Chapter 17 - Almost Perfect?
As I expected, Rose doesn’t waste any time telling her friend Jennifer that the set up she tried to foist on the two of us was a complete bust and why. Justin’s laughing again when he calls me almost as soon as I drop him off back in his own neighborhood the next day. His mom apparently cornered him as soon as he got in the house, demanding to know if Justin was aware that I was gay and why he hadn’t told her.
“‘You didn’t ask,’ I told her,” Justin says with a chuckle as he describes the scene for me. “She just sputtered and then starts complaining about how embarrassed she is now and that I should have said something, blah, blah, blah.”
“What about your dad?” I ask, unconcerned about Jennifer’s embarrassment and Rose’s dashed hopes, worried only about the one variable that we really need to concentrate on to make this work.
"He was just sitting in his recliner watching tv and laughing,” Justin relates. “He said that even if you hadn’t been gay, after watching the way Rose threw herself at you, you probably would have run away screaming. He apparently thought the whole thing was highly entertaining. No comments at all about you being gay or anything like that. And, he even laughed along with me when I joked about the look on your face when Rose spilled the coffee and then started to dab at your thigh with the napkin - you looked like you were going to puke, it was so funny. So, what do you think?”
“I think you have a vicious sense of humor, Sunshine. But, I guess it was worth it if we got Craig to loosen up a bit. The fact that he didn't freak over the idea of me being gay is encouraging. Of course, I will NEVER go through anything like that ever again in this or any future life, so get all your giggles out now, Sunshine,” I warn him amid another series of chuckles from the other end of the phone line, although after the extensive all-night fuck session I spent with Justin last night, I’m not feeling nearly as violated or dirty as I did earlier and I’m almost able to start seeing the humor in the situation myself.
"How much longer do you think we should give him before we tell him about us?" Justin asks, the insecurity in his voice coming across the phone line clearly.
"I don't know," I answer truthfully. "Maybe we should ease him into this just a bit more, though, rather than just coming right out and telling him everything all at once."
"But, Brian, this is all so annoying. I hate sneaking around and . . . "
"I know, Sunshine. Fuck, I know - trust me, normally I'd be the last person on Earth to advocate all this subterfuge. I've always said that if people didn't like the way I lived my life, then fuck 'em. But, this is too important to me. You're too important, Justin. I don't want to mess this up. So, if I can be patient about this, you can too, Sunshine."
Listen to me going on about patience. Who the hell am I turning into? But, it's true that this is too important to mess up. So, I CAN be patient, if I have to be.
So, Justin and I decide to walk Craig through little baby steps. First, Justin announces to his parents that he's got a date, but he refuses to tell his parents who it is. For about two weeks, he casually talks about meeting this mystery 'date' for coffee after school, at the movies or some other such innocuous outings (all of which we actually do, just to add credence to the stories, and because I'll do anything for this boy).
At first Craig is demonstrative about just how unhappy he is with the whole idea of his son dating another boy. The first time Justin mentions it, Craig gets up from the dinner table in the middle of the meal and stomps out, not saying another word. But, he doesn't try to stop Justin, which is progress, of a sort, I guess.
Justin, typically, perseveres and keeps up his constant campaign to inure his father to the concept of him dating another man. The second time Justin mentions a date he's planning, Craig simply scowls at his plate and stays grumpily silent for the rest of the meal. After a couple of weeks of Justin constantly talking about meeting his 'friend' for this or that, and going on and on about how much fun we had, Craig seems unhappily resigned to the whole idea and doesn't bother to even comment when Justin mentions his next date.
Meanwhile, I've invited Craig to meet me a couple of times for drinks after work. All in all, he's been pretty decent to hang around with. The first time after the 'Rose' incident, he was a little weird acting until we'd both got a couple beers under our belts and he gruffly advised me that he 'wasn't like that' if that's why I was inviting him out for drinks. When it dawned on me that he was worried I was trying to come on to him, I couldn't help but laugh so hard I choked on my scotch. Once I'd convinced him though that he definitely wasn't my type and that I had no designs on his body, we started to get along pretty well. We even had some good laughs together about the whole Rose debacle. In the end, Craig and I seemed to maybe even be developing a sort of friendship - which scared me more than the thought of him beating the crap out of me again.
Next, I have Justin tell his parents that he's going out to dinner the next Saturday with his new mystery man and afterward we're going out to a club. Jenn, of course, is nothing but excited for her boy. She's been pestering him from day one to find out more about this mystery person that her son is seeing and to hear every detail of every date. But, up till now, Craig has maintained a stony silence about the entire topic. When Justin tells them about the big dinner date, though, Craig finally takes notice.
"Who is this kid, Justin?" Craig demands. "Do we know him or his parents? And, what is this club you're going to? You're not quite eighteen yet, young man, so you better not even think about trying to get into some club where you shouldn't be. I don't want you getting into trouble and I don't want you drinking, either. I want to know a lot more about this whole plan before I agree to this. I think it's time your mother and I meet this boyfriend of yours."
"He said it just like that - he didn't even blink when he said he wanted to meet my 'boyfriend'," Justin tells me the next day, ecstatic at how much more accepting his father seems to be getting. "All he seemed worried about was the club and me getting into trouble. I don't think he even thought once about the fact that I was planning on going out with another man. Can you believe it? So, now what do we do? I just put him off saying that I'd talk to my 'boyfriend' about it and get back to them - I didn't tell them who you were yet. But, dad said there wouldn't be a date till he met you and found out more about the club."
"I guess we tell them, then," I say, not sure if I'm ready for this.
Ready or not, it's time, so I pick up the phone and call Craig Taylor. I try to sound casual as I ask if he and his wife want to meet me for drinks tomorrow evening at the Fairmont. I figure that I'll be better off doing this in public just in case it gets ugly - maybe their sense of propriety (or at least Jennifer's) will prevent Craig from punching me in a crowded upscale hotel bar. Craig readily accepts and says he'll meet me at 6:30.
I'm almost ready to chicken out and come up with a new plan by the middle of the afternoon the next day. It doesn't help my confidence any that Justin is late getting to work today and he seems even more jumpy than I am. Unfortunately, when he finally does arrive, I'm in the middle of a conference call and I've got no time to really say more than a few words to him before it's time to leave for the Fairmont.
On the short drive over to the hotel, Justin seems off somehow. I guess it could be that he's just really nervous but I'm not sure. Several times he starts to say something but then stops. When we're walking from the car to the hotel he kinda jumps a little when I put my arm around his shoulders and he shies away from me. When I reach over and put my hand on his shoulder to try to calm him, he flinches away. I just put it down to anxiety, since I know I'm feeling like jumping out of my own skin. I try to remind myself that, worst case scenario, I get beat up again and just have to start all over again tomorrow. Justin doesn't have that to reassure him, though, so I don't really know how to comfort him. I can only trust that this time I've fixed things for good.
I can see that Craig and Jennifer are already seated at a small corner table when Justin and I arrive at the bar. I pull Justin around the corner behind a wide wooden pillar and give him a quick kiss and a squeeze before we head into the ordeal. Justin gasps a bit loudly and pulls away from my hand around his waist. I'm about to ask him what's the matter, since it seems like maybe there's something more going on with my blond than just ordinary nerves, but he grabs me by the hand and leads me back towards the doorway without saying anything further. I can only follow.
Removing my hand from Justin's before we get too near the table, I put on my best charming Kinney smile and greet the two older Taylors.
"Justin, honey, we didn't expect you," Jennifer says as soon as she glimpses the two of us nearing the table.
"Hey, Mom. Dad."
"Justin," Craig brusquely greets his son then stands to greet me with his hand extended jovially towards me. "How's it going, Kinney?"
"Can't complain, Craig," I respond while shaking his hand and then sitting in the chair next to Justin. "Jennifer, you look lovely. Thanks for joining us."
"Well, thank you for inviting me. I wasn't sure after what I put you through at dinner last time if you'd ever speak to me again," she says with the perfect little self-deprecating laugh. "But, you should have said something, Brian."
"It wasn't that bad," I lie. "Besides I didn't want to embarrass poor Rose."
"Well, next time I won't try to fix you up with one of my girl friends. I promise," Jennifer swears, holding up her hand as a pledge. "Although, I do know a couple of nice single young men," she adds jokingly.
"Actually, that won't be necessary," I say, taking a huge swallow of the scotch which the waiter conveniently deposits in front of me right then. "I've started seeing someone recently, so you definitely won't be needing to fix me up with anyone."
"Oh, that's wonderful, Brian," Jennifer gushes. "I hope he knows how lucky he is to land a catch like you."
"He's quite a catch himself, Jennifer," I say, smiling at her while I reach under the table to grab Justin's hand and take a deep breath before continuing. "In fact, that's really why I wanted to talk to both of you tonight."
"If you're looking for gay dating advice, I'm afraid you're barking up the wrong tree, Kinney," Craig jokes, digging his elbow into my ribs to emphasize the humor of his not so witty quip.
"No, that's not exactly what I'm looking for," I say, sighing and looking over to see Justin nodding and smiling in my direction. "I'm actually asking for your permission to date your son."
"What?" Both of the older Taylors say in unison, with identical looks of confusion on their faces as they glare at first me and then Justin.
"Mom, dad, Brian is the person I've been seeing," Justin says in a remarkably calm voice, despite the fact that I can see him sweating now profusely, as he pulls our hands up above the edge of the table so everyone can see our entwined fingers. "You wanted to meet him, sooooo here we are."
"But. . . but . . . but," Jennifer stutters, unable to finish her thought.
Craig isn't as tongue-tied, though. "What the hell is going on here Kinney?"
"Justin and I have been seeing each other for a little while now. I want to keep seeing him and I thought it was only right that you two should know," I start to explain. "I care about him, a lot. You can be sure that I'll take good care of him and . . . " Fuck, could I sound more pathetic?
"But, you're his boss. He's only seventeen. You can't . . . You're so much . . . " Jennifer tries again but once again stutters to a halt.
"Mom. I'm going to be eighteen next week. I'm not a baby. And we know that there's an age difference between the two of us, but that shouldn't matter to you as long as it doesn't matter to us," Justin preempts Jennifer's objections, his breathing starting to get ragged with what I suppose is emotion and his face showing obvious signs of distress.
"Craig! Say something. Do something. This . . . I just don't think . . . Craig?" Jennifer implores her husband for some support.
"What the fuck do you want me to say, Jennifer?" Craig responds, resignation ringing clearly from his voice. "The boy's almost eighteen. He's old enough to decide this shit on his own. He's not going to listen to us even if we do object, so what exactly do you want me to say?"
"But, Craig," Jennifer says again, clearly still not resigned to the situation.
"Mom, please. You're being ridiculous," Justin says, turning towards her and voicing more than a hint of anger at this point, but I sense that under the anger is something else - pain?
"Justin, you do whatever you want. I know you won't listen to your mother or me even if we were to object to this . . . this . . . whatever this is. I don't understand any of this. Just don't come crying to me when it all goes to shit," Craig says in a quiet and disappointed tone as he gets up and starts to walk away from the table.
"Dad, please," Justin pleads as he stands up and grabs for his father's retreating shoulder, his voice catching as he speaks and ending with a little grunt of pain or emotion, or both, I can't quite tell although I can see he's upset.
Several things happen simultaneously at this point. I stand up behind Justin to support him, placing my hand on the small of his back, not exactly happy with this outcome but thinking privately that this is a better response from Craig than I had actually expected. Jennifer stands up too, looking back and forth between her husband and her son. Craig grabs Justin's hand from his shoulder and forcefully pulls the hand away, jerking Justin's body with the momentum and turning away to continue towards the door in a quiet fury. At the same time, Justin cries out when his arm falls from Craig's shoulder, wrapping his other arm around his midsection and half-turning towards me with a look of pain and surprise on his face as his eyes roll back into his head and he slowly collapses into my arms.
"Justin? My god, what did you do to him?" Jennifer yells at me as I carefully lay the unconscious boy down on the carpeting next to the table where we were sitting.
"I didn't do anything. I don't know . . . " I'm lost for both words and actions as I kneel next to Justin, not sure what happened or what to do next, looking up at the faces of the people gathering around us.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, please. I'm a doctor," I hear an unfamiliar voice directing as a short, heavy-set, middle aged black woman pushes her way through the throngs of gaping onlookers.
The woman kneels down next to me and immediately begins to examine Justin. First she reaches two fingers down to press against his neck under his jaw. After only a few moments, she bends over and places her ear over his mouth, apparently listening for breathing sounds. Then she grabs Justin's wrist, pressing her fingers against his pulse point while looking at her wristwatch for about a minute.
"What's his name?" She demands of me next and I quickly tell her as she hands me a cell phone. "Call 911 and tell them we have a medical emergency and need an ambulance immediately. I'll talk to the dispatcher as soon as I'm done here."
As I follow orders, pressing the buttons to call 911 and mechanically repeating what the woman told me to say, I watch as she tries to rouse Justin by calling his name. When he doesn't respond, she opens his mouth and looks intently inside, but apparently doesn't see anything. Next she lifts up his shirt and we both gasp at the sight that meets our eyes. Justin's stomach and chest are a mass of dark purple and black bruises. The doctor gently runs her hands over the area until she feels something that catches her interest and stops with her hand over his ribs just beneath his right arm.
The woman quickly grabs the cell phone out of my hands and starts talking rapidly to the dispatcher on the other end. "Hello. This is Dr, Emily Winston. I've examined the victim and confirmed he still has a pulse and is breathing shallowly but he's been unconscious for approximately five minutes now. His airway appears clear but I think he's got at least one broken rib and most likely a punctured lung. I see extensive bruising around his lower and mid torso. There may be other internal injuries as well - he shows extensive tenderness in the abdomen."
The woman stops speaking for several moments, seemingly listening to the directions being given over the phone. I can't seem to do or say anything as I just sit there holding on to Justin's cold hand, staring at the inky black stains on his usually beautiful pale skin. I'm only momentarily distracted by someone gripping my upper arm and then a blonde head leaning against me on that side. I look over to see Jennifer Taylor kneeling next to me, her hand wrapped thightly around my bicep as she cries into my shoulder. Craig is standing behind her with one hand on her far shoulder. I just look back down at the fragile looking form lying on the floor in front of me and quietly fall to pieces as I flashback to another time when Justin was lying helpless before me.
Everything after that is a blur. I vaguely remember arguing with someone - Justin's mother, maybe - about who would ride with him in the ambulance. I think I won by default since I simply refused to let go of his hand. I remember sitting in one of those hard plastic chairs outside the ER, again, waiting for someone to come tell me what the fuck happened and whether or not Justin's going to be okay. I remember Jennifer and Craig arriving at the hospital and joining me in the uncomfortable chairs. But otherwise, time seems to pass erratically in fits and starts and never going the normal speed from one event to the next.
At some point, a doctor appears and tells us that Justin has several fractured ribs, one of which apparently punctured his right lung - probably when Craig jerked his arm so hard - causing what he calls a pneumothorax. Justin's lung collapsed. They have to do immediate surgery to repair the torn lung and put a tube in his chest to help relieve the pressure so he can breathe. Hearing all this makes it hard for me to breathe and I collapse back into the chair I'd just risen from.
"How did this happen? Who did this," Jenn asks no one in particular as the tears stream down her face messing up her usually perfect makeup.
"I can't tell you who did it," the doctor responds, "but from the rest of his injuries, it looks like your son was severely beaten. From what I saw it looks like somebody decided to use Justin for a punching bag and they got a pretty good workout. I've already reported the incident to the police. But, we'll probably have to wait for Justin to wake up to find out who is responsible."
"Hobbs," I hear my own raspy voice say even though I don't remember intending to speak.
"Who?" demands Craig, and after a couple of moments I realize his question is directed at me.
"Chris Hobbs. He and his jock buddies have been hassling Justin at school all year. I . . . I didn't know it had gotten this bad . . . " I can't go on, all I can see now are the angry grey eyes of the tall muscle bound jock staring back at me from that night after the dinner at the Taylor's."
"Chris Hobbs? That doesn't make any sense. We know the Hobbs' from the country club. Why would Chris hurt Justin like this?" Jennifer goes on, unable to fathom how the son of one of her upper crust friends could possibly be a hate filled bully.
"Because of me," I admit, my voice a choked whisper. "Because I encouraged Justin to come out to you and his friends. Because the world is full of homophobic bullies who can't bear to see people happy if their happiness is in any way different. Because Hobbs saw Justin and I kissing and he didn't like what he saw. Because I wanted Justin and I to be together and I didn't think about how dangerous it would be for him. Because no matter what I do, I can't seem to keep him safe . . . "
Nobody says anything further after that. The doctor disappears and time does its weird wonky thing where it skips around completely disregarding the clock on the wall. Jennifer and Craig are arguing in the corner of the waiting area and they keep looking over at me surreptitiously but don't dare approach me. I think I even talk to some uniformed cops briefly but strangely enough I don't remember what I've told them.
Hours, days, or maybe months later - I'm unsure which because of the time warp present in this fucking hospital - a doctor finally comes out dressed in rumpled scrubs. He tells Jennifer and Craig that Justin is out of surgery and appears to be recovering well. Barring any complications, he should be fine.
I don't really hear whatever he says next. I feel so relieved hearing that my Sunshine will be okay that I can't listen after that. In fact, I can't really hear anything else. There's a strange whooshing noise in my head. My vision seems to be affected too since the edges of everything start to get a hazy dark red look to them and then the outer lines of my sight start to rapidly fade to black leaving me with only this small tunnel of vision bound by a long black tunnel.
"Brian? Brian, are you okay? Doctor . . . "
"Nurse, get a stretcher. . . "
Then the black tunnel closes down completely and there's only soft, all-encompassing, velvet darkness.
*Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep*
I'm not making any effort to turn off the fucking alarm this morning. All I want to do is lie here without opening my eyes and hold onto the warm yielding body in bed next to me. I'm ninety percent certain that when I do open my eyes, I'll see my Sunshine back in one piece, without scars or bruises or any other damage to his perfect body other than the few little love bites I gave him the previous night. But, I'm having just a little difficulty getting the images of an unconscious bruised and beaten young man out of my head and I'm really not that eager to open my eyes just in case I'm wrong about what I'll find.
Justin himself eventually wriggles out of my hold and rolls back to switch off the annoying alarm. Then he squirms back to me and I can feel him laying his head on my shoulder with his hand snaking over to lie across my chest. I revel in the clean warm scent of my sweet blond and the feel of his body stretched alongside mine. He seems okay from what I can tell solely from touching him and listening to his even, deep breathing, so I'm starting to relax and let myself believe he'll be alright when I do finally look at him.
I've already made the mistake once of being overly enthusiastic at his mere presence, so I try to tell myself that when I do open my eyes I shouldn't let my relief at having him back in a healthy, whole state show too much. Fuck, it's going to be hard, though. I don't think I can bear going through this again and again knowing that no matter what I do I can't keep him safe. I'm seriously thinking about the idea of holding him hostage again just so I could be sure he'd never be allowed outside where he could be hurt again.
"Brian? Don't you have to get up and head to work," I hear Justin asking after about fifteen minutes of my continued refusal to acknowledge the world outside my bed.
"Don't want to get up. Don't want to let you out of bed," I grudgingly admit, my eyes still screwed tightly shut against reality, the combination of which causes Justin to giggle.
And, hearing that soft laugh, I can no longer resist. I have to open my eyes to look at him. I'm happy to report that all I see is a happy Sunshine, his eyes sparking blue glints of humor at me. I run my hand through his hair and smile at the lack of scar on his temple. Then I lift the sheets enough to peek down at his chest and I'm further relieved to see only smooth creamy skin without a single bruise.
"Good morning, sweet Sunshine," I breathe into his ear as I snuggle against him even closer, the pet name along with the little kisses I leave there eliciting another tiny chuckle.
"Fuck work!" I tell him right away. "I'm not letting you out of this bed, Sunshine."
I immediately pull the covers over both our heads as I start to kiss my way down his supple, eager body. He's so easily distracted, my good little sex fiend. Now, don't we have a post-reset sex marathon to get to?
I'll figure out how to keep him safe and how to fix this new problem permutation after I've fucked Justin senseless.