Chapter 12: Justin’s POV
My blood has turned to ice. My stomach is twisted into a Gordian knot. Sex is out of the picture, because he’s so beat up, so I turn to another disassociation I learned from Brian: sarcasm.
“I don’t suppose that means you want a kitten?” I ask. What an ass I can be.
He doesn’t crack a smile. “You think this is funny? You think this is easy for me to say?”
I sigh and rub my hands across my face. Of course it isn’t funny. Of course it isn’t easy for him to say. As for me, just hearing it is like being hit by a train. But kind of in a good way, however that’s possible. A train made out of marshmallows, maybe. Why am I thinking of these stupid things? Because I don’t know what to say. What I want to say will only make me want to cry. I finally get the balls to say it anyway. “Does that mean you’re looking for another partner?”
He grimaces. “Can you see me out there like Theodore going to Jewish singles parties to find myself a nice doctor?”
“You had a nice doctor who came to see you here tonight. I don’t know if he’s Jewish or not, but…”
“Stop. He was a trick. Period. I’m not interested in him. I’m not looking for another partner. I’m just telling you how I feel.”
There’s an element of relief to what he says. I suddenly feel like we’re a step closer to where we need to be, but still far from the finish line. “I guess I really want to hear you say that you don’t want to live alone anymore, and the person you want to live with you is me.”
“You know it is. Why do I have to say that?”
“Because I need to hear it, Brian. You told me you loved me for the first time when we were standing in a scene of utter chaos and devastation. You asked me to marry you when you were still in a slow boil over the fact that some crazy element of the straight community was willing to kill our kind rather than let us rally in favor of gay marriage. When you said that you loved me, I believed you. I felt like you were finally voicing what I had always known. When you asked me to marry you, I knew your motivation was fucked up. And even though I thought marriage was what I wanted at the time, I now know that it wasn’t. I don’t need that mansion in the country, that ceremony, that piece of paper. We’re here tonight with no bombs going off, no rage underlying your motivations, just the two of us. I need you to tell me exactly what you want from me, as if we lived in a perfect world.”
He winces, from the pain, or from the emotional burden, or both, and leans back with a moan. “I want you here with me. I want to know that when the lights go off, you’re sharing that bed with me. I don’t need to know where you are every minute, Justin, and I don’t want you dogging my every move, either. I want us to be together because we want to be together, not because of some convention that says we have to be together. I don’t expect you to be the little woman, preparing a hot meal for me every night. I don’t even want that. I want you to paint. I want you to sell. I want you to be the next Jackson Pollock, and I accept that it takes a lot of freedom and free time to create the way you do. Artists don’t work a nine to five schedule. I want to be free to go out with my friends when I want to, without recrimination, whether you join us or not. I may trick, occasionally. You may trick, occasionally. We may trick together. I don’t care about that so long as it’s meaningless, and who knows? Maybe we’ll mutually decide we’re past that part of it. I don’t know. I don’t see a reason to draw bright lines around our relationship right now. I think we let it evolve. But for that to happen, we need to have a relationship to begin with. We need to be together. I’m so tired of being lonely.”
I rest my hand on his uninjured knee and massage it gently. “I’m lonely too, Brian. Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind, I miss you so much. I guess the angst gets poured into my work, which is better than ever, but no matter how many people are around, if you’re not one of them, it’s not the same.”
“I know. So here we are. You have good and rational reasons for needing some distance. I have good and rational reasons for needing us to be together. Neither one of us wants the other to sacrifice his goals. So we’ve created a perfect picture of desolation.”
I smile and twist the beautiful bracelet on my wrist. “Your brooding Irish side always looks for the rainbow, doesn’t it?”
“Is there a rainbow?”
“For me, hearing you say you’re lonely and you want me with you is huge, Brian.”
“I’m happy to stroke your puny ego,” his sarcasm flares to life. “But the fact is, I don’t want you to stop doing what you feel you need to do just to put a band aid on my bleeding heart.”
“You’re the one with the perfect SAT scores. You tell me what the answer is.”
“Like you would ever listen to me.”
“I listen to you more than you’ll ever believe.”
I smile at that. I know he does. He hears me, he appears to blow me off, but he broods over what I say and makes his own decision, after taking it into account. I love that about him. “I don’t have a fast solution, Brian. I just have a request.”
“While we work on this dilemma, please don’t try to find some guy with a lot less issues than I have to fill that empty place in your loft.”
For the first time since coming here, I see that Kinney smile, the real thing, not something tense and forced. “Damn it, get me my phone so I can call off the auditions.”
“Yes, it is. Justin, from that very first night when I took your cherry, I knew this was different. I even wished you were older, that you’d already lived a lot of life so that we’d be closer to the same place. I didn’t let myself explore how much I cared for you, because I knew it was hopeless. You were a kid. You had to live before you decided to settle on anyone or anything. Cutting you off from those experiences, even if I could, would be wrong. So I let my walls stand, and reinforced them when they began to leak. But you still got through.”
I smile. “I told you I was in love with you from the moment I saw you.”
“That was lust. That was crush.”
“Maybe, but at some point, invisible to me, it became love. I love all the truly terrible things about you, Brian. I love your gruff, sophisticated boredom with all things romantic while underneath you are the most ridiculously romantic man in the world. I love your sex machine persona, even when you direct it at some other guy. I love seeing how other men react to you, and that fierce freedom in your style. I love knowing that even when you’re fucking them, you still love me. Only me. I love your toughness, how you act like testicular cancer is a vacation in Ibiza, how you finish that bike race in agony, how you let Gus move to Canada with his mommies, even though it broke your heart. But I also love how underneath that iron man exterior is vulnerability so raw it takes my breath away. I love how you protected me from my father’s hatred. I love how you came to the hospital every night when I was bashed. I love how you tried to recreate that dance for me. I love how you wore that bloody scarf next to your heart. I love your completely fucked up self-esteem issues and your ambition and your absolute decency. I love Brian Kinney. Not some domestic clone of Brian Kinney. I never want to change you. If you change as the result of experience or age or whatever, fine, I’ll love that version of you, too. But don’t do it for me. Don’t force it because you don’t want to lose me.”
I see that I moved him. His eyes glisten. Unconditional love is not something Brian Kinney has known in his life. Far from it. I haven’t given it to him, either, before now. But isn’t that really one of the biggest issues we have? We conditioned our love for each other. And we’re two people who require freedom in order to be together. He wiggles a finger, urging me to come closer. I stand and hover over him, not sure what to do, where to touch him. He puts his good arm behind me, urging me down. I kiss him, gently, on the lips. He parts his lips and lets his tongue find mine. We taste, we probe, and we connect. I see the color rise in his pale, pale skin. He has such a quick trigger; even now, in his present condition. I love his passion. He leans back with a sigh.
“This is torture. I hurt way too much to let this get started.”
I smile and smooth his hair. “I know.”
“I love your courage, Justin. The way you came back after that bashing, the way you stood up to your father, the way you call me on my shit,” he says with a smile. “I love your talent, your artistic eye, your creative mind, your perfect ass. I love the way you cried when I told you I didn’t believe in love, only in fucking, and yet you still wouldn’t give up. I love the way you had the balls to come after me following your fiasco with the fiddler, and how you wouldn’t let me walk away. I love how you can care for me without smothering me, without making me dependent. I love the way you play me, sometimes, reminding me of what matters, of who matters. I love that you saw beneath the Kinney façade and still wanted what you found there, quivering and cold,” he reaches out and touches my face. “We let other people, other circumstances come between us, Justin. The way others perceived us, and what we should need from life, had a terrible impact on our relationship. We operate best in a vacuum of our own creation. It’s not a relationship others necessarily understand or admire or want to emulate, but who gives a shit? If it works for us, why do we let other people and their conventions, chip away at what we know is right? They tell you that you deserve more, better, and maybe they’re right. They tell me I need to commit to you, be a steady partner, and yet in the same breath they tell me I need to let you go, so you can follow your dream, and maybe they’re right. But they’re also inconsistent. They say what they want to say when they want to say it, and let’s be real. Most of what they say is fucking hurtful. You let Michael convince you that you really wanted domestic bliss. You let Lindsay convince you that you really needed to move to New York. I let Michael convince me that I really want to be a party stud until I die, and I let Lindsay convince me that I was causing you to make a terrible sacrifice in order to be with me. Fuck Michael. Fuck Lindsay. What we need to decide is what Brian and Justin need and want. We have to shut off the outside world, because that’s the only way we really seem to work.”
As I listen to him, take in what he’s saying, I realize that what we just did, spontaneously, is to exchange the only kind of vows that really matter. We just told each other what we love about the other and why we want to be together, on our own terms. I know we can’t shut off the outside world and live in a vacuum of our own creation, but I also know exactly what he means by that. I have no idea how to make this work, but I have never loved him more than I do at this moment.
“I do,” I say softly. He looks perplexed.
“You do what?”
“I do take you as my lawfully wedded husband.”
He laughs. “I want some of what you’re mainlining.”
“What we just did is exchange vows, Brian.”
“We exchanged truths.”
“A vow is a declaration, a promise. No ceremony could mean more to me than what you just said.”
“We can’t have a wedding night when I’m too banged up to perform, so this doesn’t count.”
I smile. “It counts.”
“All we’ve done is tell each other how we feel. We haven’t solved a damn thing.”
“I know. But isn’t that what the rest of our lives for? Solving damn things? Together?”
“One step at a time, Pollyanna. We haven’t even talked about how we can be together, or even if we can be together.”
“And we will. But right now, you’re going to sleep. You look so tired. Move over.”
“What are you doing? There’s no room for you on this chair.”
“I’m not that big. I promise not to hurt your sore parts. I just want to be close to you.”
“You can’t get close to me without hurting my sore parts,” he complains, but I manage to find a little cove next to his body where I can lie on my side with one arm gently placed low on his abdomen and my head resting on his good shoulder. I snuggle under the comforter and close my eyes as I breathe in the slightly seamy scent of athletic exertion that was abruptly interrupted before he could shower. I don’t care. I love the way he smells.
I feel him relax in my embrace, and within minutes he’s asleep. With our luck, he’ll probably slip into a coma and die, that’s the way some would write our resolution. But I have other plans for him, plans that don’t include his premature death. I kiss his throat and then I, too, fall asleep, hoping I remember to wake up often enough to ensure he’s still alive.