Pittsburgh, August 2016
“I can’t help it, Mom,” said Justin, hanging his head. “I’m exhausted.”
Jennifer wanted to stroke her son’s hair, but she hesitated. He was no longer a boy, but a grown man, and he hated anyone to treat him like a child. But he was still a baby – her baby – and she hated to see him in pain. So she poured a large glass of iced tea and set it on the table in front of him.
“Thanks.” Justin drank deeply. It was hot outside and there were sweat stains on his white tee shirt. He pressed the icy glass against his forehead.
“Darling, maybe you should take a break,” Jennifer suggested, slipping into the chair across from him. “Go back to your apartment for a few days and try to relax. I’m sure Brian will be fine if you aren’t there around the clock.”
“But that’s just it!” Justin said. “I don’t know if he’ll be fine! I don’t trust that goddamn Jimmy not to…” Justin winced.
Jennifer frowned. “Not to what?”
Justin sighed. He couldn’t tell her the truth. She wouldn’t believe the fucking truth! No one would. Except Ted. And now Michael was starting to believe it. That Jimmy Hardy, the movie star who was inexplicably living in Brian’s house in Pittsburgh, was not going to leave until he’d managed to convince Brian to go back to California with him. And then…
“Brian needs me,” Justin stated. “You don’t understand.”
Jennifer reached across the kitchen table and touched Justin’s hand. “I took care of you when you got out of the hospital, remember? So I know a little bit about what you’re going through.”
Justin wanted to say, “Yeah, but weren't able to deal with it and Brian had to rescue me and do what you couldn't!” But he bit his tongue. He knew Jennifer had tried. It wasn’t her fault if she hadn’t been able to deal with an out-of-control, brain-damaged 18-year-old boy. Yeah, thought Justin, I can’t deal with a 15-year-old who didn’t take a bat to the head, so I can’t really blame her.
“I told Brian I’d be there for him, and I will be, Mom.” Justin took another sip of the iced tea, gathering his thoughts. “Brian and I go back so far… I can barely remember what my life was like without him. You know that. I’ve loved him forever – and I still love him. I can’t walk away now.”
Jennifer sighed. The feelings she had about Brian Kinney were so conflicted it was difficult for her to sort them out. Sometimes she thanked God for him and what he’d done for Justin, and then at other times she cursed him and wished he and Justin had never met. And right now… she had no idea. All she knew was that Justin was in trouble and that Brian was, once again, at the center of it. “But you spent years away from Brian, living your own life. And you were happy. What about Ford? I always liked Ford. What happened with him? You never really explained.”
“Nothing, Mom,” said Justin. The last thing he wanted to do was dig up the past – and Ford was the most ancient of ancient history. “Jesus, Mom, really? Ford?”
“He was nice,” said Jennifer. “Polite and… and…” She stopped, realizing that she couldn’t remember anything else about Ford, not even what he looked like. And Justin had lived with him for three years. Or was it four? Or was she thinking of someone else altogether? That tall guy with the dark hair? Anthony? Or was that Marty?
“Nice,” Justin snorted. “Yeah, he was nice. And steady. And educated. And he had a good job. And he was fucking boring! His idea if an exciting evening was watching ‘Frontline’ on PBS! I was so bored I thought I’d go out of my fucking mind, Mom! Ford is one of my Facebook friends now and even his postings are boring!”
Jennifer didn’t know what to say. “But maybe Brian’s drama is too much for…”
“I told you, Mom – it’s not Brian! Brian’s ‘drama’ isn’t the problem! He’s been injured and taking care of him and dealing with his therapy is not what’s wrong in that house. It’s everyone else. Jimmy… and Gus. They’re the ones making things difficult.”
“Well, perhaps it would be best to ask Mr. Hardy to leave,” Jennifer said.
“I’ve tried!” said Justin with exasperation. “I can’t physically toss him out the door and when I ask him when he’s leaving he just laughs at me and says, ‘I’m not ready to go yet, Little Boy Blue, I’m having too much fun.’ That’s what he calls me – Little Boy Blue! Or Baby Blue. He’s so fucking condescending!”
Jennifer wrinkled her nose. “Fun? What kind of fun is a big movie star having here in Pittsburgh? Especially when Brian is not… himself.” When Justin had told her that Jimmy Hardy was visiting Brian, Jennifer had been puzzled. But the fact that he was still at the house completely confused her. Jimmy Hardy could literally be anywhere in the world – Hollywood, Hawaii, New York, Paris – and here he was in the Pitts. It made no sense at all.
“Tormenting me,” Justin said through clenched teeth. “And… and… waiting for Brian to get better, I guess. But he’s not getting better with all this disruption at the house. And now Gus is acting up, too. And I can’t very well tell Brian’s son to go somewhere else! I’m fucked, Mom, and that’s the truth!”
“Then you should get out of there,” Jennifer advised firmly. “If this is getting you so upset, then leave! Please! I know you’ve been getting those headaches again.”
“They aren’t that bad,” said Justin dismissively, even though he could feel one brewing.
“I don’t believe you,” said Jennifer. “This is affecting your health, darling. I know you love Brian, but I’m worried about you first and foremost.”
“Hey! What’s going on!” Jennifer’s husband Brad came in from the garage, banging the door behind him. He always made a noise when he came into a room. “Christ, it was hot out on the course today. Hey, sweetie.” He leaned over to kiss his wife. “Hey, Justin. How’s it hanging?”
“Fine, Brad,” said Justin. He didn’t mind his mother’s husband – he couldn’t bring himself to call him his stepfather, although Molly did – but he always felt uncomfortable around him. And he knew Brad was equally uncomfortable around his wife’s queer son. But they both played the game – being outwardly friendly to each other while at the same time keeping their distance.
“Can I get some of that iced tea, Jenny?” Brad asked. “It looks great.”
“Sure, honey.” Jennifer went to the fridge and poured him a glass, with lots of ice. “Did you break par?”
“Ha! Fat chance.” Brad sat down at the kitchen table awkwardly. “Off the sixth tee I hit straight into the woods and lost my fucking ball, excuse my French. I was hacking away like I was digging for gold. The only good thing was that Stan was playing even worse than me!”
“So, it was a bad day of golf?” Justin asked politely.
Brad brayed like a donkey. “Bad? It was fucking awesome! Stan and I are going out again tomorrow. Can’t waste this beautiful weather, can we?”
Justin shook his head. He’d grown up at the Arcadian Country Club but he still couldn’t understand the lure of golf to save his life.
“Great iced tea, Jenny!”
Brad thought everything was great, which really bothered Justin for some reason. He couldn’t put his finger on what annoyed him about Brad, who was basically a decent guy and clearly loved his mother, but Justin was annoyed nonetheless. “I’d like some more, too, please.” Justin held out his glass.
“This is so nice,” said Jennifer. “My two men here together. Are you staying for dinner, Justin?”
“I don’t think so. I need to go back soon. Brian should be finishing his physical therapy with Danny about now.”
“Yeah,” said Brad. “How is your… friend? Feeling better?”
Justin always winced when Brad referred to Brian as his ‘friend.’ He knew they were lovers, but, like a lot of older straight guys, preferred to avoid that fact.
“He’s coming along slowly. Doing physical and cognitive therapy. But it’s going to be a long process.”
“That’s swell,” said Brad. “Maybe you can bring him over here for dinner some Sunday. I’m sure Jenny would like that, wouldn’t you, sweetie?”
“Yes, I'd love it,” said Jennifer.
“That would be… nice,” said Justin, using Jennifer’s favorite word. “Except we’d have to bring Gus, too.”
“Oh, right,” said Brad. “I forgot he has a son. Who’d think a guy like that would have a kid?”
“A lot of gay men have children,” said Justin. “I’ve thought about it myself.”
Jennifer raised her eyebrows. “You have?”
“Sure, Mom. Maybe some day, when I settle down,” said Justin. “I’d like what everyone else has – a house, a family… a husband.”
Jennifer’s heart began to ache, thinking of the abandoned wedding so many years before. She knew that Justin and Brian really had loved each other and she never understood why things had gone so wrong so fast. It was only now that she realized not only what Justin had lost, but what she’d lost, too. Maybe she would have had a grandchild by now. Maybe more than one. But now, with Brian so injured…
“Hey, it’s not too late,” said Brad. “There are some cute girls at the club. My friend Frank has a daughter who’s a real looker. She’s already been married once, but what the hell? She’s still got a lot of good miles left on her, if you know what I mean, huh?”
Justin held his breath. Brad would never, ever get it. “I’m sure she’s nice, but… I’m still gay.”
“Well, yeah,” said Brad. “But sometimes a change will do a guy good. I mean, try it and you might like it.”
“I did try it,” Justin confirmed. “And I was still gay afterwards.”
“You… did?” This was news to Jennifer. “In… New York?”
“No, Mom,” said Justin. Oh, what the hell? It was over ten years ago. “Daphne and I.”
Jennifer blinked. “Daphne. Well…” She didn’t know what else to say.
“It was only one time… but once was enough for me to know.” Justin finished the iced tea and stood up. “On that note, I better be getting back to the house. Thanks for the drink, Mom. And it was nice seeing you, Brad.”
“Sure, kid,” said Brad, stretching expansively. “Stop over any time. I don’t mind.”
Justin nodded. “Thanks. I will.”
After Justin left, Jennifer and Brad sat and finished the rest of the iced tea.
“Who is this Daphne?” Brad asked.
“A girl Justin went to school with at St. James. Her father is a partner at Williams, Chanders and Levitt.”
“Oh,” Brad said. “Is she still around here?”
“No,” said Jennifer. “She’s married and lives in Atlanta. Has a couple of kids.”
Brad frowned. “If the kid would go out with Frank’s daughter just once…”
Jennifer touched her husband’s hand. “Leave it. Once or a hundred times, it doesn’t matter. Justin is gay. And he’s in love with Brian. He has been since he was 17.”
Brad shook his head. “If you say so. But, like I said – I just don’t get it. I mean the whole gay thing.”
Jennifer patted his hand. “I know you don’t, honey. But I love you anyway. So don’t sweat it.”