. I promised I wouldn’t do THAT ever again and you know I meant it . . . No more phone calls, remember? . . . And I’ll be home by Thursday; Friday at the latest. I swear. You can hold out till then, right?”


Was this guy serious? Why the hell would he think Justin couldn’t hang on without him for two fucking days? Was this Justin kid that much of a wimp that he couldn’t handle being without his sugar daddy for a couple nights? What a loser. Could these two be more pathetic with all their heart-eyes bullshit? It was enough to make him gag. And what the fuck did Kinney mean by all that crap about ‘no more phone calls’ and shit? Wasn’t he calling on the phone right then? It didn’t make any sense. 


He had to say something, though, to keep the con going. “I’ll be fine,” he replied and then, remembering the caller ID from when the phone had rung, he added, “my Brian.”


“Good. You always were a brave little fucker . . .” Kinney responded affectionately. “Now, if I can just hold out myself.” Tristan heard the man on the other end of the phone make a sad little pouting noise of complaint. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that Mikey decided to head to bed early so I can introduce you to the joys of phone sex, huh?”


“Yeah . . . He’s sitting right here next to me playing Ghost of Tsushima.”


“Damn,” Kinney huffed with disappointment. “I guess I’ll have to take care of this boner I’m holding onto all by myself.”


“I could always tell him to get lost,” Tristan offered suggestively.


Kinney laughed. “Knowing Mikey, he’d want to stay and listen in.”


“I don’t think so - not unless he paid up front - I don’t give free shows,” Tristan snarked, forgetting again who he was supposed to be and how his innocent, sheltered double would have probably responded.


“Sunshine?” Shit! Kinney sounded instantly suspicious. “You sure you’re okay?”


Tristan panicked and, not knowing what to say to cover his mistake, he decided his best bet was to cut the call short. “Hey, I gotta go. Brunet Guy . . . I mean, Michael . . . needs me to help him with this level. See you when you get back!”


Tristan ended the call and hit the button to turn off the phone so he wouldn’t have to deal with Kinney again. He knew he’d fucked up but he hoped Kinney was too busy with all those clients to worry about why his naive little boyfriend was behaving so out of character. Apparently, Tristan’s acting skills weren’t as strong as he’d hoped. He didn’t doubt for a second that Kinney was smart enough, if he’d been there in person, to tell immediately that they had the wrong blond. If Tristan was going to pull this con off, he had to keep Kinney in Chicago as long as possible. Which meant no more phone calls like that last one. So, for now, the plan would have to be to lie low and trust that Kinney wouldn’t screw everything up by coming home early. 


Just in case, though, Tristan decided to live it up as long as he could. 


So, with that in mind, he picked up the game controller and resumed playing Ghost of Tsushima alongside Brunet Guy. They played late into the night, getting too enthralled by the RPG to stop, except for a brief interlude to order a late night pizza and some beer, which they devoured in between simulated battles. When Brunet Guy finally admitted he was too tired to take on the next level, he helped Tristan pull out the sofa bed before heading off to his own room.


Tristan climbed under the covers of the bed, not at all put out to be on the relatively comfortable pull out; it beat sharing a lumpy motel bed with two other guys. Plus, for once, he could sleep through the night without worrying that he’d be woken up by Hugo to service some late-night John. Compared to what he was used to, this was fucking paradise. 


The only real worry he had was how long he could keep up this con.



“What the fuck, Justin?” 


Brian looked at his phone again and scowled at the green text bubbles that showed his messages were being sent as regular old SMS messages. There were also no ‘Read’ confirmations showing under the bubbles. This combination meant that Justin’s phone was either dead or turned off; neither of which made any sense. 


Why would Justin have hung up on him and then turned his phone off? And why had he been acting so strange? Justin was never that quiet; not unless he was really, REALLY, angry at Brian. 


Which was what Brian had half expected, seeing as how he’d left town so abruptly without telling Justin first. All afternoon he’d worried that Justin would be angry or scared, maybe even panicky, when he found out Brian had taken off like that. After all, it WAS the first night they’d be spending apart since they’d returned to Pittsburgh. But the kid had seemed completely unconcerned. If anything, Justin had acted kind of taciturn and maybe even a bit insolent. Which wasn’t at all like the ‘Justin’ Brian had come to know. His Justin didn’t hold grudges or give people the silent treatment. His Justin was open and honest - and would give you hell if he was pissed off at you - but would always forgive you. Justin didn’t hang on to his resentments or blow you off. 


And he would never, ever hang up on ‘His Brian’.


If Justin truly wasn’t angry or scared, then he should have been ecstatic to talk to Brian. He should have been babbling, like he always did, when he came back from school; bubbling over with excitement, talking Brian’s head off, telling him every detail of his day’s adventures, enthusing over his classwork, relating amusing stories about ‘Simon Says’, and laughing over Brian’s complaints about him misplacing his ‘travelling phone’. That was the kind of guy Justin was; a refreshingly happy and animated youth who was thrilled to the gills by life. It was the thing that Brian loved the most about his young partner. Justin was the exact opposite of his own jaded, indifferent, disenchanted, world-weary self; it was a contrast that Brian treasured. 


But the kid he’d just spoken to on the phone hadn’t sounded like that at all. That Justin had sounded just as apathetic and hackneyed as Brian back in his pre-Sunshine days. To be honest, he hadn’t sounded like he missed Brian at all. He didn’t try to tell Brian the hundred and one little tales from his day like he always did when they spoke. He hadn’t used any of the funny little word mannerisms that Brian had come to cherish.  


He hadn’t sounded like Justin at all.


Brian picked up his phone and sent another text message, demanding that Justin call him back, and then, when the message showed as an unread green bubble again, he growled and tossed the phone against the wall of his hotel room so hard that the thing shattered into a dozen pieces.


“Fuck! Now *I* have to get a new fucking phone. Should probably buy stock in Apple considering how many fucking phones I’ve had to buy this year . . .” he grumbled and then stalked off to take a long, cold shower, in the hopes it would calm him enough so he could get some sleep. 


A feat he didn’t think would come easily, especially since he wouldn’t have any Sunshine in his bed to warm him up after his shower. 


 

 

End Notes:

10/12/20 - This is for those of you asking when Brian would realize that his Justin is missing... (Soon coming!) TAG

Chapter 10 - Another Me by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Happy Holidays from TAG & the Barefoot Blond! Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 10 - Another Me.



It was very late when Skinny Boy and Justin finally made it back to the ‘Tarlight Motel. Justin was so tired he could barely see straight and a couple of times he’d yawned so hard he thought he heard the joints of his jaw cracking. It didn’t help that he was bored out of his gourd; watching all the others doing their boyfriend lessons all night long hadn’t been very entertaining. Now, if Brian had been there to give him some lessons of his own, that would have been different. 


As it was, he’d lost interest in the boys’ antics fairly early in the evening. It didn’t help that the boys hadn’t welcomed Justin’s advice on how to improve their blow jobs or his warnings about always using condoms. When he’d confessed that - no matter what Brian said - he still worried his mother might have been right about boyfriend things leading to pregnancy, Beauty and Trey had laughed at him so hard they’d collapsed right there in the alley; which immediately shut Justin up for the rest of night. After that the lonesome blond had mostly kept to himself, standing off to the side and trying to remain inconspicuous. 


When Skinny Boy finally started to leave the stretch of street where they’d all been hanging out, Justin trotted after him. Hunter was counting out a wad of bills he’d pulled out of his jeans pocket, looking satisfied at his nightly take. Pulling off a couple of smaller bills, which he stuffed in his sock, he stashed the rest back in his pocket. 


He looked aside at Justin with a worried shake of his head as they walked. “Hugo isn’t gonna be happy when you turn up without any scrilla, Bruh. Especially not after the shit you pulled with Demarcus. I mean, you could have at least tried to pull a John or two tonight, man. Or are you looking for a beat down?”


Justin scrunched up his nose while he tried his best to get his tired brain to interpret the unfamiliar words. “Scrilla?”


“What the fuck is with you tonight, Stan?” Hunter finally lost patience with his dippy friend. “Scrilla . . . You know, dosh? Chips? Cheddar? . . . Money, bruh. M.O.N.E.Y” When Justin simply kept staring at him like a lost puppy Hunter felt like screaming, but instead he decided to explain it in plain terms that even a concussion patient would understand. “Hugo expects every one of his boys to average $500 a night. If you bring him less than $250 you better plan on getting your ass whooped. And, since you didn’t do a single trick tonight, I’m assuming that your ass is grass, brother.”


Justin was still a little confused but at least he now understood what ‘scrilla’ was. He stopped, pulled the messenger bag he was still carting around off his shoulder, and dug around inside till he found the little zippered pocket where he kept his favorite india ink pens. Brian was always putting money in there, telling him it was for emergencies, and that he didn’t want Justin to ever be without at least a few dollars on him. As expected, there were several random bills stashed in that little pocket. When he pulled them out and started unfolding all the assorted denominations, it turned out he had about $280 total. 


“Will this be enough to make the Big Angry Man happy?” Justin asked, showing off his treasure with a nervous grin. “I don’t want my behind to become someone’s front lawn; not that I understand how you’d grow grass on my bottom, but I still don’t think I’d like it . . .” 


“You had that kind of beans all this time and didn’t say anything?” Skinny Boy replied while shaking his head. “Shit, Stan, and here I was freaking out on your behalf? No wonder you weren’t busting a nut to find tricks tonight.” Hunter reached over to close Justin’s hand around the wad of cash and then pushed his arm back towards Justin’s belly. “Well, that should tide Hugo over for tonight at least. You really do need to step up tomorrow, though, bruh. Hugo’s used to you being one of his cash cows and he’s gonna expect more than that kind of chicken scratch from you in the future.” Hunter put his arm around Justin’s shoulders and gave the other boy a familiar squeeze. “I’m glad that I won’t have to watch you get your ass handed to you, at least. Now, let’s go. If we beat Trey and Lexie back to the motel, we won’t have to crash on the floor tonight.”


Back at the ‘Tarlight, Justin and Skinny Boy filed in behind the other boys, each handing over whatever money they had to their daddy as they entered. Hugo kissed the boys who pleased him and lectured those who hadn’t quite met his expectations in turn. When Justin handed the Big Angry Man the money he’d scrounged out of his bag, Hugo had merely grunted, apparently satisfied but not pleased, and let Stan pass without further comment. Justin got the impression that he still wasn’t happy with him, but was glad he wasn’t going to continue the conversation they’d been having earlier after leaving the Demarcus Man’s apartment. 


All the other boys seemed to be stripping down to their boxers and t-shirts and piling onto the four queen-sized beds occupying the two adjoining motel rooms. There were at least three youths for each bed already and more boys were still coming through the door. Justin was very confused by this arrangement. He’d never slept in a bed with anyone other than Brian, so this situation made him a little nervous. He didn’t think he liked sharing beds with people he didn’t know.


“Stan. Get you ass over here, or I’m gonna let Trey take your spot after all,” Skinny Boy directed, pointing to the far edge of the bed he and Beauty were already stretched out atop. 


“I don’t know,” Justin hesitated. “I’ve never slept in a bed with anyone other than my boyfriend. I don’t think Brian would like me sleeping with anyone other than him.” 


“Enough with the boyfriend shit, Stan. I want to get some sleep already,” Hunter growled and reached over Beauty to shut off the light next to the bed. “Shut the fuck up and get over here.”


Justin looked around but didn’t see anywhere else to sleep. All the other beds were already full and a couple of the boys had even pulled pillows off the beds and started to lie down on blankets spread out on the dirty carpet. He curled his bare toes up, not liking the gritty feel of the unvacuumed carpeting on his feet and even less enthused about sleeping on the filthy surface. It looked like a bed with Skinny Boy and Beauty was the best alternative. It would have to do; at least for that one night. And then, tomorrow, he’d make the Skinny Boy take him home to Brian. 


Reluctantly, Justin laid down on the edge of the motel mattress, without taking any of his clothes off, though, because it wouldn’t be proper for any of these strangers to see him without his clothing on. “You know, my mother always used to warn me that you shouldn’t sleep in the same bed with another person because that would lead to pregnancy, but My Brian told me that wasn’t true. He promised me that you can’t get pregnant like that, but I still don’t think it’s right . . .” he whispered to his bed mate while huddling as far away from the other bodies as he could get without falling off the edge of the mattress.


“Shut the fuck up and go to sleep, Stan,” Hunter ordered, rolling over and ignoring the blather.


“But, Brian said . . .”


“Stan!” at least five voices complained in synch. 


So Justin shut up. But it took him a very, very long time to actually fall asleep, even as tired as he was. And he spent the night dreaming about Brian.



The following morning, the boys of the ‘Tarlight were slow to begin their day. It wasn’t until around 10:00 am, when Hugo came in and dumped off a bag full of bagels, that there was any real push to get moving. Justin, who hadn’t slept well at all, was groggy and short-tempered and not even close to his usual sunshiney self. But at least he managed to grab a bagel and one of the little plastic cups of cream cheese before they were all gone. While he devoured his breakfast, and waited for his turn to use one of the two tiny, not-so-clean bathrooms, he tried to pin Skinny Boy down on when they could go find Brian.



“Shit. You’re still on that kick?” Hunter groused, stealing a second bagel out of Trey’s hands when the other boy wasn’t paying attention. 


“You promised, Skinny Boy,” Justin maintained stubbornly. “You said you’d help me get home today if I didn’t cause trouble last night. You promised!”


“What the fuck are you talking about, Stan?” Hugo interrupted, having just come back inside the room and overhearing the end of their conversation. “You ain’t planning on cutting out without paying your exit fee, are you? Because if that’s what you’re thinking, think again, sweetheart. Because I OWN that sweet, profitable little ass, and you fucking know it.”


The room went deathly silent. All the boys were staring at Justin. Leaving the life wasn’t ever spoken about out loud. For one thing, it tended to make their daddy pissed off, and nobody wanted that. But it was also clearly just too much of an impossibility to attain and thinking or talking about it was depressing. Because the only way out was to pay the exorbitant fees that Hugo and the other Daddies demanded; exit fees that were so astronomical and unachievable for most of the working boys and girls on the streets, that it didn’t even compute. There was just no way any of them could earn enough to pay their way out, so they avoided even thinking about the option. It was a taboo that no one broke unless and until they themselves broke.


“Exit fee?” Justin asked, not understanding why all the tension. “But, I already gave you all my money last night.”


Hugo snorted with laughter. “That pitiful handful of beans? Yeah, I don’t think so, Stan. Ain’t nobody leaving this family for less than ‘fifty k’ and you know it. So, if you know what’s good for you, pet, you’ll shut your pretty mouth, quit talking shit, and get the fuck out of my face before I get REALLY pissed off at you. Again.” Then Hugo turned and stared down all the rest of the silently watching boys. “And don’t let me hear any of the rest of you talking shit about leaving either. You KNOW what I do to boys who don’t keep their mouths shut about crap like that, right? . . .” Nobody had the guts to speak up, of course, which caused Hugo to smile down at them all smugly. “. . . That’s what I thought. So, if you ain’t gonna knuckle up and suffer the consequences, I don’t wanna hear no more about leaving. Now, all of you get the fuck out of here and go take care of the lunch hour rush. And make sure you all bring back some extra sugar for your daddy tonight to make up for Stan here putting me in such a bad mood.”


There was a lot of grumbling, and more than a few dirty looks aimed at Justin, as the boys pulled on their clothing and shuffled out of the room by ones and twos. Even the Skinny Boy started to slink off without a word to Justin. But the brave little blond wasn’t about to give in to the Big Angry Man, no matter how intimidating all his bad words made him sound. Nor was he going to let Hunter go back on his promise. Justin didn’t understand what all that talk about an ‘exit fee’ was, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to stick around with Hugo and his boys any longer. He was going home. 


Somehow. 


Justin grabbed up his messenger bag and followed the rest of the boys out of the motel room, trotting along to catch up to the Skinny Boy who was already halfway down the block. It looked like they were all heading in a different direction than they’d gone for their night-time trolling. Instead of heading south to the seedier areas that bordered I-376 and the Monongahela river, the crew was heading west, into the downtown area. Justin still didn’t recognize any of the streets they were traversing, but he could tell they were getting closer to downtown because the buildings were getting taller and taller the further they walked. 


Justin tried to think through what this new direction meant for finding his way home, but the thinking wasn’t going well; he was hopeless with directions. Which wasn’t really his fault, after all, since until just a few months ago, he’d never gone ANYWHERE. He knew that Kinnetik was located somewhere close to a river, but wasn’t sure which river, exactly, and there were a lot of rivers in Pittsburgh, you know. Most of the buildings near both the loft and the business weren’t skyscrapers, though. They were older and only three or four stories tall. Not huge towers like the ones that were surrounding him as he trudged after Hugo’s boys. But, still, in the back of his mind, Justin thought he remembered hearing Brian saying something about how he liked having his offices close enough to downtown that he could get to client meetings without driving. So that meant they had to be getting closer, right? At least that’s what he hoped.


When they got to a small park, the boys fanned out and took up positions lounging around the edges of the more wooded areas. Justin continued to tag along after Skinny Boy since he didn’t know what else to do. Hunter, though, seemed to have had enough of Justin shadowing him all the time. 


“Get lost, Stan,” he ordered with a shooing motion. “You hovering around all the time is scaring away all my dates and I can’t afford to slack off again today. Hugo’s already in a bad enough mood and I’m not gonna do anything to make it worse.” He pointed across the way to where a few men in business suits were sitting on some benches at the far side of the park. “Why don’t you go work the lunch crowd over there for a bit and leave me alone so I can wait for my Wednesday regular alone.”


Justin looked across the park but was still confused about what Skinny Boy wanted him to do. “What does ‘work the lunch crowd’ mean?”


“Fuck, Stan. I thought your knocked up noggin would be better by this morning . . .” Hunder sighed but, spying the black jaguar of his regular Wednesday lunchtime date approaching, he realized he didn’t have time to mess around with Stan’s nonsense any longer. It was time to just spell it out to the little twerp who seemed to have lost his fucking mind. “Go over there, find a guy you like, and get him to have sex with you. Just make sure he pays you up front so you have enough green to get Hugo off all our backs by nightfall. Got it?”


Justin was shocked. “You want me to have sex with those men? But they aren’t my boyfriend . . .”


“No. They aren’t your fucking precious boyfriend ‘Brian’. But it doesn’t matter because you need to make your quota money for Hugo, just like all the rest of us, or he’s going to blow his fucking top. So stop acting like you’re too good to work the streets, Stan. I’m tired of the fucking innocent act. We all know you take it up the ass for cash just like everyone else here, so stop bitching and get to fucking work!”


Hunter turned his back on a gaping Stan, put on his working face, and smiled as the driver of the Jag pulled over to the curb right next to him. While Justin watched, the Skinny Boy jogged over to the car and got in the passenger-side door with a, ‘Hey, Baby’, and then the car zoomed off. Leaving Justin standing there, feeling lost and panicky. 


And he was still just standing there about five minutes later when Beauty came up to him and asked, “you okay, Stan?”


“I can’t have sex with those men,” Justin blurted out. “I can’t do it.”


“Okay . . .” Beauty appeared almost as confused as Justin seemed to be. “Then how else are you going to make enough money to keep Hugo happy? Cuz you know, if you don’t show up tonight with some serious cash, after all the shit you’ve been pulling the past couple of days, he’s gonna track you down and put a fucking bullet in your ass or something.”


That statement didn’t help with Justin’s burgeoning panic. “But I don’t have any more money. I gave him all the money I had last night.”


“Yeah, which is why you need to turn more tricks today. To earn some more money. That’s how it works, Stan.”


“But I can’t have sex with strange men for money. I don’t know how to do that,” Justin insisted. “And I KNOW Brian wouldn’t like that at all . . .”


“Fine with me, Bruh, but then how ya gonna earn Hugo’s dough for the day? Cuz he wasn’t just kiddin’ about the exit fee shit. Hugo don’t kid about money. Even just bringing shit like that up is enough to piss him off, big time. So you better not try to leave without paying him or he will take you out. Permanently. You get me?” Beauty stared into Justin’s eyes intently, pausing long enough to be sure the other boy understood exactly what he was intimating before continuing. “Whatever you do, Stan, you better come up with SOME way to make Daddy happy. And, if you know what’s good for you, that way’s gonna involve a bunch of cold, hard, green, baby.”


“I don’t . . . I don’t know what to do. I can’t go with those men, Beauty. I can’t. But . . .” Justin looked around himself, finally realizing exactly what it was he’d accidentally got himself mixed up in, and trying to figure out an alternative to prostituting himself. “Maybe . . . Maybe if I just asked people to help me, someone would loan me enough money to make Big Angry Man happy. I could pay them back later, after I get home. Brian and I have more money there.”


Beauty laughed. “You’re never gonna make the kinda bread Hugo expects by panhandling man. Nobody’s gonna give a street boy that much green just for the asking. But you do you, bruh.”


Beauty was still chuckling at the idiotic shit Stan was spouting as he moved off towards a group of suits he saw sniffing around the guys waiting by the trees at the corner of the park. He thought he recognized a date he’d had a couple weeks back; someone he thought he could interest in a second go-round. If he remembered right, the guy had paid pretty decent too. That ought to cool Hugo off.


Meanwhile, Justin had approached a bench where two middle-aged men in off-the-rack suits were eating take out lunches they’d got from the falafel wagon down the block. 


“Excuse me, Sir,” Justin approached the one with the grey hair. “Hi. My name is Justin.” He held out his hand as if to shake and the guy, after hesitating a moment, accepted the offer. “I hate to bother you while you’re having your lunch, but I’m afraid I’m in a bit of trouble. See, I got a little lost last night and I hit my head and then, when I left the hospital I didn’t know which way to go, so I just started walking and then I found these boys, who seemed nice and offered to take me back to the motel they were staying in with their daddy, Hugo, but then Mr. Hugo, who’s kinda big and angry and uses bad words and isn’t really all that nice, he got really upset with me this morning and said I have to bring him lots and lots of money or he won’t let me leave and go back home to my boyfriend, Brian, and I’m kinda scared that he will do something mean to me if I don’t do what he asked, so I was wondering if, maybe, you guys could loan me some money so I could make Mr. Angry Man let me go home again. I promise to pay you back after I get home. My boyfriend, Brian, and I have lots more money at home. I just don’t know where that is right now, and I lost my phone so I can’t call him, you know, but the Skinny Boy promised to help me find him, only he went off with a man in a black jaguar a little while ago, and I don’t know when he’ll be back, but as soon as he does get back I’ll make him take me to Brian so I could get the money from him then to pay you all back . . .'' Justin explained, talking so fast that he barely had time to breathe in enough air to make the words intelligible. 


The two lunching men looked at each other, clearly skeptical, and then looked back at the disheveled young man who seemed to have slept in his clothing and who wasn’t wearing any shoes. It was obvious that the kid was in distress, both from his clothing, which was good quality even if it was a little dirty and wrinkled, and from his demeanor, but still. 


“Sorry, kid,” the younger of the two replied, sounding sympathetic even as he turned him down. “I just spent the last of my cash on lunch.”


“Same here,” the oldster echoed. 


“Oh, well, that’s okay,” Justin replied, a little downtrodden. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice lunch.”


The younger of the two was reluctant to just let the kid leave, though, especially after having heard his sob story. “You sure you’re going to be okay, kid?” he asked with concern. “If you’re in a dangerous situation, we could call the cops for you.” The man started to take his phone out of his pocket. 


“No, thank you,” Justin was quick to protest. “I don’t want to have to talk to any police again. They weren’t very nice to me before, you know. They tried to keep me away from Brian and, if it wasn’t for Ms. Attorney, they would have put me back in that hospital. I didn’t like the hospital at all.” He started to back away from the bench and the two men. “Thank you, but I-I-I’ll be fine . . .”


Justin rushed away from the man with the phone. He barely waited long enough for the light to change before he ran across the street, trying to get as far away from the little park and the man threatening to call the police on him as possible. He didn’t slow down for several blocks. It wasn’t till he came to an open plaza area in the middle of a circle of towering high-rise office buildings, where the crowds of people sitting and standing around provided some cover for him, that he finally started to breath again. 


On the corner of the nearest street, Justin spied a bedraggled older man sitting on the pavement in front of his upturned baseball cap, holding up a sign that read ‘Vet - Anything will help’. As he walked by, Justin noticed a kindly older woman stop and drop a dollar bill into the man’s hat. He’d seen other people doing that kind of thing before but hadn’t ever understood why anyone would need to sit on the dirty ground and ask people for money. It didn’t seem sanitary. But that was before he got lost. Now he understood and, it seemed, that might be the only way he could get more money to give to the Big Angry Man who everyone said would shoot a gun at his behind if he didn’t pay him. 


So, despite how uncomfortable it made him, Justin found his own, unoccupied corner, sat his butt down on the cold, hard cement sidewalk, took his drawing pad out of his bag, and made a very elegant little sign that read, ‘Lost - Need Money for The Big Angry Man So I Can Get Back to My Boyfriend. Thank you!’. Then he took out another piece of scratch paper from his bag, folded it up origami-style into a small bowl-shape, and sat back with his sign and bowl, prepared to get the money for Hugo however he could. 


 

 

End Notes:

12/27/20 - Hi, Everyone! Sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I was busy finalizing & publishing our non-qaf version of Stylite AND working on a sequel of Time Blitz for our NaNoWriMo project this year. It may not seem like it, but I’ve been very productive for the past three months. However, all those projects are done for the time being and I’m back with another installment of our sweet little barefoot blond boy lost in the city. Happy Holidays! Enjoy! TAG

Chapter 11 - Everybody Has A Plan by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

What's Tristan been up to while his double has been slumming it. . . . Read on and see! Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 11 - Everybody Has A Plan.



“Wakey, wakey, Boy Wonder! Time to rise and shine,” an annoyingly cheerful voice demanded as someone jostled Tristan’s shoulder. 


He blinked at the too-bright morning and groaned. “Wha . . . Ugh. What time is it?”


“It’s late. Afraid I overslept a bit. So you better hustle.” 


Tristan was finally awake enough to understand that it was the idiot Brunet Guy who was acting like some high-octane fool and being all overly-morning-like but not what the guy meant. He picked up his double’s phone, which had been sitting on the end table next to his couch-bed, and hit the home button to light up the screen. Then he groaned again and flopped back on the pillows. 


“Seriously, Dude? Seven-thirty in the fucking am? What the hell are you doing waking me up at fucking dawn?” Tristan growled and pulled the blanket back up so it covered his face, keeping the light out.


Brunet Guy wasn’t deterred in the least, though. On his way back from the kitchenette, he passed by the couch and pulled the blankets all the way off the bed, taking them with him as he headed towards his room. “No going back to sleep. You have twenty minutes to get up, grab a shower if you want one, and then we’re out of here. I want to leave enough time to stop by the Diner and pick up breakfast and I still have to drop you off at Kinnetik on my way to the Big Q.”


“Kinnetik?” They had been up playing Ghost of Tsushima until almost three in the morning, so it wasn’t a surprise that his brain wasn’t operating on all cylinders. 


“Uh, yeah. You know, the place where you work?” Brunet Guy laughed at him, but then handed him a mug of coffee which made up for the dissing. Sort of. “Come on. Get your ass in gear. I’m not going to be late because of Brian’s pet artist.”


The caffeine helped a bit and,after a few more sips, Tristan was finally able to function enough to get to the bathroom and take a piss. He took his time in the shower, enjoying, for once, not being rushed or having to share a bathroom with a dozen other guys. A shower where the hot water didn’t give out after five minutes was a bonus. This was almost unheard of luxury for a street kid. If the Brunet Guy hadn’t come pounding on the door, harassing him to get out about fifteen minutes later, he would have stayed in there all fucking day. 


Still dripping from the shower, a towel wrapped negligently around his hips, Tristan shuffled out of the bathroom to where he’d left his bag of loot on the floor next to the couch. Nudity was sort of a way of life for the young hustler; most of the time he didn’t even really notice it anymore. So he didn’t think twice about just whipping off the towel after he pulled some fresh clothes out. Apparently, though, that was a surprising development for the other occupants of the apartment. 


“My, my, my! Am I still dreaming or did I just wake up to a real live porn show in my very own living room?” the Swishy one exclaimed the minute he came out of his own room and found a naked twink standing in the middle of his living room in all his pale, blond glory. “No wonder Brian’s gone so head over heels with THAT in his bed every night.” He sighed exaggeratedly and pretended to wipe a bit of drool from the corner of his big gap-toothed grin. “Just do me a favor and promise you won’t tell our favorite Stud that I caught a glimpse of his golden treasure all in the buff, because he might be just a tiny bit jealous and I really like my balls where they are . . .”


Tristan rolled his eyes but took the hint and pulled on a pair of pants before the big queen totally lost it. In his head he was cussing himself out for forgetting his role again. Of course the sweet, innocent little Justin wouldn’t dare to be seen naked by anyone other than ‘His Brian’; the kid was obviously a total prude. Tristan was just too tired to have remembered to play act the part of his clone, but if he didn’t want to get caught, he really did need to up his game. Getting sloppy would get him pinched.


Luckily, Swishy mistook his embarrassment at letting his con slip for modesty. Emmett chuckled and left Tristan to finish getting ready. Which didn’t take long. Living on the streets for as long as he had meant that he was good at moving quickly when he had to; and it wasn’t like his daddy or the johns cared what he looked like, so Tristan wasn’t exactly in the habit of primping. By the time Brunet Guy came out of his bedroom a couple of minutes later, yelling at his house guest to get a move on, Tristan was basically ready to go.   


By eight o’clock Brunet Guy was pushing him out of the apartment. Tristan started to pick up the duffle bag full of his haul from the night before, but the Swishy one demanded he leave it there, saying there wasn’t any sense in dragging his clothing around all day when he was coming back again that night. That went against everything the little thief had ever been taught; you didn’t leave your stash anywhere unless it was locked up good and safe. However, Tristan couldn’t think up any logical way to argue the point, so he was reluctantly forced to leave the bag. He hoped nothing would go wrong or make it a hassle to get back here and retrieve it later on.


Then they were off, heading back to that same dive diner as the night before, where the same annoying waitress glommed all over him before he could even get his breakfast ordered. 


Not Tristan’s idea of a great morning.


It got worse from there, though. After being rushed through breakfast - he’d ordered the biggest meal on the menu, because free food, right? - Brunet Guy had pushed him into the passenger seat of some crappy little Plymouth Colt hatchback for the trip to ‘the office’. When they arrived at the fancy office building he’d been staking out for the past week or so, Brunet Guy pulled over. Michael seemed to expect Tristan to get out, so that’s what he did, although he had no idea what he was expected to do next. 


“I’ll swing by and pick you up about six, after my shift is done. Then we’ll head over to Woody’s for happy hour with the guys. And, maybe, if you’re feeling up to it tonight, we’ll hit Babylon,” Brunet Guy offered, getting only a shrug from Tristan, which seemed enough for him. “Well, see ya later, Boy Wonder.”


Then he was gone and Tristan was left standing alone on the sidewalk outside the upscale office building where the Kinney guy’s advertising agency was located. Tristan looked up at the renovated four-story building on the north side of Liberty Avenue and tried to think what he should do next. He was tempted to just leg it. He didn’t want to give up on his con yet, not when his goody bag full of the stuff he’d lifted from Kinney’s was still back at the Brunet Guy’s apartment, but there was no reason he couldn’t find an out-of-the-way place to hole up for the day.  He’d just come back here to meet the dweeb at six. The only question was where to go. He didn’t want to head off to one of his usual hang outs and risk Hugo finding him and giving him shit for disappearing for so long. At least, not till he had the loot he planned to give Hugo to fence for him. But that didn’t leave him a lot of options for where to hang out for the day. He still had the cash he’d taken from Kinney’s place, so if worse came to worst he’d just find some coffee shop or something and hide out there, he thought. 


While he was still trying to decide where to go, though, he was interrupted by the arrival of yet another of his double’s ‘friends’ and Tristan’s plan to escape was dashed. 


“Morning, Justin!” an overly-enthusiastic voice coming from behind him chirped. Tristan turned around to find the guy he’d christened ‘Mr. Desperation’ standing there grinning at him like a total dweeb. When he didn’t immediately react, the guy frowned. “You don’t seem your usual, cheerful self this morning. Everything okay?”


“Uh, yeah.” Tristan fumbled, unsure how to respond, then added, “I, uh, didn’t get much sleep last night.”


Mr. Desperation nodded as if he understood perfectly. “I get it. You’re probably missing Brian. Plus, sleeping over at Michael’s and all . . . Personally, I can never sleep in a strange place, either.” He clapped Tristan on the shoulder in a friendly gesture. “But at least it’s only for a couple nights. The Boss is supposed to be back tomorrow, right?”


“That’s what he said. Either tomorrow or Friday,” Tristan answered with a shrug.


“Well, good thing we’ve got plenty of work to keep us busy in the meantime. The busier the better, I always say. It makes the time go by faster,” Mr. Dullwit the Desperate twittered as he guided Tristan’s shoulders around so they could enter the office building together. 


So much for his plan to bugger off and hide out for the day in some coffee shop.


Desperation held the door open and ushered his captive inside. The lobby of the building was nice enough but kinda sparsely decorated. Tristan thought the furniture looked cheap and generic. Not what Tristan would have expected of a flashy guy like Kinney. But then again, what did he know about business shit, right? They took the stairs up to the second floor and Desperation preceded him in through the door of the office space located just to the right off the landing. Again, the little couch and two matching chairs in the reception area looked just as boring and beige as the stuff down in the lobby. It was nothing like the posh stuff he’d seen in the guy’s loft. This crap looked more like the cheap furniture he was used to seeing in the hotels his johns sometimes took him to. Maybe this Kinney guy wasn’t as loaded as he seemed? 


The only thing that was at all entertaining to look at was the gorgeous blonde chick sitting behind the front desk. “Justin! Perfect timing. I need someone with an artistic eye to help me go through these new listings our realtor sent over. Brian wants me to winnow them down to no more than five possibles and set up time for all of us to go see them on Monday. Only, none of these places seem right for the future headquarters of Kinnetik International,” Ms. Thang said with a sexy smile aimed his way.


“Sure, Doll. Show me whatcha got,” Tristan drawled with a little half wink at the attractive woman who, even though she was a little older than him, was still definitely on the fuckable side. 


Clearly that had been the wrong way to react, however, because the woman immediately gave him the stink eye. “Justin? What’s going on?” 


Okay, so obviously, judging by the dental floss’ reaction, Tristan’s double wasn’t bisexual. Or at least he probably hadn’t ever tried to hit on Ms. Thang before. She did not look at all amused. And, if he didn’t want to blow his cover, he was going to have to dial back on the attitude a little. He had to remember he was supposed to be an innocent little pussy boy. Coming on to the hired help - especially when that included those of a female persuasion - was definitely not on brand for a milksop like Justin. 


“Sorry, uh, I’m not feeling great this morning . . .” he lied, trying to look weak and wimpy.


“Justin said he didn’t sleep well last night over at Michael’s,” Mr. Desperation cut in, making excuses for him. 


Ms. Thang didn’t look completely placated but at least she didn’t say anything more. 


“So, real estate listings?” Desperate asked, trying to break the awkward silence. “That’s good news. I’m sure we’ll all be glad to get out of these temporary offices and into our own space. Plus, we’re going to need the room if we want to hire enough help to handle all the new accounts Brian and Justin keep bringing in.” He turned to Tristan with a grin. “I heard you were the one who came up with the idea to approach the Tropical Smoothie Cafe folks; Brain showed me the logo you designed for them. I gotta say it’s a 100% improvement over what they had before. But, there’s no way just the four of us can handle any more work on our own. If we bring them in too, Brian’s gonna HAVE to hire at least one more artist and maybe a couple of account reps.” Then he turned to Ms. Thang and looked at her with his Desperate little smile. “So, better get going on finding us those new offices, Cynthia. The sooner the better.”


Aha! Her name was ‘Cynthia’. That was a hot name. Ms. Thang definitely looked like a Cynthia too; she was spicy and bossy and . . . What he wouldn’t give to take her right there across the damn desk.


“What do you think of this one, Justin?” Cynthia asked him, pulling him out of the fantasy he’d been having about the damned desk. 


He looked at the listing sheet she handed him showing a typical highrise glass and steel office building. “It’s kinda . . . meh,” he replied. “Doesn’t have much personality.”


Ms. Thang nodded in agreement and set that flyer aside. The three of them stood around the front desk looking through the entire stack of listing sheets for the next twenty minutes, without much better luck. All the potential offices the realtor had pulled together for them to look at were pretty much the same. The same tall, nondescript buildings. The same vanilla office spaces. Most all of them within the same ten square block area of downtown. And, judging solely by the prices indicated on those listing sheets - figures that made Tristan’s head explode just thinking about all that cheddar - you’d think the realtor coulda come up with something a little more eye-catching. Something that had some pop to it. Kinney was an advertising guy, right? Tristan figured somebody in advertising needed a better hook than a plain vanilla office space. 


“These places all kinda suck,” Tristan exclaimed as he tossed the last of the listing sheets back onto Cynthia’s desk with disgust. The shocked stares he got from both of the others reminded him that the guy he was pretending to be didn’t ever curse. “Um . . . What I mean is, none of these places look like My Brian,” he amended, feeling like he wanted to puke after saying that kind of sap.


“True,” Mr. Desperation agreed, frowning down at the mess of real estate flyers. “I can’t picture the Brian I know being comfortable in some generic, cookie-cutter office tower.”


“Agreed.” Cynthia pursed her mouth up as if trying to suppress a smile. “Then again, if we’re going for someplace Brian would feel comfortable, we’d have to move our offices to the back room of Babylon.”


“That would work,” Mr. Desperation laughed. “Or, even better, the Liberty Baths. That way, when Brian’s nervous about giving a presentation, he won’t have to picture the clients naked, because they’ll already be that way for real.”


Both Ted and Cyndy were cracking themselves up, offering up more and more unlikely places to put their new offices. All of their suggestions were getting seedier and seedier. Apparently, The Stud got around to some pretty low-life dives. But, while they had been laughing, Tristan had actually come up with an idea that might just work for these losers. 


“You know,” he offered when the laughing hyenas had finally quieted down a bit, “there is one place around that Kinney might like.” The others looked up at his serious tone, paying real attention to him, which kinda felt good for a change. “There’s this empty bath house over off of Smithfield, down by the University. It’s been closed for ages, and it would probably need a ton of work, but it’s kind of a cool old building. I’m sure you could pick it up for practically nothing and, if you renovated, it could end up being pretty swank.” Both Ted and Cynthia stared at him like he was insane. “What? You were the ones who said Brian would be most comfortable in a bath house?”


“Well, it’s not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard,” Mr. Desperate finally conceded with a tilt of his head and a two-shouldered shrug. “Wait . . . You’re not talking about the old White Swallow are you?” Tristan nodded. “Man, that place was a total pit. Wasn’t it closed down for health code violations a couple years ago?” Cynthia snickered at his unintentional admission that he’d frequented such a disreputable establishment but he ignored her. “The kid is right though; the building’s got some good bones. All that old stone work and the glass brick . . .” Ted looked at Cynthia and nodded. “What the hell. You might as well get your realtor to at least look into it. Knowing Brian, he’d probably get a kick out of the idea of having his offices in a gay bathhouse.”


“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Ms. Thang grumbled but she’d already picked up the phone and started dialing. “Thanks for the suggestion, Justin. I knew our resident artist would be the one to ask about this stuff.” She winked at him but then turned her back so she could concentrate on talking to whomever had picked up the other end of the call, leaving Tristan unsure what he was supposed to do next. 


He must have looked particularly lost, just standing around there, though, because Mr. Desperate even commented. “You sure you’re feeling alright, Justin? I mean, I get it that you didn’t sleep well at Michael’s, and you probably miss Brian like crazy, but you just don’t seem like yourself today at all. Is there something else that’s bothering you? If there’s a problem, and I don’t call the Boss to let him know, he’ll hand me my ass in a basket, so . . .”


“No, no. No need to call Brian,” Tristan rushed to reassure, making sure to call Kinney by the right name this time. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m just having an off day, I guess.”


“Well . . . Okay . . . If you say so,” Mr. Desperate conceded without losing the worried creases that lined his forehead. “I’ll leave you to your artwork then - that should cheer you right up, like it usually does - and go back to my boring spreadsheets.” The nerd sounded almost happy to be going back to that crap, which Tristan couldn’t understand in the least, having detested math, and school in general, all his life. “Oh, by the way, Brian texted me this morning and told me to remind you that the preliminary boards for the Primanti Brothers’ account are due tomorrow by five, so you better get on that before you start anything else.”


Tristan tried to look like he knew what preliminary boards were as he nodded at the accountant. Mr. Desperation must have been satisfied since he gave a pathetic little wave and disappeared through the door of one of the offices down the little hallway that led away from the reception area. Tristan assumed that wherever he was supposed to be working must be down that way as well, so he headed that direction too. He peeked into the two other open doorways as he passed; one was a mere copy room, which didn’t look at all interesting, and the other was a fairly large office. The office didn’t look like someplace where his artsy-fartsy double would hang out, though, so he continued on to the last doorway at the end of the hallway. Behind that door there was a room with a large bank of windows and, set up in front of that expanse, a drafting desk as well as an easel. Not that Tristan knew what the fuck to do with either of those pieces of furniture, but at least he figured this was the right place for him to be at the moment. 


He went in, making sure to close and lock the door behind him, and flopped down in the relatively comfortable office chair at the big desk. Now, all he had to do was lay low and try not to raise any further suspicions for the rest of the day. And, maybe, get some rest because, fuck this early morning working stiff crap, right? 


With his feet up on the lower shelf of the desk, and his arms folded across his chest, he relaxed back into the ergonomic chair and prepared to take a nice, extended nap. 

 

All in all, not a bad life if you could work it, Tristan thought as he drifted off to sleep.


 

 

End Notes:

1/1/21 - Happy New Year! Can I get a ‘Fuck you, 2020!’ We survived despite everything you tried to throw at us!’ Now, let’s just hope 2021 doesn’t try to out do it’s predecessor. Enjoy the late night stealth posing while you usher in the New Year! TAG

Chapter 12 - The Social Network by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

You lucky readers - I've got a whole long weekend with nothing to do but write... Enjoy! TAG

 

*****Chapter Dedicated to my Wonderful Friend, Lorie, who helped write the Possum scene! *****


 

Chapter 12 - The Social Network.



After almost an hour of sitting there with his little sign, Justin had only collected $2.78. 


He didn’t think that would be enough to get the dreaded Hugo off his back, but he didn’t know what else to do. He’d done his best to smile brightly at all the people walking through the little plaza. He’d even waved at some of them. A few really nice people had come up to talk to him and offered some spare change, which he’d thanked them for profusely. However, when one older lady using a walker had come close, a grubby five dollar bill in her hand, Justin had felt so bad for taking the kindly older woman’s money that he’d insisted she take it back. Then he’d got up from his corner and helped walk the woman across the street and into the building she’d been headed for. When he came back to his corner, he discovered that someone had stolen his little paper bowl with the measly change he’d collected so far. 


Justin slumped down onto his little patch of sidewalk and felt like crying. He just wasn’t good at this asking people for money thing. It was hard. And he was missing Brian something awful. But not only did he not know how to find Brian, he’d now also lost track of the Skinny Boy, so he had no one to help him at all. He was almost ready to give up, but he couldn’t even do that because he was too scared of all the nasty things the other boys had said the Big Angry Man would do to his hiney if he didn’t bring him some more money that evening. He hadn’t felt this hopeless since that day, a few months back, when Brian had left him at the bus station while he went off to make a phone call.


“That’s the nicest panhandling sign I think I’ve ever seen,” a pleasant middle-aged woman interrupted Justin’s moment of despondency. “I especially like the little self-portrait in the corner there.” 


The woman pointed to the bottom left corner where Justin had doodled a tiny picture of himself holding up his sign. 


“Thank you, Miss,” Justin replied politely. “Drawing is a lot more fun than sitting here asking people for money, but I need to pay the Big Angry Man or he’ll do mean things to my rear end, so I guess I have to keep trying . . .”


That statement caused the nice woman to frown at him. “Well, if you’re trying to earn some money, you could probably make more by selling your drawings than by just begging,” she suggested. 


“Do you think so?” Justin asked, perking right up. “I did that once last summer at the Nebraska State Fair. It was fun. I got to draw all these funny cartoon pictures of people and they gave me lots of money for them.” He looked around himself at all the serious people walking around downtown Pittsburgh, most in suits or other business attire, almost none of them smiling. “The man at the fair even offered me a job drawing pictures, which really surprised me because, up till then, the only other job offer I’d had was for a hand job, you know? But I don’t think people here in Pittsburgh would want those kinds of pictures. Nobody here seems to be in a funny mood.”


“Maybe not. Not everyone likes caricatures,” the woman readily agreed with him, pointedly ignoring the comment about the hand job. “But if you can draw serious portraits, you might find a few takers. If you’re at least halfway good, that is.”


Justin stood up and flipped through a few pages of his sketchbook until he came to one of his favorite drawings of Brian. “Is this good enough, do you think?” he asked his new friend.


“Wow . . . That’s beautiful,” the woman immediately offered. “If you can draw like that, what are you doing sitting out here begging? That kind of talent is worth some serious money.” 


“I got lost and I don’t know how to find my Brian,” he explained, looking at the picture of his boyfriend sadly. “And then this Big Angry Man took all the money I had, and the other boys said he’d do mean things to me if I didn’t give him more, but Brian has all my money right now, so now I don’t know what to do . . .”


“That doesn’t sound good,” his new friend sympathized. “I’m not sure I can help out with all the rest, but how about you draw me and I’ll pay you $10 for the picture? And maybe, once everyone else around here sees what you can do, you’ll get a few more takers?”


“Would you really let me draw you? Oh, that would be so nice of you! Thank you, Ms. Lady!” Justin was thrilled by this development. He dug around in his bag for the little metal tin he kept his charcoals in and flipped to a fresh page of his sketchbook. “I will make you an extra-special drawing that I’m sure you’ll like!”


Which is how Justin ended up spending the next two hours drawing portraits for a growing lineup of customers who crowded around him in the plaza to admire the artist at work. He remembered how Brian had handled things back at the fair, charging extra for colored drawings, and pulled out his colored pencils from his bag as well. This allowed him to up his prices for some of the portraits. Before he knew it, he had a little stack of ten and twenty dollar bills piling up under his charcoal tin. He didn’t know how much was there, or if it was enough to satisfy the Big Angry Man, but it was more than he’d made while panhandling at least. However, after more than two hours of drawing, his hand started to give out on him. 


He finished up the drawing he’d been working on and then apologized to the rest of the folks waiting for him. “I’m super sorry, people, but I don’t think I can draw any more today. My hand needs a rest.” There was a groan of complaint from a couple of the businessmen who’d been waiting and watching. “If you want to give me your phone numbers, though,” he quickly added, “as soon as I get un-lost, I can call you and arrange to draw your pictures for you then.” That seemed to placate those who’d been waiting and he was handed several business cards. “Thank you. Thank you, everyone. I promise to call as soon as I can figure out where I left my travelling phone. Thank you, all.”


Once his crowd of customers and admirers had left, Justin gathered up his things and stowed all his art supplies back in his bag. He looked through the stash of money he’d accumulated and smiled. There was over $200. He sighed with relief, thinking that should be enough to keep the Big Angry Man from doing anything unpleasant to his rear end. Drawing for money had been a very good idea. Justin would have to thank the Nice Lady for the suggestion if he ever saw her again. And, now that he wasn’t worried about the money for Hugo, he could concentrate on finding his way home again. 


Justin retraced his steps back to the park where he’d last seen the Skinny Boy, hoping that, now that he had the money for the Big Angry Man, his new friend would stop worrying about that and, instead, would finally help him find Brian. Unfortunately, most of the boys who’d been hanging out in the park were gone. There was no sign of either the Skinny Boy or the Jaguar car. The only boy left in the park that he recognized was the one they’d called ‘Trey’. 


“Hey, Stan,” Trey greeted as soon as he saw Justin approach. “Slow day, huh? I’ve only pulled two tricks so far this afternoon. You had any better luck?”  


“I already told the Skinny Boy that I don't know any tricks. I’m really not a magician, you know,” Justin explained again, wondering why all these boys kept asking him about magic things. “I’m an artist.” 


“You’re a kick, Stan,” Trey laughed and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “You should do stand up, you know? Go on the road or something. Although, Daddy doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, so that probably wouldn’t work.”


As Trey led him off down the street, Justin was trying to work out in his head why their Daddy wouldn’t like seeing the boys ‘stand up’. Did he want them to sit down all the time? How would they be able to go out ‘on the road’ and do magic tricks to get him money if they didn’t stand up? Why didn’t anything these boys said ever seem to make any sense?


As the two of them walked along, heading back towards the seedier parts of the city, Justin noticed several people just sitting on the sidewalk dressed in ragged clothing. He’d occasionally seen people like that when he and Brian had been driving around, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen so many of them in one place before. On one corner they passed, he noticed an older woman dressed in what looked like fifty layers of filthy old clothing who seemed to be talking worriedly to the shopping cart she was pushing. That got him curious. Walking closer, Justin thought he saw something moving around in her cart. An animal, maybe? The woman seemed distressed about the thing in the cart and he thought, maybe, the animal might be injured or sick.


He walked up to the woman and introduced himself. “Excuse me Ma’am. My name is Justin. Who is it you’re talking to in there?”


The woman looked startled, most people stayed far away from her, but this cute blond boy was talking to her like she was a person and not someone to be avoided.


“Hello, Cutie,” she cackled and winked at him. “I was talking to my cat, Fang. I don’t think he’s feeling well. It could be worms . . . I don’t rightly know.”


Justin looked into the shopping cart but all he could see were two beady, black eyes staring up at him from under a pile of old bedding, some flattened cardboard, and assorted trash. 


“Your cat?”


“Yep,” the old woman affirmed. “I found this funny looking cat a few days ago. It was just lying there really still. I thought maybe I had run over it with my cart and killed it. So I picked it up and, lo and behold, it was still alive. So’s I put it in my cart to keep, thinkin’ maybe I could have something what would love me. Least ways, I hope he does. He sure seems to want to eat a lot though. I named him Fang because he has a lot of teeth. Could be he has the tapeworm though.” 


The woman moved one of the blankets in her cart out of the way and Justin looked closer. All he saw at first was a happy-looking bundle of fur. Then the little animal looked up at him and Justin took a surprised step backward. He wasn’t sure what kind of animal that was, but it certainly didn’t look like a cat. At least not like the cat he’d used to watch through the window of his mother’s house. This creature had legs that were too short, a snout that was too long, a long hairless tail, and, as the woman had pointed out, way too many teeth. Justin had watched a lot of nature shows growing up and, although he’d never seen one in person, he thought that Fang might be a possum, not a cat.  


The woman had put some pizza she’d found in the cart and Fang was happily munching away on it. Justin then noticed a lot of movement going on in the vicinity of the creature’s belly. Assuming he was correct in his identification, the intelligent boy thought he knew what that meant. With his usual trusting nature, he extended his hand slowly towards the little guy, speaking softly, until he was sure the animal wasn’t spooked. Moving slowly, he was eventually able to pet the wiry fur. Fang seemed to like the attention and rolled to its back so Justin could reach more pettable spots. 


“Ma’am, I think your cat friend here is actually a possum and ‘he’ is a she. A new mama too, if I’m not mistaken. Come look. Here are the new babies,” Justin pointed to Fang’s belly where you could see little arms and legs wiggling just under the skin. “They stay in her pouch and feed until they are bigger. That’s why she is so hungry, she’s making milk for her babies.”


“Well, I’ll be . . . I guess that makes me a grandma!” the woman exclaimed with a grin, evidencing several missing teeth. 


Justin remembered he had a half of an uneaten granola bar in his messenger bag; he rooted it out and handed it to the woman for her new family. 


“Thank ya, kindly, young man. You’re such a sweetie,” the woman said, beaming down at him with her toothless smile. “I know! You kin be the babies’ fairy godmother! That way, if’n anything happens to me, they’ll have some’un to take care of ‘em and feed ‘em and raise ‘em right . . .” The woman broke off in order to rearrange the blanket over the top of her pet with a doting smile. 


“I would be honored to be your grandbabies’ godmother,'' Justin agreed readily, taking over pushing the shopping cart for the woman, who led him further down the street to where she could rifle through a dumpster behind a small market. “I’m not sure about the ‘fairy’ part though. My Brian says he hates it when people call us fairies. He’s not the ‘fairy’ type at all, you know; he’s much too big and strong and not at all like a little fairy from a fairy tale. All his friends say My Brian is a ‘Stud’ and they call me a ‘Twinkie’, although I always thought a Twinkie was something you ate.” He giggled and blushed, thinking about all the times Brian had said he was going to eat him up, not that he thought it appropriate to explain that to his new Possum Granny friend. “Now, My Brian’s tall friend, Emmett, he’s kind of a fairy. Or, as My Brian says, a big nelly queen. I’m not sure that’s true though, either, because doesn’t a queen have to have a palace and a throne and servants and stuff like that? I don’t think the Tall Friend has any queen stuff. I should ask Brian about that sometime, you know?” 


While this conversation was going on, the old woman had finished digging through the dumpster and had added a dirty running shoe and a cracked plastic doll’s head to the other treasures in her shopping cart. Justin didn’t understand why she’d want one shoe or a broken toy, but that wasn’t for him to say. He just kept pushing the cart around where the woman directed, trying to be helpful. He did stop and pick up a fast food bag out of one trashcan the Possum Granny had finished going through, happy to note that there was still a half a hamburger inside. He uncovered the possum from under the blanket in the cart and offered the treat to Mama Possum to go with her pizza. Mama Possum seemed quite grateful and dug in. He made a mental note to keep an eye out for more scraps. 


It wasn’t until they’d gone on this way for several blocks that Justin remembered his plan to follow Trey back to the ‘Tarlight Motel so he could reconnect with the Skinny Boy. He’d long ago lost sight of Trey, though. Now what was he going to do? He didn’t have any idea where he was again, let alone how to find his way back to Brian. He sighed and shook his head. He definitely wasn’t having a great day. Oh well. He supposed he’d just stay with the Possum Granny and help her with Mama Possum for the time being and hope some better idea came to him. 



Eventually, Possum Granny’s path led them to the back door of an old stone church. There was already a line of other people waiting at the church, so they parked their shopping cart off to the side where others had left their own contrivances and joined the queue. Possum Granny was chattering away to Justin - about what, he wasn’t entirely sure, since the woman seemed to be talking about people that weren’t actually there - but she seemed to be in a very good mood, so he wasn’t about to interrupt. Meanwhile, the rest of the folks waiting in line were eyeing him with suspicion. Justin tried to smile at them but most either scowled in return or simply refused to meet his eye. He was almost relieved when the door to the church finally opened and the line of people began to slowly file inside.  


Following Possum Granny into the building, they went down a short flight of stairs into the church’s basement. The basement was set up with a series of long folding tables and chairs. Over at the end of the room was a counter that separated the room with the tables from a kitchen area. And spread out on the counter was a series of hot plates and piles of food. 


“Oh, good! Dinner. I was getting a little hungry,” Justin exclaimed happily. “I only had a bagel for breakfast and that was a long time ago.” 


“Wednesdays is macaroni and cheese,” Possum Granny explained as she picked up a plate off the stack at the near end of the counter. “Course, I prefer the tuna noodle casserole over at St. Agnes’, you know, but that’s only on Fridays. This here mac and cheese ain’t too bad neither.”


“Nice to see you today, Bertha,” a hefty man dressed in a black shirt with a funny little white collar said to Possum Granny. “How are you feeling this week?”


“Fair to middlin’. Fair to middlin’,” Possum Granny replied as she held her plate out so the man could spoon out a serving of the cheesy pasta for her. 


“That’s good to hear,” the serving man replied with a smile. “And who’s this you’ve brought with you today?” 


“This is my fairy godmother,” Possum Granny explained with a sideways nod of her head in Justin’s direction. 


“I’m not really a fairy godmother,” Justin rushed to correct the woman. “Even though I am gay - and not just gay as in ‘happy’ but gay as in I like to do boyfriend things with My Brian - but I’m not sure I like being called a ‘fairy’ you know? I’m happy to help out with the babies though, so I guess you can call me whatever you want.”


“That’s . . . That’s good to know, son,” the man seemed a little thrown by Justin’s babbling but covered for it quickly. “I’m Pastor Clark.” The big man held out his hand for Justin to shake. “Here at Third Street Baptist Church we welcome all of god’s children no matter who they love.”


“Thank you, Pastor Clark,” Justin gave him one of his best smiles. “I’m Justin. And thank you for the dinner too. I was getting very hungry. The Big Angry Man I stayed with last night only gave us bagels for breakfast this morning and I was so busy all day trying to get people to give me enough money to make sure he wouldn’t do mean things to my rear end that I didn’t have time to stop and eat anything for lunch. My stomach is very glad to be here.”


“I’m sorry to hear that, son. Here, have a second roll,” Pastor Clark offered, balancing two of the flakey rolls on the edge of the boy’s plate. 


Justin might have stayed longer and talked with the nice man serving the food but Possum Granny was already moving towards one of the tables and he thought he better go help her first. They both took up their spots and quickly got busy with their dinner. The church hall slowly filled up with the homeless population of the city, eager for a nice hot meal. Justin tried to listen to Granny’s chattering, but it was kinda hard to follow sometimes and he wasn’t sure she was actually talking to him half the time. The rest of the folks sitting at their table totally ignored the woman, which Justin thought was kind of rude, but he would never point that out to their faces. 


He finished his small plate of food rather quickly and then looked around himself at the rest of the group of rather shabby people who were still coming down the stairs and into the room. He felt bad for them. Most were older and quite a few looked unhealthy. They weren’t dressed very well and some didn’t even have shoes. They all looked hungrier and more tired than him, though, so he decided to get up and let someone else, more deserving, have his seat at the table. Instead of just standing around waiting for Granny, though, he figured he should make himself useful.


Going up to the counter, he caught Pastor Clark’s eye and offered, “can I help with anything? I could take a turn serving the macaroni if you like. That way you can take a break.”


“That’s kind of you to offer son,” the big man nodded at him. “Okay. Here you go. Make sure everyone gets one big spoonful of pasta and a roll. And try to get them all to take a serving of salad too - most of these folks don’t eat very well so we try to push the vegetables whenever we can.” 


“Will do!” Justin took up the serving spoon and assumed his duties with gusto as the Pastor went back into the kitchen to see if the church ladies doing the cooking needed any help. 


“Hello! Hi! How’s it going?” Justin greeted everyone coming through the line with his cheeriest smiles and an enthusiastic attitude as he dished out the food. A few of the takers mumbled something in return, but most seemed to pass by in a bit of a fog. “Here, take some salad too. It’s good for you. I read in a book once that you will get scurvy if you don’t eat enough vegetables, and you don’t want that, now do you?”


After dishing out three large vats of macaroni & cheese, the line of people trudging down through the doorway finally came to an end. Justin set his serving spoon down and looked around at the dining hall full of people with a frown. He didn’t like seeing so many sad people. It was kind of depressing. 


“Thank you for all your help today, son. I appreciate you stepping up to serve so I could tend to other things,” Pastor Clark offered with a smile as he picked up the almost empty container of pasta. “While you were helping out with the serving duties, I was able to make three more fundraising calls and I even managed to secure a commitment from Whole Foods to provide their deli seconds to our program for the next six months. Which means we might be able to open up the kitchen for a third night a week.”


“Don’t people need to have dinner every night of the week?” Justin asked, a little confused.


“Yes, they do,” Pastor Clark confirmed with a sad smile. “Unfortunately, we’re just a small parish and we don’t have the resources to open our doors every single day. The nights we’re not open the folks have to go to another soup kitchen or, if that’s not an option, they often go hungry altogether. Which is why I’m so happy I was able to find the support to keep us open an extra night.”


“That’s not right. You should be able to feed the people all the nights,” Justin insisted, his mouth pursed up in a worried knot. “If you had more money, you could feed them all the time, right? So, how much money do you need for that?”


The pastor laughed a big, hearty laugh and clapped Justin on the shoulder. “More money than I’m likely to ever be able to get my hands on, son. A lot more money.”


“I have money I could give you,” Justin offered without a second of hesitation. “My dead mother - who I didn’t really kill - left me a lot of money. I gave it to Brian to help him with his business, but there’s still some left over, I think. And we’re making more money all the time. Maybe, if I asked him, My Brian would give me some of the money back so I could give it to you.” He smiled up at the kindly pastor, happy to have found a solution. “Would ten thousand dollars be enough? That’s how much Brian said he was going to make a month off the new Tropical Smoothie Cafe account that I drew the logo for. Would that help you feed all the people all the nights?” 


“Oh, son . . .” Pastor Clark smiled indulgently down at the sweet boy who seemed a bit simple to the worldly man who’d already seen far too much suffering in his life. “I appreciate the offer, my child, I really do but I think you look like you could use some taking care of yourself right now.”


“That’s true. I really do need to find My Brian. I got a little lost, you know, and I miss him like you wouldn’t believe. But once I do find him, I’m sure he’ll agree with me that we don’t need all that money as much as you do. We only have the two of us to feed. And Gus, sometimes, when he comes to stay with us. But Gus is only three so he doesn’t eat that much, you know. You have a lot more people to feed than us, so you should have some of the money too.”


“You comin’, Cutie Pie?” Possum Granny interrupted as she shuffled by on her way out of the church hall. “Our babies are waiting for their fairy godmother now.”


“Of course.” Justin smiled at the church leader and waved as he followed in Granny’s wake. “Thank you for the delicious dinner, Pastor Clark. I’ll send the money as soon as I can. Night!”




 

 

End Notes:

1/2/21 - Isn’t Justin just too stinking cute for words! Such a pure heart. He’s a pleasure to write. And, I know you all want him to get back to Brian, but I’m rather enjoying all his little adventures. TAG

Chapter 13 - Adult Life Skills by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

This chapter is for all of you asking where Brian is... Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 13 - Adult Life Skills.



“Why aren’t you answering your fucking texts, Sunshine?” Brian growled at his phone for the 50th time in the past twenty-four hours. “What the hell good is having the damn thing if you never answer me.”


Frustrated, Brian tapped at the screen of his brand new replacement phone a couple times, brought up a new contact, and hit the button to call Cynthia at her work number. The line rang only twice before a pleasant voice answered. “Welcome to Kinnetik. This is Cynthia. How may I help you?”


“It’s me, Cyn. I’m trying to track down my annoying blond but he refuses to answer his damned phone. He’s probably lost it again. Is he in the office?”


“I assume so . . .” Cynthia grumbled, sounding quite unlike herself.


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Brian asked, the anxiety he’d been holding back because of not being able to contact Justin immediately escalating.


“Oh, nothing . . .” Cynthia paused for a moment and then seemingly decided to just get whatever was bothering her off her chest. “It’s only that, Justin doesn’t seem to be himself today. He's been acting a little off ever since he arrived this morning. He claimed he didn’t sleep well last night at Michael’s, went straight into his office, and he hasn’t come out yet. Which is just not like our Justin.”


“That doesn’t sound good,” Brian agreed. “You think he’s sick? Did someone check on him?”


“I don’t think that’s it,” Cynthia rushed to reassure her friend. “He wasn’t acting sick, he was just acting . . . Strange.”


“Define ‘strange’,” Brian insisted.


“Well . . .” Cynthia sounded almost embarrassed as she continued. “When he first came in this morning he called me ‘Doll’ and he . . . I think he winked at me.”


Brian let out a snort of laughter. “Seriously? You really think Sunshine was flirting with you? Get real, Cynthia. Justin can barely bring himself to flirt with ME in public, I can’t see him coming onto a woman . . . No offense.”


“None taken. But still, it was the weirdest thing, Brian. Normally I would agree with you and say Justin would be the last person on earth to make a pass at someone without any encouragement, but . . . I just got this weird vibe from him. Like something wasn’t right.”


“Yeah . . . He was acting a little weird last night when I talked to him on the phone too,” Brian confessed, thinking about how Justin hadn’t seemed even a little bit shocked when he’d hinted at teaching him about phone sex with Michael right there in the room with him and how he then disconnected the call early. “He actually hung up on me, the little shit, and then, when I couldn’t get a hold of him again, I sorta trashed my phone. That’s why I didn’t call you back till after 9:00 am this morning; I had to get a new fucking phone. At the time I thought, maybe, he was just pissed off at me for going out of town without him or something. But if you say he’s still acting strange, maybe it’s more than that . . .”


“How about I put you through to him and you can ask him yourself what’s going on?” Cynthia, ever the practical one, proposed. “Hang on a sec and let me buzz him . . .”


Cynthia put Brian on hold and he listened to the horrible muzak in the background while he waited. He needed to remember, once they were finally in their own offices, to make sure the hold music on their phone system was at least halfway decent. This stuff was crap. Complaining to himself about the music helped get Brian all the way through one soft rock hit from the seventies, and even part-way through a second, before he started to get freaked out again. What was taking so long? Usually, Justin would have come running to take a call from his Brian. How long did it take to push a couple buttons on the phone console and transfer the call? Had Cynthia forgotten how to work the damn phones?


Or was Justin really sick after all and lying there, passed out in his office, or something?


Brian was about to go out of his mind when another voice finally came on the phone line again. “Uh . . . Hey.”


“Justin? Is that you? You sound kinda strange . . .” Brian wasn’t sure what to think.


“Who else would it be?” was the kinda snarky answer.


“Why’d it take you so long to answer? Is everything okay there?” Brian pressed. “Come on, Sunshine. Talk to me.”


“I’m fine. I just fell asleep and Ms. Tha . . . I mean, Cynthia . . . had to come wake me up and tell me you were on the phone.”


That definitely did NOT sound like his bubbly, always enthusiastic, energizer-bunny-like, Sunshine. “If you think you’re getting sick, I could have Cynthia or Ted take you to the doctor’s . . .”


“Nah. I’m fine. I promise,” the voice that sounded like Justin’s, only less Sunshiney, assured him. “I was just up late last night playing video games with Michael. I’ll be fine. I just needed some down time, you know?”


Everything Justin was saying sounded perfectly reasonable to Brian, except for the fact it didn’t sound like something his Justin would say. “You’ve got me worried, Sunshine,” he admitted, his voice dropping to just above a whisper. “If you’re really not feeling good, I can cancel the rest of my meetings and be on the next plane home . . .”


“No. No. No need for that,” the voice instantly became more animated. “I’m good. I promise, My Brian. You don’t need to come home early.”


The alarm on Brian’s phone chirped at him to alert him that it was time to leave for his next meeting. “Okay. If you say so, Sunshine. But, can you at least stop ignoring all my texts and calls? I’m starting to feel neglected here.”


“Um . . . Uh . . . There’s, uh, something wrong with my phone. The fingerprint thing isn’t working,” Justin’s voice admitted, which was the first truly Justin thing he’d said so far.


“You probably just have to resync your Touch ID. That happiness sometimes. Just use your passcode for now and we’ll reset it when I get home.”


“Um . . . I kinda forgot the passcode too . . .”


“Typical. Only you could forget 69-69-69, Sunshine,” Brian laughed, because forgetting his passcode was the most reassuring and Justin-like thing that he could have done. “Now, before I let you go, text me something so I’m sure your damn phone is working, okay?” 


“‘Kay.” Ten seconds later a thumbs up emoji appeared on Brian’s phone screen, which at least proved the damn phone was still working.


“Oh, before I forget, did you see the email I sent about the Carter’s print layout? It just needs some minor tweaks; I told them you could crank it out in no time. Can you prioritize that and get the changes back to me by the end of the day? I’m supposed to be meeting with them again tomorrow for breakfast to finalize the new campaign. And then I’m off to a lunch meeting with a possible new client that Zoobabies provided a reference for. Hell, by the time I’m done here in Chicago, I could have secured another five million in annual revenue for us if I work this right. Which means you and your artistic fingers will be busy for the foreseeable future,” he chuckled, thinking that should make his favorite artist happy. 


But the only response he got was a lukewarm, “uh, sure. I’ll get right on that for you.”


“You’re SURE you’re feeling okay, Sunshine?” Brian asked again, still unconvinced.


“I told you, I’m fine. Just a little tired. You don’t have to worry.”


“If you say so, Sunshine . . .” Brian was reluctant to go even though he was going to be late for his next meeting. “Make sure you stop and get some lunch, though, and if you start feeling worse, or you need to go home, tell Ted or Cynthia to call me right away.”


“Will do,” was the curt reply before the line went dead again. 


Brian was not reassured by that phone call or the utterly unemotional ending. Justin was never that cold or distant. Not when he was talking to Brian at least. Hell, most of the time Brian couldn’t get the little imp to stop chattering long enough to end a call. But he’d basically hung up on Brian twice in as many days now. No wonder the call had left Brian feeling very unsettled. He was about to call Cynthia back so they could compare notes further when the alarm on his phone went off again. 


“Damn it!” Brian cursed the device but was so trained to obey it’s directives he got to his feet right away. “I hope you really are okay, Sunshine . . .” he mumbled as he slid the phone into his pocket before grabbing his briefcase and heading out the door, making a mental note at the same time to check in with Cynthia and Ted after his meeting. 


Hopefully, whatever was causing his Sunshine to act so out of character, would have worn off by then.



Tristan spent the next hour of his day trying to figure out the damned computer. 


That kind of shit had never come easy for him; he’d always been  more of a hands on kind of guy. Probably why he had hated school. It was no wonder he’d given up and dropped out when he was only fourteen. At the time, the pretty picture of a school-free life with Hugo seemed like paradise to the boy who’d just gotten beaten to within an inch of his life by his shitty foster father after bringing home a report card with two ‘D’s and an ‘F’. Even now, knowing what he did about the false picture Hugo had sold him, he didn’t think he’d want to go back. School wasn’t something he’d ever be interested in. 


But now, his lack of skills in the computer area, was about to cost him his con. He knew Kinney already suspected something was off with his ‘Justin’ based on all the questions he’d been asking. If Tristan didn’t figure out the fucking computer and finish that layout thing Kinney had emailed him about, he was sure to be found out. And if Kinney came flying back before Tristan could get his haul out of that Brunet Guy’s apartment, all this would be for nothing. He didn’t think he’d get collared or anything - he could always play the sympathy card and probably weasel out of Kinney beefing on him - but he didn’t think Hugo would appreciate him disappearing for two days with nothing much to show for it. Besides, how hard could it be to change the fucking color of the font and resize it like the email said?


It turned out, though, it was plenty hard. He had no idea how to use the damn app that opened up when he clicked on the file attachment. He tried to google for help as he went, but it was slow going. Then it took him forever to figure out what the string of six random letters and numbers meant; eventually he discovered that that was code for a specific color of teal blue and that computer geeks always talked about their color spectrum that way. Who knew? Even after he figured that out, though, he still couldn’t figure out how to move the resized text to the right place on the layout. It was so frustrating.


Tristan was still fiddling with the damned thing when Ms. Thang came in carrying a take out bag and an equally large drink. “Hey, Justin. Brian texted me to remind you to eat lunch.” She set the food on the desk, looking over his shoulder to see what was displayed on the computer. “You still working on that Carter’s layout? I would have figured you’d be done with that already.”


“Just finishing up,” Tristan explained, fiddling with the mouse and trying to get the damned text to move to the right spot yet again. “I can’t make this go . . .”


Cynthia reached across him and tapped at the keyboard one time and the damn text he’d been trying to move around for a half hour just automatically centered itself in the middle of the screen. 


“There. No problem,” she smiled at him but her eyes betrayed a hint of confusion. “If you save it to the system I’ll email it back to Brian for you right away. That way you can go back to working on the concept layout for your big Tropical Smoothies spread. That kind of thing is probably more fun for an artist like yourself than this kind of graphics.”


Tristan just managed to stifle the groan that wanted to come out at the idea of trying to keep up his con while pretending to be an artist. He couldn’t even draw a stick figure on a good day. How the fuck was he supposed to pretend to draw or paint something good enough for a fucking ad?


“I, uh . . . I’m not really in the mood to work on that this afternoon,” Tristan explained, hoping that his double was the kind of flaky, moody artist stereotype you saw in the movies and that he could get away with claiming he wasn’t creatively inclined to that project at the moment. 


“Oooookay . . .” Tristan knew right away that was the wrong thing to say judging by the way Ms. Thang was looking at him. “Well, if you don’t feel up to that, maybe you’d like to come with me to see that real estate listing you suggested we look into? The realtor called me back about ten minutes ago with all the details. You were right about it being ridiculously affordable. But before I bother to pitch the idea to Brian, I thought I’d better go look at the place in person. If there’s too much work that needs to be done to make it workable, then we don’t need to bother the boss with it, right?”


“That sounds pretty cool. I’m down with that,” Tristan readily jumped on the alternative to an afternoon of his con falling apart when folks got a glimpse of his crappy artwork.


“Good. I’ll call Lamont and tell him we’ll be over there as soon as you’re done eating.”


Tristan was so glad to be escaping the office that he scarfed down the sandwich he’d been supplied with in less than five minutes. He couldn’t have even told you what it was he’d eaten. The milkshake thing, though was pretty tasty and he was still sipping at the concoction when he shuffled out of the art room and headed off to find Ms. Thang. 


“Tropical Smoothies again, Justin?” Mr. Desperation said with a grin as soon as he saw Tristan. “Too bad that’s the only kind of smoothies you’re going to be getting until Brian gets home, huh?”


“Huh?” Tristan wondered if the guy was simple or something; what the hell other kind of fucking smoothie was there?


“You know . . . Last week, you were going on and on about Brian’s ‘smoothies’ and why you were late coming into work . . .” When Tristan just kept looking at Ted like he was insane, the guy finally just fell silent. 


“Ready to go, Justin?” Cynthia interrupted the awkward moment, to Tristan’s everlasting relief. “Hey, Ted. We’re going to head over to see that real estate listing Justin suggested. You want to take a short break and come with us? We might need your money skills to figure out if the renovations the place is going to need will be worth it.”


“Sure. Sounds like a fun field trip,” Mr. Desperation agreed with way too much enthusiasm for Tristan’s taste. 


Which is how they all three ended up wandering around the former Orgy Room of the White Swallow like some kind of alternative Stooges remake. 


“This more what you were looking for?” Lamont Reid, the realtor, asked, waggling his eyebrows in Ted’s direction and causing Mr. Desperation to blush like a fucking school girl. 


“Well, it’s definitely someplace I can see Brian . . . In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him in this very room about a half a dozen times back before the place closed.” Everyone laughed at that statement, even Tristan, but then the laughter fell flat when the rest of the Kinnetik crew turned to look at him with confusion. 


Tristan chose to ignore them, moving instead to look at the dripping faucet head in the east wall. “You’re going to have to disconnect and plug all these pipes or you’ll risk more leaks in the future. Same with the floor drains. And probably have to check all the walls to make sure the wood isn’t rotted out because of water damage. Although, I’d leave the fixtures themselves in place. If you clean them up and all, they’ll add some interest to the otherwise plain walls. I’d even leave the tile on the walls. It’ll spice the place up. You’ll probably want carpeting in most of the rooms, though, otherwise the noise level will be out of control.” Tristan wandered around, looking in all the nooks and corners of the room. “If it were up to me, I’d make this room into your new conference room; there’s plenty of space and your clients will get a kick out of the ambience. It could double as the boss’ office too if you put in a partition here,” he indicated a space about two-thirds of the way across the large room, “so he could separate off his private space if he wanted to. It could work.” Tristan turned and nodded to his companions, all of whom were looking at him with awe. 


“That’s impressive,” the realtor, who was the only one not shocked into silence by the boy’s analysis, exclaimed. “You have a good eye for renovations, Mr. Taylor. Where’d you learn all that at your age?”


“Uh . . .” Tristan fumbled for an explanation. He couldn’t disclose that one of his foster dads - the one he’d lived with the longest, back before the parents got a divorce and decided neither of them wanted to take on the foster kids alone - had been a contractor and had taken him out on jobs occasionally. “I, uh, used to watch a lot of those home improvement shows on television,” he lied. 


“Well, you certainly learned a lot,” Lamont concluded, taking Tristan by the arm and leading the younger man down the hall to the area that used to be the locker room of the old bath house. “Now, what do you think of this space? I envision it as the staff break room, maybe?”


“Sure, but you’re gonna need more light in here. It’s like a cave without any windows. Maybe some skylights or something?” Tristan suggested, he and the realtor trading ideas as they continued to tour the rest of the building for the next hour or so.


Meanwhile, Ted and Cynthia trailed along behind, not saying much at all. They were both so surprised and confused that neither really knew what to say. Neither had ever seen Justin acting like this. He was so knowledgeable about construction - a topic nobody had ever heard the young man discuss before - and acted so much more sure of himself than they were used to. Not that there was anything specific you could put your finger on to say, definitively, that it wasn’t Justin-like. It was plausible that the kid had watched renovation shows on television as a child. But still, there was just something about this performance that made both the others stop and wonder.


“Oh, hang on a sec.” Tristan finally stopped the realtor and pulled his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans. “It’s My Brian. I need to answer this text or he’ll get worried,” the small blond exclaimed, sounding exactly like the Justin they all knew for once. But then he ruined the effect when he finished typing a quick text and then turned back to the realtor all businesslike again. “So, where were we?”


Ted stopped in his tracks. He waited until Justin and Lamont were out of sight, around the corner in another room, and then he looked over at Cynthia, his head tilting to the side in a questioning gesture. Cynthia shook her head in return. 


“Do you understand what’s going on?” Cynthia whispered.


“I have no idea . . . But that just wasn’t  . . . Right,” Ted whispered right back at his co-worker.


“Should we call Brian?”


“And tell him what, exactly?” Ted asked.


Since Cynthia didn’t have an answer to that question she held her tongue but decided to keep a close eye on their resident artist for the rest of the afternoon. 


 


Tristan managed to lay low for the rest of the day. He hid out in the double’s office, played solitaire on the computer, and diligently responded to every single one of Kinney’s stupid text messages with the most ‘Justin’ thing he could think of to say. Whenever Ms. Thang or Mr. Desperation came in, he pretended to be doing something on that annoying photoshop app. He could tell they were checking up on him, but he didn’t think he gave them anything concrete to complain about. He knew his con wasn’t going to hold too much longer though. He figured he’d stick it out for one more night - just to get the cushy place to sleep, if nothing else - and then take his swag and disappear the next morning. No way was he going to fuck around at this office shit for another day, though. Talk about boring as shit.


He was more than relieved when six o’clock finally came around, giving him an excuse to leave. “Gotta go. Michael’s picking me up!” he shouted over his shoulder to Ms. Thang as he ran out the door of the office space. 


He didn’t breathe free until he was all the way out of the building and standing on the sidewalk. Fortunately, Brunet Guy was right on time, pulling up only a couple minutes later. Tristan hopped into the beat up old clunker, surprising himself at how glad he was to see the less than brilliant man smiling over at him as he secured the passenger’s side seatbelt. At least Brunet Guy seemed easier to fool than the brainier Ms. Thang or her sidekick, Mr. Desperation. Those two had been giving him the willies all afternoon. 


Now, all he had to do was get through one more night and he’d be home free with a bag full of swag that he should be able to fence for enough cash to get Hugo off his back for a good long while. 


 

 

End Notes:

1/4/21 - Good news, bad news time . . . The good news is that I spent a big chunk of the day revising and updating the outline for this story so I know exactly where I’m going and how to get there. It’s looking like it’ll take another 7-8 chapters to finish this one; not so bad, right? The bad news, though, is that my holiday time off is over and I have to go back to the real world grind tomorrow, so these daily postings won’t be possible any longer. However, I’m determined to be more disciplined in the New Year so I’ve set up a schedule for myself: I’m going to study on Mondays and Wednesdays, edit my new Time Blitz sequel and do other publishing stuff on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and WRITE on Thursdays and Sundays. (Sorry, I’m taking Friday nights off!) This way you can be sure I’ll be keeping up on this story even though I have to go back to the regular grind. Please send me steadfast vibes to help me stay on schedule so I can get this story finished for you sooner rather than later. TAG

Chapter 14 - Big Business by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Checking back in on Tristan... Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 14 - Big Business.



Tristan was almost getting used to the annoying red-headed waitress glomming on him every time he was dragged into the Diner. Didn’t these losers ever eat anywhere else? Not that he would turn his nose up to a free meal, no matter where it was served, but three meals out of four at the same damned greasy spoon was a little much even for him. 


As soon as he was able to pry the woman - Debbie - off him, though, he took up a spot in the same booth Brunet Guy always seemed to sit at and picked up his menu to use as a shield. Red & Brunet Guy chattered about crap he didn’t know or care about for a good ten minutes before the waitress was pulled away by some other diners. Which was when the full inquisition started.


“So, how was work today?” Brunet Guy asked, looking at him with his eyes all squinty and a frown on his face. The intensity of the look told Tristan that somebody from Kinnetik must have snitched to Brunet Guy about him, a hypothesis which was confirmed a moment later when he continued, “Ted said you seemed a little off or something? And Brian texted to bitch me out about keeping you up late last night, saying you were too tired to work. So what gives? You aren’t coming down with something are you? Cuz I can’t get sick right now; we’re in the middle of our big quarterly promotion at work and I can’t afford to take any time off.”


“Jeeze, you need to chill, bro,” Tristan couldn’t help complaining. “Brian asked the same thing - about a dozen times - and I told him I was fine. Can’t a guy just have an off day once in a while?”


Brunet Guy didn’t respond except for his frown getting a little more pronounced. Luckily, that’s when Red came back to get their order, providing a welcomed distraction. Just as she was finishing up, the bell over the entrance rang and in came the other two musketeers - Swishy & Desperation - making the set complete. Tristan had to stifle the groan he wanted to voice so badly right then. Why did losers always have to travel in packs?


Obviously, so they could more easily gang up on him.


“Oh, Baby, there you are,” Swishy fawned all over him, sliding into the seat right next to Tristan and immediately immersing him in a long-armed hug. “Teddy was telling me you weren’t acting like yourself today. I hope you haven’t caught the flu bug that’s been going around. I hear it’s a bear, and not in a fun, furry, pound your ass while wearing leather kind of way, either.” 


That got a sycophantic round of laughs from the rest of the table but only an eye-roll from Tristan. “I’m FINE! Shit. I was a tiny bit tired this morning, so I take a nap at work for, like, an hour, and everybody has to jump down my throat about it? Will you all just lay off already!”


That got them all to shut up, but not in a good way. They were giving him, and each other, those looks that Tristan took to mean he’d screwed up again. Shit. This con was proving harder to manage than he’d expected. The guy he was trying to impersonate was such a fucking wet sack; this Justin kid was way too cool for school. Seriously, it should be impossible for any normal human to act that fucking goody-goody all the damn time, right? 


I mean, Tristan considered himself a pretty good actor, normally, but this job was pushing his limits. He kept forgetting how simp his alter-ego was. All the lovey-dovey shit with his boyfriend and the fake, too-sweet attitude towards everybody else? It was sus as hell. Plus, because of the whole ‘innocent act’ thing, Tristan was working without his best distraction technique - his willing and able ass - which had always been the way he’d shut up his marks before. Now, if he could only tempt one of the three losers currently ogling him into bed, he could at least shut them up for long enough to let him escape with the loot he planned to fence. 


It seemed like his little outburst had at least shut the three amigos up for a bit. They mostly ignored him for the rest of dinner. Which was fine with Tristan; he was happy to dig into his cheeseburger and fries without the commentary, while the losers babbled about which superhero they’d want to date. Fucking morons. 


After they’d stuffed their faces sufficiently, Mr. Swishy demanded that they all head over to Woody’s for drinks. Now they were getting somewhere. Tristan would kill for a fucking beer. Anything to make the pain of hanging out with these three more bearable. So, from his corner of the booth, he tried to enthusiastically endorse the plan, while still staying in character.


“My Brian took me to Woody’s just last week,” Tristan declared - he knew this because he’d been following them and had spied on the couple from across the bar - trying to channel his double’s overly-bubbly attitude. “I ordered a blue drink and Brian laughed at me. I think it was called a ‘Blue Lagoon’.”


“Well, Baby,” Swishy slid off the bench seat and stood up, grabbing Tristan’s hand to pull him along, “we won’t laugh. You can have all the blue drinks you like. Right boys?”


“Whatever toots your horn, Justin,” Mr. Desperation agreed, also getting to his feet. 


Which left only Brunet Guy, who was still looking at Tristan suspiciously. “I suppose. As long as you don’t get shit-faced and throw up on the sofa-bed tonight.” He looked at his tall, swishy friend and shrugged. “Don’t you remember how Brian told us the kid was a total lightweight? Besides, Brian will be pissed at us if we corrupt his pet artist.”


“Nonsense, Michael. One Blue Lagoon won’t corrupt the boy,” Emmett insisted. “Besides, what Brian doesn’t know won't hurt him . . . Or us . . . Right?” Mr. Swishy winked at Tristan, tucking the youth’s hand tightly under his elbow, and promptly leading him out of the Diner and down the block to the familiar drinking establishment. 


For the most part, Tristan was able to fly under the radar after that. Woody’s was crowded and noisy, which meant he didn’t have to make conversation. Mr. Swishy was happy to indulge his ‘Baby’ with all the frou-frou drinks Tristan wanted; buying him a whole rainbow of drink colors beyond the initial Blue Lagoon. He paid the swishy one back with a little light flirting, which seemed to be all the big fairy expected. The only sour notes for the evening were the increasingly disapproving looks coming Tristan’s way from Brunet Guy. Who knew what the loser's problem was this time? Mostly, Tristan just ignored him and sipped his free drinks. 


Around ten, Emmett, who was a little tipsy after knocking back his second Pink Lady, announced it was time to head over to Babylon. Tristan was not at all opposed to that idea. Undoubtedly, there would be more free drinks involved and he liked to dance as much as anyone, especially when the cover charge was on somebody else’s dime. Mr. Desperation picked up the tab at Woody’s and then they all traipsed over to the nightclub, which was conveniently just around the corner.


Unfortunately, they’d no sooner got through the front doors of the club - the line moving quickly that early in the evening - when Tristan realized this had been a mistake. No less than three of Hugo’s boys were standing directly in front of the main bar, right in line with the spot Tristan‘s keepers were heading for. If the tipsy swish-stick didn’t have such a tight grip on his hand, Tristan could’ve hung back, melted into the crowd, waited for a good time to make explanations to his friends, and hopefully shoo them off before they crashed his con. Not that Tristan‘s luck had ever been that good. Hunter saw him right away, of course, and waved. 


“There you are!” Hunter shouted loudly enough that everyone around could hear him despite the thumpa thumpa club music in the background. “Hugo’s on the fucking warpath looking for you, Stan. As if the shit you pulled last night wasn’t bad enough, you skip out and don’t bring in your take today either? What is up with you lately, dude?”


“Excuse me? Do we know you?” Mr. Desperation questioned while Swishy pulled Tristan in closer to his side as if to shelter him from these rude interlopers.


“A hundred bucks and you can know me - in the biblical sense - Mister,” Hunter trilled, his voice changing to a flirty low tenor as he turned his attention towards fishing for a potential John. “Or, fifty, if you’re only looking for me to develop a passing acquaintance with your dick.”


Ted sputtered and blushed so deeply that you could see his cheeks going red even under the blue glow of the club lights. “I-I-I think I’ll pass, but . . . Thanks anyway . . .”


“Too bad, lover boy. In case you change your mind, though, I’ll be around,” Hunter cooed, batting his extra-long eyelashes in Mr. Desperation’s direction and emphasizing his point with a little goose to Ted’s rear end. Then his gaze swept over the rest of the group and he added, “any other takers? I promise you won’t be disappointed.”


“Nobody here is that desperate,” Brunet Guy answered rudely, pushing past Hunter to get to the bar. 


Desperation and Swishy followed their friend, ignoring the gaggle of rent boys, although without the same amount of overt contempt. Tristan let himself be dragged along at Swishy’s side. He gave Hunter a small shake of his head as he passed, hoping the other boy would get the message and not say anything more. It must have worked, too, because Hunter just continued to stare after the group, a confused look on his face, without another word.


Brunet Guy didn’t comment further until after they’d ordered their first round of drinks. “So, how do you know those guys?” he asked Tristan as he took the first swig of his beer. 


“Who?” Tristan played dumb and concentrated on the lime green drink that Swishy had insisted he try next. 


Michael pointed with the neck of his beer to where Hunter and the others were still fishing for tricks a few feet down the bar. “The kid who propositioned Ted and his skanky buddies.” Tristan shrugged, feigning ignorance. “Well, he sure acted like he knew you.”


“I suppose I just have one of those faces,” Tristan offered, giving Michael his biggest, most innocent, grin.


“Oh, Baby, no. Nobody looks like you,” Swishy insisted tipsily. “That hair - it’s like a halo - and those gorgeous blue eyes. Not to mention that perfect bubble butt . . . Just divine.” The big pouf sighed dreamily.


Tristan was hard pressed not to break out laughing at the guy. What a creeper! Was he really lusting after his friend’s boyfriend’s ass? Wonder what Brian thought of that? And had he really just used the word ‘Divine’. Nobody was that gay, right? 


Just then, though, Tristan had bigger problems than the Loser Trio and their unrequited love interests. It seemed that nothing about this con was going to be easy; because, right at that moment, down at the other end of the bar, the very last person Tristan wanted to see - outside of Kinney or his bratty double, Justin - had made an unscheduled appearance. 


It was Hugo. And Daddy didn’t look like he was in a good mood, either. But, of course, because his life sucked, Hugo had already caught a glimpse of Tristan before the boy could hide behind his Swishy companion. There was no way Tristan could ignore that imperious gesture summoning him to Hugo’s side either. Con or no-con, you didn’t disregard a direct order from Hugo and live long to tell about it. Tristan downed the rest of his sickly sweet lime green drink to get what fortification the alcohol would offer and then made his escape.


“Pardon me, guys,” Tristan made an excuse and started to back away. “Just need to visit the little boys’ room. Be right back.”


For about a half a second, it looked like Swishy was going to offer to join him, but Tristan managed to dodge around an arriving group of big bears fast enough to lose him. Then he casually walked past Hugo, jerking his head meaningfully towards a darker corner as he passed, hoping that his Daddy would get the message and follow without causing a scene. And finally something went right with his day. Hugo waited a few seconds and then trailed after his boy till they’d walked around the corner, pausing in the hallway that led to the bathrooms, out of the direct line of sight of the Three Amigos at the bar.


“Where the fuck have you been?” Hugo growled before Tristan had even managed to say hello. “You better have a damn good excuse for the way you been acting lately, Stan. I’m not putting up with this kinda crap a second longer. You hear me? I’m fed up with this shit. And you know what happens when I get fed up, right?” Hugo’s hand darted up to circle Tristan’s neck with a squeeze, choking off the boy’s air supply with a vice-like grip and lifting the slightly built youth up so that he could barely reach the floor with the tips of his toes. “You owe me for all the crap you’ve been pulling, boy. You better have double your usual quota in hand when you show up tonight or I’m going to take the rest out on your ass. And I’ll put you on the skank rotation for the rest of the week too. You hear me?”


Tristan couldn’t get enough breath to answer verbally, but he managed to nod, which seemed to satisfy Hugo. The big lug loosened his grip - which allowed Tristan to slither back down the wall behind him till he was once again standing firmly on his own feet - and stepped back a foot or so while still glaring down at the much shorter blond. Tristan was too busy breathing again to worry about Hugo’s ‘skank rotation’ threat - Hugo’s favorite form of punishment - although there was no way he wanted to be the one to service the twenty-buck-a-fuck junckies and other losers that Hugo would offer a discount to for the pleasure of teaching his errant boys a lesson. Fuck that. Of course, that only increased the pressure on him to maximize his current con. But Tristan was sure that, once he showed up with the loot he’d scrounged from Kinney’s loft, Hugo would forgive him. And in the meantime, he would keep his eyes open and see if there weren’t some way he could sweeten his take even more; there had to be a way to pry a bit more cash out Kinney’s friends, right? They weren’t exactly rocket scientists. Tristan just had to work them right . . .


“Now, get back to work already and don’t disappoint me again,” Hugo growled, stomping off without even letting Tristan make an effort to explain . . . Not really a good sign, but Tristan would take the reprieve and run with it.


“Shit!” Tristan watched Hugo’s back disappear amid the crowd and rubbed at the spot on his throat that was now sore and chaffed. “Fucking Hugo . . .” Then he headed back towards the bar where he’d left his marks. “Like the man said, time to get back to work.”


He wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or a bad sign when he found only Brunet Guy in the spot where he’d left the others by the bar. Craning his neck over the crowd, Tristan could see Swishy and Desperation out on the dance floor. Damn, that Swishy looked even gayer when he was dancing, if that were possible. The one hand waving in the air over his head thing was too fruity for words. It also meant that Tristan was left with only Brunet Guy as company; something which was bound to cramp his newly reinforced plans to try and pump a little more swag out of this con before he returned to Hugo. No matter. Tristan could work this, even with Brunet Guy. He’d just have to, maybe, take a different approach. 


Assuming his best ‘Innocent Twink’ act, Tristan bounced up to Brunet Guy’s side and grabbed hold of the grumpy brunet’s arm. “Hi! I’m back!” he announced and deftly stole the beer bottle out of Michael’s hand. “Did ya miss me?” 


Brunet Guy just shook his head and rolled his eyes as if Tristan were annoying the hell out of him. But Tristan knew better. If Michael had really wanted to get rid of him, he could have easily shrugged him off. Instead, he let the younger man glom all over him. Yeah, Tristan could work this, he decided, as he tilted the beer back and took a healthy swing


“I didn’t think you liked beer?” Michael commented, taking back his almost empty bottle. “Last time we were here, you said it tasted like wet moldy bread.”


“Oh, um . . .” Tristan thought fast and covered his latest faux pas with a lame, “Brian has been teaching me to like it better.” Brunet Guy seemed to buy the lie at least, and that opened up a new opportunity for the kid on the make. “But I’d rather have another of those fruity ones like we were drinking earlier. Maybe a pink ones this time?” 


“Haven’t you had enough to drink already? I don’t want you getting sick on my sofa bed tonight,” Brunet Guy complained. 


Seriously, did this guy always whine this much? If so, why did he still have so many friends? Tristan would not miss this one after he was done with the job. Not that he’d let on how much the brunet irritated him, though, because it was all part of the game, right?


“Please? Just one more. So I can say I drank one of every color of the rainbow?” Saying the sappy words made Tristan almost want to vomit, but he knew laying it on thick was the only way to wear down this particular mark. “Pretty please?”


Michael grumbled under his breath but nevertheless pulled out his wallet. Tristan reacted quickly, reaching down to pull out several bills together and crumpling them up in his fist so fast that, hopefully, the loser wouldn’t notice that he’d taken more than the $20 he’d meant to give him. To further cover his tracks, Tristan leaned in and kissed Michael dead on the lips, shocking Mr. Brunet Guy so much he didn’t have time to say anything or even, really, think about it. 


“I’ll get you a new beer too. Be right back!” Tristan trilled when he finally let Michael come up for air a minute later, and immediately skipped away, heading towards a spot on the bar a little further down from where Brunet Guy was standing. 


The wily conman pocketed all $60 and then sidled up to the bar as close as he could get to the line of thirsty patrons waiting for their own drinks. It was getting pretty packed in the club by that point, so the bartenders were busy. Tristan waited, watching carefully, until the tall, muscle queen standing next to him ordered three beers and a scotch on the rocks. The bartender popped open the tops on the beers and set them on the bar before turning around to grab the bottle of Jamesons and a clean rocks glass. Luckily for Tristan, Muscles had turned around to talk with his friends right then and wasn’t watching, so Tristan simply helped himself to two of the beers and then slid away through the crowd without anyone being the wiser to his petty thievery. Now he had all sixty bucks and a free beer to boot. Not bad, if he did say so himself, right? He rapidly chugged one of the beers, set the empty aside, and then trotted back to Brunet Guy with the second beer.


“Here!” he offered up his bounty with his best Justin smile. 


Michael looked at the label and frowned a little. “This isn’t the brand I usually drink,” he groused, but still took a sip, before looking back at the boy. “Where’s your drink? And where’s my change?”


“Oh, sorry,” Tristan tried to look contrite. “I guess I forgot to wait for the change. I was too busy drinking my pink drink. It was so yummy I drank it all up right away!”


“Stupid twink . . .” Michael complained while shaking his head at the youth. “Brian’s gonna owe me so much for having to babysit your ass after this weekend . . . Good thing he took charge of all the rest of your money for you or, at this rate, you’d end up completely broke in no time.”


Tristan was already tuning out the complaining though. He thought he’d glimpsed Mr. Desperation coming back through the crowd and saw it as an opportunity to pull the same maneuver on him that he’d just worked on Brunet Guy. And, after talking with Hugo, he knew that any cash he could add to his take would help smooth things over in that department. The only question was how drunk he’d have to get these three, and how hard he’d have to flirt with them, in order to completely clean the lot of them out before the end of the night . . .

 

End Notes:

2/25/21 - Hi! I'm back! Sorry this chapter took so long. I don't know why I was struggling with it so much; I think it's because I don't really like Tristan that much. (I promise he's not really that bad, he's just had a hard life, you know?) But this chapter is going to be important for the plot so . . . At least it's done and I can now move on to writing more Justin fun! Happy reading! TAG 

Chapter 15 - Old Dogs by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Let's check in on Justin's adventures... Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 15 - Old Dogs.



After they left the Third Street Baptist Church, Justin followed Possum Granny on a roundabout circuit through parts of lower downtown. The woman seemed to have a very precise agenda and would hurry Justin along if he seemed to be dawdling. She let him push the shopping cart while she examined the trash bins and dumpsters along the way, picking out selected junk to add to her collection as they went. Justin focused his efforts on excavating food scraps for the mama possum.


When it started to get dark, Possum Granny turned her steps towards the river and soon led her assistant to a moldering, old, red-bricked apartment building that looked like it had seen a lot better days. Skirting the front doors, the old woman tottered around to the side of the building, heading along a narrow walkway that led to a stairway down to a basement entrance. She directed Justin to park the shopping cart next to the stair railing and then rifled around in the basket until she came up with a bicycle chain and padlock. Under Granny’s strict scrutiny, Justin secured the cart to the metal railing and covered the contents with a plastic tarp. The Possum and her progeny seemed to be happy to stay in their nest under the blankets for the night after Justin made sure there was some more leftover pizza added to tide the group over. Granny patted her possum baby goodnight and then slowly shuffled down the basement stairs with Justin holding her elbow to make sure the older woman didn’t fall.


Once the door was unlocked, though, Granny turned to Justin and made a shooing motion at him. “Thank you for your help with the babies, Fairy Godmother, but there are no fairies allowed after dark. You have to go back to your own fairy kingdom now. Go on. Off with ya already. Shoo . . .”


Behind Granny’s back, Justin could see a small but adequate studio apartment. It was messy and cluttered but at least it was a safe, dry place for his friend to live. He was glad she wasn’t one of the people who he’d seen living in tents in the vacant lots of the city. She wasn’t homeless, just a little crazy. And she was making it clear that his services weren’t needed any longer.


“Okay. Have a good night, Miss Bertha, Ma’am. Thank you for letting me play with your possum friend today and for taking me out to dinner,” Justin responded as politely as he could, because that’s the way he’d been raised and his mother would have expected nothing less. 


Granny muttered something about ‘tuna noodle casserole’ before slamming the door shut in Justin’s face. 


Unfortunately, that left Justin at a loss as to what to do and where to go next. After a whole day of wandering around the city, he was even more lost than he had been before. Granted, he’d spent his entire life up until a few months before, locked inside a small suburban house, never going anywhere, so he really wasn’t all that great when it came to directions to start with. A day of dumpster diving and panhandling, though, had left him at a complete loss as to where he was. Not only did he not have any idea how to get home to Brian, but he didn’t even know which way to head to get back to the ‘Tarlight Motel. So, after being shooed away by Possum Granny, Justin made his way to the closest street corner and then just stood there, looking up and down both cross streets, wondering where he was supposed to go next and starting to get a little nervous again.


Off to his right, the two-laned side street headed deeper into the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. There were lots of towering buildings and brightly lit streets in that direction, but very few people. To his left, the street dead ended only two blocks away, and beyond that he could see a big highway with lots of noisy cars speeding past. Behind him the larger four-lane street headed up a big hill but the buildings there were mostly industrial sites, warehouses and other large, empty-looking edifices. Which left the only halfway enticing direction being the street in front of him which ran parallel to the highway and led downhill into what looked like a more populated area of the city. So that’s where Justin decided he should go next. 


This section of town seemed fairly busy, especially seeing as it was only a Wednesday night. There were a lot more younger people around. They were going in and out of the coffee shops, cafes, and convenience stores that lined the blocks in the area. They all seemed happy and carefree and it made Justin feel a little lighter just watching the groups of younger people hanging out and enjoying themselves. He spent quite a while just people watching and wandering around to look in the windows of the brightly lit shops. 


After about fifteen minutes of this, Justin thought he saw a boy he recognized from his class at Allegheny Community College. Justin shouted out to Bowie, but the street was noisy and the other boy seemed like he was too far away to hear. So Justin decided to follow him, hoping that, perhaps, this acquaintance might be able to help him find his way home finally. 


Unfortunately, Bowie seemed like he was in a hurry to get wherever he’d been heading and was trotting along at a pretty good pace. Justin tried to run to catch up with him but with his bare feet on the rough sidewalks, it was pretty difficult. Then he got cut off when the light changed, preventing him from crossing the street while the traffic streamed past. When the light finally changed, Justin could just barely see Bowie ducking around the corner onto another side street about three blocks away. By the time Justin made it to that corner, the boy he’d been tailing was nowhere in sight.


Unwilling to give up, though, Justin headed down the side street, pausing briefly to look in the windows of the businesses along the way. He felt sure, if he could only find Bowie, the other student would know how to get him home. So, with a stubbornness based in necessity, Justin determined he would check out every single open store along this street until he found his friend.


Closer to the main street, the open shops were mostly cafes, coffee shops, and trendier bars. A little further along there were a few ethnic restaurants. Justin stuck his head in each one, asking anyone who greeted him if they knew Bowie, without any luck. Undeterred, he continued going from shop to shop, business to business, criss-crossing the street as needed to make sure he didn’t miss anywhere that the boy he was looking for might be hiding. The further he got from the main drag, however, the seedier the businesses started to become. Within a couple blocks the trendy cafes had given way to all-night markets, tattoo parlors, head shops, and bars where all the windows were blacked out. Nevertheless, Justin continued to go inside each at least long enough to look around for the boy he was seeking.


Finally, when he opened the door to the last bar on the right-hand side of the next block, Justin was met with a blast of loud, pounding music that reminded him of some of the dance places Brian liked to take him. In fact, right as he came in, they were playing a song he remembered fondly from when the two of them had visited Zoobabies when he and Brian had been on their trip. Justin loved that song. So, while the bouncer was busy talking with another patron who’d come inside at roughly the same time as Justin, he slipped in and began to look around the club.


Now, this was more like it. This was the kind of place his Brian talked about going to all the time. There was loud music and bright lights and people standing around a bar with drinks in their hands. Justin, himself, was still a little intimidated by dancing places, unless, of course, Brian was there with him, but it at least seemed more familiar to him than many of the other places he’d been to in the past couple of days. Maybe the people here would even know his Brian; hadn’t Brian told him that he used to go out dancing or drinking almost every night of the week back in the days before he’d met Justin? He thought he could at least ask around a bit and see, right? With that thought in mind, Justin made his way further into the club, looking around himself and trying to figure out who he should ask about Brian. 


Before too long, though, Justin realized that this club was a little different than the few that Brian had taken him to before. First of all, the people standing around drinking their drinks seemed kinda older than the guys he was used to seeing in the clubs Brian frequented. None of them seemed to be dancing either, they were all just sitting at little tables or standing around the periphery of the room and looking at a sort of stage set up in the middle of the room. Also, the people dancing up on the stage seemed to be all women; something he wasn’t used to seeing at the bars he’d visited with his boyfriend, where all the dancing people seemed to be boys. The women were very pretty, though, with long hair and sparkly, high-heeled shoes, but without much clothing on. And all of them appeared to have very, very large bosoms. 


The girls were all dancing around poles that were set up along the stage and were doing some very acrobatic stuff with those poles. Justin really admired the fun dancing moves the girls were doing, although he wasn’t sure he liked seeing that much of the women’s bosoms. Most of the men watching the dancing from their tables seemed to enjoy it though, and several of them were waving money at the women, just like he’d seen people do with the go-go boys at the dancing clubs Brian liked to go to. As he watched, he noticed one girl who took a run at her pole, leaping up and catching at it with her hands, and then doing this swirl around the pole with her legs wrapped around it so that, when she slid downward, the pole rubbed against her lady parts. That looked really, kinda fun. 


Fun enough that Justin thought he’d like to try it.


When the music changed and all the large-bosomed women stopped dancing long enough to collect some more dollar bills from the watching men, Justin was thrilled to note that the next song was one of his all-time favorites. It was Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’! Justin adored that song. He’d watched the video for it on VH1 so many times back when he lived with his mother that he knew the entire routine by heart. So, of course, he couldn’t resist. He decided to join in on the fun and show off his dance moves. Maybe he could even add in some of the pole tricks he’d seen the girls do and really make it special?


So, as the chorus began to belt it’s way out, Justin jumped up on the stage and inserted himself in line between two of the large-bosomed women, joining them as they strutted down the stage. When they were all about halfway down the runway, Justin stopped, turned to the side and began to shimmy, making his butt wiggle forward and back just like Beyonce did on the video, while raising his hands above his head and shaking his head. When the music began to swell, he ran his hands up and down his front in a sexy move that matched the singer’s video moves perfectly. Then, getting creative during the bridge, Justin backed up to the pole in the very center of the stage and rubbed his bottom up and down the metal with a few extra shakes added in for fun. And, when the chorus swelled into the iconic lyrics, ‘Got me looking so crazy right now’, Justin opted to try out the previous woman’s trick and ran at his pole, spinning around it while throwing his feet out and spiraling down the pole till his rear end hit the ground. It really was as fun as it had looked too. 


He was just about to pick himself up off the ground so he could try another spiraling trick when two large men with bulgey muscles came running down the length of the stage and grabbed him. With one humongous man on each side of the boy, they were able to pick Justin up off the ground and physically carry him off the stage, holding him up high enough that not even his tip toes could reach the ground. Justin noticed several of the women with the large bosoms were smiling and laughing at him as the bulgey men carried him away. That didn’t seem very nice, he thought. He’d only wanted to dance with them and try out the pole spiraling thing. But the bulgey men didn’t stop until they’d carried Justin all the way out through the front door of the club and deposited him on the sidewalk in front of the building. 


It was only then, once they were outside and the deafeningly loud music wasn’t blasting in his ears, that Justin realized the bulgey men had been yelling things at him. There was also another man, not quite so bulgey or muscled, who’d followed them out. This little man was yelling at him too. He didn’t think the things they were yelling were very nice, either.


“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, moron? You can just come into my club and get up on the fucking stage!” the little man growled at him.


“I’m sorry. I just wanted to dance . . .” Justin started to explain but was immediately cut off. 


“This is a fucking strip club, asswipe. See the sign there?” The little man pointed to the neon lights in the front window of the building. “See where it says, ‘Girls, Girls, Girls!’. Now, does it say boys anywhere on that fucking sign? Does it?” 


Justin read all the signs and didn’t see anything mentioned about boys at all so he shook his head and shrugged.


“No. It doesn’t. Because my customers want to see female strippers. They want to see tits. They want to see pussy. They don’t want to see anything with a dick, especially not some some reject like you getting up in their faces and shaking his loser ass at them. This ain’t that kind of bar. Got it?”


“Sorry,” Justin apologized again. “I just came in because I wanted to ask if you knew my Brian and then I heard that song and it’s my favorite of all time and the pole spiraling looked like fun and I wanted to try it . . . I’m sorry that I don’t have bosoms. I didn’t know you had to have bosoms to dance in your place. And I don’t have a pussy cat either, I’m afraid, although it seems strange you’d let cats and women dance at your club but not boys. I’ve never been to a dancing place without boys. All the dancing places Brian takes me to always have boys too. I didn’t know about the bosoms or the cats but I’m really, really sorry . . .”


The little man rolled his eyes and shook his head at Justin. “Get lost, kid, and don’t let me see you back here again!” the little man yelled over his shoulder, already heading back inside with his bulgey companions flanking him, dismissing Justin without even listening to his full apology.


“. . . I didn’t even know cats liked to go to dancing places,” Justin continued to mumble even after the two Bulgey Men took up their positions on either side of the front door and stared him down. “I’m just saying, it seems silly to let pussy cats dance but not boys.”


But since the Bulgey Men didn’t bother to respond, Justin simply sighed and turned around, intending to continue on with his mission of looking for his friend Bowie.


He didn’t get very far, though, before he was met with another distraction. Just as he was approaching the corner, intending to cross the street to the next block, he was startled by a huge, brown blur of energy rushing up to him from the side and knocking him to the ground. He didn’t get hurt and was more surprised than anything. But when he realized it was his old friend, Boss, the doberman puppy, he smiled and began to pet the dog. Boss was so enthusiastic about finding Justin again, that he’d forgotten that he was kinda massive; that much zeal coming at you from a dog that weighed upwards of eighty pounds was a little overwhelming. But Justin immediately forgave the puppy who was devotedly licking him all over his face and whimpering with happiness at finding the boy who’d befriended him. 


“Hello, Boss. Yes, hello. I’m glad to see you too,” Justin responded, laughing at all the excited doggy kisses and the way the big puppy was wiggling his short, stubby tail so hard it was wagging his whole body almost in half. “I missed you too, Boss.”


Too bad the happy reunion with Boss was followed immediately by a much less happy reunion with Boss’ person. “I thought I told you to keep your damn hands off my dog,” the Demarcus Man growled as he grabbed hold of Boss’ leash and tried to pull the canine away from Justin. “He’s been useless since you screwed with him the other night and I was just now getting him back to the way he’s supposed to be - a fucking guard dog, not a damn lap dog.” 


“Boss isn’t useless. He’s a very good boy. Aren’t you, Boss?” Justin crooned as he found the itchy spot right behind the pooch’s left ear and scratched until the big puppy laid down at his feet and rolled over so that Justin could move his ministrations on to the equally itchy places on his tummy. “Yes, you are, Boss. You’re a good puppy . . .”


The Demarcus Man apparently didn’t approve of tummy pats, though. He pulled viciously on the leash, literally dragging the dog down the sidewalk on his side since Boss hadn’t managed to scramble to his feet quickly enough. Justin cringed when he heard the puppy whining in pain as the cruel prong collar pinched the skin around his neck. He scrambled to his feet but wasn’t sure how to help the dog. If he interfered, the Demarcus Man would only get more angry and hurt Boss more. But he couldn’t stand watching anyone being cruel to an animal like that. 


“Please, Mr. Demarcus, Sir. Don’t hurt him. He doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong. He was only acting like that because he was happy to see me. Yanking on him like that won’t do anything; that’s not the way to train him to do what you want,” Justin pleaded, but his efforts only resulted in Demarcus yanking on the leash harder and causing the collar to constrict more tightly with each pull.


“Shut the fuck up. I don’t need any advice from a pitiful little bootlicker like you. I can handle my animal all by myself,” Demarcus replied with another barbarous yank on the lead. 


It seemed, though, that Boss had finally had enough. Instead of straining against his lead, which would cause the pinch collar to further restrict his breathing, Boss turned and moved closer to Demarcus. As soon as he got enough slack in the collar, the dog growled and assumed an aggressive stance. The next time that the angry pimp tried to pull on the lead, Boss was ready for him and lunged in the direction of the lead, snarling. Too bad Demarcus didn’t take the warning with the seriousness it deserved. He gave one more tug at the leash. Boss responded with a flurry of savage barking and then darted in to take a huge bite out of the arm of the man who’d been hurting him. 


Demarcus immediately dropped the leash, cursed, and tried to pull away from the dog, but Boss wasn’t letting go. He growled and thrashed his muzzle back and forth, his jaws clamped down on the man’s arm as blood began to ooze. When he couldn’t get the dog to release his arm, Demarcus began to kick at the furry body, landing a couple of good blows. With another whimper, Boss finally let go and slowly retreated from the threat, a continuous, low growl coming from the bloody foam-speckled muzzle. 


“Motherfucking piece of shit mutt! What the fucking hell got into you? My fucking arm is almost broken,” Demarcus was panting and screaming out curses as he cradled his injured arm against his middle. 


Meanwhile, Boss had backed away from Demarcus until he was standing right beside Justin. The blond knelt down and put an arm across the beast’s back. He could feel the animal shaking with fear even while its angry growls made the animal sound like much more of a threat than he was. And when Demarcus made a step towards them, as if to come collect the dog, the snarling ramped up again and the dog’s mouth full of dangerously sharp teeth opened wider. Boss was not taking any more of his former owner’s mistreatment, that was sure.


“You know what? Fuck this. You fucking ruined that dog already so now he’s your problem. You can have the useless piece of shit. Now, both of you, get the fuck out of my sight or I’ll cap both your asses,” the Demarcus man ordered, his uninjured hand coming down to rest atop a suspicious-looking bulge protruding from the waistband of his jeans.


Justin wasn’t sure what it meant to be ‘capped’ but his gut was telling him that would be a very bad thing. So, like Brian always said, he decided to trust his gut and get out of there as quickly as possible. He took up Boss’ leash and backed away from the Demarcus Man. The big angry pimp stared menacingly at them until Justin and Boss were around the corner and out of sight. But Justin didn’t really breathe until they were halfway back down the block.


“Come on, Boss. Let’s get out of here before Mr. Demarcus Man puts some kind of caps on us that we don’t want,” Justin crooned to the puppy who was now happily trotting along at his side as they headed back towards the river again. 

 

 

 

End Notes:

3/10/21 - For those who like a visual, here’s what Justin’s dance would have looked like (only add a pole in there, lol): Crazy in Love. TAG

Chapter 16 - The Vanishing Half by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

Justin's having quite the day... Enjoy! TAG




Chapter 16 - The Vanishing Half.



It was pretty clear to Justin that he’d lost track of his school friend, Bowie, for good. Way too much time had passed since he’d last seen the other boy and his chances of finding help from that source had dwindled from slim to none. He was still hopelessly lost, though, without any real idea what he should do next, but at least now he had Boss to keep him company while being lost. 


So, with Boss’ leash in hand, Justin led his new companion down the street, just wandering at random without any real destination in mind. Justin kept looking around himself, getting more and more upset when nothing looked familiar or reassuring. It was already pretty late and he was tired. It had been a long and stressful day. He’d given up on finding his way home to Brian for another night; all he wanted right then was to find someplace to rest. He could try again the next day to find his boyfriend.


Justin and Boss walked around for the next fifteen minutes or so. They rambled up and down the mostly deserted streets of downtown Pittsburgh. There were lots of tall, empty skyscrapers, brightly lit but empty streets, and dingy alleys in between filled with rubbish. The people he passed were almost as drab and dirty as the streets, but they seemed mostly harmless. Justin saw a few more shopping cart people, just like Possum Granny, but none of them seemed as friendly so he avoided them. The couple of times strange men appeared likely to approach him, Boss’ warning snarls caused them to retreat instead. Justin petted and praised the puppy for his protective behavior, feeling a little bit reassured. But since he still didn’t know where he and his new pet were going to sleep that night, the reassurance didn’t last for long. 


Justin and Boss had just rounded the corner of a block occupied by a large, seemingly abandoned, department store building, when the young man noticed a solo woman emerging from the alley behind the building. The woman was on the back half of middle age, a little bit thick through the middle, with flecks of grey in her dark brown hair, and dressed in mom clothes. What stood out when you looked at her wasn’t her appearance, though, but the fact that she was struggling to carry four very heavy-looking shopping bags. As Justin watched, he noticed the way the bags would bump against the woman’s calves as she walked, first on one side and then the other, as her gait carried her forward. It looked uncomfortable.


Justin rushed forward, startling both the woman and Boss with his abrupt movement. “Here, let me help you!” he insisted, trying to get hold of one of the bags. 


The woman startled and took several steps backward, trying to get away from the insistent stranger. “Let go! Get away from me. I have mace!” she shouted.


“Oops. Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.” Justin stopped and held both his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I just wanted to help you with those heavy bags. Please don’t hit me with a big, spiked club. Or any other kind of weapon, for that matter. I promise I didn’t mean anything. I just wanted to help . . .”


The woman dropped all the bags, which landed on the sidewalk with a loud clunking noise, and raised her hands to her heaving chest as she tried to catch her breath. “You startled me, young man.”


“I’m really, really sorry,” Justin repeated, biting at his bottom lip with worry. 


“That’s okay. I just didn’t expect . . . Well, I didn’t expect that,” the woman replied, letting herself smile a little at the sight of the charismatic young blond man even though she was still breathing hard. 


“Are you okay? You’re not having the vapors or anything, are you?” Justin asked with obvious concern. “My mother used to complain about having the vapors all the time and sometimes she would have to go lay down afterwards and she’d yell at me if I made too much noise while she was trying to rest. Do you need to lay down too?” He started to look around but there wasn’t any place to sit on the empty street corner, let alone somewhere to comfortably lie down. 


“No. No. I’m fine. You just surprised me is all,” the woman insisted, blowing out a deep breath before bending down to retrieve her bags. 


“Are you sure? Because when my mother got the vapors it could be really bad. Sometimes she didn’t get out of bed for days. And, when she died, I don’t know if it was the vapors or the voices that caused it, but she’d been really upset that day and I wouldn’t want you to get sick and maybe get dead too, and I’m not as scared as I was back then so I can help you if you need me to and I won’t hide like I did when my mother died - I’ll stay and help you - I promise . . .” 


Despite asserting that he wasn’t scared, Justin’s voice had elevated half an octave and he was breathing more heavily than the woman he’d surprised. She listened to him as he babbled on with concern for about half a minute before shaking her head and moving around so she could put an arm around his shoulders. Boss, meanwhile, was whimpering at Justin’s heel, unsure what was bothering his newly adopted person. It took Justin a minute or two to collect himself, but the kindness from the woman certainly helped. Slowly, the spill of words coming out of his mouth petered out and died away. Then he sighed and tried to smile at the woman with only a bit of remaining jitters. 


“Better?” the woman asked.


Justin nodded. “Yes, thank you.”


“Just take a couple of deep breaths,” she directed and he followed directions. “Good. Now, how about we start over, huh?” Justin swallowed and nodded. “Hi, my name is Xylia. What’s your name?”


“Justin. Justin Taylor. And this is Boss,” he pointed to the big puppy seated next to him. 



Nice to meet you, Justin. And Boss.” The woman held out her hand in a fist for Boss to sniff at and, when the dog didn’t seem to make any aggressive moves, she opened her hand and began to scratch behind one pointed ear. “Awww. Who’s a good boy?”


“Boss is! He’s a very good boy,” Justin replied, joining in to pet the puppy whose tail was waggling happily by that point. “He didn’t mean to bite the Demarcus Man; Boss just didn’t like the way he was yanking on the leash so hard and hurting his neck, poor thing. I tried to tell Mr. Demarcus that wasn’t the right way to train a puppy, but he didn’t listen. So, when Boss tried to come to me, and Mr. Demarcus pulled on the leash so hard, Boss didn’t have any other way to make him stop. That’s why he bit the Demarcus Man. It’s not because he isn’t a good boy. Because he is. He’s very good. And he’s not ‘ruined’ like the Demarcus Man said either. I’m happy that he thought Boss was ruined, though, because that’s why he gave him to me; he said it was all my fault Boss bit him and that the mutt was my problem now. Which is good, right, because I won’t hurt Boss and we get along just fine. Although, I’m not sure how my boyfriend will like having a puppy. He wouldn’t let me keep the baby skunk we met last summer. Or the baby pig either. But I don’t think a baby dog will be that bad. Do you?” 


“Oh, my,” Xylia replied, having got a little lost in that train of thought rambling. “Do I think your boyfriend will want a puppy? I’m sure I don’t know. But you probably should have talked to him about it first before taking the dog from it’s prior owner. Don’t you think?”


“Yeah, probably. Only, I don’t know where Brian is so it’s not like I could ask him,” Justin explained, getting a bit misty when he remembered his missing boyfriend. “See, I got a little lost the other day after school and I hit my head and now I don’t know how to get home to Brian, and this Skinny Boy I met, who said his name was Hunter, promised he’d help me get home, but then he went off with this man in a shiny black car and told me not to come back until I had enough money to pay the Big Angry Man to make him not do mean things to my rear end and . . . Well, I kinda got lost all over again and I still don’t know how to get home to My Brian.”


“Oh, my,” the woman said again, seemingly having lost any other means of response.


“Yeah . . .” Justin finally ran out of words too. “But it’s okay. I’m sure I’ll figure out how to find my way home to Brian tomorrow after Boss and I get some sleep. It’s sorta been a long day and all, you know, so we were just looking for someplace to stay for the night, only . . .” Justin scanned the vicinity, noted again the lack of anywhere even vaguely hospitable, and sighed again without finishing his sentence. 


“Hmmm . . .” Justin’s new friend, Xylia, answered, looking the boy over as if evaluating what she’d stumbled across. Seeing the slightly disheveled young man, who wasn’t wearing shoes but whose clothing was good quality, and who didn’t otherwise look like one of the unhoused street urchins she usually came across on the streets, she made a snap decision. “Well, Justin, I might be able to help you provided you help me too.” She nodded at the shopping bags she’d been carrying when he met her. “You think you could help me finish up my rounds for the night? If so, I might be willing to let you and Boss sleep on my screen porch for the night. What do you say? Do we have a deal?”


Justin’s face broke out into one of his biggest and brightest smiles - the kind of smile that totally transformed his face and gave the young blond an almost angelic aspect - before nodding. “That would be so super great, Ms. Xylia, Ma’am. I would be happy to help you. What can I do?”


“Well, if you still want to help me carry my bags, that would be a start. They are kind of heavy.” She picked up two of the shopping bags and handed them off to Justin, who took them both in one hand while retaining Boss’ lead in the other. “Okay, now, just follow me.” 


With his new friend leading the way, Justin trotted after Xylia as the woman crossed the street and headed into the alley behind the next block of skyscrapers. When they got a few meters down the dark and narrow passage, she stopped, reached into one of the bags she was carrying and pulled out two small metal canisters. It was pretty dark, so at first Justin wasn’t sure what the cans were, but when Xylia pulled the tab on the top of one and removed the lid, the pungent smell of moist meatiness wafting out gave away the nature of the can’s contents. 


“Hey, that smells just like Simone’s pate!” Justin laughed and scrunched up his nose at the memory. “Are you feeding someone pate? Because, it’s nice of you to offer, and all, but I don’t really care for that kind of thing, you know. My Brian explained that it isn’t really cat food, but I still think it smells like cat food, and I just don’t think I could eat it, even though I am kinda hungry . . .”


“Pate?” Xylia laughed while she opened the second can and then placed both of the opened containers on the ground, pushing them behind the nearby garbage dumpster with the toe of her boot. “Why would I be feeding pate to the neighborhood cats? Nope. They’re lucky to get any food at all, I’m afraid. This is just generic cat food that the local humane society gives me to help feed the feral cats out here.”


“So it IS cat food? I guess that makes more sense than feeding them pate. Simone said her pate costs $300 a plate so I guess you wouldn’t be putting that on the dirty ground. Although, I’m still not sure how you’re supposed to tell the difference.” Justin smiled as he noticed a scruffy-looking alley cat slithering out from behind a pile of moldering cardboard boxes a few meters away and then sidling up to slink under the dumpster where the food was waiting. “But why are you feeding your cats out here in the alley? If I had a cat I’d feed it inside so other animals couldn’t get to it’s food. By the way, did you know there are possums around here, I met one earlier today and she was so sweet and she let me feed her pizza and touch her tummy where the possum babies were squiggling around. I left her with her Granny in the shopping cart.”


“Oh, my. You do talk quite a bit, don’t you?” Xylia commented as she moved down the alley a few more meters and set out another can of opened cat food. 


“I guess so. My Brian says I babble when I’m excited. I think he secretly likes it though. I make him laugh all the time and he really needs to laugh more. Otherwise, when he’s not laughing, he gets all serious and upset and that’s not good for him. He needs to laugh more. It makes his eyes sparkle with little green specks. But, yeah, I guess I do talk a lot sometimes.” Justin paused long enough to watch three more cats come scampering down the alley to join in the feast. “Wow. You sure do have a lot of cats.”


Xylie set down the last can of food she’d opened and then picked up her bags again. “They’re not my cats. They’re feral. They don’t belong to anyone any more. But, since nobody else feeds them, I do.” 


Justin pulled Boss - who’d been straining at his lead in an effort to get closer to the cats and their intriguing-smelling food - trailing Xylia down the alley and then across the street until they came to another alley. As they went, Xylia opened additional cans of cat food and left them in out of the way nooks. Justin was surprised at the vast number of strays that came out of hiding to run up and greet the woman. Some of the less skittish felines even let Xylia and Justin pet them. Boss was quite curious about what was going on until he nosed a little too closely at a big orange male tabby who decided he wasn’t fond of dogs and reached out with one deadly claw to swipe at the puppy’s nose. After that, Boss kept his distance from the scary pussy cats. 


As they went, Justin’s new friend told him little stories about some of her kitty friends. She pointed out the mother cats and the kittens she’d watched grow up over the past seasons. She introduced him to Bianca, an all-white female cat who was almost completely blind but still managed to be one of the best mousers out there. She told him the story about the time she’d found a stray dog nursing not only her own litter of three pups but an additional two newborn kittens. Justin laughed at all the endearing stories, sharing his own tales about the animal friends he’d made the summer before during his cross-country trip with Brian. And, slowly, as they wandered from alley to alley, the bags full of cat food gradually emptied.


The last stop was a vacant lot at the northern edge of downtown just next to some railroad tracks. Xylia led her followers over to where a pile of broken wooden pallets were stacked against the back fence. When they got there, the cat woman pulled out a full bag of crunchy cat food, used a pocket knife to slice up the packaging, and then set the whole thing out on the ground. Within seconds there were at least two dozen felines running up to them from all sides, eager to get their share of the bounty. Justin opened up the last of the canned food and offered those to the feasting beasts as well. Cat Lady, as Justin had come to think of his new friend, spent a few minutes chatting with and petting some of her favorites while Justin and Boss held back. These pussy cats sure did seem to like their Cat Lady.


When Ms. Cat Lady seemed ready to go, though, she made one last detour, stepping around the stack of junk wood and trash, to peek into a dark nook at something. “Aha! Gotcha!” Xylia exclaimed happily as she pulled a contraption of some sort out from behind the junk pile. “Oh, poor baby. Look at you.”


A curious Justin inched closer so he could figure out who it was the Cat Lady was talking to. Xylia held up the metal cage she’d extracted from behind the pile of refuse so he could see that it was an animal trap with a small calico cat cowering inside. The kitty’s fur - what there was left of it - was bedraggled and patchy. The animal’s face had several open wounds on it and both the cat’s eyes were swollen almost shut. Along the cat’s left side, almost all the fur was gone and the skin that was visible was red and raw and oozing in spots. This was obviously not a healthy cat. 


  


“I’ve been trying to catch this poor baby for a couple of days now,” the Cat Lady explained. “I saw her last weekend and tried to get her to come to me but she’s too scared.”


“What happened to her fur?” Justin asked, bending down so he could look more closely into the cage. 


“I’m not one hundred percent sure, but it looks like someone’s abused her pretty badly. Once we get her to a vet, they can tell us more,” Cat Lady asserted, bending down as if to lift the cage up.


“Here. Let me get that,” Justin insisted, handing off Boss’ lead to the woman so he could hoist up the cage full of scared cat. 


Luckily, there was a vet clinic only four blocks away where the night attendant seemed to know Justin’s Cat Lady pretty well. He led them into the clinic and directed Justin to put the cage up on a raised examination table. The vet put on some heavy gloves to protect his hands and then reached into the cage. The frightened cat hissed and tried to scratch but the vet managed to grab hold of her anyway, lifting the injured animal out of the cage. Once she was on the table, she tried to scramble away, seemingly desperate to escape from the humans who only wanted to help her. 


The sight of the poor, scared, wounded animal almost broke Justin’s heart. “Awww. You poor thing. You’re so scared. But it’s going to be okay. This nice man is going to help you and make you feel all better, Honey.” The empathic blond reached out to pet the cat’s head while he crooned comforting nothings to it. “That’s right. You just settle down and let us fix you up. Okay? That’s a good girl . . .”

 

Surprisingly, Justin’s technique seemed to work, and the calico calmed down almost instantly. As soon as she wasn’t struggling, the vet was able to examine her completely. It was readily apparent that someone had tried to dunk the cat in chemicals of some kind, resulting in nasty burns to the animal’s skin, most of the affected fur falling out, and multiple skin infections. You could still smell the acrid chemical odor coming off the patches of fur that remained. Cat Lady opined that it smelled like paint thinner and the vet agreed. It was a miracle the poor pussy had survived. 


With Justin helping to keep the cat calm, the vet gave the reluctant cat a bath using dish soap - because it was known to cut through petroleum products better than almost anything else - and then treated each individual wound. They gave the cat, whom Justin had dubbed ‘Patches’ a sedative to help her relax, and then the vet stitched up a couple of gashes that were too large to heal without getting further infected. Then Patches was put in another cage to wait and recover. The vet told them he was hopeful Patches would be fine with time but it would take at least two weeks before they’d know if any of the burned off fur would start to grow back. 


“Thanks, Vince,” Cat Lady smiled at the friendly vet as she picked up her bags and started to head out. “You can bill me for this one like usual.”


“Oh? And when, exactly, would you be making any payments on that bill of yours then?” Vet Guy asked, joking but only barely.


“Sorry. Things have been a little tight lately. But I WILL pay you back, Vince. I promise. It might just take me a while, you know?” Cat Lady answered with a sad shake of her head. 


“You know I don’t mind helping out with all your strays, Xy,” Vince the Vet replied, patting his friend on the shoulder. “And I’m happy to donate my time. It’s just that sutures and sedatives and all the rest cost money . . .”


Ms. Cat Lady heaved a sigh and started to reach for her purse. Justin beat her to it though, digging the wad of money he’d made while drawing that afternoon out of his pocket and holding it out to the vet.


“Will this be enough to pay for Ms. Patches’ care? I know it’s not much, but I can get you more as soon as I find My Brian. He’s keeping all my money safe for us right now.”


Xylia tried to push the fistful of money away. “Oh, Justin, I couldn’t let you pay for me. Vince and I will make an arrangement. Don’t you need that money for yourself?” As she said the words she glanced down at the boy’s dirty, battered, bare feet.


“Not really,” Justin smiled and shrugged and pushed all his money into the woman’s hands again. “I was going to give it all to the Big Angry Man because Hunter said he’d do mean things to my rear end if I didn’t give him money. But, since you’re going to let me stay with you tonight, I don’t have to go back to the ‘Tarlight and stay with him. And I can get more money tomorrow if I have to; I’ll just draw some more pictures. Although, I hope I’ll be able to get myself un-lost and find My Brian and then I won’t need any money for the Angry Man. So, you can take this money now. It’ll be fine.”


“Well . . . If you’re sure,” Ms. Cat Lady finally accepted the money and handed it off to Mr. Vince The Vet and everyone was happy again. 


Justin said goodbye to Ms. Patches and promised to come visit her again when she was feeling better. Then he called Boss, who’d been watching quietly from a spot in the corner of the room, and they followed the Cat Lady as she left the vet clinic. It was only a short fifteen minute walk from the vet’s to Xylia’s home. The house was only a small, two-story, clapboard-sided structure on a hilly side street; it had peeling yellow paint and a front porch that sagged ominously to the left, but it was homey nonetheless. The Cat Lady led Justin and Boss around the side and let them in through the screen porch on the back. It was fully enclosed and out of the worst of the chill of the night. It was also  furnished with a fairly comfortable wicker patio couch. 



“I hope this will be okay for the night,” the Cat Lady offered, handing him a blanket. “I don’t think my cats would appreciate your Boss coming inside, even if I knew you two better.”


“No. This is great!” Justin assured her as he settled himself on the couch and tested the cushions with his weight. “Much better than the ‘Tarlight. And I won’t have to share the bed with Hunter and Beauty, so that’s good. Hunter snores, you know?”


And, after the busy day of adventures he’d had, it wasn’t surprising that Justin was out like a light within seconds after Boss had crawled up on the couch with him.  


 

 

End Notes:

3/21/21 - I know you’re all anxious for Justin to make it home to his Brian, so the good news is that we’re almost there! Only one more sleep and we should get some resolution. I promise Justin will be rescued soon. And in the meantime, he’s got Boss and his new Cat Lady friend and maybe Brian will even end up with a pet cat . . . LOL. Thanks for bearing with me on this adventure. TAG

 

PS: Isn't it great to be on the new hosting service and have a functional website again! And now that I'm not spending all my time doing tech stuff, I can write again! Hoorah!

Chapter 17 - The Same But Different by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

*****Chapter Dedicated to my friend, mamab, aka @PAGramma148, who's been feeling under the weather lately. Hurry up and get well because I miss my Twitter buddy!*****



Chapter 17 - The Same But Different.



“Hey, Boy Wonder!” Tristan was jostled out of a deep sleep by a whiny voice and a heavy plastic object being tossed onto his chest. “Would you please start answering your fucking phone so your boyfriend doesn’t have to call and wake ME up at the crack of dawn!”


Tristan grumbled in response to Michael’s tirade as he grabbed at the phone, “yeah, yeah. Whatever . . .” 


“Justin? What the fuck is going on over there?” the irate voice coming out of the phone speaker yelled at him. “If I didn’t know better, Sunshine, I’d think you were trying to avoid my calls.”


Tristan wasn’t awake enough to force his brain to think like his Twinkie counterpart. The only response he could come up with on the spot like that was a surly, “I do have a life outside of responding to your endless calls and texts you know?”


“...” The shocked silence on the other end of the call was his first indication that he’d screwed up royally. That was followed a minute later with a fully outraged reply. “What the fuck, Justin? Even if you’re pissed at me for going out of town or something, it’s not like you to act like such a dick. What the hell has gotten into you this week, Sunshine?”


By that point Tristan’s brain was finally coming online and he realized he’d fucked up. “Uh . . . Sorry, I, uh . . . I’m sorry, My Brian.” He scrambled for some plausible lie to cover up his un-Justin-like behavior. “I was up really, really late last night and I’m not feeling very good. The guys took me out to Babylon and I think I maybe had too much to drink.”


“You were actually drinking?” Brian seemed almost as shocked by that fact as he had been at Tristan’s snarky comment. 


“Um, yeah. I decided to try some of the beer you said you liked. You always seem to like it so much and I wanted to be just like you,” Tristan simpered, hoping that the sickly sweetness would cover his prior gaff. 


“Well, no wonder your head hurts, Sunshine. You HATE beer,” Brian answered with a quiet laugh. “Please don’t drink just because you miss me, Justin. I don’t want Debbie to yell at me next time I see her for corrupting you.”


“I promise. I’ll be good,” Tristan replied, trying not to gag on the fake sincerity.


“Well, at least you only have to be good for one more day,” Brian responded, sounding upbeat. “My meeting with that new lead last night went really well. I think we’ve roped in another client. I’m meeting with the CEO and their head of Marketing this afternoon and, if all goes well, we should have an inked contract before dinner. Which means I’ll be flying home tomorrow with even more work for you to do . . . Hope you’re ready.”


Tristan didn’t know how his double would respond to that comment. If it were him, he’d be a little pissed off by the thought of his boyfriend/boss bringing home more work for him to do. But, knowing the Justin kid’s weirdness, the cuck probably loved having even more work thrown at him. Who knew? Tristan just didn’t have enough information to compile an acceptable answer, though, so he figured the safest bet was to find a way to end this conversation.


“Oh, hey, Michael is waving at me to get off the phone so we can go get breakfast now,” Tristan lied. 


“Well, I know where I stand, don’t I?” Brian chuckled. “Go on, then. I know better than to get between food and that monster in your stomach. I’ll call you again tonight as soon as I know my flight plans for tomorrow. Maybe you can get Simon to drive you to the airport to meet me and I’ll introduce you to homecoming sex . . . In the men’s room.”


Tristan could tell that Brian thought he’d be shocking his little boyfriend - that Justin would think bathroom sex was totally out there or something - so he pretended to giggle nervously. 


That was obviously the correct response because Brian merely purred, “later, Sunshine.”


“Later,” he replied and quickly hung up. As he tossed the phone aside he mumbled to himself, “thank fuck I’ll be long gone by tomorrow morning. All this naive innocent shit is getting boring.”


Now that he was awake, though, Tristan used the time to think through the rest of his plan. He was more than ready to get out of there, comfortable bed or not. He didn’t think he’d ever had this much difficulty maintaining a con before. This Justin kid was just way too goody-goody for him. It was unnatural. Nobody was that sweet and kind and innocent all the time, were they? It was wearing him out trying to constantly stay in character. Tristan was simply NOT cut out to play that part for long; growing up in foster homes and on the streets had left him way too jaded to feel comfortable in his double’s shoes. It was high time for him to bug out.


That being said, he was pretty satisfied with his haul on this con so far. Besides the loot he’d snagged from Kinney’s loft, he’d managed to clean out two of his three keepers at the bar the night before. Mr. Desperation, aka Ted, had turned out to be the easiest mark Tristan had ever targeted. The man was just too easy. Before the night was over, he’d handed over almost $200 for drinks that had either never materialized or that Tristan had swiped from others. You’d think an accountant would be better with his money, right? But all it took was Tristan batting his long, blond eyelashes at the guy and Desperation had opened his wallet and practically thrown money at the young blond. Michael had been a tougher mark; he’d only let Tristan get away with his little scam twice before he told the younger man off. And Swishy . . . Well, let’s just say the Swishstick was a lot more savvy than Tristan had originally given him credit for. That one might look like a ditzy fruitcake, but he was tighter with his money than almost anyone Tristan had ever met. He hadn’t scored a dime of that one.


Altogether, with the cash he’d pocketed at the bar the night before and the loot from the loft, Tristan figured he had somewhere close to a thou in hand. Maybe more, depending on how well the fence paid. And, if he could figure out a way to add some of the pricey electronics he’d seen at Kinney’s office to the haul, he might be able to double that amount. But he’d have to be a lot more careful with that stuff; coming up with an excuse to get computer crap out of the office without being caught would be tough. Not impossible though. He just had to work it right. 


Hence the need to take a moment to plan things out. He’d love to get one more night of accommodations out of this deal, but that would mean cutting it a bit close, what with Kinney coming back sometime in the morning. And, if he wanted to swipe a couple of laptops from the office, he’d be better off leaving sometime in the middle of the afternoon, when fewer people would be watching him. If he stuck around after cleaning out the office stuff, he’d be way too likely to be caught and, while he might be able to talk his way out of getting collared for the stuff he took from the loft, there was no way he’d be able to come up with a plausible excuse for getting caught with a bunch of high-priced office electronics that weren’t his. So, the choice was either stay another night or double his haul . . .


Not really a touch call; he’d be taking the route that led to the bigger pile of cash, of course.


Which meant he’d need to be ready to book it by lunchtime at the latest. With that goal in mind, Tristan hoisted himself out of bed and made sure to pack up his bag of loochie, before heading to the shower. At the last minute he decided to throw in Michael’s tablet computer and a handheld gaming device that fit nicely into a corner of the bulging duffle bag. With luck, Brunet Guy wouldn’t miss that crap until long after Tristan was history, and those two items were worth at least a few extra bucks if pawned in the right place. 


It was literally like taking candy from babies.


His host was waiting for him when Tristan emerged from a luxurious, hot, decadently long shower about twenty minutes later. Brunet Guy seemed eager to head out to breakfast at the Diner. He also seemed just a little hung over after all those drinks that Tristan had stolen and pressed on his keepers in the hopes of further loosening their wallets. Guess Brunet Guy wasn’t as good at holding his liquor as he’d bragged. No worries, though; that only meant that Tristan didn’t have to work as hard to keep up with the conversation as Michael sat and quietly nursed his coffee. Meanwhile, Tristan loaded up on the biggest breakfast he could stomach - the Butch Bottom Special - intent on filling up with as much hot, delicious food as he could before he was forced to head back to the meager fare he’d get in his street boy life. 


But that’s when it all began to fall apart. 


Maybe, if he hadn’t pushed quite so many drinks on Brunet Guy the night before, his keeper wouldn’t have dragging so much and would have rousted him off to work sooner? Maybe, if he hadn’t pushed his luck and stuck around with the hopes of doubling his take, he would have already been on his way back to Hugo a day earlier? Maybe, if he hadn’t been such a pig, if he had ordered a smaller breakfast, they’d have finished eating earlier and he would have made it out of there without getting caught? Maybe a lot of things could have or should have gone differently, but what did happen, right as he was finishing up the last of his breakfast that morning, was that the whole damn con came crashing down around his head. 


Only, he didn’t know how bad he’d screwed up until several hours later.


Just as they were getting ready to split, however, the little bell over the Diner’s entrance rang out, announcing the arrival of another group of breakfasters. Tristan looked up from his plate briefly but didn’t recognize the two women coming through the door, one of whom was carrying a small boy. Unfortunately, they seemed to recognize him. Within seconds the new arrivals were practically jogging over to the table where Tristan and Brunet Guy were sitting, their faces all glowing with sweet, expectant smiles. 


“Justin! Michael! What are you two doing here so late?” the smaller, dark haired woman asked, bending down to leave a kiss on Tristan’s cheek in greeting before shoving at Brunet Guy’s shoulder to force him to slide over, this providing the woman a seat in the booth. “Aren’t you already at the store by now most days?”


“You try getting this one moving in the mornings,” Brunet Guy grumbled into his coffee cup. “He takes, like, hour long showers and then eats half the Diner menu before you can get him to go anywhere.”


Both women laughed at Michael’s complaints. The blonde, who’d been a couple meters behind her companion, stepped up to Tristan’s side of the booth just then and made a gesture at him to scoot over as well so she and the kid could sit too. Tristan stifled the sigh that wanted so badly to come out and moved over with his best fake smile on his face. 


“Sounds like a typical teenager to me.” Blondie grinned at her younger seat companion. “I can’t WAIT until we get to that stage,” she added sarcastically as she tried to shift the boy she was holding towards Tristan. “This one, on the other hand, got us up at 5:00 AM this morning and has been a handful ever since. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to a time when he actually wants to sleep in on occasion.” 


The cute little brown-haired boy looked up at Tristan with a shy smile, seeming like he was about to say something, before the smile on the tyke’s face abruptly faded. He looked confusedly at the youth for a couple more seconds while his poor mother tried in vain to pry the two cubby little arms from around her neck. It seemed like the boy wasn’t going to cooperate though. His grip tightened even more and he hid his head in the crook of the blonde’s neck with a distressed whimper. 


“Gus? What’s wrong, Lambskin? Don’t you want to say ‘hi’ to Justin?” Blondie asked, still trying to uncinch the constricting arms that were almost choking her. 


“No! No!” Gus yelled when Blondie tried one more time to hand her burden off to the other blond in the booth. “Not my Dustin! No! Not my Dustin! Go ‘way!”


Gus was squirming away from Tristan, acting as if the blond youth was a monster who was going to eat him or something. Tristan shrugged and tried to look like he understood what was happening. Of course, nobody else at the table seemed to understand any better, though, so Tristan’s confusion was in good company this time. 


“I don’t know what’s got into him,” Blondie apologized, hugging her son and rocking him back and forth in order to quiet the boy’s complaints. “Usually I can’t get him to leave you alone, Justin. Remember last weekend when you and Brian were babysitting and Mel had to literally tear Gus out of your arms so we could go home? I can’t imagine why he’s reacting to you like this now. It’s like he doesn’t recognize you or something . . .”


That’s when Tristan realized that the little brat was the most perceptive of the lot of them and that he’d been made. 


“No biggie,” Tristan rushed to change the subject as fast as he could. “Brun . . . I mean, Michael . . . Um. We have to get going anyway. My Brian said he’s bringing home lots more work for me to do, so I better get to the office and finish up what I already have, right?” 


He started to slide closer to Blondie and the baby, intending to get them to move so he could get out of the booth, but that just started the little brat off once more. Gus began to yell ‘No!’ again and to struggle and cry. Blondie had her hands full trying to hold onto the kid so he didn’t fall out of her arms and land in a heap on the floor. The other woman got up from where she’d been sitting next to Brunet Guy and grabbed Gus away from Blondie. The boy seemed to settle down the minute the plucky little lezzie carried him away from the table, although the kid was still sniffling and hiding his head in the woman’s chest as if he was scared out of his skin. 


Tristan knew shit was getting real and decided the best thing he could do was to get the hell out of there as fast as he could. He pushed at Blondie’s shoulder to physically force her to move out of his way. The woman obliged, her attention still distracted by her crying son, as she got up to go to see if she could help the other woman. Together they continued to try and comfort the boy. Tristan tugged at the shoulder of Brunet Guy’s shirt to get him moving too. Michael did get up from the booth but then hesitated, standing in the middle of the aisle between the tables and the counter for at least half a minute, while he looked back and forth between Tristan and the two women holding the crying baby. 


“You coming or am I going to have to hitchhike to work today?” Tristan asked, causing Brunet Guy to scowl at him, but since that was a normal reaction, it was sort of reassuring, and Tristan would happily take it. 


“I gotta drop Boy Wonder off at Brian’s office,” Michael advised the girls, leaning in to kiss first the dark haired one and then the blond one on each of their cheeks, before ruffling the little boy’s chestnut-colored curls. “Can you gimme a call later at the store, Mel? I’ve got some . . . Uh . . . Some legal stuff to ask you about.” 


The dark one, Mel, responded with a distracted grunt of ascent as she reseated herself in the now empty booth and carried on with her soothing of the still-whining little brat. Tristan didn’t stick around to watch, though. He knew the best thing he could do was to get his minder out of there before Brunet Guy figured out what it was that had caused the boy to go berserk. Even a moron like Michael would eventually pick up on the way the kid had shied away from his buddy ‘Justin’ if given half a chance, so it was incumbent on Tristan to get him out of there as fast as he could. Hopefully, before that connection was made and, by extension, he was made too.


Michael didn’t say anything more to Tristan on the drive from the Diner to Kinnetik. Which was a welcome break as far as the nervous con artist was concerned. It wasn’t like Brunet Gut was a brilliant conversationalist at the best of times, right? And tight then, Tristan was feeling too keyed up to talk, even assuming he’d be able to stay in character. All he wanted was to get away from the meddlesome busybody, get to the damn office, and plot out how he was going to get out of this con with all his loot. Before getting caught. 


When they finally arrived at the building where the Kinnetik offices were, Tristan jumped out of Brunet Guy’s car without saying goodbye. He was feeling too squicked to bother standing around making small talk with Ms. Thang or Mr. Desperation, who were both waiting for him in the reception area. He just waved as he bolted for the office that was being used as the ‘Art Department’. He didn’t relax until he had the door closed and locked behind him. 


“Shit! Shit, shit, shit! Stupid little brat blowing my cover . . .” he grumbled under his breath, trying to think what he should do and calculate how likely it was that Brunet Guy would connect all the dots. He pulled out his double’s phone and looked at the time, cursing silently because he knew it was way too early in the morning to call Hugo or any of his other friends. “Damn it. Daddy would have my ass in a sling if I called and woke him up before ten in the morning.” He flopped down in the comfortable chair at the big drafting table and growled at the world. “Fine. I can figure this out on my own, I guess. I just need to come up with some cover story that’ll let me leave here in the middle of the work day without Ms. Thang asking too many questions . . .”



Brian was in the taxi on his way to meet Clifford and Lula Carter, who’d driven up all the way from Springfield to see him, when he received a text from Michael that was just strange enough that it got his attention. 


Mikey: ‘Something’s not right. Gus says Justin isn’t Justin and he’s been acting weird all week. I don’t know what to do. Call me as soon as you can.’


Brian rolled his eyes at the cryptic message, shook his head, and immediately hit the icon pic of Michael’s face at the top of the message app to call his friend. “What the fuck do you mean that Justin isn’t Justin?” he demanded before Michael even had a chance to say hello.


“So, we were at the Diner this morning when the girls came in with Gus,” Michael launched into a full play-by-play description of what happened. “. . . And then Gus threw a total fit and refused to go to Justin screaming ‘Not my Justin!’ over and over. It was the weirdest thing.” Brian didn’t know what to say to that so he just waited and, right on cue, Michael continued on as if the words couldn’t be stopped. “But, what was even weirder was that Justin didn’t really seem to want to hold Gus either. He was kinda, like, cowering away from Gus in the corner of the booth. And, I didn’t really think about it much at the time, you know, but later, after I got to the store, that whole scene just kept bothering me. So I called Lindz and she was still freaking out about it all too. Lindsey mentioned that she’d never seen Justin NOT rush to hold Gus. Not ever. Like, from the first day they met, Gus and Justin had just meshed, you know? She said she remembered it really well because Gus is usually shy with strangers and all but he took to Justin that first morning they met. What’s even more freaky, though, is that Lindsey said she’d tried to ask Gus about what happened after they got back home and Gus had just kept insisting that it wasn’t Justin. So, that’s creepy, right?”


“It wasn’t Justin?” Brian echoed, not knowing what else to say, but getting a really bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. 


“Which makes no sense, right?” Michael kept jabbering on. “Cuz Boy Wonder was sitting right there in front of me looking just like he always does. But then I got to thinking about all the other crazy shit Justin’s been doing and saying the past couple of days since you left and I just . . . Well, it doesn’t make sense. He’s been acting so strange. Not like himself at all, you know? And saying shit that doesn’t even sound like him. Hell, I don’t fucking know what’s going on, Brian, but . . . But I know it’s not right. Something isn’t right.”


Brian’s cab arrived at the coffee shop where he was supposed to meet his clients and he tossed a twenty to the driver before getting out. Then he just stood there on the sidewalk, stunned, while a million different thoughts circulated through his brain. 


Justin not answering his texts and calls. 


Justin ending the calls he had taken as quickly as possible.


Justin insisting that Brian didn’t need to come home and not acting like he cared about Brian being gone even a tiny bit.


Justin bitching him out and telling him he had a life outside of Brian’s calls and texts.


Justin drinking beer and waking up hungover.


Justin flirting with Cynthia and calling her ‘Doll’.


Justin making a comment about Mikey staying to watch them having phone sex and saying something about not giving free shows.


Justin acting like he didn’t want anything to do with Gus. 


Then it hit Brian that, so far, Justin hadn’t once told him he loved him when they’d hung up. Or that he’d missed him. Or called him ‘Just Brian’. Or said any of the million and one endearing things that his Justin said every single fucking day . . .


“Fuck!” he cursed, loudly enough that a couple of folks passing on the sidewalk looked at him with concern. “Listen to me, Mikey. Are you listening? I need you to tell me exactly what you mean when you say Justin’s been acting strange. I want to know everything that’s been going on since I left. Every single fucking thing . . .”



 

 

End Notes:

4/9/21 - Sorry for the late night stealth posting. But, everyone's happy that Brian’s finally caught on to the fact that there’s an imposter back in the Pitts, right? Can I get a couple of ‘Yay!’s? And how perfect was it that Gus was the key! Go, Gus! Now, I only have about 3-4 chapters to wrap up this story, so hang in there! TAG

Chapter 18 - The Lost Stories by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Justin's determined to get home... Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 18 - The Lost Stories.



Justin woke up in an exuberant mood the next morning. The couch on Xylia’s screen porch had been surprisingly comfortable and, with the addition of the blanket and quilt she’d loaned him - not to mention the body warmth added by his canine bed warmer once Boss had jumped up on the bed to join him - he’d been toasty warm all night long. The last remnants of the headache he’d had since he hit his head were finally gone too. He felt refreshed and reenergized. 


It was time to go find Brian and get himself unlost. 


His new Cat Lady friend came out to say good morning a few minutes later. Even better, she brought him a cup of coffee, a plate of toast, and a bowl of cat food for Boss. She apologized that she didn’t have any dog food in the house; not that Boss seemed to notice as he gobbled up the cat kibbles in about thirty seconds flat. Justin took his coffee gratefully and asked his hostess for permission to use the toilet facilities, leaving the puppy to enjoy his breakfast and get some petting from Xylia. When Justin returned, he was more than ready to start his next adventure.


“So, what’s your plan for the day?” Ms. Cat Lady asked politely as she sipped at her own cup of coffee and they enjoyed the sun on the porch together. 


“I’m going to find My Brian today,” Justin stated as if it were already a done deal. “I miss him so much. I want to hug him and kiss him and do other boyfriend things. But I have to figure out how to get unlost first.” Of course, that’s the point where his plan fell apart because he had no idea how to get unlost. “I just have to figure out how to find him somehow.”


Xylia smiled at him kindly and started to ask him questions designed to help. “You mentioned before that you hit your head; so, does that mean you lost your memory or something? Don’t you remember where you live?” 


“Of course I remember where I live. I live with Brian at his loft,” Justin explained. “I used to live with my mother in this other house but then she died and I asked the mail carrier what I should do and he sent the police and they took me to this bad place with this mean doctor person but then Brian came and told me I should trust my gut and my gut told me that wasn’t a good place so I left with him and we did a lot of fun stuff together and afterwards he said I was going to live with him forever . . .” 


“Whoa, slow down a bit there,” Cat Lady cautioned, putting a hand on her new friend’s shoulder to calm him. “Let’s just think this through a bit more logically, okay?” 


“Okay. How do I do that?” Justin asked, happy to let someone else help because he wasn’t really good at that kind of rational thinking thing when he was scared and lost.


“First off, do you know the address of your boyfriend’s loft? If so, that’ll make it easy. If you know the address I could help you find your way home fairly easily.”


Justin shook his head sadly. “No. I don’t think I ever knew that. My Brian said that I’m bad with addresses and directions because my mother never let me go anywhere when I was growing up so I never learned that skill. That’s why he hired Simon Says to drive me around, because otherwise I’d be lost all the time. Maybe Brian told me the loft’s address once, but I really can’t remember now. And I’m sure it was written down in my travelling phone, along with all Brian’s numbers, but I don’t know what happened to my phone either. I couldn’t find it in my bag after I came out of class late and then Simon Says wasn’t there to pick me up and take me home and I couldn’t find the Pradas either and I knew Brian would yell at me for losing the Pradas because he seems to like shoes a whole lot, not like me, I don’t like shoes very much because they hurt my feet, even special shoes that have their own names like the Pradas . . .”


“Okay, okay, stop, Justin,” Xylia derailed his crazy thought train again. “Logic, remember?” Justin took a deep breath and nodded, trying his best to be logical. “So, you don’t know your address or phone number?” Justin shook his head. “Well, let’s figure out what you do know. To start with, what’s your boyfriend’s full name? We could maybe find him if we at least knew that.”


“Brian Aiden Kinney,” Justin was happy that he knew the answer to at least one of the Cat Lady’s questions. 


“Good. That’s a start,” Xylia smiled at him and took her own phone out of the pocket of her quilted housecoat. “Now, in the old days, we could just look your Brian up in the phone book and find your address that way, but things are a little more complicated nowadays. However . . .” She tapped away at the device for a minute or so while Justin waited impatiently until, finally, a huge smile crept over her well-lined and kindly face. “Aha! Is this your Brian?”


She held out the phone so Justin could see the picture of a sexily smirking Brian Kinney smoldering at him out of the screen. “Yes! That’s My Brian! You found him! You found him!”


“Well, I didn’t find him, just the website for his business, but it’s a start.” She took back the phone and tapped at it some more before exclaiming. “Looks like I even found you, Mr. Art Director. Nice picture, by the way.” She flashed the phone screen back at him, displaying the picture of Justin she’d found on the ‘About Us’ page of the Kinnetik Advertising site. 


*Hahaha* Justin laughed at the picture of himself. “My Brian took that picture. He made me put on a suit and tie because he said I had to pretend to be professional. I had to remind him that I’m not very good at pretending, but he said the people on the Devil’s Box wouldn’t know that. Then he said I looked pretty when I was all dressed up . . .” Justin sighed and bit at his bottom lip, blushing a bit at the memory of what had come after that comment. “I miss him so much. And I’m sure he’s probably super worried about me. We’ve never been apart this long, not since he first rescued me from the bad hospital place. I just HAVE to get back to him, Ms. Cat Lady. I have to.”


“I’m sure you’ll find him soon, Justin. Especially now that we have this.” Xylia pointed to the new website page she’d pulled up on her phone screen. “Look! It's the address for your offices at Kinnetik. This isn’t very far away either. Piece of cake.”


“It isn’t far? Really?” Justin was so thrilled that he was bouncing in this seat and scaring Boss, who whimpered a little at all the commotion.


“Nope. It’s pretty close. And I think the #61 bus goes right by there. I pass by that way all the time when I take the bus to my sister’s house. If you hurry and get ready, I think you can make the 9:20 bus even,” Xylia offered, earning herself an overjoyed hug from the excited young blond man. 


“You’re the BEST Cat Lady ever! Thank you! Thank you!” Justin gushed, jumping to his feet and enveloping his saviour in a hug so tight it squeezed all the breath out of her. “Okay. So I just have to find this bus and it’ll take me to My Brian, right? That shouldn’t be too hard. Come on, Boss. We’re going home!”


Justin picked up the dog’s leash from where it had been waiting, draped over the back of a nearby chair, and called Boss to him. But Xylia got to her feet and blocked him when he went to lean down to snap the leash’s metal clip to the dog’s spikey collar. With a restraining hand on his shoulder, the Cat Lady took the leash away from him and smiled indulgently at the unassuming young man.


“I’m sorry, but I don’t think they’ll let you take Boss on the bus with you. They only allow service animals and pets small enough to be in carriers. Boss is way too big for that,” Xylia explained.


“But . . . I can’t leave without Boss. He’ll be scared. And the Demarcus Man told me Boss was my responsibility now. I can’t just leave him . . .” Justin looked down at his puppy and for a moment it looked like he might break out into tears.


“Now, don’t work yourself up into a state,” Xylia cautioned. “If you think I would ever tell you to abandon an animal, you’re talking to the wrong person. I know you wouldn’t just leave Boss, Justin. But you can’t take him on the bus either. So, how about you let him stay with me for a bit? Just long enough for you to find your Brian again? Then you can come back for Boss. How does that sound? You won’t mind hanging out with the old cat lady and her pussies, will you, Boss?”


“You’d do that? You’d take care of Boss for me?” Justin was even closer to tears now that his new friend was offering to do such a kind thing to help him. “That would be the most awesomest thing ever, Ms. Cat Lady! Thank you! I’m sure Boss will be safer here with you while I’m looking for My Brian than out on the streets. And I promise to come back for him as soon as I can. Thank you.”


With that all settled, Xylia and Justin and Boss headed out. The Cat Lady took Justin to the corner about a block away from her house where the #61 bus stop was located and then loaned him $2.50 for the fare since he’d given all the money he had to Vince the Vet the night before. Justin patted Boss on the head and admonished him to be good for the nice Cat Lady until he got back. Then Xylia and Boss left to return home while Justin waited for the next bus to come along. 


 


Unfortunately, this was the very first time Justin had ever ridden on a bus and he didn’t completely understand the system. There was a blue sign that said ‘Bus Stop’ with the number ‘61’ on it on the corner where Xylia had left him. But there was also another identical sign on the other corner, kitty-corner across the street from where he was standing. It also has the number ‘61’ written on it. That was confusing. Why were there two bus stops for the same bus? Which corner was he supposed to wait on? He didn’t want to be on the wrong corner and miss the bus that would take him back to Brian.


While he was dithering about which corner to stand on, he looked up and saw a bus approaching in the lane on the other side of the street. It was still a couple blocks away, but it looked like the big illuminated number on the banner above where the driver was sitting said ‘61D - Downtown’. That sounded right to Justin; he remembered Brian saying how he liked having the office downtown because it was closer to the loft. That had to be the right bus. 


Without waiting for the light to change, Justin ran out into the street, dodging the oncoming cars so he could get across to the far corner where the bus was just pulling up. He was lucky that all the drivers were paying attention or he wouldn’t have made it. Luckily, the bus driver saw him trying to get to the stop and waited for him. When he finally made it, he was panting and breathless but smiling because he just knew this bus was going to take him home to Brian. 


“Hello! I’m Justin Taylor. I need to get home to My Brian. Can you take me there?” he asked the bus driver, who simply stared at him like he was used to crazy questions.


“Sure. As long as your Brian is off the 61, you’re in the right place,” the large man sitting behind the gate that separated the driver’s seat from the rest of the bus replied. 


“Great! I miss him so much!” Justin started to move past the driver, scanning the bus full of passengers to find an empty seat. 


“Hang on a sec, buddy. The fare is $2.50; or else you’re going to have to get there on your own two feet,” the weary driver reminded him.


“Oh, right. Ms. Cat Lady gave me some money. Here you go,” Justin excavated the pile of change Xylia had given him out of his pocket and held it out as if waiting for the man to take it.


“It goes in the box,” the driver instructed, pointing to the fare box on the dashboard next to him. 


It took Justin another two minutes to figure out how to get the coins to slide into the fare box and the bus missed another change of the light in the process. The other riders began to grumble about the clueless boy who was slowing down their commute. But, eventually, Justin figured it out and moved off to try and find a seat. The first empty place was more than halfway back towards the rear so he squeezed his way through the crowd to get to it. Along the way, Justin politely greeted every other passenger with a cheery ‘Good Morning!’ as he passed. A few surprised people even responded. When he took up his seat on a bench next to a large, older woman with purple hair, he was all smiles.


“This is fun, isn’t it!” he burbled joyfully, his voice ringing out loudly through the otherwise silent bus as the driver finally pulled away from the curb, heading east, away from downtown. “I’ve never been on a bus before. I’ve been in a car and an RV and on an airplane but I’ve never been on a bus. Oh, I’ve been in a police car too, but that wasn’t as much fun. Do you ride on the bus a lot? It must be fun to travel around with all these other people all the time; it’s like having a bunch of friends going everywhere with you. That’s neat, right?”


“Uh . . . Yeah, I guess,” the woman responded hesitantly, unsure about the mental state of the strange young man who was bouncing in the seat next to her.


“I can’t wait to get home to My Brian,” Justin continued, with his typical transparent candor despite the fact that his seatmate was pointedly looking out the window in an attempt to ignore him. “I just miss him so bad. And I’m sure he’s going crazy without me too. He’s always saying he doesn’t know how he got along without me. I don’t know either. Before he met me he was so serious and boring. I make sure he has adventures and that makes him happy, which he likes, even though he pretends to complain about it all the time. I can tell he really likes it though because of the happy way his eyes crinkle up at the corners. I love his eyes when they’re all happy; it makes the green speckles come out from behind the brown. When he’s sad or upset the green sparkles go away almost all the way, which makes me sad too, you know? So that’s why I’m on the bus now, because I want to get home to him and make him happy so the green speckles come out.”


The optimistic young blond kept up his monologue for the next ten minutes until, three stops later, the woman next to him announced that the next stop was hers and she needed to get up. Justin obliged by making room for her. Then he scooted over so he was in the seat by the window. That was fun too because he could see the streets gliding by outside. It reminded him of something he’d seen on the Devil’s Box when he’d been babysitting Gus one time. There had been a song with cartoon drawings of things you could see through the windows of a bus. 


The memory of that time with Gus caused his smile to grow even wider and he broke out into song. “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!” He looked at the couple sitting in the seat across the aisle from him and noted that the woman had a baby in the carrier strapped to her chest, so he carried on with the next verse, smiling at the people with an unspoken invitation for them to join in. “The babies on the bus go ‘wah, wah, wah’, ‘wah, wah, wah’, ‘wah, wah, wah’. The babies on the bus go ‘wah, wah’ wah’, all through the town . . .” But, after three of four verses, when nobody else had joined in on the song, Justin eventually shrugged and gave up singing. 


Instead he went back to looking out the window and trying to figure out where he was. The Cat Lady had told him that it wasn’t very far from her house to the Kinnetik offices. She’d said it should only be five or six stops. Justin tried to count back in his mind how many stops the bus had made since he got on but, in his excitement, he hadn’t been paying attention. It seemed like it had been more than six though. And still, nothing around him looked at all familiar. In fact, it didn’t look like they were still in the downtown area at all. The further they drove, the less downtown-ish the scenery became. The buildings outside his window weren’t very tall. These buildings were only two or three stories tall, for the most part, and were more widely spaced than the big buildings downtown. It seemed like, maybe, the bus was taking him further away from Brian rather than getting him closer. Justin started to get worried.


After two more stops, without the scenery looking any more familiar, Justin got up and made his way to the front of the bus so he could speak to the driver. “Excuse me, Mr. Driver, Sir. I think you’re going the wrong way. I need you to take me home to My Brian and this doesn’t look right.” He pointed out the window to where the bus was passing a big, green park. “Brian’s office is in a tall, red, brick building, with lots of dark black windows. There isn’t any park by the office either . . .”


“Hey, Buddy,” the driver interrupted him, “you can’t be standing up in front of that line,” he pointed to the yellow stripe painted on the floor of the bus. “Not while the bus is moving. It’s distracting to the drivers and you could get hurt. You’re going to have to either take a seat or get off.”


“But . . . This isn’t the right way,” Justin insisted, stepping back behind the line but refusing to take a seat. “The sign on the bus said it went to downtown and this isn’t downtown.”


“This is the 61 East. You musta wanted the 61 West,” the driver replied, only half paying attention to Justin as he pulled up to a new stop where the confused blond was pushed out of the way as several new passengers boarded. 


Completely baffled now, Justin retreated to his seat again and sat there stewing in silence. He hadn’t realized there were two 61 busses and they went different directions. He didn’t know what to do. He was afraid this bus was taking him further away from Brian, but his Cat Lady friend had seemed so sure that this was the right bus. If he got off the bus now, he would be even more lost than before; he had no idea how to get back to Xylia’s house, let alone get back to Brian. But if he stayed on the bus, who knew how far away it would take him. He looked around him at all the blank faces of the other passengers, none of whom looked at all friendly or willing to help him. Why was everything so hard and scary? All he wanted was to go home. That shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?


He sat there worrying about what to do for another three stops without coming to any conclusion. The fun of riding the bus had certainly worn off by that point. He was trying not to cry in front of all those expressionless strangers, though. He felt so hopeless.


Finally, at the next stop, a twenty-something young woman got on and took the vacant seat next to Justin. She immediately pulled out her phone and looked at the screen which was displaying a map. Justin peeked at the phone and saw that there was a little blue arrow on the screen that seemed to be moving along at the same pace as their bus. When the bus crossed over a highway, the arrow on the map crossed a line that looked like a highway too. That brought to mind the maps he’d looked at while he and Brian had been on their big cross-country trip in the RV. Finally, he felt a little relieved. At least with a map, he could see where this bus was going, even if that wouldn’t help him get unlost. 


“Excuse me,” he spoke up and pointed to his seatmate’s phone. “Can you tell me . . . I thought this bus was supposed to go to downtown but it looks like the driver is going the wrong way . . .”


“Yeah. That can be confusing, can’t it? I’ve gotten on the bus going the wrong direction a time or two myself,” the cordial young woman responded. “But the route is a loop, see?” She tilted the phone screen so Justin could see it and pinched at the image, shrinking it enough so he could see the entire route with all the little dots representing stops laced out across the map of Pittsburgh. “We’re here.” She pointed to a spot more than halfway along the chain of circles. “And we’re headed out to the Homestead Transfer Station. The bus turns around there and heads back to downtown. If you stay on the bus, you’ll eventually get back to downtown. Or, if you want, you can get off at the next stop and catch the westbound 61 or the 75 or even the express . . .” 



That all sounded very complicated to Justin, who’d messed up the first bus ride and didn’t want to risk getting even more lost by trying to find all sorts of other busses that went who knew where. “If I stay on this bus it’ll get me back to where I started?” he asked to confirm. 


“Yep. It’s a pretty long route, though. Hope you’re not trying to get somewhere by a certain time,” the helpful woman answered.  


“I don’t care how long it takes. All I want is to get home to My Brian,” Justin asserted and then settled back in his seat, prepared to wait however long he had to in order to find his wayward boyfriend again. 


 

 

End Notes:

4/10/21 - Can't stop; won't stop... I’m supposed to be working on my next novel this weekend, but I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story. This chapter was something I’d envisioned from the very beginning. I just crack up every time thinking about Justin singing ‘Wheels On The Bus’. I’m still laughing. He’s getting so close to finding his way home, though. Maybe in the next chapter, Brian and Justin will finally figure out how to reconnect... Enjoy! TAG 

Chapter 19 - Stranger With My Face by Jazzepoet
Author's Notes:

I'm on a roll! Enjoy! TAG


Chapter 19 - Stranger With My Face.



Regrettably, Tristan’s get away plans never fully materialized. 


Despite putting some serious thought into the matter, the best he could come up with was that he was going to have to call in some assistance. He figured he could arrange to have his friend, Hunter, pretend to be a delivery boy bringing in lunch. Then he could surreptitiously hand off the duffle bag full of loot to Hunter, along with whatever electronics they could easily liberate from the office, and his accomplice could go out by way of the back stairs while Tristan was standing guard to make sure Ms. Thang and Mr. Desperation didn’t catch on. After they were sure Hunter had got away clean, Tristan could just walk out the front door, sometime later in the day, pretending he was going for coffee or something. Nobody would suspect a thing until he didn’t come back and by then both Tristan and Hunter would be long gone. It wasn’t the most original plan of all time, but it would probably work. 


Unfortunately, Hunter didn’t pick up when he called so Tristan had to leave a message. Which left Tristan twisting in the wind and stressing out. He knew that he’d cut it way too close already and it was past time to get the hell out of Dodge but he didn’t think he could get away with just walking out the door, stash in hand, and not get nabbed. So it was either wait for Hunter to call him back or cut bait, leave the loot, and book it.


He’d thought about calling Hugo but, in the end, decided against it; while their Daddy was a big fan of boys with ingenuity, he didn’t like to get personally involved in the messier parts of their side projects. Hugo had told the boys about a hundred times that any extra-curricular activities they chose to engage in weren’t his problem and he didn’t want to know about any of it. If they were lucky enough to make a score, he would happily hook them up with a reliable fence, but that was the furthest he’d stick his neck out. That way, if one of his boys got nabbed, Hugo couldn’t be collared as an accessory. The boys, who were mostly underage, would probably get off with a stint in juvie or, at most, a misdemeanor theft charge. But Hugo had a record of his own and would likely do some hard time if he was fingered, so he made sure that the boys never involved him in any traceable way. And a call to Hugo from the mark’s phone was definitely traceable, so Tristan decided not to risk it.


While he was waiting for Hunter to call him back, though, Tristan got bored. Since he was planning on bugging out before the end of the day, there wasn’t any reason to pretend to do more of his double’s work. He was also pretty bushed after the late night at the club the evening before. That, coupled with the early morning call from Kinney, left him ready for a nap even though it was still mid-morning. So, since he didn’t have anything better to do until Hunter called him back, he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the edge of the desk. Ten minutes later he was snoring away.


Needless to say, he was a bit disconcerted when he was awakened, who knew how much later, by the slamming of the office door that he thought he’d locked. Tristan startled so much that the chair he’d been leaning back in fell over backwards. He ended up in a heap on the carpeting with the chair lying on its side next to him, its wheels spinning in the air. 


“Surprise, Sunshine! I came back early! Did you miss me?” a too-loud voice coming from somewhere behind him announced. 


Tristan groaned; only partly from the physical discomfort of falling on his ass.


“Justin? You okay down there?”


Tristan rolled over and looked up to find the absolute LAST person he wanted to see hovering over him. Shit! It was Kinney.


“What the fuck . . .” Tristan’s mouth voiced the complaint before he’d managed to rein in his scrambled brains. 


“You took the words right out of my mouth, Sunshine.” Kinney pronounced the nickname with a sarcastic exaggeration that instantly caused all the hairs on the back of Tristan’s neck to stand up. “So, I take it from your lack of enthusiasm, you’re not happy to see me?”


“Sorry, My Brian. I . . . Uh . . . You surprised me, is all, and . . . Uh . . . I didn’t think you were coming home until tomorrow . . .” Tristan’s mind was still reeling and the usually glib con artist was lost for words for once. 


Kinney didn’t say anything but he did offer a hand, as if to help the younger blond get up, and Tristan gratefully accepted the assist. While he was climbing to his feet and righting the chair, he mentally flailed around trying to grab hold of the pieces of his impersonation. The other morons had been one thing, but he didn’t think he could fool Kinney for long. Somehow, though, he had to come up with a way to salvage this con. He had to think, and fast. But with Kinney staring at him like that, he was finding it almost impossible. Think, Tristan, think!


“You’re right; I wasn’t planning to come home until tomorrow,” Kinney continued, chatting away with an amiable and relaxed air that was setting off Tristan’s internal alarm bells even more. “But I could tell from our phone calls how much you were missing me, Sunshine, so I just said ‘fuck it’ and blew off all my meetings so I could fly back here to you. You don’t seem happy about that, though. Don’t I get a kiss hello?” 


Kinney held his arms out wide as if inviting Tristan in for an embrace, however there was a sour note to the smile and all his words dripped with insincerity. Tristan was in full panic mode by that point. The only words going through his head were, ‘shit, shit, shit’. Instead of moving into his supposed boyfriend’s arms, he looked around the tiny little office trying to find a means of escape. But there was no way out; Kinney was between him and the only door. 


“That’s what I thought,” Kinney spoke again, his fake smile now turned into a most definite frown and his glance turning hard. Tristan made as if to get to his feet but Kinney reached out with one hard as granite hand and pushed him back into his seat. “I had to see it for myself . . . I guess I was just too distracted by the last minute trip and the new client and everything else to pick up on all the warning signs at first. I mean, everything was pointing to the fact that SOMETHING wasn’t right, but it didn’t click until this morning. When I heard that Gus wouldn’t go to you, I just knew . . . I just knew.” 


Kinney leaned forward, placing one of his hands over each of Tristan’s wrists so the younger man’s arms were pinned to the chair and leaned in until his face was mere inches away from his frightened prisoner. Tristan didn’t even try to struggle. Over Kinney’s shoulder he could see the door opening and now both Ms. Thang and Mr. Desperation were looking in. There was no way for him to escape. The jig was up. Tristan knew he was one hundred percent fucked. 


“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?” Kinney screamed, little gobbets of spittal hitting Tristan in the face. Tristan turned his head to the side and bit his lip to try and quell the rising hysteria inside. “Look at me, damn it! LOOK AT ME!” Tristan obeyed and was shocked at the feral look on the usually urbane man’s countenance. “Start talking, damn it! What the fuck have you done with Justin? If you’ve hurt him in any way, I swear I’ll beat your ass so hard you’ll beg me to let you die. Now tell me: WHERE. IS. HE!”


“I don’t . . . I don’t know what . . . What you’re talking about, My Brian . . .” Tristan stuttered, still desperate to find a way to fix things.


Kinney let go of one wrist so he could pinch Tristan’s jaw, the grip so strong that the fingers dug into the muscles of his cheeks. “Don’t fuck with me! And don’t use his words. I know you’re not Justin, so just give it up already.” 


Tristan still didn’t say anything, mostly because he didn’t know what to say, but that seemed to infuriate Kinney even more. 


“You do look a lot like him - I can see how you would have fooled my friends - but you can’t fool me.” Kinney used the hand on his jaw to turn Tristan’s face to the side. “This dimple right here . . .” He turned the boy’s head the other direction. “Should be on the other cheek.” He let go of Tristan’s jaw and lifted up the blond’s left hand. “This scar on your wrist . . . Yeah, my Sunshine doesn’t have any scars; his skin is fucking perfect, except for the little break in his left eyebrow where he said his mother threw a ceramic mug at him when he was ten . . .” It was clear that Kinney was looking at Tristan’s brow where there wasn’t any such scar. “And, unless you found some magic tonic or something, there’s no way your hair could have grown a full inch in the two days I’ve been gone . . . Nope. You’re a close copy, but I want the fucking original. So, you better start talking. Because, if you don’t tell me where Justin is in the next ten seconds, I’m going to start channelling my abusive Irish father and, after that, all bets are off . . .”


“I don’t . . .” Tristan started, only to be immediately cut off.


“WHERE. IS. JUSTIN!” Kinney screamed again.


“I don’t know,” Tristan rushed to answer him before that threat in the hazel eyes fully materialized. “I really don’t. I swear!” Kinney lifted his hand as if to backhand the captive, causing Tristan to cringe. “I promise, I don’t know where he is! I really don’t. The last time I saw him was at that school he goes to; Allegheny Community College. As far as I know, he’s fine.” All three of the faces staring at him looked skeptical so he hurried on with his explanation. “I swear by everything that’s holy, I didn’t do anything to him. I don’t know where he is but I’m sure he’s fine . . .” 


Kinney actually growled at him then and Tristan knew it was hopeless to try and evade any longer. If he didn’t come clean, Kinney was going to beat the crap out of him. He’d seen that look enough times in the past - on the faces of his foster fathers or Hugo or a couple of the more violent tricks - and knew he was toast. His only hope was to try and talk himself out of the beating he knew was imminent.


“Look, it’s not my fault. I didn’t plan this or anything. I was just following him . . .” Okay, maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say, seeing as it raised another growl from his interrogator. “I saw you and Justin at Babylon the other night and I was curious. I mean, it’s not every day you meet your fucking double, right? So, I asked around about you guys and started following him to try and find out what the deal was. I thought . . . I don’t know . . . I guess I wanted to know more about him so I could figure out why we looked so much alike. So, then, I was waiting for him outside ACC on Tuesday - I’d decided to try and talk to him and, like, introduce myself and all - when your friend, the Brunet Guy, came up to me and practically dragged me into this honkin’ huge town car and carted me off to his store with him. He said he was taking me to his house and I was going to stay over for the night because you were out of town and . . . I don’t know . . . I guess I just thought it might be nice to have a safe place to stay for a couple nights, you know? So I didn’t say anything and I sorta just let him think I was Justin. But I didn’t mean anything bad by it; I just wanted a few days of good meals and a comfortable bed . . .”


Kinney huffed an aggravated breath, letting go of Tristan so he could run his hands through his hair. His expression had changed from furious anger to outright fear. Tristan thought it was a good sign that maybe the guy believed him. At least a little bit. 


But then it all fell apart when Kinney shook his head, looking away from Tristan for the first time, and his wandering eyes landed instead on the big black duffel bag that was only partially hidden, sitting on the floor, under the edge of the drafting table. Tristan had unzipped the bag earlier in order to rifle around inside and find his doppelgängers phone. Apparently, he’d neglected to close it back up afterwards, meaning that the contents were now fully visible. And, lying right there on top, were Kinney’s fancy gold watch and Brunet Guy’s tablet computer, with Kinney’s carved wooden stash box visible below the other items.


“It was all just a simple misunderstanding, huh?” Kinney hooked the toe of his fancy designer loafer through one of the handles of the duffle bag and pulled it out from under the table so that everyone could see. “A case of mistaken identity? And you’re just a poor innocent caught up in this mess against your will . . . So, I suppose, all this stuff you apparently stole out of my apartment, just magically ended up under your desk too? It walked out of the loft and got here on its own, perhaps? Or is that just another misunderstanding?”


Tristan wiped all expression off his face and clamped his mouth shut tight. He knew the drill. ‘You have the right to remain silent’, and all that shit. No sense incriminating himself any further.


“Fuck this! I don’t have time to waste on this piece of shit,” Kinney growled. Without looking away from Tristan, his arms crossed over his chest, the outraged man barked out an order to the two employees still hovering in the doorway. “Ted, call the police and tell them Justin’s been kidnapped. We’ll let them deal with this. And, Cynthia, alert building security that we need them up here to take custody of this asshole until the police arrive.”


“Kidnapping? I didn’t fucking kidnap anyone. That’s bullshit!” Tristan exclaimed, even more panicked than before when he realized they were going to try to pin a felony on him. His outburst caused both Ted and Cynthia to pause, waiting to hear more before they left to go carry out their boss’ directives. All three inquisitors turned to face Tristan as when he attempted again to explain himself. “I told you, I don’t know where your blond is and I didn’t do anything to hurt him.”


“Forgive me if I don’t believe a single fucking word out of the mouth of the guy who’s been impersonating my boyfriend for the past two days and who was also in the process of ripping me off,” Kinney spat. “I’m sure the cops can beat the truth out of you though.”


“I did not kidnap anyone!”


“Yeah, well then, where THE FUCK is he?” Kinney was back to yelling at him again.


“How the hell should I know?” Tristan yelled back, finally reaching his own boiling point. “For all I know he’s still back at that school. Or maybe he went home and is waiting for you in that fancy loft of yours.”


“No, he’s not. Nobody has seen Justin since Tuesday. I spent the entire flight back from Chicago calling and texting everyone I could think of and the real Justin is still MIA,” Kinney insisted adamantly. “Besides, what you’re saying makes no sense. If what you claim is true, and Justin is out there somewhere, just fine, then why hasn’t anyone heard a single word from him for two damn days? Why didn’t he call when he realized Simon wasn’t waiting for him after class? Why didn’t he call when I never showed up at home Tuesday night after work? Explain that, huh?” 


Tristan pulled his double’s phone out of his pocket and held it up as evidence. “He didn’t call because the stupid idiot left his phone in the fucking town car. Brunet Guy gave it to me when he mistook me for Justin. Which, if you thought about it, you already knew, because you’ve been calling me and texting me on it over and over and over again for the past two days. Duh!”


“Shit!” Kinney was forced to concede that point. “Fine. But, still, that doesn’t explain where he is. After Mikey called me this morning, I sent him over to the loft to check and see if the real Justin was there but there’s no sign he ever made it home. Mikey said he didn’t think anyone had been in there since you guys stopped by on Tuesday.” Kinney viciously kicked at the duffle bag full of the evidence of what Tristan had ‘picked up’ at the loft. “Besides, even if he lost his phone, wouldn’t he have found some other way to call me? He had to have been freaked out when Simon wasn’t there to pick him up; he could’ve asked someone at the school to call me. Or, assuming he made it home some other way, when I didn’t show up that night he could’ve reached me using the landline. If he was able to, he would’ve called me, damn it! He would have come home if he could . . .”


It looked like Kinney was about to continue castigating Tristan some more when the phone the sneak thief was still holding in his hand began to ring. Tristan immediately recognized the unidentified number that popped up on the screen but, before he could hit the button to decline the call, Kinney grabbed the device away from him. Placing a finger over his lips, warning the young blond not to say anything, the angry brunet tapped the green ‘accept’ button.


“Hello?” Kinney said, keeping his voice neutral.


“Uh, hey . . .” The caller was hesitant, obviously not recognizing the voice that had answered. “Is ‘Stan around? He left this number and said to call him back . . .”


Kinney looked at the blond, who hadn’t yet confessed his real identity and smirked. “Sure. He’s right here. Can I tell him who’s calling?”


“Yeah. Tell him it’s Hunter.”


Kinney held the device out in front of him, so that everyone would be able to hear, and hit the speaker button. “Your friend Hunter is returning your call . . . Stan.”


“Shit . . .” Tristan moaned, because the very last thing he needed right then was for his potential accomplice to call and blab about their planned thievery.


“Yeah, you can say that again,” Hunter replied with an unamused laugh. “Shit is exactly what you’re in, dude. Deep shit, to be precise. What the fuck has gotten into you lately, man? You’re screwing up so bad it would be comical if I didn’t know how serious the beat down coming your way was gonna be.”


“Yeah, well, right now I have even more shit to take care of and I don’t have time to explain . . .” Tristan replied, trying to be as vague as possible and hoping to end the conversation more quickly that way. Unfortunately, Hunter seemed to be in a chatty mood. 

 

“Well you better find the time, Bro, because Hugo went fucking ballistic when you didn’t show up last night. I tried to warn you when I saw you at the club but you just blew me off. Hugo’s dead serious about putting you on skank rotation this time, Stan. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this pissed off. And that was even before Demarcus called up this morning and laid into him about whatever new stunt you pulled with this dog.”


“What the hell are you talking about, Hunter?” On top of worrying over Hugo’s threats, Tristan was now confused as well. “I haven’t crossed paths with Demarcus in, like, weeks. Remember, I told you how he was making moves on me and hinting he wanted me to leave Hugo and join his family? I’ve been avoiding him like the fucking plague ever since. Besides, I hate that fucking dog of his. It’s got a screw loose or something. No way would I have gone near that monster.”


“Uh, dude, what kinda drugs are you on and why aren’t you sharing?” Hunter laughed as if he thought his buddy’s troubles were some big joke. “We all went over to Demarcus’ place together on Tuesday night and I saw you petting that dog with my own two eyes, man.”


“I think you’re the one who’s stoned, Hunt. I’ve been working on this other project all week; that’s why I haven’t been home and, I assume, why Hugo’s so pissed off at me,” Tristan insisted. “And I didn’t touch Demarcus’ dog last night either. I was hanging with those guys you saw me with at Babylon until late and then we all went straight back to their place. So, if somebody’s been messing with that monster dog of Demarcus’ it sure as fuck hasn’t been me.”


“I don’t know what to say, Stan. If that wasn’t you, then there’s got to be some other little blond hottie that looks just like you wandering around the city messing with Hugo’s circuit . . .” Hunter replied, still sounding amused, as if he was used to his friend pulling similar stunts.


Of course, the words ‘some other little blond’ immediately got Brian’s attention and he butted into the conversation. “You saw another blond? Where? When?”


“Stan? Who’s that with you?” Hunter was immediately wary. 


“Hang on a sec, Hunter. I’ll be right back.” Tristan reached over and hit the mute button on the phone that Brian was holding. “I think, maybe, your blond has been playing in my sandbox while I was here in yours, Kinney. But I think I can help you find him, if you promise not to call the cops on me . . .”

 

 

End Notes:

4/12/21 - Yay! Brian’s back and he’s off to find HIS blond! Now to wrap up this story, which shouldn’t have taken nearly this long to write (damn COVID pandemic distracting me...) I think there’s only one more chapter left, but don’t hold me to that in case I get caught up in the reunion scene and can’t fit it all in... TAG

Chapter 20 - Among Others by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

This is the chapter you've all been waiting for! Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 20 - Among Others.



After riding the bus for what seemed like hours and hours, Justin finally got off the first moment he glimpsed a location he recognized. As soon as the bus glided to a stop next to the big plaza where he’d spent the prior day drawing pictures, he jumped up out of his seat and ran to the exit door. He didn’t even stop to say goodbye to the driver - which was a newer driver than the one who’d let him on, since that one had traded places with a different driver about halfway through the route - because he was still a little angry at the fact the first driver had let him get on the bus going the wrong way. But anyway, he was tired of riding the bus by that point and all the fun of the interesting new mode of transportation had long since worn off, so he was glad to get back on solid ground again, even though he was disappointed that he hadn’t found his way back to Brian yet. He knew he was close though. And he might even try the bus again. Later. For the moment, though, he was frustrated and hungry and just needed a break. He decided to give himself an hour or so and then he’d go back to finding his Brian. 


In the meantime, however, his first order of business was to find himself some lunch. It was long past noon and all he’d had for breakfast was some toast. His stomach was telling him that wasn’t nearly enough. But, since he’d given all his money away the night before, and used the money his Cat Lady had given him for the unproductive bus ride, he couldn’t just go out and buy himself some lunch. The fact that he’d made it back to the plaza where he’d spent the prior afternoon, though, had given him an idea.


Making his way over to the spot on the sidewalk where he’d attempted to panhandle the day before, Justin sat himself down and pulled out his drawing pad. He figured he could draw a few more pictures and, hopefully, earn enough to pay for a hot dog from the little cart on the other side of the plaza. All he had to do was find a customer or two.


His fortunes seemed to finally be turning around, thank goodness, because just as he was getting settled the Nice Lady from the day before - the one who’d suggested that he draw instead of beg for money - came over to say hello. “I didn’t expect to find you back here so soon,” Ms. Lady said, giving him a huge smile of welcome. “But I’m glad to see you. My fiance loved that portrait you did of me. It turned out so great, that I was thinking maybe I could get another one to give to my mother for her birthday next week. Would you be interested in doing another drawing of me?”


“I’d love to!” Justin enthused, digging through his trusty messenger bag to find his colored pencils. “How about, this time, I do one for you in color? I think your mother would like that, don’t you?”


The Nice Lady was thrilled by that idea and immediately agreed to pay him double the price for a colored picture. So Justin set her up on a nearby bench in front of some colorful flowers and set to work on his next masterpiece. While he drew, they chatted, and Justin brought her up to date on his bus adventures. Even with adding some extra details and embellishing it with color, though, it didn’t take him that long to finish the piece, which he handed off to his customer with a flourish. 


Ms. Lady was even more impressed with this portrait than the last and gladly gave him the $20 they’d agreed to. She also gave him her business card, telling Justin that her sister-in-law was the manager at a local art gallery, and hinting that they might be interested in seeing more of his work once he’d found his way home again and could produce all the other drawings and paintings he’d told her he had stashed back at His Brian’s loft. 


After the Nice Lady left to return to work, Justin took the money she’d given him and bought himself two hot dogs, along with three bags of chips and two sodas - he was THAT hungry - and returned to the bench to devour his feast while pondering his next steps in the quest to get unlost.


While he was thinking things through, Justin tried his best not to get all panicky and worried again, because that wouldn’t help him find Brian. He knew he had to approach this logically; even though logic was not his strong point. But there had to be some way he could figure this out on his own, right?



“Trey said he saw you - I mean, the other you - hanging around with Crazy Bertha yesterday afternoon,” Hunter explained as he led the way down the block with Tristan and Brian following closely on the boy’s heels. “So, if Bertha follows her usual route, she should probably be somewhere around Steel Plaza about this time of day.”


“Who the fuck is Crazy Bertha?” Brian asked, not liking the idea of his Sunshine spending time in the company of someone commonly referred to as ‘crazy’. 


“Everybody knows Bertha,” Tristan scoffed at the man’s lack of savvy. “She’s this weird old shopping cart lady who wanders around town digging through the trash. I have no idea what she does with all the crap she collects. She’s constantly babbling crazy shit at anyone who’ll listen, but I guess she’s mostly harmless.”


The little group rounded the corner, coming up to the dock area behind the BNY Mellon Center, and Hunter announced, “Yeah. Just like I said. There she is.” He pointed to where this stooped, little old lady was pulling a battered suitcase with one side caved in out of the dumpster, and they all trooped over in that direction. “Hey, Betha. How’s the dumpster diving going today?” 


“Looks like they lost all my luggage again,” Bertha responded, holding up the empty suitcase for their inspection. “Next time, I’ll go to the Bahamas instead, I think. I like those little rum drinks, you know? The ones with the umbrellas. Those are nice . . .” 


The woman shifted some items on the bottom shelf section of her shopping cart so there was room to add her newly found suitcase to the rest of the junk there. 


“Uh, yeah, rum is good, I suppose,” Hunter replied while looking at his buddy and rolling his eyes. “Hey, Bertha, we’re looking for someone you were hanging around with yesterday. A blond kid. Looks like Stan?” Hunter pointed to his friend and Tristan smiled. “Have you seen someone like that around here today?”


Bertha pointed at Tristan and gave them all a ‘you think I’m the crazy one’ look. 


“No, lady, we’re looking for another kid - my boyfriend - he looks a lot like Stan, here, but different,” Brian tried to interpret. 


“Someone who looks like you but isn’t you?” Bertha looked confused. “But, why aren’t you, you? Did you get lost again?”


“It’s not me that got lost, lady,” Tristan replied, already getting a little fed up with the conversation and unsure whether or not they were getting anywhere. “It’s the other kid that looks like me that got lost. Just tell us if you’ve seen him around today. Okay?”


“Nope. I ain’t seen any fairy godmothers around today, I don’t think. Maybe Fang has, though. Lemme ask her,” Bertha suggested, lifting up the blanket that was draped over the top of her shopping cart and whispering to something moving around inside. “You seen the Fairy Godmother, Baby? You remember - the little cutie pie who gived you the pizza? No? Hmmmm. Me neither.” Then she let the blanket fall back into place and turned to look at the group of waiting men. “Sorry, Boys, but Fang hasn’t seen you today. Then again, she’s been too busy with all my grandbabies. They sure do eat a lot, you know. Course, that’s cuz they ain’t really cats, but possums, you know. Possums eat a lot mor’n cats. But at least it's not tapeworms, right?”


“Uh, okay . . .” Hunter and Tristan started to back away from the woman, who clearly wasn’t operating on all four cylinders. “Thanks anyway, Bertha.”


“Hey, did you check over at Third Street Baptist?” Bertha yelled after the retreating group. “He really seemed to like the macaroni ‘n cheese, even though I told him the tuna casserole at St. Agnes’ was better. Course, that’s only on Fridays.”


That caused Brian to pause. “Third Street Baptist? Where’s that?” he asked the woman who was already starting to push her car in the other direction. 


“It’s this church that has a soup kitchen,” Tristan explained, tugging on Brian’s sleeve to try and get the man moving. “But it’s not open on Thursdays so there’s no use going there to look for your boy.”


Brian yanked his arm out of the youth’s grasp and started off down the alley after Bertha. “Even though she was babbling, I seemed like she might have seen Justin. Maybe we should keep trying to talk to her?” By that point, though, the bag lady had already pushed her cart around the far corner of the building, heading in the direction of Steel Plaza. 


“I doubt you’ll get anything out of her,” Hunter groused as he trotted to catch up to the tall brunet with the long legs. “At least nothing that would make any sense.”


Tristan, though, was already trying to think up some other way to find his blond twin. The deal he’d made with Kinney had been that, if he helped find Justin, and ‘Sunshine’ was returned in one piece, no criminal charges would be filed against Tristan. Kinney had made it clear, though, if Justin wasn’t home by nightfall, then all bets were off and he’d personally haul Tristan’s ass off to the closest police station. The wily con artists didn’t doubt Kinney’s determination either, so he was going to try his ultimate best to find the other kid and thereby save his ass. Which meant, if Bertha couldn’t help them find Justin, they’d have to come up with some other lead. Which was why he was scrambling to come up with another way to trace the missing look-alike even as he shambled after Kinney who, in turn, was intent on following Bertha. 


“Maybe we should call Trey back and see where else he mighta seen the kid?” Tristan yelled after the retreating backs of his fellow Justin-hunters. “Or . . . Wait, did Demarcus say where it was that the thing with the dog happened? We could try tracking him down from there . . . What do you think, Hunter? Would that work?”


“I didn’t talk to the man, Stan. I only got the story secondhand from Hugo, and only then because Daddy was screaming fit to be tied about how he was gonna kill you for crossing him up with Demarcus,” Hunter explained. “I don’t know where that shit went down.”


“We could ask Demarcus, I guess . . .”


That suggestion seemed to amuse Hunter to no end. “Seriously, dude? Do you think Demarcus is going to talk to the guy who sicked his own dog on him and sent him to the hospital to get twenty-five stitches? Apparently, you have no concept of how extremely pissed off that man is. Hell, Stan, if you think you can get within a mile of Demarcus and not get your ass capped, you’re delusional.” 


“Well, I don’t hear YOU coming up with any other fucking ideas,” Tristan griped with a growl of frustration. 


“Ha!” Hunter burst out laughing and stopped dead in his tracks. Directing his companions’ attention across the plaza to where a small group of businessmen and women in suits were huddled around a bench, he asked, “how about we just go ask him?”


As one, all three heads turned to look in the same direction. At first there didn’t appear to be anything important to see, but then the crowd shifted enough that you could tell they were all gathered around a figure seated on one of the benches that lined the plaza. And, sitting on that bench in the fall sunshine, his sketch pad propped up on one knee, his attention focused on whatever he was drawing, was the very boy they’d been furiously traipsing all over the city trying to locate. 


“JUSTIN!” Brian screamed so loudly that every head in the vicinity swivelled to look at him. Kinney didn’t wait for his quarry to respond before he broke into a sprint across the intervening space, dropping to his knees in front of the little blond artist smiling at him from his perch on the bench. “Fuck! Justin! Finally!” 


“Hello, My Brian!” Justin sighed and reached out with both hands, looking a bit like a toddler begging to be hugged. 


Kinney wasn’t about to object. He reached up and gathered the once-missing blond in his long arms, pulling the boy off the bench into his lap. Then he began kissing the fuck out of the kid until they were both absolutely breathless. 


“Shit, Justin! What the fuck happened? Where the hell have you been?” Brian asked, in between kisses. “I was so fucking worried . . .”


“I’m sorry, Just Brian. I didn’t mean to worry you. I was too busy being worried myself. See, I got a little lost and I didn’t know how to find you . . .”


That statement threw Bryan into a tizzy all over again and Justin‘s further explanations were cut off as the worried boyfriend seized his blond’s lips in another frantic kiss. Justin was kissing back almost as frenziedly though. They may have gone on like that for quite a bit longer, too, if they hadn’t been interrupted by the two boys who’d been helping Brian search for his now-found boyfriend.


“So, we square now, Kinney?” Tristan asked hopefully.


“No fucking way. Not until Justin confirms your story that you weren’t involved in him going missing,” Brian maintained, shifting Justin off his lap so he could get up and reseat himself on the bench, with his boyfriend in place beside him. “Justin, meet Tristan.” Brian gestured from one blond to the other, causing Justin to stare in disbelief at what seemed like a mirror image. “Tristan has been masquerading as you for the last two days. Which is why nobody knew you were missing. Otherwise, we would’ve come looking for you a lot sooner, Sunshine. He claims it was all a mistake, and he had nothing to do with your temporary disappearance, but I want to hear that from you before I let our little impersonator here go free.”


“Why does that boy look like me?” Justin asked with amazement. “Oh wait! Is this like in that movie I saw one time - I think it was called Freaky Friday - where two people got switched into different bodies? Do I look different? Am I in his body while he’s in mine? Wait, I don’t think I look different,” he insisted, feeling his face with his fingers to try and ascertain whether or not he’d unknowingly changed shapes somehow.


“No, Sunshine, you still look like you. I’m pretty sure there hasn't been any body swapping involved here,” Brian insisted, grabbing hold of the flailing hands and holding them both in his own. “But that’s a good question; why DO the two of you look so much alike?”


“Uh, sorry to cut in,” a strange voice diverted Brian’s attention for a moment and he looked up to see the crowd of suits still standing around as witnesses to their reunion. One of them, an older man with silver hair who was actually a bit of a fox despite his age, was leaning in closer than the others. “Any chance you’re going to finish that portrait I already paid you for? Cuz, if not, I need to get back to work and . . .” The man was pointing to a small pile of bills that were peeking out from under Justin’s bag. 


“Oh, right! Of course I’ll finish your drawing, Mr. Businessman,” Justin immediately sat up and smiled winningly at his customer while picking up his sketch pad again. “I’m sorry I got distracted, but this is My Brian. You know, the one I was telling you about; the one you should hire to do the advertising for your money business. Cuz, Kinnetik is really good at advertising stuff, and I do all the drawing for My Brian, so if you like this drawing as much as you were saying, you could make a deal with Brian and then you could get me to draw all your ads and then you’d make tons and tons of new money, just like all Brian’s other clients are doing.” He must have been almost done before Brian and his two assistants had arrived because it only took Justin a couple more minutes - while he jabbered on, extolling the many virtues of Kinnetik Advertising - before he finished the drawing. “There you go; all done!” He held the portrait up to show off how good a likeness it was. “I told you I was a real artist - not like before when I was only pretending to be an artist when I met Ms. Simone - I’m even going to artist school to get a real artist degree. Except, I think I missed class this afternoon already. I hope my teacher won’t be too mad at me . . .”


“Actually, that’s not bad,” the businessman who’d been the subject of the drawing admitted. “Not bad at all.” The man took a business card out of his jacket pocket and held it out to Brian. “If you’re as good as this young man says, I’d love to talk to you further. My COO was just saying the other day how we needed to look for a new advertising firm. Give me a call later this week and we’ll talk.”


Brian pocketed the card and nodded to the man. “Sounds good,” he replied but then immediately turned his attention back to the boy artist. “Are you ready to go home now, Sunshine? I’ve got two days of missing you to make up for.”


Just sighed dramatically. “I missed you too, my Brian. So much.” Then he looked at all the people still waiting in the plaza. “But I can’t leave now. All these people were waiting for me to draw their pictures. And some of them even came back from when I got too tired to draw yesterday.”


“Sunshine . . .”


“I’ll draw fast, Brian. Really, really fast. I promise.” Justin made an X across his heart with his index finger to seal the vow. 


“Well, I’m not waiting while you fart around drawing pictures for fuck knows how long,” Tristan complained with a frown.


“I wouldn’t be in such a hurry if I were you,” Brian commented, shooting a menacing grin Tristan’s way. “It sounds to me like you’re in a pile of shit with this Hugo guy. You might as well stick around until Justin has cleared you. Then at least you won’t have to deal with pending criminal charges against you as well as an angry pimp riding your ass.” Kinney waved his hand in Justin‘s direction, indicating he should proceed with his drawing. “Do what you gotta do, Sunshine, but talk while you’re drawing.”


Which is precisely what Justin did for the next hour or so while he drew one portrait after another for his waiting customers. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story he was telling was almost as good as his artwork, resulting in the majority of his audience sticking around even after their portraits were completed. If anything, the crowd grew while Justin was telling his tale of woe, starting from that afternoon when he’d come out of class, missed his ride home, fallen into the street, hit his head, and woke up in the hospital. If Brian hadn’t known Justin so well - and his penchant for finding adventure no matter where he went - he might not have believed everything he was hearing. But, of course, a tale that fantastical couldn’t possibly be made up.


“. . . So then I got tired of riding the bus, and I was hungry, so I got off and started drawing pictures so I could get enough money to buy lunch. I was gonna try to get unlost again after lunch. Only, all these people that had seen me here yesterday came back and they all wanted pictures too, so I kept drawing them. And that’s when you and Skinny Boy and Freaky Friday Boy found me,” Justin finished his story and glanced up at his spellbound audience. “But that doesn’t explain why you showed up here with that boy who has my same face, Brian, or why he was pretending to be me while I was busy being lost. I don’t understand that part at all.”


“I don’t either, Sunshine,” Brian had to agree. “Even if he wasn’t directly responsible for you going missing, though, something about this just doesn’t add up. I think we might still want to get the police to look into what, exactly, is going on here . . .” 


“Hey! You said if I found your missing boyfriend for you, you’d let me go!” Tristan insisted, gesturing to where Justin was sitting as evidence that he’d fulfilled his part of the bargain. “Well, here he is - just fine - exactly as I predicted. Which means we’re done and I’m out of here . . .” 


“Wait! You can’t go back there,” Justin pleaded. “I think, maybe, I kinda messed things up with you with the Big Angry Man and, unless you have a whole lot of money with you when you go back there, he’s gonna think you’re me, and be angry, and Skinny Boy said he would do bad things to your rear end, and I would feel really bad if that happened because of you and me getting mixed up cuz we look alike.”


“He’s not wrong, Stan,” Hunter agreed. “I’ve never seen Hugo as pissed off as he was this morning after Demarcus called. I wouldn’t go home yet if I was you. If you show up now, dude, he’s not going to wait long enough for you to explain what happened before he starts in on you. I say, give Daddy at least a day or two to cool down. Then - maybe - he’ll hold off on your beating long enough for you to try and tell him your side of it.” 


“You should listen to Skinny Boy,” Justin echoed the other boy’s admonition. “My Brian says to always listen to your gut, and my gut says that Big Angry Man isn’t a nice person. Especially when he’s in a bad mood. Although, to be honest, I never saw him when he WASN’T in a bad mood, so who knows.”


“Well, there’s one problem with that suggestion, Sunshine,” Tristan grumbled, shuffling his feet anxiously as he spoke. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. So, it’s either go back to Hugo, or . . . I don’t know . . . Flee the country? Although, if I try to cut and run, he’s going to be even more pissed off and I’ll probably end up dead so . . . Fuck it.”


“No problem,” Justin spoke up as if he’d already solved that particular problem. “You’ll just have to come back to the loft and stay with me and Brian until we can figure out how to make the Big Angry Man leave you alone. And how to fix all the problems us two being mixed up caused. And why you have my same face.”


“Justin . . .” Brian began to object but his blond cut him off.


“Please, Brian? It’ll just be until we figure out why Freaky Friday Boy and I got ourselves all confused. Because I can’t let him go back to that Big Angry Man wearing my face. It’s just too confusing and it’s sorta my fault he’s going to be in trouble. I can’t do that. I can’t have him getting in trouble because of me.” 


Kinney looked back and forth between the two identical blonds for a minute or so before his shoulders slumped and you could see he’d already capitulated. “Fine. But if he tries to steal even one measly paperclip, I’m calling the cops this time for real.”


“Thank you, My Brian. I’m sure Freaky Friday Boy will be on his best behavior. Right, Friday?” Tristan rolled his eyes but didn’t argue the point. Justin clearly assumed everything was a done deal and went back to concentrating on his drawing for another thirty seconds or so before dropping his pencil back in the bag at his feet and tearing out the page he’d been working on. “Okay. I’m done.” He handed the portrait off to the woman who’d been modelling for him and accepted the $10 she paid him. “Can we go home now, Brian?” 


“Definitely,” Brian concurred, getting to his feet and pulling Justin up after him. He looked around the bench area but didn’t see anything they needed to take with them other than Justin’s messenger bag. “Shit, Justin. Have you been walking around the city for two days without any shoes on this whole time?” The shoe-hating youth shrugged. “It’s a wonder your feet aren’t torn to shreds. But at least we don’t have far to go; my car is at the office and it’s only about four blocks away. You can make that far, right?” Justin smiled and nodded. “So, you do realize, don’t you, that if you’d just stayed on the 61 bus for one more stop, you would’ve driven right past Kinnetik’s offices? Then you would’ve found us instead of having to wait around here for us to find you, Twat.”


“That’s okay. I don’t care who found who as long as I’m not lost anymore,” Justin smiled up at his rescuer with obvious adoration as Brian started to lead him away. “All I want to do is go home with you and get a shower and then do some boyfriend things, because I really missed you, My Brian, like, a whole lot, and I missed doing our boyfriend things a bunch too, you know? And watching Skinny Boy and those other kids doing boyfriend things with their friends made me feel like I missed you even more. And then, after all the boyfriend things I want to do to you, I want to go to the Diner and eat the biggest hamburger ever, because those two hot dogs I had for lunch weren’t really enough and my tummy is still kinda empty. And then we can go back to the loft and do even more boyfriend things, and . . . Oh, wait!” Justin froze in place, pulling Brian to a halt as well. “I almost forgot. I have to go get Boss first. I promised the Cat Lady I’d come back and get him as soon as I found you.”


“Boss? The dog?” Brian asked, sounding afraid of the answer he expected.


“Uh huh! You’re going to love him, My Brian. He’s such a sweet little puppy. And so snuggly. And I bet Gus is going to be super excited to have a pet!” He dug into his bag and pulled out a piece of paper, holding it out to his boyfriend. “Here. I made my Cat Lady write down her address so I could find her again once I got unlost.”


“But . . . But, Justin . . . A dog . . . I don’t think I’m ready for a dog . . .” Brain grumbled and looked around himself as if searching for someone to help him get out of his impending pet ownership.


“You weren’t ready for me either,” Justin reasoned, tugging on his boyfriend’s hand until he got the larger man moving again. “And look how good that turned out. So, come on. Let’s go get our new puppy, Just Brian!

 

 

 

End Notes:

4/14/21 - Darn! I was really hoping to end this one by Chapter 20. But there are still way too many loose ends to tie up. So I guess you get one more chapter? At least the boys are now reunited! Yay! But, however is Brian going to cope with his new puppy? LOL. Hope you enjoyed. TAG

Chapter 21 - Untwine by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

Psych! You thought this would be the last chapter - so did I - but we were both wrong! LOL. Enjoy anyway. TAG


Chapter 21 - Untwine.



It wasn’t as easy to get Justin home as Brian had expected, unfortunately. 


First, they drove to the Cat Lady’s house to find Boss, but nobody was home except the cats who meowed at them through the windows of the screen porch. Boss was nowhere in sight either. Justin refused to go home without his puppy, though. After a little discussion, Justin hypothesized that maybe Xylia and Boss had gone to visit Patches at Vince The Vet’s clinic and Brian agreed to try there. 


With the help of the internet, Brian was able to track down a nearby Vet Clinic operated by a Dr. Vince Gupta, and Justin confirmed that was the correct place after identifying the vet’s picture on the website. So, with their street boy entourage in tow, they all headed over to see Patches. Tristan and Hunter seemed to find the interaction between Brian and Justin amusing in the extreme and, since neither was eager to go back to a Hugo who was probably still on the warpath, they were content to trudge along in Justin’s wake. When they all arrived at the vet clinic, Vince advised that he hadn’t seen Xylia that afternoon. He was, however, happy to report that Patches was doing much better. 


“Yeah, once we’d cleaned her up and washed off all the remaining chemicals that had been causing the irritation to her skin, she rallied pretty quickly,” Dr. Gupta assured them as he helped Justin take the pussy cat out of her cage so they could all pet her. “I’ve got her on antibiotics, which should clear up the infections, but other than that all she needs is a good home and regular feeding.”


“You hear that, Patches,” Justin cooed at the cat who was sitting quite happily in his lap. “You’re going to be just fine. And I’m sure you’ll like living with Ms. Cat Lady. She’s very nice.”


“Oh, I don’t think Xylia was planning on adopting this one too,” Vince The Vet corrected. “She’s already got a houseful. Besides, considering the infections this one is battling, I’d recommend keeping her separated from any other cats until she’s healed; some of these rashes might be the cause of something other than the chemicals she was doused in and, if so, I wouldn’t want it to spread.”


“But, where will she go then?” Tristan asked, petting at the patchy, sore-looking, little body. “You said she needed a good home . . .”


“Hopefully the local animal shelter will help find Patches a good home. Although,” Vince looked a little skeptical, “it might be difficult with her looking like that.” 


Everyone looked at the poor cat’s scabby fur and obvious injuries. 


“We can’t let poor Patches go to some shelter,” Justin stated, handing off the cat to his double. “Brian, can you pay Dr. Vince some of my money to pay for Patches’ care? I gave him the money I had last night but I think my Cat Lady probably owes him more than what I had from drawing pictures.”


“Wait . . . What?” Brian seemed blindsided by this new demand. 


“We can’t let Patches go to a shelter. She’s sick and needs a good home. We’ll have to take her home with us and Boss,” Justin announced as if it was already a done deal. 


“Justin . . . We don’t have room in the loft for all these animals,” Brian objected, although his protestations were noticeably weak. 


“Please, My Brian,” Justin pleaded, moving close enough so he could use his kisses to persuade the reluctant man. “Patches won’t be happy in some shelter where all the other kitties will get adopted and she won’t. We can take much better care of her.”


“But . . .”


“Brian . . .” Justin said just the one word, with a stern look added in for emphasis, and the Stud was toast.


“Fine . . .” Brian turned to Dr. Vince and asked. “How much do we owe you, Doc?”


Patches was loaded into a cardboard pet carrier which Tristan was given charge of and then the group moved on. Vince informed them that Xylia actually worked part time at a local pet supply store - mostly because, as an employee, she got a discount on the food and other supplies she used to care for her army of strays - and suggested they look for her there. Brian groaned at the additional side trip but knew it wasn’t going to do any good to complain. Besides, he seemed too happy at having recovered his blond to object to any of the youth’s demands and, instead, resigned himself to playing chauffeur. At least for the time being. So, the next stop was the local PetSet Supply store.


Happily, they found both their Cat Lady and their puppy there. 


The pet store had a doggy daycare and pet boarding service in-house and they’d been happy to let Xylia park Boss there for the day while she was working. Boss seemed to have made quite a few doggy friends. He was jubilant to see his person, though, and immediately abandoned all his canine playmates the second he heard his human’s voice. Justin was almost as happy to see Boss as he’d been to see Brian and immediately introduced the two. Brian didn’t really know what to do around a dog, as he’d never had a pet before, but Boss didn’t seem to care and licked the man who obviously smelled like his human, accepting him into the pack. It wasn’t quite so easy to get him to accept Tristan and Hunter, though, as the street boys had been taught to be leery of Demarcus’ attack dogs. Justin was determined, though, to make them all friends in the end. 


While Justin was introducing the Doberman puppy to his newfound friends, Brian managed to corner the pet store’s owner. “How much does the Cat Lady’s tab for feeding her strays come to?” he asked. 


“Well, we sell her the food at cost,” Manager Mike admitted. “But it still comes to almost $500 a month, depending on how often Xylia goes out. She tries to do more in the winter months when the ferals are less likely to be able to find food on their own.”


Brian didn’t hesitate to hand over his credit card. “Set her up an account on this. Whatever she needs, I’ll cover it.”


Xylia, who had just come up to see how everyone at the daycare was getting along, overheard and rushed to head Brian off. “I can’t let you do that, Mr. Kinney.” 


She tried to pluck the credit card out of Mike’s hand and return it to Brian, but he refused to take it. 


“Nonsense. I’m grateful that you took Justin in last night. If you hadn’t . . . I don’t know what might have happened to him. If he’d been forced to go back to the pimp who’d mistaken him as Stan, things might have turned out a lot worse. So, please, accept this as my way of paying you back.” Brian reached around the woman and made sure the manager had the card so he could go process it. “Besides, you know Justin will be demanding I do this anyway as soon as he’s done collecting his mutt.”


They both looked over at the three young blonds who seemed to be having the time of their lives playing ball toss with all the dogs and laughing together.


“He’s a special young man. I’ve never met anyone as kind as he is before,” Xylia stated, getting a nod and a smile from Brian.


“That he is . . .” Brian moved closer to the boys and spoke up more loudly. “You ready to go get something to eat, Sunshine? You did say before that you were hungry, right? How about we head over to the Diner so Debbie and the gang can see for themselves that you’re okay.”


Three voices yelled loudly enough to startle the dogs, “YAYYYYYY!”


The drive over to the Diner didn’t take very long. Justin was surprised at how close he’d been the whole time he was ‘lost’ to the section of Liberty Avenue he was familiar with. He’d been less than a dozen blocks away from home the whole time. Brian lectured him a little on the drive over about better observing his surroundings and repeating himself for the thousandth time about Justin needing to keep track of his cell phone and his shoes and all his other belongings. Justin promised again to try harder not to lose all his stuff. Brian just shook his head, knowing it was futile, and threatened to have a GPS tracking chip implanted into his backside so Justin couldn’t get lost again. In the end, Brian agreed to settle for forcing Justin to memorize his boyfriend’s cell phone number so the blond would at least remember that next time he needed to contact him. 


There was quite a reception awaiting the group when they arrived at the Diner. Brian had texted Deb to let her know he’d found Justin and they were on their way, so of course she’d called everyone. Michael & Emmett were there, along with both Ted and Cynthia. The girls had brought Gus as well and the little boy was scrambling desperately to get to his Jus the minute the lost boy walked through the door. They’d already cleared out three booths in anticipation of the arrival of Brian’s little harem and Justin received a standing ovation from his friends as he came through the entrance to the eatery. 


“Get your butt over here and give me a hug, Sunshine,” Debbie announced, her strident voice easily heard even over the welcome of all the others. And, after the hug, she added in a gentle slap to the back of the boy’s head “Don’t you EVER do shit like that again! We were worried sick about you.”


“Ouch!” Justin chirped


Brian pulled his boyfriend out of the woman’s clutches. “No hitting, Deb. He’s still recovering from a head injury. That’s how he got lost in the first place and I don’t want you giving him permanent brain damage or anything.”


Of course, that statement just led to multiple calls for Justin to tell the rest of his story. So, while Debbie rustled up food for all the boys, Justin seated himself in the middle booth, took Gus out of Lindsey’s arms and plopped the tyke down in his lap, and launched into the tale of his excellent adventures. Hunter chimed in every so often, adding nuances and joking about how crazy everyone thought ‘Stan’ had been acting. Tristan himself didn’t know how to react since he still felt a little guilty for deceiving all these people and didn’t know if they’d be pissed off at him, or what, so he didn’t contribute much. 


“I knew something wasn’t right,” Emmett commented when Justin had finally finished telling his story. “Right from the beginning. Baby just wasn’t acting like himself. But now it makes perfect sense. Baby wasn’t Baby at all.”


“The only thing I still don’t get,” Ted added, looking quizzically back and forth between the two almost identical blonds, “is how you two can look so much alike. I mean, despite the urban legends about how everyone has a double out there somewhere in the world, it’s statistically improbable that two people would look so similar and not be related. Is there something you haven’t told us about a long, lost twin, Justin.”


“I don’t think so,” Justin assured everyone, although even he looked a bit confused. “It was always just me and my mother as far back as I can remember . . . But my gut says that, maybe, there were a lot more secrets my mother kept from me than just that we had bunches of money from her dead father.” Justin pushed aside the remains of his dinner and turned towards Melanie to ask his next question. “Mel, did any of the papers from my dead mother say anything about this?”


Mel shook her head. “Sorry, Justin. You were the only grandchild listed on the estate paperwork. But, I guess it’s possible your grandfather, Walter, who set up the trust, might not have known about a second child if your mother didn’t tell him. Your mother and her father had been estranged for several years before the trust was set up and we know your mother wasn’t mentally competent for most of her adult life, so . . . I suppose anything’s possible.”


“You said something about growing up on the streets,” Brian commented to Tristan before asking, point blank, what they all really wanted to know. “Know anything about your birth parents?”


Tristan shook his head, his face screwing up as if even thinking about his past hurt him. “Nah. I don’t know anything, actually. I was abandoned as a baby and child services wasn’t ever able to locate my parents.” That factoid shut up everyone who’d been previously speculating, the faces around the table looking on with both pity and shock. Tristan sighed and rolled his eyes. “I was a really sick baby. The doctors said I was born with a hole in my heart and, while most of the time that kind of thing heals on its own, mine didn’t. I had four different surgeries before I was even five in order to fix it.” Tristan pulled aside the collar of his shirt so that those looking on could see the old, faded scars on his chest. “According to the social workers, my real mom apparently took me to the hospital when I was just an infant because I was turning blue or something and, when the doctors told her what the problem was, she just walked away and left me there. She’d used a fake name, so there was no way to trace her. And, because nobody wants to adopt a sick kid, I ended up in the foster system, which was . . . Not fun.”


“Shit, Stan. You never said anything about that,” Hunter spoke up first. “You always joked that the scars were from your first prison break, dude.”


“Yeah, well . . . I didn’t need everyone knowing my business. Besides, the doctors finally fixed my heart up as good as new, so it isn’t really a problem anymore,” Tristan insisted, blowing off any further sympathy. 


“What do you think, Sunshine,” Brian turned to ask his boyfriend. “You two certainly LOOK like you could be twins. And, judging by some of the crazy shit you’ve told me about your mother, it wouldn’t be totally out of character for her to walk away from one of her kids . . .”


“I don’t know,” Justin frowned as he delved back into some of the more painful memories of his childhood. “If the voices told her to do something - even if it was to abandon her baby - I don’t think she would have gone against them. At least not for long. But, even so, how would I not know about something like that? Wouldn’t she have said something about it? Wouldn’t I have known, somehow, deep down, that I had a brother out there somewhere?”


“Oh, come on,” Michael piped up from the far corner of the next booth over, where he’d been sitting and listening with a permanent scowl on his face. “This whole story seems a little far fetched, don’t you think? I mean, it’s bad enough that you seemed to have fallen for one blond freeloader, Brian, but now another one just HAPPENS to turn up? And this one is some street kid who was trying to con all of us so he could rob you blind? You’re not going to fall for this story too, are you? It sounds like something out of one of my comic books. A really poorly written comic book at that.”


“Mikey . . .” Brian began to object, but he was interrupted by a furious blond fury.


“No! You just stop that right now, Michael,” Justin insisted, his voice raised and his countenance exhibiting a ferocity most of the gang had never seen from the normally shy and quiet youth. “You don’t get to say mean things to Freaky Friday Boy or Skinny Boy! I don’t care what they did. You don’t know what horrible things their Daddy says to them or the things he tells them they have to do. I was there and I saw. They didn’t have a choice. He makes them do things that are not at all nice in order to bring him money and if they don’t give him enough money he threatens even meaner things.” Justin turned to face Brian, looking a little guilty. “I was so scared when I was there and Hugo thought I was Friday Boy. The other boys said I should have,” he stage whispered the word, “SEX,” then raised his voice to a normal speaking level, “with strange men, so I could get enough money for Hugo. I told them that I couldn’t do that - because I knew you wouldn’t like me to go off with other men - but they said if I didn’t, Hugo would do bad things to me.” Then he turned to face Michael again. “I don’t blame Friday for pretending to be me so he could get away from Hugo for a few days. I wouldn’t even care if he stole some of our money. I’d do the same thing if I was in his place. You don’t get to be mean to him for that because you don’t know what it was like there in the ‘Tarlight.”


Justin’s angry speech shut up Michael, as well as everyone else who’d been listening, including both Tristan and Hunter. Neither of the street boys had ever had anyone defend them like that. Most of the time, when people found out what they did, they’d get pity, at best, or scorn and revulsion, more likely. It did weird things to Tristan’s gut to have someone stand up for him for a change. It had been so long since anyone had cared for him or done anything nice for him. 


Before anyone else could say anything either way, though, Emmett spoke up. “I’m with Baby on this one, Michael. When I left Hazelhurst, Mississippi to find my own way in the world - without much more than the clothes on my back, I might add - I came this close,” he held his fingers up with the thumb and forefinger pinched together, “to falling in with someone a lot like this Hugo character. He bought me stuff and took me out to a fancy restaurant and promised me the world but . . . There was just something about the guy I knew I couldn’t trust, you know?” Several people sitting around the tables nodded. “Anyway, a few days later I met Godiva and she set me straight right away. Let’s just say, if I HAD gone off with that loser, I’d probably have ended up in the same boat as these two kids.” Em smiled at the hustlers, before continuing on with a sterner look on his face. “So, I get where you’re coming from, boys. But, that being said - just a warning - don’t mess with our Baby or you’ll regret it as much, or more, than you would have if you were dealing with your Hugo.”


“I already said I wasn’t going to press charges if Stan helped me find Justin,” Brian reassured the leery street boys, “and I’m not going back on the deal but, even so, I would still like to figure out the mystery of if and how you two are related.”


“You could always get DNA tests,” Mel suggested. “That would tell you for certain if you two are genetically related. Although that can take anywhere up to six weeks to get the results.”


“Yeah, um . . .” Brian looked over at his boyfriend’s mirror image and grimaced. “I don’t think we want to wait that long. Especially if Sunshine is determined that Tristan is going to stay with us at the loft until we know for sure what’s up . . .”


“Wait!” Justin shouted and stood up, almost toppling poor Gus, who’d fallen asleep on his favorite babysitter’s lap while the rest of the group was talking. “My mother’s box!”


“Box?” Ted asked for all of them.


“Yeah. She had this box that she kept hidden in the closet of her room,” Justin insisted, already pulling Tristan towards the door. “It has a lock on it and the one time she caught me playing with it she got really angry and yelled at me and told me not to ever touch it, but sometimes, when she was having a hard time with the voices, I would sneak in and watch her, and I saw her looking at stuff in the box and talking to it. There were papers in there. I never saw what the papers said, but maybe they were important papers?” Justin turned back to look at Brian, who was still waiting in the booth. “I know I said before that I didn’t want to go back there ever again, Just Brian, but I think we need to go look at mother’s box and see what secrets she was keeping.” 


 

 

End Notes:

4/18/21 - Damn it! I just can’t get this story to end. LOL. There were still too many loose ends to fit in this one chapter. Which means I guess you get one more... Enjoy! TAG

Chapter 22 - We’ll Never Be Apart by Tagsit
Author's Notes:

The final chapter! Yay!!!! HEA awaits. Enjoy! TAG



Chapter 22 - We’ll Never Be Apart.



Brian had only been to the small, unassuming, drab-green, craftsman-style house one time before; a couple weeks after they’d returned from their cross-country RV trek. Justin had only gone there because he wanted to retrieve some of his clothing and a few personal objects. Neither of them had enjoyed the experience. 



The entire time they’d been in the house, Justin had acted like he was afraid of his own shadow. Brian hated thinking of his effervescent blond, full of so much life, growing up in such a stifling atmosphere. It didn’t help much that the interior of the house was cluttered and dark, with all the windows covered by thick cardboard taped to the window frames, the paint on the walls faded to grey, and the old shag carpeting matted and stained. It was a fetid, depressing prison, and he didn’t blame Justin for saying he never wanted to return.


In the intervening months, Brian had used some of Justin’s trust money to pay for a cleaning service to come over and give the place a thorough cleaning. He’d also paid a gardening service to come spruce up the exterior and keep the lawn mowed. So, when they arrived on Thursday evening, the place actually looked a lot better than it ever had before. Justin almost didn’t recognize his childhood home, it was that transformed just by the minimal maintenance that had been done. That being said, there were still a lot of unpleasant memories associated with the place, so it was understandable that Justin was a bit jumpy as Brian unlocked the front door for his crew. The other two boys, however, were unaffected; they seemed interested in exploring, running off down the hall to check out the ground floor rooms and peek into all the closets. Meanwhile, Justin led Brian upstairs to the cramped little bedroom that had been his mother’s sanctuary. 


This room had been one of the places Justin associated with some of his worst memories. This had been the place where his mother would lock herself up for days, screaming at the walls, pacing the floors, throwing things and raging. Justin had mostly avoided the room when he was growing up. It was also the room in which his mother had killed herself, so it wasn’t a surprise that the traumatized youth hesitated before he pulled open the door.


“You can do this, Sunshine. I’m right here with you,” Brian whispered, his hand resting comfortingly on the young man’s back. 


With a silent nod, Justin twisted the antique glass knob and pulled open the door. It was almost like he expected to find the still-bloody corpse of his mother lying in the middle of the floor. But, when it seemed like nothing scary was likely to jump out at him, he took a deep breath and ventured inside. He seemed surprised to note that this room, like the rest of the house, had been cleaned up and, with the layers of paper, cardboard, and aluminum foil removed from the windows, was now much less gloomy. 


Brian flipped on the light and followed closely on Justin’s heels. Justin was already on his knees, digging through an old wooden chest that occupied a spot beneath the dormer window which popped up through the roofline on the west side of the house, providing a little extra headroom in that part of the room. Hovering behind his partner, Brian watched as Justin rifled through the contents, eventually unearthing a large, wooden keepsake box from underneath a pile of quilts and other bedding.


 

The box itself was quite attractive. It’s finish was scratched in a few places but you could tell it was sturdy and well-made and that it could easily be restored. 


Justin closed the lid of the chest, set the keepsake box on top, and then went across the way to a tallboy dresser, from which he retrieved a small tin container that looked like it might once have been filled with candies. Pulling the lid off the tin, Justin used a finger to stir the contents around - sifting through a mess of tiny trinkets, buttons, paperclips, earrings, a couple of brooches, thimbles, and other inconsequentials - until he located the key to the box. 



With Brian toting the box and Justin following behind holding onto the key as if it was some kind of taliman, they made their way back downstairs. Brian set the box in the middle of the dining table. By that point Hunter and Tristan had joined them and they all four stood around staring at that damned box as if it were a pirate's treasure or something. Finally, with a little whimper, Justin stepped forward, slid the key into the lock, and twisted it until they all heard the mechanism inside click. 


“Here goes nothing,” Brian said, trying to lighten the mood as he reached out to lift up the lid, releasing a creak from the rusty old hinges.


Inside, as expected, there were a lot of legal-looking papers. There was also a lot of other stuff; so much stuff, actually, that the box was literally packed full. On top, in the little tray that fitted into the back of the box, there was some jewelry, a woman’s gold watch, an antique Girl Scouts pin, a diamond-studded stick pin with the greek letters ‘𝚫𝚪’ on a blue ceramic background, more keys, and, in a silk-lined velvet bag, three rings including a large diamond solitaire that could have been an engagement ring, a diamond and turquoise cocktail ring, and a more sedate, braided gold band that looked like a wedding ring. Justin lifted the tray out and set all that aside leaving only the deeper well full of papers visible. On the top of that section they found Jennifer Taylor’s expired passport showing that, before her illness had set in, the woman had done quite a lot of travelling. While Justin was showing off the passport to Tristan, Brian pulled out all the rest of the documents and began to lay them out on the table so they could go through them more carefully. 


“You want to do the honors, Sunshine,” Brian asked before delving into the private paperwork of his partner’s deceased mother.


Justin shook his head and took a step back so he was no longer within reach of any of the piles. “No. You do it, My Brian. I can’t . . .”


“Fine . . .” Brian agreed and took up the first document he saw.



The sheaf of papers was tri-folded and surrounded by a blue manuscript cover backing with the name of some pretentious-sounding law firm printed on it. When unfurled, this turned out to be the deed to the house they were all standing in. Brian set that aside, thinking to take it with them when they left so he could add it to the other important documents he kept in his safe. Next, there were some documents related to the death of Jennifer’s mother, Judy Caruthers-Taylor, including a death certificate and a Will, dating back to the 1980s. There were other quasi-legal papers related to taxes, a judgement against Jennifer for an unpaid credit card bill which had eventually been paid off, and even a restraining order taken out against Jennifer by someone named Phyllis Grabley in the 1990s. None of those seemed all that important to Brian so he just returned them all to the box. 


At that point in the stack, Brian began to come across piles of what appeared to be personal letters, still in their envelopes, all showing the address of the house they were standing in as the return address and directed to someone named Elliott Grabley. All were marked, ‘Return To Sender’. Many of the envelopes were sealed as if they’d never been opened. Brian didn’t want to wade into that mess so he returned all those letters to the box as well. 


Underneath that stack, it appeared that they were getting to the good stuff. Or the bad stuff, depending on how you looked at it. Because the stuff Brian began to dig through next included stacks of personal stationary, covered front and back, with miniscule handwriting. Each page was dated, the entries going back more than forty years. Some of the pages had been crumpled and torn, then taped back together. They were paperclipped together in random groupings, some of which were an inch or more thick and others only included a few sheets of paper. A quick glance at the contents of these pages indicated they’d found Jennifer Taylor’s private journals. Only, the entries they read didn’t make much sense; clearly, the woman doing the writing hadn’t been in her right mind most of the time. It was, basically, the diary of a madwoman.


“These go back to before I was born,” Justin said as he thumbed through one clump of pages. “It’s just rambling, mostly.”


Tristan picked up another group of pages and started to read, “they might have found me again. I heard noises in the kitchen last night. Voices. I made the boy come into my room with me and we lit the candles and I made him sing to block it all out. He fell asleep just after sunrise but by then they were gone. We are still safe . . .” Tristan tossed that page back into the box. “Okay, so, it’s pretty clear your mom was not firing on all cylinders, Dude.”


“Yeah . . . More of the same there,” Hunter agreed as he added the packet he’d been reading to the box. 


“Wait. I might have found something,” Brian spoke up, waving the group of pages he’d been looking at in the air. “These are from around the time you were born, Justin. Listen, ‘The copy wouldn’t sleep last night at all. It kept crying and crying and wouldn’t take the bottle. The boy slept right through it all. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the other one, though. He’s not right. Would they have put him here to spy on me? I’m so tired, I can’t think. But if I do something to get rid of it, then they’ll know I’m onto them and the next spy they send in will just be better disguised. Or they’ll plant bugs like they did before. Maybe I should just keep the copy for now so they don’t know I know.’”


“‘The Copy’? That could be referring to a second twin baby,” Hunter surmised, looking sideways at his friend to see how Stan was taking this. 


“It has to,” Justin stated, holding up another piece of paper he’d found further down in the stack of paperwork. “It’s my birth certificate and it says . . . It says here . . .” He breathlessly pointed to a line on the form. “It says ‘twin birth’.”


A little more digging through the box’s contents unearthed a few more clues that supported the theory they’d all come to believe already: there was the Psychiatric Evaluation where a doctor in 1989 had diagnosed Jennifer Taylor with paranoid schizophrenia and referred her to an inpatient treatment program, paperwork from several other doctors and hospitals spanning a decade or more detailing treatments she’d been subjected to, and some unfilled medication prescriptions from various doctors. Near the bottom of the stack they found a legal envelope with a copy of a marriage certificate dated 1988 and a divorce judgment dated 1991. And finally, the very last thing they came to, was a yellowed and stained envelope enclosing a second birth certificate that had been torn into small, crumpled pieces and then meticulously taped back together again. 


“Here’s your proof.” Brian shook his head as he handed off the document to Tristan. “It’s the match to Justin’s. Tristan Taylor, twin birth, and the same birthdate, January 18th.”


“Fuck me . . .” Tristan took the form, stared at it for a second, and promptly collapsed into the nearest chair. 


“I have a brother,” Justin announced with the beginnings of a smile. “I . . . I have a brother.” He turned to hug Brian, who was the person closest to him. “I have a BROTHER!” Then the little blond dynamo skipped over to where Tristan was sitting and grappled the other boy into a hug so strong that it knocked them both to the floor, while yelling over and over again, “I HAVE A BROTHER! I HAVE A BROTHER! I HAVE A BROTHER!”


 


“Are you sure my new brother will be okay sleeping in the house without me there?” Justin asked for at least the tenth time.


“Tristan is fine, Sunshine. You heard him; he and Hunter were thrilled to stay in the house for the night. I don’t think either of them were looking forward to sleeping on a futon on the floor here at the loft. Not when they can each have their own bedroom at the house,” Brian reassured his antsy partner as he unlocked the door and ushered Justin inside the loft. 


“But, don’t you think it’s kind of scary there? And they’re all alone,” Justin argued, tugging on Boss’ leash to get the dog to heel as they entered.


Brian set the keepsake box they’d brought with them from the house of the island counter and then turned to take his blond into his arms. “They’re fine. They’re big boys. They’re used to being on their own. They can handle one night alone.”


“I just don’t know if it’s right to leave your brand new, identical twin brother all alone after you just find him when you didn’t know he even existed for nineteen years, especially not in your dead mother’s house. What if we get lost to each other again and I don’t see him for ANOTHER nineteen years. I don’t think I’d like that at all. And what if he’s upset about finding out about my mother just leaving him like that as a baby? Maybe we should have stayed and talked about it some more . . .”


Brian cut him off with an expedient kiss that, momentarily at least, usurped all of Justin’s attention. Justin dropped the dog’s leash, allowing Boss to wander off, the puppy eagerly sniffing around his new home. It seemed like Boss was going to fit into the Kinney-Taylor household just fine and even Brian had already become accustomed enough to his new pet that he was able to forget about the animal . . . At least for long enough to enjoy another kiss from his newly relocated boyfriend. 


However, the second Brian stopped for a breath, Justin was already at it again. “What if they need something in the middle of the night? You said you told the telephone people to turn off the phones to the house because we didn’t need them anymore. What if they need to call someone . . .”


“Justin, stop!” Brian ordered, placing a finger over the babbling lips. “They'll be fine. They’ve got each other - and the damn cat, in case they need more company - and Hunter has a cell phone in case they need to call us for anything.”


“But Hunter is only fourteen. He’s practically still a baby . . .” Justin replied. 


“And Tristan is nineteen and has been on the streets for years. He’s plenty capable of taking care of himself for one night. I’m more afraid for the house than for him,” Brian insisted. “Let’s just hope the fear of Hugo finding them will force them to lay low for the night rather than inviting all their friends over for a party.”


“Oh! That’s a great idea! We should have an Unlost Twin Brother party,” Justin announced with a smile, his brain off on another tangent even as Brian was working diligently to distract him by methodically removing his clothing one piece at a time. “Your Tall Friend, Emmett, loves to plan parties. Maybe he could help.”


“Stop talking about your brother and Emmett and parties, Sunshine,” Brian demanded, pulling the younger man’s shirt off over his head and using the material to constrict the pale wrists and hold them in place against the pillar over Justin’s head. “I’ve had you back for more than six hours now and I haven’t got more than a few lousy kisses. I’m starting to think you didn’t miss me at all and it’s hurting my feelings, Sunshine.”


“That’s not true. I missed you a lot, My Brian,” Justin rushed to reassure the man he loved. “A lot, a lot. And I tried so hard to find you again but nobody would help me.”


“Well, then, how about you stop talking and show me just how much you missed me. Because I’ve been without any Sunshine for more than forty-eight hours and I’m starting to go into withdrawal,” Brian teased, nipping along the column of the long, pale neck as he nibbled his way down Justin’s body.


“OH!” Justin squeaked as Brian clamped onto one sensitive nipple and started to play with the tender nub with his tongue. “I missed that too. I missed all the boyfriend things you do to me. And I tried to tell the other boys that they were doing their boyfriend lessons wrong, but they just laughed at me. Of course, nobody’s as good at boyfriend lessons as you, My Brian. Oh . . . Yes . . . Just like  . . . Like that!”


Brian had, by that point, nibbled his way down to his Sunshine’s crotch where he inhaled the sweaty, Justin-y aroma deeply, feeling the last of his unease at being without the boy evaporate as the familiar scent filled his senses. He pushed the unbuttoned chinos down, off Justin’s hips, until they puddled on the ground, leaving his boy bare as an egg and, Brian was happy to see, as beautiful as ever. Damn, he’d missed the kid more than he would have ever expected. And the crazy part was they’d only been apart two fucking days. But, two days without tasting that creamy flesh - he licked at the soft spot on Justin’s abdomen where the thin flesh stretched tautly over an angular hipbone - was far too long. He dug his fingers into the plump muscles of Justin’s glutes, loving the way the kid moaned and backed into the touch. He reveled in the way that wonderful ass filled his palms so perfectly. He sighed happily, turned his face to the side, licked his way up the hardening lengths of the youth’s long, thick dick, and decided, right there on the spot, that he would never, ever go that long without.


Heaving the naked boy over his shoulder, Brian rose to his feet and sprinted across the loft in the direction of the bathroom, with Justin giggling melodically all the way. It took Brian only seconds to get himself as naked as Justin was and, before you knew it, they were under the warm spray of the shower. Then the real boyfriend lessons began with hands and lips and dicks and never-not-touching until they were both breathless and boneless and sated. It was only after they’d both come twice in the shower that Brian felt he could bear not touching his recently unlost Sunshine for more than ten seconds. So he deposited the boy in their bed and took a moment to pull on some sweats, run back down to the car to get the damn dog bed they’d bought earlier, and bring that up to the loft so Boss could get settled and stop staring at Brian while he was trying to fuck his boyfriend. Then, once Boss was taken care of, Brian crawled back into bed, prepared to spend the rest of the night, if necessary, proving to his wandering boyfriend just how much he really had been missed. 


Of course, nothing was ever that easy with Justin.


Brian had just managed to lick his boyfriend to full hardness and was about to swallow his dick when the distracted blond commented, “We have to help Tristan and Skinny Boy get away from Hugo. For good; not just for a day or two. Because he is NOT a nice man, Just Brian, and I don’t want him finding them and doing mean things to them because they didn’t come back to the ‘Tarlight and give him their money tonight. But, how do we make sure that Hugo leaves them alone for good? I remember the boys saying something about an ‘Exit Fee’? Could we maybe pay him the exit fee for both my brother and Skinny Boy? Would that work?”


“Maybe, although I expect that would end up being pretty pricey,” Brian replied, turtling his head up from under the covers in order to continue the conversation. “And Hugo would just continue exploiting all the other boys you told me about. Plus, if Hugo ever found out that Tristan has ties to us, and all our money, he probably wouldn’t be satisfied with just the regular fee. The only way to ever really be free from someone like that is to put the fucking monster behind bars for life for human trafficking. But that would require some of his boys speaking up against him, maybe even testifying in court, and most of them are too intimidated to risk that kind of thing.”


“Well, that’s what we’ll do then. We’ll have Tristan go tell the police all about Hugo tomorrow. I can testify in court too, if they need me to. He really wasn’t a very nice man, you know, so I won’t feel bad at all sending the police after him,” Justin concluded, as if it was a done deal.


“Sorry, Sunshine, but I don’t think it will be that easy to convince Tristan to take that kind of step,” Brian countered. “It could be dangerous too; guys like Hugo always retaliate.”


“Well, Tristan has us now to protect him and support him and we won’t let Hugo do anything mean to him and Ms. Attorney Lady can help him too,” Justin replied, sounding so certain. Brian scoffed but the determined little blond simply ignored him and continued with his plans. “And after we get the Big Angry Man locked up behind bars for life - like you said - I’m going to give Tristan my mother’s house for him to keep, because he likes it there and I don’t and he’ll need someplace safe for him and Skinny Boy to stay because they can’t go back to that icky ‘Tarlight Motel again - it wasn’t very nice either, My Brian - and Patches needs a place to stay too and Tristan seemed to really like her, so they’ll need to live at the house together . . .”


“You sure about that, Sunshine? The house isn’t that great, but the property alone, in that neighborhood, is probably worth a few hundred thousand if we fixed it up and sold it,” Brian hypothesized.


“I don’t need more money. We have all the other money and your company and it’s making tons of money already and if we need more I’ll just go draw more pictures and get you more clients that way just like I did today with that Money Man at the plaza. Tristan should have the house. And we can get him a job too so he can buy things to put in the house,” Justin continued, all his plans finally coming together in his mind. “Maybe Debbie would let him work at the Diner and make food for people? I wonder if he likes to make food? Oh, and maybe we can ask Michael to let Skinny Boy work in his store - although I think Skinny Boy should probably go back to school during the daytimes, because he’s only fourteen, you know - but maybe Tristan will want to go back to school too? I don’t know. We’ll have to ask him tomorrow . . .”


“Justin . . . Can you please be done with all your machinations for tonight so I can fucking make love to you already?” Brian pleaded. “We’ve got two whole days to make up for and I’m about to fucking explode here.”


Unfortunately, it seemed like his blond hadn’t yet got everything off his mind. “. . . Before we go back to see Tristan and Skinny Boy tomorrow, though, I need you to take me to see the nice man at the place where my friend Bertha took me for dinner last night. Pastor Clark was a very nice person and he let me help serve the dinner to the people at the church, but he said they didn’t have enough money to give food to the people every night so I said I would give him some of my money. He said $10,000 would be enough to help him feed the people every night and I said that I would bring it to him as soon as I got unlost. Oh, and I’d like to make sure Possum Granny is okay too. Maybe we could buy her some clothing - like, a new coat or something because her clothes were a little old - and a bag of possum food for her babies. Do they make special possum food? I don’t know but we could ask the PetSet man, or my Cat Lady, they would know, right . . .”


“Justin!” Brian crawled out from under the blankets and sat up, staring down at the previously shy boy. “I get it, okay? Despite everything, you seem to have had a pretty amazing adventure and you’re excited to help out all your new friends. I’m glad you don’t feel like you have to hide out from the world any more, really I am. Shit, just a couple of weeks ago you were so scared of your shadow I had to practically drag you out to Babylon to go dancing. So, trust me, I’m thrilled by this newfound show of confidence.” Brian reached over to the nightstand to grab a condom and the big bottle of lube. “But, for the rest of tonight at least, could we maybe just forget about all your new friends and concentrate on those ‘Boyfriend Things’ you promised we could do once I got you home?”  


“I’m sorry, Just Brian.” Justin smiled up at his boyfriend, displaying that angelic grin that was so bright it practically lit up the entire loft by itself, and took the lube out of Brian’s hands. “I didn’t mean to neglect you. It’s just that my brain is still zooming around in my head so fast it’s like it’s trying to escape through my ears.” That caused them both to laugh and Brian almost didn’t notice when Justin plucked the condom out of his hand. Almost. “I promise not to think about anyone else but you for the rest of the night, though. And, maybe, just to prove to you how much I really did miss you, I can give YOU a few boyfriend lessons this time?”


Brian might have objected to this unprecedented turn of events but he was distracted by a new spate of Justin giggles and . . . The next thing he knew he was lying on his back in the bed, spread eagle, with a lusty blond boy crawling off him as he tried to catch his breath.


“Damn it, Justin,” Brian panted and pulled his blond down for another kiss. “I’m never going out of town and leaving you alone again. Not only can I not handle being without you, but you might kill me if you learn any more boyfriend things like THAT! Although, I suppose at least I’d die with a huge fucking smile on my lips . . .”


“I missed you too, Just Brian. And I don’t want to go on any more adventures - even ones where I get to find lost brothers - without you. So you better just plan on taking me with you everywhere from here on out. You hear me?” 


The last thing Brian heard as his boyfriend turned off the light was that damn giggle and he knew he wouldn’t object to any future adventures with a giggling, barefoot, blond boy, no matter where they might lead.



The End . . . For Now.



 

End Notes:

4/19/21 - Hoorah! I FINALLY finished this one! I don’t know if it was pandemic brain or what, but this story took far longer than a simple little HEA story should have. I’m thrilled to have finally finished. I hope this will tide you BB fans over for a while before you start asking for yet another sequel. LOL! I want to work on some other story ideas I’ve been saving up, including an original novel/series I’ve been mulling over, and try re-upping my interactive summer participation story, and maybe even write another Time Blitz sequel with Sally . . . Anyway, thanks for reading and for all your support over the past, crazy year. Let’s hope the coming year is much, much better and that this will translate into a lot more fanfic for all! TAG 

 

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