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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.
Warning: This chapter contains the death of a minor character.
start at the PROLOGUE
THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - CHAPTER SEVEN
Neither of you has heard a phone ring or thought about business in days. Just what you wanted when you rented an Atlantic City beach house and insisted your husband join you on a much needed stress-free getaway. Entrusting Kinnetik into Ted's capable hands and switching off the work side of his brain hadn't been easy, but he'd given it a try and finally relaxed. He actually thanked you for being such a bossy better half and dragging him there soon after you'd arrived, all too happy to take the mai tai you ordered him out of your hand.
Now buckling your seat belts as your flight back home prepares to land, you kiss, not ready to end the laid-back week you spent playing and doting on each other.
"Let's promise to do this twice a year. For our sanity, if nothing else." Lacing your fingers between his, it occurs to you that you just might be the happiest man alive. "We really needed this."
"Twice a year? I'll go broke! You saw how much I lost at the tables."
"How do you think they build those megaresorts? With your money. We should have just eaten at the buffets and stayed out of the casinos."
Your vacation mindsets stay with you all the way down to baggage claim, only to disappear after Brian spots the tragic headline screaming out to him from a nearby newsstand and buys the local paper. You literally can't believe what you're hearing when he stops and reads the front page aloud, snatching it from him to see for yourself: Prominent fine art dealer and gallery owner Sidney Bloom -- devastating car accident -- hanging on by a thread in County General Hospital --
Brian skims the article over your shoulder. "Lindsay's probably a fucking mess. Does it say when it happened?"
"Um . . . last night. This is so unreal."
"We've gotta talk to her." He reaches into his pocket. "No goddamned cell phones! Fucking beautiful! That's the last time I let you talk me into going away without—"
You turn around in the middle of his rant and hurry over to the nearest rental car counter, rattling off your emergency and pleading with the agent to give you an outside line. Not surprised to hear Lindsay's number roll to voice mail, you take a deep breath. "Hey, we just got back from A.C. and read about Sidney. Are you okay? We're leaving the airport right now. No phones with us, so we'll call you as soon as we get to the house. Bye."
Paying extra for a car service to cut off slowpokes and speed you home, your tension doesn't subside until you pull into the driveway and find Lindsay's SUV parked off to the side. She and Gus pile out of it as soon as they see you.
"Help your dads with their luggage," she tells him, both of you handing off your rolling bags.
Brian reaches out to her with a peck on the lips and a warm embrace. "What the hell happened? He's near death?"
"It was a drunk driver. Ran a red light doing sixty and hit him broadside. He never had a chance."
"Jesus." You slowly shake your head. "He's already gone?"
Lindsay's eyes tear up, her voice breaking. "His wife was making arrangements to have his organs donated when I left the hospital this morning. It won't be much longer till they pull the plug."
"Let's go inside." Brian's arm circles her shoulders. He gets a good look at his lanky thirteen-year-old bellhop from behind. "I think you grew another foot while we were gone, Sonny Boy."
You unlock your front door in somewhat of a daze, still not quite grasping the idea of Sidney's imminent passing. "Thanks, Gus. You can leave them right there." You motion to the bottom of the staircase and ask if he wants a soda, the four of you ending up at your kitchen table before long in the midst of a family huddle.
"And since Sidney's wife wants me to run the gallery, I'll be doing it alone until I can hire more help. I'll have to go in early and stay late at night. And Mel's court case is just heating up, so she's working long hours, too." Lindsay takes a sip of the tea you'd made her. "We talked it over, and we just thought it'd be best if Gus stays here full time for awhile." She eyes Brian first and then you. "If it's okay."
"This has always been Gus's home, too. You don't have to ask something like that. Right, Brian?"
"No more driving him back to the Pitts on Sunday night after the weekend? Whatever shall we do with ourselves and all the gas we'll save?"
"See? I told you they'd say yes!" Gus's chair screeches on the terrazzo when he pushes away from the table and leaps to his feet. "My backpack's in the car!"
If you'd asked yourself a year ago what you'd be doing tonight, the answer most assuredly would not have been mingling near eight of the original pieces you created for New York University's annual senior art show with your mom and boyfriend. The path you intended to take after deciding not to marry had nothing to do with school, yet here you are set to graduate in a week. Funny how life works sometimes.
Observing from a few feet away, the group of people admiring your work steadily expands into a well dressed mob. You smile to yourself and resist the urge to play referee every time a cordial argument breaks out over who saw a particular painting first.
"They're selling like hotcakes, just as I predicted! Everyone wants to own a Justin Taylor!"
You turn to face the whirlwind who just blew in, caught up in her huge bear hug a moment later. "Meg, you made it. I wasn't sure if we'd see you here."
"I'm not gonna let the recent developments keep me away from your big debut. Last time I checked, I was still a card-carrying member of John Q. Public." She thrusts her arms out toward Brian and gives him the same bone crushing treatment. "And how's my favorite benefactor tonight? Handsome as ever, I see."
"Meg. You look . . ." Cocking his head, he gives her a thorough once-over. "I take it sobriety agrees with you. If only I were straight."
"But you're not, Brian. Meg, I want you to meet my mother." Laughter and introductions are the order of the day for all of you, chatting with lots of your milling classmates and professors who come up and congratulate you on such a successful show. You're truly humbled when the dean of the art department makes it a point to stop and dole out his praise. Fond memories you'll always cherish.
Maybe none as much as the one you're about to make with Simon Caswell. Spotting the loathsome critic examining your framed canvases with a fine-tooth comb, you square your shoulders and stand a little taller.
"Ah, Mr. Taylor. Prodigious work, as expected." His eyes roam up and down your body. "What's it been? About a year since we met at the Pittsburgh Gay and Lesbian Center?"
You'll be damned if you're going to stand there and converse while he openly ogles you, fawning fucking review or not. A terse 'I guess' is all you can spare.
"I was rather disappointed you didn't attend my presentation at the Grey Gallery last week. I was looking forward to getting reacquainted when I saw your name on the class roster."
"Yeah, well, I must have been busy or something. If you'll excuse me." Pivoting on your heels, you go to the men's room and relieve your champagne-filled bladder, wondering what the hell you ever did to attract such a reptile. You're washing your hands when you look up and realize he's followed you in, Simon Caswell evidently not one to give up so easily.
"Justin." He parks himself entirely too close to the basin you're using. "We seem to have started off on a bad note. I'd like it very much if we could change that. May I take you out for coffee after the show?"
You've encountered a lot of wrong in your twenty-three years, but what's happening in this bathroom is so wrong you just might have to double over and puke. Your features are still wrenched in disbelief at this laughable man when the door suddenly bolts open. Your boyfriend fills the tiny gap between you without a word.
His kiss is quiet and soft at first. You're more than certain it won't end that way. Closing your eyes while he unbuckles your belt, you hear the water turn off and the sound of fading footsteps.
July 15, 1997
Dear Mr. Taylor:
On behalf of the St. James Academy Preparatory High School administration, it is my pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted into the class of 2001 based on the results of your entrance exam.
As you know, our wide-ranging college preparatory curriculum includes many Honors and Advanced Placement courses. We also offer several athletic programs and special interest clubs, important components in the development of a well-rounded student. While statistics have proven that our graduates go on to succeed in overwhelming numbers at the finest universities in the country and abroad, it is our sincere hope that your educational experience here at St. James Academy is both fun and fulfilling.
I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you into the St. James family and look forward to meeting you and your parents at the mandatory freshman orientation session, which will be held on August 20, 1997 at 7:00 p.m. in the school's gymnasium.
Director of Admissions
The parochial high school in your upscale neighborhood became the focus of your dad's attention after you'd consistently ranked in the ninety-ninth percentile on every standardized test you took in middle school. He started to put more serious consideration into it when you became valedictorian of your eighth grade class and gave a speech during commencement exercises at the end of the year.
Scanning the acceptance letter you received from St. James in the mail that afternoon, he's happy with the decision you finally made together. "This school should be just what you need academically, Justin. I'm hoping it'll be more of a challenge than you've had in the past."
"Uh-huh." You don't really care one way or another. You've earned top-notch grades since you were little, and you don't expect much to change now. If scoring the maximum allowable points on this private academy's entrance exam is anything to go by, you'll be continuing your habit of idly drawing in your sketchbook during lectures to pass the time.
Your mom takes you to the campus bookstore a week later, trailing along while you check the list of classes you've been issued and pick out the required texts for each one. She watches the Algebra One workbook ring up at eighty-two dollars when it's time to pay. "My goodness. This is going to be an expensive four years."
"Uh, Mom?" You're distracted by a ruckus on the other side of the store, where three or four obnoxious guys your age are gathered around racks of official St. James clothing. "I'll be over there. We're gonna get my uniforms today, too, aren't we?"
"Damn, Chris!" A husky kid with a noticeable case of acne is mouthing off when you near them. "I can't believe we have to wear this shit." He grabs a cellophane-packaged white dress shirt from the display and hurls it toward his friend, snorting when it lands on the floor at his feet. "You won't make first-string quarterback with those skills!"
"Shut up, you ass!"
"All right, boys." An employee quickly intervenes. "Behave yourselves or get out of here." Glaring, she stoops to pick up the makeshift football.
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry." Snickering as soon as she turns her back, the wannabe jock looks for a fitting room with a few pairs of pants in his hand while his cohorts dig through their own sizes and make an effort to dial down the testosterone.
You're not the roughhousing type, but it doesn't take long for you to arrive on common ground with them. Selecting your own armload of things, you can't believe you have to wear this preppy shit five days a week.
That night you're on a mission up in your room, the mountain of unwanted items in the corner growing at an alarming rate. Ransacking your closet, drawers, and shelves, and not forgetting about the crud under your bed, you clean out anything that looks even remotely childish. Long forgotten toys and games. Juvenile books and clothes. It's all stacked and ready to be tossed when your mom walks by your open door.
"Whoa! What are you doing in here?"
"Getting rid of my old junk. I don't need it anymore." You haphazardly lob a stuffed animal over your shoulder.
It sails past her face on its way to the heap. "Gus, too?! He's your favorite teddy bear!"
"When I was six. I'm in high school now, Mom."
You promise to box everything up and cart it out to the garage when she vetoes just trashing it, agreeing that donating your former belongings to the Goodwill is a better, greener option. Closing the door and flopping on your bed after the last trip, you look over your more grown-up surroundings. Much better. Now your mind can wander to the boy du jour.
Like variations on a central theme, he's the one who caught your eye this time. The same stirring you'd felt in your underwear while you both tried on uniforms in adjacent dressing rooms bubbles beneath your clothes. A familiar sensation. And it feels good.
Your right hand slips inside the waistband of your jeans, creeping lower until it reaches the place where it can most often be found.
"IF I CREATE FROM THE HEART, NEARLY EVERYTHING WORKS. IF FROM THE HEAD, ALMOST NOTHING." - Marc Chagall
"Well, I've had enough sorrow and grief for one afternoon. How about you guys?" Brian peels off his suit jacket and makes a beeline to the liquor cabinet the minute you walk in the house. "It's been a long day."
You head into the den with Gus. Slumping down on the couches, you kick off your patent leather dress shoes at the same time, all twenty of your cramped up toes breathing in relief. Though emotionally drained after the three hour ordeal of Sidney Bloom's funeral and subsequent graveside service, you're always available for the closest thing you'll ever have to a biological son. "You okay? You were really quiet all the way home."
Gus shrugs, searching through the video games he keeps in the end table drawer. "I don't know. It's just my mom. She was so sad."
"It was sad for all of us."
"Yeah. It's good she sat with us and everything, but didn't it bother you that she kept clinging to my dad?"
"That doesn't bother me." You watch him fidget with the newest version of Assassin's Creed, turning it over and over in his hands. "Brian's very protective of Lindsay. They've loved each other since their college days; they'll always love each other." Feeling his confusion, you wait till he slowly looks up, his questioning eyes seeking yours. "Your father and I are life partners, Gus. The love we share is completely different. You're mature enough to understand that, aren't you?"
He nods like his old self again and plugs his game into the console, the universe as he's always known it happily back to making sense. "I wish my moms had what you and Dad have."
"They don't?" You'd thought it a little strange today that Melanie hadn't been there for her wife, but a sudden clamor in the dining room instantly wipes out any and all lesbianic concerns.
"Fuck! Not again!" your aforementioned life partner roars. "Justin!? Have you seen this!?"
"What is it?" Rushing to his side, your first inkling is to calm him down.
But then he shoves a short handwritten note under your nose. "I found it taped to the whiskey bottle! The first place he knew I'd go when we got home. His resignation! Effective immediately!"
You wad up the scrap of paper in your fist with a loud huff. "What the fuck's going on with these housekeepers? Daniel's the second one to walk out on us this month!"
You haven't looked away from the fascinating waxy blobs floating around in Meg's lava lamps in, um . . . Well, it doesn't really matter how long you've been zoned out because, uh . . . Oh, fuck it. Who wants to think?
"Want another hit? It's almost out." Josh pinches the roach between his thumb and index finger and extends his arm out to you.
"No. No, I'm good." You cough and pass it to Meg, catching a glimpse of the rounded flesh her skimpy tank top doesn't conceal as she leans toward you. No big deal. You actually respect her youthful freedom. "I'll take some more Kool-Aid, though."
"I'm proud of you, Aunt Meg. I never thought I'd see the day you replaced booze with purple sugar-water. Or smoked for the last time."
"You're seeing it." She drops the end of a joint she'd hidden in her desk long ago into the ashtray and pats the top of Josh's head. "I just ran across this one I'd forgotten about and thought I'd share with you guys. But I'm not going to buy any more. One thing my stint at Betty Ford taught me is that I don't need to get drunk or high. I don't need anything."
Josh grabs the pitcher of grape Kool-Aid after you set it down. "Except gainful employment?"
"So sucks that the Grey terminated you while you were getting help. I'm gonna do a portrait of your lava lamps tomorrow, 'kay?"
"Such is life, boys. I'll find something else. I love you, Justin, but you're not staining my carpet with oil-based paint." Meg empties a package of cookies into a bowl after the three of you quit convulsing in waves of laughter. "Now if you had a studio, it'd be a different story."
"Yeah, I'm getting one. I made enough money from my pieces in the show to cover the first few months' rent. And I have three more in my room. They wouldn't let me hang them because they said eight was the limit for each student. If I can sell those . . ." Your sentence dangles in limbo while you cram an Oreo in your mouth.
"If?! You're fucking kidding me, right? The way your stuff moved?" She twists a chocolaty cookie apart and seems to be studying the creamy filling before it works its magic on her sweet tooth. "Three more? Word would have to get out in all the right circles. With my contacts . . . Your own studio, huh?"
"Uh-oh." Josh reaches into the bowl with both hands. "Weed always drives her brain into overload. Let's see who can shock the other two the most with a single true statement. Loser has to run to Seven/Eleven for more Oreos. I'll go first. I'm gonna buy Daphne a ring and propose." He looks over at you, challenging you to go one better.
Yours will blow his away. "Brian and I had to make sure my mom's suite at the Four Seasons was on a different floor from ours after the show so she wouldn't hear us fucking. She told him she knew that was the reason on their way back to Pittsburgh."
"That's two statements, dickhead."
"Shit." You turn your head at the same time Josh does, both of you staring at Meg and waiting for her shocking truth.
"I'm going to make Justin a wealthy man."