Brian set up the meetings for Wednesday and took the afternoon off to go with Justin. The agents had been very impressed with the reviews Justin had received for the show. Brian hadn't realized it, but one of the cards Justin received that night was from the New York Times critic and another from the Washington Post. The reviews, which Brian had looked up online and printed out, were fantastic. And Justin had underestimated the number of gallery reps he had spoken to, as well. There were twenty-seven cards from gallery reps from across the country, one from England, and one from France.
The two men brought a list of the gallery representatives who had approached Justin and brought photographs of several of his paintings with them. If the agent was interested, they could invite him to the studio at a later date to see more in person.
"Are you sure this guy is interested in me?" Justin asked as they waited in the posh reception area of the first agent.
"What happened to my over-confident lover?" Brian teased. "The one who could take on the world, and change the unchangeable Brian Kinney?"
"That's different," Justin said. "This is my art. It's like putting a piece of my soul on display for strangers and hoping they approve."
"Fuck them if they can't see what a beautiful soul you have," Brian whispered. "I see it."
Justin looked up at Brian and smiled for the first time since Brian had picked him up. He sat a little taller and Brian could see some of his self-confidence return.
"You're right," Justin said. "I don't paint for them. I paint for me. Fuck 'em if they don't like what they see."
Just then they were called into the agent's office. The meeting went well, and the agent expressed an interest in having Justin sign with them, but they were a large firm and Brian was afraid that Justin might get lost in the shuffle. He held his tongue, but was glad when Justin told the man that they were meeting with another agent before they made any decisions.
The second agency only had three rooms, and apparently only two people who worked there. Angela, the assistant who greeted them, led them into the conference room and told them that Sally was running a little late, but that she would be there momentarily. Brian sat down at the table and poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher there. Justin walked around the room and looked at the various paintings on display. There were only six paintings, each by different artists, and all were nationally or internationally known except one.
"I think I like her already," Justin smiled.
"She is late," Brian pointed out.
Whatever Justin might have said to that was lost, however, as the door opened and a harried looking woman came in. She looked more like a gypsy-or possibly a kindergarten teacher-than a successful business woman. But she was smiling and apologetic and Brian knew that Justin liked her right away.
"I was so pleased to receive Mr. Kinney's call," Sally said once they had all settled down. "I had already set Angela to track you down, so I could contact you Mr. Taylor."
"Please, call me Justin, and he's Brian," Justin smiled. "I have to admit that I never thought so much could happen just from the school show, but there were so many people there it was all quite overwhelming."
"You brought a list?" Sally asked in a no nonsense way. Brian handed her a copy of the list they had made. She looked it over and whistled. "Not bad for your first time out kid. I've been trying to get a couple of these galleries to take my clients for years."
"How many clients do you have?" Brian asked.
"Six," Sally said. "Justin will be number seven if he joins us. I know we look like a fly-by-night operation, but I'm very good at what I do, Brian. I keep my client list small so I can give them the attention they deserve. And I have been successful in getting most of my artists national recognition."
"I recognize all but one of the artists," Justin said, indicating the paintings around the room.
"That would be Cary Doyle," Sally nodded. "His work hasn't been as well received as I had hoped."
"He's a genius," Justin said. "He's so far ahead of the trends that they can't recognize him for what he is, but that painting...the colors and emotions...I feel like I know him, like he knows me."
"That's why he's on my wall," Sally agreed. "And that's why he'll stay there. It may take ten years before the rest of the world catches up to Cary, but they will eventually. Until then, I'll keep slogging through the shit to get his name out there. But we aren't here to talk about Cary."
"We brought some photographs," Justin said, "But after meeting you, I'd rather you saw my work in person. Would that be alright?"
"I have time," Sally smiled.
That is how they ended up back at the studio. Justin talked non-stop about Sally the entire way from the agency to the loft and Brian knew that, unless their lawyer found something seriously wrong with her contract, this woman would be in their lives for the foreseeable future.
"This is a marvelous space!" Sally exclaimed. "The lighting is perfect! And do you live here also?"
"Actually, we live upstairs," Justin explained. "This space is mostly for my studio, though we do have a guest room and a room for Brian's son down here."
"Justin decorated the place," Brian put in.
"He has a good eye for form and color," Sally said. "Now show me your work."
For the next hour, Brian sat in the sitting area and watched Sally and Justin look through the stacks of paintings and drawings. They were like two peas when they were discussing art. Brian thought he could live with the gypsy woman being around even if she was only half as good as she claimed. The fact that she understood the art as well as the business made Justin happy and comfortable. And that was what mattered.
"I have to say, your work has really matured over the last year and half since the GLC show," Sally said when they were finally finished.
"You saw my work there?" Justin asked.
She nodded, "I thought about approaching you then, but decided you needed a little time to grow into your talent. You grew faster than I expected though."
"A bat to the head tends to put life into perspective," Justin said ruefully.
"I suppose so," Sally nodded sadly. "Angela and I count ourselves lucky that we work in such a relatively tolerant industry, but the world is a fucking cesspool overall. Well, enough of this depressing shit. I have a copy of our standard contract that I'll leave with you. I'm sure Brian will want to go over it with his lawyer before he lets you sign anything."
"That's true," Justin smiled. "And just one of the reasons I love him."
"Well, try to get back to me this week if you can," Sally said. "I want to get a jump on this list as quickly as I can, while you are still fresh in their minds."
"I'll fax it to our lawyer this afternoon," Brian said.
"Good, well, I hope to see you both soon," Sally said. "Justin, if you do decide to go with another firm, I'd still like to keep in touch. Maybe have lunch and talk shop sometime."
"I'd like that," Justin smiled.
While Justin showed her out, Brian began reading through the contract. "It looks pretty straightforward to me," Brian said when Justin returned. "You retain creative control and final say on all sales and shows. She gets ten percent of each sale. I'll call Peter and see if he has time to look at it today, but I'm pretty sure it will be okay."
"Good," Justin said and hugged Brian. "Because I really liked her. That other agent was so impersonal and standoffish. I can imagine that he would make good deals, but I doubt he would give a damn about my best interests. Sally on the other hand..."
"Is like a cross between Debbie and your mother," Brian filled in. "Yeah, I can see why you take to her. And I don't doubt that she is very good at what she does."
"So we agree?" Justin asked.
"As long as the contract checks out," Brian said. "But yes, we agree."
The contract was signed the next afternoon and Sally had three shows lined up by the following Thursday. The first was at Pittsburgh's most exclusive gallery in August. The second was in New York in October, and the third was in Paris in December. And she was sure she would have at least three or four set up for the next year by the end of July. Unlike the first agent they had met, Sally strongly encouraged Justin to finish his degree at PIFA, no matter how well his work was being received now. Like Jennifer and Brian, she felt it was always a good idea to have a degree to fall back on, since the art world could be a fickle place.
Justin spent most of the summer painting and working with Sally on selecting which pieces to show in Pittsburgh and which to hold back for New York and Paris. Brian spent his summer landing the Living Well Markets account, along with three other major accounts. He was working madly to try to make up for the money he had promised to invest in Mikey's comic book. The two hardly saw each other through the entire month of June, though Brian knew that Justin still had Debbie and Vic over once a week, and Emmett stopped by at least twice a week.
Brian and Justin both grew more and more frustrated with everything until one night Brian got fed up with the arrangement and demanded that they each make time for the other. After that, they made sure that they set aside at least two nights a week to be alone together, and blocked out Sundays completely.
It was on one such Sunday as the men were lying on the sofa together and watching a cheesy movie that Mikey showed up uninvited to discuss the comic book. Justin tried to excuse himself and go to the studio but Brian stopped him.
"It's Sunday, Justin," Brian reminded him. "No work or painting on Sundays."
"But you're going to talk business," Justin pointed out.
"Business that concerns both of us," Brian argued. "Now come back here." Justin sighed and sat back on the sofa with Brian.
"We've almost got the first two issues complete," Mikey said. "And I found a printer willing to run the first issue for us in August."
"How much are they charging you," Brian asked.
Mikey pulled out the paperwork with the printer's quote on it. Justin scanned it while Brian was examining all the details. It was a lot more expensive than he had imagined. Brian flipped the page to see Michael's budget on a spread sheet print out. Brian shook his head.
"You've left out half of your expenses and inflated your returns, Michael," Brian sighed. He got up and grabbed his laptop before returning to the sofa. For the next hour, Michael and Justin read off quotes and estimates to Brian while he input the figures into a cost analysis spreadsheet. When it was done, there were several things that were clear. At best, the comic would make a small profit. "You need to increase your price per copy and increase the number of copies you are printing,"
"But that's what comics cost," Michael said.
"And would you have paid more for a comic with a gay hero when you were a kid? Would you now?" Brian asked, already knowing the answer. "We're marketing to a select target population, most of whom have plenty of disposable income, since they have no kids. They will be willing to pay a bit more to read about a superhero just like them. And do you have so little faith in my marketing abilities to think that I wouldn't have done my research and found our market niche? I have comic book stores in every urban gay neighborhood clamoring to get the first issue. Increase the print order. Triple...no quadruple it. And have a little faith."
Brian reworked the numbers again with the changes he proposed and the bottom line was much more satisfying for all involved.
Gus' room was finally finished in July, and it turned out even better than Justin had imagined. Brian's idea to make the mural a relief with the lights imbedded into the structure had made it so much better. Lindsey and Melanie had agreed to let Gus spend the night in celebration. Brian and Justin had agreed to sleep in the guest room to be close in case the young boy woke up and needed them.
Gus' reaction made all the effort and expense worthwhile for Justin.
"Jussin!" Gus said with awe in his little voice. "For me?"
"It's all for you," Justin told him. "And look, the city lights turn on when the room gets dark." Justin turned the main lights off and the walls glowed with stars and the skyline lit up.
"Iss bootiful," Gus exclaimed.
"It is," Lindsey agreed. She had brought Gus over and had stayed to see the finished room. "You do good work, Justin Taylor."
August came and with it came Justin's first show and the first issue of Rage. Everyone came out to the gallery for the show and Justin was pleased to sell several pieces at rates that shocked all of their friends. He made enough from those three paintings to almost make up for the money they were investing into Rage. Brian and Justin argued about whether they should put the money back into his trust or use it to invest in Brian's dream. In the end, Justin won, and Brian was able to relax his work schedule a bit.
Rage was a surprise to most of them, though Ted seemed to have known who the characters were based upon before they saw the first issue. Michael had turned Brian Kinney into a superhero. Michael was his trusty sidekick, and Justin, or JT, was Rage's love interest. The first issue told the story of how Rage had save JT from a homophobic gang with baseball bats. As Brian predicted, the copies flew off the shelves and they went back to the printer to fill the demand for more.
Something about the way Michael had written the story bothered Justin. JT was too perfect...too secretive...too something. He was Rage's Achilles heel because he cared so much for the younger man, but there was almost something sinister about the whole thing.
When Justin talked to Brian about it, he just shrugged it off as Justin's imagination.
Once school was back in session, Justin found himself to be a bit of a local hero to his fellow students. His professors, on the other hand were not impressed with his success. They worked him just as hard and he soon found that he had little time to worry about Rage or Michael. He had enough to deal with keeping up with school and getting ready for the New York and Paris shows.
Brian was back on track for buying out Ryder before the end of the year, and was busy with getting the legal transfer underway and with reorganizing the company the way he wanted it.
The second issue of Rage came out in October, and again Justin had misgivings about it, but this time he kept them to himself. Brian and Michael seemed to be getting back their friendship, though they only saw each other once or twice a week, and Justin didn't want to come between them.
The opening of Justin's New York show was in October also. Sally had arranged for it to be on a long weekend, so Justin wouldn't have to miss school. Brian and Justin Flew to New York, attended the first two nights of the show and then went home, but not before Brian hit the shopping district. The show lasted for three weeks, and by the end, Justin had sold eight more paintings and had made more than enough to pay off his car if he hadn't been so set on making sure Brian had the funds to buy out Ryder.
The day before Thanksgiving, Justin was baby-sitting Gus while his mommies went to their weekly committee meeting, which had been moved up due to the holiday. When Melanie and Lindsey arrived to pick up the toddler, Brian let them in because Justin was busy with Gus at the dining table. The two were elbow deep in orange colored icing, decorating turkey shaped cookies. The kitchen counter was covered in food items in various states of preparation.
"What is all this?" Lindsey asked.
"Mommy!" Gus shouted and ran to his mother. "We make turkeys!"
Brian caught Gus just before he could smear orange icing all over Lindsey's cream skirt. "Let's get you cleaned up before you ruin anyone else's clothes, Sonny Boy."
Justin wiped his own hands off on a towel and started cleaning up. "We're having my mother, sister and grandmother over tomorrow. My granny wants to see where we live, so I volunteered to cook for the holiday. I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I anticipated, though. This refrigerator is crammed full, and I've had to move some things downstairs. I'm just glad we have two ovens so I can cook the turkey downstairs."
"It's the eternal problem, having enough oven space," Lindsey agreed. "I'm surprised that Brian agreed to host a holiday for your family, though."
Justin finished wiping up the table and grinned. "He'll deny it if you ask, but he likes my grandmother." Justin paused and looked at Melanie and Lindsey for a minute before speaking again. "Um, we wanted to ask something while you were here. We were hoping that Gus could maybe spend some time with us tomorrow. Granny really wants to meet him."
"Justin, I'm not sure that will be possible," Lindsey said. "We have Mel's family..."
"I know," Justin sighed. "We were just hoping he could come for an hour or two."
"'We'?" Mel asked with disbelief.
"Yes, 'we'," Brian agreed as he brought Gus back all clean and tidy. "Justin, why don't you take Gus down to get his things? His mommies and I have a few things to discuss."
Justin nodded and put on a bright face. "Come on, Gussie. You don't want to forget the pictures you painted for Mommy and Mama. Let's go get them."
Gus babbled to Justin all the way down the stairs. No one spoke until their voices had faded completely.
"Now what is this shit?" Melanie asked. "Since when is everything 'we'?"
Brian glared at Mel. "Since Justin and I decided to make a commitment to each other, we decide most things together. Or are you telling me that you and Lindsey don't discuss things? And I don't think it's asking too much to let his family meet Gus. Justin's grandmother lives in Arizona and is only out here twice a year. Both of your families see Gus all the time."
"Why is this such a big deal?" Melanie asked. "It's not like Gus is Justin's child."
"Isn't he?" Brian asked. "Justin is my partner. He's been there for Gus since the day he was born. He even fucking helped name him. He takes care of Gus and he loves Gus. And if he couldn't be a part of Gus' life, he would mourn as deeply as any one of us. Who taught Gus his numbers and alphabet? He always has time for Gus, even when he's really busy."
"And Gus' second word was 'Jus'" Lindsey admitted.
"Justin is only a kid," Melanie argued, but Brian could see that she wasn't fighting as hard as he had expected.
"Justin is more mature than most of the people we know," Lindsey said, taking up the argument for Brian. "Including Brian."
"Well that is true," Mel laughed, and then sighed. "Alright. I suppose we can drop Gus off for a few hours. My family always gets him so wired up that a reprieve will do us all good, I'm sure."
Justin and Gus had come up the stairs in time to hear Melanie's last statement. "Really?" Lindsey and Mel both nodded and Brian smiled. "Hear that Gussie, you get to meet my granny tomorrow!"
"Granny like turkeys?" Gus asked, his mind on all the cookies they had made but hadn't been allowed to eat.
"Yep," Justin agreed. "Granny loves turkey cookies. She taught me to make them when I was your age." Justin carried the toddler over to Mel and said, "Thank you. Oh! And we have a tin of cookies for you to take home. I told him he would have to wait to have one until after you all had dinner."
"Thanks," Lindsey smiled. "I'm sure we'll all enjoy the turkeys."
"One of us will drop Gus off around two," Mel told them as she gathered up Gus' bag and paintings. "Will that be alright?"
"It's great," Justin smiled. "And thanks again."