(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)
The plane landed at the Pittsburgh airport exactly at noon, and the young man sitting by the window waited for the other passengers to get off while trying to find the strength and courage to actually face the inevitable. He knew he had to do it, that he had no other choice, but he just needed a little bit more time. He hadn't been here since the day everything changed. Since the day he...
"Excuse me sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave the plane," the flight attendant smiled at him.
"Oh, yeah, sure, sorry, I was just waiting for the others to leave, I didn't want to..."
"Deal with the impatient passengers who think they're entitled to gett off first? she laughed, raising her eyebrows.
"Exactly," he laughed as well. "I always prefer to sit a little longer and as soon as everyone is gone, I go too. It's easier that way."
“Yeah, someone used to call me a genius."
"Used to? Not anymore?"
"Um... yeah, not anymore," he smiled sadly and began to gather his things.
"Oh, okay. Well, do you live here or you're here just for a visit?" she asked while walking to the exit with him. “I mean, if I may ask."
"That's a little complicated."
"Complicated how? Sorry, not my business."
“Well, Pittsburgh used to be my home, but… let's just say things have changed,” he said as sadness settled on his face again.
“Life can be pretty unpredictable, huh?"
"You have no idea. Well, it was nice to meet you..." he paused, waiting to hear the flight attendant's name.
"Rachel," she said with a smile.
"Rachel… I'm Justin… maybe we'll get lucky and fly together again."
"That would be nice and maybe you could tell me more about that mysterious person who rightfully called you a genius."
Justin gave her one last smile and finally got off the plane. Then he went to get his suitcase and after a few attempts he even managed to catch a taxi. He almost said the address that he still knew by heart, but stopped himself in time and said the correct one. The cab dropped him off at the house he last saw three years ago. The last time he was here he was trying to heal his mind and all his wounds. Both physical and emotional. Memories of it suddenly flashed before his eyes, which almost filled with tears, but by now he had learned how to fight with it - well, most of the time.
He then took a deep breath, headed for the door and knocked.
"Oh my god, Justin. You're here early," Michael said surprised, but immediately reached out and hugged him.
“Yeah, I caught an earlier flight."
“Well, it's really good to see you. Come on in."
Justin hesitated for a moment, because this house simply didn't evoke the best feelings in him, and actually neither did being in Michael's presence. He actually admired him for the fact that he even talked to him, not to mention invited him into his home with open arms and treated him so kindly. In fact, the only reason Justin was here right now was because of Michael's persistence and refusal to give up on him, if it wasn't for his calls a pleas, Justin would probably be locked in his studio right now working on some new painting that he wouldn't end up selling anyway. Not because it wouldn't be good, but because it would have a great emotional value for him. But he was here and determined to fight whatever he was about to face, one step at a time.
So he took another deep breath and finally entered the house.
"I've got your room ready for you, so you can just put your things in there."
Your room. It was so strange for Justin to hear that. All those years ago when he had met Michael and he had taken him to the diner for the first time, trying to convince him to stop chasing Brian, he would never have thought that one day he would have his own room in his house.
"When you're settled, come down here, I've cooked something, so hopefully it won't be terrible," he laughed.
He didn't have the heart to tell him that he couldn't even think about food right now because he felt like he's gonna puke. Michael was trying so hard to make Justin feel the best he could that he just didn't want to sound ungrateful, so he just nodded with a smile and headed up the stairs to his room.
He took the door handle but wasn't ready to open the door just yet. The last time he was in this room, he swore he would never step into it again because it hurt so much and even though three years had passed it still hurt the same, the difference was that this Justin had already learned to handle the pain. That's why he simply closed all his emotions somewhere deep inside and opened the door.
To his surprise the room did not look the same, the color was changed and the furniture was rearranged. Michael probably couldn't stand the room either, he thought. After hearing Justin scream in pain and tears countless times from here, it was no wonder.
He placed his suitcase in the corner of the room and sat on the edge of the bed. Before he knew it, he fell straight into the covers. Then he closed his eyes and let his mind escape reality for a moment.
I love you, Sunshine. And I will love you forever.
Justin immediately sat up, clutching the duvet in his hand, he could hear his heart pounding. He knew that those words would haunt him forever and that he would never forget how and when Brian said them to him. On the day the rest of their lives together was supposed to begin.
He quickly shook his head in order to stop the thoughts racing through his mind, he just couldn't afford to fall apart now, even though something was telling him that maybe that was exactly what he needed.
"Oh, hey, Justin," Ben greeted him from the couch as Justin finally walked into the living room. "How are you?" his facial expression changed the moment he realized what a stupid question he had just asked. "I'm sorry," he said and went to hug him.
"You don't have to be sorry, it's a normal question that I should be able to answer," he chuckled. "I'm fine. I mean, as fine as I can be."
"And you must be hungry, so I'll get you the food," Michael said and before Justin could protest, he disappeared into the kitchen.
"You're not hungry, are you?" Ben noticed his face.
"Not at all, but I don't have the heart to tell him that."
"Yeah, I haven't had the heart to tell him a lot of things lately either."
Justin was taken aback, but Ben didn't look like he wanted to talk about it, so he didn't force him. After a while, Michael called him from the kitchen and he followed him there with an artificial smile. He had a good portion on his plate and he knew right away that no matter how hard he would try, he had no chance of eating it all.
"Don't worry, you don't have to eat everything," Michael assured him.
"Oh, thank god... I mean, it looks wonderful, I'm just not that hungry, but I'll eat some."
And I'll try to keep it in my stomach, he thought to himself.
Justin could feel Michael's gaze almost burning through his skin. He just knew he wanted to tell him something, or maybe even ask him something, but he didn't have the courage, maybe because he didn't know how, or he just wasn't sure it was the right time.
"What is it, Michael?" Justin asked him.
"Huh, what?" he looked at him confused.
"You're staring at me. And it's really annoying."
“Sorry, I-I didn't mean to."
And in that moment Justin realized that Michael wasn't staring at him, well not exactly… he was staring at something Justin had on his body since that day three years ago. Something they both wished wasn't there. But it was and there was nothing they could do about it.
"If you don't mind, I think I'm done."
"You barely ate anything," Michael pointed out.
“Like I said, I wasn't really hungry."
"Well, if you say so. But let me know when you're hungry, okay?"
"Don't worry, I will," he smiled.
Michael took his plate while Justin went to look around the house, his room wasn't the only one that had undergone some changes. It seemed that Michael has been spending his free time working on this house and Emmett was probably helping him with that.
"That was Emmett's choice," Michael suddenly said behind him.
"I figured," he chuckled. "It looks like something he would pick."
They both laughed and were a little relieved that the strange atmosphere between them had subsided a bit. But it didn't take long for Michael to finally ask the question he was probably itching to ask from the moment Justin arrived.
"Were you there?"
"Michael,” Justin sighed in frustration.
"I'm just asking."
"I went straight here from the airport."
“You're going to have to go there eventually, Justin."
"I know, that's why I'm here, right?" he barked.
Justin made it clear that he didn't want to talk about it and Michael knew there was no point in forcing him to, actually this wasn't an easy topic for him either, but he always preferred to talk about things rather than pretend they weren't there.
"How is Debbie anyway?" Justin asked.
"Um, you know her… she's still the same crazy woman… she's even met someone. When she told me she was dating I was a bit horrified, but I've come to terms with it," he chuckled.
Justin laughed, but he was really glad for her. "That's good, she needs to find happiness again."
“Yeah, I know, Carl's death broke her, but she's a tough woman, she always gets back on her feet. I don't know how she does it."
That's what Justin always admired about her, no matter how cruel life was to her, she never let it get her down, she always fought back and came back stronger than before. He wanted to be able to do it too, but he didn't know how.
"How are things going between you and Ben?"
"You noticed, huh?"
"Noticed?" Justin arched his brows, trying to look confused, but actually yeah - he did notice.
"We've been sleeping in seperate rooms for the past few months and everything between us is just... not good."
"Life... I guess. After everything that happened, life changed for all of us, not just you."
Justin felt as if he had been hit with a brick.
“Sorry, that wasn't fair."
"That doesn't mean it's not true... life has changed for all of us, I just have been too selfish to see it because I was desperately trying to move on..."
"That's understandable, I mean, you loved him..."
"And I killed him," Justin blurted out suddenly.
“It's true, we both know it… he's dead because of me."
Justin's voice broke just like it had many times before when he said those words. He was broken just like his heart and soul had been since the day he lost the love of his life and it was all his fault. He was responsible for Brian's death and hated himself for it.