Six Months Later.
I know he isn’t coming, so why do I keep looking for him? It’s not his fault. I’m disappointed, but not mad at him for staying away. He had legitimate business to take care of, a huge pitch and a dinner with potential clients from Europe, so it couldn’t be postponed. He’ll be here this weekend. We can come to the gallery together while he’s in town, but it’s not the same as my opening.
He feels terrible about it, so I need to let it go. But more than all of these art junkies and art critics and skinny people in black trying to be cool, I wish Brian were here. I know he would hang back on the fringes, not wanting to interfere as I circulate among all the chardonnay sippers telling me I’m brilliant. Occasionally I’d catch his eye and he’d give me that Kinney smirk that says “Don’t get too full of yourself. The adulation is bullshit, it’s the work that matters.”
The work is good.
The best work I’ve ever done.
I’m proud of it, even though I’m absolutely exhausted from working my part time jobs and painting all hours. When I’d go to Pittsburgh to visit him, all I ever wanted to do was fuck and sleep. In that order. Then I’d be back in my little attic garret painting like a mad man.
This show fell out of the sky for me. The owner of the gallery saw my painting in the restaurant where I work as a waiter a few nights a week. They let me hang art on the brick walls, and I’ve sold more than a few to diners. Not cheap prices, but not huge, and the owner of the restaurant gets a cut. This gallery owner not only bought it, but resold it for three times what he paid and then asked to see what else I had.
I remember thinking he looked as out of place as Brian does in my workspace, standing in this dusty room, overpowered by the stench of oil based paint and turpentine, his expensive suit in constant danger of brushing something wet and being ruined by it. Unlike Brian, who loves everything I paint with the bias of a partner, this guy was very critical and picky, segregating the exact canvases I consider my best work. And so the gallery exhibition was born.
I was five canvases short of an exhibition, with two months to pull it together. Brian was very understanding, traveling to New York instead of asking me to travel, sacrificing time together when he was here so that I could work. How unfair that on the big night, he had a conflict. This effort was almost as much his as mine. Certainly he was the one factor that kept me sane. When I thought I couldn’t do it, couldn’t keep going, he told me I wasn’t a quitter and kicked my ass back to the studio.
My mom is here, Daphne is here, we’ll have a great late dinner together when it’s all over, and I’ll crash at their hotel. But Brian…I pause in front of the one portrait among all the abstractions. He hasn't seen this and it’s not for sale. The gallery owner wanted me to hang it just so they could see what he called the “depth” of my range. It’s clearly marked “Artist’s Private Collection”. The name of portrait is “His Eyes”. It’s a huge close up of Brian’s face, concentrating on his incredible, all seeing, all feeling eyes.
Daphne gasped when she saw it and my mother cried a little. Women. Brian would grimace and ask me who it was supposed to be. But I know he’d be touched and flattered. For me, it was a work of love, a way of pouring my feelings for him into the paint and letting it spread across a blank canvas. It kept him with me when he was gone. I could look across my studio and see that face and feel less alone.
As the evening progresses, I notice more and more paintings are marked with little red dots, signifying a sale. Of course the owner gets a cut, just like at the restaurant, but even with that, I should be doing pretty well. No telling what the critics are going to say about the work. This is New York. They can be cruel.
“Who’s the hot stud in the portrait?”
I turn and stare at him in disbelief. No way! He looks irresistible in all black, dressed as the bad guy for summer. Black silk shirt, black linen trousers, a black alligator belt with a silver buckle. I lose my studied, New York artiste cool completely and throw my arms around his neck, knocking him back a little with a kiss. He laughs and peels me off of his body.
“Control yourself, Picasso. We’re among the cool kids.”
I can’t let him go completely, though. I thread my fingers through his, beaming at his handsome face. “You said…”
“I know what I said,” he interrupts. “But I told the clients that my partner was opening his first Tribeca gallery exhibition tonight, and as much as I’d love to smoke pussy and talk about cigars with them over steaks, I really needed to be in New York.”
“You didn’t have to.”
He slips an arm behind my waist and forces me to look into his eyes. “Yeah, I did.”
I kiss him again. I know some are staring, whispering, but I don’t care. Let them. They recognize him from the portrait and the gay thing still brings out a little titter, even in New York. He gives me a swat on the seat. “Now go make nice with the deep pockets. When and why the painting of me?”
“You like it?” He shrugs. He loves it. Knew he would. “It keeps me company when we’re apart.”
“In that case, you painted the wrong part of me.”
I laugh and wiggle my fingers at him as I drift away to make nice, watching him gravitate towards my mom.
Later, the four of us have a nice dinner at a quiet café in Tribeca. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier. The exhibition was a great success, although I won’t know what my haul is until later. And the art stays up for ten more days. My mom is here, my best friend is here, but mostly Brian is here, and I can’t stop smiling as I slip a hand under the table to rest on his hard thigh. He covers my fingers with his.
We all have a wonderful time and then split up into two cabs. They go to the Tribeca Grand where they’re staying, and we go to the flat. We all agree to meet tomorrow for brunch. I lean my head against his shoulder as we ride, our hands locked together between us. “Thank you,” I whisper and he smiles.
“I mean it.”
“So do I. Shut up.”
He leans over to kiss me, shutting me up in the most powerful way he knows. At the apartment, there’s no making it to the bed. There’s no time to strip off clothes. We open, shove and lower what has to be opened, shoved and lowered in order for his cock to find its way to my ass. I lean over the table, gripping it in both hands as he pounds me. We haven’t hiked the air conditioning, so we’re both sweaty and limp when it’s finished. So much for his beautiful clothes.
A shared shower feels good as the apartment cools down with refrigerated air. We do it again, only with less frantic desperation. In bed, in a dark room, naked, we lie there on our backs, my head on his shoulder, my leg crossing his, as he inhales some chronic and says, “I saw my cancer doctor yesterday.”
I tense. Oh god. I can go for months without thinking about the fact Brian had cancer. His fake ball is as real as the other one to me now, I don’t really think about the fact it’s a prosthesis. But when I let myself remember, when I let myself think that he’s not really cured until he’s cancer free for five years, I feel physically ill.
“It’s all good,” he says, and I realize I haven’t breathed as I exhale slowly. “No sign of cancer.”
I kiss him, tasting the drug, tasting him. “Thank God.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t want to lose the other one. Not much fun to be a eunuch from what I’ve heard.”
But we both know that’s not as scary as some of the other possibilities. Testicular cancer can spread to the spine, the brain, the lungs, any organ. If it metastasizes, it can kill and kill quickly. He found it early, I remind myself. They didn’t even have to do chemo. I reach over and hug him tightly and he gives me an exaggerated moan as he pries my arms away. “What is wrong with you?”
I raise myself to one elbow and look down at him in the darkness, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. “If something happened to you…”
He presses a finger to my lips to stop my thought. “Don’t jinx it. I’m fine.”
We kiss and I relax into his embrace once again. “How long can you stay?”
“I need to go back Sunday night, Justin. I’m meeting with them Monday before they fly home. I’ll get their verdict.”
I’m disappointed that the trip is so short, but I understand. “Maybe I’ll fly back with you. The exhibition is finally behind me. I can take a few days.”
“I’d like that. You haven’t been home in a while.”
“I know. I’ve missed the loft.”
“The loft? You’ve missed the loft?”
I laugh at his emphasis. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I do. You love me for my digs.”
“I’ve always loved you for your digs.”
“Well, get over it. I’m moving.”
I sit up and stare at him, switching on the lamp so I can see his face. “Homo says what?”
“Homo says he’s moving.”
“Moving. Just like that.”
“Well, no. It will require some planning. Can you turn that off?”
“No. Do you think this is something we should discuss? Is that not my home, too? You can’t just make a unilateral decision to move!”
“Chill, drama baby. I’m just moving one floor. The big loft came open and I’m taking it.”
I relax a little. I love that loft. We’ve always lusted after it. It has two more bedrooms and a bath and a half more than he has now, plus terrace access. Of course, it costs twice as much, too. “Where are Ben and Jerry going?” Their real names are Ren and Jimmy, but they’re two plump queens who look like they should make ice cream, so we renamed them, privately.
“Where all old queens go to wear caftans and chase beach boys. South Beach. They bought a condo overlooking the water.”
We both laugh. “Can you afford it?”
“Yeah, life is good.”
“Do you really want all that room?”
“Well, Gus has to have his own space. That’s part of the agreement.”
Brian sued for visitation three months ago and has put tremendous pressure on the lesbians. He hired a shark. Melanie is no match. “What agreement?”
He grins at me. “We’ve reached settlement. I wanted to tell you face to face.”
He explains the terms of the agreement that gives him access to his son, in Pittsburgh, on a regular rotating basis. He agrees to hire a nanny to watch over Gus while Brian is working, and he’s taken on other obligations, like college and insurance. None of that matters. He gets to see Gus and I know how much that means to him. “I’m so happy for you.”
“Listen, Sunshine, this isn’t just about me. You’re my partner. It hits your life, too, having a hyperactive kid around some of the time. How do you feel about that?”
“I love Gus. You know that.”
He pulls me down on top of him and kisses me, hard. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too. Always.”
We kiss and slip slowly into round three.