Title: The Making of an Artist
Pairing: Brian and Justin
Time Frame: Fluctuates between 3 distinct periods in
Justin's life: his childhood, his years in NYC, and the present.
THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - CHAPTER FIVE
"So, Daph, one more day and you'll be here in his arms. Got the spermicidal foam all packed?" You can't resist a little good-natured harassing at the end of an hour-long call, laughing right along with her when she curses and tells you to shut up. "I think it's great you guys are getting back together! Josh is really nice."
You don't mind taking credit for the match. They've both told you it probably wouldn't have happened if you hadn't picked Daphne's brain about where to stay in New York, their endless Skype sessions and text messages heating up the on-again, off-again romance once more. After a month in the city, you find yourself as anxious as he is to see her when she visits this weekend.
You just can't figure out why she insists you keep your Friday night free and join them at the steak house after she gets in. "Don't you guys want to be alone for a romantic dinner? If it were me . . ."
"Come on, Justin. Josh and I have talked about it, and he knows how much I miss you."
"I miss you, too, Daph. But I gotta get to school now. Don't forget the condoms!"
Heading out in time for your afternoon classes, you tighten the scarf around your neck as a light dusting of snow flurries clings to your lowered lashes. You recognize Josh's boots plodding toward the building from a few feet away.
"Justin. Hey." He narrows the gap between you and stops. "I've got reservations at the restaurant tomorrow night. You're coming with us, right?"
"Yeah, sure. Thanks, Josh." Why the hell do they want you to tag along? You guess they're not going to find the nearest bathroom as soon as they see each other and fuck.
"Shit!" The scoop of vanilla ice cream you just dropped in your glass of Coke sinks to the bottom real fast, forcing rivers of gooey liquid over the rim and onto your mom's spotless countertop. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" You should clean it up, but you're in a hurry, grabbing your homemade Coke float and popping a blank tape into the VCR just as your movie comes on.
"Mommy! Look what Justin did!" Your five-year-old bacterial infection of a sister is at it again. She eyeballs your soda fountain gone awry with mischief on her mind when they walk into the kitchen after her playdate. "He made a very big mess in here!" she tattles, sticking her tongue out at you in true devil-child fashion.
Fortunately, your arsenal is much more sophisticated. You flip her the bird behind your mom's back and set the table for dinner when you're told.
"I wanna be a cartoonist or computer animator when I get out of art school." Taking another slab of meat loaf from the platter, you grin. Your brand new ambition just might be the best idea you've ever had.
"Art school?" Your dad looks up from his dish. "I always thought you'd go to Dartmouth, Justin. Where I went. You can certainly get in if you do as well in high school as you're doing in middle school."
"Yeah, but I'm gonna be an artist. I recorded Yellow Submarine today so I can watch it whenever I want to. It'd be really fun to make animated movies."
"There's plenty of time to talk colleges, Craig. Justin's only in seventh grade." Your mom gets up to refill her glass. "Don't play with your food, Molly," she says just before the family discussion hangs a left turn into the future of technology.
"You know, that VCR in there will be obsolete pretty soon," your dad tells her. "I was looking through Sony's catalog of new products at the store, and I saw that they're making DVD players now."
Your head pops up. "DVD players?"
"New devices to play movies recorded on thin little discs just like music CDs. A whole new format is going to take over in a few years." He laughs when he thinks about the rapidly approaching digital video disc age and Taylor Electronics. "Everyone will need to buy a DVD player to watch them."
"Wait. What?" You drop your fork into your mashed potatoes, suddenly realizing how this new format is going to affect you personally. "You mean every movie ever made will have to be put on a disc? It could take forever before they get around to Yellow Submarine!"
You don't know it yet, but your newly recorded video cassette tape is about to become your most prized possession, sticking with you from this very night in 1995 to wherever your life may lead.
"Are you coming to bed anytime soon?" You lean over your husband's shoulder from behind as he lies in his chaise on the terrace, kissing the side of his neck.
He traps your hand on his chest with a flattened palm. "You done working?"
"Yeah. Come on."
"Why don't we sleep out here?"
"All night? I thought you had an early meeting tomorrow."
"It's getting cold."
"I'll keep you warm."
Your eyebrows zigzag a little more with every odd statement he makes. "Sleep outside in one chair?" Freeing your hand, you stand up and walk around in front of him. "What's wrong?"
Brian sips at his whiskey, keeping his head down. "When did you have it framed?"
"Oh, that." You glance at the new addition above your bed through the French doors. "This morning. Just a spur of the moment thing, actually. I called Thomas Brothers to set up an appointment, and Anthony said Adam was out of town but he could come out right away because he didn't have anything booked until the afternoon. I didn't call you to come home because Anthony's the str—"
"It creeps me out."
"—the straight one. What creeps you out? The painting?"
"Yes, the painting." He squints into his tumbler. "It's . . ."
"It represents a new beginning. I think it's the most significant work I've ever done, considering the role it played in recovering my lost memories."
Brian sets his drink on the table and finally looks you in the eye. "That's what it is for you. For me, it dredges up an agonizing past I'd rather not relive every time I walk into our bedroom. Can't you see that?"
What you see is a partner who's weathered many a storm with you, your hard-won, resilient relationship with him finally turning out the way you'd always imagined it could be. How insensitive of you to overlook what your albatross-turned-savior has been doing to him all this time. "Fuck. I'm really sorry, Brian. I've been so self-absorbed." The fateful thwack of a baseball bat shattering the best night of your lives crackles in your ear, no longer a mere story that happened to someone else. "I haven't been thinking about your feelings."
"Can we put it somewhere else?"
"Yeah. Let's get it down." You pull him inside and take off your shoes, both of you standing on the bed and carefully detaching the large piece from its hooks. "We can drag it out to the pool house. Or maybe the stables. No one will find it in there."
"I didn't mean . . ." He looks puzzled, but you're only getting started.
"I know what you mean. You're afraid you won't be able to perform with it hanging right above your head. But I'm not gonna let that happen. We're gonna dump it as far away from here as we can."
"Won't be able to perform? Me?" Brian scoffs at your incorrigible ass, shaking his head from side to side. "You're a brat, you know that? You're a thirty-year-old brat." Helping you prop the painting against the wall outside your bedroom door, he can't wait to get his hands on you.
He's going to have to hold that thought, though.
"A thirty-year-old brat? Did you just call me thirty? Fucking thirty?!" You stop for a second to work out the current date in your mind, such trivial information rarely on the tip of your tongue because Lindsay keeps track of where you need to be and when. Hardly believing it's the last day of your twenty-ninth year, you don't lose it until your husband makes a sweeping gesture out of pointing toward the antique grandfather clock at the end of the hallway.
He wishes he had a picture of your face to keep for all posterity when you see that it's eight minutes after midnight.
"Fuck! I'm fucking thirty! How did this happen, Brian? Fuck!"
"THEY ALWAYS SAY TIME CHANGES THINGS, BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO CHANGE THEM YOURSELF." - Andy Warhol
With Daphne's plane scheduled to land in two hours, you shower and shave late Friday afternoon, flashbacks of home dancing before your eyes as you dress. Hearing Josh rush in from work and grab a quick shower in his own bathroom, you're looking forward to going with him to meet her at the airport and on to a big steak dinner from there. You're finishing up your beer in living room when he comes out. "Ready for a big night? I know Daphne is!"
"Hell, yeah! Let's just say bye to Aunt Meg before we take off. I haven't seen her since yesterday."
Your sense of uneasiness goes from bad to worse when Meg doesn't respond to your knocks, an eerie silence the only thing you encounter when you try to check in with her.
"Aunt Meg!" Josh pounds on the door with his fist. "What the fuck is she doing in there?" He sighs and looks at his watch.
"God, I hope . . ." You're reluctant to voice your growing fear. You know something he has yet to learn, having seen her earlier in the day and heard all about the mess in which she'd just landed. "Are you okay, Meg?" you yell out, jamming your finger into the doorbell getting you nowhere.
That's when Josh remembers they'd given each other emergency keys to their apartments when she first moved in and hurries back into your place to get it.
"Oh, my God." You had a feeling it wasn't going to be pretty.
"Jesus." Josh avoids stepping on the shards of glass that were once a gin bottle and crouches down beside his aunt where she lies on the kitchen floor. "I've told her not to keep the hard stuff in the cabinet over the fridge. She has to climb up to reach it." He takes her wrist and feels for a pulse.
You wade through the spilled liquor with squishy footsteps and right an overturned dining room chair when he says she's still breathing. Moistening a handful of paper towels under the faucet, you kneel down to wipe the dried blood from the bottom of her heel. "I guess she stepped on a piece of glass when she fell. This is a bad cut."
"She hates shoes. She'd go to work barefoot if they'd let her." Josh thanks you for cleaning her foot. "It takes hours for her to get this smashed, but she should have just been getting home. The time element doesn't add up."
Since Meg's managed to drink herself into a stupor and knock herself out, it's up to you to explain. "She left the gallery early today. Well, actually, was asked to leave was how she put it. I'd just finished my last class around noon and was passing by the Grey when I saw her come out. We walked home together, and she admitted to me they'd smelled alcohol on her breath. And that it wasn't the first time. Her boss told her she needed help and to consider herself on a leave of absence until she got it." You can tell he's not too surprised about her predicament, correctly gathering as you've come to know them that he takes more care of her than the reverse. You see him ready to dial 911 when the foot you're dabbing with wet paper towels starts to squirm. "Josh, look. She's waking up."
Meg's eyes peel open one at a time, a pained moan escaping from her core.
"Don't move, Aunt Meg. I'm calling for an ambulance."
"I'm fine. Really." Slowly raising her head and shoulders, she looks around and frowns at the damage. "I must have slipped. I remember scooting the chair over . . ."
"Are you sure you're all right?" You lob the bloodied wad of towels into the trash.
"Yeah . . . just . . . maybe if you guys can help me up." She sinks into the sofa as if it's her long lost friend after you and Josh ease her over to it. Pinching in on her temples, she grumbles something about the room spinning and totally screwing up this time.
"We're gonna talk about that," Josh assures her, "but first I gotta text Daphne. Her plane's getting in, and she's expecting us to be there." Thumbs swiftly typing, he revises the arrangements, asking Daph to hop in a taxi and come to the apartment. Adding that he'll pay the fare and explain everything when she arrives, he turns back to his aunt and shushes her when she starts to apologize for ruining his plans. "You know you need to get this under control, Aunt Meg. We can't ignore it any longer. Justin told me what happened at the gallery."
"Did he tell you my job is on the line? I swear, I'm gonna kick this thing. I have to."
At least she's facing her problem. You offer to whip up your grandmother's magic potion to help her recover from this latest blunder. "If you can stand it. Last time, the stink freaked you out."
"I don't know what's in that crap, but it worked like a charm. I can force it down to get off this merry-go-round."
"I'll see what I can do. Hang on." You walk across the hall to your own kitchen and start mixing away.
A much needed cigarette before you go back takes you out to your private little retreat on the fire escape, where you pull up the stool you'd bought on your second day in the city and stashed there for times like this. Lighting up, you suck in a most satisfying lungful of toxins, watching the never-ending parade of vehicles crawling up and down the street. You expect one of the Yellow Cabs to stop any minute now and let Daphne out.
Your curiosity piques when you spot a sleek black limousine inching its way over to the curb right beneath you, seriously doubting that any of your neighbors would have chartered such a lavish ride. Exhaling a thin plume of smoke as evening falls, you're stunned to observe one Daphne Chanders emerge while a uniformed chauffeur holds her door open with a white-gloved hand. 'What have you done, Daph?!' is all you can think of as you picture Josh coughing up the extravagant expense, but that image vanishes into thin air when you see what happens next.
It feels like a lifetime since you've held him. Kissed him. Made love to him. And yet there he is three stories below, ducking as he follows her out of the back of the limo. Impossibly more handsome than the last time you'd seen him, Brian straightens up elegantly and towers over the driver, going for his wallet in the inside breast pocket of his full-length camel hair overcoat.
Joining your blown mind, your heart bursts out of your chest.