He hated these kinds of stories. He was an investigative reporter, for Christ's sake, one of the best in the city, and they wanted to waste his talents on this shit. Instead of tracking down landlords who discriminated against people with AIDS or investigating allegations of police misconduct when it came to a recent spate of gay bashings, the editor had assigned him to a puff piece any candy-assed intern could have written.
"I want you to get the story on this Justin Taylor," Ed had said right after lunch in his office.
"An artist. His show is opening tonight downtown."
"Why don't you give it to Lewis?" he'd asked. After all, Lewis was the culture correspondent.
"If it were a straightforward review of an exhibition, I would. But there's something strange about this Taylor character."
"He's an artist." It went with the territory.
"Nobody knows anything about him. He appeared on the scene about five years ago. Came out of nowhere."
"I still don't get it. What's the big deal? He's an artist, it's not like he's running for President. Why do we care?"
"He's a mystery and newspapermen hate mysteries."
"His exhibition closes in five weeks. You've got two."
"You're punishing me for something, right?"
"I want the story on this guy and I don't care how you get it." He handed him an invitation to the opening. "Wear something nice."
So that was that. Conversation over. He'd spent the rest of his afternoon going through Lexis-Nexis reading up on the guy. Seemed pretty straightforward: he was in his twenties and was an excellent draftsman. Most of the art writers compared him to Paul Cadmus, another modern artist whose work could be traced back to the old Masters: they both specialized in male nudes, producing anatomically precise yet erotically charged portraits of their models.
There was very little biographical information on Taylor, practically none actually. No one had said where he was from, where he'd studied, and there were no photographs of the artist that he could find. Interesting but nothing to keep newspaper editors up at night. So why was Ed pushing this?
Brian jotted down the little he did know about Taylor, which included the address of the gallery where the exhibition was being held and the name and address of his representative: Gardner Vance. He also made some crib notes from the reviews of Taylor's other shows. Not a lot to go on but it was better than nothing. Grabbing his Palm and his laptop, he headed for home. To change.
There was a message from Mikey wanting to know if he was coming out to play tonight which he figured he'd better answer. As he stripped, he tapped in the speed dial number for Mikey's cell and waited for his best friend to answer. "Hey." He sat and removed his shoes and socks. "I can't. Work." Michael was pissed and was trying to convince him to change his plans. He laid the phone on the bed and finished undressing while the buzzing continued. "Look, I'll see you tomorrow. Later." Closed his cell and padded into the bathroom to shower.
An half hour later, he emerged from the bathroom showered and shaved, his hair wet styled and spritzed so that it stood up in the front of his head like a rooster's coxcomb. He opened his closet and surveyed the lay of the land. What to wear, what to wear… There was his old standby outfit: close-fitting, black, pinstriped trousers and a slinky, black silk shirt with white piping. Look pretty good with his one pair of Prada and his mid-thigh black leather coat. Then again, maybe he should go for a more formal look: dark grey suit with a white shirt and black paisley print tie. He went through his entire closet and finally decided on his first choice. As he dressed, he imagined what Taylor would look like. Probably some greasy-haired bohemian type. Or worse, some Andy Warhol wannabe. A prima donna. Yuck. What a complete waste of his time. He could be out at the clubs, dancing the night away, picking up his trick du jour. With any luck, he could leave the show by nine and still have time to hit Babylon with the boys.
There was no valet parking at the gallery so he had to find a space himself about three blocks away which further soured his mood. If they didn't have anything decent to eat, he was going to force Ed to pay for an extravagant lunch tomorrow to make up for it.
He handed the door attendant his invitation and then passed into the gallery, on the lookout for food. Spotted waiters circulating with trays. So it was going to be appetizers then. C'est la vie. There were small plates set up next to the bar. He ordered a white wine, then picked up a plate and raided one of the waiter's trays. The guy gave him the eye and Brian made a mental notation to look him up later on. Might be fun.
The gallery proper seemed to be divided into spaces: an alcove and a main exhibition space. Apparently they'd set up the food and drinks in the alcove, probably to help control traffic in the main space. Once he'd taken the edge off his hunger, Brian made his way towards the show.
Even though he knew there were reporters here from other papers, he didn't recognize any of them. Not his area. If he'd been covering a trial or the latest political scandal, he would have known every reporter in the room. He sighed. There was no point in bitching about this even to himself. Ed had given him an assignment and he'd carry it out, same as always.
He walked around a partition and stopped in his tracks, mesmerized. From the minimal amount of research that he'd done, he'd known what to expect from Taylor's work but he hadn't been able to predict the effect the drawings would have on him in person. He stood before one of the sketches in awe of the artist's skill. A man stood by a bed; it was obvious from its disarray that he had just gotten up, that and the fact that he was stretching. His back was to the viewer and Brian lost himself in the play of muscles in his shoulders. He felt as if he could reach out and actually touch living flesh. Amazing.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
The man's voice startled him and he jerked back his hand. He hadn't even been aware of moving.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Brian looked over and down at the speaker. Blond, blue eyes, creamy white skin, luscious lips that had curved into a smile which he returned. "No, ah, thanks. If you hadn't said something, I probably would have set off all kinds of alarms." Shook his head. "I don't know what got into me."
"The art," he said quite simply.
"Yeah," chuckled Brian. "I suppose."
"Have you seen any of his work before?"
"No. Not in person. Just online."
The man nodded.
"Oh, all of it," he replied.
Thinking he'd hit pay dirt, Brian asked, "Are you his manager?"
"No," the man answered. "A fan." With that he wandered away, presumably to view the other pieces.
Brian watched him walk off ruefully. He was very attractive (nice ass) albeit a little young but there was a maturity in his voice that his youthful appearance could not hide. Maybe he was older than he looked. Then again, thinking about his outfit, black jeans and a cream sweater, he decided that he was, indeed, as young as he seemed. Still, it might be fun to spend a night with him. Not one to plan too far in advance, Brian continued through the exhibition, figuring he'd let things happen as they would. Besides, he had a job to do and that didn't include getting laid.
But it was definitely a fringe benefit he usually enjoyed and he could tell the guy had been impressed. Hell, they were always impressed. Even when he wasn't trying very hard. And he seldom tried very hard, just wasn't in his nature. He preferred passive hunting: present the goods and let the prey come to him. Most people thought of him in feline terms, likening him to a midnight jaguar or a sleek cheetah but, in reality, he was more like a Venus Flytrap or a Pitcher Plant, lying in wait for his hapless victims. Not that they didn't enjoy being consumed. He hadn't had any complaints yet.
For the next twenty minutes he perused the artwork and eavesdropped on conversations, hoping to pick up some helpful tidbits but everyone there seemed as clueless as he was as to the identity of the artist. He did, however, manage to find out who Gardner Vance was and succeeded in cornering him for all of sixty seconds and wrangling a promise from him to meet with the reporter tomorrow. Satisfied that he'd done his duty as far as the opening was concerned, Brian looked around for the waiter who'd cruised him earlier. Time to set up an assignation. Other than the blond guy he'd met, the waiter had been the only other person worth noticing. He hadn't seen the blond again so…
The waiter had disappeared too. Vaguely disappointed, Brian decided he'd drop in at Babylon and see what the pickings were like. Just as he retrieved his coat from the closet, he spotted the blond just ahead of him, walking out the door. Hurrying a bit, he caught up with him. Smiled when he was noticed.
"I thought so," said the guy.
Brian glanced up at the sky. "Night's still young."
"You propositioning me?" Matt asked with a grin.
For a moment Matt seemed even younger than he looked and Brian wondered if he'd come on too strong. Still, a guy like that, who looked like that, ought to have been used to the attention. God knows, there was nothing that caused Brian to pause anymore.
"Where's your car?" Matt said at last and Brian gestured down the
Sliding open the door, Brian stepped aside to let his guest enter the loft first.
Matt looked around the wide open space, his eye settling on various objects: the white leather sofa in the living room, the shiny stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, the Le Corbusier chaise lounge, and the beautiful glass and wood partition around the bed. "This place is amazing."
"It's what I work for," Brian replied, not stretching the truth by much. He was paid fairly well but most of his pay went to the mortgage, the Jeep payment, and clothing. It was a good thing he didn't eat much cause whatever was left went to entertaining. "Have a seat. You want anything to drink?"
"No, I'm fine. Thanks." Matt sat on the sofa and leaned forward to examine the ceramic fruit on the coffee table.
Taking a seat in one of the armchairs, Brian waited. For what, he wasn't sure. Normally he would have grabbed the guy and kissed him and they would have proceeded from there. But, for some reason, he was taking things slow, letting Matt set the pace. Maybe it was the fact that the young man seemed even younger than he appeared to be. In any case, they had all night, there was no rush.
After he'd finished examining the fruit, Matt asked, "So what do you do?"
"I’m a reporter," Brian replied. "Newspaper. That's why I was at the opening. Supposed to be doing a story on Justin Taylor," he explained. "And you?"
"Free lance graphic designer." Matt stole a glance at Brian, amusing the man.
He shook his head, then began to speak. "It's…" Matt looked down at his hands. "You're just so beautiful," he said with a shy smile.
Brian moved from the chair to the sofa, lifted Matt's chin. "So look at me." The young man did and Brian kissed him softly. He felt Matt's hand on his shoulder, squeezing it slightly as their kiss deepened. Then Matt pulled away, face flushed. "What's wrong?"
"I…" He turned from Brian. "I should go."
"What did I do?"
"It's not you." Matt wouldn’t look at him.
Taking a deep breath, Brian acquiesced. "You need a lift?"
"I'll catch a cab." Although he looked back at Brian as he approached the door, Matt said nothing, and left.
"Shit!" Brian rubbed his face and tried to figure out just what had
happened but he couldn't. Chalking the entire evening up as one gigantic
missed opportunity, he went to bed.
"So what exactly would you like to know about my client?" asked Gardner Vance, seated behind a minimalist steel and glass desk.
"Ah, anything?" Brian replied. "No one knows anything about him. What he looks like, how old he is, where he went to college, if he went to college, is he married, single, divorced…"
"And what does that have to do with the art?"
Almost snickering, Brian caught himself. "It's called marketing the artist. Could help with his sales, reputation…?"
"Our sales are quite good and Justin's reputation is impeccable."
"But outside of the art world, no one knows who he is."
"And why should we care?"
"Could mean the difference between being a talented, respected artist who gets a footnote in an art history book and being the next Keith Haring or Andy Warhol."
Garnder tented his fingers. "Maybe Justin's satisfied with his footnote."
Closing his Palm, Brian put away his stylus and gathered his belongings. "Then I'm wasting your time and mine." He rose to leave.
"My client is a very private man."
"I can appreciate that."
"And he's still quite young. It's my job to protect him."
"From people who would use him, hurt him, and then abandon him. Justin's extremely talented. Mr. Kinney, do you know who Jean-Michael Basquiat was?"
"Yeah. They did that movie about him. Died from… a drug overdose?"
"Exactly. Had his entire life ahead of him. Wasted. I don’t want that to happen to Justin."
"And you think one interview is going to do that?"
Brian nodded. "Then I'll just be going." Only he didn’t feel as unconcerned as he sounded. Ed was going to flip out when he found out Brian hadn't gotten an interview with either Taylor or his representative. All he had were some impressions he'd jotted down after having seen Taylor's works at the show. And considering his limited knowledge of art, he was certain his thoughts wouldn't add up to much of an article. All the way back to the paper he kept practicing what he'd say when he turned in his piece. He wondered how much severance pay he'd get when they canned him.
Having spent a very twitchy day at work avoiding Ed, Brian left the office and headed for the diner with something akin to relief. Even though his stomach was still slightly upset, he was starving. Besides, the guys would be there and they would hang out and he'd feel a whole lot better when he got home.
The guys were already waiting when he got to the diner: Mikey sitting alone on one side of the booth and Em and Teddy on the other. He slid into the booth next to Michael and bussed him on the cheek. "Hey, guys."
"So how'd it go last night?" Mikey asked.
"Total clusterfuck. I didn't meet the artist, didn't get an interview, and I didn't get laid."
"You were expecting to fuck the guy?" asked Ted.
"No. I picked up this twink at the opening and took him home and he freaked."
Michael shook his head. "How old?"
"Old enough to know what he was doing. I mean, what the fuck else did he think we were going to do when we got back to my place? Play Monopoly?"
Emmett, who was the softest-hearted one of the bunch, asked, "You didn't make him feel bad, did you?"
Brian rolled his eyes. "I didn't say shit. I even asked him if he needed a lift."
"Aww," said Em. "That's sweet."
"Well, that's it for the sweet me. From now on, I pick 'em up, take 'em home, and fuck 'em. No talking, no seduction, just shut the fuck up and fuck."
"How romantic," quipped Ted. "You should write greeting cards."
Michael was studying Brian closely. "You really had a thing for him, huh?"
"He had a sweet ass and I was horny. End of story."
Brian signaled Deb. "Hey, Deb. A little service?"
"Thought you normally got serviced at Babylon," she cawed and the guys all laughed.
Dinner with his friends went a long ways towards improving his mood but he was still a little down as he walked from the Jeep to the front door of his building. Guess Mikey was right and he had been into Matt more than he cared to admit. Well, fuck it.
He looked up and out of the shadows came Matt. They stood looking at one another for a few moments, then he punched in the building security code and held the door open. Matt walked past him and waited. Instead of calling for the elevator, Brian leaned against the wall and said, "You came back."
"I thought I owed you an explanation."
Shook his head. "Not really."
Matt bit his lip. "I… I wanted to see you again."
"Here I am."
"You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?"
"Well," started Brian, "I was pretty disappointed last night."
"So was I."
"Oh? I didn't live up to your expectations?"
"No, I didn't. I thought… I really wanted you and I thought I could… but I couldn't. It's not your fault."
Brian held up his hands. "Look, it was nothing. Obviously, it wasn't meant to be. So don’t beat yourself up about it. Forget it." He started up the stairs.
"I don't want to."
He stopped. Waited. Matt came up behind him. "Matt—"
"Can't I, at least, explain?" When Brian didn't answer, the younger man moved down a couple steps. "Or I… I can go. You probably don't give a shit." He started down the stairs.
"Come on up." Brian watched Matt's face brighten a little with hope.
They walked up to the apartment without speaking. Once inside the loft, Matt took a seat on the sofa and Brian got down a couple of goblets and a bottle of white wine from the refrigerator. Poured it and offered Matt a glass.
"Thanks." He looked at the amber colored wine and took a sip. "Good."
"Started it last night. Helps me sleep."
Matt put his glass down and took a deep breath. "I'm not very good at meeting people."
"Did a fine job of meeting me."
"That's what I mean. Usually I don't talk to strangers."
"Your mommy would be proud of you."
"Sorry. Bad habit." He confessed, "It's my way of not dealing with things. Being a smartass."
"I just… I don’t want you to think that I go around jerking guys around. I really liked you and I felt something." He picked up his glass again and drank half of the wine that remained before putting it down again.
Brian had an idea of what the problem might be. Softly, he asked, "Have you ever been with a man before?"
Matt's eyes widened. "Yeah." His fingers tightened on his knee.
"What? What's wrong?"
"The last guy I went home with…" His voice grew faint. "He… he raped me. He raped me and he threatened to kill me if I ever said anything."
Fear blanched the color from Matt's face. "No."
Brian was torn between the desire to touch Matt and the knowledge that if he did, he'd probably spook him. "I'm sorry," he told him instead. "That should never have happened to you. To anyone."
"That was four years ago." He smiled. "And I'm kinda going out of my mind."
"Four years with no sex, yeah, I can understand that," said Brian and they laughed. He sobered. "I would never hurt you like that."
"I know. I knew that last night, I just… It's hard not to be scared."
Brian nodded. "Would you mind if I touched you?"
Matt's lip trembled. "No." He watched as Brian closed the space between them and laid his hand upon his thigh. Closed his eyes.
"Can I kiss you?"
"Yes," he whispered and Brian leaned forward and kissed him gently.
"You're so beautiful." Brian ran his thumb over Matt's cheek. "How about we have dinner tomorrow night?"
Brian stood and pulled Matt to his feet. "So I'll see you tomorrow."
"What about… what about tonight?"
"You can dream about me a little bit longer," teased Brian.
"You're a sadist."
"And you're worth waiting for. Sevenish?"
He walked Matt to the door and pulled it open. Kissed the young man
once more and stood in the doorway until the elevator took Matt away.
Unable to avoid Ed any longer, Brian ended up in his office early the next day attempting to bullshit his way through a grilling. It didn't work and he figured he lost about half his ass before his boss was through with him. With a warning that he only had a week and a few days left before his story was due, Ed also let him know that if he didn't produce an expose on Taylor, his days at the paper would be numbered.
"I'm supposed to get a story that no one else has been able to get? Ever?"
"You're the investigative reporter, right?"
Defeated, he returned to his desk and was contemplating the best ways to commit suicide when the phone rang. "Yeah."
"Mr. Kinney, this is Gardner Vance, Justin Taylor's representative."
"I know who you are, Mr. Vance. What can I do for you?"
"I believe it's more of what I can do for you."
"Mr. Vance, I'm having a really bad day, so unless you're calling to offer me an exclusive interview with Justin Taylor, I'd have to say I'm not interested."
"That's exactly what I'm offering."
Brian nearly fell out of his chair. His heart began to beat like a marching band's rhythm section. "When and where?"
Vance hesitated. "You don’t actually get to meet him."
"Come again? How the fuck am I supposed to interview him if I don't meet him?"
"Submit your questions to me—"
"No. No, no."
"It's our way or no way at all."
"Fuck." Brian ran a hand through his hair. "This is insane. I can't turn in a story where I've supposedly gotten an exclusive interview if I never even talked to the artist. I might as well have made it up. It would lack all credibility. And so would I. Sorry. No deal."
"I'm sorry as well. Good day."
Brian slammed down the phone and cradled his head. Tonight had better be special cause after today he really needed something to take his mind off the fact that he was coming dangerously close to losing his job. And his mind.
The day crept by and when the end finally came, he swept up his stuff and flew from the building. So much to do and so little time.
Stopping by the bakery, he picked up dessert, then dropped by the grocery store to grab a couple of steaks, a prepackaged salad, and a bottle of dressing. Nothing fancy but the steaks were the best and he had a couple bottles of excellent wine. Anyway, what Matt really wanted was him.
He showered and changed into a pair of soft grey slacks topped with an almost sheer black shirt. Didn't bother to put on his shoes. No point. He was staying home. And he loved the feel of the cool, wooden floors beneath his bare soles. Besides, he had sexy feet. Lots of guys had told him so.
He'd just put the salad in a bowl and tossed it with a little dressing and had fired up the grill on the stove when the intercom sounded. In an instant he buzzed Matt through, left the door open and removed the already seasoned steaks from the refrigerator. He was pouring the wine when Matt arrived. "Perfect timing."
Matt closed the door and came around the column into the kitchen. With a kiss, he handed Brian a bouquet of deep red roses.
Brian thanked him with another kiss and found a vase for the flowers. Placed them on the table in between the lit tapers. "Grab a glass and have a seat," he told his guest. "I'll have the steaks done in a sec. If you like 'em rare."
Scrunching up his nose, Matt said, "Actually, I kinda prefer 'em…"
"Please don’t say well done."
With a groan, Brian slapped Matt's steak down on the grill. "I take no responsibility for this." Setting the timer, he joined Matt on the sofa. "Cheers."
They clinked glasses. "Cheers." After a sip, Matt said, "This is nice."
"Everything. Very romantic." Classical guitar music seemed to float on the gentle breeze that blew through the open windows causing the gauzy curtains to flutter as if sighing.
Leaving his glass on the table, Matt walked over to the window and looked outside. After a moment, Brian joined him. Took a chance and slipped his arms around him. Matt looked up and around and smiled. They stood for a while without speaking, then the timer went off and, reluctantly, Brian left Matt to check on his steak.
When the steaks were done, they dined by flickering candlelight while engaged in easy conversation.
"You know," Brian said as they cleaned up, having put off dessert until later, "I don't even know where you live, what your last name is…"
"Does it matter?"
Brian shrugged. "Guess not," he replied although Matt's question stung a little.
"I'm sorry," Matt said, having read Brian's feelings correctly from the tone of his voice. "I didn't mean… Old habits," he said by way of explanation.
"So what exactly are we doing?" Brian asked. He led his guest to the livingroom where they perched on the sofa, both of them anxious, nervous.
"I don't understand."
"What are you looking for?"
"What do you mean?"
"What do you want from me? What did you come here thinking you'd get out of… out of this?"
The sudden seriousness of Brian's tone made Matt take the opposite tack. He joked, "Dinner."
"Well, you've had it."
"I'm not much of a dancer." He didn't smile as he said it, just watched Matt with his ever darkening hazel eyes.
They forced the truth from Matt. "Maybe make out," he said, cheeks burning.
"That can be arranged."
Thinking that he'd detected the least bit of softening in Brian's attitude, Matt told him, "Maybe have sex."
"And then what?" The hardness was back, confusing Matt.
"And that's it? You get your fuck and you go? Is that it?"
"Fine." His face had shut down completely.
"Brian, that's not all I want." He laid his hand upon his host's arm, hoping his flesh could convey what his words could not. "I really like you. I'd like to keep seeing you." Of their own volition, his fingers began stroking Brian's forearm.
"So you're looking for a boyfriend?" His tone had warmed again.
"Maybe. You up for that?"
"You ever have a boyfriend?" They knew so little about one another, their heads were busy screaming, "Slow down," but their hearts were racing forward, heedless of the warning. So many questions to ask and so little time before their hearts gave over completely.
"Not much good at it."
"Just… never worked out."
"Did you want them to?"
Brian started to respond with something flippant, but decided to tell the truth. They would get nowhere with lies between them. "Yeah. Once or twice."
"Got my heart stomped on the first time." And it still hurt, although not as much. With time he'd understood that they hadn't really had a relationship he and Kyle. He'd loved Kyle and Kyle had… indulged him until he'd tired of pretending and walked away. "Second time… I guess I, I didn't trust him enough. Or myself." He hadn't given them a chance; afraid of being hurt again, he'd frittered away the opportunity and told himself he wasn't to blame.
"Trust is a hard thing."
"Do you trust me?"
"I want to."
"But you don't."
"We just met."
It was a reasonable response but he wasn't really interested in reason or logic. "So… here we are."
"Brian… I do trust you. I trust you not to hurt me."
"Just not to love you." And why should Matt believe that he loved him?
"Do you love me?"
He gave Matt's answer back to him although it was a lie. "We just met." As if that mattered. He already felt the first glimmerings of love for the young man but if Matt didn't feel anything for him, he would let him go and move on. It was the only way. He waited. Finally Matt spoke.
"I think I'm falling in love with you." He fixed his gaze on Brian. "I didn't think I was alone in feeling that way."
"Maybe you're not." He watched Matt try to satisfy himself with a very unsatisfactory answer, and then when he couldn't hold it in any longer, he said, "You're not." Matt smiled and the night seemed to brighten. "God, you're beautiful when you smile."
"And when I'm not smiling?"
"Stop fishing." Cupping Matt's face, he kissed the young man until they were both lightheaded.
"Don't stop," Matt begged.
"Better. Or I'd never let you out of here."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Oh, yes, you are. You're going home."
"Because we should do this right." They'd talked through some difficult things and they both needed time to think about what they'd said, to be sure. There'd be no regrets this time, no recriminations after the fact.
"We're not having sex?"
Brian nearly laughed. He knew how Matt felt: there'd been times when he'd wanted Kyle so badly he'd been willing to push everything else out of his head, he would have done anything and had and then hated himself for it. "Not tonight."
"I've made up my mind." He released Matt and headed for the kitchen.
Even though he and Matt hadn't slept together last night, he greeted the day with a wide smile. Things were progressing quite well between the two of them. They'd kissed goodnight and he'd stood in the doorway long after Matt had gone, smiling, the taste of Matt still on his lips.
At breakfast, Mikey took one look at his grin and said, "I guess somebody got lucky last night."
"So, how was it?"
"Dinner was fabulous."
"I mean, how was the sex?"
"Who said anything about sex?"
Debbie, who had been about to pour him a cup of coffee, went, "Let me get this straight. Brian Kinney had a dinner date that did not end in anal intercourse?"
"It happens." He spooned in some sugar.
She smiled softly. "This one must be pretty special."
"He is," he said after a moment.
"So who is this guy?" asked Mikey.
"I met him at the exhibition the other night. His name is Matt and he's a free-lance graphic designer."
"Pretty much." It amused him how little he knew about Matt and the fact that it didn't bother him anymore. They knew all they needed to about one another.
"What's his last name?"
"I don't know."
"Where does he live?"
"I don't know."
"Michael!" Deb scolded. "If Brian's not concerned, why should you be?"
"Because I'll be the person they'll call when they find his body hacked into a hundred tiny pieces."
"Ha ha," said Brian. "Matt's not like that."
"So what is he like?"
"He's very gentle. And sweet. And he's had a hard life, so it's not easy for him to trust people. But he trusts me. And I don't want to make him regret that."
"Well," Deb said with a kiss to his forehead, "I'm proud of you, kiddo."
After Deb had gone, Michael asked Brian, "So you really like this guy?"
"Yeah," Brian said shyly, "I do."
"You think it might work out?" He remembered Kyle, remembered having to help Brian pick up the pieces and he didn't relish the thought of having to do it again.
"I don't know." Shrugged. "I hope so."
That evening Matt met him at the loft and they went out to dinner and then dancing at Babylon, meeting up with the guys who all fawned over Matt, especially Emmett who thought the young designer was "an absolute doll!" Despite his friends' enthusiasm and desire to be nice to Matt, Brian could sense something was wrong. When he got a chance, he took Matt aside and held him. "What's wrong?"
"Something's wrong. What is it?"
"I’m just not used to…" he looked around at the dancing guys, "all this."
"You wanna go?"
"Not if you want to stay."
"I've been to Babylon thousands of times. If you want to go, we go."
"You don't mind?"
Brian kissed him next to his mouth. "I don't mind."
So they ended up back at his place, curled together on the sofa, Matt lying in his arms, a couple glasses of wine on the coffee table, a CD on the stereo.
"Everyone's curious about you," Brian told him.
"What'd you tell them?"
"That you were the one."
Matt sat up and looked at Brian with wide, bright eyes. "You mean it?"
"I mean it." He smiled as Matt leaned forward and kissed him. Parting his lips, he pressed the back of Matt's head and felt his lover's tongue slip inside his mouth. Heaven.
For his part, Matt felt the same way. He wrapped his arms and legs about Brian and strained to move even closer. When they parted to take a breath, he whispered, "I want you," and kissed Brian again, starving for a taste of his lips. Minutes later Matt pulled back and stared into Brian's eyes. Traced his lips with his fingertip. "I want to stay the night."
Brian drew him down again. "Then stay."
They kissed from the sofa to the bedroom; kissed as they fumbled with buttons, zippers, snaps, loathe to part for even a second; kissed as they fell upon the bed, grateful to be together again, bare skin against bare skin. As they lay together, Brian marveled at their differences: brunette and blond, hazel eyes and blue, tan skin and pale. He savored Matt's fineness: that he was small enough to fit in the hollow of his arm, waist slender enough to encircle with his hands. He especially loved running his hands over Matt's shoulders, down his back, and up over the mounds of his voluptuous rear.
Matt laughed into his mouth and said, "I think you only love me for my ass."
And Brian kissed him and lightly popped him on the butt.
"Less talking and more kissing."
"More fucking," Matt suggested.
"Dirty boy," teased Brian.
"Try me." He rolled over onto his back and parted his legs, making room for Brian who lay between them and began kissing his way down his lover's body. "Yes…"
Starting with his neck and snaking over his chest, Brian kissed every inch of Matt's body that he could reach. As he flicked his tongue over the tip of a stiffening nipple, he heard his partner sigh and smiled; then he sucked the hard nub between his lips, causing Matt to hiss.
As busy as his lips and tongue were, his fingers were far from idle. They explored each hollow, each fold, each indentation, mound, and stretch of flesh. By the time he'd encircled Matt's navel with his tongue, the young man was writhing beneath him. His erection brushed beneath Brian's chin, vying for attention. Eager to satisfy, Brian wrapped his fist around the base of Matt's cock and lowered his lips upon the head.
"Oh, God! Brian…"
Fairly purring as he went down on Matt, Brian sucked him until the tip opened and he could taste his precum. He released him and ran the head over his lips, wetting them before sliding them down the rigid shaft.
Matt shivered and his balls tightened between his thighs. He exhaled as Brian began fondling them, stroking them as he went down on him. Brian's fingers traveled along his perineum and brushed over his hole. He arched his back and spread his legs even wider, driving his cock even deeper inside Brian's mouth. "I'm—I'm—I'm coming."
Brian continued to suck him and pressed against his hole with his finger.
"Brian!" Matt bucked and came. His cock slid across Brian's tongue as he continued to ejaculate, every muscle tense and hard. Finally he relaxed and laid spent upon the bed, Brian lapping cum from his softening dick. But before he could catch his breath completely, Brian knelt between his legs and caught him by the thighs and drew him up so that he hung nearly upside down. As he watched through slitted eyes, Brian lowered his head and began tonguing his hole. "Oh God! Oh God… Oh…" Matt whimpered as Brian rimmed him, tongue washing over his hole, then flickering among the folds, then coming to a point to prod and poke and pry him open. When he did open up, he felt Brian's tongue slip inside him and the entire room began to spin.
Matt's moaning in his ears, Brian hungrily devoured his hole, eating him out, feeding on the quivering knot until it was swollen and slick with his saliva. Releasing him, he reached for a condom and unrolled it over his cock, then squeezed a healthy amount of lube in his palm. Spread it over the length of his dick and also eased a finger inside Matt. The young man was tight, as tight as he would have expected someone to be who hadn't been penetrated in years but it didn't take long for Matt to begin moaning in pleasure.
He clenched Brian's finger, then loosened his muscles as the man continued to slide in and out of his hole. "Feels good."
Brian freed his finger. Raising Matt's legs over his shoulders, he told him to relax. "I won't hurt you."
Brian held Matt's gaze. "I love you."
"I love you too." Brian pushed and Matt screwed up his face as he bore down. He could feel Brian entering him, stretching him open, the broad head passing through the two tight rings of muscle guarding his insides. "I love you," he gasped and then Brian was in him, sliding forward.
When he was completely sheathed in Matt, Brian paused, giving his partner time to adjust to the feeling. "You okay?"
"Don't stop." Brian shook his hair from his face. Matt reached up and brushed back a few stray strands, damp with sweat. Caressed Brian's face. Brian withdrew and he cried out, gripped his broad shoulders and held on as the man began to thrust inside him with regularity. "Yes, yes. Yes."
It'd been so long since he'd been in anyone who'd made him feel the way Matt did. "I love you," he whispered as he moved against him.
Matt turned his head as Brian shifted positions and buried his face in the hollow of his neck. "Oh, yeah. Yeah." His toes curled and his mouth fell open as he fought for breath. Brian had found just the right angle of entrance and each time he pushed inside him, his cock bumped Matt's prostate and the young artist began moaning as he grew more and more aroused. Entwining his fingers in Brian's hair, he started shouting and tightening around Brian's dick. "Uh! Uh!" He squeezed his eyes shut and grunted. Cum coated their bellies.
Brian pumped his hips once, twice, and then growled as he dropped his load. "Fuck!" He pressed his face into Matt's neck and kissed his sweaty skin as he continued to rock against him. "Oh, God…"
Muscles trembling, they lay, still joined, until they regained enough
strength to move their weary bodies. Cleaning up a bit, they moved back
into one another's arms and slept.
In the morning, Brian opened his eyes and looked quickly to his side. Sighed in relief. Matt was still there. It hadn't been a dream. He turned onto his side and kissed the young man who shared his bed. Blue eyes opened and sparkled in the early morning sunlight. "Hey."
"Hey." A smile like sunshine itself brightened Matt's face and the room. "That was worth waiting four years for."
Brian chuckled and kissed him again. "Get cleaned up and I'll take you to breakfast."
"How about we have breakfast at my place?"
He raised a brow. "I finally get to see where you live?" Matt nodded. Brian threw back the covers. "The shower awaits, my love."
Blushing, Matt followed him into the bathroom. While Brian fiddled with the shower, he peed and then when he was through, Brian came out to use the toilet while he made further adjustments to the water temperature.
"Too hot?" asked Brian as he joined him in the shower.
"Just a tad."
Brian rubbed soap on Matt's fair skin. "My princess," he snickered.
Matt moved closer so that Brian could feel his cock and corrected him. "Prince."
Wrapping a hand around the plump organ, Brian agreed. "My prince." Tugged and let go. But Matt had other ideas and drew Brian's head down for a kiss that took precedence over washing. When he released Brian, they were both rather aroused. "How hungry are you?" he asked Matt and the young man knelt at his feet.
Laying his head back against the wall, Brian breathed, "Hallelujah."
It took them longer than they'd anticipated to shower and dress but neither one complained as they finally pulled up in front of Matt's building. It looked a lot like Brian's.
"Loft?" Brian asked as they went inside.
He followed Matt into the elevator and up to the top floor. "This is too strange."
"We both like being on top," joked Matt.
Brian said nothing. Maybe they'd find out just how versatile they both were after breakfast. It wasn't that he never bottomed, it was just that normally he and his partners were perfectly satisfied with him being a top.
"Voila," said Matt as he threw open the door to his place. It was laid out on a different plan than Brian's place, the door situated at the end of the apartment, lengthwise. The various areas of the apartment were defined by levels, the livingroom in a sunken area, the kitchen on the ground floor so to speak, and the bedroom and bathroom up on platforms.
"Sweet." Looking down the vast room, Brian saw that a large portion of the room was screened off. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to the hidden area.
"My studio," Matt said softly.
Then Brian noticed the artwork on the walls. The pieces seemed familiar. "Hey..." He looked around, they all seemed to be by the same artist. "You must really like that Taylor guy's stuff."
Brian became aware of the subdued tone of Matt's voice. "What's going on?"
"I want you to see my studio."
So Brian walked with him to the opposite end of the loft, around the partitions. Four massive windows dominated the wall, letting in an amazing amount of light. Perfect for an artist, even a graphic designer. He glanced around, looking for Matt's computer. The designers at the newspaper all had state of the art computers. He didn’t see one. "So how do you work if you don't have a Mac?" he asked.
Matt removed a cloth from over a piece. There, on an easel, was a work in progress. An eerily familiar work.
Brian frowned. "But that looks like…" He looked at Matt. "That's Justin Taylor's work."
Brian focused on the drawing; he felt cold. "You never said what your last name was." Now he didn't have to.
"I suppose Matt's short for Matthew."
"Yeah." He started for the door.
He didn't wait for an explanation, just got the hell out of there, ran downstairs to his Jeep, started it up and drove away. But he did not go home, did not want to be there if—when Matt—Justin called. So he went to the diner and sat outside in the car. Just yesterday he'd been happy. Just yesterday he'd told his friends that he'd found the one. A tear slipped down his cheek and he brushed it away angrily. How many times did he have to be a fool? How many?
"Hey!" called Mikey as he entered the diner. "Thought you'd be out with Matt."
"No," he replied and slid into the booth next to Em since Ted was sitting next to Michael.
Emmett studied his face. "You look like you just got kicked in the balls."
"Overuse," said Ted and the guys laughed.
Brian did not. Em nudged him with his shoulder. "Where's that little dreamboat of yours?"
Brian stood up and walked out of the diner. Michael rushed out behind him.
"Brian! Brian, wait up." He caught up with his friend. "What happened?"
"The next time I tell you I'm in love, would you please take a hammer and bash my fuckin' brains in? Because it would hurt a lot less than this," he said and he leaned his forehead against the door of the Jeep.
"He lied to me." He laughed bitterly. "Although, I guess you can't really call it a lie. Just a sin of omission."
"I don't, I don't understand."
"Doesn't matter." He shook his head. "Nothing matters." His shoulders slumped. "I trusted him," he whispered, then sniffled and formed a thin line with his lips. "Fuck it. Fuck it all." Snatched open the car door.
"Brian?" Michael gripped his arm. "Maybe you can work it out."
"No." He got in the Jeep. "See you later."
"Where are you—"
"I've got work to do."
But instead of going home to write, he drove around the city for an hour until he found himself at the gallery where Justin's show was being held. Telling himself that he was making a huge mistake, he parked and went inside. The place was virtually empty, no surprise on a Saturday morning. He walked around the exhibition, studying the pieces on display, remembering how impressed he'd been by them opening night. The honesty of expression, the truth conveyed by a gesture. Looking at the portraits, he'd felt as if he'd known each man, as if he'd known the artist even better. It was as if Justin had exposed his own thoughts and feelings as well as those of his subjects. Now looking at the drawings, Brian felt betrayed, tricked into revealing his own truths when neither the portraits nor the artist would ever be as honest.
He didn't look around. Addressed the sketches instead. "All lies."
"I bet you didn't even have them sit for these, did you?"
"Probably made them up in your head. After all, you can't let anyone get close to you. No one's good enough—"
"I let you get close to me."
"To a lie."
"To me! I showed you the real me. I love you."
"I fell in love with a man who doesn't even exist."
"A name, Brian, that's all. Matt, Justin, what does it matter?"
"It was a lie!"
"I thought, I thought if I told you who I was, you'd only try to get a story out of me. I thought, I didn't think you'd be interested in me."
"You never gave me the opportunity."
"I didn't know you!"
"And I don't know you. I don't know who you are. And, frankly, I don't care." With that, he left the gallery.
Only, all he could think about was Matt. Justin.
He cradled his head at his desk. "Fuck." He didn't have a story, didn't have a lover, all he had were memories of a night that never should have been. With a man who'd only been a phantom.
There was a knock at the door.
Leaving the blank page of his document up on the computer, he went to answer. Found Mikey standing on the other side.
"If you don't want to talk, just tell me to mind my own fuckin' business."
He left his friend at the door and went and got two beers from the fridge. They plopped down on the floor by the sofa. Brian popped the top on both bottles and handed one to Michael. Took a swig.
"So… he played me for a fool." Took a deep draught. "Remember that artist I was supposed to do the story on?"
"Yeah, the Amazing Invisible Man."
"Turns out he's not so invisible. Turns out he was Matt."
Michael stared in disbelief. "You're kidding."
"Nope. So here I've been spending time with the very person I was supposed to be hunting down."
"Did he know who you were?"
"Yeah. He knew. I even told him about my assignment. He and Gardner must have had a big laugh about that one." And then that phony offer of an interview; he wondered who had come up with that idea.
"Man, Brian, shit. I'm sorry."
"Me too." He studied the beer in his hands. "Guess he makes number three, huh?" A tear dropped.
"You'll find someone. We both will."
"You will." Brian put aside his beer. "I don't give a fuck anymore."
"You felt the same way after those other two assholes. Hell, I feel the same way every time I break up with some guy. Never stops me from going back out there and making a fool of myself again."
"Well, I'm tired of it. I can fuckin' do without love. Who needs it? I'm better off just fuckin' and forgetting about anything else."
"But you can't do that."
"I can try." Go back to his fuck du jour boys and keep his heart locked away and safe.
Michael knew better than anyone how sensitive Brian was, how easily he was hurt once he gave his heart to someone. It took a lot for him to trust someone but when he did, he trusted them entirely, no reservations. This guy, Matt, he'd really hurt him. Michael moved closer to him and put his arms around him and held him. At first Brian tried to pull away but then he gave in and laid his head on Michael's shoulder and cried. "It'll be okay," Michael assured him.
"I… I really…" He couldn’t say it, but Michael understood.
"I know. I know." Brian had fallen hard for him and now his heart was
He'd gotten up early, no particular task in mind, only that he couldn't
sleep any longer and he was tired of lying in bed. Coffee cup in hand, he
stood by the window and looked out at the sky. Remembered sharing the view
with Matt. Taking a seat, he tried to convince himself that he wasn't in
love with Matt, that it had only been a momentary infatuation, but he
couldn't. Being with Matt, he'd felt complete. "So what are you going to
do?" he asked himself.
Justin hadn't been able to work since Brian had walked out on him. More than anything he wanted to see Brian, to try and explain again why he'd done what he had but the courage to do so had eluded him. Hearing the knock at the door, he assumed Gardner had come over to check up on him. He threw open the door and swallowed his greeting.
For a moment he could only stare at Brian, then he found his voice. "Hey."
"Can we talk?"
He nodded and gestured for Brian to come in. They walked down into the livingroom and sat at opposite ends of the couch.
Brian started to speak, then paused. Took a breath, then began again. "I’m still pretty pissed off at you."
"I… I guess… I guess I wanted you to feel the same way about me that I felt about you."
He shook his head. "I would never have lied to you."
"You don't know that. What if you had been in my place? I explained to you about the rape, about how hard it was for me to trust people. And, besides that, you were a reporter. I couldn't be sure, Brian. Not at first." Especially with Gardner warning him not to be a fool. "But as soon as I was sure, I told you the truth." Justin moved closer to Brian. "I love you. Please, give me another chance. Please."
Without looking at Justin, he said, "I guess that's why I'm here. Because I can't seem to forget you." He looked up. "Only thing left is to forgive you."
Justin reached for Brian and stopped. "You mean it?"
"Yeah." He blinked rapidly a couple of times. "I love you. I don't have any choice." He held out his arms and wrapped them around Justin as the young artist embraced him.
"I won't ever lie to you again. I promise."
They kissed and then Brian cupped Justin's face. "I don't even know what to call you," he said laughing softly.
"I’m partial to Baby," said Justin.
Brian stroked Justin's hair and kissed him. "I love you, Baby," he whispered and Justin smiled so brightly, Brian said, "Maybe I should call you Sunshine."
"I don’t care," Justin told him. "So."
"What about your interview?"
"The one you were supposed to do with me."
"I want to."
But Brian shook his head. "It wouldn’t be right."
"I want to help you."
"Your private life is just that: private. Nobody needs to know. Your work, that's what's important and it's out there for everyone to see. If that's not enough, then too bad."
"But your boss…"
"He'll get over it."
"I don’t want to share you with anyone."
"Don't worry," Justin promised him, "you won't have to." As he held onto Brian, he felt the man shiver. "What's wrong?"
"I just, I never thought it would happen this way. So fast." He gave a weak smile. "It's kind of scary, you know?"
Brian pressed his forehead against Justin's. "I'm sorry. For being angry with you. You were right to be scared. I guess I was mad because I didn't want to think about how scared I was."
Tracing Brian's face with his fingers, Justin confessed, "You were right about the drawings. I never had a model. I could never let anyone get that close to me. Even before the rape, I, I was afraid to let anyone touch me. Really touch me."
"Now you have me," said Brian. "You won't ever need another model."
"I could never find one more beautiful than you anyway." Brian laughed. "What?"
"God, we're sickening." They laughed together and kissed, Justin parting his lips to inhale Brian's breath.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
"Promise me something."
"You'll do the interview."
"I’m tired of hiding. And I'm not afraid anymore."
If the guys were surprised to see Brian and Justin at the diner, they
didn't show it. They just welcomed the young artist into the fold and made
room for him at the table. Of course, space being rather tight, he ended
up mostly sitting on Brian's lap. Neither one complained. Justin was all
for inviting the guys to dinner at his place and telling them his entire
life story but Brian convinced him that a little mystery was a good thing.
Besides, he didn't want anyone to know about Justin's life before his
exclusive was published. And if Emmett knew something, everyone on Liberty
Avenue knew it.
When Ed finished with the story, he laid the sheets of paper down and nodded sagely.
Brian twisted his lips in a grin. "Good job? That's it? Good job? I get the exclusive of the year and all you can say is good job?"
"Fuck," cursed Brian and he heaved himself out of his chair and stomped out of Ed's office.
"Way to go!" shouted Ed after him and Brian gave him the finger. Ed chuckled and got out his red pencil.
Considering how he'd gotten the interview, Brian didn't think he could complain about Ed's rather sedate reception. After all, he'd been wined and dined by his lover and treated to a long, luxurious soak in Justin's claw-footed tub, and then after they'd made love for hours, he and Justin had cut on Brian's tape recorder and talked in bed the rest of the night. Listening to the tape the next day, Brian had smiled, hearing their drowsy voices. But it had been the right way to do it. Justin had been relaxed and had opened up to him the way he never would have in a more formal setting. And it had honored Brian, that Justin had chosen him, not only as his lover but as a confidant. Gardner hadn't been too pleased about the turn of events but he'd begrudgingly come to accept Brian's place in Justin's life. And it was beneficial for him as well. For too long he'd shouldered the burden of being Justin's sole defender. Now he had an ally. Even better, there was no need to protect Justin any longer. The artist had come into his own. By opening his heart to the possibility of love, he had freed himself from the prison of the past.
His work done for the day, Brian drove over to Justin's loft where he was expected for a sitting. Justin had been hinting for days that he was anxious to start a new piece and needed a model. Luckily for him, Brian had no inhibitions about shedding his clothes and being admired. One thing he'd learned long ago was to appreciate his own beauty and the admiration it engendered in others. Mikey called it vanity. Brian called it knowing his own worth. They were both right.
Having watched Brian undress, Justin led him to the chair he was to occupy and positioned him to his specifications, his fingers lingering longingly on his lover's skin. He placed Brian's foot just so on the floor and kissed his calf, drew back and surveyed his work. Perfect. Then he retrieved his sketch pad and sat drawing him for the next hour. As the light shifted subtly, Justin strove to capture the attendant change in Brian's features and as Brian had suspected when he'd seen Justin's sketches, the more truths he revealed abut Brian, the more he exposed his own thoughts and feelings in such a way that his love was captured in every stroke of his pencil.
Maybe I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time
Gardner had been inundated with interview requests after Brian's piece had been published, which he gleefully flourished under their noses when the happy couple invited him over for drinks at Justin's place. "I told you."
"And?" laughed Justin. "Just tell them no. I've done my one in-depth interview for the year." He handed Gardner his martini and sat down next to Brian with a glass of white wine. Brian nursed a Beam.
"Vanity Fair wants to do a cover story on you. Seems it's sexy to be young, beautiful, talented, and gay. With a tragic past."
Justin had insisted that Brian include the story of his attack even though he'd withheld the name of his rapist. "Maybe it'll keep someone else from being raped," had been his rationale for speaking about it in public. "Well," he said now, "maybe I should do it." Asked Brian, "What do you think?"
"Up to you."
He shrugged. "Most artists would kill for that kind of exposure."
Sipping his drink, Gardner sighed. "I'll contact them tomorrow."
Justin turned to Brian. "I wish you could have gotten a piece in Vanity Fair."
"I'm a newspaper reporter," Brian explained. "And, as much as I love you, I can't wait to get back to covering the city beat: murder, madness, and mayhem. I'm just not cut out for the style section. Besides, I did get a couple of calls from some pretty important magazines."
"Yeah, but I told them I couldn't guarantee the same kind of results with all of my interview subjects."
"You mean you're not willing to fuck them too?" asked Gardner. When Justin cut his eyes at him, he apologized. "No offense."
"None taken," Brian replied through semi-clenched teeth. They would never be friends, that much was obvious.
Although he knew that Vance only wanted to yank his chain, Brian couldn't help but feel that once people found out about him and Justin, they'd assume that he intended to ride Justin's coattails to fame and fortune when nothing was further from the truth. He was quite happy being a newspaper reporter. It was who he was, same as Justin was an artist. He didn't even aspire to broadcast journalism; he loved the printed word.
Once Gardner had gone, Justin curled up next to him on the bed and pushed his head into his chest. It always reminded Brian of a giant cat begging to be petted. And it never failed to get his attention. He stroked his lover's bright hair, running his fingers through the silky strands.
"Don't pay any attention to Gardner," Justin told him.
The artist smiled up at him and they fell asleep like that.
Justin's smile greeted him when he met him at the gallery two afternoons later. "What's up, Baby?"
"Vanity Fair is coming at the end of the week."
"Wanna go out and celebrate?"
"Can't. I've got a deadline."
Disappointed, Justin said, "I thought you were the fair-haired boy around the paper."
"Ed believes in short reigns. If I don't get this piece in about Councilman Mayers by tomorrow, I'm a dead man."
"Not even a quick dinner?"
"Fraid not. Gotta meet a contact tonight." He kissed Justin hard and groaned. "Raincheck?"
Leaving without looking back, Brian wished more than anything that he
could ditch his snitch and play all evening. But duty called. And if it
didn't pan out with this guy tonight, he'd hang him up by the balls.
Not only did it pan out but his story on Mayers was tighter than he'd ever imagined it would be. Putting the finishing touches on it around nine, he decided to surprise Justin and spend the night with him. He grabbed a duffel bag, packed it in under ten minutes, and hopped into the Jeep, hoping Justin had made an early night of it.
With a key in his possession, he didn't knock but let himself in and called out in the semi-darkness, "Baby, you in here?" Cut on another light and almost screamed.
Justin sat on the floor by the sofa, his arms wrapped around his knees. He was naked. A stream of blood ran from his nose down his chin and one of his eyes had been blackened. Bruises stood out in livid relief against his pale skin. He shook.
Brian slowly approached him, unsure as to his state of mind. He stopped at the end of the sofa and perched on the edge. Spoke softly. "Justin?"
A tear fell and Justin lowered his head. "I didn't use his name," he whispered.
Oh God… Brian went and found his bathrobe, draped it over Justin's shoulders, nearly crying when Justin flinched from his touch. "I need to get you to the hospital."
"No." He pulled the halves of the robe around him, fingers thick and clumsy when they'd only ever been clever. "I'll be all right."
"You need a doctor."
"I'll be fine." He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and stared at the blood.
"No!" Justin moved away from Brian. "I just need to clean up."
"No, Baby, no, we need to go to the hospital. They need to… they need to examine you. Collect evidence." There was no easy way to say it.
"No," he repeated and tried to stand. Managed to sit on the sofa, shivering. "I'm not pressing charges."
"What do you mean?" Brian could hardly think. Justin shook his head, continued to shake it even after his point had been made. "Justin, listen to me—"
He gathered his strength and stood. Tottered towards the steps to climb up out of the pit.
Risking it, Brian grabbed him. Justin struggled for a moment, limbs flailing uncontrollably, then collapsed against Brian, weeping. Holding him tight, Brian stroked his hair. Tears blinded him. "I'll take care of you. I won't let anyone hurt you ever again. I promise."
"He said… he said he'd kill you. He's been watching us. He could do it. He could kill you." Justin sobbed. "No police." Swallowed. "Promise. No police."
"Baby…" Brian felt helpless in the face of Justin's fears. "You need a doctor. What if he…?" He couldn't say it.
"He used a condom," Justin said softly, barely above a whisper.
"You could be hurt."
Justin wiped his face. "Run me a bath? Please?"
Brian cupped Justin's jaw. Closed his eyes. Nodded and went to the bathroom. Turning on the water, he sat on the toilet and cried silently until his chest burned. When the tub was full, he cut off the water and turned to find Justin standing in the doorway. He started to go, to give him some privacy but Justin caught his hand and squeezed it so he helped him into the tub and sat back down on the toilet.
After Justin had bathed, Brian tended his wounds, then got him into bed and drew the covers over him. Brushed his hair back from his forehead and kissed him sweetly. "Rest now."
"You won't go, will you?"
"I'll be right here."
Comforted, Justin closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
But Brian could not rest. He shook with rage. Pouring a measure of
Beam, he drank it and pressed the glass against his temple. Although the
liquor warmed his insides, he felt chilled.
The Vanity Fair interview was postponed which pleased Gardner although the reason did not. Justin had been against telling him of the attack but Brian wouldn't hear of it. So he was told. Of course, he blamed the story Brian had done on Justin. He continued to blame the piece until Brian threw him up against a wall and threatened to tear out his vocal cords if he ever did so again. They affected an uneasy truce.
For days Justin wouldn't leave his apartment, not even to pick up the mail from downstairs. Brian brought over a suitcase full of his things and took up habitation in Justin's loft, appropriating a bit of livingroom space for an office. Each day when he returned home, he hoped to find Justin ready to face the world again and each day he was disappointed. Justin refused to even seek out help, preferring to face his demons alone. Only he couldn't. Hour by hour, he sank deeper into a depression from which Brian feared he would not emerge.
But he didn't press him. Instead he tried to be understanding and patient which was difficult because he was so afraid of losing Justin, so afraid that he would never be the same again. After the first attack, it had taken Justin four years to trust another person enough to have any kind of relationship. So far he hadn't pushed Brian away but things had changed between them. They rarely touched one another, Justin seemed bothered by any show of affection. Brian slept on the sofa while Justin tossed and turned in his bed. They talked but they avoided difficult topics, preferring instead to discuss the weather, politics, inconsequential things. No one visited them as the idea of being with other people made Justin uneasy. He was ashamed; he blamed himself for the attack and nothing Brian said to him mattered. Finally, Brian could take no more.
He began packing his bags to leave. Justin watched him, terrified yet mute. Feeling Justin's eyes on him, Brian lashed out. "Would you say something! Anything!"
Tears began rolling down Justin's cheeks. "Don't go."
"Why should I stay, Justin? You won't talk to me, you won't let me help you. Why would you even want me here?"
"Because I love you," he said, turning away from him.
Brian came to him and caught hold of his chin, forced Justin to look him in the eye. "We have to do something. You can't live like this. I can't. Baby…"
"I know." Trembling, he embraced Brian and laid his head upon his chest. "I'm so scared."
"I know." He stroked Justin's back, then squeezed him tight. "I know."
"If he hurt you… I don't know what I'd do."
"He won't hurt me. And he won't hurt you either. Ever again. I swear it." He held Justin away from him. "But we have to do something. We have to stop him. You have to help me." Justin nodded and Brian kissed his forehead and hugged him. "You're the bravest person I've ever known."
Justin dried his tears. "I'll tell you everything." Drinks in hand, they settled in the livingroom. "He told me his name was Rob. He never said what his last name was. I didn't ask."
No one ever did. Too eager to fuck to even talk to each other. "What did he look like?"
"Six, six one, dark hair. He's heavier than you are."
"Late twenties, maybe thirty."
"Anything else? Anything different about the way he looked, that would set him apart from other guys?"
"No. He was just a guy."
Brian couldn't believe that Justin would have ever picked just a guy, but maybe he had. He'd done it plenty of times. "What color eyes?"
"I don't know."
They'd run into a wall; time to try another tactic. "What was the first thing you noticed about me at the gallery?"
"You had really long legs." Justin smiled and ran his eyes over Brian's legs.
"You like guys with long legs?"
As if he had to ask. Justin loved his legs, loved touching them, getting tangled up in them. "What was the next thing you noticed?"
"You had beautiful eyes. I like the way they're not the same color. One's a little greener than the other."
"You like hazel eyes?"
"Yeah. A lot of guys have brown eyes but—"
"No. His eyes were green." Justin's eyes widened. He couldn't believe that he'd remembered. And that wasn't all.
"He has a scar above his eyebrow, like he'd gotten hit or something."
Justin reached out towards Brian, hand hovering in the air. "Right."
"Good. What was he wearing this last time?"
"Jeans, tee-shirt, slacks—"
Justin squeezed his eyes shut. Shook his head. "I don't remember."
"I don't remember!" he shouted and walked away from the sofa, stood with his back to Brian. "He came up behind me when I was opening the door. He put his hand over my mouth and he told me… he told me that he'd come to punish me." Justin hugged himself. "He said if I told anyone, he would find you and he'd hurt you. I just… I just closed my eyes. Tried to pretend that it wasn't happening. I was so afraid. I was afraid to think about you. I was afraid that he would know and it would make him angry and he'd hurt you." He turned and Brian went to him and held him. "I can't lose you."
"You won't. I'll find this guy and I'll stop him. He won't ever do this
to you again. I swear."
Emmett had the first shift although it was two in the afternoon. Stationed outside the gallery, he assumed, what he hoped, was an inconspicuous position in a coffee shop and watched the street. Armed with Justin's description, he waited. His orders were clear. If he spotted Rob, he was to keep an eye on him, follow him if possible and find out where he lived. In the event that Rob decided to trail behind Justin, Emmett was to contact Brian and keep within visual range.
Four cups of coffee later, he was ready to call it a day when Justin came out of the gallery and headed down the street. Almost imperceptibly, a dark-haired man followed. "Shit!" Nearly spilling his coffee, Em raced from the coffee shop, then slowed down, keeping a fair distance behind Justin's stalker. He got out his cellphone and called Brian. "He's following Justin. No, I won't lose them. I think Justin's heading home. Okay!" he whispered fiercely. Closed his cell. By now it was obvious that Justin was going home. They were only a couple of blocks away from his building. Emmett was on pins and needles. If anything happened to Justin, he didn't know what he'd do. He just had to trust that Brian knew what he was doing.
They'd all thought Brian and Justin were insane when a second piece on Justin had come out in the newspaper the previous Sunday. It detailed Justin's most recent attack and included artwork inspired by the rape. In the piece, Justin explained how he refused to live in fear any longer. Since Sunday, he had gone to stay with Debbie for a few days, in order to whet Rob's appetite for revenge. Brian had reasoned that the man would probably be watching Justin's place and would be so anxious to get back at him for the story that he'd jump at the first opportunity. Today was that opportunity. Justin had left Deb's place and gone to the gallery in the afternoon. From there he was to walk home, giving Rob a chance to tail him and to feel confident that he was in control of the situation. So far, Rob was playing into their hands.
Justin's heart was pounding. He'd spotted Rob out of the corner of his eye. He didn't know how he'd known someone was following him but he had. Ducking inside the Chinese restaurant on the corner to pick up his call-ahead order, he'd risked a peek to confirm his suspicions and had seen the man skulking about in the shadows. However, he hadn't seen Emmett, who was supposed to have been watching him this afternoon. But he had to be around, none of Brian's friends would have shirked their duty. If Brian had asked them to be there, they'd be there. Emmett was just better at playing I Spy than Rob. When he'd come out of the restaurant with dinner, though, Rob had been nowhere in sight.
Rob was gone. Emmett searched the street and couldn't find him. He'd taken his eyes off the man when Justin went into the Chinese restaurant and, subsequently, didn't know where he'd gone. As Justin came out of the building, Emmett scanned the area to see if Rob would reappear. He didn't. Emmett followed Justin to his building and watched as the young artist went inside. God, he hoped Brian knew what he was doing.
Hands shaking, Justin walked upstairs and put his key in the lock. The scrape of a shoe sole was all the warning he was given.
Rob grabbed him and pushed him through the doorway. Slammed the door close without letting go of his arm. He shoved Justin up against a wall. The take-out bags of food fell to the floor. "Thought you could hide, didn't you? Thought you could run away and I wouldn’t find you. I'm a patient man and I always get what I want."
"Don't. Don't hurt me," Justin begged a second before Rob struck him. He slumped against the wall and would have slid to the floor except that Rob still gripped his arm.
"I'm gonna hurt you all right. Worse than before," he said and then he dragged Justin to the bedroom and threw him down.
"You never learn. You must want me to do this to you. I told you not to tell anyone about me and there you go, blabbing to the world."
"That's right. You beg. But it won't do you any good." He removed something from his coat. It shone even in the darkness. "This time, I've got a permanent solution. And after I'm through with you, I'll find your boyfriend."
The lights came on. "You won't have to look far," said Brian stepping out from behind Justin's studio wall.
Eyes wild, Rob lunged for Justin, swinging the razor he held, but the young man scrambled away. As Justin rushed towards the bathroom, a man in a rumpled suit emerged holding a badge. "You're under arrest."
Rob looked towards the front door, intending to make a fast getaway. There stood two uniformed policemen. In defeat, he dropped the straight edge on Justin's bed.
Although the officer recited Rob's Miranda rights, Justin didn't hear any of it. He ran into the studio space and into Brian's arms. The man held him tight as Justin's heart continued to race. "You okay?"
"No," he replied and wept against Brian's chest.
As they led Rob away in handcuffs, Justin did not look at him. He couldn't forget the wicked gleam of the razor and the fear he'd felt. "Is it over?" he asked Brian.
But, of course, it wasn't.
Months had passed since the arrest of Robert Magruder and yet he continued to cast a shadow over his victim's life. Brian had moved back to his place at Justin's urging but he did so under duress. Things were far from normal even though the threat of Magruder had been removed. They hadn't been intimate since the rape and Justin still jumped at every strange noise. His work had taken on a dark, disturbing tone, abstract in nature, no discernable figures on the canvas. Brian was concerned but beyond worrying there was nothing he could do but be there for Justin if he needed him. Their relationship was strained at best.
"I don't know what to do," he told Debbie one day while sitting in the diner. It had hit him all of a sudden that he and Justin were nearing the end of their relationship. If things didn't change soon, it'd be over. "I love him, but it's not enough."
"You don't believe that."
"But he does."
"Kiddo," she said, covering his hand with her much smaller one, "he needs time. And you gotta give it to him."
"I just feel like we're running out of time."
"Not as long as you're breathing."
"You've been through too much together to give up now." She grabbed his chin and held his head up. "That what you want? To give up?" He shook his head and she patted his face. "Then don't."
Her words stayed with him as he drove over to Justin's place. He didn't know what he planned to say to him but whatever it was, he hoped it reached Justin, convinced him to come out of hiding. That was the worst thing, feeling as if Justin had taken the person that Brian loved and hidden him away to keep him safe; but, in doing so, he was punishing them both.
Justin was home. He answered the door with a haunted look in his eye. Brian hadn't called before coming over and he always called these days to make sure Justin opened the door to him. Justin didn't like opening the door to unexpected guests. He noticed the bags in Brian's hands. "What's that?"
"Dinner." Brian set the bags down on Justin's dining table, began unpacking them. By rote, Justin got out the plates and flatware, a couple of glasses and a bottle of wine. "I got Chinese."
Justin froze. They hadn't had Chinese since before Magruder's arrest. He put down the glasses on the table and muttered, "I'm not hungry."
But before he could walk away, Brian grabbed his arm. "What do I have to do?" he asked. "What do you need me to do? Tell me and I'll do it. I just—" He released Justin. "I just can't do this anymore." He sat down and rubbed his face. "I love you but I can't keep…" Brian wiped away a tear. "I'm starting to lose hope, Justin."
Fixing his gaze on a portrait he'd sketched of Brian, Justin said in a hollow voice, "I didn't have any." He picked up the drawing and studied it. Brian started to get up and go when Justin's words stopped him. "After Rob found me again, I lost whatever hope I had. But I believed in you and you gave me hope again. I know it doesn't seem like it, but I'm trying. Brian, I swear, I'm trying. Every day. And it gets a little better. I feel it. Even if it doesn’t seem like it." He put down the sketch. "And if you go… I don't know what—"
Brian stood and embraced him. "I’m not going. I'm not going anywhere." His heart wouldn't let him.
For the first time in weeks, they sat down together and talked about the hard things, even if it meant pausing mid-sentence until the pain subsided.
"I'm sorry," Brian said, "that I haven't been more patient."
"I miss you," he confessed. "I miss holding you, touching you. I lie awake at night thinking about you, about making love to you, and I know that you have a lot to deal with, I just—I miss you."
"I miss you too." Justin lowered his eyes. "I dream about you all the time. About how it used to be." He looked up. "How I want it to be again."
Brian held his hand and kissed his fingers. "Just promise me you won't give up."
"I won't. I promise."
"Then I can wait."
Work had been a bitch and he was exhausted mentally and physically. All he wanted was to take a shower and curl up in bed and sleep for fifteen hours straight. He didn't even want to eat, he was too tired to think about food much less cook something or order something. Rest was what he needed.
Turning the key in the lock, he slid open the door and for an instant, he thought he'd entered someone else's apartment. Candles flickered along a path strewn with rose petals leading up the steps to his bedroom. He heard a noise coming from the kitchen, kicked off his shoes by his desk and put down his bag. Went to investigate. Justin turned from the refrigerator and greeted him with a kiss.
"The salad's chilling, so's the wine. The lasagna's got another twenty minutes."
"Just enough time for a shower."
"You hungry?" asked Justin with a twinkle in his eye, one that Brian hadn't seen for a long, long time.
"Starving," he replied, hoping he'd read Justin's look correctly.
"Then maybe I'll join you," said Justin and he pulled off his sweater and tossed it over Brian's head. Laughed and headed for the bathroom.
Brian removed the sweater and watched his lover's hips sway as he
walked across the room. Sometimes good things did come to those who
"Maybe I'm Amazed," Paul McCartney, Sony/ATV Tunes LLC (ASCAP).