(Pittsburgh, May 2016 - present)
"They'd really think I'm crazy if they knew I'm talking to you like this," Justin chuckled, burying his face into Brian's chest and inhaling his scent. "Though I probably am."
"Fuck them," Brian snorted. "You just can't resist me - it's that simple."
Justin looked up with a smile and watched Brian lovingly. "It's really stupid how much I like your face."
"You're so corny," Brian laughed.
Justin laughed as well, but then his face got serious. "You know I love you, right?"
"And I love you, Sunshine," Brian ran a hand through his hair. "But you know it can't go on like this forever."
"Can we not talk about it?"
"Well, actually, you're the one talking about it because I'm not even here," Brian's tongue found its way to his cheek.
"Thanks for the reminder," Justin sat up and hung his head, just staring into nothing.
"Hey, hey, Justin..."
"You know I mean well. I just… you can never move on in your life unless you stop imagining conversations... and sex..." he laughed again. "With me."
"I don't have anything but that, Brian. I don't want to let you go. Not yet."
"But you can't just..."
A knock on the door was all it took for Brian to suddenly disappear before his eyes. Justin knew what he was doing wasn't okay... but he wasn't ready to stop, even though deep down he knew Deb was right. That saying goodbye to Brian was the only way for him to be able to move on in his life... but he just couldn't.
It was Ben who walked in. "Justin, the girls and the kids will be here in 15 minutes. Are you ready?"
"Oh," Justin looked at the clock and was surprised to see what time it was. How long did he actually talk to Brian? "Give me ten minutes," Justin smiled apologetically and quickly got off the bed to get ready. At that moment it still didn't fully hit him what was awaiting him.
Ben smiled at him and was about to close the door but stopped at the last second, "Um... Justin?"
"Is everything okay?"
"What do you mean?" he was confused.
"I just… I heard you talk before I walked in and…"
"Talk?" Justin immediately froze. "Oh, I was just calling Daphne. I want to see her before I go back to New York, you know."
"Oh, right," Ben smiled and finally closed the door behind him.
But Justin could tell that it was not believable enough for him. He just really hoped that it at least delayed his committing to a psych ward. But he should really call Daphne though, there was no doubt about that.
"Ready?" Michael looked at him from the couch when he came down.
"Uh-hm, yeah," Justin nodded, trying to look convincing.
"Are you sure you really feel up to it?" Deb asked him.
"Um, yeah, I think so," Justin smiled at her, even though deep down he could feel how scared he really was.
"Okay, honey. You look nice by the way. Brian wouldn't be able to stop staring at you," she smiled and stroked his cheek.
"Thanks," he chuckled softly.
"I bought these red roses for his grave... I hope you like them," Michael said, looking at him.
Justin glanced at the roses and that was all it took for him to be finally and fully aware of what was actually happening today. He was so lost in his conversation with Brian, which wasn't even real, that he completely ignored the reality - that today marks exactly three years since Brian's death.
Oh my god. Oh my god...
Justin's heart immediately began to race and it felt like he couldn't breathe properly, he was almost gasping for air. He was so close to passing out.
"Justin? Justin?" Michael rushed to him immediately.
"Honey, just breath, okay? Breath," Debb held his hand tightly.
"I'll get him some water," Ben said.
Justin could feel his throat getting tight and his chest felt so heavy. His whole body was shaking and he was covered in cold sweat. He kept clutching his chest and thought his heart would jump out of his body at any moment.
He was definitely not ready for this. He had been preparing for this day since he promised Michael he would come, but now he felt like he wasn't prepared at all. Well, how could he? There was a reason he was avoding this. Reason why he dreaded to come here, let alone live here.
But now he felt as if it had literally slapped him in the face. The realization. The fact that today it's exactly three years since he last saw Brian. It was supposed to be a very special day... but then it turned into a nightmare. A nightmare that Justin still hasn't fully woken up from.
"Is it better?" Michael wanted to make sure as Justin started to turn pink again.
"Yeah... thanks," he replied, still shaking a little, but thankfully the worst was over. God, he really hated these panic attacks.
"You scared the shit out of me, Sunshine!" Debb wiped away here tears, still shaking too.
"I'm sorry… it's just that… that I suddenly realized what… what…"
"What today means," Michael finished for him.
"I know what you mean. It happened to me on the first anniversary… it was like it finally dawned on me that Brian was gone."
"I know he's gone, but..."
"Now it feels more... real."
Justin nodded. He didn't even know it was possible to feel worse than he already did.
"It will get better, you'll see."
He wanted to believe him, but he just couldn't. It was more than obvious that Michael had already come to terms with Brian's death and was able to move on with his life... but that was something Justin still had ahead of him and right now he was not sure he'll ever be able to do it.
Then suddenly the doorbell rang and Justin's heart immediately skipped a beat. But he really didn't want to fall apart again, so even though he knew that the people behind that door who were very close to him probably hated him, he took a really deep breath and waited for whatever was about to come.
"Daddy!" a dark haired girl ran into the house and straight into Michael's arms.
God, Jenny is so big, Justin thought with a huge smile, but at the same time he felt sad… he had lost so much time with her and didn't see her grow up.
And then it was Lindsay and Melanie who finally stepped into the house. Justin couldn't even look at them and preferred to hide behind Michael and Ben. Everyone immediately started hugging and greeting each other... well, almost everyone - Gus still hadn't crossed the threshold of the house. This made Justin wonder if he was even here. Maybe he couldn't come here because it was too hard for him. Or maybe he knew Justin would be here and didn't want to face him. Could he have hated him so much that he'd rather stay home than come to the anniversary of his dad's death?
With these thoughts racing through his mind, he was sure he's going go insane at any moment.
"Justin?" he heard suddenly and completely froze - it was Lindsay.
Justin immediately held his breath and slowly looked up, "Linds," he breathed out.
And what happened next took him completely by surprise. Lindsay's arms suddenly wrapped around him and hugged him as tightly as possible, "It's so good to see you, Justin."
Justin wasn't able to react or even hug her back until Lindsay said, "Come on, just hug me," so he finally did and it felt amazing. He was really happy to see her.
"Oh my god, Justin, honey," Melanie joined them. "We've missed you so much."
"Me too," Justin literally had tears on his face. Never in a million years had he expected such a warm welcome from them after everything that had happened.
"Uncle Justy!" Jenny was so eager to hug him too that he almost ended up on the floor.
"Jenny Rebecca!" Melanie exclaimed.
"It's okay," Justin chuckled. "God, you're so heavy... and so big," he couldn't stop smiling at her.
"And where is Gus?" Debbie asked and Justin was really glad because he needed to know too.
"He's still in the car - sulking," Lindsay replied. "This day is already hard enough, but now that he's a teenager... well, I guess you can imagine," she sighed.
"I'll go get him," Melanie said and left the house.
And in that moment, Justin was really surprised at how fast his heart could beat and knowing that Gus was not in the best mood made it all even worse. God, he was so not ready for this. But no matter how much he wanted to get out of there right now he just stood there staring at the door basically without blinking until it finally opened and Melanie walked in followed by Gus. And Justin's jaw immediately dropped... he looked so much like Brian. It wasn't just resemblance, it was like he was looking at Brian. Teenage Brian, but Brian. His Brian. And there were no words to describe how shocked Justin actually was.
"Justin? Justin?" It was as if someone was speaking to him from afar. And it wasn't until Michael touched his shoulder that he was able to come back to reality. "Are you okay?" Michael asked, worried.
"It's just that... um... you look so much like your father," he breathed out, literally staring at Gus.
Everyone immediately fell silent and didn't know what to say. They too could see how much Gus looked like Brian and understood why it affected Justin so much... but they didn't know what they could do for him so they just waited helplessly to see what was going to happen next.
"Shocking," Gus replied wryly, almost rolling his eyes and then headed to the kitchen.
"Gus!" Lindsay scolded him.
And Justin just stood there, not really surprised as he expected some kind of reaction from Gus, but of course that didn't mean it didn't hurt because it did, there was no doubt about that.
"I'm really sorry, Justin," Lindsay smiled at him apologetically. "He's just... I should talk to him..."
"It's okay, Linds. Don't be mad at him. Today is hard."
"Yeah," she sighed. "How do you even feel?"
"I'm fine, really. Just... you know," he shrugged.
"Yeah, unfortunately I do. But I'm really glad you're here. Brian would be happy too."
Justin almost had to laugh because the truth was that Brian would be much happier if Justin would be literally anywhere else enjoying his life instead of being here and getting ready to visit his grave. If he was here, he probably would have smacked him and yelled at him to get the fuck out of here.
They all went to sit down and Ben poured them coffee and some orange juice. Meanwhile, Gus had came back from the kitchen but wasn't making eye contact with anyone let alone an actual conversation, despite Debb's several attempts to do so. He just stood quietly in the corner of the living room playing with his phone. But no one blamed him, how could they when today was a reminder of what he had lost.
But Justin really wanted to have a moment alone with him and apologize. Because even though he knew that no apology in the world would fix this, he really needed to say it. He just had to be patient and wait for Gus to at least acknowledge his existence.
Feeling a little overwhelmed, Justin got up and went to look out the window while slowly sipping his coffee and trying to take his mind off everything. But suddenly Jenny bumped into him by accident and spilled the coffee all over his shirt.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, uncle Justy, I didn't mean to!"
"It's okay," he smiled. "Nothing happened, don't worry about it..." Justin assured her, seeing how bad she felt.
"I'll get you some napkins," Melanie offered immediately.
"No need, I'll just go get changed," Justin smiled and hurried upstairs. He was actually glad to be alone for a bit.
Justin took off the wet shirt and took a clean one from the closet. He then headed to the bathroom to wash the coffee off his skin. But as he was standing in front of the mirror, he couldn't help but stare at himself. It wasn't like he was seeing his scars for the first time, but... today they had a completely different meaning. They reminded him of the pain that had seemed so excruciating back then, but little did he know that it was actually nothing compared to the pain he felt today.
"Justin? Is everything okay?" Lindsay suddenly opened the bathroom door and her eyes immediately widened when she saw Justin's scars. So he quickly began to put on the shirt. "I'm sorry, I… I didn't mean to…" she closed the door behind her. And Justin sighed, running a hand over his face.
After a while he was finally able to walk out of the bathroom and as he assumed, Lindsay was there waiting for him, "I should have knocked," she said apologetically.
"Don't worry about it, Lindsay. It's just scars."
"Yeah. I just… it's the first time I've seen them."
"Well, we haven't seen each other since then, so..." he looked down for a moment, feeling guilty. "And you have no idea how sorry I am."
"What happened, Justin?" Lindsay asked. "I mean... you just disappeared."
"I just… I thought you wanted nothing to do with me."
"Why on earth would you think that?"
"Come on Lindsay. Brian is dead because of me. Gus is without a dad because of me. Your best friend is dead because of me."
Lindsay just stared at him in disbelief, not really sure if she heard correctly. "Justin, none of us blame you for what happened. Not me, not Gus. NO ONE. It was a terrible accident."
"Gus can't even look at me."
"Gus can barely look at me… it's called being a teenager," she chuckled. "Trust me it has nothing to do with what happened. He knows it was an accident."
Justin wanted to believe it, but it was too hard.
"We love you, okay? You're part of our family and nothing can ever change that. So don't you dare leave us again, you hear me?"
Justin had to smile, barely able to hold back the tears. Lindsay had no idea how much those words meant to him and how much he needed to hear them. He couldn't help but hug her. But then they were interrupted by Michael, who came to tell them that Ted and Emmett had arrived.