The Liberty Diner was jam packed that evening - Michael and Brian had been waiting for a table for more than twenty minutes already and still nothing had opened up. Brian was more than ready to give up and leave but Michael was insistent that he would 'die' of hunger if they didn't get something to eat before they headed over to Babylon. So they continued to wait. Brian whiled away the time regaling Michael and his new boyfriend, Ben, by pointing out each of the guys currently sitting in the Diner who he'd fucked, giving full and graphic details for each encounter. Brian, for the most part, didn't actually remember any of the fucks, or for that matter the guys either, but was happy to embellish a little for the sake of entertaining his friends. What he didn't remember, he made up. The guys being pointed out weren't so happy about what was being said - Brian, as unembarrassed as always - saw no reason to keep his voice down, meaning that most of the Diner heard every humorous tale. Michael was giggling like a schoolgirl, while Ben looked on amused but also slightly embarrassed.
Ultimately, the trio was seated in the farthest booth and their favorite waitress came shuffling over to greet them. Debbie had been working double shifts all week to cover for other employees who'd taken the week off to visit with family over the holiday. She'd also spent most of the previous day cooking a wondrous Thanksgiving feast for their little extended family. When she ambled up to their table, the boys could see that she was looking a little ragged, but since she never let anything dampen her spirits, she merely smiled at them, cracked her gum and gave her usual greeting.
"What'll it be boys? Gettin' any tonight?" she drawled.
"Hey, Ma. I'm starving. Can I get a Pink Plate Special and a Coke," Michael piped up right away.
"Sure thing, sweetie. How about you, Ben?"
"Just a caesar salad for me, Deb, Thanks," was the gentle response.
"And for the Stud in the Corner? Oh, by the way, Miguel over there told me to tell you that he's suing for slander after that last story you told. Hah! I would have loved to see that - I didn't know he was that limber!" Debbie directed at Brian with an uproarious gaffaw.
"I always try so HARD to make you proud, Mom," Brian smirked back at his surrogate parent. "I'll just have an iced tea."
"Coming right up, guys!" she said as she bustled away.
Because of the crowd, it took longer than usual for the group's order to come up. The boys were chatting and trying to one-up each other as Debbie loaded up her tray once again and headed towards their spot in the back. As the waitress neared the booth, her step faltered a little and the tray on her shoulder dropped a little lower. She stopped in mid-stride for several seconds with a surprised look on her face, looking over at her son and his friends.
"Ma? You okay," asked Michael, not liking the way his mother's face had gone so pale so quickly.
Debbie didn't respond. She started to take another step towards the booth, but then, without further warning, the tray in her hands began to tilt towards the left, the contents sliding off towards the floor accompanied by the crashing of the breaking plates and glasses, and Debbie sank to her knees with a small "Oh!" as her eyes rolled back into her head.
(November 27, 2001 - 9:30 am)
-Justin - Can't be here tonight. Maybe not for a while. Mikey's mom had a heart attack last night. They're trying to stabilize her and then will probably have to do open heart surgery. I need to be there. B.
Justin found the hastily scrawled note on his way out of the building as he was leaving for school. Brian had mentioned his friend's mother almost more often than he'd talked about Mikey. Justin knew that Brian thought of this woman as more of a mother than his own biological parent had been and that this was going to be hard on the man. Brian had been there for him so many times, had been such a strong support when he'd been scared or sad, the young man wished that there was some way he could be there for Brian in return.
(November 28, 1999 - 2:00 am)
Brian had been at the hospital for more than twenty hours straight. When the doctor had finally come out to the waiting room and advised that Debbie was in recovery and appeared to have made it through surgery without any complications, he'd finally allowed himself to be convinced to return home, get some sleep, a shower and something to eat. He also planned to run by Mikey's and get a change of clothes for the other man, who was staying at the hospital until Debbie woke up. As he stumbled into the lobby, headed for the elevator, Brian was greeted by a large bundle of paper in his mailbox and stopped to retrieve it on his way up to bed. Even in his worried and tired state, he couldn't suppress a half-hearted smile at the mere prospect of hearing from Justin.
-Dear Brian: I wish I could be there for you right now. I know how hard this is going to be for you and I wish I could be a shoulder for you to lean on, the same way you've always been there for me. Since I can't, though, I thought maybe I would send flowers. I'll be here tonight, even if you're not, just in case you need me. Love, Justin.
Along with the note, there was an unbelievable watercolor painting of a stunning bouquet of red poppies, white and yellow daylillies and tall green sedge grasses in a mosaic green and white vase. It was exquisite. Brian smiled a full, whole-hearted smile for the first time in almost two days, while a few unheeded tears escaped from his eyes. He decided to get the painting framed first thing, as soon as the frame shop opened for the morning, so he could get it to Debbie while she was still in the hospital. He figured that sharing a little bit of his Sunshine would be just the thing to help her recover.
(November 28, 1999 - 3:30 pm)
"Brian. Hey, honey. Didn't you get any sleep last night, sweetie? You look like shit," was the first thing out of Debbie's mouth when Brian walked into her hospital room. He smiled at the mother hen that couldn't stop worrying about her brood even when she was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack herself. "You come sit down, you little asshole, and rest," she demanded.
"I brought you something," he said as he sat in the chair to which he'd been directed, and handed over the large 12x20 package he had been toting. "I know you're supposed to bring flowers to folks in the hospital and all . . ."
"You shouldn't have . . ." Debbie intoned as she nonetheless took the package firmly in hand and began to tear at the gift paper covering. "Oh, my God! This is beautiful. Thank you, honey. This is so amazing - these are the best flowers I've ever got. Who's this artist? 'JT'? It's wonderful, Brian . . ." the happy, proud mother gushed, as if Brian, her little boy, had done the painting himself.
"The artist is a friend. His name's Justin. He's . . . incredible," started Brian, but stopped, not sure if he should, or if he wanted, to continue.
"A 'friend'?" asked Debbie. From his tone, she knew that Brian really wanted to say more. So she gave him her best, 'I'm a really good listener' look - the same one all bartenders and diner waitresses are required to have - and silently encouraged the suddenly shy man to continue.
No one else was in the room. Brian knew that Mikey was home getting some sleep and wouldn't be back for several hours. He didn't have any place to be and had promised his friend to sit with Debbie until Mikey returned. So . . . 'what the hell,' he thought.
"He's really an amazing artist. You should see his drawings. And his paintings - he's starting to get more into abstract acrylic painting lately and his work is great. He's a student at PIFA - a little younger than me, but, whatever." And once Brian opened up and started to tell his 'mother' about Justin, he couldn't stop.
Debbie was afraid to say anything, fearing that if she interrupted, she might startle Brian and he would stop sharing. She had known this man since he was a boy - she'd taken care of him when he was hurt or sick. She had watched him grow into a handsome, strong, man who had not only survived his traumatic childhood, but had triumphed over it, becoming stunningly successful in the process. But Debbie also knew that no matter how successful Brian was, he'd always felt that it wasn't ever enough - that something was missing. Debbie suspected that what was missing was someone special to love and care about. And, from Brian's effusive descriptions of this 'Justin', she suspected her boy might just have found that person.