Under the pretense that he was going to wear one of the suits his mom had bought him during the past year, Justin let her go through his wardrobe to find appropriate graduation attire. Only, Brian had already promised to buy him something special for his extra special day and he couldn't wait for them to go shopping again. Still, he liked spending time with his mom now that they no longer lived together. It was as if the distance between them geographically made them closer emotionally, now that they weren't constantly chaffing against one another. "Is Dad coming?"

She selected a suit and held it up against him. "I wouldn't look for him, honey. Daddy, well... he's never been that thrilled about... things."

"My being gay." Glancing down at the suit, he thought, Not even.

"And this relationship with Brian... It's going to take time."

"Graduation's next Saturday."

"I know."

He hadn't asked before, and wasn't sure if he ought to now, but he did. "Are you okay with me and Brian?"

Thinking carefully but quickly so as not to upset him, she replied, "I understand what you see in him."

"You're not."

"Honey... I still think he's too old for you, but... he loves you. And that's all that matters." They both knew that it wasn't but what was the point in going into that now?

"Would you talk to Dad, tell him I want him to come?"

"I'll try but-- Justin... Don't get your hopes up, okay?" She put the first suit back and selected another. "So are you going to move in with Brian?"

"I don't think so. Least not right now." Brian hadn't even mentioned the possibility of it ever happening.

"You okay with that?"

"I guess."

"Then you're not."

"I want to be with him." That was the truth but he also understood how hard it would be for Brian to share his space with someone else, how hard it had been for those few short weeks before the robbery.

"What does he want?" she asked, holding the second suit up against him, remembering how he had looked in it when she'd first purchased it about eight months ago.

Justin thought about her question. "Time, I guess. To get used to us first."

"He's probably right, honey. It's a big adjustment." Jennifer hesitated, then asked, "Is he still... seeing other people?"

"I don't know."

"Have you asked him not to?"

"No." They hadn't even talked about it, he didn't know if he wanted to even ask. No, he didn't want to ask. He was happy being ignorant.

"Is it okay with you if he does?" While she waited for him to answer, she mused over the fact that even though it had only been eight months the suit no longer fit, not physically, but in terms of who Justin was now. He had changed so much.

"I don't know," he answered at last.

"Justin-- honey..."

"It doesn't mean anything to him. It's just sex."

"But it means something to you."

Remembering how Brian and Cam's relationship had ended and over what, he said, "If that's the only thing standing between us, then it's not so much."

"You sure?"

He paused before speaking. "No."

"Have you talked to him about it?"

"No!" he said vehemently. "It's not the right time."

"Just don't let the resentment build until it comes between you and you can't find your way around it. If you want this to last, you need to tell him how you feel."

Her words sounded sincere and he wondered how much of her advice came from her own personal experiences with his dad. So he decided to tell her the truth too. "I don't know how I feel."

Jenn paused with a third suit in her hands. "Then tell him that too."

Brian examined the cream-colored Versace, ran his fingers under the lapel. This was it. He signaled an associate and turned Justin over to him. Sat in a nearby chair and watched as the man took measurements and went to find the right size. Good luck, he thought. They'd definitely have to stop by his tailor's shop after they purchased the suit. While they waited, he picked up their conversation where they'd left off before he spotted the Versace. "So what'd she say about your dad?"

"That he probably wouldn't come." Despite his joy at the prospect of getting a new suit, Justin was a little subdued. "It's okay."

Brian crossed his legs. "Now say that again with feeling."

The teen shrugged. "I want him to come but if he doesn't, he doesn't..." The sales associate returned with a suit close to Justin's size, a white shirt, and a red tie, and showed him to a dressing room, Brian in tow. The older man sat on a bench inside the room while the younger one changed. He could barely keep himself from tearing the clothes away from Justin and fucking him right there, but if there was one thing Brian took seriously besides advertising, it was designer clothing. When Justin was finished, he modeled the suit for his lover. "What do you think?"

"Take it off so I can fuck you," Brian threatened and smiled to see the glint in Justin's eye.

"Next Saturday," Justin promised. "It seems to fit okay."

"Except for that ass," observed Brian appreciatively. Definitely would have to have the suit altered.

"You're just jealous," the teen teased, making reference to Brian's tight, little butt.

"I have all the ass I need," replied the ad exec, "and when I want yours..."

"You only have to ask," finished Justin. "Nicely." Brian smacked him on the behind. "Ow!"

"About your dad..." Brian began again while Justin removed the suit.

But Justin cut him off before he could finish his thought. "Look, if he comes, he comes, and if he doesn't, tough shit." He leaned over and kissed his seated lover. "As long as you're in the front row, the place could be empty for all that I'll care."

In spite of his reassurances, Brian wasn't quite convinced. Justin had made several overtures towards his father both when he was living with him and once he had moved in with Deb, and Craig had resisted most of them. Justin cared, he just didn't want to get hurt again. Nevertheless, Brian smiled dutifully and waited for Justin to change back into his jeans.

Taking a very deep breath, he reminded himself for the fiftieth time why he was here and tried to put out of his mind the images of Craig ramming the Jeep or sucker punching him outside of Woody's. He knocked first before entering and prepared himself for the inevitable.

Craig Taylor looked up from what he was doing and scowled. "What the fuck are you doing here and how the hell did you get past my secretary?"

"I told her I was an old friend and I wanted to surprise you." Brian smiled. "I'm very charming when I want to be."

He didn't ask Brian to sit and wouldn't have expected him to accept if he had. "So what do you want?"

"Justin's graduating next Saturday."

"Is this my personalized invitation?" asked Taylor.

"You can call it that."

"The engraved paper one was enough." Craig studied the man before him and tried not to see him with Justin, in an intimate situation. He'd never forgotten Brian talking to what he thought was his latest trick, '...I'm gonna open up your hole with it and fuck you till your eyes roll back in your head.' During his worst fights with Justin, he would flash back to that moment and it only made him angrier, sadder, that he was losing his son to that kind of a man. "You still haven't answered my question: What do you want?"

Brian looked around Craig's office and he couldn't imagine Justin in a place like this, Dartmouth degree on the wall, managing paperwork and people, his heart not in it, wanting nothing more than to whip out a sheet of paper and let his mind go... and he was glad that he had risked talking to the teen, risked exposing himself to keep Justin from making a terrible mistake. Thinking of how cautious he'd been back then in light of his subsequent declarations of love amused him. "I want Justin to be happy and I figure that means striking a deal with you."

Instantly, Craig made an offer, "I'll come if you don't."

Did he honestly think that one would fly? "No deal."

"So you're not willing to compromise?"

"That's not a compromise, that's a capitulation."

"So much for caring about him."

He had tried. There was no point in continuing the conversation. "He wants me to be there, so I'll be there, whether you like it or not. You do whatever the fuck you want." Brian turned to go.

"Why Justin? Why my son?" The ad exec stopped, faced Craig again and Justin's dad was forced to admit that most people would consider Brian to be very attractive. To a teenager, he must have seemed like the answer to a prayer. "There must be plenty of... men your own age who'd..."

"What? Fuck me?" Craig said nothing. "Why do you think I'm with him?"

"How would I know?"

"Maybe that's because you think he's worthless."

"And what's he worth to you? Other than a good fuck?"

"He's a great fuck," Brian amended. "And he's smart. He's talented, loyal, honest, and he cares... about me, about his friends and family, even you. And all you've done lately is piss in his face. But he still wants you to be there."

Yet he couldn't forget the words, '...I'm gonna open up your hole with it and fuck you till your eyes roll back in your head,' and the images they conjured. "Like I said, I'll come if you don't."

"Fuck you." Brian started to go, then paused. He owed it to Justin to try one last time. "You know, when I finally came out to my dad, he pretty much told me he wished I was dead. At least you never said that to Justin."

"Maybe I think he's too good for you. After all, what kind of a man has sex with a minor?"

"He is. Too good for me," Brian admitted. "But I won't apologize for us. And if that's what you're waiting for, you can go to hell." Craig's last words rang out as he was standing in the threshold.

"Why don't you think about what's best for him and let me know?"

Closing the door firmly, Brian wondered what was the best thing for Justin and if he loved him enough to do it-- no matter what.

Dinner over, he loaded the dishwasher and started it. The gentle hum was barely noticeable, competing as it was with the CD player. Justin was in a dancing mood, even if Brian wasn't, and did so by himself while his lover watched bemused from the sofa.

"So what are you wearing to graduation?"

"I don't know," replied Brian absent-mindedly.

"I can't wait to show you off. Again." He danced closer to Brian and held out his hand.

Surrendering to the teen, Brian stood and began dancing with him. As the upbeat tempo was replaced by a slower one, they moved closer together, arms about one another. There was probably no better time than this to broach the subject. "Justin..."


Brian looked down into his eyes and changed his mind. "Nothing."

"No. What?"

"I'm really not very good at those kind of things... ceremonies... I fuckin' hated going to my high school graduation and I skipped the college one all together."

Justin stopped dancing. "You're not coming?"


"No fuckin' way! You promised."

"I didn't say I wouldn't--"

"But you were thinking about it." He moved out of reach. "I can't fucking believe this. After everything that we've been through... for you to just..."


"If you do this-- How could you..." Suddenly, it was as if the whole world had been turned inside out, was completely unfamiliar and frightening, and infuriating.

"It was either him or me," Brian said softly.

"Him who?"

"Your dad."

Justin couldn't believe his ears. "My dad?"

"He said he'd come if I didn't."

Too stunned to feel relieved that Brian hadn't betrayed him, he refused to even consider the possibility. "No. He can't do that--"

"Listen. Listen to me. He'll come to the ceremony and watch you graduate and then he'll split and we'll still have the party at your mom's place and--"

"I want you there. My dad can go fuck himself."

"You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do." Justin gazed directly into Brian's eyes, to let him see that he was serious, that he was sure of his decision. "He doesn't care about me," he said and he refused to let the words hurt him as the actions had weeks ago. "He came to see me once in the hospital. Once." If he was waiting for Brian to make excuses for the man, he'd have a long wait. So he continued, "All he wants is to make sure I graduate so he can feel that he got his money's worth out of St. James. He hates that I'm going to PIFA and he hates you." Justin slipped his hand around Brian's neck and ran his fingers through the hair at the nape. "I want you there."

Brian kissed the teen softly on the lips and embraced him. They parted and he declared, "Then fuck him. He doesn't deserve to come."

World returned to normal, Justin began moving once more in time with the music. After a bit, so did Brian. The teen smiled. "So what are you wearing to graduation?"

Having selected his outfit a week ago, he replied, "This Yves Saint Laurent outfit that I got in New York... Grey mourning coat, pinstriped trousers, silk sweater... amazing."

Unbuttoning Brian's shirt and running his fingers down his chest, Justin said, "In that case, we'd better make sure you get plenty of exercise, so you look fabulous in it."

They were all there: Jennifer, Deb, Vic, Michael, Emmett, Ted, Lindsay, Mel, and Gus. So, of course, the $64,000 question was: Where was Brian?

"He wouldn't miss Sunshine's graduation," Deb declared. "He's just fashionably late."

"Like he was to the dinner he missed?" inquired Mel.

"And my going away party?" added Michael.

"Gus' birth." Emmett's contribution.

"The bris." That was Ted. Mel cut her eyes at him. "Well, most of it."

"What it? It never happened thanks to that asshole."

"He'll be here," Vic announced, "because he told Justin he would and he hasn't let him down yet."

"He did come to the art show," Lindz reminded them.

"And the prom," said Deb.

Jennifer spoke up. "And he went to New York to find Justin."

Michael looked around. "So where is he? If he misses this, the Boy Wonder'll tear him a... Holy shit."

They all turned to see Craig Taylor coming up the aisle. Spotting his soon-to-be ex-wife, he took the empty seat next to her.

"I'm glad you came," she said, unable to keep from smiling softly.

"He's still my son," he replied, opening his program.

With a note of worry in her voice, Deb asked of the absent Brian, "Where the fuck are you, kiddo?"

From inside the jeep, Brian had seen Justin's dad enter the building. In a way he hated that the man had actually shown up. He'd been hoping that he wouldn't, so that he'd be able to see Justin graduate. But now that Craig was here, he'd do as he promised and not stay. Justin would forgive him for not being there, he wouldn't have forgiven his dad as easily. Still, he couldn't leave it to chance, so he got out of the car and made his way inside to where the graduating class was lined up awaiting their cue to enter the auditorium. Luckily Justin was near the back of the line. He tapped him on the shoulder and pulled him aside.

"Your dad's out there."

"What?" At first he looked excited and then he realized what that meant. "So you're not coming."

"Look, I don't want you to end up like me, rolling a fuckin' bowling ball down the street, trying to make peace with a dead man."

"You could sit in the back and he wouldn't see you. No one would know."

"I would know. I gave my word."

"I want you to see me graduate," said Justin, pouting a little, although he knew that once Brian made up his mind, there was no getting him to change it. Especially about the important things and him giving his word to someone was important.

"I'll be there the next time. Maybe we both will."

"I don't care if he's here."

"Yes, you do. This may be your last chance to get through to him," he said, echoing Deb's words to him about his father.

"Meet me at the house?"

"Where else would I be?" He kissed Justin, heedless of the many pairs of eyes watching them. "You look pretty hot in that robe," he whispered.

"I'll put it on later," Justin promised, "and we can have a private ceremony."

Brian kissed him again. They would be okay.

As he walked down the aisle towards the stage, Justin was barely aware of the people in the audience, his mind on the one person who wasn't there, the person he most wanted to be there watching him take this important step. Despite knowing that Brian was right about his dad, he couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. He guessed Brian did too. And then he smiled, thinking about how hard it must have been for Brian to go to his dad and work out a deal. He knew how much Brian hated compromising but he had done it for him. Because he loved him. Out of all the memories he had of them, the one that remained clearest in his mind was Brian sitting next to him in the hospital, eyes shiny with unshed tears, saying, "I love you," in that way that was uniquely his: simple, honest. "I love you," he'd said, and the world had changed for them both. Justin's smile grew larger, brighter.

Michael glimpsed Craig craning his neck towards the back of the auditorium and wondered who he was looking for, Justin was right there. Then it hit him, that Craig was here and Brian wasn't. Just like he had with him and David, Brian had sacrificed his own happiness to do the right thing for Justin. Not for the first time did Michael wish things could have turned out differently, that he and Brian could have found some way to get together. It would have been hard, he knew that-- Brian could be the meanest sonofabitch that ever walked-- but he had his good days too. Lately, they'd been outnumbering the bad. Maybe that was due to Justin.

Michael watched as Justin ascended the steps to the stage with a little swish of his hips, smiling, and he grinned, imagining the smirk that would have been on Brian's face if he could have seen the teenager right now. Maybe the Boy Wonder was the best thing for Brian. He didn't know. All he knew was that there was probably as much chance of him and Brian getting together as there was of Captain Astro showing up right now in the middle of the auditorium and delivering the commencement address. Remembering his birthday party, he almost laughed. He and Brian loved each other, always would, and that was what mattered most; even if they never became lovers, they would always be best friends and that was definitely better than nothing. Wherever he was, Michael hoped that Brian knew how much he was missed... and loved.

Standing in front of his old man's grave he wondered what in the hell he was doing there. When he had driven off from St. James, he hadn't had any intention of going anyplace except home to wait for the ceremony to end and the party to begin at Jennifer Taylor's house. Now, he found himself at the cemetery reading the name and dates on his pop's headstone. Why the fuck was he here? And then it came to him.

He could still hear his dad talking to one of their drunken relatives, "It's not Harvard, but who'd ever expect a Kinney to get into an Ivy League school?"

Maybe he would have, he was smart, made good grades when he was in school. Only the teachers and the guidance counselors hadn't wasted any time on him because they'd only remembered the trouble he had caused, the times he'd cut class, the fights, the unexplained bruises-- which meant no one had pushed him to do any better than Penn State. What was the point? He would only fuck it up.

Brian remembered how hurt and angry he had felt listening to his old man and he had disappeared upstairs with a bottle. Mikey hadn't been there. Deb had taken him out to celebrate, hadn't wanted to share him, not this time. So he'd gone up to his room alone and tried not to think about the cheap gifts he'd gotten from a few of his relatives--most had shown up empty-handed and quickly wrapped their palms around a cold beer or shot of whiskey. Had tried to focus on the future, on the coming fall, on the summer of work ahead to make enough money for books and clothes. And he had wondered what it would have been like to have grown up with money and privileges and taste... and someone other than Jack for a father.

"Come to spit on it?"

He turned, saw his mother standing a few feet away; he hadn't heard her arrival. "You weren't exactly broken up when the old man died," he reminded her.

"He was still my husband." Not a hint of grief, just the proper thing for a widow to say. That was his mother all right, Mrs. Propriety.

"And my father," he said, although to him the assertion sounded weak. Now that there was no reason to tiptoe around the truth, he asked her, "Did he know? How much I hated him?"

Joanie looked away from the tombstone; emotions... confrontations... embarrassed her. "He knew that he had treated you... unfairly."

"Unfairly?" That was all she was going to confess, he knew her, she wouldn't say anything else and that wasn't fucking enough. He started to leave.


"He fuckin' kicked the crap out of me every chance he got and when he wasn't, he was telling me how I'd never amount to anything, how I was never going to be anything but a punk, a worthless piece of shit. And then when I managed to make something of my life, he came around every other month like the fuckin' United Way to take my goddamn money."

"He intended to pay you back--"

"That's not the point!" He laughed bitterly. "Why am I even trying to explain this to you?" And the anger towards her surfaced, it hadn't been submerged very deep anyway, never was very far out of reach. "You let it happen. You sat by and sipped your fuckin' martinis and you never said a word."

"If I had tried to fight back... I don't know what would have happened."

"So you abandoned your child instead."

She wouldn't look him in the eyes. "You always seemed much stronger than other children... I thought... I thought you could handle it."

"I was stronger because I had to be! Because--" He took a deep breath, started again. "Parents are supposed to protect their kids. I would never--" He stopped abruptly. No. He wouldn't give her Gus. Not yet. Not until he felt stronger.

"Never what?"

"I would never let that happen to my kid."

Her lips tightened in a straight line. "Well, you'll never know, will you?"

And he could see it in her face, more than disappointment, that she... He didn't want to say it, not even to himself, but he couldn't keep it in. "I used to wonder what I had done to make you hate me so much."

"I didn't hate you." Not something she wanted to confess to a priest, he supposed, so she lied to herself about how she really felt, if Joanie Kinney could be said to feel anything. "I just didn't know what to do."

He continued as if she hadn't said anything because he didn't believe her. "But as much as I hated you and Jack... I hated myself more." Suddenly it felt like he had opened his veins and he wouldn't have been surprised to see his blood dripping onto his father's grave.

That was the opening she needed. "Is that why?"

God... so afraid to ask. "Why what?"

"Why you live the way you do?"

He was so tired, he just wanted to curl up next to Jack's headstone and sleep forever. "You mean, why I'm gay?"

"Why you're with that child."

"He's graduating today," he said, thinking of Justin marching down the aisle in his cap and gown, broad smile on his face, ready for the world. "So I guess that makes him a man." But he knew that would never do, not for Joanie.

"It's wrong, Brian, and you know it."

"To be happy?" He scuffed the ground with the toe of his boot. "Maybe you're right," he said softly and he headed back to the jeep and to Justin.

Justin had warned them all not to say shit to him or Brian about his missing graduation as they'd gathered around to take pictures of him and Daphne in their regalia. At the same time, he cautioned Daphne with a look not to mention that Brian had shown up just before they'd marched into the auditorium. Once all of the adults had gotten their fill of picture-taking, Daphne left with her parents, promising to drop by his house later, and he and the gang took off for his mom's place. He could hardly sit still he was so anxious to see Brian. It was really strange, how much he longed to be with him and they had only been apart a couple of hours.

He couldn't believe it when his dad had said that he wanted to come back to the house for the party and he'd told him that Brian would be there, that there was no way he was going to be denied having his lover beside him any longer. Still, his dad had insisted, so there they were, one big, happy, dysfunctional family in a mini-caravan of cars headed back to the house.

Halfway up the street he spotted the Jeep parked by the mailbox and he smiled. He still didn't know what Brian had planned for later. He'd told him that he didn't want anything else for graduation, that the suit was enough, but Brian had only grinned and assured him he could afford to buy his little boy another present. Just thinking about Brian calling him, "My little boy," made him shiver. As soon as his mom brought the car to a complete stop, he hopped out and casually-- he hoped-- crossed to where Brian stood, leaning up against the Jeep. His smile about a mile wide, he raised his face for a kiss. Just as they were parting, he said, "Thank you."

"For what?" asked Brian although he knew.


"Could somebody turn the hose on those two?" asked Ted as he passed them.

Emmett pushed him. "Leave 'em alone. They're--"

"In love!" Ted and Michael said, finishing his sentence.

Although they had all-- except Michael-- wondered if Justin really meant what he'd said regarding Brian's absence at graduation, they quickly realized that the had. Which meant they could all relax and enjoy themselves.

Deb glanced around at Jennifer and Craig-- who looked as if they had been plucked out of their familiar surroundings and dropped in the middle of Oz-- and whistled. Everyone stopped talking. "All right, I want everybody on their best behavior."

Emmett raised a hand tentatively. "And which behavior would that be?"

"Think Jackie O, White House reception," explained Ted.

"Gotcha." He batted his eyelashes. "Ladies, to the parlor."

Taking that as a her cue, Jennifer unlocked the house and showed them all to the family room where the buffet table was set up. Then she, Deb, Lindz, and Emmett promptly disappeared into the kitchen to bring out the food. Mel worked the bar, Gus in his seat next to her on the counter. Justin disengaged himself from Brian long enough to put on some music and dragged Brian onto the middle of the floor. Soon they were joined by Ted and Michael and the four men danced until the food arrived.

To his credit, Craig maintained a civil air, mostly sitting and talking with Jen, occasionally replying to something Deb or Vic said. Brian noticed that he avoided looking at him and Justin whenever Justin wanted to be affectionate but he didn't dissuade the teen. It was his day after all and Craig would have to deal with it. Still, he began to feel a little down, a residual effect from his confrontation with Joanie, and he longed to escape from the noise and commotion. Then Daphne came over and she and Justin giggled like a couple of... teenagers. As soon as he saw that Justin was occupied examining two of Daphne's graduation gifts, he stepped into the next room, made his way to the back of the house and, by accident, found the door to the backyard.

Leaving his other guests in search of the only one that mattered, Justin pulled open the sliding doors and found Brian sitting on the edge of a chaise lounge by the pool. Smoking. His suit jacket laid across the seat of the chair. Justin, taking a look back to make sure no one had followed him, joined Brian. Took a hit off his cigarette, which earned him a frown from his lover. "You okay? You were really quiet in there."

"Between Deb, your mom, Emmett, and Daphne, there's not enough oxygen left to sustain a conversation."

Justin leaned against Brian's shoulder. "I thought it might have been my dad."

"I'm glad he came." He stubbed out the last of the cigarette. "It's your day, you should be happy."

"I am." He kissed Brian on the cheek. "Thanks to you." When Brian didn't reply, Justin sat forward, looked around at Brian's face. "Something is wrong. What is it?"

"Nothing," he replied. Eyes fixed on the rippling aqua-colored water. He smiled. "I can't imagine what's next. Thanksgiving dinner at your grandparents?"

"My alcoholic grandmother would love you," said Justin. "You'd have to fight her off. A couple of drinks and she thinks she's Marilyn Monroe." He laughed. "Once she stood over an air conditioning vent and her dress blew up over her hips. I thought my mom would die."

Brian laughed at the image of a middle-aged woman struggling to keep her dress down a la Seven Year Itch.

Justin tugged on his arm. "Come back inside."

"In a minute." He turned and kissed the graduate lightly on the lips.

"Are you gonna tell me what's wrong?"

But Brian insisted, "There's nothing wrong. I just wanted some air. And a cigarette." He pushed Justin with his shoulder. "Go on. Go back before they send out a search party."

They kissed again and then Justin returned to the house leaving Brian alone by the pool.

He sat outside in the sun, grateful for the slight breeze that arose sporadically. Debated the merits of another cigarette and was glad that he had hidden the butt from the first one before Justin came to find him. Even though Justin occasionally partook, he was always on Brian's case to quit completely, rationalizing that if Brian quit, so would he.

Although the party was going on deep inside the house, he imagined that he could hear them laughing and talking, could see their smiling faces over mixed drinks and canapes. And here he was sitting by himself and brooding. Why did he do these things? Why had he gone to the cemetery today? What possible benefit could he have derived from going there? Might as well have taken a hammer and hit himself in the head as to have gone there to find any peace of mind. Even dead, Jack Kinney continued to rail at him for his failings. He just didn't understand why he continued to try. Mikey was right, he never learned. How many times did his parents have to kick him before he figured out the best defense was to stay out of their way?

He closed his eyes and ran his hand over his face. Opened them and took a real look at his surroundings. The tasteful house, the pool, and the carefully manicured grounds this was where Justin grew up, a long fucking way from the side of town where his folks had settled. To have grown up somewhere like this, with parents who supported you instead of tearing you down at every opportunity... Maybe he would have been completely different-- albeit still incredibly sexy-- someone less driven, who could have paused every now and again to breathe. Someone who didn't hear his old man in his head saying, "It should be you that's dying, not me." Restless, he stood and paced around the pool.

To his credit, Jack had shown up at the loft after he found out his son was gay, under the pretense of bringing him a photo of the two of them when Brian was a baby. But Brian hadn't been fooled. Jack had put up with it because he was dying. His admonishment not to tell The Warden meant that he hadn't wanted to deal with it, that it was another one of those insignificant details that could wait until he was dead.

And now that his mom did know, she hadn't surprised him by being understanding, she had fulfilled his every expectation. Angrily, he shook his head. What had he expected? That his mom had changed? He nearly laughed at the absurdity of the thought, except that if he laughed, he might not stop. Turning towards the house, he debated returning to the party. If he didn't go in soon, Justin would be back out, wondering why he hadn't come inside. He wanted to, he wanted to be able to smile and pretend that he was enjoying himself, that he was proud of Justin-- which he was-- that he wanted to be there with him-- which he did. It was just that... Being here, having his nose rubbed in all of the advantages Justin had had, reminded him just how impoverished he had been most of his life. If it hadn't been for Mikey and Deb... He swallowed and looked back at the house again. And he thought about it again: his graduation, the 'celebration' at his parents' place, and he just wanted to get out of here before he screamed. Justin would understand even if no one else did and he would forgive him. He just had to leave.

Decision made, he figured he'd better go before Justin returned. Eschewing a route through the house, he started around the side when Justin appeared in the doorway again.

"Where are you going?"

"I have to go," he said shortly, knowing it wouldn't be enough, that Justin wouldn't let him walk away with no more explanation than that.

Justin stepped through and blocked his path. "What's wrong?" When Brian turned away, "Talk to me."

"I can't."

His eyes pleaded. "Please. Don't do this. Don't go."

Brian tried not to look at him. "Justin-- I have to."

"God--" He laid a hand upon Brian's arm. "How could you...?"

"You don't understand."

"Then explain it to me. You didn't come to graduation--"


"And now you're bailing on the party? I never ask you for anything..." Justin glanced away, unable to stop the tears from springing to the corner of his eyes. "Please don't go."

"I don't want to ruin your party."

"Then stay."

"I can't." Brian looked away from the tears in Justin's eyes. "I can't," he repeated as if saying it again would explain everything.

"Then I'm coming with you."

"You can't leave your party."

"Fuck the party." Afraid, he forced himself to add, "Unless you're trying to get away from me."

"No," Brian whispered and he took Justin in his arms. "I just feel like... like I'm losing it." Justin kissed him and parted from him. Extended his hand. Brian took it and held it tightly for a few seconds, then let go. "Just give me a minute. I'll be all right." He sniffled. "I can't fuck this up for you--"

"You're not."

"I... just need a minute."

Justin tugged on his arm. "We'll go upstairs. Okay?" Brian nodded and let Justin lead him up to his old room without being seen by the other guests. The teen closed the door behind them and watched, worried, as Brian sat on his bed and bowed his head. He didn't know what to do, whether to go to him or leave him alone, so he remained where he was in case Brian gave him a hint. But the man just sat there, head inclined. Finally he raised it and exhaled noisily. Taking that as his cue, Justin sat next to him and waited for Brian to speak.

"I saw my mom today."


"I went to the cemetery and she came while I was there."

"Why'd you go there in the first place?"

"Thinking about my graduation, I guess."

Although he knew it would hurt Brian to talk about it, he had to ask. "What happened?"

"Just another disappointing chapter in the Kinney Family history," was all Brian would tell him.

"That's why you didn't want to come."

"I wanted to come. For you. And for me. Because I can't spend my entire fucking life paying for all the mistakes they've made."

Justin slid his arm around Brian's waist and leaned against him. After a moment, Brian turned and embraced him, laid his head upon his young lover's shoulder. "We don't have to go back down," Justin said as he stroked Brian's hair. "We can stay up here and fool around."

Brian laughed. "That is so junior high."

"Maybe your junior high." Justin kissed his jaw. "Come on. You know you want to."

"The last thing we need is for your mom or dad to walk in on us."

"So what? I'm legal. And as of today, I'm a college man." Justin nuzzled Brian's neck, just below the ear.

"I don't want to have to stop."

He brushed his lips over the man's Adam Apple eliciting a tiny giggle from him. "They wouldn't just walk in."

"You make far too much noise moaning."

"I thought you liked to hear me moan."

"As long as we don't have an audience."

"Since when have you cared about having an audience? Mr. Backroom at Babylon." They joined in a kiss and Justin tried futilely to get Brian to lay back on the bed so that he could blow him.

"Come on," growled Brian, pulling him to his feet. "Showing up with a boner is definitely bad form."

Emmett perched on the arm of the sofa next to Ted. "So are you excited about your trip to the Bahamas?"

As if they had to ask. Justin was smiling from ear to ear. "I cannot wait."

"What trip to the Bahamas?" Craig asked and Jennifer's mouth opened slightly and then closed.

"Justin won a trip to the Bahamas," she said finally, simply. No need to tell him the entire story. Her cheeks grew warm just thinking about Justin stripping in front of a group of cheering men ogling his lithe body.

"Don't you think he's a little young to go off by himself to a foreign country?"

Justin, speaking to his dad, nevertheless looked at Brian. "I'm not going alone."

"Don't worry," Brian replied, "I'll keep an eye on him."

"Like you kept an eye on him in that parking garage?" asked Craig and everything stopped.

Michael watched as Brian debated with himself, whether he'd answer the challenge or not. Unfortunately for Craig, Brian had had enough. If there was one thing he hated, it was having his hand bitten after he'd given you what you wanted. His dad had done it often enough and it was the one thing guaranteed to piss him off.

Keeping a tight lid on his temper, Brian replied, "Where were you? He was in the fuckin' hospital for a week and a half and you showed up how many times? Once?"

"I had work."

"I had work too. And I was there every day."

"Trying to make up for nearly getting him killed in the first place!"

"Dad!" Justin felt his lover move. "Brian, wait--"

Brian stormed outside followed by Deb.

Justin turned on his father. "You had no right to say that to him. I'd be dead right now if it weren't for Brian."

"It's never enough!" he said in an anguished and angry voice. "No matter what I do, it's never good enough."

Deb touched his arm. "Yes, it is. Fuck him. What does he know?" She smiled. "Come on, let's go back in."



Tell Justin I'm sorry, but I can't." He started down the sidewalk.

"Kiddo, please. Do it for him."

And Brian froze in his steps, unable to walk away.

Just then the teenager dashed from the house, with his graduation gown draped over one arm, and grabbed Brian's hand. "We're leaving." He waved to Deb. "See you tomorrow."

Brian studied Justin's face. "You sure?"

"I need you," he said. "Not some party, not my parents, not anything else-- just you."

Deb watched Brian's eyes brighten and his lips curl into a smirk. Together they fairly ran to the jeep, jumped in, and took off at light speed. And she started to laugh. As the other guests began to seep from the house, she continued to laugh, pointing down the street and shaking her head. "Ladies and gentlemen, Fuckman and the Boy Wonder have left the building."

Emmett finished off his champagne and handed the glass to a stunned Craig. "And that's a wrap. Later."

Windows down, wind in their hair, they tempted fate by kissing as Brian navigated traffic. Party forgotten, parents forgotten, they laughed and kissed and fumbled at buttons and snaps in a half-assed attempt to undress before they got to the loft. Finally Brian warned, "I'm gonna kill us both if we don't stop," and Justin sat back in his seat and began to stroke himself. Brian started to breathe heavily as he stole glances at his lover masturbating. His hand crept to his own groin and soon they were both busy with their cocks, each becoming more aroused by the sight of the other's growing erection.

Brian pulled onto a side street near some abandoned warehouses, stopped the jeep, got out, pushed the front seat forward, and climbed in the back, shoving his slacks down around his ankles. Forgoing the roundabout route, Justin slipped between the front seats and straddled Brian's thighs. Hungrily, they gnawed on succulent lips as their eager hands worked Justin's pants over his hips. While Brian reached into his pocket for a condom, Justin got his pants off, his shirt open, and resumed his kneeling position. Brian spat upon his fingers and eased one inside of Justin's ass. The teen opened around the probing digit and kissed his lover with a fervor that shocked them both. A second finger joined the first and Justin moaned into Brian's mouth as his lips stretched open at Brian's insistence.

The Jeep shook as they fucked, not caring if they were discovered, too far gone to be cautious. Justin grabbed the backs of the front seats and jammed his ass down upon Brian's cock. Every now and then his head would bump against the ceiling but he didn't feel a thing, his awareness focused on the point at which they were joined. Brian, head lolling along the edge of the back seat, thrust his hips upwards, his cock enveloped in Justin's warmth. Justin's dick throbbed and, with each pulse, he tightened around Brian's cock, the cum inching up his shaft like mercury in a thermometer. Holding onto Justin's hips, Brian pressed him downwards as he began to jab his cock into the teen. With a sigh, he came, eyes shut, the relief etched on his face. Justin continued to bounce on his still hard cock, whimpering as he neared his climax. Pre-cum dotted their thighs. Finally, he squeezed his anus around the base of Brian's dick, his face screwed up in a grimace, and gave a cry. Cum flowed like lava over the head of his cock to run down the shaft and cover his balls.

They remained joined until Brian's dick began to soften. With a moan, Justin rose up and sat on the seat next to him, his bare ass kissing the leather upholstery. Brian removed the cum-filled condom from his dick and drew up his underwear and trousers. On shaky legs he got out of the back and resumed his position behind the wheel. Justin managed to pull up his pants but remained where he was. After all, they were only a few minutes away from Brian's building.

Justin removed Brian's robe upon the man's return to the bedroom, sliding it over his shoulders, down his back, and off his arms. The moment the robe fell away, he embraced him from behind, spreading his fingers over Brian's ribcage, his chest, and belly. He loved touching Brian, would know him anywhere by the texture of his skin, every expanse of flesh explored and mapped, the knowledge stored in his fingertips for future reference. And Brian loved to be touched by him, never feeling as cherished as he did when Justin's hands slid down his thighs or up his side, over his buttocks, around his neck.

They sank upon the bed and Justin continued his explorations, easing Brian onto his back, and leaving a trail of warm kisses from his temples to his toes, claiming Brian's body as his possession, warning all who would venture there that this was his man. He longed to mark him, to leave the impression of his teeth or nails in his flesh, tattoo him with his love. Dizzy with desire, he bit down gently upon his inner thigh, eliciting a gasp from Brian, and licked the spot to soothe the sting. Eyes wild, appetite threatening to overcome him, he held Brian's cock upright with one hand and engulfed the head.

Brian's eyelids fluttered as the teenager devoured his dick, swollen lips sliding up and down the spit-slicked shaft, tongue inscribing signs over every inch. Giving the tip a final flick, Justin dropped back on the bed to rest for a moment. Brian knelt over his chest and ran the head of his cock over Justin's right nipple, hissing as the sensitive cap made contact with the smooth metal ring. Taking hold of Brian's shaft in one hand and his nipple ring in the other, Justin repeatedly rubbed the metal balls at the ends of the ring against Brian's pisshole until the older man pulled away, panting.

Brian turned the other way, straddled Justin's head, and raised the teen's hips and back off the bed. Justin held onto Brian's thighs as he virtually hung upside down. Dick drawn back between his legs and held up for Brian's delectation, Justin gave over to the exquisite torture of being sucked off while unable to simultaneously return the gift in kind. His ordeal was intensified by the fact that Brian's cock hovered over his face, just out of reach. But he had little time or inclination to mull over that conundrum, as all of his attention was focused on the motions of Brian's lips and tongue. Finally freeing one hand, Justin drew Brian's cock down for a series of feather-light kisses which caused the man's belly to tense. Licking the base of Justin's dick, Brian ran his tongue over his sac and whispered, "I love your fuckin' nuts," sending shivers up Justin's spine. His balls drawn into his lover's mouth, he cried out as Brian sucked them hungrily.

And then he felt Brian's tongue probing between his cheeks. Sighed and was rewarded with a long lick that encircled his hole and soaked the fine hairs around it. Brian lowered his head between his thighs and ate him out, tongue lashing the dark pink hole until Justin thought he would go crazy. Precum dripped from his cock down onto his belly and chest. Brian eased him down onto the comforter, then leaned over him and kissed him hard; he could taste his ass on his lips and tongue. "Say it," the man demanded harshly, and he whispered in surrender, "Fuck me."

He guessed Brian had taken him at his word and hadn't bought him anything else for graduation. There hadn't been a present from him among the others piled on the table at his mom's house and he hadn't seen anything even remotely resembling a present in the loft. Of course, Brian could have hidden it. But from the way he was getting comfortable, it looked to Justin that he was about to go to sleep. Trying not to feel disappointed, remembering that Brian had bought him a very expensive suit and had made it possible for his dad to come to graduation, Justin told himself to get real. Most people hadn't gotten anything like that. Ever. Smiling softly, he laid his head upon Brian's chest and tried to feel grateful for all the things he did have. But still...

"Was it a good day?" Brian asked.

"The best," he replied, tightening his arm around Brian's waist.

"Well..." said Brian, "there's still something left."

He raised up. "What?"

"Go look in the top drawer over there."

Justin got up smiling and went to the chest of drawers that Brian had indicated. Slowly he opened it, his face growing brighter and brighter. And then he frowned. "It's empty."

Brian's brow creased, then straightened. "Maybe it's in the second drawer."

Justin did so and it too was empty.

"Try the third one."

"Why do you have all these empty drawers?"

Brian said casually as Justin opened the third one, "They're for you."

He turned, not believing what he had heard. "Me?"

"You can bring over some of your stuff and leave it here." Brian rolled his eyes as the teen started back towards the bed. "Look in the last drawer."

"It's not empty like the rest?"

"Check it out."

And he did. Inside was a tiny box and a card. He removed them, returned to the bed, and sat holding them in his palm.


"Okay." He opened the box. Inside was a ring. A heavy gauge gold nipple ring. He took it out of its cushion.

"Look along the edge."

He looked. Etched in the metal was the phrase, a mon amour. "To my love." Then he opened the card. Read aloud the words written upon the heavy paper.

"From my beloved's eyes there issues and flies
a ray that burns with a light so bright
that through mine, even when shut, it pierces my heart.
Hence love walks with a limp,
so unbalanced is the burden he transports,
bringing me light, and carrying away my darkness."

He held the card in one hand and slowly closed his fingers over the ring in the other, his head bowed, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Brian wiped away the tear, then kissed him softly. "Happy Graduation." In an instant he had an armful of teenager as Justin embraced him, trembling ever so slightly.

"I love you," he breathed against Brian's neck and the man tightened his arms around him and just held him.

She heard someone rummaging around in the garage and came out to find Brian pawing through some boxes his father had put aside with his name on them. He paused and said, "Hey," the way he wont to do, glancing up at her and then away again before they had ever made eye contact.

"I didn't think you'd want any of those old things." Arms crossed, she surveyed the scene with displeasure.

"I'm surprised you didn't have Goodwill take 'em away with the rest of the stuff."

"Your father made a special effort, put your name on them, so I thought... as long as they're in the garage and out of the way..."

He chuckled and shook his head. Continued searching for what, he wasn't sure. At that moment he just wanted to keep busy, hoping she'd go away without saying anything more.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

For a moment he thought of playing coy but there was no need, they both knew what she was talking about. "I didn't think you'd care."

"That's not true."

"You're right." He stopped what he was doing to face her. "You would have cared, just enough to yell at me, to tell me how disappointed you were in me, again, how I never did anything right, not even this, not even something simple like sex." He looked away. "And I wanted something... I wanted there to be something about my life that wasn't smeared in shit, that I didn't have to feel guilty about or have-- regrets about. I wanted there to be something you couldn't touch, you couldn't destroy for me."

"I wish you would have confided in me."

Brian was sure that was something she had heard her priest say because Joanie Kinney hadn't wanted to know anything about his life. Ever. "Mom..." He snickered. "Why? Why would I have ever confided in you? You never had time for me--"

"You never needed me," she stated.

"I needed you," he said, exasperated that she was being so willfully blind. "I just couldn't depend on you. You didn't want me around. You didn't want me." She said nothing to refute his claim and he felt something tear inside him. "I always knew. Do you know what it's like, to know that your own parents don't want you? That you were something they put up with because they had made a mistake? I felt more at home at Mikey's house than I did in my own. Because they never looked at me like I didn't belong. Like they didn't want me there."

She touched her temple briefly. "Brian, you don't understand."

"You didn't treat Claire like that. And Dad couldn't stand her. But you never made her feel like she was a leper." He opened another box, not seeing what was in it.

"We were just starting out really. And we already had Claire and times were hard. Your father was having trouble finding work that paid enough and we just weren't ready for another child. You don't understand how it is when you don't have money. Your job--"

"They didn't just hand that job over to me. I worked for it. I worked damn hard to get where I am."

"It's different when you have kids." She would use that against him until the end of time, but he still didn't think he could tell her. "They have to come first and you're always worried you won't have enough for them."

Didn't he know it? How many times had Lindsay hit him up for money for something that Gus had to have? But that was no excuse. "Deb didn't have a lot of money either and she never made Mikey feel the way you made me feel."

"It wasn't easy, being Irish in those days..."

"But it's easy being gay these days? Tell that to Justin."

"It was hard for your father." Her voice lowered a bit. "Watching you grow up, knowing you'd have opportunities that he would have given his right arm for when he was your age. Being reminded every day that his life was passing by him, that there were so many things he hadn't done, places he hadn't seen. You don't know what that's like."

But he did. Hadn't he felt the same thing about Gus? And Justin? Watching Justin become a man, a very different man from the one he had become. Feeling time rush pass him, when there was so much left to do.

"I suppose we were wrong," she said in a tone of voice that he interpreted as meaning she was tired of the issue, that they wouldn't resolve it today, if ever, and it angered him.

"And that's it? 'I suppose we were wrong.' " He closed one of the boxes and pushed it back into place, wanting to strike out at something, anything.

"That's why I wanted you to have kids."

"What?" He looked up as if he expected the world to have suddenly transformed. "Why?"

"So that you would have the chance to do all the things with your children that we never did with you. You would have been a good father."

Incredulously, he asked, "Despite the booze and the drugs, you thought I'd make a good father?"

"You were angry. I know that's why you drank so much. That's why you turned to drugs. Maybe that's why you're..."

"No." He was firm on that topic. "That's not why I'm gay. I'm gay because I like fucking guys."

Disturbed, she glanced away. "Brian..."

" Does the thought of my fucking other men bother you?"

"You don't have to be coarse."

"Yes, I do." And he fixed his eyes on her face, on her eyes, and she met his stare, held it with a little difficulty. "Because I want you to understand so that you can't lie to yourself about it. I fuck other men. And I like it. No, I love it. That's why I'm gay. Not because of something you and Jack did or didn't do but because I like fucking guys." She looked away at last, but he knew she understood. "Now, the fact that I'm a self-centered, egotistical asshole, I can lay directly at your feet," he added.

Despite herself, Joanie laughed. After a moment, so did he. "I could have killed you when you told that story after your father's funeral."

"He deserved it." Brian turned back to the box.

"He's dead now, Brian. Let him rest."

"What about us?" Looking up at her. "You're still here."

Joanie thought for a moment. "I don't want us... to keep failing one another. I don't want you telling that story after my funeral."

"So what are we gonna do?"

"I don't know." She stood looking at him, really looking at him for the first time in a long while. And she realized that she didn't know him, that she'd never really known him. She wondered what other people saw when they looked at her son. If they found him attractive, thought he was charming, smart, funny. There was so much she didn't know about him. Hadn't wanted to know. Maybe it was time to change all of that. "I was just about to have some lunch. It's not much, just a sandwich. I could fix you something. Have you eaten?" He shook his head. "Give me a couple of minutes." Before she could return inside he spoke.

"I have a child." He hadn't really thought about it, just blurted it out because something inside him said, 'Now.'


"I have a son. With Lindsay." It was amazing how inadequate the words were to describe a miracle like Gus.

"The one who said your father told her she smelled good?"

He grinned. "Well, she's not the world's greatest storyteller."

"You and she have a child?"

"Gus. His name is Gus and he's nine months old."

"But if you're..." She paused, then pushed forward, "If you're gay, how--"

"Artificial insemination."

Embarrassed, she glanced away. "Brian..."

"How did you ever have two kids if you were that squeamish about sex?"

"We just did it, we didn't sit around talking about it."

He laughed. "Justin could take a lesson from you."

"And she doesn't mind... that you're gay and involved with..."

"Justin. It's okay. I had trouble remembering his name too. And, no, she doesn't care. Why should she? She and Melanie like Justin."

"Melanie? The dark-haired woman who came with Michael?"

"They're lesbians. They're a couple."

She raised her eyebrows. "And Michael?"


"The two men who came with him?"

"Emmett and Ted. Gay." He could imagine her replaying the scenes in her mind, trying to figure out if there had been some overt sign she'd missed that would have alerted her to the fact that the six of them were gay.

"And Lindsay and Melanie are raising your son?"

"They're the best parents he could possibly have," he told her and he had demonstrated his belief in them by giving up his parental rights to Mel.

"What about you?"

"I'll be around," he assured her. "In case he needs me." He had no intention of abandoning Gus like his father had abandoned him. Anyway, Lindz wouldn't let him. She had a way of showing up on his doorstep that assured Gus of seeing his Dadda-- sometimes under less than ideal circumstances.

"Did you tell your father?"

"He knew. He actually got to hold him." That had been their moment of making peace, a false peace, but one they could live with for the few weeks left to Jack.

"Will I?"

"If you ask nicely." And he smiled to let her know that he was only half-serious.

"I'd like to see my grandson." She smiled. "Please."

That had to be the first time she'd ever said 'Please' to him without it sounding exasperated or desperate. Maybe she was sincere about trying to change things between them. "I'll see what I can do."

"Well... I'll go fix those sandwiches." She paused with the open door in her hand. "I think some of your old toys are in one of those boxes. Be nice if Gus could use them."

He watched her disappear inside the house and breathed a little easier. It was a start. A beginning.

Justin couldn't wait to tell his mom about Brian's gift of the empty drawers. True, he hadn't asked Justin to move in entirely but it was a start. He unlocked the front door and went inside. Maybe he'd pick up some more of his stuff from here too since he'd have more room at Deb's now that he had three whole drawers to fill at Brian's loft. Smiling like a kid on Christmas morning, he went in search of Jennifer. Found her upstairs in Molly's room, trying to organize his little sister's belongings into sensible groups. Molly was still at their grandparents' house, would be until they finally moved out of the house into the townhouse his mom had found for her and Molly-- with an extra room for him if he ever needed it.

"Hey," she said when she saw him in the doorway. "Please tell me you're here to pick up some more of your things."

"I'm here to pick up some more of my stuff." He grinned. "Brian cleared out three drawers for me at his place."

She took a break and sat down on Molly's bed. "Really?"

"And I didn't even have to ask him. It was a graduation present."

"What do you think it means?"

"Just that. Three empty drawers." And he meant it too. With Brian, it never paid to assume. Anything.

"Well, I'm glad for you." Jennifer plucked at the comforter and prepared to get back to work.

"You think I can go for a swim?"

"Don't see why not. Your dad's been out here like clockwork making sure everything's taken care of." She continued before he could walk away, "I know you think he was wrong to say those things to Brian-- and he was. But, honey, I felt the same way."

"But you don't anymore."

"And he won't either."

Justin disagreed. "He's not like you."

"I had to start all over, getting to know you again. He has to do the same thing."

"But he doesn't want to know me. He just wants me to stay quiet and out of the way."

"He loves you."

"No, he doesn't."

"Yes, he does. He just doesn't like you very much right now." Knowing she had hurt him, she refused to lie. "You have to be patient with him."

"After you move, I probably won't ever see him again. I know he won't bother to try and find me."

"Then you have to find him. Don't make it easy for him to walk away from you." She smiled. "Like you did with Brian."

He laughed. "He used to call me his stalker."

Frowning, she laughed too, just imagining what else Brian had probably called him. "Go swimming."

Watching Justin swim just below the surface, Craig was struck by how graceful he was, yet strong and supple. Justin emerged from below and shook his head, spotted his dad seated on the chaise lounge and swam over to him, stood close to the edge, the water coming just to his waist.


"Hi." Like all the other times they had spoken since Jennifer's announcement that Justin was gay, Craig found himself at a loss for words. He supposed he should say something about yesterday, about the blow-up at the party, but he didn't feel he owed anyone any explanation. As far as he was concerned, Justin's relationship with Brian was without a doubt the reason why that Hobbs kid had gone after him. On his own, Justin wouldn't have been so militant about his homosexuality, with Brian and his friends egging him on he felt he could take on the world. Well, he'd found out the hard way that he couldn't. Not without casualties.

Justin decided to come out of the pool. Heaving himself up, he sat on the edge with his legs having over the edge. Tired of waiting for Craig to bring it up, he did so himself. "Brian isn't to blame for what happened to me. Chris Hobbs is."

"He was provoked."

He turned to look at his dad. "By what? By another student having fun at the prom?"

Craig tried to keep his voice down. "You were dancing with another man."

"Because I'm gay, Dad." Justin looked into his father's eyes. "Why shouldn't I have been dancing with Brian? I love him. And he loves me. We should be able to dance whenever and wherever we want."

"So you can get hit in the head again with another baseball bat."


Craig shook his head, not wanting to take the bait, but he did. "Justin, you know what the world is like."

"What does that mean? That I should just take it? Not stand up for myself, pretend that everything's okay when someone spits in my face?"

Speaking firmly, Craig replied, "You don't have to push so hard."

Justin remembered the first time Chris Hobbs had come after him, the way he had fought back. What if he hadn't? What if he'd have just taken it? What if he hadn't challenged Chris Hobbs outside of Woody's? Maybe that person wouldn't have pursued Brian so vehemently, wouldn't have insisted that the man make a place for him in his life. Maybe that Justin wouldn't have been attacked in the parking garage because Brian wouldn't have come to the prom. He had said it in Babylon, in response to Justin's statement about having turned into a big queer: "Yeah, lucky for you, otherwise I wouldn't be wasting my time." There was his answer. "Yes, I do," he replied. "I'm sorry if that makes you hate me--"

"I don't hate you," Craig said softly. How had it come to this? That his son thought his own father hated him? "I just don't understand."

"Understand what, Dad?"

Not looking at Justin, Craig answered, "I don't understand why."

"Why I'm gay?" ventured Justin, and his dad nodded. "I don't know why. I just know that I am. And it's not gonna change. I'm not going to wake up one day and not be gay."

Fair enough, maybe that was too much to hope for, but maybe he could do something about Brian. "Then why him? Why this man?"

Justin smiled, seeing again the three empty drawers in Brian's bedroom, the engraved nipple ring, the cowry shell necklace he'd gotten for his birthday, the osiana roses that had held court on the dining table; remembering them eating jambalaya during their first dinner together, that first time when Brian had said, "Now relax..." How could he explain that it was for these reasons and a thousand more than he loved Brian, despite the arguments, the misunderstandings, and the tears? "Because," he said at last, "you were at my graduation ceremony and he wasn't."

Craig recalled the brief phone call, hearing the man say simply, "It's a deal. Be there on Saturday and I won't. You have my word." And he had kept it. Not that Craig had expected him to, but he had. Craig didn't think he could have done so, if their situations had been reversed. "Fair enough," he said and no more. Stood and looked one last time at the pool, at his son sitting along the edge. "You have my number at work?"

"Yeah, Dad," Justin assured him.

"Call me sometime."


With that, Craig left.

His eyes on his father's back until it rounded the corner of the house and moved out of sight, a wisp of a smile played about Justin's lips. Pushing off from the edge, he dropped back down into the water and made for the deep end.

The Tonka truck rolled across the white rug in the livingroom leaving no trails as Brian had washed the wheels assiduously in the kitchen sink. Justin laughed. "I cannot believe you had a Tonka truck."

Brian raised an eyebrow. "And why not?"

"It's so... butch."

"And I'm not?" At the moment Brian was wearing his black silk robe and nothing else, his hair standing up in spikes from their early evening 'nap'.

Glimpsing Brian's shoulders and chest, the play of muscles beneath skin whenever Brian moved and the robe gaped open, Justin reconsidered his choice of words. "It's so hetero."

"Yeah," Brian agreed. "All the little breeders-in-training on my street had one." He smiled. "I probably drove my dad crazy begging for it. It was like the fuckin' Holy Grail."

"Gus is gonna love it. When he's older."

Brian pushed it forward, the dump body filled with condoms. As it neared Justin's knee, he turned it around and unloaded the condoms in front of him.

"For me?"

"As many as you'd like. I have a supply."

Selecting a flavored one from the pile, Justin asked, "Do you build things too, or do you just drive the truck?"

"Why?" asked Brian, a smile curling about his lips.

Justin untied his robe and let it fall open. "I need something erected."

Pushing the truck aside, Brian crawled over and kissed his belly. "Lucky for you, we provide service from top to bottom."

In the middle of the night, while Justin slept, he got up and went into the livingroom, sat on the floor by the sofa, and pushed the dump truck to and fro on the white rug. And he saw:

Himself as a little boy, opening the present his dad had handed to him, having brought it out of hiding.

His dad smiling as he played in the back, emptying load after load of dirt, his mom yelling at him not to destroy the entire yard.

Falling asleep that night, the Tonka truck on top of his footlocker, dirt encrusted on the wheels, a load of rocks in the dump box awaiting further work tomorrow.

**Poetry: "Madrigal" by Michelangelo from The Poetry of Michelangelo an annotated translation by James M. Saslow, Yale University Press, 1991.

Heels Over Head | Stories