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.