The phone buzzed and he put down the latest report on the Connors account to answer. "Yeah."
Cynthia spoke. "There's a Justin Taylor on one." She rang off before he could respond.
He punched the clear button to access the line. "What?"
"Hey," replied Justin.
Brian began again. "Hey. Now, what do you want?"
"I want to go see Into the Woods. It's a musical by-"
"I know what it is and who wrote it."
Justin tested him. "Who?"
"So what does your going to the show have to do with me?" He flipped through the Connors report and put a sticky note on one page and scribbled a correction.
"I want you to come with me."
"That's a date."
"Don't you think we're past the date stage? You and Michael and the guys do stuff all the time."
Opening a file on his computer, he replied, "I'm not fucking them so it doesn't count."
"Don't fuck me then."
"At least not tonight," Justin added. "Then it won't count as a date."
"Can't tonight. I've got plans." He removed a page from the report and crumpled it in his fist, tossed it in the trashcan.
"Babylon or Woody's or both?"
Okay, so he had a point. Giving a long-suffering sigh, he asked, "When is it?"
"Where?" Justin named a theatre downtown. "There's a pretty decent Indian restaurant near there." He paused. "Be at my place by five-thirty. You got tickets?"
Shaking his head, Brian said, "I'll get Cynthia to do it. And no
jeans." He severed the connection and dialed Cynthia's extension. "Get me
two tickets to Into the Woods for tonight, best seats they have
left, and make a reservation for two at The Taj. Six o'clock." Hanging up,
he made a few additional notations on the report and tossed it in his
As the elevator approached the sixth floor Justin hoped he looked okay. Brian wasn't too pleased about this whole date/not-a-date situation and the least little thing might cause him to back out. Justin had shown his outfit to Deb and Vic and gotten Vic's approval. Deb was many things, tasteful wasn't one of them. After many changes he finally decided on a pair of charcoal grey pants topped with a clingy cream-colored sweater that showed off his lean torso. Pulling the door to the loft open, he hoped his ensemble met with Brian's approval.
Brian exited his bedroom carrying one brown leather boot. Justin paused where he stood, struck, as always, by Brian's beauty. Straying from his customary black, he had slipped on a pair of buttery slacks that hugged his slender hips and thighs. But it was the sweater that arrested the eye. Colored a burnt sienna that picked up the russet highlights in his hair, the sweater appeared burdened by gravity, in that the neckline continually slipped down onto one shoulder or the other, exposing his collar bone to scrutiny. He looked tawdry in the tradition of the great femme fatales of film in the early 50's. Not quite obviously gay but androgynous in his sensuality: the red lips offset by the strong jaw, the graceful neck by the muscular chest.
Plopping down in a dining chair, he put on his other shoe and glanced around at Justin. "You ready?" Justin nodded, distracted again by the sight of Brian's body, exposed by the flirtatious sweater. Brian rose and retrieved his tan overcoat from the closet, grabbed his keys. "Come on. We've got reservations at six."
Justin breathed easier as they left the apartment, so far so good.
"So what changed your mind?" asked Justin, tearing off a piece of naan and dipping it into a sweet chili sauce.
"The fact that I wouldn't have heard the end of it if I didn't." He rolled his eyes. "You're persistent, if nothing else," he confessed.
Justin blushed and then recovered, saying, "I like this restaurant." Brian laughed as he had intended. "I didn't know you liked musicals."
"I don't," replied Brian. "Just Sondheim."
"Cause he's gay?"
"Because he's good."
Justin, distracted again by Brian's lips as he spoke, dipped his naan in a very pungent and hot chili sauce.
Brian started to warn him, "I wouldn't-" but it was too late. The teen chomped down on the bread and swallowed. Brian waited. In an instant Justin's face turned red and he started to cough. Brian handed him a glass of water. "Drink this." Shook his head. "Babies." Between racking coughs, Justin finished off his glass and Brian's. Finally, his color returned to normal. Trying not to laugh, Brian asked, "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," replied Justin clearing his throat.
With Justin out of danger, Brian burst out laughing. He clamped down on it as the waiter hurried over and refilled their glasses. "Leave the pitcher," Brian said smiling devilishly.
"It's not funny, Brian," rasped Justin.
Brian wiped his eyes and tried to keep a lid on his bubbling amusement. "Sorry," he managed before giving into another fit of laughter.
"You'll pay," Justin promised ominously.
With Justin's full attention, Brian dipped a piece of bread into the same pungent sauce and ate the naan with no visible side effects. "Bring it on."
Mind a whirl, Justin plotted.
Alone again. Since they had filed for divorce, they had stopped doing anything together. Not that they had gone to very many shows together anyway. Craig was always too busy for the theatre. She had almost called Justin but figured he'd be with Brian. Lately, whenever she had tried to reach him he was out with the man doing God knows what. Deb had admitted that he spent more nights at Brian's loft than he did at her house. Jennifer had been to Brian's apartment, so she had no worries on that front, that Justin was in an unsafe environment. At least not physically. She was still certain, however, that her son was treading dangerous waters emotionally and nothing she had seen or heard about Brian Kinney had dispelled her fears.
Looking down from her seat in the first row of the balcony, she saw them arrive. First Brian, commanding nearly everyone's attention in a sluttish, rust-colored sweater that managed to slide over one shoulder each time he moved. Men and women both tracked him with their eyes as he found their seats, and took one, and crossed his lengthy legs. She was reminded of nothing so much as a sword with a decorated blade, hilt, and sheath to distract the hapless from the fact that it was still a weapon, designed to cut and slash and stab.
Justin followed dutifully behind and, she was proud to see, no few eyes marked his route. He seemed to flaunt himself less than Brian, having dressed in a rather conservative outfit- at least compared to his date- although she thought the sweater was too tight.
Having flipped through the program, Brian leaned over and said something to Justin which caused the teen to turn and smile. It really was his best feature and she could tell that even Brian was affected. He pursed his lips, beautiful like the rest of him she imagined, and faced the front of the theatre again.
As the house lights went down and the curtain rose, she turned her
attention to the show and tried to forget that her eighteen-year-old son
and his twenty-nine-year-old lover were seated in the house below her.
As the cast sang "I Wish," Justin glanced over at his companion. If anyone had asked him, he would have said that what he wished for more than anything was for Brian to admit that he loved him. He knew that the man did love him, it would have been impossible for them to have shared the things they did and still have kept love from sprouting up between them. Only, it was such a fragile thing, needing constant and patient care to make sure that it survived, that it thrived and flourished. Balance was what it required more than anything, it was essential that he maintain that delicate balance required to keep their relationship going: giving Brian enough space that he felt independent and yet not so much that he felt neglected. And he wished that he didn't need Brian as much as he did, wished that his life had not become so entwined with the older man's, but it was too late, there was no turning back as Brian himself had told him, not realizing that those very words could apply to them as well as to Justin's other life choices. He was no fool, he knew that there were many more tearful confrontations ahead of him, many more lonely and frustrated nights, many more negotiations and compromises and sacrifices. The work had only just begun.
Having lazily followed the action on stage during the first few numbers, Brian's awareness sharpened as he watched Little Red Riding Hood deal with the Wolf on her way to Grandmother's house in the woods. Listening to the Wolf's lines as he tempted the little girl to leave the safe path, "So many worth exploring,/ Just one would be so boring," he was struck by the familiarity of the situation. He supposed that Deb and Jennifer would say that's what he had done to Justin, tempted him from the secure path onto a road that was less certain. And were all of his promises just as empty, as false and misleading as the wolf's? But he had never promised Justin anything. Verbally. He supposed that he had given the teen enough mixed messages that the boy was probably confused and rightfully so. So much for honesty. Disturbed, Brian let his attention stray again and it was only after Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother had been rescued from the Wolf's belly by the Baker that he was able to reengage in the story. Singing about what she had learned, Little Red Riding Hood admitted that although the lesson had been a frightening one, "And he made me feel excited…/ Well, excited and scared," she was wiser for having been through what she had. Looking at Justin out of the corner of his eye Brian wondered if Justin would feel that way someday about them.
"Who out there, could love you more than I?/ What out there, that I cannot supply?" As the Witch sang these words to Rapunzel, pleading with her not to go, to "Stay at home/I'm at home," Justin thought of his own mother and how she had pleaded with him to come back home, warning him that Brian would break his heart, that he wasn't ready for that world, "Stay with me, the world is dark and wide," and that he was still a child despite his protests. "Stay a child, while you can be a child./ With me," the Witch sang hoping her love would be enough but it wasn't, and Rapunzel chose the world out there to one she had known all her life. He remembered how scared he had been when Brian had said, "Justin. You coming?" not quite sure if he was ready to leave home, but he had been even more afraid of losing Brian, of turning his back on the feeling that he had finally found a place where he belonged, and so he had gone, unsure of the future but determined to try. Still he missed his parents and Molly, he missed being a child, not having to think about so many things, secure in the knowledge that his parents loved him, that they would protect him, "Don't you know what's out there in the world?/ Someone has to shield you from the world." The world had been a safe place then. He thought of the Saturday afternoons his mom and he would spend together, just the two of them, and he wondered who went to the museums with her now, who went shopping with her, and to the movies that his dad and Molly didn't want to see. And now that his mom and dad were getting a divorce, who did she turn to for comfort? As hard as he tried, he couldn't keep a tear from falling, because he loved her, and needed her, and missed her. Miserable, hoping Brian hadn't seen the tear, Justin felt a hand take his. Daring a glance at Brian, he saw him looking straight ahead, seemingly unaware and unconcerned, yet his strong fingers were laced with Justin's and he held his hand until the intermission. Afraid that people would see, Justin started to withdraw his hand, but Brian held on a moment past lights up and challenged, with his eyes, anyone to say a word. A woman in the seat next to Justin smiled approvingly and rose to join the restroom bound.
"Do you want to go?" Justin asked.
"Do you?" replied Brian.
"Then we stay." Standing, stretching his legs, Brian leaned against the empty seats in front of them. His sweater had decided to slide over his shoulder again and Justin couldn't keep his eyes off of him. "You okay?"
Brian nodded. "I like that sweater."
Justin laughed. "I think everybody likes yours."
Shifting so that it slipped over the opposite shoulder, Brian grinned. "Does it make you want me?"
Justin smiled. He didn't have to answer that question. And Brian didn't
need that sweater.
Jennifer hadn't seen what happened to make Brian take Justin's hand, but she had seen him letting go of it and surmised that something had occurred, whether good or bad she couldn't tell. She had expected them to exit so that Brian could have a smoke, Justin had told her that he smoked too much, but they remained inside. Brian did get up to stretch his legs. It had to be uncomfortable for him, he was six-three and a half Justin said, having measured him once he told her. She hadn't asked what else he had measured, but could imagine where the activity had led. Watching them talk, she noticed that Brian seemed to be actually listening to Justin and responding appropriately and not at all with that aloof and disinterested tone she had heard him affect. He shrugged in response to one of Justin's questions and that indecent sweater he was wearing slipped down on one side exposing once more his beautiful neck and shoulder. She could see why Justin had fallen for him. He did present a pretty package. Only, she was old enough to know that the prettiest packages didn't always contain the best presents.
God, she had almost started crying when the Witch had sang to Rapunzel. All the things that she had said to Justin, the Witch had used to convince her daughter not to go out into the world, and with as little result. The girl had gone, just as Justin had gone. Maybe if Craig hadn't been so angry, so intractable about his requirements, Justin might have stayed. She could tell that he had been afraid to go with Brian, but he hadn't been given much choice. At least Brian offered hope, little as it was, home had promised none. She wished- she wished she could go back to that day and be a little bit more forceful with Craig, demand that he leave Justin some room to grow, to explore in appropriate ways who he was becoming. But she hadn't and Justin had gone and, soon, Craig would be gone as well.
Molly, at least, still had her; what would happen to Justin all on his
Two lines from the second act stayed in his mind as they drove back to
the loft: "Mother cannot guide you, now you're on your own./ Only me
beside you, still you're not alone." He looked to the man beside him, lost
in his own thoughts or maybe completely engaged in the act of driving,
Justin couldn't tell. He wasn't alone. He did have Brian, no matter how
many protests he made to the contrary, no matter how many harsh words they
had, when he really needed Brian, he was there. And he believed that no
matter what, no matter how they ended things, Brian did care, even if he
didn't always know how to show it. He reached out and touched the back of
Brian's neck, ruffling the hair at the nape, and Brian pulled away and
gave him an annoyed look. Justin laughed. If he ever changed…
Brian washed his hands, aware of Justin moving in closer behind him.
"I've been wanting to do this all evening."
"What?" Brian asked.
Justin slid his hands underneath the man's sweater. He could feel every muscle in Brian's torso shift as he ran his hands over his skin. He spread his fingers over Brian's nipples and along his ribs, across his shoulders and down the center of his back. "God, that feels so good," Justin whispered and it did, but it wasn't enough. He unbuttoned Brian's trousers and unzipped them slowly, at the end of which he knelt and drew both the trousers and underwear down. Brian obliged him by stepping out of his clothing. But the sweater stayed on. Justin stood and reached beneath the sweater again, this time allowing his hands to roam Brian's torso and thighs, his hips and buttocks. It amazed Justin that it could feel so good, so dirty, just touching Brian, and that the lascivious sweater made all the difference.
Slowly he drew the sweater up over Brian's hips and reached for his cock. Brian moaned as Justin stroked him. It made him hot, that Justin was so turned on by his being half-naked. Brian opened his eyes and glimpsed himself in the mirror, mouth slightly open, dick stiffening from Justin's attention. One side of the sweater rode up over his chest as Justin teased his left nipple, still stroking his cock. As he watched, Justin released him.
He ran his hands over Brian's buttocks, letting one slide between his cheeks to grasp the man's cock from behind. Justin rubbed Brian's scrotum gently, rolling his balls in the palm of his hand until Brian's dick began to peek from beneath his sweater. With his free hand he unzipped his own pants and freed his half-hard cock from its confines.
Brian looked over his shoulder. "Take it all off."
Justin obeyed, discontinuing his delicious stroking to remove his clothing as quickly as possible. Once he was done, Brian lifted him onto the counter top and proceeded to blow him. Justin's hair brushed against the mirror as Brian sucked him off. He grabbed hold of the faucet in one hand and Brian's hair in the other. His feet perched on the edge of the counter, Justin rode out several waves of exquisite pleasure before Brian stood and retrieved the condoms and lube. But instead of putting it on himself, he unrolled the condom over Justin's cock and squeezed a thick stream of lube over the tip. Spread it down the shaft. That done, he faced the sink and held on.
No further instructions needed, Justin got down and positioned himself behind Brian. Lifting the edge of the sweater, he rubbed his erection against Brian's cheeks, in the valley between his buttocks. Brian clenched his muscles trying to trap the slippery shaft between them, but he couldn't. Besides, what he really wanted was to feel the teenager's cock inside his ass. Lubing his fingers, Justin eased one inside Brian's tight hole. The man gasped and then sighed as the teenager worked his finger in and out of his rectum, loosening him up. Then in one moment the finger slid out and Justin's cock took its place. Brian held his breath as he was entered and then exhaled, Justin's dick pushing up inside him, seeming to chase the air from his lungs. Knowing that Brian liked to be ridden long and hard, Justin tried to take his mind off of what he was doing, to let his body take over and to ignore his growing state of arousal. If he could just keep it together for a while, give Brian what he wanted…
Leaning over the sink, Brian took note of Justin's improved technique. So his topping Sean did have unforeseen benefits. The teen slowed his strokes and concentrated on letting Brian feel his entire cock as it advanced and retreated. He varied the depth of his strokes, the angle, exploring Brian's entire hole, while rubbing his face against Brian's shoulders and back, sweaty flesh exposed by the titillating sweater. Brian liked to think that Justin had learned from his example and that his experiences with Sean had been good practice. He reached back, laying a hand upon Justin's pumping hips, feeling the muscles tense and relax as they fucked. His breath steamed the mirror.
Finally, despite his resolve, Justin felt his climax was imminent. Giving Brian a few more hard thrusts, he withdrew and tore off the condom, pushed up Brian's sweater, and jerked off on his back and buttocks, groaning as he splattered Brian's flesh with creamy cum. When he was done, he rubbed his spunk over Brian's skin, spreading it in wide swirls. Then, as Brian straightened up, Justin grabbed his cock and tugged on it while thrusting a finger up Brian's ass. Brian held onto the edge of the basin and panted while Justin jerked him off roughly. His dick felt raw but he could only whisper, "Yeah. Yeah," as he hurtled towards his orgasm. Belly muscles contracting, he came, showering the basin and the mirror behind it with his juices. Justin waited until Brian's hole relaxed to remove his finger. Then he lifted the fabulous sweater, leaned in, and kissed Brian's bare back.
Laying together in bed, Justin's head on his chest, Brian thought about their evening. It hadn't been half-bad, spending time alone with Justin, away from the loft and the guys. He'd actually enjoyed it. Christ. Brian Kinney dating. What was-
"If you could wish for anything, what would it be?" Justin asked, disturbing his thoughts.
For you to shut up, Brian said to himself. Then thinking a bit, he replied softly, "For Gus to grow up better than I did."
Justin brushed his fingers over Brian's chest and kissed his warm skin.
"He's lucky to have you guys." He paused. "So am I." Brian said nothing,
but he didn't dispute the claim either. Satisfied, Justin closed his eyes
Brian looked up to see Justin's mom coming through the door without any warning from Cynthia. Putting on his best neutral face, he waited for her to make the first move.
She handed him a package covered in a dowdy piece of wrapping paper. "It's for Justin."
"I didn't think it was for me." Taking it in hand, he asked, "Why didn't you drop it off at Deb's?"
"Because I know he spends more time with you." When Brian didn't protest her assertion, she continued. "I saw you. Last night at the theatre."
"And?" He remained noncommittal.
Jennifer took a deep breath before answering. "And… although I still think you're too old for him, he could have done worse."
Barking a laugh, Brian smirked. "A lot worse."
Against her better judgment, Jennifer smiled. His brashness was infectious at times. "So you'll give it to him when you see him?"
Unable to cede the point, he corrected her. "If I see him."
Having secured as much of a promise as she was going to from him, she
left. He watched her exit his office, then put the package safely away in
Closing the door after Justin came in with a bag full of ingredients for their dinner, Brian grabbed Jennifer's gift from his desk. "Your mom dropped this off."
"She came here?" Justin asked, leaving off unpacking the bag to take the present.
"My office. I guess she thinks it's neutral territory." He peeked in the bag to see if he could figure out what they were having.
Justin unwrapped his surprise. It was a CD, the original Broadway cast recording of Into the Woods. "How'd she know?"
"She was there," Brian explained and he left Justin with his present and dinner, removed some papers from his briefcase intending to finish up a couple of leftover tasks.
Attached to the jewel case was a note: "No matter what, you're not alone," it said. Blinking back tears, he crossed to the stereo and put on the CD. Brian lifted his head but said nothing, returned to his work.
As Justin prepared dinner, he thought of the courage it must have taken for his mom to go see Brian and to give him this present, to hand her son over to him, whether Brian realized it or not. Retreating to the bedroom, he dialed his old number, waited for her to answer. "Hey. I got the CD. Thanks. Yeah, I…"
Listening to Justin talk to his mom, Brian wondered what it would have been like if he could have talked to Joanie the way Justin could with Jennifer, wondered if he would have become a different person if only he could have told her about the things that had happened to him, about the things that were happening to him at the time. To have been able to go to her and tell her about his gym teacher instead of having to hide it all these years, even from himself… What would that have meant in terms of his life? Maybe nothing. Now you know what's out there in the world./ No one can prepare you for the world. He tightened his jaw. There was no point in giving in to self-pity. He had made the choices he had and there was no going back. Only forward. He took out his cell phone and started to dial his mom- they hadn't spoken a great deal since the funeral fiasco- but he couldn't. She was gone, had been lost to him for a long time. He remembered the words of the song, Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods. That's what she had done, left him in the middle of his growing up; even though they lived in the same house and she washed his clothes and fixed his meals, she hadn't really been there. And so, gradually, he had drifted away too. Now, there was no way they could find each other again. It was too late and, try as he might, he couldn't imagine the man he might have been if things had been different, maybe a man like the one Justin was becoming; and he wondered what kind of man his own child would become under his guidance.
"So what part did you like best?" Justin asked Jennifer, having stretched out on the bed, dinner forgotten for the moment, lost in the joy of talking to his mom.
Brian dialed a number on his cell phone and when Lindz picked up, he
said, "Let me speak to my son." Waited. Then purred, "Hey, Sonny Boy," and
Gus cooed, recognizing his Dadda's voice on the phone. Brian smiled.
Careful the things you say,
Into the Woods, Lyrics and Music by Stephen Sondheim, 1987.