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.