Chapter 10: The Return...
Miguel had been wracking his brain for the past few weeks trying to figure out how to get Justin to engage in art. From all accounts, he knew that Justin was a gifted artist and he wanted Justin's life to return to as normal as possible. When he broached the subject with Brian, the tall brunet agreed with Miguel that there had to be some way for Justin to re-engage and return to the challenging young man that Brian knew prior to the incident. Miguel knew that if he felt helpless watching Justin deteriorate, he could only imagine what Brian and Jennifer felt.
Which was why he was surprised when Jennifer suggested that he get a pottery wheel. Talking with her further he discovered that Justin's grandmother used to make pottery and that Justin would paint it after it had come out of the kiln. It was Jennifer's hope that Justin would remember where it all had began for him, would bring about a sense of familiarity so that Justin could learn to move forward. For Brian it meant changing the way Justin now thought about himself so that Justin could redefine who he is as an artist. It was amazing to Miguel to meet someone who had such a clear definition of who they were on the inside even after a severe TBI, but it saddened him that Justin couldn't yet see that he was so much more.
Taking Jennifer's advice to heart, Miguel had ventured into his and Justin's favorite art store. Although Miguel would never become the artist Justin was on a fast track to being, he never stopped drawing even when his career choices took him to school to become an occupational therapist. He used art as an outlet for when he felt frustrated with a patient's prognosis or when the hospital administration put limitations on a person's health care because of insurance mandates. Watching people fight their way to a new life took its toll on the therapist in more ways than he would ever admit aloud. And that was why he could relate to Justin on so many more deeper levels than anyone suspected.
He approached his favorite shopgirl, Tammy, asking her about the different equipment. He explained to her that the device would be used for a patient who had some minor experience in pottery making from a young boy. She suggested the appropriate items including high quality clay, saying that the cheaper kind tended to dry out faster and crumble apart easily before even making it to the kiln. The higher quality felt more silky and even when moderately dry was still more malleable than the least expensive brand. He bought 10 pounds in each color they had and two wheels, thinking this was something that not only Justin and he could do together, but as a way to include Brian and Jennifer too. He was taking a big chance but if it got Justin back on the road to recovery, it was worth this and so much more.
An hour later, Miguel had arrived at the loft, wagon in tow. Coming in, he knew that Nicole would be there as well as Bethany. Brian was at work, but surprisingly Justin's attorney was there briefing everyone on the court proceedings thus far. Melanie looked at him questioningly as moved over to the kitchen counter. He made sure to place a drop cloth over the smooth surface, learning the first day how meticulous Brian was about the elegant space and all its surfaces. Finally setting up his project for the day, he moved into the living room area to be brought up to speed on what's been happening with Justin's case. He, like everyone else in the room, had a vested interest in the outcome.
"The DA's office has been given a copy of Clarence Peter's testimony, Justin. Between that and your father's settlement, you will be very well off. St. James has already settled but we still have to get through the testimony of Chris the cunt, Dixon the dick and Perkins the pussy," Melanie finished, smiling at Justin's snicker from her references. "I think the preliminaries will be finished up within the next week or two."
"And Stockwell? What will happen to him and Judge Russo?" Justin asked. That was one of his biggest concerns. The two men along with Chris Hobbs featured heavily in his nightmares night after night.
"Those are going to take longer because they have to go before a Federal grand jury. But don't worry Justin, they won't get off. Not if I have anything to say about it. In fact I have to be getting to court. I have Daphne's testimony today and another unpleasant one to deal with. Have you decided what you want to do with Taylor Electronics?"
"Not yet but I'll let you know. The thing is that I've known most of the people who work there all my life. I would hate to toss them out with nothing."
Melanie nodded. "I'm sure that between Brian and I, we'll ask Teddy to go over the books and see what we can do by way of severance packages, that is if you want to close the store."
"He said that he will be over later tonight." Melanie's eyes widened at Justin's admission.
"Ted's been here? What for?"
Justin smiled the first genuine smile he has in a long time by each of their estimation. "He plays Scrabble with me and Brian. He said that it's hard to find good opponents shy of going to a senior citizens home."
"Well Ted sure is old enough to be in one, he should feel right at home." Brian said coming through the door. Dropping his briefcase onto his desk, he loosened his tie and shed his suit jacket in record time. He made his way over to Justin, positioning himself on the couch next to the stunned but happy young man. Justin immediately plastered himself against Brian's side and both exhaled a slight sigh of relief. Things had gotten better between them but Brian still looked for Justin to withdraw into himself at any time. The fact that he didn't was progress in Brian's book.
"You're just mad because he beat you last time with the word ‘woodpussy.'
Everyone laughed when Brian huffed and then griped. "Leave it to Theodore to know any variation on the word pussy. Since he has one."
Justin laughed, causing everyone else in the room to smile benevolently. "It's a skunk or by its scientific classification a musteline mammal."
"Duh, I know that Mr. 700 verbal. Still a smart twat," Brian joked. Turning towards Melanie, he asked about the court case. When she explained all that was going on, he responded, "Good. Justin will be starting classes soon and we need this all to be taken care of as quickly as possible."
"You'll let me know when he can testify, right?"
He looked down into Justin's upturned face. Brian knew that the prospect of leaving the security of the loft still scared the blond. It was evident in the liquid pools of fear staring back at him and the slight tremor that raced through Justin's body even though he tried to hide it. Brian made a split second decision before responding to Mel. "Give Justin a court date; he'll be ready." Justin gasped and was on the verge of protesting when Brian asked him, "You still trust me?"
Justin answered without hesitation or thought. "With my life Brian."
The eyes that looked at him then still had the fear but also held conviction and Brian knew that Justin spoke the truth. Keeping his eyes locked to the blue ones he knew so well, he spoke again to Melanie. "He'll be ready."
The attorney watched the silent communication going on between Brian and Justin. She still marveled that even after a short time of knowing each other, they could still do that. She remembered the one time not too long after Justin had come home to the loft that she had asked him, why Brian. Why, out of everyone he could have gone with to have them take care of him, why he chose the person who would want the responsibility the least. Justin had told her that she nor the others really knew Brian beyond what they see. At first, she was skeptical about what Justin thought he knew that those of them who had known Brian Kinney for years didn't. But as she had watched them over the weeks, she began to understand what Justin meant, and what Vic had told her and Lindsay the first morning after Chris Hobbs assaulted Justin. There were things that none of them would ever know about Brian and Justin's dynamic, and when she thought about it- really thought about it- that's the way it should be. Would that Lindsay had learned that lesson long ago, she thought.
"I'll talk to Charles to see what's on the schedule." And with that she left the loft, headed to the courthouse to take on another of Justin's enemies.
Brian and Justin stayed that way for a few more moments before Brian broke the contact. Brian smoothed his hand up and down Justin's back continuing to calming the boy's frayed nerves as he turned his attention to the others. "Miguel, you wanna tell me why my marble countertop is covered with that hideous cloth and why there are items on it that neither scream Prada or Gucci?
Miguel couldn't help but laugh. They all knew by now that Brian was a label queen. Sometimes Miguel thought he was in the wrong business, like the first time he had arrived to the modern-decorated oasis that Brian and Justin called home. "A little birdie named Jennifer told me that another little birdie used to enjoy using a pottery wheel. So Justin, how about it? You wanna give it a whirl for old times sake?"
Justin looked at Miguel and then looked at Brian again. He couldn't help but feel torn between elation and fear. He remembered spending countless hours as a kid with his grandmother, Genevieve. Some of the best times he'd had in his life was hearing her stories of the prohibition era and her protesting days of the 60s and 70s. She was a WASP, but one of those few with a genuine love for people no matter who they were. She was the first one who Justin had come out to and she had kept his secret. Thinking of all of that is what made him say to Miguel, "Yeah, I'll try it. I don't know how good I'll be but..."
Miguel knew what Justin was getting at. "There is four requirements really."
Justin sighed, knowing that he wouldn't just be able to have fun with it. So much for dreaming of yesteryears gone by, he thought. "What are they?"
"Rule number one: remember that this is supposed to be fun but it is also work. You are to use your affected hand as much as possible but not to the point where it becomes overworked and tired. If it starts cramping, stop immediately and let one of us know. This will help you to regain the strength in your hand."
"So does jerking off," Brian interjected, causing Justin to blush and laugh. He also laughed when Justin struck him in the stomach, moving his affected hand without realizing it. The other three sets of eyes noticed it as well, but respected the slight shake of Brian's head not to comment on it.
"Rule number two: You try your best. Remember that no one is judging you. Whereas this is going to work your hand, think of it also as a stress reliever. That said, stay OUT of your head! Just go with it. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it," Justin confirmed, biting his lip.
"Rule three: Remember that this is another form of art so become one with your creation. Again, it's not about how it looks now or months from now. It's so that you can be a part of the creative process again. Let whatever you feel in the moment that you are making flow through you. If it's anger or fear, re-channel it into creating something beautiful. That's always the key you know...we artists take the pain we feel and see around us and within us, twist it, shape and then mold it into something else, something magnificent. Art isn't just something we do; it's who we are!"
Justin nodded in understanding, taking in everything Miguel had been trying to get through to him these last few weeks. That's what was missing from him. Not only had Hobbs taken away his self-worth as he's always seen it, but also his self-image because of his gimp hand. It was like Chris had not only destroyed Justin's sense of security, but everything within himself that made him Justin Cole Taylor...his fearlessness...his bravery...but most of all his talent. Miguel was trying to help him restore a piece of himself, so why was he fighting against it so hard?
"The fourth rule is to remember that this is your rebirth, Justin. Everything that you put into this part of your therapy is what you make it. If you want to succeed, you will. But don't ever give up on yourself. If it's not the way you want it, step away from it for a little while- go do something else. And then when you're ready, come back to it and start from the beginning. Wedge the clay to make it pliable, then mold it as if your life depended on it. Put it on the wheel and begin to reshape your destiny of the moment. It doesn't matter how many times you have to do that, only that you comeback and do it again. Got it?"
Justin smiled, gratitude in his eyes. "Yeah I do."
For the next two hours, through frustration, pain, tears of both joy and sadness, Justin's newfound determination began to manifest itself in small ways. And Brian was never so proud of the return of Justin Taylor.
Cynthia looked at her watch again for probably the fourth time as many minutes. It was unusual for her cousin to be late. His motto of life is just too damn short to waste time being late had always made her laugh when they were teens but with his recent diagnosis, it seemed to have far more meaning.
She flagged down the waiter on the outdoor patio of the Italian restaurant and ordered another white wine spritzer to pass the time while she waited. It amazed her that she was actually able to sit still for more than five minutes. Working for and with Brian Kinney always called for her to be moving in some way, shape or form. It wasn't a bad way to be and as a result, when he climbed the ranks to Senior Advertising Executive, he brought her along as his personal assistant. Between the two of them, they pushed each other to be the best in their respective fields. His ‘no bullshit' approach extended to everything and that included his job. As a result, it rubbed off on her and she wouldn't have it any other way. Which is what made the news of Ryder selling the company out from under them that much harder to bear.
She and Brian had worked hard through the years, building and maintaining a level of excellence within the company, all for the sake of making partner. Many of the executives had already been let go in favor of keeping Brian and that was the key of it all. Like a pimp, Marty Ryder had basically whored Brian out, packaging him in with the sale of the multi-million dollar advertising company to Gardner Vance. Vanguard Advertising had reached its zenith about five years prior to Ryder reaching theirs. The only thing that kept Ryder relevant was the young, hip, ahead-of-the-trend campaigns dreamed up by visionary Brian Kinney. But Gardner had money and Marty needed it, since he was unable to fire Brian without a huge lawsuit from the tough brunet coming into play. Marty couldn't find a way to tell his overbearing, interfering bitch of a third wife that Brian's personal life was his own business, so the ball-less rat did the only thing he could; he sold the company without so much as a discussion with the other partners...or Brian Kinney. And if Brian and she wanted to keep their jobs- at least for the interim- they had no choice but to work and impress Gardner Vance. Fucker!
Cynthia noticed the sandy-haired man talking to a shorter one coming up the street and smiled. She'd been telling him that lately he looked more like a skater boy than a professor at a prestigious college. She watched avidly as she saw her cousin bend at the waist to place a kiss on the shorter man's cheek before they parted ways. It was kind of funny to watch as he stood looking after the retreating form of the shorter brunet. As Ben walked towards her, she couldn't help but wonder what he was doing with Michael Novotny.
Ben placed a kiss of greeting on her cheek and then slid into the seat across from her, signaling the waiter as he settled himself. She couldn't help but smirk at the flustered look on his face. She hadn't seen that particular look in many years and although she really couldn't stand the idea that it was Michael who put it there, she couldn't help but be happy for her cousin. After the waiter came and took Ben's order and she had given her own, Cynthia decided to find out just what was going on with her cousin... and how was Michael Novotny involved.
"So, Professor Bruckner, have you taken to dating your students now?" Cynthia knew that nothing could be further from the truth but it was as good a place as any to start her quiz. Ben laughed as she expected that he would.
"Michael is far from being my student. Don't you have some business of your own to mind?"
"Not really since my cousin has basically been seen smooching on the street corner with Brian Kinney's best friend."
"I wasn't.... We weren't smooching. Michael is just a friend," Ben answered, a wistful breathlessness evident in his voice.
Cynthia narrowed her eyes a bit at that tone and figured that it was time to inform her cousin of some things. "When is Michael going back to Portland? I'm pretty sure that David misses him since he's been here in Pittsburgh so much."
"According to Michael, they've broken up."
Cynthia harrumphed. "I doubt that."
"I would have probably been the second person to know other than Brian."
"Michael doesn't tell Brian everything. Besides it's not like he's been around lately."
Cynthia cocked her well-trimmed eyebrow at the man sitting across from her. There seemed to be more to Ben's defensive tone than what laid on the surface. "Just how much do you know about Michael and Brian's friendship? I'm almost certain that there were some key factors left out."
"Like what?" Ben was genuinely puzzled by Cynthia's comment. Seeing Michael as his client had given him some insight into Michael's thoughts and feelings regarding everyone who touched his life. Although the relationship remained professional to a degree, he preferred to think that he and Michael were also becoming friends. But it was evident that Cynthia knew more about the estrangement between Michael and Brian than what had been told to him. At her continued silence, he urged her to go on. "Cyn, if you think that there is something more you can add to my budding friendship with Michael, just tell me already."
"I asked you first," Cynthia said and took a bite of the celery stick that was just placed in front of her.
Ben rolled his eyes and huffed a laugh at his favorite cousin's antics. She had always been an imp, especially when she thought she knew something that he didn't. "Well okay, Michael and Brian had a falling out recently. Apparently it was over that boy Brian has been seeing."
It was Cynthia's turn to roll her eyes. Leave it to Michael Novotny to be vague about a subject that he didn't like. And he definitely did not like Justin Taylor. "Justin is hardly a boy. He wasn't even a boy when he was seventeen. The night he met Brian kinda changed everything between Michael and Brian, although both men fought to acknowledge it. And the day Michael met David, they began really growing apart."
"So you're saying that Brian and Justin are more than just fuckbuddies?"
Cynthia nearly choked on her wine as she hurriedly placed the glass back on the table. "Who told you that's all they were...are? You know what, never mind. Michael apparently is letting his jealousy cloud your opinion from the truth."
"Well then enlighten me then, since you know so much," Ben challenged.
"It's not that I know so much but I do acknowledge what I see in the Justin- Brian- Michael dynamic. At first when Brian and Justin started... dating, for lack of a better term, Michael was everywhere. He was already calling Brian on a regular basis about four times per day beginning when my boss would first come into the office. But after Brian and Justin settled into a bit of a routine of hanging out, it increased to six times- twice before lunch and four times after. It had gotten to the point where I began to wonder if Michael had lost his job since he seemed to have so much damn free time to stalk Brian's phones."
"Come on, it couldn't have been that bad," Ben said, disbelief clear in his voice.
"You're right, it wasn't that bad. It was the worse. Then there were the times when Michael would just show up at the office within three minutes of me telling him that Brian was in a meeting. Sometimes Brian was either just finishing up a meeting or Brian just wanted a break. At those times, Michael would tell Brian that I needed to be fired because either I was lying to him or I wasn't giving him his messages. Of course Brian defended me and told Michael that I was simply following his orders. Unfortunately, a few times that happened, Justin had called the office around the same time that Michael was on his tirade or ‘Let's go out,' bent. Needless to say that Mr. Novotny was none too happy that Justin had access to Brian outside of the Diner, Woody's or Babylon.
"I was so fucking happy and relieved when Michael started seeing David. The calls were less, as were the pop-ups at the office. We were actually able to get back to work without undue interruptions from the territorial man. I remembered asking Brian once if Michael was on vacation or something because he hadn't called or shown up. Not that I wasn't grateful, but I just thought it strange. Well anyway, during that time Brian and Justin began to get closer, even though Brian wouldn't ever admit it and Michael... well he became a bit of a snot to all of their friends. David and Michael were giving a party for some Senator, and all the ‘family,' which is how Brian refers to them, were slighted. It was as if Michael was embarrassed by them but that was only partially correct. Michael excluded Debbie, his mother, because she tends to say whatever she thinks without filter..."
"Sort of like Michael," Ben added, causing Cynthia to laugh aloud.
"Exactly like him! And he excluded Brian primarily because Brian lives his life like a stereotypical gay man- or what is perceived by society as all gay men being- and he does it without excuse, apology or regret. David doesn't like him so therefore Michael wasn't supposed to like him either. The kicker of it all is that between Brian and David, Brian is the one more wealthy and everything else. David is handsome sure, but not able to turn a head- man or woman- gay, straight, indifferent, or undecided, like my boss. I think that is part of the reason why Michael latched on to David as quick as he did."
"What do you mean? I would think attraction would have played a big part in that," Ben said. He couldn't help be be absolutely fascinated by his cousin's account of the issues that Michael only skimmed over when speaking about them.
"It did... or at least that's what I would like to believe. Michael has this boy-next-door charm about him and as a result, when men look at him, they tend to see only the innocent, doe-eyed look. To the world, Michael is sweet and caring and a host of other adjectives. But I also know that there is a mean and spiteful person behind the facade."
"But isn't that the case with all of us humans though?"
"Fine Ben, I will give you that point. But that isn't the issue where Michael is concerned. In fact, Michael's whole problem with Brian right now is that Michael is feeling neglected in favor of the ‘trick that wouldn't go home.' Those are Michael's words regarding Justin, not mine."
Ben nodded. He had heard Michael allude to that same statement on numerous occasions, and even verbatim of what Cynthia had said. He knew that although Cyn knew Michael on the outskirts of Brian's life, she still couldn't have picked up that exact phrasing without hearing it from Michael himself. "I see your point but maybe Michael has one, too?"
"Are you asking me or telling me that he does?" Cynthia asked in return before continuing. "Here is the thing about Brian and Justin that only an outside observer is likely to see, know, or understand. Brian truly does care for the young man probably more than anyone else, except for his son Gus. Is that a crime? NO except when it comes to a certain few people with the last name Novotny. Debbie's main goal has always been to make sure that her ‘baby' is always happy and she doesn't give a fuck how that is accomplished as long as it is. Due to the long history of Brian with the Novotnys, the job always seems to fall to Brian to make it happen. For Michael's part, Brian has always taken care of him so now when Brian's attention is directed elsewhere- where it should be, if I'm being honest here- Michael will feel left behind. Consequently, that manifests itself in many ways. Either he become petulant, or mean and insulting, or he gives the silent treatment until he gets his way... his way meaning that all the focus is on him and his problems. If it doesn't affect Michael directly, it generally doesn't matter to him."
"So are you saying that you wouldn't want me to date him?"
"Ben, I can't tell you what to do. It's your life and you're a grown man. But I will say to make sure that you pay attention to the ‘family' dynamic if you're going to be part of the Novotnys. Call it a crash course in survival 101. Who knows? You two could make a real go of it and succeed where David is obviously failing. But if you do, make sure that you're making an informed decision, and not just thinking with your dick."
Ben laughed and decided to change the subject as they continued with lunch. But he would not deny that his most favorite woman in the world had given him a lot to think about.
David had waited a few days after arriving in Pittsburgh, hoping to spot Michael without involving everyone else. It was their problem and it should have been possible for it- whatever it was- to stay between them. He had staked out the Diner, watching the comings and goings. It shocked him that although he had seen the rest of the gang, the noticeably absent ones outside of Michael were Brian and Justin. He supposed that it made sense if Justin Taylor was in as bad shape as he had heard it whispered by other patrons on Liberty Avenue. And even though he still blamed Brian for the entire incident surrounding Justin's bashing, it was eye-opening to see that he was taking on the responsibility of Justin's care. Perhaps he wasn't as much of a heartless shit as David had previously thought. But whatever, that wasn't his purpose for being in Pittsburgh.
David still hadn't heard from Michael since their argument on that fateful first morning of what was supposed to be a family vacation. David couldn't believe the petulant pout Michael donned as David pulled into the parking lot. The trip was so that he, Michael and Hank could spend time together, getting to know each other beyond the surface. True, Hank was depressed and at times acted like a know-it-all little shit, but David was trying to change the way both his lover and his son perceived each other. Admittedly, he should not have sprung the trip on Michael the way he did, but considering that the last time, their trip ended abruptly with Michael feeling compelled to be by Brian's side after a car accident, David had actually thought to also rekindle the dying flame that their relationship was fast becoming.
David shook his head. He remembered telling Brian that he wanted Michael and that Brian should let Michael be happy. It was obvious that in his own way, Brian Kinney was trying to do that, but it was Michael that wouldn't let himself be happy. He wondered why that was. And there was only one person that could help him discover a few of the missing pieces while at the same time helping him to add up what he already knew. So taking a much needed deep breath for courage and releasing it, David resolved himself to getting this particular conversation over with.
As always when he entered the diner, he saw various types of people therein. Part of him envied their carefree ways and the joy for life that each man and woman within the establishment possessed. In his world, there was a certain standard that he had to live up to. He couldn't be too flamboyant or obvious about his sexuality in a professional capacity. It's not only that it wasn't in his nature due to years of suppression but because it meant his livelihood. People always had preconceived notions about the gay community- gay men in particular- and never allowed for them just to be as human as heteros. It was beyond frustrating in many instances. It was one of the reasons why he also envied Brian Kinney so much.
Brian was the type of gay man who refused to hide or apologize for another person's problem with him being attracted to men. He wouldn't judge himself for that particular facet of his character. If David really thought about it or was being honest with himself, he could admit that he respected Brian for making his choices and being able to face the consequences of them head on. That type of attitude was to be admired; it was to be emulated but to date it had gotten on David's last nerve because it was what attracted Michael to Brian Kinney. Okay so granted that over time, David had come to realize that it wasn't Brian who was holding onto Michael but the other way around. And no matter how many steps David had taken to ensure that Michael would have the chance to grow up without the safety net of Brian to fall back on, the shorter brunet would find excuses to do just that. It now put David in the unenviable position of having to seek help.
I was just finishing up with another customer when I heard a throat clear behind me. It wasn't the God-awful sound of someone being sick but it was annoying just the same. There was only one man who I knew did that with such a pompous air about him.
"Hello Debbie," David said to me, with a smile plastered on his face.
I could tell that this was going to be one of those moments where some misconceptions would be cleared up for him. But that wasn't my problem and I decided right then to hear him out. "I would crush you but as you can see my hands are full. How is my favorite doctor?" I turn and walk towards the counter, knowing instinctively that he was following right behind me.
"I'm okay Debbie," he answers me, but I can tell that he isn't finished. I don't have to wait long before he speaks again. "I've come to bring my wayward partner back home."
I made sure to put the dishes on the back counter before turning to him again. "You make Michael sound like a child instead of a grown man."
"Well that's debatable since he is currently acting like a child, playing a cross-country game hide-and-seek with me."
"Michael isn't hiding; he just isn't around right now. Look, David, I'm sure that if you and Michael talk reasonably that you both can come to some sort of understanding and compromise."
"You don't think that I've tried that?"
I took a deep breath, taking issue with the way he is speaking to me. If this is the tone that Michael has had to deal with, then I am getting a better understanding of what the problem between them really is. "I think I know the answer to my next question but I want to hear it from you. Did you ask my son for what you want or did you order him to do what you want? There is a big difference David and I wonder if you know what it is."
"What are you talking about? I treat Michael with the respect befitting a partner, unlike Brian."
So now we're getting to more of the real issue, aren't we? The issue is that once again my son is running behind Brian. And somehow David is willing to put the blame on him to cover for his own inconsiderate behavior, in reference to my Michael's feelings. I inhale and exhale again, hoping that my hackles go down a little before I respond to David. As much as I wanted to have a doctor in the family, I certainly could have done without this pompous stuffed-shirt!
In retrospect, maybe that was what Brian was trying to get me to see in his own way, without coming right out and saying it. He knew that I would have argued with him til the cows came home and we would still have gotten nowhere. I still would have held him completely responsible for the horrible state Michael and David's relationship is currently in. But that's how Brian Kinney is... He'll tell you what you need to know only once, and then leave you to learn the rest for yourself. Fucking asshole!
"David, perhaps the words coming out of your mouth aren't nearly as important as the tone in which you speak them. Ever heard of the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? The way you just spoke to me was like acid to my sensitive eardrums and I expect an apology."
He looked at me as if I was crazy at first. I folded my arms, returning his look just as boldly and not giving an inch. The problem with a man like David is that they always think that they are right, even when they are dead wrong. I didn't agree with Michael moving to Oregon but I understood why he had to go. I also understood why Brian withheld that he was staying in Pittsburgh from Michael.
Watching the way Brian is with Justin, I can even understand what Vic was trying to tell me earlier in the week. Michael needed to make up his own mind where he wanted to be without any outside influence. It is obvious that Michael has finally made up his mind.
"I apologize Debbie," David said through gritted teeth. "I'm just so frustrated."
I had to soften my stance then, because I honestly do understand. "So you haven't talked to Michael at all?"
"Not a word. And it isn't like I haven't been trying. I've been calling his cell phone and I know that he has been getting the messages."
David looked at me, sadness etched in his eyes. "This morning I called and his voicemail was full. When I called again before coming in here to see you, I was able to leave another message. It's obvious that he is emptying his messages or simply just deleting them."
As much as he is pissing me off, I can't help but feel a little sorry for David. He's a good man, even if he is way too controlling. "So what are you going to do?" I ask because I really need to prepare myself for the fallout from all this.
"I'm going to do what I should have done a long time ago..."
"You're letting him go." It was a statement of fact and I couldn't help but be angry at Michael just then.
"I should have taken heed that this wasn't going to work way back when he was taking extra long to move in with me. And then again when he said that he wanted to be boyfriends, but still live with Emmett so that he would still be able to run after Brian at will."
"Let's get this straight, David. Brian is not the cause of this situation; Michael is. And if you take some time to rethink your entire relationship with my idiot son, you will see that to be the truth. It took me awhile to see it myself and if it wasn't for Vic, I might still be blaming Brian for this."
"What did Vic say?"
"He told me that Michael needed to learn to stand on his own two feet as a man, that he has problems that I shouldn't have to fix since he is thirty. Ironically one of the problems I wanted to fix was you."
"And the other?" He looks at me, smirking.
"Was Brian," I admit. "Justin is in really bad shape and Michael isn't helping the situation at all."
"I figured that. The housewarming party was evident of that."
"I heard that you treated him like shit and that your ex-wife was making him look bad."
David protested and then proceeded to tell me what really happened at the party. He told me how Michael was giving his ‘opinion' about Brian and Justin's relationship and misrepresenting the facts. One of the local reporters had printed all of what Michael said, and he took a meeting with that hypocritical gay voice of Pittsburgh. I really couldn't believe what I was hearing. I mean, Michael? My sweet little innocent Michael being that vindictive was... Well David just had to be lying...or so I thought until he placed the newspaper from two days ago in front of me. Two days since the civil depositions for Justin's case began. Two days since Michael told me this elaborate tale of how he was once again the wronged party.
As I read, word-for-word every single glorifying statement regarding Brian and every disparaging and derogatory remark about Justin as well as their relationship, I can honestly see why David needed to shut the little asshole up. If it were up to me, I probably would have hit the little shithead with a goddamn brick since that would have been the most effective way to still his lying tongue. I still can't believe that Michael could be so malicious to Brian and Justin. I mean, sure there has never been any love lost between Sunshine and my son, but I didn't think that Michael could be so fucking cruel. Calling Brian a ‘misguided thirty year old boy trapped in the body of a God' and then once again calling Justin ‘the trick that wouldn't go home' and saying that ‘this was Justin's punishment for not knowing when he'd overstayed his welcome and for constantly chasing Brian- the price of being openly gay in Pittsburgh. Well he was warned that he didn't belong with Brian or on Liberty Avenue.' was just too fucking much for me to continue reading.
I looked up at David's face reading all the emotions on his face- disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal. It's kind of hard not to see that when I am feeling the exact same things. My natural inclination is to protect Michael, to shield him from the wrath that I know is going to come at him from all angles behind this piece of filth. But I can't. Outside of my conversation with Vic a few days ago, I don't know how to defend him this time.
"You know, Howard Bellweather's latest book signing is this afternoon," David said.
"Ted's supposed to go to it," I answer. "It's all he's been talking about for the last week or so."
"I think you might want to tell him not to buy the book. All of the details from this article are in it, including some information about Ted and Emmett's personal lives and their history with the Stud of Liberty Avenue."
I'm still in shock, even as I move over toward the Diner phone to make the call. Even as my eyes meet the liquid pools of light brown eyes from Ted and the widened, stunned eyes of my son.
"No need to make that call after all, Deb. I think Ted knows that the book signing is off limits now," David calls out, never taking his eyes off of Michael.
Vic and Em were going over a few of the final plans they had discussed with George Schickle about his daughter's wedding. Today he was supposed to have the official head count for them. There had been some confusion about the bride's guest list but George had said that he would find out the information needed and get back to them.
Admittedly, the Schickle account made them a little nervous. This was the event that would either make or break HoneyGrass. So far Vic and Emmett had been doing really well. So well in fact, that they had been using Brian's personal assistant, Cynthia, to help set up their appointments. She suggested that after Frankie Schickle's wedding that Vic and Em consider hiring someone full time. Em told her to just let them make it through the biggest event of their lives to date and he and Vic would discuss it.
George arrived at the building a little winded and thankful that he didn't have any stairs to climb. His meeting with his niece had run a bit long and if not for her reminder, he may have forgotten all about the meeting with the caterers for Frankie's wedding. He shook his head to clear his thoughts of the disturbing news Jennifer had imparted to him this morning.
"Good morning, George," Vic said cheerfully, coming out behind the kitchen counter. The interior of HoneyGrass Elegant Creations was set up much like Brian's loft which seemed appropriate for the location they were in. Vic sat that winded man down in front of one of the domed windows with a clear view of the river. "Are you alright? Do you need some coffee?"
George looked at the man, forcing a polite smile. "I'm okay, Vic. I just... yeah, coffee sounds great."
Vic nodded and poured both of them a cup. Joining the middle-aged man in the alcove, Vic took the seat opposite the gentleman, watching as he blew first and then took his first sip of a new concoction Vic had brewed. He was gratified when George's eyes lit up in acknowledgement of bold yet smooth flavor and hurried to take another sip as if he couldn't believe his tastebuds. When George complimented the flavor Vic thanked him then chuckled. "Caramel, Hazelnut and a hint of Vanilla goes a long way in soothing ruffled feathers mid-morning. So if I might be so bold to ask, what exactly ruffled yours?"
George placed the cup down, contemplating how much he could trust the kind-faced man across from him. In the last few weeks, Vic Grassi and his business partner Emmett had shown themselves to be not only professionals, but also a lot of fun to work with. He couldn't help but wonder if he could trust them to keep this particular confidence since he really needed to talk to someone. Virginia was not an option. Since he'd come out to her three years before, she and he rarely spoke unless it involved their children Francesca and Hammond.
It was a wonder that Frankie was still cordial to him, after all the horrendous things her mother had said to her regarding her father. George, Junior- or Hammond as he's called- refused to even acknowledge his existence if he wasn't forced to. But that didn't bother George too much, since he had always been a mama's boy. In fact, it made it easier to basically disown him from the Schickle fortune, since he would have Virginia's when the bitch finally keeled over.
As for Frankie, she wasn't so petty as to think that her father was going to leave his empire to her. In their world, it just wasn't done. But he would leave her controlling interests in his company, only second to whomever he decided to make his heir. The problem was the young man he wanted to leave his fortune to had a host of his own problems, according to his mother.
George cleared his throat. "I had a meeting with my niece this morning. I hadn't seen her, or my great-niece and nephew in a long time. For me, family is everything even though my own is pretty estranged. Anyway, I just found out that the boy is in recovery right now."
Vic nodded his head. He could only imagine what George was feeling in reference to his family. If it wasn't for Deb and the others, Vic would have had to face his illness alone. But thanks to their love and support and Brian taking on most of the bills for his medication and medical care, he was doing a lot better than what he initially expected. So when Vic asked the question, "What from? Drugs?" he got the last answer he expected to receive.
"No. Some closet case bashed my nephew in his head. Jennifer told me the entire story and her fucked-up husband chose to stand by a bunch of ignorant men that I had once considered my friends, instead of Justin."
"Wait....Justin Taylor is your grand-nephew?"
George nodded. "Yes. And according to Jenn, he's not up to seeing anyone. I just want to hold him. Although I love all of my nieces and nephews, Justin is my favorite. Even as a kid, he was always asking questions and drawing; just a remarkable young man. I fucking can't believe that idiot Craig can't see what an amazing son he has!"
Vic reached out to him, feeling every centimeter of the pain George Schickle was feeling in that moment. Vic couldn't understand it either. Although he never had children of his own, if he did, Justin would have been the kind of son he wanted. "You know...Justin is a lucky guy. He has people who love him much more and better than Craig ever could. I'm one of them."
George looked at him, puzzlement etched on his face. So Vic decided to share some confidences of his own. He told George the story of how and why he'd met the determined little blond. Vic regaled him of all Justin's exploits leading up to the bashing. When Emmett came into the area from the office, he also joined in the retelling of the Justin Taylor Saga, causing George to laugh and cry by turns. They both could tell that this was a side of Justin that George never would have suspected.
"Baby is one of the most loving, patient and resilient human beings I know. He would have to be in order to survive Brian Kinney," Emmett said, laughing with tears in his eyes. "He'll bounce back from all of this. I just know it."
"What makes you so sure, Emmett? I mean, I don't know all of what he's going through right now. But from what Jennifer tells me about his injuries and subsequent issues, it's not going to be an easy process. Frankie was looking forward to him being at her wedding. They always used to play pranks together during family functions even though Virginia was always a sour bitch and couldn't see the humor. She would always try to scold Jennifer about the way she was raising Justin, and warned her that if she didn't keep a tight leash on him he would run all over her when he was a man. Jennifer wouldn't have any of it, but unfortunately Craig constantly listened to Virginia's venom."
"Well, now we see what that has gotten him, don't we?" Emmett said sagely. "Not only has he lost his store and access to the kids' fortunes as well as Jennifer's, he will actually have to pay all of what he stole back. Karma is a bitch, and it has come for Craig Taylor. I'm sure Virginia is next in line."
George smiled at that. He really did like Emmett. The man was as carefree and as unapologetic about who he is as Brian Kinney, which is why George chose to do business with both of them. "Karma is coming for Virginia sooner than she expects. But first I really want to see Justin. I miss him and I just want him to know that he is loved."
Both men nodded, but it was Vic who spoke. "You have to ask Brian about it. Deb and I were there a few mornings ago and Justin wasn't in such a good place emotionally. I still don't know how Brian is managing. But I have to say, if anyone can get through to Justin, Brian can. Emmett and I have a little pull but Brian is the miracle worker, even if he never admits it."
"You make him sound like the second coming of Christ," George said, jokingly.
But Emmett answered seriously. "The only man who is capable of walking on water for Justin right now is Brian. His trust in people and most importantly, his own judgement has been all but demolished with that bat. We're all doing our parts to reassure him. Well those of us he'll let near him are..." he paused briefly, thinking of Michael and Lindsay. Snapping out of his hateful memories of their idiocy, Emmett continued. "Talk to Brian. He's the only one Justin trusts completely."
"I'll do that. It's that important to me. Now about Frankie's wedding..." For the next hour, George went over the guest lists with the two men. And although it was a long shot, he had Brian and Justin's names put on the VIP list.
"Jennifer, I'm surprised to see you here."
The startled woman looked up from her place on the bench, just to the left of the main entrance for Allegheny Court House. "Good afternoon, Lindsay. I'm meeting Melanie here. She should be out momentarily." Jen pasted a smile on her face for appearances sake when in reality, she wanted nothing more than to get up and walk away. "How's Gus?"
"Just perfect," Lindsay gushed. "He gets more and more amazing everyday. Speaking of sons, how's Justin?"
"Justin is doing okay."
"That's good news. So that means that he'll be returning home soon."
The frown formed in Jennifer's eye, but she quickly recovered herself. If there was one thing that Lindsay Peterson would NEVER be able to do, it's out-Wasp her. Transforming her features to deliver a Sunshine smile of her own, Jennifer said, "Lindsay dear, in case you haven't noticed, Justin IS at home. He and Brian have been making tremendous strides both with Justin's recovery, and their relationship. You should really see them together. Brian keeps Justin centered in a way that no one else can. But Brian does have that comforting way about him, doesn't he? I'm really glad that I've gotten to know him, even if I'm not happy for the reason."
"Well that's good, Jennifer. But don't you think that the child- Justin, I mean- belongs with you? Brian has his own child to tend to, and quite frankly I think that it's a bit neglectful of you to leave the care and well-being of YOUR son to a man who has no blood ties to him."
Jennifer smiled evilly at the younger woman before her. She would not let Lindsay Peterson, of all people, think that she could place demands on her in terms of her decisions regarding Justin. Part of the current issues with Craig is that Jennifer had finally stood up for her child, even if it was a little too late. The point was that she would never let someone disrespect, or discount him again. And it started with this...woman.
"Let me tell you a little something about motherhood, Lindsay. Since I've been one twice over and a lot longer than you, you may want to heed my advice. Unlike your own mother, I stayed home and took care of my children myself. Perhaps Nancy and Ron's neglect in your upbringing has caused you to think that Mel and Brian must take care of you, since you've managed to do what mostly every other woman on the planet has been able to do, except those less fortunate. You had a baby. Get over it, sweetheart. You aren't special or one-of-a-kind. Now as far as loving a child... apparently, you have never been selfless enough to want to do what's BEST for your child, as opposed to doing what you want to do. Simply put, I love Justin enough to let him be with the man he loves when he needs him, and to let the man WHO LOVES HIM take care of him."
Lindsay's face had tightened with every single word of Jennifer's speech. "Brian doesn't love Justin. To believe so is just to delude yourself, and cause more harm to Justin." Instead of the desired effect, Lindsay frowned when she heard the older woman laugh.
"Lindsay...Dear...if anyone is living in delusions, you should take a look in the mirror. Brian may not say the words- his reasons are his own for not doing so- but I do know that he loves my son. Brian's actions have said so much during these past weeks. What amazed me is that most everyone can see it, except you and a certain few. You spout words and empty promises to your own partner everyday."
"What the hell are you talking about, Jennifer?"
Jen chuckled again. "Careful, Lindsay. Your WASP mask is slipping, and I know that Nancy taught you better than that. But then she wasn't around much when you were growing up, was she? Always traveling with Ron; making sure that he wasn't taking his mistress somewhere where she would never be allowed to go otherwise. Too bad that she took Lynette for company since she was older, and you were still in school. Perhaps the travel would have given her the opportunity to set a good example for you of how to be a mother. Well, if she was so inclined.
"Now, as I was saying, you tell Mel and Gus everyday that you love them and yet, instead of spending your time with them, you are spending more and more of your time trying to separate Brian and Justin. Your actions are very telling, and perhaps it's time you clean up your act before you lose your cash cow. And don't give me that look about terming Melanie a cash cow, since that is the way you treat her. You are also acting as if Brian is some prized bull. But here's another warning you might pay especial careful attention to: push him too far and be prepared to get the horns, Darling."
Lindsay jumped up from her seat. "I don't know what, or who has been feeding you such garbage, though I suspect your precious son and his bitchy best friend have said their piece! But Justin should be with you! He's YOUR child and your responsibility! Brian can't take care of Gus properly while that child of yours demands that he take up your slack."
"Don't you mean that Brian can't take care of you?" Jennifer asked seemingly innocent, but she knew that her verbal dagger had hit its mark.
Lindsay's eyes narrowed at Jennifer Taylor, her nostrils quivering as she took several calming breaths to slow her heart rate down. She was determined that by the time this conversation was over, Jennifer would take her son home with her where he belonged, and free Brian up to take care of his own. But before she could deliver the scathing retort dangling on her lips, a new voice entered the fray.
"Lindsay, that is enough. What is going on with Brian and Justin is not your business. And anything regarding this case isn't your business either, so I'm not quite sure why you are standing here instead of being at home with Gus. Isn't that why I'm working all of these extra hours? Not that I mind working Justin's case at all mind you. I would willingly do that, but I certainly could have done without many of the others. But no, you wanted to stay home with Gus for the first couple of years. So why aren't you there or why isn't he with you?" Melanie asked scathingly. "In fact, just where is our son?"
All of a sudden, it didn't seem like such a good idea to confront Jennifer Taylor in a public venue, especially not with the irate look etched across Melanie's face. Lindsay stuttered out her answer. "Gus is spending the afternoon with Dusty and Marie. I thought that you and I could have lunch."
"Well as you can plainly see, Lindz, I already have a lunch date. So I guess I'll see you at home. Are you ready, Jennifer?"
Jennifer rose from her seat as graceful as ever. With her head held high and her back ramrod straight in her Donna Karan pantsuit, Lindsay would have called the woman's appearance Regal. It was then she really understood the world where Justin came from. There were tiers within the WASP nest, and although the Petersons were high up the ladder, it was obvious that Jennifer Taylor had married down when she aligned herself with Craig. Knowing that, Lindsay knew Justin was cut from the same cloth as his mother.
Perhaps she was going about separating Brian and Justin the wrong way. She would have to think on it. Shaking herself out of her reverie, Lindsay refocused on Melanie. "Any idea what you want for dinner?"
Melanie shook her head. "I'll probably pick something up while I'm at the office. I have to work late to prepare another brief for tomorrow."
"Can't you do that at home?"
"No. I need the law library in the office. If I could afford it, I would get a set for the house. But they're really expensive, and it's all I can do to keep on top of things because you wanted to stay home with Gus....which at the present time, you aren't. Explain that to me again?"
Lindsay shifted from foot-to-foot, deciding that it was time to end the contretemps. "Jennifer, it was good to see you again. Mel, I'll see you at home whenever you see fit to get there."
"Always a pleasure, Lindsay," Jennifer answered, chuckling as she watched the tall blonde beat a hasty retreat down the courthouse steps. Turning to her companion, she asked, "Is she always like that?"
"No. Just since Brian has been spending time out of her orbit. Lindz is the type of WASP that must have what she deems as order. In the world according to Lindsay, if anyone or anything within her realm steps out of her control, she can't function. To restore order, she must put everyone and everything in their proper places, and in the process make our lives so hellish that we never step outside of Lindsay's boundaries again."
"Sounds like my marriage to Craig."
"It's close, but hopefully Lindsay will straighten up soon."
Jennifer latched onto Mel's arm then. "Let's go get some lunch and talk about who else's ass we have to kick."
Mel laughed. "That sounds so funny coming from you."
"Why? Have you heard Justin's mouth? Now the words that come out of his mouth even make me blush. He gets that from his grandmother."
"Why do I think he may have picked up a little of his gumption from you too?"
Jennifer smiled wide at the brunette. "Let's hope he does."
They waved at Ted standing at the end of a long line, heading directly into the bookstore. Melanie knew that Ted wanted to get Howard Bellweather's latest book, although she would never really understand what her friend saw in the pretentious author. Little did she know or understand that she would soon find out exactly why Ted was rocking from foot-to-foot, waiting for his chance to see the author.