He would have been hard-pressed to name a more beautiful view than that of his lover's body stretched out on the bed. Naked. Lying on his belly, his long, lean figure pale against the dark blue backdrop of the comforter. While it was true that he didn't possess a voluptuous bubble butt like Justin's, Brian often said that he had all that he could handle and Justin tended to agree. It was enough for him as well. More than enough to tempt him to touch the smooth mounds. So warm beneath his palm…
Brian reached around and smacked his hand away. "No," he muttered, head still buried in his pillow.
Trying again only to be rebuffed once more, Justin complained, "Why not?" He'd come home hungry and to have Brian tease him like this wasn’t fair. "Come on."
"I'm tired." It was true, he was pretty beat having put in a couple of extra long days in preparation for their trip later in the week.
But Justin was persistent. Again he laid his hand upon Brian's flank, only this time he stroked it as well. "I could make you feel better," he promised, letting his thumb run along the cleft between his cheeks. "Give you a massage."
"Uh-uh," came Brian's refusal but Justin noticed that his objection had lost some of its intensity. So he pressed his case, straddling Brian's legs and using both hands to ply the man's flesh, starting with his ass and moving down over the backs of his thighs, up over his behind again, then onto his waist, up his spine, over his shoulder blades, and along his neck, necessitating that Justin move up Brian's body as well, his genitals pressing against Brian's buttocks. Leaning forward, he kissed the nape of his partner's neck. "Feel better?" he whispered.
Turning his head to the side, Brian said in a husky voice, "Not yet."
Lying fully against him, Justin ran his hands up and down his partner's body, loving the feel of Brian's muscles and skin beneath his own chest, belly, and thighs. They turned onto their sides, Justin still up against Brian's back, and the teen reached around and stroked the man's torso, tugging on his nipples just a bit before fanning his fingers over his flat abdomen, the curly hairs of Brian's pubic area tickling his palm. Brian made a noise, pleased, and Justin continued his one-handed explorations, stroking Brian's thighs, moving his hand down along the slender columns as far as he could reach. Returning to his groin, the teen wrapped his fingers around his lover's penis. Gave him a few gentle strokes before tightening his grip and beginning again. In response, Brian thickened in his hand and Justin kissed his shoulder while continuing to pull. As Brian began to harden, Justin let go and reached for the lube. Wet his palm and took hold of him again. Repeatedly, he moved his hand up and down the stiff shaft, the lubricant making his movements smooth and easy. Head against Brian's shoulder, he could hear the change in the man's breathing just at the moment his cock throbbed. "Yes," Justin sighed and he pumped Brian again, feeling the head swell beneath his fingers. And even though his hand was already moist with lube, he knew the moment Brian began to leak, making his cock even more slippery to hold. Giving it one last slow stroke, Justin let go.
He eased Brian halfway onto his stomach. Then, from behind, he reached between his lover's thighs and ran his fingers along his perineum, massaging him from anus to balls. Listening to Brian's sharp intake of breath, he knew his motions had had the desired effect. Brian spread his legs open even wider and Justin continued to stroke the tight muscle until it was relaxed and warm. He cupped Brian's scrotum and rolled the man's balls in his palm, knowing that, by now, the tip of Brian's cock would be dripping with precum. He longed to lick the glistening drops from the head, to suck Brian's dick until he screamed, but was loathe to stop what he was doing. Besides, his own cock was growing impatient, longing to slide inside Brian's clenching hole.
Releasing him, Justin retraced his steps until his fingers were buried between his partner's cheeks, rubbing up against the knotted hole hidden in their depths, playing among the folds. Brian hissed through his teeth as the teen's fingertip entered him. Applying steady pressure, Justin slowly inched forward, the lube easing the way. Once his finger had sunk entirely inside Brian, he paused, then just as slowly withdrew it. He closed his eyes and imagined that he was his finger, exploring his lover's body, confined within the warm walls of his asshole. He could imagine the pleasure he'd give Brian, licking him, eating him from the inside. He could see Brian's body shuddering in ecstasy as his miniature partner made love to him from deep within with his entire body: face, nipples, cock, and thighs pressed into his flesh, undulating against him, vibrating with desire. The thought made him even harder.
After a few more trips inside, he added a second finger and felt Brian open up even wider to accept them both. He would open up even wider still for Justin's cock when it came demanding entrance, the thick head stretching his muscles painfully even as it plowed forward to give him pleasure.
Brian moaned into his pillow. Fuck, it felt so good, Justin's strong fingers sliding in and out of his hole, never leaving it entirely, the tips hooking upwards at the end of their withdrawal, curling just inside his swollen asshole. It felt so good… and his dick was so hard he thought he'd fuck a hole in the mattress if given the chance. Reaching down, he touched the head; it was slimy with precum and opened letting the tip of his finger rub against the inside. He gasped, "Oh…"
Removing his fingers, Justin put on a condom and lubed his dick. Neither one of them could wait any longer. Holding Brian open with one hand, he lodged his cockhead against his hole and pushed.
"Yes…" Brian moaned and Justin slid home, pubes tickling his ass. He rolled all the way over onto his belly, raising his hips a little.
Justin shifted positions, got on his knees and supported his weight on his hands. Gently, he rocked against Brian, fucking his lover tenderly.
With each stroke, Brian realized how much he'd needed this, to feel protected, cherished; to be pleasured by his lover, his man.
As Brian's moans increased, Justin changed positions again, this time kneeling upright between his legs, hands on Brian's hips to hold him in place as he quickened his thrusts, pumping harder and harder, thighs slapping against Brian's ass.
He could feel it, the cum filling his balls, a tingling feeling accompanying the pressure. Grunting, groaning, he felt the sensation expand to encompass his entire cock, his groin, his hole, his belly, and his chest. His entire body tingled as if Justin were fucking him all over. Mouth wide open, he panted as the sensation increased a hundredfold. He felt his balls seize up and he moaned, cloudy liquid dripping from the tip of his cock. Over and over his pisshole opened and cum surged forth until he was drained. A last drop hung suspended from the head, swaying with each breath.
Justin continued to fuck him, riding his ass with abandon, his cock
rarely sliding out more than an inch or two, wanting to fuck his way up to
Brian's throat, to choke him with his throbbing meat. God, he loved his
tight ass, loved reaming him, fucking him until he was worn out.
Grimacing, Justin slammed into Brian's hole one last time and pulled out.
Removed the condom from his cock and showered his ass with cum. Hand
around his dick, he directed the flow until Brian's cheeks were covered,
marking him as his own. And he longed for the days when he would have
fucked Brian bareback and watched his jizz trickle from his gaping hole.
Bending over, he kissed Brian's buttocks and rested his face against his
skin, fingers sliding over his anus, massaging the rosy edges with spunk
Having enjoyed the previous night's session enormously, Brian had awakened wanting more and he and Justin had fucked for half an hour before getting ready for work, the result being that he was a tiny bit sore as he settled down into his office chair to wait for Cynthia to arrive. He hoped she wouldn’t notice or she'd tease him all day. Although it'd be worth it. As he recalled how he'd begged Justin to fuck him harder, he smiled and blushed at the same time. And, of course, that's when she waltzed through the door.
"Looks like somebody got lucky last night. Or was it this morning? Maybe both?"
Scowling, he removed his sterling silver cigarette case, the one Justin had bought him in the Bahamas, and ignored her question. "What do I have?"
Cynthia grinned and sat across from him. Opened the book. "Both, huh?"
"And who was it who wanted a bottle of French perfume from a real Paris boutique?" he threatened.
Assuming a serious mien she flipped to the day's date. "Spoilsport."
"That's not what Justin said last night," he smirked. "Or this morning." Flicked the tip of his tongue.
She laughed and began going over the day's activities while Brian's
mind wandered between Justin's thighs, wondering if he could persuade his
lover to give a repeat performance tonight after the Munchers' going away
As she watched the smile on Justin's face grow wider and wider, the passing hours bringing him one day closer to his dream trip to Europe, Deb found herself getting excited for him. Once or twice someone asked the teen why he was so happy and he told them, eyes brighter than any star in the sky, "I'm going to Europe."
As much as he liked working in the diner, he was looking forward to a month away from it and Pittsburgh.
Unable to resist, she asked him finally, "So, you ready to go?"
He laughed, seeing right through her. "I guess I look a little gooney, huh?"
She hugged him. "You look beautiful. I'm so happy for you, Sunshine."
His smile grew impossibly broader. "I can't believe it. I keep thinking I'm gonna wake up and have to go to class or something." He shook his head.
"You deserve it. Both of you." Kissing him soundly, she left him trying
to wipe off her lipstick.
Brian came in around noon and the entire diner was treated to the sight of them cuddling in a booth and kissing like they hadn't just seen each other three and a half hours earlier. When Mikey, Ted, and Emmett arrived, they parted but Justin stayed with them, on his lunch break, practically sitting in Brian's lap. Of course, it was a little tight as Debbie joined them too, so he had an excuse, not that he needed one. At the end of lunch Justin hung back with Brian and they picked up where they'd left off, kissing for another couple minutes before the ad exec said he absolutely had to go. After he'd gone, Deb asked, "Aren't you two going to Europe together?"
Justin frowned. "Yeah."
"Then why are you acting like you're gonna be apart for the next month?"
"Cause we've been apart for the last two," he explained and she understood.
"However you fixed things, you did good. I've never seen him happier."
And not wanting to get into it, he nodded, accepting the praise. He guessed eventually they'd have to explain but not yet. He really hoped they could put it out of their minds tonight at the party because he knew Mikey and Lindsay, in particular, were dying to know what had happened and they knew Brian was still seeing Drew but neither of them had pushed it, figuring Brian would let them in on it in his own time. Maybe he would but Justin got the feeling that it might be the one thing he'd never tell them. It seemed to be something between the two of them and no one else, except Drew. But he'd been there that terrible morning when everything had come so close to being destroyed.
He smiled, realizing he'd let his thoughts show on his face. "Four more
hours to go," he said and went to bus a table whose party had just left.
Although they'd been putting things aside for their trip for days now, they waited until that evening to go through their clothes and decide exactly what to take. As Brian began assembling his wardrobe, Justin whistled. Brian stopped. "What?"
"You're taking all that?"
"Brian, we have to carry that stuff on trains."
"So?" It wasn't as if either one of them was a ninety pound weakling.
"How many suits are you bringing?"
"Two. One dark, one light."
"How many pairs of slacks?"
"How many pairs of jeans?"
"Two for the gym and two for sightseeing."
"And how many pairs of shoes?"
"One pair of sneakers for the gym, one pair of walking shoes, and three pairs of boots."
"It's too much."
"It's the bare minimum." Of course, he fully intended to pick up a few things while they were abroad but they were extras.
"And you haven't even considered all the other stuff you have to take."
"We're going to be gone for a month," he said, thinking maybe Justin hadn't gotten it yet.
"You can't take all that stuff." That was final.
Brian heard the reprimand in his voice and resented it. "I—"
"They'll have dry cleaners."
Justin wouldn't give up the advantage. "Besides all the books and the web sites say you should be able to fit everything into one carry-on bag."
"Did you know that out of every two hundred people flying, one person's luggage gets lost or misdirected?"
"One in two hundred?" That took him aback a little.
"Uh-huh. That's bye-bye Prada shoes, bye-bye Armani suit." He could tell that had gotten through. "But if you want to bring all this stuff and risk it being lost or sent to Walla Walla Washington, we'll have to take a bigger suitcase and check it."
"One carry-on bag," he grumbled.
Justin kissed him. "You'll live, trust me. And if you color coordinate, you can have up to sixty different outfits. More than enough for a month."
Under his breath, Brian muttered, "Asshole." He hated it when Justin was right about petty shit.
"What was that?"
In his best falsetto, he replied, "Nothing, dear."
So Justin helped Brian reduce his travel wardrobe down to six pairs of pants (including the ones he'd be wearing on the plane), ten tops (ditto) and one suit which he promised the man he'd be able to fit inside a standard carry-on bag. Tomorrow. They were both too tired tonight and they had to leave for the party soon. When they were done putting back the clothes Brian would leave home, Justin could have sworn he saw a tear in his eye. Kissing him gently, Justin teased him promising him they'd be there when he got back.
As he slipped away, Brian smacked him on the butt and felt much better.
And Justin's ass didn't feel bad either.
"Let's hear your itinerary again," Vic prompted and Justin recited it from memory for the small group which included his mom and Deb.
"First we're flying to London and then Rome and then we're taking a train to Naples for a day, spending another couple of days in Rome, then taking the train to Florence, and from Florence we're going to Venice and while we're there we're taking a day trip to Milan by train. Then we fly to Barcelona, stay a few days and take the train to Madrid. We go from Madrid by train to Bilbao, and fly from there to Paris, and come back home on the eighteenth." It exhausted him just saying all of that much less doing it.
"Oh, it sounds fabulous, Sunshine," Deb told him. "You'll love Italy."
"You'll love the food," promised Vic.
"And the art," his mom added.
"Brian swore we could go to as many museums as I wanted."
Across the room, Lindsay asked, "Did you?"
"Yeah," he replied feigning being put-out by it. "It was the only way I was going to get a day in Milan."
"Mecca for the fashionistas," teased Ted.
"Every label queen should make at least one pilgrimage to Milan during his lifetime," Mel explained.
"The Prada Homeland," said Mikey.
Jeff laughed. "I hear they make you take your shoes off inside the store. Holy ground. Unless you're wearing Prada already."
"And what else would you wear?" Mikey commented as if it were foolish to assume otherwise.
"Ask him how many pairs he's taking," said Justin.
"Not nearly enough," complained Brian. "One pair of Prada boots, one pair of Zegna, and my Miu Mius."
"Poor baby," said Lindsay patting his arm.
As if he could barely contain his joy, he boasted, "But I'm getting a new pair of shoes on the trip. And a new suit."
Everyone laughed, he was so happy.
Gus tottered over from where he had been playing with Molly and Daphne, who was home for the summer and back from her own vacation in Florida. "Dadda."
Brian picked the baby up. "What?" Gus kissed him sloppily the way he always did and Brian laughed. "Least we've got a few years yet to work on your technique."
"Dadda. Dadda, go." He wanted to ride with Brian in the Jeep; he loved it. "Car, Dadda." Car was one of the words he knew quite well. He could say juice but Jeep seemed to elude him, sometimes he'd get out Je but the 'p' was rarely pronounced. As for Justin, with its st combination, it also seemed to be a word he couldn't quite master; although they all suspected he could probably say Jusin, he just didn't.
"Not today, Sonny Boy." He shook his head and smooched the toddler. "When Dadda gets back. Promise. Just you, me, Pooh, and Beh."
Despite evidence to the contrary, the guys still couldn't believe that Brian was actually a good father. Two more miracles and he'd qualify for sainthood. Or maybe just one, the other miracle being him and Justin period.
Lindsay frowned a little. "I don't know how I’m going to explain why he can't see you, especially for a whole month."
"Luckily he has no concept of time," explained Mel. "A day, a month, a week, it's all the same to him."
"Still, he's going to miss Brian and Justin and he won't understand why they're gone. So you'd better call," Lindsay warned.
"We'll call," promised Justin and he came over and kissed Gus too. The baby squealed and demanded Justin hold him.
Brian, freed for the moment, went over and sat next to Daphne and Molly, members of the Straight Girls for Brian Kinney Fan Club as Justin called them. "Well, ladies, what can I bring you back from Europe?"
"A Lippizaner," said Molly without hesitation. She definitely had a thing for horses.
"Might be hard to fit into my carry-on."
Molly giggled. "A model, silly."
Watching them, Jenn told Deb and Vic, "I heard her talking to her little friends the other day and she was showing them a picture of Brian and Justin. Well, one of them asked her who Brian was and she said, " Jenn paused and smiled, "she told them Brian was her brother's husband."
Deb and Vic cracked up. "I guess he is," said Deb. "Or as close as he's ever going to get to having one."
Vic said, "Molly would have made the perfect flower girl," and the three older adults laughed again, just envisioning it.
Since Daphne hadn't answered his question, Brian prompted her. "And what about my favorite co-ed?"
Sulking a little, she replied, "How about a gorgeous, new, Italian boyfriend."
"What happened to your old one?"
"Jerk." She rolled her eyes. Guys. Who could trust them? That's why she was never getting married. Better to be free to drop 'em as soon as they showed their true colors which was invariably a lovely shade of asshole.
"Ah," he said knowingly. "I'll see what I can do."
"Brian?" asked Molly.
She smiled sweetly, a lower wattage version of Justin's. "Could you be my boyfriend?"
"What about Justin?" he asked, amused.
"We could share." After all, her mom was always telling her to share with others.
Only, the adults paused, all of them aware of what had happened between Brian and Justin and Xavier.
Quietly, Brian said, "I don't think… I don't think Justin would want to share," he told her and then he rose and padded out the front door. Wandered about the Munchers' front yard waiting for Justin to come out.
The teen did and kicked at the ground absent-mindedly. "I'm kinda glad we don't have a lawn. I hate cutting grass."
"Yeah." But he knew the real reason Justin had come out and the real question. "I'm all right." He chuckled. "It's funny that's all. How it catches you when you're not looking."
"I'll never be able to tell you how sorry I am."
"You don't have to." Brian smiled and the sight of it was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. "Fuck it. We're flying to Europe tomorrow and nothing's going to ruin it." They kissed and as they parted, Brian saw his mother pull up in her car. In his dad's car, to be exact. She'd hardly driven it when he was alive but now that he was dead, she'd taken to tooling around town in it. Brian waved, as did Justin, and they stayed outside until she'd gotten out and walked up the pavement.
With a kiss for her son and a nod for Justin, she handed Brian the cake she'd made. "I hope I'm not too late," she said, touching the nape of her neck nervously.
"Perfect timing," Justin said, holding the door open for her and Brian.
Throughout the rest of the evening Joanie watched the two lovers for signs of any lingering problems and could detect none. When she had a chance she drew Deb aside and asked, "Do you know what happened?"
"You mean with Xavier?"
"Brian said that Justin had fallen in love with someone else but that it was over."
Realizing he hadn't told her the whole story and with good reason, Deb didn't bother to enlighten her. "It is. Thank God. I don't know how but they worked it out. I'm proud of 'em."
Joanie hesitated before speaking. "I never said 'Thank you.' "
"For being there when he needed someone. I… I know I wasn't much of a mother to him sometimes…"
"It's never too late," said Debbie.
Joanie watched Justin come up behind Brian and wrap his arms around his waist, lay his head upon his back. Without acknowledging his presence, Brian continued talking to Ted and Mikey but there was a slight difference in his demeanor. She couldn't put her finger on what it was exactly but she knew Justin had done that, just by touching him. "I'm glad he has Justin."
"I'm glad they've got each other. I don't think either one of them would be here if it hadn't been for the other one."
Around Gus' bed time, the two guests of honor excused themselves and carried the toddler upstairs for his bath. It was the last time they'd see him for a month.
As he bathed his son, squeezing warm water over his back, the baby giggling and trying to pull his hair, Brian suddenly cupped Gus' cheek and looked at him, really looked at him for the first time in a long while. He was growing up right before their eyes. In a little less than two months he'd be two years old. The terrible twos. And if Gus had inherited anything else from Brian other than his hair, eyes, and mouth, they were all going to be in for it. Big time. He laughed softly. "I'm gonna miss him."
"Me too," said Justin. "I can't wait until he's older and we can take him with us."
"And he can have his own room," Brian said, thinking of all the great sex they'd have to forgo if he slept in theirs.
At that moment, Gus splashed in the water, splattering the both of them.
"Gus!" Brian moved away and dabbed at the shirt with a towel. "Remind me to take my shirt off the next time we bathe him."
Justin slipped his hand between the buttons. "Okay."
"Not in front of the minor," he warned.
"Dadda, Pooh." Which was Gus' way of saying, 'Kiss him.' So Justin did. And the baby clapped his hands.
"See? He approves."
"I think we've got a future sex fiend on our hands."
As Brian returned to take the baby out of his bath, Justin asked, "Are
He lay in bed contented, the source of his contentment asleep on his chest. Friday morning they'd be in Heathrow Airport waiting to go through Customs. His first trip abroad, really abroad, if you didn't count Mexico and Canada and the Caribbean. A year ago when he'd made the off-hand promise to Justin, he hadn't really thought they'd go. But after their magical trip to the Bahamas it'd begun to seem possible and after New Year's Day it'd become something they had to do, a postponed honeymoon of sorts. In April he hadn't been sure of anything, much less of a trip abroad but he'd earmarked the money for it and hadn't spent it, hoping that things would change between them but not entirely convinced that they would. With Xavier out of the picture in May, the trip had seemed possible again and he'd gotten Cynthia right on it, making reservations and setting up itineraries, and then everything fell apart and he hadn't believed he'd make it one more night much less survive to go to Europe in two months. But he had. He and Justin had come through it all still together, more committed to their relationship and to one another than ever before because now they understood just what was at stake: their very lives.
Tightening his hold on Justin, Brian closed his eyes and dreamt of the
Even though Brian had opted to go to work on Thursday (more to please Ryder than anything else) Justin had taken the day off needing to run some errands and to take care of last minute details for the trip. He also had the checklist of things Cynthia had drawn up for them and it was his job to make sure they had accounted for everything on it. So he drove Brian to his building, kissed him, and made plans to be back at four thirty to pick him up so that they could go get Mikey and head for the airport. Brian dropped off, Justin went to get Daphne: they were spending the day together, her keeping him company while he did the hundred things that needed to be done before their flight that evening.
She was waiting in the driveway when he arrived at her house. Sliding in, she asked, "What's first?"
First thing on the agenda was to go home and make sure they had everything on Cynthia's list. If not, they'd have time to go out and get it or to take care of it. Mikey had promised to come by and check on things since he was keeping the Jeep but they still needed to make arrangements for the paper to stop delivery temporarily and for the maid not to come again after Friday. Although they'd told her a week ago, he called her just to remind her.
"So why don't you leave some of this stuff for her to do?"
"She's doing the laundry and cleaning up and taking out the trash. Besides, I don't mind."
The building super was charged with putting their mail in a bin to keep until they returned. Daphne watched as Justin went through the bills to make sure Brian had written checks for all the ones that weren't automatically deducted from his account. They would go to Cynthia with a note reminding her when to mail each one off.
Since Michael wasn't certain to come over every day, Justin and Daphne put the lamps on a timer so that the place would look lived in. After fixing the lights, they went around and unplugged most of the other appliances. Fire hazards. That done, the two teens checked the fridge, tossing anything that would go bad while Brian and Justin were away. Luckily, their refrigerator was generally pretty bare so that didn't take long.
"What time are you guys leaving?"
"Seven fifty-five. There's a layover at JFK."
"And then it's how long?"
"Not quite seven hours. We're getting into Heathrow at eleven thirty tomorrow morning their time."
The refrigerator cleaned, they turned to the things on the list that the two men needed to take on their trip. Although he'd sworn not to do any work on their vacation, Brian was taking his laptop, so Justin packed it in its case and made sure the battery pack was in there too.
Next, they went through the checklist, with Daphne reading off the items while Justin made sure they had them before he packed everything.
He laid their carry-on bags on the bed and opened them both. Removed the two organizers from inside, one larger than the other.
"Those are all the bags you're taking?"
"Yeah. It's called packing light. I found it on a web site. You put all of your underwear and belts and ties and shit in the organizer and then the organizer goes inside the carry-on so you only have one bag to take with you."
"And you're going to get all this," she held up the list, "in there?"
"Yep. We're dividing up the stuff we both use plus I'm carrying some of it in my backpack."
"What about gifts?"
"Mailing them. It's easier that way."
"You must not be taking a lot of clothes." Which amazed her because Brian was a clothes horse.
Justin pointed to the two stacks of clothes. "Six pairs of pants and ten shirts apiece plus one suit each. And three pairs of shoes."
Daphne glanced at the organizers, the clothes, and then the carry-on bags. "All in there? No way."
"I'm using the bundle method. Found it on the web too. Watch and learn."
With Daphne going down the list, Justin made sure he had each item and divided everything up into three areas: the things that would go into his carry-on bag, the things that would go into his backpack, and the things that would go into Brian's carry-on bag.
Pausing at one of the items, handwritten among the typed ones, Daphne frowned. "Toys and batteries?"
Justin blushed. "Yeah," he replied and reached for a discreetly bundled item to put on Brian's pile.
"What kind of toys?"
His blush deepened. "You know…"
Understanding blossomed. "Oh! Oh…"
"We have sex a lot," he explained. "You need a little variety."
"You're not afraid of someone opening that up and seeing?"
Justin sighed. "I think Brian's hoping someone will."
Daphne giggled and continued down the list.
After he had made sure that everything was on the bed and in one of three piles, he began to pack the organizers.
"Those are so cool," Daphne said as he put their shower things and shaving kits and socks and underwear and assorted miscellaneous items (including the toys, a sewing kit, sun block, vitamins, his allergy medicine, mini umbrellas, travelers raincoats that folded up inside a plastic bag and a first aid kit) into the clear pockets of the organizers.
"My mom bought them as going away gifts," he told her. "They're neat because you can hang them up once you get to the hotel and see everything inside them. I'm carrying the big one in my bag and Brian's got the smaller one because his camera has to go in his suitcase too." After he finished packing the organizers, he rolled them up and put them inside the carry-ons and fitted Brian's camera case inside his as well. Then he arranged their shoes around the edges of the suitcase with the soles touching the sides.
"What about your clothes?"
"They go on top of the organizers." He picked up a pair of Brian's pants. "See? You make sure everything is zipped up and buttoned and then you put the pants in the long way, with the waistband up against the edge of the suitcase. Then you just layer the next pair in the opposite direction." After he'd done the long pants, he put the two pairs of shorts on top. Then he started with the shirts. "The shirts go in widthwise. You put the collar against the side and let the tail hang out. And you alternate them too." He continued until he'd placed all of the shirts in the suitcase. "Then you just bundle everything." He took the tail and the sleeves of the shirt that was second from the top and folded it over the top shirt. Then he folded the top shirt's tail and sleeves over that one. Once he'd formed his first bundle, he continued to fold the clothes over each other until he'd finished. "The suit goes in last," he explained, and he formed a bundle of it too: jacket first with the collar against the back edge of the suitcase, the pants on top of it with the waistband up against the side, then he folded the tail of the jacket up over the pants and then the pants' legs last over the jacket. That done, he strapped everything in. "Finished. It's efficient and it cuts down on wrinkles because you're not making creases in anything."
Amazed that all of those clothes and the organizer and the camera had fit into that one bag, Daphne gave Justin a round of applause. "You're like the Martha Stewart of Pittsburgh."
"Before or after the scandal?" Having done Brian's bag, he turned to his own and repeated his performance, putting the travel pillows, pens, notebooks, his small sketchpad and colored pencils, sightseeing information, and the maps inside his backpack and packing his clothes into the carry-on suitcase. Again, Daphne was impressed.
"What was the name of that web site again?"
Then they went over the documents' checklist: passport, photocopies of their passports, the Customs registration papers for Brian's computer and camera and his CD player and both their watches and cellphones, emergency information, hotel reservations, Eurorail passes to use in Italy and Spain, underground passes for London and Paris, and plane tickets. Both Lindsay and Michael had copies of their itineraries and the numbers of the hotels where they were staying on their trip in case they fell off the face of the earth.
"Travelers cheques in American dollars…" He counted them to make sure he had the right amount. "Cheques in British Pounds… Brian's got the credit cards and the ATM card..." he said, talking more to himself than to her.
"What about yours?"
"Daph, I have like thirty bucks in my checking account."
"So Brian's paying for everything?"
"Well, my mom and dad helped pay for the plane ticket and they gave me five hundred dollars to spend, so I paid for some of the travelers cheques but, yeah, he's paying for everything else."
"You are so lucky," she told Justin. "I mean, it's really--I don’t know… amazing that you're with him."
"Yeah, I know," he said, less than enthusiastically.
"Justin?" she asked, noticing the change.
He shook his head. "I almost ruined everything."
Xavier. "But you didn't. You guys are still together. And you're going to Europe."
She didn't understand. How could she? "No, I mean…" He didn't know if he should tell her but he had to tell someone because it was eating him up inside. "I almost lost him, Daph."
"You mean, Brian was thinking about breaking up?" It'd be unbelievable if he hadn't. After all, a threesome? Maybe for some people but Brian? She still found it hard to believe that her best friend had been involved in an alternative alternative relationship.
Brian had effectively ended their relationship by taking off his ring but that wasn't what he was talking about. "Daph," he paused, "he was…" God, it was so hard to say. "He was thinking about killing himself."
She was stunned. Speechless. If anyone else had said that, she wouldn’t have believed them. Brian didn't seem the type. But Justin knew and if he said Brian had thought about suicide, then it was true. "Why?"
"Because of everything I'd done to him."
"It's true." He looked away, the tears having begun. "Me and Cam. We both hurt him so much."
"But Cam's dead."
"It doesn't matter." Justin wiped his eyes but the tears continued. "It--it was eating him up inside, all the things we did to him. I almost lost him, Daph. And I don't know what I would have done…"
She hugged him. "It's okay. He didn't. Because you saved him, right?"
"I was so scared. I've never been so scared in my life. Not even when I woke up in the hospital after Chris Hobbs hit me."
"But Brian's okay now."
"He almost wasn’t. And he still has to see Dr. Drew."
"Which is good."
"What if he had—"
"Listen," she told him, shaking him a little. "Listen. You guys are going on the best vacation ever. And you're gonna have a blast. A lot better than my lame-ass vacation with my parents." Justin laughed, having heard about that fiasco. "And you'll have a whole month to make it up to him."
"I swear I will."
"And then you'll come back home and you'll have a whole lifetime to make things better."
He smiled. "I can do that."
"See?" She tapped her forehead. "Genius. That'll cost you lunch."
"It's a lot less than what Brian pays for Drew, so I guess it's a good deal."
Daphne laughed. "The best deal. Trust me."
Hoping Justin would remember to bring the bills when he came to pick him up, Brian tried to focus on the meeting he was in but it was almost impossible. He didn't really give a shit about this new account because he wouldn't be here to lay the groundwork for the initial campaign. By the time he got back, they'd have already put things into motion and the most he'd be able to do would be to wait until the numbers came back and analyze the data to see if the campaign was effective. If not, then he'd be able to work something up. Which was why he was in this boring meeting. On the off chance that he'd have to come back and work his magic.
Sitting next to him at the table, Cynthia could tell that as far as he was concerned, he was already on the plane to London.
After the meeting, he strolled back to his office intending to dump the few notes he'd taken so that he could walk down the street to find some lunch. Michael was waiting for him. "Hey, what's up?"
"I just wanted to see you before you left for a month."
"You'll be seeing me in five hours when you go with us to the airport."
"I thought we could have lunch."
A euphemism for 'I thought we could talk.' He tossed his legal pad on his desk. "Cool."
Buying a couple of sandwiches at a nearby deli, they took them back to his office and sat at his desk eating.
"So, everything's okay with Justin?" He had to do this carefully. Brian was liable to explode if he didn't approach him in just the right way. Being Brian's friend was sometimes like being on the bomb squad: you never knew when something was going to blow up in your face.
"Yeah." He reached for his soda. "Everything's fine."
"It was really tough, you know?"
"You never said what happened."
Brian closed his eyes momentarily. "No. I didn't."
"And Justin treats you like you were made of glass. Like he's afraid of breaking you."
Here it goes. "You thought about killing yourself, didn’t you?" Brian looked up, startled. "Just like before. With Cam."
It took a moment before he could speak. "How did you know?"
He could still see it. "I went to the bathroom, remember, when I came over to see you? I saw the two bottles of sleeping pills, Brian. And I saw the pictures of you and Cam that you'd torn up and put in the trash. I saw the one you'd burned. It was your favorite picture of the two of you. Why do you think I hung around for so long that night?" He'd been scared to death of leaving, of coming back over and finding Brian dead. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Brian blinked back tears. "I didn't want to drag you into it."
"I'm your best friend. You should have told me."
"You were always taking care of me."
"That's not true. We took care of each other."
"You more than me. And all I ever did was fuck things up for you."
"Brian, you didn't mess things up between me and David." When would he ever believe that? "We did that all on our own. I wasn't ready to make a commitment to him. Even if Justin hadn't gotten hurt, we would have broken up eventually. It wasn't meant to be."
"What about Jeff?"
"I like Jeff. A lot." Jeff was… special to him. "But we're taking it slow. We're enjoying ourselves. Besides, I think you and Justin have the Heathcliff and Cathy Award for Torrid Romances sewn up this year."
"What made you stop?"
"I didn't want you to blame yourself. I couldn't do that to you."
"No. This time."
"Justin and Drew." He hesitated, unsure if he should confess so much but needing to. Unable to sit any longer, he walked away from the desk. "I almost didn't make it. If Drew hadn't come in when he did… I would have done it, Mikey, with Justin lying asleep in the other room. And even after, while Drew and I were talking, all I kept thinking was that I hoped he'd leave so I could finish it before Justin woke up. Because I couldn't see it, Mikey, I couldn't see past that moment."
"But you didn't."
"Because of Justin."
"He talk you out of it?"
"No." Justin had understood, they had run out of words. "He gave me a choice: live with him or die in his arms." He thought of the boy's words, 'You have to decide.' "He would have done it, Mikey. If I had asked him to."
"And then he would have killed himself." That much was clear to him among so much that wasn't.
"Maybe." He didn't like thinking about that, still couldn't admit it even to himself, that he'd held Justin's life in his hands as well. Because he had been so close to throwing it all away. Except that he hadn't been able to in the end. Because of Justin. "He's so strong. He's the strongest person I know."
"You're strong too. To go through the things you have… Brian…" Michael stood and hugged Brian to him. Whispered in his ear. "Go to Europe, have a fabulous time sightseeing, and clubbing, and fucking Justin every night…" Brian laughed. "And then come back home and have a wonderful life." They parted and he stared into Brian's eyes. "Okay?"
He nodded, too emotional to speak. Michael kissed him and wiped away
the tears that remained.
He was leaning over his desk, fiddling with some papers with his back to the door, when he felt someone enter. Not just someone. Justin. Turning, he asked, "You give 'em to her?" Meaning the bills.
"She entered it on her online calendar when she's supposed to mail off each one. She's efficient. You should pay her more." Brian grunted and took the clothes Justin handed to him. He would have to change in his office, then leave his suit with Mikey and the Jeep and hope that his best friend would remember to take it to the loft and hang it up. Whose idea was it anyway for him to leave for the airport directly from the office? He'd just gotten his shoes back on when Justin slipped into his arms. Intending it to be a brief kiss, they found themselves still engaged when Cynthia barged through the door.
"Would you go already?"
Parting from Justin and rummaging through some folders on his desk, Brian asked, "You've got a copy of the itinerary?"
"Which you won't use unless it's an emergency," Justin instructed. Meaning Alan Rickman and his crew of Euro trash terrorists had taken over the building and Brian was the only one who could stop them.
"Right." Cynthia came around and took Brian's papers from him. "I'll put everything away. Now, go. Have a good time." She handed him his briefcase.
"All right. I'm going." He kissed her on the cheek. "See you next month."
Justin bussed her too. "Bye."
"Have a great time," she said wiggling her fingers. Whispered loudly, "Perfume."
They made it downstairs and to the Jeep in record time, only having to stop once to pick up another passenger on the elevator. As Justin drove, Brian checked his leather jacket for his passport and the folder with most of their travelers' cheques in it. Both items were there.
As they pulled up to the Big Q, Justin climbed into the back. Michael got in and they were off.
Giving Brian and Justin unnecessary (since Cynthia and Justin both had done in-depth research on the topic) advice about places to eat, things to do in Paris, Michael negotiated the highway and traffic to ferry the two lovers safely to the airport.
As Justin got their bags out of the back, Brian told Michael, "Hang up my suit would you?"
"All right. I'll hang it up."
"And don’t leave my briefcase out in the Jeep."
"I won't." He gave them each a hug. "Have a safe trip."
"We will," replied Justin.
"And have a blast."
"That too," promised the teen.
Hugging Brian, Michael told him, "Remember what I said."
Brian pecked him on the lips. "I will. Later."
"And email me, would you?"
Watching Michael pull away, Brian and Justin grabbed their stuff and joined the people at the security checkpoint. It was moving relatively quickly and within ten minutes they were at the head of the line. Providing their driver's licenses and tickets, they passed through the doorway and into the terminal itself. Justin spotted the sign directing them to their gate. They were taking an American Eagle flight to JFK and then transferring to an American Airlines 777 Boeing jet for Heathrow.
Arriving at their gate, they checked in, then took a seat to wait for their flight to start boarding.
Although the flight from New York to London had service for dinner, a snack, and breakfast, more than likely they'd be asleep, after all the plane didn't leave JFK until eleven thirty. And Brian hated eating meals after ten. So Justin had stopped and picked up a couple of sandwiches at the diner. Besides, it had given him a last chance to say goodbye to Deb. "Hungry?" he asked Brian.
"Starving." The sandwich he'd eaten at lunch had long gone.
So, waiting for their flight, they shared a simple dinner of kettle chips, turkey club sandwiches, and orange soda. "Can you imagine all the great food we're going to have on the trip?" Justin asked.
"Yeah. I'll be in the gym every morning trying to work it off."
Justin pinched Brian's waist through his sweater. He could barely catch hold of him, he was so slender. "You need fattening up. You're too skinny."
Looking down at himself, Brian said, "I've been the same weight for the past six years and it hasn't hurt me yet."
"You could stand to gain a pound or two."
"Enough of the gaining weight talk," Brian demanded, "and let me eat my food in peace. No wonder I'm skinny. You worry me to death." And even though he'd meant it as a joke, it fell a little flat. He could feel Justin tensing up next to him. "Baby—I didn't mean anything by it."
Subdued, Justin replied, "I know." He put his sandwich aside, what was left of it but Brian picked it up and put it back in his hands.
"We're not gonna do this. We're not going to spend our entire trip apologizing for the past. It's in the past. So we let it go and move the fuck on. Now, eat." He leaned in close. "We want to keep your ass nice and plump."
Smiling through the sniffles, Justin said, "Yes, sir," and continued
Before they knew it, the gate attendants were boarding First Class. Picking up their stuff, they proceeded to the podium and produced their tickets and passes.
Settled in, they waited for the rest of the passengers to board and as the people in Coach tramped by, Brian frowned and Justin was doubly glad they weren't back there or he was sure there'd have been trouble.
Teasing Brian, he said, "You are such a snob."
Although the flight was only an hour and twenty minutes, the cabin crew came around with the beverage cart. Justin declined to have anything but Brian ordered a bourbon on the rocks which the teen sipped from as well.
"Thought you didn't want anything?"
"Can't we share?"
Brian cocked an eyebrow. "So what are you going to share with me?"
Justin kissed him sweetly. "There. That good enough?"
"Perfect," answered Brian as he stole another.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and soon the 'Fasten your seatbelts' sign came on again and they descended into New York City.
It seemed strange to look at the New York skyline without seeing the twin towers of the Trade Center and yet it seemed as if the city still stood beneath their shadows.
"We should come up here one weekend," Justin suggested and then he remembered that Brian and Cam had done New York and maybe Brian didn't want to retrace their steps with his new lover.
"We already have," Brian reminded him.
Justin blushed although he was happy Brian didn't seem saddened by the suggestion. He still couldn't believe what a drama princess he'd been stealing Brian' credit card and running away to New York. "That wasn't really a sightseeing tour."
"Maybe we can come up for New Year's." The flight attendant opened the cabin door. Brian pushed all thoughts of Cam from his mind. At least he'd kept his features blank so that Justin wouldn’t worry.
"For our anniversary," Justin said as they walked through the tunnel leading to the terminal.
"We've got too many anniversaries," Brian complained. He pointed down the corridor to the right. That was the way to the gate for their connecting flight.
"One for when we first met," Gus' birthday, "and one for our commitment day."
"And what if we had an actual ceremony that wasn't on New Year's? That'd be three."
Justin found two seats in the corner of the waiting room where they'd be relatively out of the main traffic path. "Well, we don't have to worry about that cause we're not having a ceremony."
Even though he knew he was opening a can of worms by doing so, Brian asked, "You sure you don’t want one?"
"What? A ceremony? Yeah right," he laughed. "And next you'll tell me I've won a Guggenheim Fellowship."
"If you could, would you?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe." It'd be ridiculously romantic, him and Brian exchanging vows. Dream on. "But it doesn’t matter because we are committed. With or without the ceremony."
With a wait that was longer than their first flight, the two men settled down to their separate pursuits: Justin playing his Game Boy and Brian going through his CD of Paris that Justin had given him for his birthday. His camera was going to get a good workout on this trip. Losing himself in the streets of Montmartre, he didn't hear the boarding announcement. Justin nudged him. "They're about to start." So he shut down his computer and got out his ticket again.
By the time the plane took off, Brian and Justin were getting more than a little drowsy. It'd been a long day for both of them. Checking with one of the attendants regarding dinner, they opted out and snagged a couple of pillows instead. Brian took the window seat and leaned up against the side of the cabin while Justin snuggled up to his back and side, one arm around his waist.
Looking at them, the First Class attendant thought she'd never seen
anything cuter, the way Justin curled into Brian's body and the way Brian
pillowed Justin's body. Too bad they were gay though. Could have had a
good time with either of them. The older one was hot as hell. And the
younger one was as cute as he could be, like an angel almost. Oh
Despite thinking they wouldn't be able to sleep all night cramped in their seats, they did, and woke to find themselves an hour outside of London. Changing seats once more, they did accept some breakfast when the attendant came around and wolfed down a bagel and a bowl of cereal each as well as several cups of coffee. After making an obligatory trip to the little boys' room. By the time they'd finished eating, the plane had reached London. Eyes bright with excitement, Justin gazed out of the window as if he couldn't believe it. There. The whole city spread before him like a feast. He couldn't believe it. Not really. And said so.
So Brian pinched him. When he yelped, the man explained, "At least now you know you're not asleep."
"I knew that before," he replied, rubbing the spot although Brian hadn't pinched him hard.
Gathering their bags, they waited to disembark the plane. Not for the
first time was Brian glad he'd listened to Justin about not bringing
suitcases. After a quick stop (he hoped) at Passport Control and the
Customs Hall, they were hopping the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station
where they'd grab a cab to their hotel which was just a short ride away.
Their hotel, the Montague on the Garden, offered shuttle service to and
from the hotel but it was actually quicker and cheaper to use the Express.
Besides, Justin was all hyped up about riding the train. Kids.
Customs had taken longer than they'd expected, the agents going through their bags with a thoroughness that dismayed Justin after he'd gone to all the trouble to carefully pack their bags. And there'd been a sticky moment when they'd asked Brian to unravel the package in his organizer and he'd done so to reveal the vibrator in all of its glory along with a string of anal beads. Justin didn't know who was more embarrassed: him, or the agent, or the people around them. Brian, however, didn't seem to mind a bit.
At last they cleared Customs and found the train. But it went so quickly, Justin felt like they'd hardly boarded it before they were at Paddington Station and looking for a taxi. Which was probably a good thing as he was getting tired of lugging around his bags and wanted to stretch out on a bed for at least ten minutes before they started day one of their London adventure. Still, he was glued to the window of the cab taking in the sights as they drove to the Montague.
Where they found out that they were a half hour early and couldn't check in until two. Leaving their stuff with the concierge, they decided to visit the American Express Travel office and exchange some of their travelers cheques for pounds. Not a lot, just enough to pay for incidentals. They'd gotten a package deal with the hotel that came with tickets to the local museums and Brian intended to pay by credit card for most of their expensive meals, using cash only for lunch, and getting around when they took taxis or the bus instead of the tube, and cheap gifts.
It was mostly cloudy but even an overcast sky couldn't dampen Justin's sprits. He was in London! Stepping out of the hotel onto Montague Street, he stared at the British Museum. They weren't going to visit it until Tuesday, their last day in the city, but he felt excited just looking at the building. They walked around it to Great Russell Street where the main entrance was.
I should have brought the camera," said Brian.
"It's packed away."
He looked down the street. "There's the office."
Fifteen minutes later they had about two hundred pounds divided between them and set off for the hotel again to check-in.
If any of the hotel staff were surprised or shocked to see the two of them together, they didn't show it. From the doorman to the front desk clerks, everyone maintained an air of professionalism and behaved with the utmost courtesy. Maybe, Brian thought, the world is changing.
As they followed the bellboy to their room, Justin gazed around him. It was a beautiful hotel, filled with flowers; they seemed to be everywhere. Which was probably going to drive his allergies crazy but it was a price he'd have to pay to stay in such a fabulous hotel. He couldn't wait until the bellboy left to show Brian his appreciation for finding the place.
The room was decorated quite nicely in tasteful, pale yellow floral patterns that echoed the hotel's décor. Although it wasn't as large as their room in the Bahamas, it would more than do. Especially since there was a tub in the bathroom big enough for two.
Maybe it was the way they both looked longingly at the king-sized bed or maybe it was the way they politely ignored his spiel but the bellboy cut his tour of the rooms short and wished them a pleasant stay. Brian tipped him and showed him the door, nearly running to join Justin on the bed. The teen had already claimed possession of it, taking up an impossible amount of space. Still, there was room enough for Brian, especially if he curled up around him.
Justin turned in his arms and nestled into Brian's chest. Nuzzled his throat. "Do we have to go out?"
"You're the one with the agenda, not me."
It was true. Justin had planned all of their activities and if they wanted to eat lunch and get to Madam Tussaud's before it closed, they had to get a move on. Rolling off the bed, he held out his hand. Pulled Brian up. They kissed then unpacked their clothes and hung them and the organizers in the closet. Ducked into the bathroom to brush their teeth, grabbed Brian's camera, Justin's backpack with their umbrellas inside, and were out of there.
Brian having seen a review of a nearby restaurant in the New York Times, they headed for 8 Hanway Place and Hakkasan. Making their way down a dark alley, they would have wondered if they'd gotten the wrong address except that the article had warned them to expect that. Descending a dark staircase, they went inside where they were greeted by the hostess who led them through the bar area past cobalt-blue neon-lit, translucent panels to a table in the corner of the main dining room. Taking note of the number of people in there, they figured they were lucky to have been seated without a reservation.
"They're supposed to serve some of the best dim sum in the city," Brian told Justin. "And the interior was done by Christian Liaigre. Karl Largerfield and Calvin Klein swear by him." He looked around approvingly at the blue walls and the dark wood-carved panels; and was taken by the Chinese slate on the floor, the pale blue leather seats, and cool lighting. "I could see something like this in the loft."
"Maybe you could hire him," Justin said innocently.
Brian laughed out loud. "How much money do you think I make?"
Studying the prices on the menu, Justin asked, "Is it okay? I mean, can you afford this?"
"The prices aren't that bad. We won't have to do the dishes this time," he joked.
"No." Justin laid down his menu. "I mean this trip. It's pretty expensive. I…"
"Don't worry, baby. That's what bonuses are for." He smiled widely. "Harris is paying for everything."
"Yeah, but you had to do the work first."
"It's my job. It's not like I worked any harder than I usually do," Brian explained.
"You work too hard," scolded Justin.
"If you wanna make partner before your hair starts to fall out, you have to." Discussion over in his opinion, Brian studied the menu.
He looked up. He should have known it wasn't over. Not with Justin.
"Maybe I should have gotten a real job this summer."
"And how would you have explained needing to take a month off?"
"We could have taken a shorter trip."
He shrugged. "No point."
"I don't want to feel like… like a freeloader."
"I'll take it out in trade," he grinned.
"Don't worry about the money." He raised an eyebrow. "Now, can I please look at the menu without any further interruptions?"
Justin nodded, not entirely pleased by Brian's answers but knowing that it was pointless to continue badgering him when he'd made it clear he didn't want to talk about something, he put it out of his mind for the moment and concentrated on the menu as well.
Appetites whet by the plates of dim sum on other people's tables they, nevertheless, restrained themselves and ordered a modest amount of food: chive dumplings, rice pastry strips, crab and ginger fishcakes, char sui buns, and fried mango spring rolls with prawns and scallops. Delicate, delicious, and just the thing to take the edge off their hunger without filling them up.
In and out in an hour, they headed for Madame Tussaud's by way of Gower Street, past the University of London. Although they didn't have time just then, they promised themselves a more thorough tour later in their trip. Still, Justin was thrilled as they passed the ornate buildings and immaculate greens.
"IFA doesn’t look anything like this," he said enviously.
"Yeah, but they don't have anything like you," Brian told him and the teen smiled and all was right with the world. For the moment.
It didn't take long to walk to the Euston Square station and hop the first train they saw heading towards Baker Street. From there it was a short walk down the block to the museum. There was a line for tickets but they'd gotten theirs as a part of the hotel package so there was no wait except to get into the exhibits themselves.
Meandering through the different areas they mingled with both common and uncommon folk, finding themselves standing next to Samuel L. Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Napoleon, Elvis, Eddie Murphy, Bill Clinton, and Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula). Although all of the figures were impressive—("They have to insert each hair individually," Justin said. "Bet they loved Michael Jordan," Brian replied.)-- both of them agreed that some were better than others. For example, the Jerry Hall resembled her a lot more than the Mohammad Ali did his namesake.
"Says something about her, don’t you think?" Brian asked.
"I liked her in Batman. 'You look fine,' " he purred.
And Brian supplied the Joker's line, drawling, " 'I didn't ask.' "
Like two kids, they enjoyed the Chamber of Horrors best, shivering with delight at the Jack the Ripper exhibition, complete with swirling fog, coming upon his hapless victims in dark alleys, much as he had, except that he'd been there first and done his bloody work.
Still, in time, the crowds began to annoy Brian and Justin figured he'd
better get him out of there before some little kid got a kick in the ass.
Having a child of his own had definitely not mellowed him towards anyone
else's. So they skipped the tour of the planetarium and decided to go back
to the hotel and rest a bit before dinner.
The room was as welcoming as an old friend to two such weary travelers. Kicking off their shoes and stripping, the lovers crawled under the covers for a brief forty minute nap. Brian set the alarm and closed his eyes.
The next thing he knew Justin was reaching over him to shut it off.
"Shit. I feel like I just went to sleep," he complained.
"Come on, old man," said Justin, "we gotta shower and get ready and you know how long it takes you to get ready."
Brian managed to pop Justin on the butt as he followed the teen to the bathroom.
Justin covered his cheeks with his hands. "Ow."
Justin groaned at the horrible pun. "Ha, ha."
The hot water felt heavenly after the long flight and their afternoon of sightseeing. Justin, ever on the lookout for opportunities to touch his man, washed Brian's back and hair. They'd both discovered this to be an enormous turn-on, irregardless of who was doing the washing and who was being serviced. As expected, the teen's hands wandered down Brian's torso and over his belly on its way to his groin but he man caught the boy's hand and held it.
Amazed and a little annoyed than Brian wasn't up for even a little fooling around, Justin rescinded his offer and went back to innocently soaping himself. Let Brian wash himself, he thought. And then Brian gave him a little peck below his ear the way he did when he was feeling affectionate.
"Later," he promised and Justin half-turned and they kissed.
Pied a Terre was within walking distance but they took a cab. After all, one didn't arrive at a Michelin star restaurant like Pied a Terre on foot despite its name.
Justin was glad he'd brought a couple of nice sweaters and some dress slacks along when he saw the rest of the clientele. Brian, of course, looked like he belonged there.
Keeping it light, they opted for a two-course meal—entrée and dessert—instead of three. Still, the food was magnificent: roasted sea bass with braised fennel and parmesan and fennel gnocchi, and roasted lamb with cumin scented eggplant puree and red pepper sauce. Once or twice during dinner they each caught the other with his eyes closed, savoring the mouthwatering food with something akin to rapture. And dessert was just as impressive: frommage blanc mousse with strawberry consommé and strawberry and frommage blanc sorbet for Brian and roasted baby bananas with praline sauce and butterscotch ice cream for Justin. Of course, they sampled one another's desserts as they had the main courses and agreed that the meal was money well-spent considering that they were going to pay a goodly amount for it.
As it was early yet when they left the restaurant, they did walk back to the hotel, affording them a night time look at the University as they walked up past the Goode Street station and along Gower until they reached the brightly lit museum. Sitting on the steps for a few moments, they savored the evening air.
"So," asked Brian, "you like it so far?"
"The trip or London?"
"Yeah," he said shyly and Brian smiled. He loved it when Justin's boyish side emerged, when he could shuck all of his responsibilities and worries and just be a nineteen-year-old still finding out about the world and all that was in it. Despite his cynicism and his plethora of experiences, Brian was glad he'd decided to come along for this lifelong adventure. Even if he had done a lot of things, there was a great deal that he hadn't experienced. It was exciting and comforting to discover them with someone else. He couldn’t believe it sometimes, that he'd gotten a second chance at life while he was still young enough to enjoy it; and that he had an opportunity to see the world through Justin's eyes: full of curiosity and always willing to see the good before the bad. He put his arm around his partner's shoulders and kissed the top of his head.
"Hey," Justin replied.
"It's getting chilly."
Justin laughed and stood. "Let's go inside." He knew a hint when he heard one. Besides, he'd been looking at Brian all evening and wanting to get him out of those elegant clothes and into bed, into his arms.
Holding hands, they walked across the street to the hotel and fairly raced upstairs. For all of their hurrying you would have thought they'd be halfway out of their clothes by the time they reached their room. Instead, once inside, all sense of urgency dissipated. Calmly, they came together and kissed, Brian's hand at the nape of Justin's neck, brushing over the silky hairs there.
As they parted briefly, Justin asked, "How long has it been?"
"Too long," Brian answered and he lifted the teen in his arms and carried him to bed.
Uncovering him bit by bit, Brian showered his lover's body with kisses as Justin lay supine, eyes closed and lips parted. Brian grazed his throat from just below his jaw to the hollow, pausing to nuzzle his Adam's apple, eliciting a deep, "Mmm," from the teenager.
Off came the sweater and Brian continued his explorations, traveling the length of Justin's torso from his breastbone to his belly button. The boy sighed as Brian kissed his way down the center of his chest, the man's soft lips pursing around his nipples and spreading over his ribcage as if he wanted to devour his lover.
Down went the zipper on his trousers while Brian continued to kiss his way over his abdomen and around his waist. Shivering as his partner's hand slipped inside his slacks, Justin spread his thighs and raised his hips a little to press his groin against Brian's palm.
Justin's cock stirred beneath his hand and Brian squeezed him a little, just a taste of what was to come. Still, it was enough to start Justin moaning. And Justin moaning was enough to get Brian excited, even more excited than he'd been just kissing Justin's body. Removing his hand, he drew the teen's pants down around his ankles, then off completely. Justin's crotch was full, arousal already evident. Taking the opportunity to slow things down even more, Brian stood and stripped, aware of Justin's eyes on him, wanting him. God, it fucking gave him such a rush to know that Justin desired him, lusted after him, ached for him. He was aware of his own excitement mounting and wondered if he'd be able to resist just taking Justin without any further delay. Lazily, his lids drooped over his eyes and he licked his lips, cupping his cock, stroking it once or twice. His dick was growing harder and hungrier, and what it craved was Justin. Not just his plump behind or its tight little hole but his slender thighs and arms, his rosy nipples, blue eyes, and golden hair. Everything about him turned Brian on and he wanted all of him.
Leaving the bed, he fumbled through the organizer and took out the condoms and lube and one of the toys they'd brought. Hid it behind his back. "Close your eyes," he ordered as he returned to Justin's side. The teen obeyed, trusting Brian implicitly. That as well was immensely erotic, that he could do anything to Justin and the boy would not only tolerate it, he'd welcome it. He couldn't believe how well-matched they were sexually, how compatible, and that too got him all hot and bothered.
Brian tossed the condoms and lube on the bed next to Justin and knelt between his legs. The boy still had his eyes closed. Extending his arm, he stroked Justin's cock with the dildo he'd gotten out of the organizer. Justin groaned and turned his head to the side. His dick began to swell inside his briefs. "Like that?"
Again, this time more firmly, Brian rubbed him with the toy and watched his lover's neck and chest begin to redden as he got more and more aroused. Justin tried to stay still but the feel of the toy on his body was too much and he drew his knees up and gripped the bedspread beneath him, trying to ground himself. He could feel his cock throb and knew that soon he'd be dripping precum. God, he wanted that dildo in him. He could already feel it vibrating.
As if he'd read Justin's mind, Brian thumbed the dildo on and it began to vibrate against the teenager's dick, sending pulses through his body. His briefs were tented in front and he shuddered each time the vibrating toy rolled over his cockhead or his balls.
Upping the tension a little, Brian switched attention from Justin's crotch to his buttocks, specifically to his perineum and anus. Moving the dildo down between his thighs, he was rewarded with a loud groan and a convulsion on Justin's part. Brian moved so that he was directly over Justin, so that he could hear every moan, every breath, and he wasn’t disappointed. As he continued to tease the teen with the toy, Justin continued to jerk beneath him, a sheen of sweat glistening on his face and body, uttering cries that carried throughout the room. Cries that sent shivers up Brian's spine.
Pausing again, Brian encased the dildo in a condom and wet it with lube from tip to base. "Take 'em off," he told Justin and the teen removed his briefs, the front of them stained with precum. His cock bounced free and lay hard against his stomach. Without being told, he lifted his knees and held them to his chest, spread open, exposing his vulnerability.
Propped on one arm, Brian lay next to Justin and ran the dildo down his lover's body, from the hollow of his throat, between his pecs, along his sweet line, and over his cock. He paused just behind his balls and increased the level of vibration.
Justin gasped and squeezed his eyes shut. "Fuck!" He was dizzy from need. And then the tip brushed over his hole and he shouted. Felt the muscles in his ass clench and release. "Do it," he begged. All he wanted was to feel his hole open around the hard, latex head.
But Brian teased him some more, rotating the vibrating tip against his hole, with just enough force to drive Justin crazy but not enough to penetrate him.
Justin grunted and willed his ass to open up and swallow the dildo whole. "Please…" His belly was wet with precum and all he wanted, all he wanted—"Yes! Oh! Oh…" he moaned as the dildo entered him. The solid tube of latex slipped through the tight ring of muscle with little resistance and inched towards his prostate.
Leaning over, Brian kissed him hard as he brought the dildo to bear on the nut-sized organ deep inside his lover. Justin shouted into his mouth and came. Brian held the toy in place as Justin shuddered and his cock continued to spit.
As his body emptied itself, Justin pressed against Brian, taking comfort from his strength, from his closeness.
The dildo sliding free, Brian removed the condom and tossed it in the wastepaper basket. Set the toy aside. Slipped on a condom and lubed himself. Wanting to take it slow, to build Justin's arousal again, Brian rolled his lover onto his side and entered him from behind. The room tilted and Brian held his breath. He hadn't realized how close he was. Holding still, he waited until the sensation passed, then continued to push forward.
Justin smiled. As good as the dildo had felt, this felt a thousand times better: his lover's cock slowly filling him. He could feel his insides expand to accommodate Brian and it amazed him, as always, that he had this ability to be filled to capacity and then some, as if there was no limit to what he could do.
One arm beneath their heads, the other holding Justin's leg up to keep him open, Brian and Justin made love leisurely. Whenever he felt himself getting too close to coming, Brian paused and waited it out until, at last, Justin began to grind his hips backwards, hard again, wanting Brian to fuck him harder. Still in him to the hilt, Brian eased Justin over onto his belly and supported himself on his arms, increasing the force of his thrusts.
Mouth open and saliva dripping on the pillow below him, Justin moaned as Brian pounded his ass until he felt that he would split open from the force. But he didn't. Because there was nothing Brian could do to him that he couldn't take.
Slamming into him a couple times more, Brian clenched his teeth and grunted. Fuck, that felt good. That had been building for two days now and it was a relief to be able to release it. "Ahh…" he breathed and collapsed onto Justin's back. He knew the teen hadn't gotten off yet but he needed a moment before he could move again, before he could think again. When he'd recovered, he pulled out and turned Justin over onto his back. Caught one leg in his hand and parted Justin's thighs as he lowered his head. There was little he loved better after coming than to suck Justin off, the boy's thick cock throbbing in his mouth, slit gaping open. He licked it clean of the precum that was there and swallowed knowing there'd be more. Face sticky, he slid his lips over the engorged head and down the shaft and heard Justin moan as his mouth came to rest around the base. Justin's pubes tickled his nose a little but he was enjoying the taste, the feel of the teen's cock too much to care. His head bobbed over Justin's groin as he went down on him, thirsty for the taste of his cum.
Justin's buttocks tightened and he gave a cry. "Oh…" he groaned. "Fuck…" and he came in Brian's mouth, the man coaxing every drop from his dick.
Holding a mouthful of cum, Brian opened his lips and let the cloudy liquid flow back over Justin's cock, then lapped it up again. Delirious, Justin closed his eyes to the sight, it was too hot, too much to comprehend. All he wanted to do was to feel.
Having cleaned up a little, they crawled into bed and moved together, arms and legs entwined about one another like incestuous vines.
It was their first night in London.
Brian had gone to work out so he lay staring at the ceiling, the early morning light the only illumination needed. He could hear the birds out in the garden below. He'd tried to get Brian to stay in bed with him but the man had insisted on hitting the gym saying he had no intention of turning into a fat, old queen on their vacation and nothing Justin said could convince him otherwise. So he'd gone at the crack of dawn to sweat for an hour. Justin was glad he didn't need to work out. Not yet anyway and he hoped his freakish metabolism held up at least through his twenties. Although it wouldn’t be too bad working out with Brian. On the other hand, he's serious about it and he wouldn't let me slide, not once, Justin thought. He glanced at the clock. Brian would be back in a bit, sweaty from his work-out, hair lank and hanging in his eyes, lips parted from breathing hard, muscles pumped… A smile leapt upon his lips. He couldn't wait until Brian returned. Breakfast might be delayed.
Just thinking about Brian made him feel tingly all over. Closing his eyes, he ran his hands over his chest and stomach, imagining they were Brian's hands. Sometimes he wondered how Brian felt when he was touching his young lover, what he was thinking. To tell the truth he wondered about that a lot, especially since their fiasco with Xavier and everything that had come after. At first he wondered how Brian could stand to touch him and he figured it was the same with Brian as it was with himself: he couldn't help it, he had to be with him, had to make love to him, there was no other choice. Although he'd enjoyed being with Xavier, nothing compared to what he felt when he and Brian made love. He wrapped his hand around his cock and tugged on it, imagining Brian doing it instead. "Brian," he whispered, wishing the man would hear him and come back. He heard a sound. Opened his eyes. Brian was standing at the foot of the bed.
"Start without me?" he asked, pulling off his tank top and crawling into bed.
As Justin had imagined he was sweaty and his muscles were hard as stone.
Breakfast could definitely wait.
After a quick meal in one of the hotel's conservatories—glass-roofed and filled with plants and flowers—the two lovers walked to the Russell Square station and took the Picadilly line to Green Park where they transferred to the Victoria Line and rode to Pimlico. Justin could hardly contain himself as they strolled to the museum and Brian silently fortified himself for many hours of trying to keep up with the teen. Still, he more than enjoyed watching Justin walk slightly in front of him, wearing a pair of khaki shorts that left nothing to the imagination, especially his gorgeous behind which was definitely worth the aggravation.
Entering the museum by the entrance off of Atterbury Street, they paused to donate a couple of pounds since admission to the Tate's permanent collection was free. Although they'd paid to see the Freud pieces, Justin felt better after having deposited his donation. That done, they headed immediately to the nine rooms set aside for the Freud exhibition. Even though the museum had only been open for a few minutes, there were already a number of people milling about. Ignoring them completely, Brian and Justin gave the attendant their tickets, received their audio guides and programs, and entered the first of the rooms.
It was a dream come true, standing before paintings he'd only ever seen in books, in the book Brian had bought him for his birthday. To see "Girl with a Dog" and "Reflections with Two Children" up close, to wander through room after room, a surprise, a find around ever corner, was more intense than Justin had ever imagined. Forgoing the audio commentary, Justin stood in front of Freud's portrait of Francis Bacon, losing himself in the deceptively simple lines that managed to capture the essence of the man quite clearly despite being only a drawing, a study for a portrait that had been stolen while on loan from the Tate to a gallery in Berlin.
"He looks like him," Brian said from behind him.
"That actor. The one in the movie we saw."
Justin studied the face. "Yeah, he does." They'd rented a film about Francis Bacon with Sir Derek Jacobi playing the part of the infamous painter. Justin remembered Jacobi standing in the movie just as Bacon had in the drawing.
"I really like him," said Brian.
"No. That actor. He was in Henry V wasn't he? The narrator?"
"Uh-huh. The Chorus." Although it shouldn't have, it constantly amazed Justin how aware Brian actually was of things and people around him. Even though he hardly talked about the movies or actors, he did take notice of them and remembered the ones he liked and he had favorite films, favorite books, it was just that no one had ever asked him about them, certainly not any of the tricks he'd done. That, more than anything, thrilled Justin, that he knew things about Brian that no one else did, little things that came from being close to him, from being with him day in and day out, from talking to him when they were lying in bed or having breakfast. The tiny moments that got overlooked by most people most of the time. And, yet, it was of those moments that a life was made. The forgettable moments that held the rest together, that led from crisis to celebration.
As they continued through the rooms, Brian tapped Justin on the arm with his program. "You haven't drawn any pictures of me lately."
Lying, Justin said, "I thought you hated posing for them." Truthfully, he'd been afraid of what he'd see if he sat down to draw his lover.
"You used to do them while I was asleep."
"I guess now I'm asleep too."
Softly, Brian agreed. "Yeah. Guess so."
For a while they were both silent as they roamed the exhibit. Noticing the number of naked portraits, Brian asked, "Are all artists perverts?"
Justin grinned. "No. Freud said that he liked painting people naked because it got them to shed their disguises, to get rid of the face they put on for the world, to reveal their basic animal instincts and desires."
Glancing sideways at the teen, Brian asked, "Is that why you like drawing me naked?"
He shrugged. "I guess." Added, "When you're naked there's nothing for you to hide behind, no designer labels, just you. I guess that's why I drew you when you were asleep, because I felt like you weren't hiding anything then. That I had a chance to maybe get a glimpse of you with your guard down. The real you." Then, as a postscript, he confessed, "Besides, sometimes I just like looking at you naked," and he stared at the man, caught up in his beauty.
Brian smiled, acknowledging the compliment and tried to hold Justin's gaze but he couldn't and looked away, slightly flustered.
From the Freud exhibit they walked upstairs to browse the permanent collection, in particular they were interested in the Bacon and Blake works and Turner's paintings of Venice since they were going to Venice in little over a week.
As had countless visitors before them, they were transfixed by Bacon's two triptychs: one simply entitled "Triptych-August 1972" and the other, "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion". Of course, the pieces had special significance for them in light of Justin's "Three Views of Love" that had been the sleeper hit of the student show at PIFA. Looking at the panels, Brian felt weak and he knew that it wasn't Bacon's work that he was responding to but Justin's. Despite having survived the ordeal there wasn't a day that went by when he didn't think about how close he'd come to losing his life, to throwing everything away, including Justin's life. Wordlessly, the teen moved closer to him and took hold of his hand. He looked down at his partner and tried to smile but couldn't.
"Come on," Justin told him and they left the room in search of lighter fare.
The Turner in Venice works appeared, at first, to be exactly what they needed but, eventually, they began to sense the decay that lay beneath the seemingly light-filled paintings of the city. It was as if Turner had painted Venice simultaneously in the now and in the future, prophesizing that the city would eventually dissolve into the sea.
Giving a tiny laugh, Brian shook his head and checked Justin's watch since he never wore one unless he absolutely had to. "Lunch," he suggested and Justin agreed.
With the Blake room and others left to explore afterwards, they stayed inside the building and ate in the museum restaurant. It was definitely a step down—several steps down—from Hakkasan. Luckily, they were saving their appetites for J Sheekey that evening.
Pausing over his Caesar salad, Justin asked, "Do you think…" But he couldn't finish his question.
He looked up again. "That it'll ever be okay between us? I mean, really okay."
The question hurt because he hadn't intended to let it show. "We are okay."
"How can we be if you… if you still hurt so much?"
"I can see it in your eyes, Brian." He laid down his fork and studied his plate for a few moments before speaking again. "I would do anything—"
"You don't have to. Justin, I'm okay. We're okay. It's just that sometimes… sometimes it hurts. And Drew says I should just let it, not try and hide it. He says that's what got me into trouble in the first place."
"That was me."
"No. That was a lot of shit that had nothing to do with you." He smiled, not having to force it this time. "Art is a bitch, you know?"
And Justin laughed cause it was such a Brian thing to say, a total non sequitur and, yet, he understood exactly what Brian meant. Because they were connected. Despite everything.
Fortified for the moment, they tackled Blake after lunch and Justin could tell that the paintings were affecting Brian as much as the Bacon had. "Brian?"
"I know how that feels," he said.
"How what feels?" They were looking at the canvas, "Nebuchadnezzar," a giant on his knees, mouth open screaming words of doom transmitted in a dream, the sound of his prophesies louder inside his own head than on the outside, endlessly echoing off the walls of his soul.
"Being almost too big for your thoughts. Being lost inside yourself," he explained with a little shake of his head, knowing that he was making little sense.
And Justin told him gently, "You don't have to feel lost anymore. I'm here."
Brian slipped an arm around him. He understood. Together they were
enough to fill all the hollow spaces inside.
Slightly ahead of schedule, they arrived at the Westminster station a little after two o'clock. Walking below the Westminster Bridge, they came upon the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Brian got off a number of shots of the building as they walked its grounds; most of the pictures included Justin standing in front of some architectural feature or another. From there they walked over to Westminster Abbey, took some more pictures, and found out that they had already missed the time for the last admission of the day.
"Fuck!" cursed Brian, endearing him to the people who'd come up behind them and were just as disappointed if not quite as vulgar and vocal about it. He'd really wanted to see the stained glass windows from the inside and to visit Poets' Corner. Which had surprised Justin who would have never figured him to be a lover of either stained glass or English poetry. However, he did like Michelangelo and, as Justin had found out, he had a soft spot in his heart for the Romantic poets.
"Oh well," Justin said. "Maybe we can come back some other time." His face lit up. "Since we can't go inside, let's see if we can catch one of the riverboat tours." He'd seen them from shore and was dying to go on one.
"What about Buckingham Palace?" They were supposed to have gone there after Westminster Abbey.
"We can do that another day too. Please."
Brian shrugged so they hurried down to the pier and were able to secure passage on a tour that was leaving within the half hour.
On board the boat, they stood along the railing on the top deck and watched London float by. Completely ignoring the tour guide whose voice was piped through the PA system from inside, they pointed out buildings and attractions to one another.
"There's the London Eye. I can't wait to go up," said Justin of the giant Ferris wheel towering over everything on the south bank.
"I can," replied Brian. His stomach was already doing flip-flops just thinking about it. He could do heights up to a certain point and then it just seemed like foolishness to him unless you were in an airplane. Thinking back to the night Gus was born and that stunt he'd pulled, going up to the top of the hospital and standing on the ledge, he felt a little queasy. Of course, he'd been operating on pure adrenaline. And Mikey had been there. Still, they could have both fallen to their deaths and that would have been the end of that story.
Brian's camera was busy recording the sights as they passed while Justin marked places on their map that they hoped to eventually get to before leaving Wednesday morning. He didn't say anything but Brian thought it would be nearly impossible to get all of it done. Still, if anyone could do it, it'd be Justin.
Getting off the boat at the pier, they joined the crowd of people walking up to the Tower of London. It was on their list of things to do although they'd figured they'd go on Monday. Maybe they'd do Westminster and Buckingham Palace that day instead.
They followed one of the red and blue clad yeoman warders, or Beefeaters as they were called, on a tour of the Tower complex, taking in the Castle and the Crown exhibit along the way where the crown jewels were on display as part of the Queen's Jubilee celebrating fifty years of rule.
"Do you think Prince Charles is ever going to be king?" Justin asked.
"Not if he marries that Camilla woman. Besides, he'll be so old by the time Elizabeth dies why would he care anymore?"
"I hope Prince William becomes king. He's a hottie."
Brian glanced over at his partner. "Really?"
"Not that I was looking."
"Keep your eyes on the jewels. And I don't mean his," teased Brian and Justin smiled and pushed him forward on the tour.
As they crossed the Tower green, Justin pointed to the scaffold area. "Can you imagine how it must feel to get your head chopped off with an axe?"
"Kind of like getting an ass chewing from Deb." Something he knew way too much about.
As did Justin who agreed. "True."
On the boat ride back, it had gotten a little chilly and Brian wrapped his arms around Justin and held him garnering looks from some of the other passengers. Fuck em, he told himself, glaring from beneath half-lidded eyes. Most of the people who had been staring surreptitiously at them looked away.
By the time they returned to the hotel, it was after six and all they wanted to do was to crash. Brian fell back onto the bed with a grunt. He was soon joined by Justin with a grunt of his own. "I'm beat," the teenager said.
"And we've only got an hour and," he checked the clock with a lift of his head, "fifteen minutes until our reservations."
"Think we could be a little late?"
Brian raised up and looked at Justin incredulously. "Are you crazy? We were lucky to get reservations at all. There's going to be a long line of desperate people waiting outside just hoping we don't show up."
"I guess that means no."
"Unless you want to sample the fish and chips down at the local pub."
"Don't even think about it," warned Brian as he sat up in bed. "So come on. Shower time." Justin grinned. "And none of that, young man."
Justin pouted and followed him into the bathroom. "You think we'll see Tom Cruise at J Sheekey?" He and other celebs were rumored to eat there when they were in town.
"Maybe Heaven," the gay club they were going to after dinner.
"You really think he's gay?" Justin turned on the water and shook his head as he was doused.
"Not like I care," he said, soaping the teenager's back. "I don't want to fuck him."
"I don't do old. He's like, what? Forty?"
Justin laughed because if anyone else had said that, he would have accused them of sour grapes; Brian actually meant it. "Then I guess I've got nothing to worry about."
"Nope," Brian replied. "You're half his age and twice as cute."
Kissing him, Justin whispered, "Later?"
And Brian assured him that there'd be plenty of time once they got
back. "Count on it."
They made their reservation with ten minutes to spare although Justin guessed from the way the maitre d' was looking at Brian that even if they'd been late, he would have bumped someone else just to let them in. Brian did look particularly scrumptious tonight, testament to the fact that they were going clubbing later. A holdover from his cruising days, Justin supposed, that he always looked as if he were on the make even when he wasn't. In any case, he could definitely hold his own against any of the supposed stars that frequented the place. In his slutty burnt sienna sweater that continued to succumb to gravity and slide off his broad shoulders and a pair of black flat-front slacks, he caught the eyes of nearly every woman (and quite a few of the men) in the place. Moving closer to him, Justin made it clear that they were together and he was pleased to note a few of those people giving him the eye. Not out of hostility but out of interest. He did look good. Even Brian had said so. Of course, Brian had picked out and paid for the outfit, a thin, cream-colored sweater and olive slacks, saying it made Justin look particularly delicious. And Justin had made a comment that he tasted particularly good with whipped cream. He was hoping Brian had taken the hint.
The food was marvelous, fresh fish prepared with a light hand, but they were disappointed in their celebrity watching. Brian didn't really care except that he was secretly hoping he'd catch a glimpse of Phillippe Starck. Anyone who would turn an ordinary juicer into a work of art was definitely on his list of people to watch.
"Have you ever met anyone famous?" Justin asked.
"I don't think so." Who the fuck knew if he had somewhere, especially if he had been under the influence of… whatever.
"Who would you liked to meet? Other than Phillippe Starck?"
Justin grinned. "You think he'd get you to model his clothes?"
"Who better?" Smiled. "What about you?" As if he didn't know.
Cocking his head, Brian said, "Now how did I know you were going to say that? Who else?"
"The guy from Talking Heads?"
"Cause his music is cool and he's an artist too."
Dinner finished, they sauntered over to the Manto Bar for a couple of drinks before going dancing. They found a table near the back and pretended not to notice the interest directed their way.
"They say the Manto in Manchester is better. They mentioned it on that Queer as Folk show," Justin said.
"What Queer as Folk show?" He didn't really keep up with television but he thought he would have seen something about a show called Queer as Folk.
That explained why he'd never heard of it.
"About this group of gay friends. Can you believe it? They had a twenty-nine-year-old guy with this fifteen-year-old kid."
Brian raised a brow. "Fifteen? Jesus. I could barely put up with a seventeen-year-old. But fifteen? No fuckin way."
Justin wadded up his cocktail napkin and threw it at Brian. "Liar. You would have put up with me even if I was fourteen."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Cause I'm the best lay you ever had," Justin boasted.
Brian's tongue peeked out from between his lips. There was nothing to say. Cause it was true.
They both commented that other than the accents and the distinctly British look of the guys, being in Manto was a lot like being in Woody's: guys cruising, guys making out, guys drinking. In particular, they noticed one guy who was cruising them pretty heavily. He hadn't gotten up the courage to approach them but it'd only be a matter of time as he was looking at them the way a kid eyed candy. He wasn't bad looking, kinda hot actually, but they'd had their fill of threesomes for a long, long time. Finally the guy decided to go for it. Brian and Justin pretended not to see him approach their table.
"Hello," he said. "How's it going?"
Brian, brazen as ever, looked the guy up and down and smiled and Justin could see the guy practically melt right next to him. "Pretty good."
"That's right." He reached for his beer, making sure the guy got a good look at his ring.
Justin saw the man glance at his hand as well.
"Long enough," Brian replied.
"You're gorgeous, you know. Both of you."
"We know," said Brian. "But we're kind of on our honeymoon."
The guy held up his hands. " 'Nough said. Have a good one."
"Thanks," said Justin, the only words he'd spoken during the entire exchange. He waited until the man was out of earshot and giggled. "You're shameless."
"You were flirting with that guy."
"So? I told him no." Brian finished his beer. "Let's go dancing."
They'd printed out a voucher for Heaven from the web to get a reduced cover charge for Brian, more for the novelty of it than from any burning desire to save a couple of pounds. Justin got in free with his ID since he was under twenty-one, something he didn't harp on for once.
He did point out the DJ up on stage. "That's him. Wayne G."
Brian made him out amid the darkness and swirling lights. "He's a hottie."
Justin tugged on his arm. "Dance with me."
The singer belted out a familiar song. "Ya'll wanna go dive in the pool?/ I know ya'll wanna go dive in the pool!/ Come on! Come on! Let's go!" 1
"Let's get soakin' wet!" Brian and Justin yelled with her and they danced around, surprised when they didn't see Mikey, Emmett, and Ted next to them.
As usual, Brian was content to let Justin bounce around while he held on as best he could.
"Come on! Are you ready! Are you ready? Come on! I wanna hear it!/ Let's get soakin' wet!"
Two songs later they returned to the bar and ordered a double Beam to share while taking a breather. The DJ played one of the songs off the new Paul Oakenfold album, the one with Perry Farrell singing lead, "Time of Your Life".
"Did you ever listen to Jane's Addiction?" Justin asked Brian and hoped the man hadn't grown tired of his questions. Brian sometimes did.
"Not really. I did like that Porno for Pyros' song though. "Pets". That was pretty cool."
Returning to the floor, they danced to a Jimmy Somerville song, "Here I Am", his falsetto voice raising goosebumps on their skin.
"I'm in front of you can you see me?/ Screaming can you hear me,/ Screaming can you hear me?/ Here I am/ Here I am…" 2
As with Manto and Woody's, Heaven pretty much reminded them of Babylon. "I wonder why they say it's the most famous gay club in the world?"
"Good publicity. And it's not like anyone can dispute it," replied Brian. "I gotta hit the head. Coming?"
With a kiss, Brian said, "You better be," and went to find the bathroom.
Justin saw the two guys before they got right up on him but he didn't pay them any attention, too busy watching the couples kick it up on the dance floor.
"Haven't seen you around here before," one of them said.
Justin turned. Realized they were talking to him. "No."
The other one smiled. "American."
"Yeah." At the risk of being rude, he decided to move on but one of them blocked his way.
"Running off so soon? Stay. Talk for a while."
Deciding it was better to cut this short, Justin held up his ring. "I'm taken."
"We only want you for an hour or so and then he can have you back," the first one, the dark one, said and both of the men laughed.
"No thanks." Again he tried to move away and again they prevented him from leaving.
"We're just trying to be hospitable, mate."
"I'm not your mate and I don’t want your hospitality." This time he pushed at the blond guy in front of him but the man stood his ground and Justin began to be afraid. How the fuck had he gotten so far into the corner?
"Now," the dark-haired one said, "we are going to play nice, aren't we?"
"No," said a voice from behind them, "what you're going to do is to get the fuck away from him before I kick your asses across the Thames."
Justin looked around with a mixture of relief and shame. He'd wanted to do this on his own, take care of it himself.
"And who are you, mate?" asked the blond.
Brian held up his ring. "I'm his mate. Now, fuck off."
Although the two men looked to be a match for Brian physically, what they saw in his eyes must have convinced them that it wasn't worth taking him on and they backed off. "Fuckin' tosser," one of them grumbled as they melted back into the crowd.
"You all right?"
Angry, Justin said, "I could have taken care of it myself."
"I know. But if you think I'm going to stand by while some asshole tries to fuck with you, you're wrong."
"I don’t need you to protect me."
"That's my job."
"I don't belong to you. I’m not your property, not your fucking toy," he said tightly. God, he didn't know why but it had really pissed him off.
But instead of getting angry too, Brian just replied calmly, "Yeah. You are. You're mine. From top to bottom. My little boy." Justin looked up. "My Sunshine. My Pooh. My sticky sweet honey bear." Justin was glad it was dark so that no one could see him blushing. Brian leaned close and whispered, "My moaning, groaning, cream-filled twinkie." Kissed him. "My sweet-assed boy toy." Pecked him on the lips. "My big-dicked baby. All mine. And I protect what's mine. You got it?"
Pulse racing, Justin could hardly speak. "I got it."
"Good." He took hold of Justin's arm. "Now, let's get the fuck out of
Unlike the previous night when they'd made love slowly, by the time they stepped across the threshold Brian had managed to work out of his sweater and was unzipping his pants. Stumbling over to the bed, he kicked off his shoes and stepped out of his trousers and briefs, letting them lay where they fell. Dropping to his knees, he tore open Justin's slacks and pulled them and his briefs down around his ankles.
Justin gasped as Brian pushed up his sweater and his lips closed around the head of his cock. He was already half-hard and wanting Brian to fuck him so badly that he almost pushed Brian away from his dick in order to get him to do it but it felt so good to slide in and out of his lover's mouth that he surrendered and let the man do as he wanted.
Luckily they were close to the nightstand because Brian didn't know how long it'd take before he'd succumb to the need to be inside Justin. Already he ached for the boy.
Pulling out of Brian's mouth, Justin rubbed his cock over his lover's lips, soliciting a last few moist kisses. Then he got to his knees and bent over Brian's lap.
"Fuck," whispered Brian as Justin went down on him, the teen's fingers stroking his balls as his lips sucked the head. Chest heaving, he fought the urge to come and slowed his breathing. Reached for the condoms and lube.
Justin unrolled one of the Trojans over his cock and lubed him well. Brian leaned back against the bed as Justin climbed onto his erection. Holding onto Brian's shoulders, crouched on the balls of his feet, Justin raised and lowered his ass onto his man's dick, wildly fucking himself until they were both drenched with sweat and moaning uncontrollably. Feeling himself getting closer to coming, Justin took Brian into his ass and sat on his lap, legs around his hips and arms around his neck. He laid his head against his shoulder and kissed his throat, waiting until the urge passed.
"Oh, baby," Brian breathed against his hair. One hand under his sweater, holding onto Justin's slippery back, Brian lowered them to the floor without breaking their intimate contact. Taking an ankle in either hand, he held Justin wide open as he fucked him.
He slowed his thrusts. "Are you mine?" he asked harshly, unable to control his breathing.
"Yes," gasped Justin.
"Say it," he demanded.
"I'm yours," he said and, lifting his sweater up under his arms, he showed Brian all of him: hard, tense, and hot.
"Say it," Brian again demanded, burying his cock inside him.
"I'm yours," Justin moaned and Brian began pounding him hard. "I'm
yours." He felt wide open, exposed, naked, as naked as the people in
Lucian Freud's paintings; he felt like an animal, mindlessly fucking on
the floor, and he wanted Brian to thrust even harder. "Fuck me!" he cried,
listening to the wet sound of Brian's dick slamming into his hole.
"Harder." Brian released his legs and leaned over him, pumping even
faster. "Yes! Yes!" he groaned and wrapped his legs around his lover's
hips. "Yes." Brian's saliva dripped down upon him, sweat rained on him,
and he felt like he was being fucked with a log. His dick throbbed, balls
rubbing up against Brian's belly. Clutching Brian's shoulders, he gave a
shout and came between them, his asshole tight around Brian's cock and the
man yelled and came too, head thrown back as he dropped his load. Justin
reached down and ran his fingers through his cum, smeared it over Brian's
lips. The older man lapped at his fingers, then lunged towards his young
partner to seal their mouths with a kiss.
Before they fell asleep they called back home. They rang Lindz first hoping to catch Gus before he went to bed. Luckily the Munchers were just about to bathe him when the phone rang. Even so, Brian could tell he was only a few minutes away from passing out. Giving a sleepy, "Dada," the baby said little else except to whisper, "Pooh," when Justin got on to talk to him.
"So," said Lindsay as Mel went to put the baby down, "how's London?"
Justin was sprawled across him, head pillowed on his chest. He reached down and cupped his bare buttock. "And not bad."
She laughed. "Go to sleep. You sound worse than Gus."
"And night too, I bet."
"Later." Hanging up, he nudged Justin. "Call your mom."
"No, tonight. She'll blame me if you don't."
So Justin called Jennifer and woke up enough to tell her about the Freud exhibit and the river trip to the Tower of London. "Yeah," he replied to something she asked him and then he said, "Give Molly a kiss for me. Night."
Brian stirred when he hung up. "Yeah, what?"
Justin knew what he was alluding to. "She asked me if it was worth it. The trip."
"Everything we've been through." Of course, his answer had been yes. It was worth it, each and every tear just to be lying here in Brian's arms. To be lying anywhere in his arms. They were damn lucky and they both knew it.
Brian pulled the covers up over them.
Having woke up just as Brian was putting on his gym clothes and not wanting to be parted from him even for a moment, Justin had gotten up and tagged along, saying it wouldn't hurt to work out for once. Little did he know how much it would hurt. His pride more than anything else. He'd taken it for granted that he could keep up with Brian, after all, he was nineteen and Brian was thirty-one. He hadn't expected to match the man in weight lifting but he thought he could, at least, hang with him on the treadmill. But after about fifteen minutes he found himself tiring and having to readjust the settings for a slower pace. Brian never paused. Sweat glistened on his skin and he reached for his water bottle to slake his thirst but other than that he never slowed. Finally, Justin gave up even pretending to run and took it at a walk. Which gave him an excellent opportunity to watch Brian. To observe the ease with which he ran, his long legs scissoring seemingly effortlessly. After a half hour, he stopped. Wiped his face.
"You were supposed to be running," he told Justin.
"I like watching you better." He smiled. "How fast can you run?"
Brian shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I'm into endurance." Grinned.
"My marathon man," teased Justin.
"All night long."
"All day too," Justin added, remembering a few of their all-weekend fuckfests. He glanced around. There was only one other person in the room and he was busy working with the free weights. Leaning into Brian, Justin kissed him. "How about a demonstration?"
Brian asked, "You sure you're up to it? You were looking kinda ragged on the treadmill."
Leaving him, Justin sauntered towards the exit, aware of Brian's eyes on his hips. Pausing in the doorway, he slowly ran his hand over his ass, then disappeared.
Water bottle in hand, Brian followed.
Since it was convenient to do so, they caught one of London's famous red double-decker buses on High Holborn Street. Justin insisted on riding in the top half so he could get a better view of the city. They got off at Newgate. Across the road was St. Paul's Cathedral. Its massive, triple-layered dome dominated the skyline, rising over three hundred and sixty feet above street level.
"Beautiful," declared Justin and Brian agreed but, then again, so many of the buildings they'd seen could be called beautiful.
"Must be tiring, to live in a city where everything is either beautiful or historically significant," he said off-handedly.
If Justin picked up on the sarcasm, he wisely ignored it. Brian had gotten a little snippy as they passed the Old Bailey, alluding to Oscar Wilde's infamous trial and harsh imprisonment. "If we had lived back then, your dad would have had me hauled in and sent to prison instead of kicking the shit out of me. And then you would have forgotten all about me and gotten married like a proper English gentleman. Become a famous artist."
All that Justin had said in reply was, "I'm still going to be a famous artist."
But Brian's complaint had been more than a casual remark. He felt it keenly here in London: the burden of history, just at the moment when he wanted to forget his own the most. To have been reminded of Wilde's mistakes had brought his own to the forefront of his mind, from where they never were for very long anyway, threatening to turn his mood morose.
Seeing that, Justin was even more determined not to let him brood. They were here to enjoy themselves, to forget the past as Brian had told him, and they would.
Nearing the cathedral, they walked around the outside since the building was closed to tourists on Sunday and they were too late for the communion service and too early for the main service—not that Brian would have gone anyway. He had an active dislike of church. Justin, meanwhile, pointed out the interesting (to him) facts about the cathedral, reading from the guidebook.
"It's the largest cathedral in England and took over thirty years to build. The original cathedral burned down in 1666." They walked to the south door and found a carved phoenix with the word Resurgam engraved on the pediment. "It means, 'I shall rise again,' " he told Brian.
"Maybe I should call my d—"
He smirked. And waited for lightning to strike. When it didn't, he breathed easier. It was just as he'd always thought: God did have a sense of humor.
From the cathedral they walked across the delicate-looking Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Brian looked around him warily. It didn't look strong enough to support much weight and Justin had told him that after it first opened, a wobble was discovered and the bridge had been shut down for repairs. It had only reopened six months ago. "Are you sure this is safe?" he asked, envisioning them plunging into the cold river below.
"Fraidy cat. How many people do you think walk across this thing in a day?" Justin asked.
"I don't give a fuck about them," Brian replied, "I'm worried about us. This trip cost a fortune, I'd like to make it to Milan. Even better, as drab as it is, I'd like to actually make it back to Pitts."
Justin thought he heard something in Brian's voice. "You tired of being a tourist already?"
"No." And if he were, there was no point in saying so because they still hadhad Italy, Spain, and France to go.
"Can we cut the talk and just hurry up and get the fuck off this thing?" Brian growled and Justin almost laughed. Almost. Because he wanted to live to get to Florence and if he laughed, in the mood he was in, Brian was liable to toss him over the side and tell his mom it was an accident.
As they stepped off the bridge, to their left they could see the new Globe Theatre that had been built in 1997. The first Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare worked, had burned down in 1613 and the Puritans destroyed the second one in 1642 but an American director had drummed up support to have it rebuilt again. It was supposed to be an authentic reproduction of the original; it even had a thatched roof.
To say he was anxious to get to the Tate and, in particular, to the Matisse Picasso exhibit was an understatement. As excited as he'd been about seeing the Freud pieces, he couldn’t deny that the exhibition at the Tate Modern loomed over the city's artistic offerings as Matisse and Picasso had towered over the twentieth century world of art. LeGrange spoke of them in reverential tones that nearly sent most of the students at PIFA into laughing fits. Nearly. But not quite because you only had to look at their work, at the prodigious amount and the quality to see that LeGrange's respect had been earned.
Although they'd thought the Freud show had been busy, they saw that they had been mistaken. Arriving just as the doors opened, they found themselves in the middle of a massive crowd of people, all headed, Justin feared, for the fourth floor where the Matisse Picasso exhibition was being held. Still, Justin was determined not to let it bother him. After all, how many chances would he get to see all of these pieces together in one place? Masterpieces by two of the giants of modern art. Xavier would have killed to have been here. Maybe he would see the show when it came to New York. Justin hoped so.
Brian glanced at his program and sighed inwardly. Fourteen rooms. God help him. And the crowd was only growing. It'd take them over an hour alone to get through just this exhibit and that still left two more massive floors to explore. Fucking place was huge. Who knew there was that much art in the world? And did they have to see it all? 'Important work,' Justin's words. Brian paused in recounting his grievances because the teenager was no longer beside him. Looking around he spotted Justin still standing before Picasso's self-portrait. He went back and waited.
"He painted this when he was twenty-five."
"Wonder what he was thinking about?"
Justin turned, cocked his head, unsure for a moment if Brian was being serious. He seemed to be. Truthfully, the teen was surprised that Brian had lasted this long. This was their third day of sightseeing and their third museum, with a fourth on their agenda for this afternoon. He had to be getting tired of it. Even though he had become a pretty good amateur photographer, Brian often told Justin that 'the fuckin' camera does all the work' and he refused to consider himself an artist. So what was he making of all this art? Still, he put that thought aside and answered Brian's question as best he could. "Paul Cezanne had just died and both he and Matisse admired him a lot. Maybe he was thinking about that. Maybe," he said, as the program had suggested, "he was thinking about what it would be like, not having someone like Cezanne standing over him, that now was his chance to take the spotlight."
"Picasso?" Justin laughed. "I don't think he was ever afraid of anything."
"You never know," Brian replied, studying the painting more closely. "People hide things all the time. Keep secrets even from themselves."
The way I kept refusing to see how much trouble you were in? Justin asked himself. Out loud, "I guess."
Brian paused before the other Picasso in the room, "Boy Leading a Horse". "I know this one. I saw it in an encyclopedia. When I was a kid."
"And you remembered it?"
"I used to wonder what it would be like to ride a horse." He turned. "Looked peaceful. Maybe I should ask Molly, she'd know."
Justin followed him into the next room, wondering if he'd ever learn everything there was to learn about his lover. Just when he thought he'd figured him out, Brian surprised him. Maybe he surprised himself. Maybe that's what life was all about, constantly surprising yourself and the people around you. Reinventing yourself. No. Rediscovering yourself. Maybe that's what great artists were able to do that others couldn't.
In room four, the exhibition's main thrust, that the two artists influenced and challenged one another became apparent in a series of portraits they'd done of various women. The paintings all showed characteristics of Cubism, which had been developed by Picasso and Braque and was influenced by African art. And who had introduced Picasso to African art? Matisse.
"Just think," Brian said, "one day people will be walking through an exhibit talking about how you and Xavier influenced and competed with one another."
"He's a lot better than I am," he replied, then paused. "But I'm getting better and one day I'll catch up with him."
"You'll pass him by."
Brian was amazed that the crowd had ceased to annoy him. One moment he'd been aware of the incessant chatter, of the relentless press of a hundred people's psyches against his own and, in the next, they had dropped from his sight. They were still there, physically in the rooms with them, only they no longer mattered. All that mattered was Justin and the art. As they walked through the other rooms, pointing out familiar works, "I know that one," about "Three Musicians" and "Harlequin", they talked about the future, about what Justin was going to do once he'd graduated (luckily three years away); and about Brian's impending partnership which would probably happen a lot sooner.
"You work too hard as is, if you're made a partner, it'll only mean more work."
Brian gestured to the works around them. "You think they slept eight hours a night?"
"What about me?"
"What about you?" Brian asked. "You'll be doing this. It's not like we're joined at the hip now."
Justin looked down. "I miss you."
Lifting his chin with his hand, Brian kissed him softly. "I haven't gone anywhere." But he understood that for a little while Justin would be unsure of him, having nearly lost him.
"Not without me," the teen clarified and Brian wanted to take him in his arms and hold him until the cold lump of fear in the pit of his stomach melted.
How fucking close did I come to killing us both? It frightened him, even now, that he had almost thrown both their lives away.
Turning the conversation away from himself, he asked, "So you still want to be a computer animator? Work for Disney?" he teased.
"I hate fucking Disney. Their Tarzan sucked big time. I would work for Dreamworks or Pixar though."
"We'd have to move," Brian reminded him. "No studios in Pittsburgh."
"Maybe I could start my own company. Right there in Pitts."
"I wouldn't mind living in LaLa Land," said Brian. "Gus could learn to surf."
Exiting the Tate some two hours and a half hours after they'd entered it, the two lovers went in search of food. Heading down river along the Millennium Walk, they spotted the Oxo Tower Wharf. The concierge at the hotel had told them that if they were interested in art and design, that was the place to go. Plus, it had a restaurant on the eighth floor. So they went inside and Brian thought Justin would explode. The building housed thirty-three retail studios where the designers actually worked and sold their pieces. On the first floor was a gallery space with free admission to the public; they walked through an exhibition of photographs detailing the influence of street advertising in London. Brian was impressed both by the ads and the photography. But the most impressive feature of the building was that in between the second and eighth floors were five floors of low-rent housing flats. That was a concept: low-rent apartments and high-end design studios occupying the same building.
The restaurant looked over the river, offering a spectacular view and food that wasn't half bad. After lunch, they hurried back downstairs and browsed the shops, actually picking up a few things as gifts to ship back home. Brian got Gus a couple of tee-shirts from Little Badger which sold children's clothing. Neither he nor Justin understood the appeal but the promotional material said that their designs had been bought by or for Madonna, Nicole Kidman, and Bono. What the hell. Although it did smart a little to pay forty dollars for a kid's tee-shirt even if it was handmade.
They went into this studio called Salt that sold designer blinds and Brian had to keep himself from purchasing some leather strip blinds for the bedroom in the loft. Although the textured blinds would have looked fabulous, 1) he didn't have the precise measurements for the windows around the bedroom and 2) he and Justin were seriously thinking about finding a new place. They hadn't discussed it for a while but Justin really needed a place to work when he was home and it'd be nice to have a room for Gus when he visited and maybe an office to work in himself where he didn't have to listen to The Powerpuff Girls on the television or The Crystal Method on the stereo unless he wanted to. Still, he took one of their cards just in case. Who knew? Maybe they'd move into a place a lot like the loft and he could still use the blinds. It could happen.
They also swung by Gabriel's Wharf, which was just a two minute walk away from the Oxo Tower and perused the shops there as well. Got Lindsay an embroidered jacket from Lauren Shanley. Brian wasn't too sure but Justin assured him that she'd love it.
Although it was slightly overcast (as usual) it was a pleasant day and the two men took their time meandering down the Millennium Walk towards County Hall where the Dali Universe was located. Despite the fact that they were coming back to the area that evening to ride on the London Eye, they wanted to see things in the broad daylight.
As they passed the Somerset House which housed fine art as well as part of the state government, Brian tugged on Justin's arm. Just the thought of going through another gallery or museum, in addition to the Dali, made him feel a little dizzy.
Walking through the Jubilee gardens towards the London Eye, Brian again felt disoriented. That feeling was amplified as they stood beneath the wheel and looked up towards the sky. The apex of the wheel was one hundred and thirty-five metres off the ground, allowing riders a viewing range of nearly twenty-five miles.
"That is going to be too awesome," Justin said, shading his eyes as he watched the viewing pods slowly rise and fall. "It takes almost a half hour to make a complete revolution."
"Don't tell me," replied Brian, closing his eyes. Why the fuck had
he said he'd do it? The ballooning they'd done during their weekend
in the country had been bad enough but at least the balloon had moved
relatively quickly. This was like slowly watching your death approach
without having any recourse but to wait for it. Stupid. And yet, he was
going to do it. For his baby.
Having gone through the entire Dali Universe, the one thing Brian could remember really clearly was the red sofa shaped like Mae West's lips. It would have looked perfect in Mikey and Emmett's place. Totally tacky. In fact, a lot of the Dali stuff would have looked perfect in their apartment. Maybe Michael and Emmett were secretly geniuses. Brian smirked. Or maybe Dali was not-so-secretly insane. Checking Justin's watch, Brian suggested heading back to the hotel.
"I could use a nap," Justin said.
"It'll have to be a short one. We've got early dinner reservations."
So they took the tube back to the Russell Street station and walked slowly to the hotel. They would have walked quickly but they were both bushed. "Don't let me forget to mail this stuff off tomorrow," meaning the presents they'd bought, Brian told Justin.
"Um-hm," he replied, which was all Brian was going to get at that moment.
How they made it to the room was a mystery to them both. When they woke up forty-five minutes later, the alarm ringing, neither of them remembered setting it or even closing their eyes for that matter. Still, whether they remembered or not, they had a dinner reservation to make in an hour which meant showering and dressing, jacket included, and getting back across the river. When Brian would have gotten them a taxi, Justin suggested that they take the tube instead.
"We can take a taxi back."
Although both trains were crowded and they had to take a short walk from the Embankment station to the Savoy Hotel they arrived at the River Restaurant in good shape and in good time. It was really strange to see cars driving on the right hand side of the street, the only place in London where they did that. Once they were inside, Justin looked around feeling a little uncomfortable. This was, by far, the most traditional (read: stodgy) place they'd eaten yet and he felt very young and very gay. Worse, he felt as if everyone was looking at him. Brian, as usual, if he did notice, affected not to care and soon Justin found himself somewhat adopting his attitude if not quite matching it. They were here to have dinner, not challenge the other diners' tolerance. If they didn't like having the two of them in their midst, they could just Fuck off he said to himself. Brian would have been proud.
With less than ninety minutes to eat and make it to the London Eye by eight thirty for their nine o'clock ride, the two decided to only have starters and a main course. While Justin began his meal with a tomato tart with glazed goat's cheese and basil dressing, Brian watched the waiter carve his wild smoked Scottish salmon right at the table. Biting into it was like eating salmon-flavored butter. Even Justin deigned to take a bite and pronounced it perfect. For dinner they both ordered the roasted lobster in a light curry sauce with smelt eggs. Justin wasn't quite sure what smelt eggs were.
"Smelt is a fish," Brian answered.
"Like caviar. Just eat it," he told him, "and don't think about what it is."
Despite his initial hesitation, they proved to be delicious. And the view was perfect. They'd managed to get seated by the window and spent most of dinner (when they weren't staring into one another's eyes) looking out at the riverfront, over at Cleopatra's Needle, and across the river at the Tate and the London Eye. In a little while they'd be on the other side, looking back across where they'd just been.
Dinner finished, they got back on the train and rode across the Thames, getting to the Eye a full half hour before their ride as they'd been instructed. Justin felt like he had firecrackers inside his stomach. Brian had booked a private capsule for their ride where they'd be served champagne by their own private waiter. Justin hoped the waiter didn't mind watching them snuggle cause he had a feeling a lot of snuggling would be going on. And not just from the champagne but because Brian looked like he'd swallowed Drano. Trying to put on a brave front, he pretended like he didn't care that they were about to slowly ascend into the air inside a mostly clear capsule but Justin knew better, knew that Brian's stomach was probably a little queasy right about now. He'd have to rub it for him when they got aloft.
The moment the attendants closed the door of the capsule Brian began to wonder if he hadn't lost his mind. What the fuck was he doing? At least they were alone (not including the waiter) so none of the other passengers would see how shaken he was by the entire experience. Justin knew, of course, but Justin would endeavor to make him feel better without it seeming like that was what he was doing. He had a way of calming Brian without calling attention to his actions and Brian appreciated it. He needed that sometimes more than anything. This would probably be one of those times.
After pouring their champagne and handing them each a glass, the waiter retired a discreet distance and sat waiting in case they had questions or wanted more champagne. Most people ended up finishing off the bottle as they watched the city go by. And most of the couples ended up making out at some point during the ride. He didn't think they'd be any different. Of course, he wouldn't exactly mind if they did. "They were gorgeous," he would tell his friends later. "I got a stiffy just watching them drink champagne."
Justin before him, Brian wrapped an arm about the teen and sipped his wine and, in a little while, he forgot how high up they were, just concentrated on the champagne and Justin. Bending his head, he brushed his lips over the teen's neck. Justin half-turned and cupped his face. They kissed, heedless of their audience and of their private view of London.
It didn't last. As soon as the brightly-lit face of Big Ben came into view, they both lost themselves in the beauty of the city and Brian got out his camera and began photographing their nighttime ride. Waving the waiter over, he got the young man to take their picture, outlined against the city skyline. They'd taken precious few together as it wasn't generally wise to hand over an expensive camera to perfect strangers. Hesitantly, the waiter snapped a picture, then shyly handed Brian the Nikon. He would have probably gone back to his corner and resumed his silent vigil if Justin hadn't smiled at him in such a friendly way that he began to feel comfortable around them.
"You're from America, then?"
"Yeah," replied Justin with a frown. "I don't really like football."
"Least not American football. Now European football, I love."
"Did you watch the World Cup?"
"Every day. It was brilliant!"
Brian smiled softly, then returned to the view outside. Leave it to Justin to make a friend no matter where he went. Even though he never said anything, it had to be hard, not having someone his own age to talk to, to piss around with, do the things teenagers did together. Hell, he knew how it had been with him and Mikey, how it still was. Only… things were changing between them. They had begun to rely less and less on one another and more on themselves or, in Brian's case, on Justin. He supposed that's the way life was. You grew up and grew apart. But maybe they'd grow back together again, in different ways. He looked down to see Justin at his side once more, his new friend having gone into the corner again.
He had the bottle of champagne in his hands. "There's some left."
Brian took it and filled their glasses. "Not anymore." Set the bottle down. "Cheers."
So they drank the last of the champagne as their ride drew to a close.
Glad to be back on the ground again, Brian admitted that he had enjoyed the ride. Justin waved to Gary the waiter and they set off walking down the riverbank until they found a relatively secluded section where there was a bench and sat looking at the opposite bank of the Thames.
"So what do you want to do now?" Brian asked. "You wanna go dancing or to a pub or something?"
"How about back to the room?"
"I would love to take a hot bath," Justin said. "Maybe order some dessert and have it in bed. And we could call Gus before he falls asleep."
Smiling, Brian thought, I guess that's what married people do.
"What?" asked Justin, nudging him with his elbow.
"Nothing." Brian stood, held out his hand and they walked like that,
hand-in-hand, to the tube station.
Lying in the tub with his feet up on the porcelain edges, Brian relaxed and let the bubbles soothe his tired body. Justin lay in his arms, head beneath his chin, moving only to breathe. It was nice, just being together, just touching one another without any thought of sex. To just be who they were, part of a pair, to be complete in and of themselves and to be content with their bonding. And Brian thought that it was moments like this that kept them together, not the wild fucking or the insane arguments or the seemingly endless crises that they faced but these moments, these quiet moments of togetherness, when he didn't doubt himself or their love because it seemed… right somehow. Without explanation, without logic or reason. When he felt, down to the marrow in his bones, that here was where he was meant to be, right now, with Justin. And nothing else mattered, nothing else could matter because nothing existed beyond them, nothing important anyway. And, yet, everything important was a part of them: Gus, and their families, and their friends, and the things they'd seen, and the places they'd been, all of that was part of them, they carried those things, those people, inside of them. How could he feel weak, feel unsure or uncertain, when so much good was encompassed in him? He couldn't.
Having soaked almost to the pruning point, they vacated the tub and toweled off, slipped into their robes and called Room Service, had them send up a huge piece of cheesecake which the two of them shared while talking to the folks back home.
Gus related some story to Brian that Lindsay had to interpret for him as he only understood one out of every five or six words. But the baby's speech was clear enough when he asked, "Where Dadda?"
"Dadda's in London," Brian told him. "Can you say that? Lon don."
Instead of trying it again, Gus moved on to his next concern. "Dadda. Where Pooh?"
"Pooh's with me," he said and handed the phone to Justin.
"Is Gus being a good boy?"
Gus giggled. It was something his Mommy asked him all the time. "No!" he yelled and Justin laughed. That was Brian's son all right.
Lindsay came on and told Justin that Gus was not being a good boy at all and that he missed his daddy and Pooh. "So, are you having a wonderful time?"
"The art is incredible. We saw the Matisse Picasso show today and it was unbelievable."
"I went up to New York to the Picasso in Portraiture exhibit at MOMA. You forget how good he was because you hear his name so much. It's almost laughable how long he lived and how much he did before he died. You tell yourself, he couldn't have been that talented. But he was."
"I feel like I'm never going to be that good," he told her.
"Maybe not. He was a genius. Like da Vinci or Michelangelo. Maybe there won't be museums dedicated to your work. But if you're true to your art, that's all that matters."
With a glimpse at his lover, Justin said, "Brian says modesty's for losers." The man raised a brow but said nothing.
"It's not modesty. It's being realistic. Not everyone can expect to be the toast of the town." She smiled and he could feel it even though they were an ocean apart. "Maybe you will be. Brian believes in you and that means something. He doesn't waste his time on losers."
Watching Brian pick at the cheesecake, he agreed. "No. He doesn't."
After talking to Lindsay and Gus, Brian called Michael and they laughed for ten or fifteen minutes. Seemed Deb had gone out on a double date with Vic. He'd met this guy who had a brother who was straight. The gay one was a little nervous about dating since he'd just been diagnosed HIV+ and his brother was trying to encourage him so they all went to this Italian restaurant together. Everyone had a great time and when the evening was over, Vic and the brother ended up at his place and Deb ended up with a doggie bag.
"Everything going all right?" Michael asked.
Michael smiled and Brian could tell that he had even though he couldn't see him. "You don't say that very often. Unless you're talking about yourself."
"It's true. I am perfect."
"And I have a perfect asshole. Just ask Justin."
The teen had been in the middle of taking the last bite of the cheesecake and he almost choked. "Brian?!"
Laughing, Michael said goodnight and hung up. Brian replaced the phone in its cradle. Lay staring at Justin who was on his stomach and apparently trying to conjure up more cheesecake by using the power of his mind. At least, that's what Brian figured was happening by the intense way he was looking at the empty plate and the last few crumbs that clung to the smooth surface. Shaking his head, he untied his robe and dropped it to the floor, then got under the covers. He didn't intend to sleep, just to wait until Justin made up his mind what kind of dessert he wanted: cheesecake or beefcake. Wrinkling his nose at how dorky beefcake sounded, Brian yawned and it was all over.
Justin looked around and couldn't believe that Brian had conked out. Probably just as well. He'd felt so relaxed after their bath that he hadn't really wanted to get all worked up again but sex with Brian was something he never turned down if offered. So it worked out all right all around. Only, he wasn't really sleepy. Tired, yes, but just pleasantly so. Maybe if he did a little sketching he'd get in the frame of mind to go to sleep.
Unfortunately, as soon as he got out his sketch pad the gerbil started on the wheel and he began to think about what Brian had said about him not drawing him anymore and the lame excuse he'd given him. Well, here he was, awake, and Brian was asleep. The perfect opportunity. So he began to sketch, keeping his eyes on his lover although he no longer needed to look at him in order to accurately draw him. He watched him for the tiny clues that revealed his personality, the feel of him as he slept this time as opposed to all the other times. He watched him to discover the secrets that Brian kept about himself, sometimes even from himself. And he watched him because he found him beautiful, because it pleased him to look at him. He hadn't equivocated about that. Sometimes he'd lie next to Brian and just gaze at him, tempted to touch him, to make sure he was real, not believing that he could be, despite the warmth of his body, its solidity. And sometimes he did touch him, brush his hand over his chest or arm or back.
The quick portrait finished, he closed his pad and crawled into bed
without disturbing his lover and wrapped his arms around him, holding him
close; Brian stirred once, then settled down.
Taking their breakfast in the garden, Brian and Justin went over the activities left on their list of things to do. They only had two more full days in the city, today and tomorrow, and then they'd be off to Rome on Wednesday.
"You sure you aren't museumed out?" Justin asked, using Brian's word for it.
"I told you, as many as you wanted."
"We don’t have to go to the National Gallery. I can see all the Italian Renaissance art I want in Italy."
Brian sipped his juice. "It's up to you." He smiled and slipped on his sunglasses. "I just like being with you."
Justin rolled his eyes. "You are so full of it."
"You don’t believe me?" He reached across the table in full view of the other couples out on the terrace and took Justin's hand. Rubbed his fingers. Justin started to withdraw his hand as they had attracted a bit of attention and then stopped. He liked it when Brian was affectionate towards him in public. He leaned over and kissed Brian's hand.
"I believe you."
"So what's on the agenda for today?"
"National Gallery, then an afternoon in Soho. Maybe we can find some more gifts in Covent Garden."
"Maybe. I cannot wait for dinner tonight." They were going to the Sugar Club, a trendy place that featured Pacific-rim inspired modern fusion cuisine, whatever the hell that meant. Expensive and strange. But probably good. Brian looked down at his stomach and patted it. He'd skipped the gym this morning but maybe they'd get back to the hotel this evening in time for him to do a few minutes on the treadmill before heading back out for dinner. "Why didn't you wake me up?" he asked, referring to the fact that he'd fallen asleep last night before they'd had a chance to have sex.
"You were sleeping so peacefully, I didn't want to disturb you. Besides, I like just being with you sometimes."
"Tired of sex already?" teased Brian.
"Good, because we've got at least a few more years before it becomes boring, stale, and repetitive."
"Decades. Two or three."
"You're only going to have sex until you get in your sixties?" asked Justin incredulously.
"Don't say that. I don't even want to think about being—"
"I bet you'll be the hottest sixty-one-year-old—"
"I bet you'll be hot even when you're seventy," grinned Justin.
"You know, young man, you're not too big for me to take over my knee."
Justin half-closed his eyes, parted his lips and whispered, "Oh, daddy... promises, promises."
Wanting to take him upstairs that very moment and make good on his threat, Brian, instead, finished off his orange juice and hoped his hard-on wouldn't be visible when he got up.
"I've got something for you," Justin told him.
"I know. And we don't have time for you to give it to me."
Justin laughed and reached for his backpack, slumped in one of the empty chairs between them. "No. This." He took out a folded sheet of paper and handed it across the table.
Smiling, Brian unfolded it and paused. It was a drawing of him. Asleep. He recognized the detailing on the covers. "You did this last night?"
"Yeah." Shyly, Justin asked, "You like it?"
For a moment he didn't speak, then he said, "It's amazing." And it was. He couldn't imagine how Justin did it. Even having watched him, the process seemed magical. With photography it was simple: you pointed and clicked. Granted, there was more to it than that: you chose your subject, you had to imagine what the picture would look like before you took it, you had to choose the settings on the camera to try and capture that image in your head but it wasn't like drawing. He couldn’t explain it, except that it felt different. Maybe because he thought of Justin as an artist and he thought of himself as someone who dabbled.
Carefully he refolded the picture and slipped it into his jacket pocket. He thought of the sketch of himself that he'd bought at the Gay and Lesbian Center's art show, that he'd kept in the closet until Justin moved in for good. They'd hung it in the niche by the chaise chair. Whenever he looked at it he imagined Justin watching him as he slept, already so in love with him that he hadn't been able to hide it, drawing him furtively in the night, pouring all of his love into a sketch that he hadn't thought Brian would ever see because it hadn't been about displaying his talent, it'd been about expressing his feelings in the way most natural to him: to draw the object of his affection. He remembered buying it, not quite sure why, just knowing that he had to have it. He'd told himself that he was doing it because he was vain, because it was a good likeness but that hadn't been the real reason. The real reason had been something that he hadn't been able to face, to articulate, still couldn't. Except that he'd responded to a need deep inside him, almost unconsciously. Even now, he still didn't know why he'd purchased it, only that the drawing was a part of it, a part of the bond that held them together.
"You okay?" Justin asked, a little frown between his brows.
"Yeah." He pushed back from the table. "We gotta go, don't we?"
Justin checked his watch. "Shit."
Whereas wandering through the other museums this weekend had been like exploring a foreign country, being in the National Gallery was like rediscovering the place where you lived. The works were at once familiar even to someone who wouldn't necessarily consider themselves well-versed in art. These were the biggies, the ones that had entered pop culture. "Hey," Brian said, pointing to the painting "Bacchus and Ariadne", "They used that on the Crash Test Dummies album cover."
"You like the Crash Test Dummies?"
He shrugged. "They're okay."
Which meant yes. Justin shook his head. Brian would never change. Which was fine with him.
Standing in front of Carravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" Justin asked, "Did you know he was gay?"
"I saw a film about him. Weird. But good."
"A while back. I was fucking this guy who was into art and shit. He had a hard-on for the director. A writer." Graham. And his porno novels. He smiled. Guy had had some imagination.
"Thought you never did the same guy twice?"
Instead of answering, Brian sauntered onwards. Wasn't good to have Justin know everything about his past. A little mystery was good.
Walking through the East Wing Justin exclaimed, "How many paintings did Turner do?" because the National Gallery had a handful too in addition to the ones at the Tate. They all displayed Turner's fascination with light.
They saw Van Gogh's "Sunflowers"--"I'm not cutting off my ear for you," Brian told Justin.--and paintings by Seurat and talked about Stephen Sondheim's musical, Sunday in the Park with George.
"Never saw it," Justin said, "but my mom has the cast recording. It's good. But I like Into the Woods better."
Cause we saw it together, Brian mused to himself. That had been a good night.
Before heading to lunch, they walked around Trafalgar Square and Brian took pictures of Justin standing at the base.
"Let me take one of you."
"No, I want to," Justin insisted so Brian surrendered the camera and posed while Justin took a couple shots of him and hoped the teen hadn't cut off his head. Truthfully, he was anxious to get to the restaurant, Asia de Cuba. It was located in the St. Martins Lane Hotel which was owned by Ian Schrager and had been designed by Phillippe Starck. He would have loved to have stayed in the hotel but he had sensed that Justin preferred something quieter, more romantic, and he had to admit that it was nice to leave the hubbub at night and return to the quiet and serenity of the Montague.
Walking through the revolving doors of the hotel, Justin could see why Brian had been excited about coming here. It reminded him of the loft: minimalist and tasteful. But, somehow, he liked their hotel better. The Montague felt like real people stayed there, people who ate Cheerios and played video games and liked watching television, whereas the St. Martins Lane felt like the people who stayed there probably were on television. The beautiful people. Brian's kind of people. Sometimes it amazed him that they had ever gotten together when they hadn't had anything in common. Or so it had seemed. Over the years he'd begun to realize that they did have things in common or, maybe, they were growing together, changing their tastes in subtle ways to fit one another. He actually loved the loft even though it was nothing like any place he'd ever imagined himself living in. It was beautiful. This hotel was beautiful. He wondered what was going to happen when he and Brian went looking for a new place to live. The loft was rapidly becoming too small to hold them and all their stuff. Plus, Gus was growing up and, eventually, he'd be too big to share their bed. They needed a bigger place. Looking around at the walls painted in cool, muted tones and the hip, artsy furniture that populated the hotel, Justin tried to imagine what their house would look like, tried to imagine himself living in a place like this. Oh well, it wasn't like they were moving tomorrow.
Although they were eating in the main dining room, Brian got the maitre d' to show them the Backroom, an all white marble room with a one of a kind Starck-designed crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. "Beautiful," he pronounced it and returned to the dining room quite content.
Justin noticed that Starck had a thing for blue neon too. Maybe because
it was soothing. The food was interesting. He refused to eat the tuna
tartare but he did eat the wonton crisps that came with it, dipping them
in the lime vinaigrette. The beef spring rolls were delicious as were the
shrimp satay. The calamari salad was, as Daphne would have said, 'to die
for' as was dessert: banana and chocolate mousses with a caramel sauce.
"We should have come here last night for dinner," he told Brian and the
man agreed, both of them imagining how good the pot roasted pork with a
honey and rum glaze would have tasted or the seabass stuffed with crab.
But the view at the Savoy had been unbeatable. And they imagined that it
would have been loud and crowded at Asia de Cuba whereas they had been
able to carry on a private conversation at the River Restaurant while
looking out at the Thames.
Having walked from the restaurant to get rid of the full feeling from lunch, they set out to explore Covent Garden Market, especially the Apple Market and Jubilee Market where small, independent sellers marketed their wares. Although most of the activity took place Tuesday through Sunday and the stalls that sold arts and crafts were closed on Monday, the antique stalls were open as were the ones selling assorted bric-a-brac.
Justin stopped at one that sold vintage clothing and picked up a brightly colored scarf. Nana Rose would love it and it'd go perfectly with some of her stuff. He could just see her with it on, preening for all to see. He smiled and ran his fingers over the cloth.
"That's colorful," Brian said of it. "Your mom?"
"No." Too late he realized that he'd have to tell Brian the truth and he didn't have any idea how he'd take it.
"Deb?" Although it wasn't really her style. Too tame.
"Nope." He tried to keep it light, hoped Brian would leave it alone but he knew that he wouldn't.
Brian laughed. "Not Lindsay or Mel?"
"Uh-uh." Brian, let it go.
"I know! Daphne," he said, pleased that he'd finally guessed correctly although they were running out of women that they both knew anyway. Rennie would never wear anything like that and Molly was too young. His mom was out of the question: she'd spontaneously combust.
"No," replied Justin, in a slightly subdued tone.
What had started out as idle curiosity and progressed into a game had now become something else and Brian wasn't sure if he wanted to continue. But he'd come this far. "Then who?"
Justin paused, with the cloth in his hand. "Nana Rose."
"Oh." He took a step towards another stall and stopped, uncertain as to what to do or say.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?"
He attempted to shrug it off. "Why should I care?"
But Justin noticed that he hadn't denied it. "Brian—"
"It doesn't matter." He took a deep breath and stopped. Justin neared him. The woman running the stall seemed to be doing her best not to overhear their conversation although she was less than five feet away. They should have gone outside—should have just dropped it but he couldn't. He'd promised Drew, promised Justin that they would talk things out and he didn't know if his courage would hold out if they had to walk outside because he was afraid, scared to death of unraveling what they had worked so hard to piece back together. Looking away from Justin, he said, "I know that it shouldn't bother me… but it does. Why should I care about you buying something for a woman who's old enough to be your fuckin grandmother? I shouldn't. I don't. Except…" Fuck. He did not want to get into this right now. "I feel like… like it's not really about her, that it's really just a way for you to hold onto Xavier."
Justin felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. "Brian—" It wasn't fair, that wasn't what he was doing. Ordinarily, it would have been hard to keep his voice down, to speak in a normal tone but he was so tired that it wasn't a problem. "I don't know what else I can do. I don't know why you won't believe me. I keep telling you that it's over, that it's done with and you keep calling me a liar."
"What more do you want from me? What can I do to prove to you that I love you?" He blinked a couple of times to keep them away but the tears came anyway because it was so not fair, he just— "I'm so tired… of all of this. I just…" and he walked off, his words trailing behind him because he couldn't continue the conversation, he just couldn't.
Left alone, Brian didn't dare look after him. Or follow. He stood, lost in indecision, trapped by a helplessness that was all to familiar. Christ. What the fuck was he doing? Hearing a sound behind him, he half-turned, caught the stall's owner ducking her head, trying to look away from him. She'd probably heard every word. "I'm sorry," he said. "Can't be good for business."
"What?" she asked smiling. "Two gorgeous men hanging around my place?"
He would have returned her smile if he could. "Us. Arguing." Absentmindedly he rubbed his ring. "All we seem to do anymore."
"You must really love each other then."
That made him laugh. "Why? Because we fight like cats and dogs?"
"You wouldn't, otherwise," she explained.
Moving closer to her table, he asked, "So that's what couples do? Argue all the time?"
"The ones that love each other. If you didn't care, you wouldn't bother to fight."
He shook his head. "Here I was hoping one day we'd get it right, one day we'd stop." As he debated mentally whether or not he should go after Justin, he thought of the drawing the teenager had given him. Removed it from his pocket and looked at it, forgetting he wasn't alone.
The owner peered over his arm. "He draw that?"
"He's in art school."
"Back in the States."
"Ah." Giving the drawing another look, she went back to the booth and busied herself with refolding the scarf Justin had been admiring. "You going to go after him?" He turned and she waved a hand. "Sorry. None of my business."
"No," he replied, "it's okay. Your stall."
Pausing, she asked, "Well?"
"He's been through so much shit with me. Because of me." Studied the picture. "Things he never should have had to deal with. I know it's not fair. And it's not worth it either. I'm not worth it."
"I'd wager he doesn't feel that way."
"Yeah, he does. He just won't say it. Because he thinks I'm not strong enough to hear it."
The woman shook her head. "He knows how strong you are. You can see it in that drawing." She gestured to it. "Look at it. Tell me you don't see it."
So he looked, really studied the drawing, seeing nothing and, just as he was about to tell her so, he saw it, the strength implied in his posture, in his features, a strength Justin saw in him, that he depended on. "He shouldn't," he said half to himself.
"But he does." A mischievous look lit up her face. "So? What are you going to do?"
And she reminded him so much of Deb at that moment that he chuckled. "You've got a twin in Pittsburgh."
"Everyone does somewhere, they say."
He lifted the scarf. "How much?"
"Even trade. It for the sketch." But he shook his head. "Didn't think so. Twenty-five quid."
Figuring that Justin had probably left the market altogether, Brian went outside and found him sitting on a bench as far from the other shoppers as possible. He could tell, when Justin looked up at his arrival, that he'd been crying. And why not? He'd felt like crying himself. Brian sat next to him and held out the bag with the scarf inside. "Here."
"I don't want it."
"It's not for you. It's for Nana Rose."
With very little grace, Justin took the bag and stuffed it into his backpack.
Brian watched the traffic in and out of the market for a while before speaking. "I'm sorry."
"You always say that."
"And I always mean it."
"I—" Helplessly, "Brian…"
He sniffled. Thumbed his eyes. He couldn't cry here, not in front of all these fucking people, not on their fucking vacation, their honeymoon as they jokingly (and not so jokingly) called it. He grimaced and took out the drawing once more. Handed it to Justin. "I can't be that person all the time," he explained. "I can't always be strong or know what to do."
"I've never asked you to," Justin countered.
"Sometimes, I get scared, Justin."
"I get scared too."
"I know, baby."
"Sometimes, I just need you to understand and… it hurts when you don't because I don't know how to explain it, what I feel—" Because you should know. You're part of me and you should know. But you don't.
Brian took the teen into his arms and held him close. "I know how you feel," he told him. Whispered in his ear, struggling to breathe through a throat that had suddenly constricted, "You're my life. Don't you know that?"
Leaning his forehead against Brian's shoulder, Justin tightened his hold on the man.
"You're crushing my picture," Brian said and they parted, Justin snickering a little.
"That's me. And you love me, don't you?" Justin handed him the sketch and stood up, preparing to leave him on the bench. But Brian caught hold of the back of his shirt and kept him from going very far. "Don’t you?"
Justin leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips.
Before they left the area, they stopped in front of St. Paul's Church
and watched the street performers. There was a young violin player
serenading the crowd, his dark hair falling over into his eyes. Brian
tossed a couple of pounds into his case but Justin tugged on his lover's
arm and whispered as they left, "I hate violin music."
"You're not ordering the kangaroo?" Justin asked begging Brian with his eyes not to.
"I've never had it."
"It's quite good," said the waiter.
"Don't tell him that."
Brian rolled his eyes. He'd never hear the end of it if he ordered the kangaroo because every time they ate together Justin would remember it—and they had way too many meals left in this lifetime to have together. "I've changed my mind. I'll have the seared scallops."
Breathing easier, Justin ordered an appetizer as well. "The avacado and spring vegetable rice paper roll, please."
"Very good," the waiter replied and he went away to get their starters while they mused over the main courses.
"I bet Gus is gonna love his new teddy bear."
Brian grunted. "He'd better. You'd think it was made of gold instead of flammable materials."
"But I don't think it'll take Beh's place."
Grinning, Brian said, "Did you know Lindsay had his leathers cleaned?"
Justin laughed. "No way."
"I wonder what the dry cleaners thought when they got the chaps?"
"And the harness."
"She got shoe leather polish for that."
"You gonna wait until his birthday to give him the new bear?"
"And not have a new toy for him when we get back?"
"You ever have partridge?" Brian shook his head. "I think he'll be so glad to see us he won't care about any old toy." He closed the menu. "I think I'm gonna get the partridge."
"Oh, you can eat partridge in a pear tree but I can't have kangaroo?"
Ignoring him, Justin looked around. Not as cool in tone as Asia de Cuba, the Sugar Club seemed to strike just the right balance between being hip and being inviting. There was a warmth about it that made him feel comfortable whereas Asia de Cuba had made him aware of his every flaw. Still, the food had been good.
Brian sipped on his cocktail and watched his partner people-watch. Thought about the episode they'd had at the Apple Market, proof that they still had a ways to go before they'd completely healed the rift between them. Which was what Drew had told him before he left Pittsburgh. "Don't expect everything to be hunky dory just because you're on vacation." "Hunky dory?" "Shut up and listen to what I'm saying." "I am listening." And he had been. Glancing up as the waiter reappeared, he answered, in response to his query, "The grilled fillet steak. Rare."
"I'll have the partridge," Justin told him and the waiter went away again. "He's cute."
"Uh-huh," replied Brian, preparing to taste the scallops to see if they were as juicy as they looked.
"But not as cute as you." He waited for Brian to look up and when he did, he smiled.
"Eat your food and stop flirting with me."
"Is it working?"
"Ask me later."
With a devious laugh, Justin stuffed one of the spring rolls in his mouth.
"What technique," observed Brian, in awe of the teen's ability.
"It was just a little one," he explained and they both nearly spit out
their food giggling.
Tumbling out into the late night air, having had many glasses of wine apiece, the two raved about the fabulous food they'd had that day and decided to walk for a while to try and burn off some calories—before they got back to the room, that is—and to clear their heads.
As they passed the movie theatres in Leicester Square, Brian asked if Justin wanted to go in and see a flick.
"Nope." He headed for the park. "Let's just hang out. Okay?"
"Whatever," Brian replied and followed.
Somewhere someone was playing The Counting Crows and Justin bopped across the street, head keeping rhythm with the music. By the time they reached the fountain, he was openly dancing. Arms up over his head, Justin snapped his fingers to the beat and bounced the way he did on the dance floor at Babylon. Brian smiled and resisted any attempts by the teen to get him to dance with him.
"Into the greater grey that covers over every day …" 3
"Come on," Justin said and Brian relented because he was irresistible, he was like the Pied Piper, and the night seemed magical even though it was nothing like the fairy tales. Laughing, they danced around the fountain, Justin leading the way and Brian trying to keep up.
"I've been up all night/ I might sleep all day/ Get your dreams just right/ Then let 'em slip away/ I might sleep all day…./ Oh, it's too late to get high now…"
Brian's hands on Justin's waist, they danced heedless of the people
around them and then they realized that they weren't dancing alone. The
Piper had cast his spell. "Oh, it's too late to get high now…" A
girl and her boyfriend had joined them and then a couple of girls giggled
and began dancing too while a few more people looked on longingly. "I
said, baby, nah, nah, nah/ I said, baby, nah, nah, nah, it's too late…"
In the end, eight of them danced as the song faded away, having shed
their inhibitions, reveling in the freedom to enjoy the music, the night,
and just being alive. "All I wanna do is get high./ Nah, nah, nah,
nah, nah/ Oh, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, it's too late./ Oh…"
Still laughing as they got to the hotel, they danced through the lobby and up to their room, no doubt scandalizing the staff. They could just imagine the people at the front desk saying to themselves, "Americans." But it didn't matter because it was late in the evening and there was champagne on its way up and they didn't have to get up early tomorrow because the museum was right across the street…
"Did you see them?" Justin asked of the other dancers as they burst through the door, kissing, laughing, heading for the bed, not sure if they'd make it.
"I bet they'll never forget it," he said, sliding off his pants.
Brian caught him around the waist and kissed him. "Me neither."
And if either of them noticed the similarity of their words to the ones they'd spoken the night of the prom, they didn't mention it and it didn't mar the moment. They'd reclaimed some of the happiness of that night.
We were like children
The gentle touch of lips upon lips, a quick intake of breath, a kiss. A kiss to awaken sleeping royalty, to break enchantments, to seal promises. But the only thorny barrier he'd breached was his own heart, his own fears and doubts. And no slumbering damsel in distress had awaited him, but a beauty nonetheless who hadn't needed rescuing; in truth, it had been the savior who'd needed saving.
"I love you," he whispered before kissing Justin again.
"Brian…" It was all he could manage to say. They'd been kissing for what seemed like a hundred years. Lips swollen, eyes bright, limbs heavy, the air scented with sex even though they'd only been kissing.
"I love you," he said again before their lips met once more and Justin moaned into his mouth and clutched his back. Pulling away, Brian lay next to him, trying to catch his breath, to slow things down, but the sight of Justin's bee-stung lips drew him back and he leaned over and caught them between his own.
He cried out and returned the kiss, then turned aside his head to speak. "I… I…"
Brian slid his hand down his lover's body, knowing what he needed, what
the teen wanted but couldn't find the words to ask for, entangled as he
was in kisses.
Like they had in the park, they danced together, joined so intimately that it was difficult to remember that they were two separate people instead of two parts of one whole. Brian, head bowed over Justin's chest, felt his lover stir inside him, felt a cry bubble up within his belly. Releasing it, he panted, rocked back and forth and cried out again. Justin was deep inside him, lodged against his prostate and each jabbing motion sent flares off inside his head until he was blinded. Sightless, he followed Justin's lead, tears streaming down his face. Justin had saved him and he didn't need to see where he was headed to know it was where he wanted to go.
I see your sweet smile
Lying with his head on Justin's chest, listening to the beat of his heart, Brian felt as if he were hearing his own. Hand around his lover's slender torso, he held him gently, the teen more precious to him than anything else in the world. "I love you," he breathed against Justin's skin.
"I love you too," his partner replied, running his fingers over his lips and receiving a kiss.
Slowly, they drifted off to sleep, dreams entwined like thorny hedges, protecting them as they slept.
I saw your sweet smile
Before departing on another day of sightseeing, they left their laundry and dry cleaning with the hotel staff. Brian only grumbled a little about the necessity of doing so since they hadn't brought an endless supply of clothes. Truthfully, the only people who'd ever know or notice would be themselves.
Crossing the street and walking around the corner to the main entrance, Justin paused at the bottom of the steps and exhaled noisily. "Whew. That took forever, I thought we'd never get here."
Brian walked forward and tugged on his shirt, pulling him onwards.
There was so much to see at the British Museum that they'd decided ahead of time to only look at the things they were really interested in. First up was the Queen of Sheba exhibition since it was a special show and neither one of them had any idea where Sheba was supposed to have been.
"Yemen?" Brian asked once they saw the title of the exhibit. "Where the fuck is Yemen?"
"Let me read the program," Justin told him and quickly scanned the first paragraph. "Somewhere near Saudi Arabia."
Of course, as usual, Justin was most interested in the artwork, the different ways in which the Queen of Sheba's visit to see King Solomon had been depicted. He liked the painting by Poynter the best, especially Solomon's throne which featured twelve golden lions along the steps leading up to a seat beneath a canopy. Reading the program, which talked about a film with Yul Brynner as Solomon, Justin asked, "You ever see that?"
Brian shook his head. "But my mom watched The Ten Commandments every year and every year I wanted Ramses to win. Yul Brynner was so hot." He leaned in and whispered, "Besides, I think he and Moses had a thing going on." He moaned, "Moses, Moses, Moses," in imitation of Ramses' seductive tones.
Laughing, Justin waved him away. "You are going to get struck by lightning."
"Now I bet that's a fuckin orgasm you wouldn't forget."
They also visited the Museum's collection of Egyptian artifacts, the largest outside of Egypt.
"You mean they left them something when they finished looting the place?" Brian asked.
Walking around the various mummies on exhibit, Justin said, "Oded Fehr was pretty hot in The Mummy."
"Eminently fuckable," Brian pronounced.
They both giggled at a pottery wine jar with a mud stopper that looked more than a little phallic. "Ancient Egyptian butt plug," Justin said and they had to leave the room.
From that moment on, everything seemed to have a sexual connotation, especially the Shiva linga which actually were phallic symbols. They nearly split their sides when they read that during worship services, the linga were bathed in milk, yogurt and honey and adorned with flowers.
"Like ice cream," Justin said, reminding Brian of the time they'd fucked on the chaise lounge and he'd spread ice cream over Brian's dick and sucked him clean.
Finally, they found a corner and sat down and just laughed until they'd gotten it out of their systems. "Maybe," Brian suggested, "we should go back to the room and fuck until lunch."
Justin shook his head. "Tonight."
So they managed to put a lid on their laughter long enough to finish their abbreviated tour of the Museum.
"It's cool," Justin said, "but way too big to do in a day." They'd been in there almost three hours and felt like they couldn't look at another thing. Their brains and eyes were on visual overload. "Let's go eat."
Brian had made lunch reservations at Tamarind, this Michelin star Indian restaurant in Mayfair, not too terribly far from Bond Street, their destination that afternoon. As with all of the other places they'd eaten, the meal was superb.
"I don't know why people complain about British food," Justin said.
"Because it used to suck," Brian replied. "We just came at a good time and we're lucky that we can afford to eat at all the best places. I can't imagine what it's like having to eat fish and chips at every other meal." Yeah, I do. Kinda like eating at the diner.
Justin, who was hoping to grab some before they left London, nodded and said nothing. As is they had fish curry and amazing pan-fried potatoes with mustard seeds and curry leaves which was pretty close and without a doubt a lot better than fish and chips.
As they headed back to the tube to go up to Bond Street, Justin said casually, "You know, since we're going to Milan and Paris what's the point in shopping at Prada in London?"
Brian inhaled, then exhaled slowly, and said wearily, knowing Justin had some other plan, "What?"
"We could go to Notting Hill instead."
"Come on," he pleaded. "We can have ice cream when we get back to the room tonight."
Growling a little, Brian relented. "Fine. But if I leave Europe without a new suit and a new pair of shoes…"
"Come on, Pookie."
Brian stopped in his tracks. "What!?"
"Nothing." He kept walking. Shit, that had just slipped out.
Catching up with Justin, Brian asked, "What did you just call me?"
Caught, Justin admitted shyly, "Pookie."
"Oh, no," Brian said, shaking his head. "No fucking way."
"I like it."
"Uh-uh. I do not do nicknames."
"I'm sorry, I have to put up with the Boy Wonder, Sunshine, Little Boy, Baby, and Pooh. It's a wonder anyone knows what my real name is."
"So, you can be Pookie."
"Not if you want to live to see twenty." Discussion over, he strode ahead.
Justin's lips twisted in a grin. We'll see.
Portobello Road was just as he'd imagined. Definitely a lot of upscale places but just enough funky spots to keep it interesting. There was this amazing record store that have everything. The clerk said that they would stock anyone's CD, no matter who it was. Justin picked up a couple of club mixes that no one back home would have. Continuing down the street, he spotted a fish and chips place. "Can I?"
"It's your funeral," Brian said, knowing that not much actually seemed to upset Justin's stomach or his appetite. Crazy-assed metabolism and an iron gut. Brian shook his head and went inside with the teen although he refused to buy anything for himself.
Paying for his order, Justin paused to douse the fish with vinegar and then went out into the street smiling, Brian trailing behind him and wondering if he'd ever get the stench of the store out of his nostrils. They had eaten in Michelin star restaurants and Justin acted as if the fish and chips were the best things he'd eaten in London.
They stopped in a tattoo studio and Justin mused over their gallery of designs. "What do you think about me getting a tattoo?"
"I think the nipple ring is enough," Brian said, vague images of Xavier disturbing him.
"You've got one," Justin pointed out.
"Yeah, well, we all make mistakes. You should learn from mine, not repeat 'em."
Stopping in at one of the coffee bars on the street (Not fucking Starbucks even though there was one), Brian got a grande mocha and dared Justin to say anything with fish and chips crumbs still clinging to his chin.
They browsed around this really hip urban clothing store called Griffin and Justin just had to have a pair of pale blue-checked jeans that he said he couldn't live without. Saying nothing, and thinking of his new Italian suit, Brian stood watching the street while Justin paid for his purchase.
Although they went in Books for Cooks, Justin didn't buy anything, saying he could find pretty good cook books at home. He did think it was cool that they had a test kitchen in the back and they cooked food from the books the store stocked. They had even published five tiny cookbooks of their favorite recipes. Knowing that he really wanted them, Brian bought them saying their new kitchen would have something unique in it.
"What new kitchen?" Justin asked.
"Hurry up," replied Brian.
Shopping done in Notting Hill, they caught the tube and got off on Bond Street. "Just to see," said Brian and, true to his word, he didn't buy anything, just window-shopped although Justin caught him looking longingly inside the Prada store.
"We'll be in Milan before you know it," he promised.
It was almost six when they arrived back at the hotel. The staff had returned their clothes, neatly folded or hung on hangers which they quickly discarded. Having missed his work-out that morning, Brian decided to get in a quick half hour on the treadmill. For once, Justin didn't try to persuade him to do otherwise. When Brian voiced suspicion, Justin replied, "I haven't written in my journal in a long time." Curiosity still aroused, Brian departed.
True to his word, Justin did write in his journal. After making one quick phone call downstairs to the front desk and then another to the number they'd given him.
London is fabulous. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a city like this. The restaurants, the art. Although, if I lived here I probably wouldn't do half as much because it's different when you live somewhere. I can't explain it, I just know that's how it is. Xavier said the same thing about D.C.
He paused and wondered if he should strike that last part out but Brian had never read his journal, not once, so it was as if he'd only said it to himself.
Things were going really great between me and Brian until I decided
to buy a present for Nana Rose. It really upset him and I guess I should
have known better but she didn't do anything and Brian actually talked to
her at the show so I figured it was okay to get her something. It's not
like I was buying something for Xavier. But he freaked out. Not like
screaming and stuff but you could tell that he was really hurt. And then I
got mad at him because it isn't fair that I get blamed for everything,
that I can't do anything right. I just want us to be okay. Why is that so
Anyway, we worked things out. For now. But I don’t know for how long.
We always seem to fuck things up somehow, without ever meaning to. It's a
gift, I suppose. But we always seem to find a way to fix things too. I
don’t know what I'd do if one day we couldn't. We almost didn't after
Xavier. It still scares me, how close we came to losing everything. I
never told Brian but I think that
Anyway, we worked things out. For now. But I don’t know for how long. We always seem to fuck things up somehow, without ever meaning to. It's a gift, I suppose. But we always seem to find a way to fix things too. I don’t know what I'd do if one day we couldn't. We almost didn't after Xavier. It still scares me, how close we came to losing everything. I never told Brian but I think that
He hesitated to even write it down. He hadn't even admitted as much to Daphne although he was sure she'd known, had pieced it together from what he'd told her. Not wanting to but needing to, he continued to write.
if he had killed himself, I would have too. I can't imagine my life without him. As angry as he makes me and as many times as he's hurt me, there's no one else I want to be with. I love him.
Justin closed the journal; there was nothing else to say. When Brian returned to the room a few moments later, he was still holding it.
Idly, he asked, "What do you write in that thing?" Shucked his gym shorts and jock.
"Don't you know?"
"If you want me to know something, you'll tell me," he replied and it was only what Justin had already known, that he'd never read the teen's journal.
"Things I do—"
"That oughta fill about a hundred of those things every week."
He stuck out his tongue. "Things about you…"
Brian groaned. "And here I was thinking I was so clever cause I never wrote anything down."
"That I love you," he said simply and Brian smiled softly and kissed him on his way to take a shower.
Tossing the journal on the night table, Justin followed.
As the waiter showed them to their table and Brian informed him that they were having one of the set seven-course 'grazing' meals, Justin suddenly wished he hadn't had fish and chips that afternoon. Still, the portions were supposed to be smaller than normal to accommodate the number of courses. He could only not eat everything, where was the crime in that?
Not able to stomach eating veal, Justin opted for the rack of lamb and tried to put visions of curly-haired sheep frolicking in the fields out of his mind.
Even though the wood-paneled restaurant looked like a traditional British establishment, the air in the room was anything but stodgy. And the tables were set far enough apart that Brian and Justin could talk in private without fear of being overheard. Taking the teen's hand in his, Brian stroked his fingers. "So, did you enjoy London?"
"I love it." Despite the ever-present crowds of people and the fact that everything was grossly overpriced, he did. "I wish we could stay longer."
Brian smiled. "And you'll say the same thing about Italy and Spain and France."
"And it'll be true." He smiled. "But it doesn't matter, as long as we're together. We could be anywhere, even Pittsburgh."
"Food wouldn’t be this good in Pittsburgh."
"I wish Pittsburgh were more like London."
"If Pittsburgh were more like London, we would have never met," Brian pointed out quite reasonably.
"I think we would have. It was destiny."
Brian groaned. "You and your destiny crap. I knew I shouldn't have let you watch that fuckin film."
Serendipity, that's what they'd rented and watched one Friday night and Brian had never let him forget how bad it was. He entwined his fingers with Brian's. "What did you like best about London?"
He thought about it, then said, "Taking that bath together." He had felt so close to Justin, surrounded by silence, the only sounds the dripping water from the faucet and their breathing.
Glancing shyly up at Brian, Justin said, "Me too."
And Brian laughed. "We couldn't have done that at home."
Taking the opportunity the comment afforded him, Justin asked, "You're really thinking about selling the loft and getting a bigger place?"
Brian shrugged. "Maybe."
"Next year probably. If I'm made partner." The waiter returned with their soup, cream of asparagus with smoked salmon and parmesan cheese, then poured the wine the sommelier had chosen to go with that course. As had been suggested, they'd given him a budget for wine and put themselves in his legendary hands.
"And if you're not?" Justin asked before taking a sip of his soup and forgetting what he'd asked. It was exquisite.
"Then we'll have to wait or hope that I get a bundle for the loft."
"We could always get a small house," Justin suggested, knowing that Brian probably had visions of some stately manor in his head when they didn't need anything that fancy.
"Which would only be a step up from the loft. There's no point in moving if we don't move someplace spectacular," he said, grinning, knowing what Justin was probably thinking, that Brian just wanted some showy place just because. But it'd be a good investment in addition to solving their space problem.
"I wish I could get a real job and help. But with school…" he began.
"Don't worry. With what it's probably going to cost, you'll be making mortgage payments on it long after I'm gone."
"Don't say that," Justin snapped.
"It was just a joke."
Where had that come from? Quietly, he finished his soup and drank the rest of his wine.
That Justin was angry, Brian had no doubt. It had come up so quickly, out of nowhere that it took him a moment to get his bearings. "Justin."
He looked up. "I didn't mean…"
"I know. It wasn't funny. I'm sorry." At that moment, breaking the tension, the waiter returned and cleared away their bowls and glasses in preparation for the next course.
Three courses later, having consumed tomato and crab open ravioli,
roasted foie gras, and sea scallops, they began the main course: rack of
lamb with tartlets of wild mushrooms, truffles, and onion puree. As with
the other courses, the food was magnificent and the wine sublime. They
were almost sorry they hadn't gone for the nine course meal instead. But
there was still the cheese course to go and dessert. And the night
wouldn't be over once they left the restaurant.
Since they'd dumped their earlier plans to visit the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, they rode the tube to Victoria station and took a walking tour of the area instead. Arm and arm they paused by the Royal Mews where the horses that pulled the royal carriages were stabled; sauntered by the gates of the palace and waved at the guards; walked past the Queen Victoria Memorial; and around the edge of Green Park up Queen's Walk until they were back at the Green Park station.
As they rode past the other stops on the line, they said a fond farewell to the places they'd explored: Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden.
Coming out of the Russell Square station, they strolled around the Russell Square Gardens, making their way leisurely to the Montague.
"You know," Justin said, "I wouldn't mind having a flower garden."
"You'd work in it yourself?"
"Might be relaxing."
"Mmm," Brian replied, noncommittally.
Inside their room, they checked their papers and made sure they had all of their tax free VAT checks for the purchases they'd made so they could get them stamped by Customs before turning them in for a refund. Although they'd meant to mail their purchases from London, they figured it'd be just as easy to do from Italy. And they probably wouldn't take up much room in their suitcases. Of course, the real test would come tomorrow when everything went back inside.
Since they hadn't called them any of the previous nights, they rang up Joanie and Deb, talking to each of them only a few minutes and promising a longer call once they reached Rome. Joanie couldn’t wait to hear all about the Vatican. "And behave yourself," she told her son although she knew he probably wasn't paying any attention to her.
"I promise," he said and smiled and hung up. It felt good being able to talk to her again. As long as they didn't get too sweet about it. There was entirely too much sweetness around already. Looking over at Justin, wondering how late they'd be up making love, he heard someone at the door. Frowned. Who the fuck could that be? Since Justin was making no move towards answering the door, he snatched up his robe and tied it snugly about his waist. That was one lesson he'd learned in the Bahamas to Justin's great relief. And the hotel staff's. Opening the door, he was confronted with a man bearing a bouquet of fiery yellow and orange bi-colored roses.
"Hope you enjoy, sir."
"Thanks." He went to get his wallet to tip the guy but he'd already gone. Closing the door, he shrugged.
Justin sat up in bed. "Those are beautiful. What's the card say?"
Head cocked to the side, Brian replied, "As if you didn't know."
Denying nothing, Justin said, "Read it."
Lips curled in a tiny smile, Brian removed and opened the card. Read silently. Rolled his eyes and debated what to do. To Pookie, with love, Pooh. Turned towards the bed.
Justin crooked a finger at him.
What the fuck, he thought resignedly, Pookie it was. Brian set the flowers on the nightstand, then dropped onto the bed next to Justin. But. "If you ever tell anyone about Pookie, I'll never fuck you again," he threatened.
Sliding Brian's robe from his shoulders, the older man already
shivering in anticipation, Justin nodded. Uh-huh. Whatever…
They lay arms and legs about one another, Justin's head in the hollow of Brian's throat. While Justin began to drift off, Brian's mind labored.
Although it would have been easier to say nothing, it'd been bothering him for a few days now, every since Michael had mentioned the possibility, skulking around the edge of his conscious thoughts, haunting him until, at last, he felt he had to say something. Moving apart from Justin, he propped himself up on one arm. "Justin?"
"Mmm?" came the fuzzy response.
He knew that if he were to say, "Nothing," there was a good chance Justin would fall asleep and not bother to pursue it but an even greater chance that he would not rest until he'd ferreted out the as yet unasked question. Still, it wasn't easy to continue. After a moment, he spoke. "If I had gone through with it... what would you have done?"
From a warm and tender moment, the mood shifted, instantly. Justin tensed, then tried to relax but couldn't. There was no pretending that he didn't know exactly what Brian was alluding to. Yet, he couldn't reply, not immediately. And, in that, Brian had his answer.
He looked up at his lover. "But you didn't," he said, hoping that would be enough, knowing it wouldn't be. Although he'd admitted it in his journal, he didn't want to do so to Brian and that disturbed him because if he couldn't confide in Brian, what did that mean for their relationship?
"I didn't think," Brian confessed. "I just wanted it to stop. The dreams, the fear... And after I... After you were hurt, everything fell apart and I just wanted the pain to end and I..." He didn't want to say it. "I thought you'd be better off without me. But I didn't think that you'd do it too."
Indignant, he asked, "Why not? You didn't think I was strong enough? You could do it but not me?" But what the anger hid was the belief that Brian hadn't thought of him at all, hadn't cared what would happen to him. Only, he knew that wasn't true.
Brian grabbed Justin's wrist. "You're stronger than I am. Baby," he began, then paused, released Justin. "Baby, if I had thought for a moment that you would hurt yourself..." Brian took a breath. "I would never have--" He looked away, ashamed of having been weak, of having been so foolish.
Softly, Justin said, "I would have killed myself too," and Brian wrapped his arms around him and held him, afraid even now that he might lose the teen. "There's nothing for me without you."
Brian trembled, then steeled himself and peered into Justin's face. "I believe in you. More than I ever have in myself. More than I ever have in anyone. You give me hope, that there's something better in the world than tricking, and clubs, and drugs." Quietly, he confessed, "You almost make me believe that the world is a good place, and worth fighting for." They both knew the reference, Morgan Freeman's character in Seven says it at the end of the movie, and Brian smiled even though his eyes were shiny. "I want Gus to study you in school, I want to walk through a museum someday and see your stuff on the walls, go to your retrospective at the Met."
Justin, whose throat had gone tight, said, "That means you have to live too." There, there was the fear beneath it all, that Brian hadn't given up on the idea of dying, that it'd only been postponed. Worse, Justin had felt that everything he did wrong was just one more push, one more nudge.
"I plan to. A good long time." He added, to lighten the mood, "And never grow old."
Playing along, Justin told him, "I think you'd look distinguished with grey hair," and Brian made a sign against evil. "Besides, if you never grew old, what would people think?"
"That I had a portrait in the attic somewhere that was getting older for me," he answered. Like Dorian Grey. Settling down again, Brian laid his head upon Justin's chest and felt his lover's arms slide around his back. "I love you," he said, amazed that for a long time he'd refused to say it at all when now he couldn't say it enough. Afraid that by saying so, he was giving a part of himself away, not understanding that he was getting much more in return. He understood that now. And the words gave him strength, as much as they sheltered and protected Justin.
"I love you," the teenager replied. There was nothing else.
Leaning out of the front door to pick up their complementary copy of The London Times, Brian came face-to-face with their next-door-neighbor, a fairly athletic-looking man in his early forties. Not bad. "Hey," he said, the first time they'd ever spoken although he'd seen the man around the hotel.
"You're quite energetic," he said with a grin. "I salute you, sir."
Confused, Brian frowned.
"You and your lover, you seem to get quite a workout most nights."
Laughing, Brian tipped his paper at him and retreated back inside.
"Who were you talking to?"
"Guy next door." He tossed the paper on the bed. "Seems he's heard us fucking."
Groaning, Justin asked, "Who hasn't?" He still couldn't speak to the building superintendent back home without blushing.
Pouring a cup of the coffee they'd made themselves, Brian said, "Think of it as spreading a little joy throughout the world, one fuck at a time. Goodwill ambassadors. That's us."
Brian laughed. Even better.
They got to the airport hours before their flight was due to leave remembering the routine at Customs and, as before, the agents were very thorough and Justin grumbled as he tried to put their bags back into some semblance of order. That done, they picked up a couple of pastries from an airport shop, paying a king's ransom for them, and sat down at their gate to await the departure of their flight. As other flights arrived and people flooded into the airport to start their visits to London, they each felt a little sad. Still, they'd had their time here and now they were off on yet another adventure. There was no room, no need for regrets or sadness. Mouths sticky, they shared a buttery kiss.
"Ready for Italy?"
"Yep." He removed his travel guide for Rome from his backpack and started going through it. Again. So much to see and do: The Vatican, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon…
Smiling, Brian leaned back in his seat. Ah… la dolce vita.
1. "Dive in the Pool," by Barry Harris.
2. "Here I Am," by Jimmy Somerville.
3. "Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood)," by Adam F. Duritz, EMI-Blackwood Music Inc./Jones Falls Music BMI, 2002.
4. "I Know You By Heart," by Diane Scanlon and Eve Nelson, PSO
Limited (ASCAP)/Eve Songs Inc. (ASCAP)/Dwyer Hills Music (ASCAP).