Justin emerged from the counsellor's office feeling exhausted and relieved at the same time. After arguing with his mother for days - which he admittedly knew from the start would be a losing proposition - he'd finally agreed to return to counselling. The only stipulation he'd insisted on was that he didn't want to return to the same psychologist. The two of them finally agreed on a counsellor based out of the GLC - Justin was much more comfortable there since he felt another gay would understand what he was going through better than some generic hetero in the suburbs. After his first counselling session, he'd also grudgingly agreed to stay on the meds, which did help with the anxiety but which made him feel numb, too, an acceptable side effect according to his counsellor, but one Justin really didn't appreciate. He also really hated that returning to counselling and the meds made him feel like he had somehow failed, although he had been reassured repeatedly that wasn't the case by both friends and his counsellor. He had identified with this new cousellor pretty well though, and after six weeks of twice a week sessions, he was doing much better and had pretty much returned to his usual daily schedule. So he really couldn't complain too much.
As he headed down the stairs to the second floor, he waved hello to a couple of the Center staff who passed him on their way up to the third floor offices. He'd gotten to know a lot of the employees who worked here over the past few weeks and was starting to form some genuine friendships with some of them. It made him realize that his life now was quite a change from his life back before the bashing. He'd been quite popular in high school - at least until he came out and admitted he was gay. Now, he felt it to be a real struggle to maintain friendships, but he was trying.
As he reached the second floor landing, he recognized another friendly face coming up the stairs from the lower floor. He headed over to talk to this somewhat new acquaintance. The man noticed his approach and waved at Justin with a wide, gap-toothed grin. Justin noted with amusement the long sequined scarf draped over a long-sleeved black and white striped jersey, which in turn had been paired with a pair of tight dark purple corduroy slacks. Emmett was always dressed to impress, he thought with a quiet snicker. He'd first met Emmett at the diner where he worked and the two had quickly formed a solid friendship. And, despite the other man's questionable fashion sense, Justin found this man to be quite engaging and knew he would be a loyal, devoted friend.
"Hey, Emmett," Justin greeted the new arrival.
"Justin, sweetie! So good to see you, baby. How are you?" Emmett gushed in true queen fashion.
"I'm good. What brings you here, Emmett."
"It's so exciting - the Center hired me to plan the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner. Every year the Center puts on this huge dinner party the evening before Thanksgiving to honor all sorts of local benefactors to the gay and lesbian community. And, this year, they picked me to be in charge. I'm just here to organize the decorating committee today - they're starting on some of the clean up and other stuff needed before we can get to the real decorations," gushed the always amiable man.
"That sounds great. Do you need any help?" asked Justin. He was actually just saying that to be polite - it was the way he'd been raised and a hard habit to break.
"Well . . . if you're really serious, we could use someone to help clear out the entryway closet. We're going to use that as a coat check area. It's really a mess - the Center's been using it as a storage area for piles of crap and I could certainly use another body to help clear it out. If you have the time, that is," replied Emmett, who was not one to turn away any offer of free help, no matter how insincerely it was offered.
Justin knew he'd been roped in without hope of escape, so he gave his friend a small smile and followed the other man down to the first floor, ready to put in his time. Emmett was babbling on about the dinner and Justin was listening with half an ear as he proceeded towards the entryway of the Center. He was actually thinking about his end of term project for his Graphic Arts class, which was due right after the Thanksgiving break, and was therefore paying little attention to Emmett's diatribe. He also wasn't really paying attention to his surroundings or the other people wandering in and out of the Center.
The future coat check room, currently a storage closet, was to the left of the main entry. The door of the room was wide open at the moment and several people were going in and out carrying various items. Justin heard Emmett say, "just take everything up the the rear classroom on the second floor for now. Ta ta!" He didn't get to say good-bye to the earnest young party-planner, though, because as he turned to enter the room that was being cleared, he saw the last person on the face of the Earth he expected and promptly froze in his steps.
The tall, dark blond young man coming towards him was carrying a cardboard box full of books. His athletic build and rakish good looks might have made him attractive, except for the disdainful glower on the man's face - it was as if he'd been forced to eat something extremely distasteful and couldn't get the sour taste out of his mouth. At first he didn't even notice Justin standing in the doorway. As he came closer though, a flash of recognition crossed his countenance and the glower turned to a look of pure hatred.
"Taylor? What are you doing here? Here to hang out with all your fudge-packin' buddies?" sneered the man.
Justin was having trouble breathing, let alone speaking, and therefore didn't utter a sound.
"Fucking judge. It's bad enough I have to keep doing this stupid community service shit but why the fuck he assigned me to help out at faggot-central is beyond me. Should have known a queen-sized faggot like you would be bound to turn up here eventually," said Chris Hobbs as he shoved Justin aside and proceeded through the lobby and up the stairs, completely disregarding the distress his appearance had caused the other man.
Justin didn't remember what happened after that. He did not remember leaving the Center or how he managed to get back to the loft. He only realized he was home when he found himself seated on the familiar cushion in the loft's lobby. He was breathing rapidly and felt the beginnings of another migraine coming on. He didn't want to go up to the loft though - he was afraid that once he got into his safe haven, he wouldn't be able to leave again. He didn't want to retreat to that place again. He didn't know what to do or where to go but he didn't want to go back to that dark place. So he'd stopped in the lobby - it was one place he'd always experienced good feelings and he felt comforted there, sitting on the cushion in the corner. And so he sat, uncaring about the time passing or the other residents going in and out of the building giving him questioning looks. He just sat there where he felt relatively safe and tried not to think.
After a long period of time - he wasn't sure how long - he finally heard the customary 'clank' and knew that Brian had just left him a note. He felt that the effort needed to stand up and retrieve the letter was enormous, but he wanted that small dose of happiness he would get upon seeing his lover's handwriting, so he made the effort, stood up and was able to get the box open. There was the comforting cream-colored sheet of stationery in the box as usual. He grabbed at it as if it were a life preserver and he was a drowning man.
-Sunshine! What's up, beautiful. B.
-I saw him. Today. At the Center. J.
The enigmatic note caused a jolt of fear to zap through Brian's frame. He didn't know what it meant, but he knew Justin was hurt and afraid. At least he was here, thought Brian, rather than holed up in the loft again.
-Tell me what's wrong, Justin. Who did you see? B.
-What the fuck was that asswipe doing at the Center? Are you okay. Did he hurt you? B.
-He said he was working there. Community service hours. He didn't hurt me - just talked to me, but . . . I feel like I can't get enough breath. I can't. What do I do?
-Justin - you're okay. It's going to be okay. Just breathe. I'm here. You're okay. Please, tell me how you're doing. Just keep writing to me so I know what's going on, please. B.
-It's my fault, you know. It was all my fault - everything that happened was my fault. I had egged him on, you know. At first I thought, maybe he liked me. Maybe he was gay too, you know. I thought I'd caught him looking at me in class and in gym. So, I kind of followed him around, you know. Watching him at football practice and stuff. He was kinda nice to me at first. We even . . . One time we . . . But I was wrong. I shouldn't have done it. It just made him hate me more and then . . . Fuck, it was all my fault. He died and it was all my fault.
-Justin, nothing was your fault. You know that, right? Nothing you did gave that fucker the right to take a baseball bat to your head or to hurt that other guy. Nothing gives him that right. You're a good person. A beautiful person. You don't deserve what happened to you. Do you understand that? Are you listening, Justin? You are not to blame for what happened at your Prom. B.
-But it was my fault - you don't understand. I don't remember the prom, but they told me what happened. I'd already come out, you know, at least to my family and most of my friends. But after I did, I didn't really hang out with the guys from school any more, you know. I didn't feel right with them. They weren't all horible, but some were. The only one I still hung out with was Daphne. But then, at the Prom, I . . . My father said it was my fault
- I shouldn't have been flaunting myself that way. He said I was asking for it. All I did was dance with another guy at the Prom. It was just one dance. I mean, how did that hurt anybody? I guess my Dad was right though. If I hadn't shown off, maybe Hobbs wouldn't have done what he did.
-Justin, your father is wrong. There is nothing you could have done that would justify what Hobbs did. You can't be responsible for all the hate in the world. There are too many homophobic pricks out there for you to take responsibility for all of them. I wish there was some way I could be there for you, to help you. Please don't let Hobbs win by letting him make you afraid again or by making you feel guilty for what he did. B.
Brian was so angry right at that moment. He was angry at Hobbs for doing this to Justin. For making this amazing, caring, creative man - a man that Brian cared for and wanted to protect - think that every bad thing that had happened to him was his own fault. He was angry at Justin's father for enforcing that sense of guilt. He was angry at himself because there didn't seem to be anything that he could do to help Justin.
To most of the outside world, Brian had always appeared to be aloof and unconcerned. He didn't show his feelings to just anyone and therefore most people believed he didn't have any feelings. But a few people, those who were close to him, knew that his unfeeling, uncaring, fuck-them-all persona was merely a subterfuge, a mask that he hid behind. Deep inside, Brian felt deeply for his friends. He wore the mask to protect himself precisely because he did feel so strongly and passionately. Brian mistakenly believed that if he never let anyone in, never let anyone see his true self, then he would be safe, he wouldn't get hurt, he wouldn't have to feel. It hadn't really worked very well, though. In spite of all his attempts to distance himself from others, a few people had gotten in; Michael, Debbie, Lindsey, his son, Gus, even his friends Ted, Emmett, and Cynthia. He didn't consciously acknowledge it, but he knew that these few had touched his heart. And it was an inherent part of Brian Kinney's nature to protect those he cared about. He would do whatever it took to care for and aid the people he loved.
Without intending to, one other person had now gotten inside Brian's self-protective barriers - Justin Taylor. And, true to his nature, Brian wanted and needed to protect this man he loved. What was angering and hurting Brian the most, right now, was that he couldn't do anything to help Justin and it was eating at his soul.
Brian wracked his brain to come up with a solution - a way he could help Justin, a way to take away this beautiful man's pain. He might not be able to be with Justin in person right now, although he hadn't yet given up hope that someday they might figure out a way to truly be together, but there had to be some way he could help him, nonetheless.
If only he could somehow stop Hobbs. He had already offered to break Hobbs' knee caps. Justin had turned that offer down - Brian didn't know if Justin had merely thought he was kidding or what. Brian had actually been deadly serious when he'd made the offer. He still thought it might be the best solution. The only way he could think of to help Justin in the future was to take action now - in what just happened to be Brian's present but Justin's past. But, since Justin apparently wasn't going to tell him where to find Hobbs in the past, Brian figured he'd have to get creative. If he could get Justin to give him more information . . .
-Justin, tell me about your Prom. When did it happen? When did Hobbs do this to you. Just keep writing so I know you're still there and that you're okay. B.
-When? It was May 20, 2000. We were at the Marquis Grand Hotel. He came after me as we were leaving the dance. We were supposed to go to a party at Daphne's friend's house - that's what Daphne said at least. We were on our way to the car when Hobbs . . . That's what they told me. That's when it happened. We never made it out of the parking garage. I didn't. I still. I don't remember, really.
Bingo. Brian now had a date and knew where Justin would be and that Hobbs would be there too. Maybe there was something he could do after all. Maybe he could stop Hobbs.
Brian kept Justin with him in the lobby until quite late that night. He made Justin keep writing so that he knew the other man was there and was okay. After several hours, Justin's responses finally began to seem less desperate and disjointed. He seemed more lucid and as if he were more in control of himself. Brian hoped that any panic attacks or night terrors would be kept at bay - at least for tonight. Finally, Justin convinced him that he was feeling better and that he would be okay and the two men said good night.
Brian was more determined than ever to find some way to help Justin, and hopefully find a way to be with him at the same time.