A new POV.
Wonderful photo of Gale & Randy by Amelia Lourdes.
Pittsburgh, August 2016
I gotta be honest – I’ve never been all that comfortable with my wife’s son. Justin’s a good kid. He works, he supports himself, he’s never come around looking for money from his mother or – God forbid! – from me. I could tell some stories about my first wife’s freeloading son – the one I used to call The Moocher – but this isn’t the time or the place. So I’ve got no problem with Justin in that regard.
But the gay thing. Yeah, it makes me uncomfortable. So sue me. I wasn’t raised like that. I didn’t know any queers back in Scranton. Maybe they were around, but they kept quiet about it. There weren’t a bunch of gay bars or disco clubs or entire streets where they could parade around, holding hands and waving flags. Yeah, I mean Liberty Avenue. So, I never go down there. It’s not my thing. If it’s Justin’s thing, okay, but it’s not for me.
When I married Jennifer I knew her kids were part of the deal. It was the same with my first wife. That didn’t work out, but I wanted this marriage to be different. Jenny was clear that her son was gay from the start. She told me about how her first husband flipped out when he found out, how he acted like a total dick about everything, and how he and his son still don’t have any kind of relationship. I mean, I can see his point, but what can you do? It’s your kid! He’s not going to change, that much I know. But Craig Taylor apparently didn’t want to hear anything about gay, even though it was his only son. So he lost his son and then he lost his wife. His loss, my gain.
I decided I wasn’t going to make the same stupid mistake. I wanted to marry Jenny and that meant I had to accept her kids. And, to tell the truth, it’s been no big deal. Molly is like my own daughter. She’s a sweetheart, no lie. She’s cute and smart and funny – and she’s also got her own job and pays her own way, although I slip her some cash whenever she needs it. No problem.
I don’t know Justin as well. He keeps his distance. That’s fine with me. Hey, he’s a grown man. It’s his life. He brought around a couple of boyfriends for dinner a few times. No big deal. They seemed okay. No funny stuff in front of me, which I appreciated. But these guys never lasted very long. I guess the gays like to play the field. That’s their thing. No problem. I know Jenny worries and wants Justin to settle down. I know they’ve got gay marriage and all that bullshit now, but if the kid likes his freedom, then I say more power to him.
Jennifer told me about this Brian guy. Justin used to date him when he was in high school, so I thought he was Justin’s age. So I was kind of shocked when she showed me a picture. Older. Like in his 40’s. How old was he when Justin was in high school? No wonder Craig Taylor freaked out! If Molly brought around some guy ten years older I know I wouldn’t like it at all. But that’s water under the bridge, right? The guy is good-looking, or he would be. He looks pretty seedy right now. Thin. Tired. I know he’s been through the mill recently. Motorcycle accident. These gay guys live on the edge, you know what I’m saying? I guess I should be glad the guy doesn’t have something worse than a bump on the head.
“Please be nice,” Jenny warned me.
“Since when am I not nice?”
Jennifer gave me that look. If you’re married you know the one.
“Okay. I’ll be Mr. Charming to Justin and this new guy.”
“Brian is hardly new.”
That’s when she told me a little of their story. I could tell there was more – a lot more – but she gave me the basics. I knew the part where Justin got attacked by some other kids when he was in high school, but I didn’t know that this Brian was involved. She kept talking about how Brian saved Justin’s life and then how they were going to get married. The married stuff was news to me. And I never realized how serious the bashing really was. That the kid almost died. Jenny doesn’t like to talk about it and Justin never, ever mentions it. Then when Brian had this accident, she clued me in more about Justin’s trouble. Jesus! All this damned drama. I hate to be blindsided.
“This is a lot of shit going on, hon,” I told her.
“I know.” She paused. “Brian was… it’s hard to explain. He’s always been this larger-than-life character. I used to hate him. Then I came to understand him… a little. I wonder if anyone has ever really understood Brian Kinney. I thought Justin did… but…” She shook her head. “It’s complicated.”
Yeah, that’s an understatement!
“But Brian isn’t himself these days. Like Justin wasn’t himself after he got out of the hospital. A brain injury takes a long time to recover from. So… please be tolerant.”
“Hey – I’m the most tolerant guy around!” And I am! Jennifer knows that.
“Brian might seem a little… odd. Or vague. So please be careful about what you say. I know you can do it, darling.”
Of course I can do it. I’m insulted she even needed to ask me.
Then she put her arms around me and that was the end of the discussion.
“Hi, Brad.” Justin gave me a forced smile. “This is my… friend. Brian.”
“Hey there, Brian!” I held out my hand to the guy and he shook it. Decent grip, but he didn’t exactly meet my eyes. Whatever. Jenny told me he was odd. “I’m watching the game. You guys wanna sit down and kick back? I see you already have some brew.”
“Yes,” said Justin, holding up his bottle. “Rolling Rock.”
“Good choice. I’m drinking light beer these days,” I said, patting my belly. “Gotta keep the pounds off. But you guys don’t have that problem, am I right?”
“No,” said Brian. “Not that problem.” He sat down on the sofa and Justin sat down next to him, kind of hovering. I could tell he was worried about the guy. And Jesus, he really is thin. His wrists look like a woman’s and I couldn’t have fitted into those jeans when I was 13!
“The Pirates are up by three runs,” I said. To make conversation. Playing nice, like I told Jennifer.
“Who are they playing?” Justin asked. The kid really has no clue about sports. But I don’t expect him to. But then I got a surprise.
“The Dodgers,” said Brian. “See the LA logo on their uniforms?” He pointed at the screen.
“Oh. I see,” Justin said. He smiled at Brian.
“I didn’t know you were a baseball fan,” I said. I mean, who thinks a fag knows anything about baseball?
“I used to go to games with my old man when I was a kid,” he replied. “And I took clients to games when I worked at Ryder & Associates. They had a box at the old stadium. That was one of my first jobs at Ryder – entertaining the clients.” He made a face. “Baseball, football, basketball games, steaks, steaks, and more steaks. Straight guys are so fucking boring.” He glanced at me. “No offense.”
“None taken.” Hey, this Brian is a major smart ass. But it doesn’t bother me. I guess I’d think the things he likes to do – Disco dancing? Listening to Judy Garland records? – would be pretty boring, too.
“Ron used to go to the Dodgers games fairly regularly. The studios all have boxes and I’d go sometimes with him and Jimmy. They always had a lot of booze and food. Jimmy is a big baseball fan.”
A box at Dodgers Stadium, huh? This Brian was looking a little more interesting. “Who’s Ron?”
“My husband,” he stated. He looked at Justin, who winced. “He’s dead.”
“Oh.” That the hell do you say to that? “Sorry to hear that.” I wanted to ask who Jimmy was, but this stuff about the dead husband was already more than I wanted to know about this guy’s personal life. Hey, at least Justin isn’t fooling around with a married man, am I right?
“Brian played a lot of sports when he was in school,” Justin piped up. “Soccer and baseball. And he ran track. He’s also a good racquetball player.”
“I used to be,” said Brian. “Not now. Not after… everything that’s happened.”
“Jennifer told me you had an accident on your motorcycle,” I said. “That’s a tough one.”
Brian frowned. “You have no idea. It fucking changes everything.”
Justin patted Brian’s arm. “I thought we could get bicycles. Go riding, the two us together. We took a spin class once, a long time ago.” Justin is like an eager little beaver. “Remember, Brian? That would be fun. Don’t you think?”
“Pittsburgh is nothing but hills,” said Brian. “If you want to kill yourself, Sunshine, be my guest.”
“He’s got you there, kid,” I said, laughing. “Nothing but hills! That’s a good one!”
After that there was a long, long silence as we all stared at the game. Of course, the Pirates immediately began losing. The same old song!
It was Molly calling from the hallway. She had the boyfriend with her. I don’t get it. She’s a beautiful girl and this guy, this Zach, is a total geek. Tall and skinny as a rail, with glasses and some weird haircut that’s shaved on one side and floppy on the other. He looks like a freak if you ask me!
“Justin!” She grabbed her brother and hugged him. She really loves him, that’s pretty obvious.
“Hey, Mollusk. This must be the new beau.” He shook the kid’s hand. “I’m Justin, as if you couldn’t guess. And this is Brian.”
“Brian!” Molly cried, giving him a hug, too. “Mom didn’t tell me you were going to be here. It’s been a really, really long time.”
“I didn’t think you’d remember me,” he said, pulling back. Brian doesn’t strike me as a hugger.
“Of course I do. I remember all the guys who are supposed to marry my brother,” she said brightly.
Ouch. Yeah, Jenny told me all about that, too. But she warned me not to mention it. Apparently Molly didn’t get the memo.
Justin turned bright red. I heard him whisper “Bitch” under his breath, but Brian gave him a little nudge.
“It was my fault,” Brian said. “It’s always my fault. Sorry you didn’t get to wear your pretty dress. I know you were disappointed.”
“Oh, I got over it,” she said. “So are you two back together? It’s about time. Justin’s only been pining over you for the last ten years.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Justin said through gritted teeth. But Brian’s face was blank. “It must be time for dinner – isn’t it?”
Yeah, it was time. Good thing, because things were getting weird.
The roast chicken was great. Unlike my first wife, who could barely open a can of beans, Jennifer’s a really good cook. Nothing too fancy or fussy, but good stuff – chicken, steak, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, pot roast, chocolate cake. Occasionally she makes something Italian, like lasagna or rigatoni. She told me she learned those from a friend of hers. It’s good, but I like real American food best.
“This is the stuff!” I said, digging in.
Justin ate like he was starving and Molly and her boyfriend, the geek, also took second helpings. But Brian ate like a damned bird, picking at a chicken thigh and dabbing at a small pile of potatoes. No wonder the guy is wasting away.
“Brian, have some stuffing,” Justin suggested. “Mom made it from scratch.”
“I’m good,” Brian said. “This is plenty.”
Justin put some stuffing on his plate anyway, like the guy is a picky little kid. Brian pushed it around with the other food, but didn’t eat any more.
As usual, Molly and Jennifer did most of the talking. Molly’s job. Clothes. Her friends. A trip they were planning to take to Virginia Beach. Geeky Zach mainly nodded his head and inhaled as much food as he could stuff into his face. I guess he’s an okay kid. At least he’s not covered with tattoos with a ring through his nose!
Justin added a couple of sentences here and there, but he never took his eyes off Brian. I don’t know much about gay guys, but I know when somebody really cares about something, and Justin really cares about this guy. He was totally focused on him – and totally worried about him. With good reason.
“Brian? Are you all right? Jenny asked.
“Thanks for the meal, Mrs. Taylor,” he replied. Then his head kind of drooped to one side.
“Brian!” Justin stood up. “Mom!”
Jennifer went over to Brian and touched his head. “Brian, you’re burning up.”
“He wasn’t like this earlier,” Justin insisted. “I know he wasn’t!” And the kid is right. He was touching him the whole time we were watching the game.
“He’s spiked a fever, definitely,” said Jennifer. “Brian, do you want to lie down in the guest room?”
Brian shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“I think we better go home,” said Justin, helping Brian to his feet.
“Let me wrap up some leftovers for you,” said Jenny.
“No. Please. I can’t think about food right now.” Justin clutched at Brian’s arm, his face pale. “Do you think we ought to go to the Emergency Room?”
“Why the hell would you do that?” I asked. “He’s probably got a little bug. You’ll be as good as new in 24 hours, right, Brian?”
“Right.” He stared at me. “B… Brent?”
“Brad. That’s Brad,” said Justin. “He’ll remember next time. Come on, Brian. I need to get you home.”
They left, but Jennifer was still in a fluster. “I hope it wasn’t anything he ate!”
“Jesus!” I said. “He hardly ate anything. Two forkfuls of salad and half a chicken thigh. He’ll be fine. You said he was a little odd.”
“He’s had a horrible accident!” Jennifer retorted. “He had a brain injury! Anything might be serious! You saw how upset Justin was!”
“Mom, I’m sure it’s nothing,” said Molly. “You sit down and I’ll cut the cake.”
“Oh! I didn’t offer Justin a piece of cake to take home!” Jenny said, suddenly all teary.
“I don’t think he wanted any cake, hon,” I pointed out.
“But I’ll have some!” said the Geek. I mean Zach. “I love cake!”
“I bet you do, son,” I said. “So, Molly – bring on the damned cake.”
See? Sunday dinner. No problem.
By the way, the Pirates lost, 8 to 5. It figures.