"Remind me again why the hell you're doing this, Brian," asked Michael. It was about the tenth time he'd asked the same question and Brian was getting a little annoyed at him.
"I told you, Mikey. It's for Justin," Brian responded, the same answer he'd given every other time Michael had asked.
"You're talking about the guy . . . from the future, right? How the fuck is you moving out of the loft going to help this 'Justin' in the future?" Michael was sure that Brian was fixated on this supposed 'future love' and he wasn't sure he should have ever promised his friend not to force him to get psychological help. "Are you still writing to this guy?"
"No," Brian responded as he stared into the glass of beam he was sipping.
"Because he asked me not to," was the laconic reply.
"Why. I thought you guys were . . ." Michael kept pressing.
Brian shook his head sadly. "Time," was his hushed reply.
"Hey, come on. This is a good thing," Michael tried to cheer his friend up. "You need a real guy, you know. You can't fuck a fantasy, right?"
"Listen to me, Michael. Are you listening?" Brian demanded angrily.
"Yeah, I'm listening." Michael was cowed by the ferocity of Brian's gaze.
"While it lasted, Justin was more real to me than any of that stuff. He was more real to me than anything I've ever known. I've seen him. I've kissed him. I've . . ." the anger in Brian's tone faded to sorrow. "I fucking love him, Mikey. Do you understand that? And now he's gone. I'm going to try to get him back. I don't know if I'll succeed, but don't you ever, EVER, tell me that he wasn't real or that it was just a fuck. You hear me, Mikey?"
"Okay. Okay, Brian. So, let's get the rest of this shit packed up so the movers can pick it up tomorrow morning." Michael stood up, hoping to change the subject and ready to resume work, helping to pack up Brian's personal belongings from the living room and then they could move on to his clothes. Shit, that part would take hours - Brian owned more clothes than any other man he knew. "Can you just tell me one thing, Bri?"
"What, Mikey," Brian relented.
"Why West Virginia? I mean, it's way the fuck out there. You've always loved the loft - it's right in the middle of all the action, close to your work and Liberty Avenue and all the clubs and bars and shit. Why the fuck would you move out to the middle of nowhere? And why would you shell out all that money for some huge fucking palace when you live alone? It doesn't make any sense."
"Don't worry your pretty little head about it, Mikey. It's . . . just consider it an investment in the future," Brian dissembled. He mumbled something more, which Michael couldn't quite hear, though it sounded like, "it's for my prince . . ."
"Fine. Whatever." Then Michael turned to the last box Brian had been working on, full of what appeared to be letters, photos and other random memorabilia. "Where does this one go, Bri. I'll label it for you."
"That stays here," Brian said as he grabbed the box in question and strode up the steps to the bedroom, placing the box on the top shelf in the back of the bedroom closet.
"Okay. So, what do you want me to pack up next?" Michael asked.
"You could work on the kitchen stuff, I guess. I'll get started on my clothes," Brian directed. He didn't really trust Michael with his clothes. Heaven knew the man had absolutely no taste and no appreciation for how good clothes needed to be handled. Brian was going to take care of that part of the packing himself.
Several minutes later, Brian heard Michael stacking boxes of flatware and other kitchen items in the corner next to the fridge. "You really should repaint in here, you know. Nobody who rents this place is going to want to see Gus' handprints on the wall back here. You can have Lindsey paint you a new growth chart thingy at your new place, can't you?"
"No. The handprints stay," Brian ordered.
Several hours later everything was finally packed away, labeled, and ready for the movers to come tomorrow. Michael was dusting off his hands and throwing out the last of the beer bottles and take out cartons from their dinner. There was only one last thing left to do, Brian thought.
"Thanks for all your help, Mikey. You go ahead. I'll meet you at your place in a bit. I just have one more thing I want to do here," Brian stated as Michael gratefully headed for the door, waving and commenting that he'd see Brian later.
Brian grabbed his briefcase and pulled out a plain manilla file folder. Inside was a single sheet of his usual cream colored stationery. He sat down at the kitchen island and started to write.
"Dear New Tennant . . ."
(January 31, 2002 - 6:00 pm)
Daphne walked into the living room and turned down the stereo as she headed towards the couch where Justin was lounging. "Want some peach yogurt?" she asked her friend.
"No. I'm not hungry," replied Justin as he took another pull on the cigarette he had in his hand and continued to stare off through the loft window at the now well-known billboard on the building across the street.
"It's just that it's a lot healthier than all those cigarettes you've been consuming," Daphne tried to cajole her friend into eating.
"Sorry, Daph. I'm just . . ." his voice faded without completing his thought.
"Come on, Justin. Snap out of it already! You've been moping around here forever now. So you broke up with that Brian guy. So what! It's time to move on. Let's go out and do something. Anything to cheer you up!" his best friend demanded.
"I know. I'm being a downer. I'll try to cheer up. It's just that . . . what do you do when you think you've made the biggest mistake of your entire fucking life?" Justin asked. He truly didn't know if what he'd done, telling Brian to stop writing, was a good idea. Hell, he was so lonely without him. The days had dragged by. He no longer had a daily appointment at 6:30 that he could look forward to - he no longer had anything to look forward to.
"Come on. We're getting out of here. I don't care what you say - if you stay in this loft any longer, you're going to start growing mold!" the strong-willed young woman demanded. She proceeded to pull her friend off the couch, grabbed the cigarette out of his hand and snuffed it out in the ashtray, then steadfastly pushed Justin towards the door, ignoring his complaints along the way.
(February 14, 2000 - 1:00 pm)
"Hey, Deb," Brian came up behind the waitress, snaked his arm around her waist and gave her a quick squeeze. "You're supposed to be taking it easy, you know. What are you doing back here?"
"Stop fussing, you little asshole. I'm a big girl and I can take care of myself, you know! And if I was stuck at home any longer, they wouldn't have had to worry about my heart cause I would have gone so stark raving bonkers they'd have had to commit me. So just lay off," she reprimanded. "Besides, I have my doctor's okay to go back to work. I just have to take it a little easier - no more double shifts. At least for a while," grinned the irrepressible red-head.
"Fine. As long as you're being good. Then I guess you can have these!" Brian pulled his other arm out from behind his back and presented a bouquet of red roses to his almost-mother with a flourish. "Happy V.D.!" he quipped with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, Brian, honey. Thank you. They're beautiful - almost as beautiful as the last flowers you brought me," she commented with a wink and messy, red-lipsticked smooch on his cheek. Brian almost smiled at her but couldn't quite force it. "Sorry, honey. I forgot," Debbie apologized, and quickly changed the subject. "Well, I'd better get these in some water. They are just perfect, Brian!”
Brian moved off towards an empty booth. He was introspective this afternoon, but his mood had improved of late and his friends, Debbie included, had been happy to see what they perceived as progress. Debbie hustled over to him as soon as her roses had been safely deposited in a vase on the counter by the espresso machine, filling his coffee cup and ready to take his lunch order.
"I'll hold off on ordering for a bit, Deb. I'm meeting someone here this afternoon," Brian commented as he dumped sugar into his cup.
"Anyone special?" Debbie couldn't help sticking her nose in where her almost-son's love life was concerned.
"It's a contractor, Deb. I'm having some work done on my new place. So, you can just put away your little cupid's bow and arrows, and leave me alone for now, Mom," Brian shooed her off. Debbie might have had more to add, but just then a tall, muscle-bound type in a short-sleeved tee with a yellow hard-hat under his arm and a scroll of blueprints in his hand entered the diner and Brian waived the man over. He nodded at Brian and slipped into the booth, unrolling the blueprints as he sat, all business.
Debbie left the two men to themselves for several minutes while she saw to the needs of her other customers. Then, under the pretense of refilling coffees and getting their orders, she sidled back over towards the booth where Brian and the other man were going over the plans spread out on the table.
"So, what you working on there," she tried to get a look at the plans to satisfy her curiosity.
Brian smiled at the woman indulgently. He knew his foster mother was pretty much the biggest snoop on Liberty Avenue, and that was saying alot considering the penchant for gossip most of the local queens had. He decided to take pity on her and come clean without making her work too hard for the 'intel' she'd been seeking.
"I'm remodelling part of the second floor to put in a study and studio," Brian offered.
"What do you need a studio for?" Debbie blurted without thinking.
"It's not for me," Brian quietly responded. "It's just in case . . ."
"Oh. I see." Debbie thought it wise not to press and simply refilled the two men's cups then hustled away.
The contractor left about a half hour later. Debbie quickly yelled at Kiki to cover her tables while she took her break, and then made herself comfortable on the seat in the booth across from Brian.
"So, talk to me, kiddo," she started. "How are you doing. This remodelling thing - you're okay, right?"
"I'm fine, Deb. You don't have to send out your minions to keep an eye on me again," Brian kidded. Then, when he saw the doubt in the woman's eyes, he added, "really. I'm doing fine. I'm just . . . making some plans."
Brian's eyes were locked on the coffee cup in his hands as he swirled the dregs of his last cup around. He knew that Mikey had told the gang, including his mother, something of what he'd confided to his friend the day he'd confessed about Justin. He figured Michael hadn't told them the whole story or he'd be locked in that padded cell by now. But Debbie was pretty perceptive when it came to certain things, so he knew that once she'd connected what he'd told her when she was in the hospital with whatever Michael had told her, she would have probably figured out the majority of the story on her own. He knew that Debbie was concerned about him and he wanted to reassure her, but he also didn't want to give away too much about his plans. He didn't want any interference - he knew if the gang had any inkling about what he was thinking about doing, they would try everything in their power to stop him. So, he was a little reluctant to tell Debbie what he'd been working on. However, since he also knew she'd keep at him relentlessly until he gave her something, he decided to open up just a little.
"Seriously, Deb - I'm doing fine. I'm just hoping that maybe I can work things out with Justin. We . . . well, I'm not ready to give up, yet. So, just in case, I thought that if things do work out with us, maybe he would . . . the studio is for him, just in case, you know."
"Have you talked to him, sweety?"
"Not lately. No."
"You should try. You're not going to resolve anything without talking to him, you know."
"I know, Deb. It's just not that easy. It's complicated."
"It always is with you boys," Deb laughed softly. "You're always making mountains out of molehills! So, just make it uncomplicated - talk to the guy."
"But he's the one that won't talk to me. I tried. I wrote him - he returned the letters - didn't read them."
"So, try again," was the reasonable advice Debbie proffered.
"I'm going to. I just have to . . . wait for the right time."
Brian knew exactly when the right time would be. He'd been working on his plan for quite some time now. He just had to wait until the moment he knew when and where Justin would be. Then, he hoped, what he had planned would change things for the better for both of them.