Chapter 7: Brian’s POV
The conversation with Justin, coupled with the internal revelations about Lindsay, left me feeling ragged. I can fool other people about how I feel, but there’s no fooling the man. I let the hotel valet park my car. I don’t want to deal with even a minor hassle. The hotel is predictably nice, gracious, and while I tell them I need no help with my luggage, a bellman volunteers. It’s late, it’s quiet, and again, I’m too tired and stressed to deal. As we await the elevator, I stare at the all-white Christmas tree decorating the lobby. It’s wired with white lights and decorated with silver ornaments and it makes me feel sad for some reason. It’s an illusion of a Christmas tree, a perfect reflection of what should be lopsided and messy and littered with a collection of family and homemade ornaments.
This is the kind of tree I would have, if I had a tree, a perfect reflection of what doesn’t exist. And that makes me feel saddest of all.
“In town on business?” The bellman tries to distract me. He’s young, he’s cute, he’s cruising me, but right now I’m not sure if the cruise is to gauge my tip meter or because he wants to fuck me. I’m not sure I care.
“No,” I answer, not feeling compelled to explain further. We board the elevator and he pushes the button for my floor. I stand at the back with my hands braced on the polished brass bar, my eyes closed. He says,
“Do I know you? You look like an actor.”
Please. Without opening my eyes, I respond, “No, you don’t know me.”
“You’re handsome enough to be an actor.”
I do not respond. Definitely, aggressively, cruising me. Slow night. He leads the way to my room and opens it with a flourish. He proceeds to explain the mysteries of the HVAC system, the remote controls for the electronics, even the fucking bathroom amenities. He offers to get a bucket of ice for me after pointing out the wonder that is the mini bar. Fine. He’s getting a ten-dollar tip. That’s it. He can adjust my thermostat, bring me ice, even lick the film off my soap, but he’s getting a ten-dollar tip. I guess that makes it a little more in Canadian currency. I throw my coat and scarf on the bed and stand at the window, staring out at the crescent of lights before you hit the black void of Lake Ontario. Water views may be lovely in the sunlight, but at night, they make you feel as if you’re perched on the edge of an abyss.
Which I am.
He returns with my ice. I hand him the ten. He smiles as he takes it and causes his hand to brush mine. “Anything else I can do for you, sir?” he says with a knowing smile. I sigh. What the fuck? I’m too tired to go out, too wired to sleep, and he’s hot enough.
Five minutes later, he’s seated on the edge of the bed sucking my cock. I rest one hand on his shoulder, the other behind my neck, my eyes closed and mind elsewhere. He’s maybe a six on the cock sucking scale. No blow job is bad, unless they bite you or gag on it, but some are better than others. He rates a six, enough to get me off fairly quickly, which he does. Afterwards, he starts to undress, but I shake my head.
“That was just the preliminary,” he leers at me. I zip up and walk towards the door.
“Tonight, there will be no encores. I’m tired, I’m going to bed.”
He looks disappointed as he leaves and tells me to ring the bell desk if I change my mind. I won’t. It took the edge off so maybe now I can sleep. I close the drapes, take off my clothes, climb under the heavy down comforter and instantly fall into that void.
Gus and what’s-her-face, Michael’s kid, are so hyper over the holidays that they don’t notice the tension between their mommies and me. Which is good. I don’t want to spoil their joy, none of this is their fault. I shipped my presents to him early so I wouldn’t have to deal with excess baggage at the airport. The plan is that he will open them today, and I’ll fly to Banff on Christmas morning so they can have their little lesbo holiday without my testosterone poisoning their home.
I spent a lot of time, with Cynthia’s research assistance, selecting gifts online that seemed appropriate for a kid his age and with his interests. A couple choices missed, but most were direct hits. I even bought a few things for his sister so she wouldn’t feel left out. I have one for Lindsay in my bag, but I’m rethinking it. They give me one from Gus. He watches expectantly as I shred the paper and then says, “It’s goggles for skiing, Daddy.”
“Gus!” Lindsay reprimands him with a laugh. “It’s supposed to be a surprise!”
The exposed box gave it away, anyway. It’s not like I don’t have state-of-the-art goggles, but these have some sentimental value, coming from him. I try them on to his appreciative giggles. “You look like a monster, Daddy!” he compliments me and I go into monster mode, chasing him around the room and up the stairs, then down again to his delighted laughter and Melanie’s glare. He finally makes a lunge for his newly acquired super water canon and slays me with it, even though it’s not currently loaded with liquids. I fall on the floor with a groan and lie very still until he comes over to me and pries the goggle off my eyes and asks,
“You dead, Daddy?”
I spring up with a growl and grab him, laughing at his squeal of surprise. I roll him onto the rug and tickle him until he squirms free. “Can we have a little less rough house and more inside-appropriate fun?” Lindsay cautions. I slump onto the sofa, returning the goggles to the box as Gus climbs up on my lap.
“Mommy is no fun,” I tell him. She glares at me.
“Mommy has to live with a hyper-stimulated child. Daddy gets to go back to his fancy hotel and crash.”
“Gus will go skiing with Daddy!” Gus suggests. Not exactly the ski trip I had in mind, but I shrug.
“Why not? Could be fun.”
“Absolutely not,” Melanie says. “And how dare you say that in front of him so that now we get to be the villains again.”
“But I want to go!” Gus puffs up to signal an impending crying session that Melanie cuts short by snatching him off of my lap. She carries him into the kitchen, saying,
“It’s time for your dinner.”
I can hear him protest and cry a little, as Lindsay shakes her head. “Did you have to do that?”
“It was his idea.”
“He’s a child, you’re not. It’s Christmas, Brian. Do you honestly think I wouldn’t want Gus here with his family on Christmas?”
“I’m his family too.”
“You’re a drop-in father.”
“Only because that’s the way you fucking want it!”
“As do you, Brian. You just want me to provide you with the way out.”
“Do I? Okay, Lindsay. Here it is. I’m happy to take Gus to Banff with me. Period. Pack him up and we’re gone.”
“We don’t even trust you to care for him in your home,” Melanie rejoins us after settling Gus with his food in the kitchen. “Do you think we’d let you take him up on a fucking mountain?”
“Yeah, Melanie, that’s what I would do. I’d take him up the Black Diamond slope with me and watch him tumble down the mountain. That’s such fun and so like me.”
“You wouldn’t know what the fuck he was doing while you were off chasing the ass of some Scandinavian ski instructor.”
Enough. I see Gus enter the room, his face and hands bearing the traces of spaghetti sauce. His large, Bambi eyes look from the women to me. His lower lip trembles. He looks like I did at that age. I’ve seen the pictures. I don’t want him to have the same fucked up memories I have of childhood Christmases with the Kinneys. I hold up my hands in surrender. This isn’t going to be settled in this manner. This is going to be much more complicated than they think. But the one thing I won’t do is to traumatize my son. I pick up his water canon and say, “Come on, Sonny Boy. Let’s go upstairs and test this out in the bath tub. You look like you could use a blast or two.”
He lights up at that possibility and Lindsay calls after us, “Don’t let him soak the bathroom!”
I just ignore her. I’ve run out of things to say to her that would be considered civil.
One of the sadder places to be on Christmas Eve night is a gay bar in a strange city. One of the more miserable aspects of these places is that there are a lot of people gathered there, because their homosexuality has alienated them from their families and the greater community. Those of us without partners, those of us without ties, shunned by organized religion, congregate here to drink and cruise, but mainly to avoid being alone.
In Toronto, the gay part of town is clustered around Church Street. It’s bigger than I expected it to be, with the usual rainbow identified buildings, shops, bars, clubs, and even condos, with rainbow flags displayed on terraces. It’s bitterly cold and I go into the first bar I find, just to escape the chill. It’s more Woody’s than a fern bar or slick big city dive, which is fine. The crowd is homogenous, white, very Canadian.
The bartender is cute. I’m not really in the mood for company, but he seems to be flirting, so I’m rethinking my options. Anything to turn off the mind, to stop the pain for awhile. And then I feel a strong hand close on my shoulder. “Brian Kinney. Of all the gin joints in Gayopolis, you come into mine.”
I glance over my shoulder at someone I definitely didn’t expect to see. I know I did him, but I can’t remember exactly where and when. It seemed like a good encounter, one he obviously remembers, and then he says, “You said you were going to call me. That was, what? Four years ago? Lose my number?” His smile is more mischievous than accusatory.
He’s handsome, probably my age but well-preserved, well-dressed, understated. “You’re going to have to help me,” I tell him. “I’ve slept.”
He laughs and sits on the stool beside me, motioning for refills for us both. “Let me set the scene for you,” he says. “You have a friend in the hospital, close to death. Comatose.” I wince. Justin. The bashing. He goes on. “You apparently were chosen to make the decision on whether to pull the plug.”
I brighten up at that. Ted, not Justin. Suddenly the tiles fall into place. The handsome intern, the empty bed next to where Ted vegetated in a drug-induced coma, precursor of things to come for him in that arena. While I’m plowing the doc, Ted decides to revive. Funny story. And this is the doc. No clue what his name is, although I’m sure he told me, once. He says it again as he extends his hand to me.
“Brent Matthison. What the hell are you doing here on Christmas?”
I shake his hand and say, “Visiting my son. What are you doing here?”
“You have a son?”
“The first time you cruised me was in a hospital corridor on the night my son was born.”
“Why are you here?”
“I live here, now. I’m an orthopedic surgeon. My partner was Canadian, so it made sense for me to start my practice here.”
“He let you out on Christmas Eve?”
“He let me out a year ago,” he said with a laugh. “And changed the locks. You?”
“Single,” I say, ignoring the internal wince.
I want to defend that it hasn’t always been like this, but I don’t bother. A half hour later we’re in his waterfront condo that is very Bauhaus, faggot style. Like I should talk. Ten minutes after that, we’re recreating the scene in the hospital, only the mattress is Tempur Pedic and there’s no vegetating Ted beyond the curtain. Lying side by side, afterwards, I smoke, he doesn’t, and then he says,
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Catching a plane to Banff.”
“Ah, skiing. More work for me.”
“Not from me. I’m an expert.”
“They’re the most likely to need my services. Take more chances.”
“Maybe you should relocate to be closer to the slopes.”
“There are plenty of amateur athletes in Toronto. Maybe I should look into a ski trip. I haven’t been in years. It sounds inviting. Some rigorous exercise followed by hot buttered rum and fireside fucking.”
I cast him a sharp glance. “I’m not looking for a ski date.”
He smiles. “You’re not the only hot top at the lodge.”
I get up and dress, reminding myself of why “do-overs” are such a stupid idea. I tell him I can see myself out and escape to the elevators. I’m ready to leave Toronto, now. I feel disconnected, angry. Angry at Lindsay, at my circumstances, just angry. Alone and angry. Potent combination.