|QAF FanFic by Morpheus
When It Sizzles
A Post-Season 5 Story in Three Parts
I love Paris in the springtime,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.
I love Paris every moment, every moment of the year.
I love Paris - why, oh why, do I love Paris?
Because my love is near.
-- Words and music by Cole Porter
PART ONE – August 2008
I’m standing on a tiny balcony in the early dawn, a cool breeze billowing the sheer white curtains behind me. I’ve flung open the room’s tall glass doors and stepped outside to watch pale pink light shimmer through the wrought iron filigree of the Eiffel Tower two blocks away. I'm feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks and a smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I lean forward on the balcony railing and exhale a long, contented sigh.
Stirrings in the messed-up bed in the room behind me warn that he's waking up, I hear him yawn and then a rustle of bedclothes tossed aside. Bare feet slip almost silently across the hardwood floor as he approaches, and his breath tickles my neck before I feel his arms slip around my waist and pull me tight against his chest.
"Mmmmfff," he mumbles, "Mmmmff."
"Bonjour, mon amour," I whisper without turning.
His warm lips caress my neck, the side of my face, my ear. He sighs and tightens his hold. "Bonjour, my ass," he grumbles then. "It can't possibly be jour yet, we only slept for an hour, two at the most."
"Nevertheless, it is morning." I turn in his arms and then blink as I realize that he’s naked. I’d pulled on a hotel robe before flinging open the window and now I reproach him, “Brian, people will see you.”
“Anyone crazy enough to be awake at this hour deserves a shock,” he grumps, but then I catch a glimpse of his wicked grin as he adds, “Besides, who wouldn’t want to see me naked?”
“Can’t imagine,” is my honest answer. At thirty-eight, Brian is as beautiful as ever, still slim and toned, and his shoulders are more heavily muscled than the last time I saw him, he must be working out more often. Probably he’s paranoid about keeping in shape as he nears forty. Later I’ll tease him about overcompensating for encroaching middle age. Or maybe I won’t.
“You don’t need to get up yet,” I remind him. “I have to keep the appointment with my agent this morning, but you can sleep in for a while, take time to recover from jet lag.”
“No, I’m okay,” he insists, moving his arms from my waist to rest on my shoulders. “I’ll have a run this morning, and relax for a while after that. I told you I agreed to have a late lunch with Louis Maupin at his office on the Champs-Elysees this afternoon.” Maupin Pharmaceuticals is a Kinnetik client. Brian pauses and leans his forehead against mine. “Then we can forget about business for a few days, both of us – right?”
“Right,” I agree. “There’s nothing on my schedule till Tuesday. We can get out of Paris for a couple days, I’d like you to see some of the countryside.”
Brian pulls his head back a couple inches and frowns. “You haven’t planned some touristy itinerary for us, have you? I don’t want to be dragged all over France to worship at some famous lily pond in the middle of nowhere.”
“No lily ponds,” I promise. “But I made a reservation for two nights at a gay B&B in St. Malo, a little town on the coast in Bretagne - Brittany. I thought we could just lie around on the beach, eat a lot of crepes and seafood, and fuck our brains out for a couple days.”
“Hmm. Sounds good – except for the crepes, pancakes are loaded with carbs.”
“Not French ones,” I promise. “They’re very thin and absolutely delicious.”
“YOU are very thin and absolutely delicious,” Brian pronounces. He moves backward into the room pulling me along with him, and fumbles with the ties on my robe. In one swift motion he’s pulled it off, but instead of smothering me with kisses, he holds me at arm’s length and turns his head to one side as he studies my naked body.
”You’re too thin, Justin,” he concludes after a moment. “Are you trying to emulate a starving artist or something? Too late, you’re already amazingly successful for a kid your age.”
“I’m not a kid, I’m twenty-six. And no, I - ”
“Are you getting enough to eat? Or are you burning the candle at both ends? Why - ”
“Brian - ”
“Why are you so thin?” He’s not letting go of me and I can tell that he’s serious. I was afraid I’d have to tell him but I was really hoping to avoid it.
“What?” he demands, as usual he reads my body language and he can tell I’m holding back. “Tell me.”
“Brian, it’s nothing, honestly. I’m fine now and I’m eating a lot, I’ve gained a couple pounds already. I - ”
“Gained a couple pounds?” he repeats incredulously. “You mean you were thinner than this?”
“Don’t – Brian, don’t nag me, okay? I was just. . .worried about something, for a while. But I’m not worried any more, I’m eating normally, and I’m fine. I only lost seven or eight pounds and like I said, already I’m putting the weight back on. So, can we - ”
“Eight pounds? Eight fucking pounds? Christ!”
“Brian - ”
“What were you ‘worried’ about that made you stop eating? Nothing ever made you stop eating before.”
That’s not strictly true. I remember when I was cheating on Brian with Ethan, I’d lost my appetite for a while. This is different though. And damn, I was hoping he wouldn’t even notice, but of course he would, Brian notices everything.
“Can we talk about this tonight?” I beseech him. “I can’t be late for my meeting, and I need to grab a shower and - ”
“And breakfast, you need to eat something this morning. You have time for breakfast, in fact I’ll call room service while you’re in the shower, then we’ll have time to talk before you have to leave.”
“Okay.” I give in. “Café au lait, please, toast and bacon. Or ham. That’s jambon in French.”
“I can handle ordering breakfast, monsieur skinny-ass,” Brian snipes.
I feel him watching me closely as I grab my robe and head off to the bathroom. I keep my shoulders straight as I leave the room, but the minute the door is closed behind me, I feel myself drooping. I really, really did not want to talk about this with Brian.
Naturally when Justin met me at the airport, I’d noticed right away that he seemed thinner. But we’d barely even talked on the taxi ride into town, we were jammed close together, hands clasped tight, enjoying the proximity. Enormous willpower was required to prevent us from ripping off our clothes and fucking right there in the backseat of the cab, and that’s exactly what we did the moment the hotel door was closed and locked. Then we’d slept for a while, woke up and fucked again. We’d skipped dinner – I don’t even know what time we arrived last night at the Hotel Magritte, where Justin reserved a room for us during this visit.
He lives in a studio suite on the top floor of an ancient building on the Left Bank, where he shares space with two other artists. I’d seen the studio and met the artists the last time I visited, nearly eight months ago. Each man has a tiny cubicle with a bed and wardrobe, they share a hideously small and dark bathroom, and the rest of the space is devoted to one large studio. The other artists are Claude, a sculptor, and Frank, another painter. Justin mentions them occasionally in e-mail but since they are both straight and both eminently unfuckable, I haven’t given them much thought.
Now I wonder if something’s gone wrong with Justin’s living-and-working arrangements. I know that the place is expensive – everything in Paris is expensive – and I believe that it eats up most of Justin’s Longchamps Fellowship grant. I also know that Justin’s adamant about not touching what’s left of his earnings from the three-year-run of his and Michael’s RAGE comic, invested on Ted’s recommendation in a modest stock portfolio. So now I’m guessing that perhaps Justin is running short of cash and maybe skimping on the groceries to compensate.
No point in guessing, I’ll get the truth out of him over breakfast, which I order from room service, parlaying my rusty college French into what I hope turns out to be an American-style meal of bacon, eggs and toast. And coffee, Christ, I need a cup of coffee to get my eyes open and sharpen my wits. It used to be easy to finesse the dear boy, but time and distance have lessened that ability.
Time and distance used to be under my control of course. This is no longer the case, in fact, that has not been the case for most of the past four years.
Justin emerges from the bathroom all pink and glowing just as a knock on the door announces our room-service delivery.
Brian toys with the food on his plate while gulping down hot coffee sweetened with enough sugar to put most people into a coma, and I concentrate on forking huge mounds of eggs-and-bacon into my mouth, in an effort to convince Brian that I’m intent on regaining some weight. In truth he still expects me to have my old teenaged metabolism and he won’t believe that that changed a long time ago.
Brian often chooses to remember the past instead of dealing with the present. Just like he continues to believe that I need a keeper, someone looking out for me. That’s a role he filled for a long time. And of course he would vehemently deny being a manipulator, since he’s loudly and ostentatiously been pushing me to be independent since the very first night I met him. But behind the scenes, Brian has always maneuvered to make life easier for me, even after the times I walked out on him. Sometimes he’s even stupidly taken himself out of the picture, thinking he was doing what was “best” for me. The lummox.
Brian tries to take care of everyone he loves, and it’s always dangerously tempting to give in to him. He’s so damned good at it.
“Okay,” he says now, setting down his empty coffee cup, standing up and pacing over to the window. Folding his arms on his chest, he lowers his head and gives me his quirked-eyebrow stare. “Tell me whatever the fuck it was that got you so wound up, you became anorexic.”
Swallowing the last bite of egg and wiping my mouth with the napkin, I stare back at him. “Don’t exaggerate, Brian, I wasn’t anorexic, I just lost a couple pounds. I’ve been working really hard and sometimes I forget to eat. It’s an occupational hazard with artists.”
“No,” he shakes his head. “You’re not crapping out on me. You already said you’ve been worried about something, so you’re not going to fob me off with that artistic-temperament routine.”
With a sigh, I nod and say, “Yeah, okay, but Brian? Let’s wait till tomorrow, till we finish up our respective business shit and get away from the city. We’ll have more time to talk and relax and - ”
Surprisingly, he immediately caves. “All right,” he agrees, “It’ll keep. You don’t need to be all hot and bothered right before you see your agent, so I’ll wait till tomorrow for the third-degree.”
There he goes again, deciding what’s best for me. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. But this time it works in my favor, I’m relieved and I push back my plate and stand up. “Going to brush my teeth, then I’ve got to run. The Metro station’s a couple blocks from here.”
“Take a fucking taxi,” Brian exclaims impatiently.
“The Metro’s faster,” I contradict him, moving quickly into the bathroom and rummaging in my toilet kit for a toothbrush. He lounges in the doorway watching me brush my teeth.
“Were you always this contrary?” he wonders aloud. It’s rhetorical so I don’t answer, just give him a big foamy smile before rinsing my mouth and moving past him to the closet, grabbing my jacket and pulling it on. He comes to the door with me and allows me to slip my arms around his neck, pull down his head for a kiss.
“I’ve missed your mouth,” I whisper, as always I’m immediately shaken with desire for this man and his perfectly beautiful body. I’ve missed sketching him too, but he doesn’t even have to be in the same room for that, I can recall every line, every gesture, every inch of him, whether he’s holding me in his arms or whether he’s thousands of miles away.
“You and your cock can get reacquainted with my mouth tonight.” Brian releases me and steps back. “We’re meeting for dinner?”
“Yes, I’ll be here by six at the latest. You won’t want to eat that early, but we can take a walk by the Seine, or – did you ever go up in the Eiffel Tower after dark? The view is amazing, and wonderfully ro- ” I stop abruptly, which makes Brian frown.
“I’m not as anti-romantic as I used to be,” he positively growls.
“I know, I’m sorry,” I apologize. Standing on tiptoe, I plant another, briefer kiss on his lips and pull open the door. “Good luck with your client,” I throw over my shoulder and then I’m running down the stairs, leaving Brian standing in the open doorway behind me, watching me go.
I watch him go and a dozen conflicting thoughts crowd into my brain. I’ve watched him leave me so many times, and some of those times I thought I’d never see him again. Some of those times I thought I didn’t want to see him again. By now of course I know that never seeing him again would probably kill me.
Christ, I shake my head, laughing at myself, I really have become a romantic sap. Nobody dies from a broken heart, but I’ve learned that sometimes you wish you could. It’s funny that Justin is the one who showed me that I do have a heart after all, and Justin is the one who’s come close to ripping it out of my chest, three or four times now.
As I shut the door and move into the bathroom to take a shower, I switch gears and mentally rehearse the proposal I’m making to Louis Maupin. His company has been a client for two years and he’s considering expanding his products into the Southeast Asian marketplace. I need to convince him that Kinnetik can handle that market as prosperously as we’ve done in the west.
We’re traveling by high-speed TGV train from Montparnasse station to the city of Rennes, a two-hour journey, and I’ve arranged to pick up a rental car there for the short drive to St. Malo. Our B&B is on the outskirts of town and promises access to a private nude beach. The place accepts only gay male guests, so it should be a relaxing getaway. And I made sure that there are a couple gay bars in the area, in case Brian gets itchy to go cruising.
I doubt that he will, and though I wouldn’t dare suggest he’s too old for that now, I suspect that he’s experienced some rejection from the younger crowd at times, despite his undeniably gorgeous sexiness. For sure he would not want me to witness that happening to him here. It doesn’t make me complacent, but I can’t deny that I’m glad to know that Brian will likely be sticking close to my side during this visit.
Dinner last night was relaxing; Brian did not renew his attempts to get me to spill the beans about my weight loss, biding his time for St. Malo. We did take a long walk along the Seine and through parts of the right bank, pausing at the Place d’Alma to remember Princess Diana who died there in the tunnel beneath the Seine. Then we walked across the Pont de l’Alma and strolled over to the Eiffel Tower.
It’s great to go at night when there are no crowds, no long lines snaking around the base of the tower; you can just walk right into an elevator and be whisked to the second level for magnificent views out over the illuminated city. There was a cool breeze gently ruffling our hair, and Brian didn’t resist when I slipped my hand into his. We walked the perimeter of that platform and then stopped to gaze out across the river toward Trocadero, watching the illuminated fountains of the Palais de Chaillot. Brian slipped his arm around my shoulders and he kissed me in the moonlight. I couldn’t resist a big sigh at the romance of it all.
Then of course we returned to the hotel and fucked for hours.
This morning I made sure to eat a big breakfast again, the best way I know how to prove that appetite is no longer a problem for me. While that’s not exactly true, I find that with Brian here beside me, eating is not such a chore.
It’s lucky that I made reservations for the weekend, all of France goes on vacation in August. The train ride is scenic but uneventful, we pick up our rental car and I give in when Brian insists on driving. Any car that Brian’s in is an extension of his cock, and he insists on being in control of it, even if he doesn’t know where he’s going. When I point this out to him, he counters with the excuse that someone who does know where he’s going should be the designated map reader and watcher-for-signs. As so often with Brian, it’s easier to acquiesce to his demands, and anyway, he does have a point.
We arrive at our B&B without mishap and I can tell that Brian’s pleased with my choice. We have a tiny bungalow to ourselves, which opens onto a large patio surrounding a pool, glints of late-morning sun dancing on the surface of the bright blue water. As soon as we’re settled in our room, Brian suggests having a swim.
Since this B&B is “clothing optional,” we don’t bother with bathing suits, just don the white terrycloth robes provided and walk out to the pool, nodding hello to the only other person present, an older man lounging on one of the chaises scattered pool-side. We drop our robes on a chaise and jump into the pool. Brian literally jumps in, diving into the deep end; I’m more cautious, sitting on the edge and dangling my feet before sliding into the water.
Brian’s head breaks the surface and he laughs right out loud, and I laugh with him. The water’s cool but not cold, and it feels wonderfully refreshing to swim nude in the warm summer sunshine. We meet in the center of the pool, Brian pulls me into his arms, and we kiss. Then we laugh again, and Brian says, “This was a great idea, I’m impressed. How’d you find out about this place?”
“There’s a gay grapevine in Paris, just like in Pittsburgh. One of my friends at the Blue Parrot suggested this place, he and his lover stayed here last summer.”
“You’re still hanging out at that bar? It’s such a tacky place.”
“It is not!” I deny adamantly, splashing water on Brian’s face. I took him to the Parrot the last time he visited Paris and I remember that he’d curled his lip at the place. It’s a modest bar with two pool tables and an outdoor patio under a meager grape arbor, but I feel comfortable there, in fact it reminds me of Woody’s.
Brian doesn’t splash me back but he does suggest, “There’s got to be a lot of bars in Paris much cooler than the Parrot. I didn’t see a single guy there that I wanted to fuck.”
“Tricking’s not why I go there,” I remind him. “I’m not a sexoholic like you, remember?”
“Ah yes,” Brian sighs, “My little protégé is such a disappointment.”
I shake my head and smile. “Come on, you’re glad I’m not. Otherwise you’d be hiring detectives to follow me around, making sure I’m not getting into trouble.”
He doesn’t laugh. “You’re a grown man now, you’ve been on your own for years. I don’t keep tabs on you.”
Before I can pretend to agree with him, Brian snorts. “Although it seems like maybe I should have been keeping tabs on you this year, God knows what kind of trouble you’ve gotten into in Paris. I won’t wait much longer for you to tell me what’s caused you to get so thin. And you’re pale as a ghost too, now that I see you in daylight.” He flicks water on my shoulders and he’s frowning.
“I’m always pale – I never tan, you know that. Besides, I’m not lounging around on the beach, I’m working in my studio, sometimes eighteen hours a day.” He opens his mouth to say something else but I cut him off. “And before you nag me about THAT, let me remind you that I know you still routinely spend as much time as that at Kinnetik, Cynthia and Ted have told me so.”
“Blabbermouths.” Brian turns then and swims away from me. I retreat to the edge of the pool, treading water and watching him swim laps for a while. Eventually I climb out of the pool and choose a chaise in the shade of a large umbrella. I lie down and close my eyes and before I know it, I’ve fallen asleep.
Before long I’m awakened by Brian sitting down on the chaise next to my legs, I open my eyes to see him staring at me. We say nothing for a moment, then he breaks the tension by shaking his head, sprinkling me with cool drops of water from his dripping wet hair. “Hey,” he murmurs, “I missed you.”
“Just today? Or - ”
“Today. Yesterday. Every fucking day. Justin,” he asks seriously, “Are you ever coming home? Or is Pittsburgh not your home any more?”
Wow, I was not expecting such a question from Brian. If anything he’s the one always pushing me away, encouraging me to go to New York, then encouraging me to stay there when homesickness nearly drove me to give up my commission at the MoMA. It was Brian who encouraged me to accept the Longchamps Fellowship for a year’s work-study in Paris. I just stare back at him now, flabbergasted.
“I didn’t mean to say that,” he notes ruefully. “I’m not sure what came over me. Hey,” he jokes, “It must be the sight of your naked little body after such a long absence. Guess I get off on skinny blond supermodels now.” He fakes a laugh and makes as if to get up but I snake out my hand and grab onto his arm.
“Brian,” I say seriously, “Pittsburgh will always be my home. Or, what I mean is, wherever YOU are, that will always be my real home. Paris is temporary. Anywhere else is temporary.”
“I wasn’t angling for a commitment,” he says tersely, flaring his nostrils. Then he adds, “It was just a, just a something.” He tries to joke again: “I must’ve misplaced my self-censor for a moment.”
“I wish you’d lose your self-censor permanently,” is my serious reply. “You can always say what you mean to me. Brian - I know that I’ve let you down in the past, but I hope that by now you’ve learned to trust me again?”
He just looks at me for a moment without answering, then he says, “Why don’t we take a drive before dinner? See the coastline, maybe walk around this old city your tourist brochure described. We can find a nice place to eat.”
“Okay,” I give in, reaching a hand to him so he can pull me to my feet. We grab our robes and make our way back to our little bungalow to get dressed.
I can’t believe the I’ve practically admitted right out loud that I want him to come home. I swore to myself I would never ask. I swore to myself that I’d let him go. It’s insane, patently insane, for Justin to consider moving back to Pittsburgh now. At his age, with his talent, the world should be his oyster.
Somehow I have to convince him of that fact, somehow I have to erase the thought I planted in his little brain just now that his old (fucking old for real) lover is pining away, waiting for his return. The idea that he might feel obligated to me is anathema. I literally cannot bear the thought that Justin might feel honor-bound to return to Pittsburgh to take up the reins of the old life we shared, only because I am missing him.
For the moment I let it go; it’s more important to get Justin to relax again, get him in the right frame of mind so he’ll talk to me about whatever the fuck has been going on to get him upset enough to forego eating. Despite everything he’s been through, appetite has never been an issue with him. And now I’ve about reached the limits of my patience, we’re going to have that serious talk tonight.
The pleasant drive along the Brittany coastline in the fading daylight is relaxing. We stopped for a few minutes near a beachhead where we watched the tide roll in, long gentle waves breaking on the white-sand beach, and I think it helped both of us to take some deep breaths, to let go of a lot of tension. We found a public parking lot in St. Malo and walked around the old town for an hour or so, and following a recommendation from the owner of our B&B, we’ve found a delightful small bistro at the edge of a tree-flanked square. We’re seated at a table on the sidewalk, sipping dry white wine and nibbling crepes filled with lobster in a rich, creamy sauce. I’ll forego thoughts of calories tonight, it’s more important to encourage Justin to pig out on the delicious food and enjoy our al fresco meal in the moonlight.
At last sated and tranquil, we saunter from the bistro past the trees and through the town square, in a few minutes we find ourselves at a sort of ramparts, a low wall overlooking a beach far below, phosphorescence sparkling on the ocean, twinkling like a reflection of the starry sky above. It’s serene here, removed from the bustle of the town, the light muted but not completely dark, and we sit down side by side on the wall looking out at the sea. After a moment I close the distance between us, slide my arm around Justin’s waist and pull him till he’s leaning against my chest. I can tell that he’s relaxed and I indulge myself with a sniff of his sweet-smelling hair and a small kiss on his forehead, then I murmur, “Now. Tell me everything.”
“Okay,” he sighs, “I will.”
First he takes a deep breath and exhales a long sigh. “I didn’t want to tell you, for lots of reasons.” When I nod, still keeping my chin resting on his head, Justin sighs again. “Partly it’s about. . .Ethan.”
Despite my best intentions, I feel my shoulders begin to tense up. “No,” Justin twists sideways to peer at my face. “It’s nothing like that. Brian, he’s – he’s sick. He’s probably dying.”
“I’m – sorry,” I manage to choke. I don’t want to ask how he knows this.
“He wrote to me,” Justin answers my unspoken question. “He contacted my mother, and she told him how to reach me.”
Jennifer. I thought we’d come a long way, Jennifer and I. I thought she approved of me now. But –
“He told her, Brian. Told her he was sick. Otherwise I don’t think she would have told him anything.”
That might be true. But probably I’ll never know for sure.
There’s a long pause and of course I have to ask, but I don’t want to. Finally I cough to clear my throat. “Is it – AIDS?”
I feel him nod before he murmurs, “Yes. He’s got a strain that’s resistant to the meds. He’s living in some hospice in Switzerland. He – Ethan said that he’s not going to last much longer.”
Involuntarily I shiver. I realize that I’m too afraid to ask any more questions. I am, in fact, frozen to this rock wall perched high above the ocean. For a brief moment I feel dizzy, and I’m afraid that I’m going to fall over the edge of the cliff, fall to my death on the sharp rocks below. Maybe I want to. Maybe I’ll want to, if Justin. . .if Justin. . . .
Of course I should have known that telling Brian about Ethan having AIDS would make him think I was worried for myself. That I was worried about my own health. And if I am totally honest, I could admit that that’s exactly what I wanted him to think. Because then maybe I could avoid telling Brian the real reason I’ve been upset all these months.
Immediately I recognize what a chicken-shit thing that is to do to him, so I grab onto his arms, stare intently at his face, and insist, “I’m okay. I promise you, Brian, I am okay. I’ve had all the tests, and everything is fine. It’s been so long, it’s been years now. It’s so long ago that the doctors assure me it’s extremely unlikely that anything’s – um, lurking, or whatever they call it.”
When Brian just stares back at me wordlessly, I know exactly what he’s thinking. “We didn’t,” I say brusquely, answering his un-askable question. “We didn’t bareback. But the condom broke. A couple times.”
“Christ. That fucker.”
“No, Brian, that’s not fair. That happened to you and me a few times too, remember? It does happen sometimes, to everybody. Nothing’s a hundred percent safe.”
He waits, taking a few deep breaths. I can tell that he’s relieved – relieved to know that I’m safe. That I’m probably safe. But he’s angry, and I know he is angry at Ethan. Angry for possibly putting me at risk, but especially just plain angry at Ethan for fucking me.
Brian never seemed to mind all the times he and I shared tricks, all the hot and nasty and sometimes crazy things we did together. But despite all his protestations, I’ve always understood that Brian cannot bear the thought of Ethan making love to me. It’s not very logical, and he’d deny it with his last breath; but I know this man.
“If he wasn’t already dying,” Brian says tonelessly now, looking out over the sea toward the horizon, “I’d kill him.”
Tightening my hands on Brian’s arms, I shake him gently, bring him back to where we’re perched on our rock wall. “It’s about ninety-nine percent sure that he got it, that Ethan got HIV, after we broke up. He said he still felt like he needed to tell me, just in case. It was an honorable thing to do, don’t you think?”
Brian doesn’t answer, just keeps staring out over the ocean. Finally he turns his head and looks at me. “So,” he says, then clears his throat and repeats, “So, this is what you’ve been worrying about? This is why you couldn’t eat? And why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”
“I needed to be sure I was okay first. And I wanted to tell you in person. This isn’t something we could have done over the phone. We were too far away.”
“Okay,” he gives it up. He’s not happy about being kept in the dark, but I know he understands my point of view. “So,” he repeats, “This is why you’ve not been eating, why you’ve lost so much weight?”
I take a very slow deep breath and murmur, “Uh, yeah.” Honesty forces me to add, “More or less.” Then quickly I go on, “I was upset about it for a while, of course – I mean, I’m still upset naturally, for Ethan’s sake. Despite the way we ended, I still care about him, as another human being.”
We’re silent for a moment, then it occurs to Brian to ask, “You said, ‘more or less.’ You said, ‘more or less,’ the Ethan thing is what you’ve been worried about.”
I nod. “Yeah.”
“So,” he pushes on, “So, which is it – more, or less? Justin, is there something else you’re worried about?”
I shift my shoulders slightly but say nothing.
“Justin? Is there something. . .more?”
“I don’t really know if there’s more,” I murmur at last, my voice barely audible even to myself. Brian leans his head forward, straining his ears to hear me whisper, “I’m not the only one who’s been keeping secrets.”
“What do you mean?” He pulls a few inches away, slides back a bit on the wall.
“I’ve been kind of, sort of, upset about you, Brian.”
“The cancer is fine.” I’m sure he deliberately misunderstands me.
“Yes,” I agree, “You shared the results of your last check-up with me a while ago. I know, and I’m relieved that everything’s okay. But it wasn’t that.”
He’s not going to help me.
Sliding another few inches away and tilting back his head, Brian looks down his nose at me. And waits.
I lean forward and squint my eyes in the near-darkness. I desperately need to see his face as finally I have the guts to tell him, “Brian, I know about. . .Max.”
11/3/05 Rev. 11/18/05