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 ONE
Arriving at your destination much later than you should have, thanks to confusing subway routes through unfamiliar territory, you pray to fuck you've finally found the place where you can crash. Letting out a heavy sigh, you compare the building's address with the one on the crumpled paper in your hand, only hoping you're not waking Daphne's friend when you ring the buzzer for 317. He'd been jovial enough on the phone after your plane landed, directing you to his little corner of the world and assuring you that getting there was easy, but that was two hours earlier.
It's an unexpected female voice that greets you, jarring you from thoughts of fluffy pillows, warm duvets, and Brian's body wrapped around yours. "Yes?" it calls through the panel, one of the grunge bands whose popularity soared when you were in grade school blaring in the background.
"Uh, I'm sorry. I must have the wrong apartment number." You drop your duffel bag on the ground and reach into your pocket. Rechecking Daphne's scrawl, you read 317 once again.
You look up. "Yes, I'm Justin. Is Josh there?" Slinging your bag over your shoulder, you hurry into the building when the gate unlatches. The elevator's seen better days. You hope it gets you to the third floor safely.
You can't mistake the door you're looking for, finally placing Kurt Cobain's guttural delivery of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as it blasts from behind it into the hall. When it swings open on your third knock, an attractive, aging hippie is smiling at you. Well, you guess by her attire you've come face-to-face with a real live hippie. The only reference you have to go by is ancient footage you've seen of Woodstock. The pungent aroma of weed wafting up your nostrils supports your theory.
"There you are! We were beginning to think you'd gotten lost!" Her smile widens while she checks you out from head to toe. Subtlety not included.
"I, um, didn't really know where I was going." You swipe a hand through your hair and glance at your watch. "Josh said it was easy to find, but, uh, is he here?"
"He'll be back in a few. He's out on a beer run." She waves the bottle in her hand at you and winks. "Come on in."
"Thanks." You still have no idea whom you're talking to. Taking in the modest space, you unload your bag on a chair while she flits off to the kitchen, graciously accepting the last beer when she comes back. You're too tired to fight as she pulls you down on the sofa with her.
"So, you're from Pittsburgh, huh?" She kicks off her shoes and gets comfy by your side. "You're gonna love the East Village art scene." Her knee touches yours when she lays her hand on your thigh.
You'd kill to lie down before the sun rises, but the couch will probably double as your bunk. And she seems to be firmly planted on it. Stifling a gaping yawn, you miss your side of Brian's bed with a passion. "I just need a little time to figure out the city."
Reaching for the joint in the ashtray, she relights it and nods at the CD player. "Nirvana. Crying shame about Cobain, don't you think?" She takes the first hit and offers you some.
You go back. Way back. "I was like eleven when he died. No, that's okay." The last thing you want to do is get high with someone you don't know.
How fucking far does Josh have to go to find beer?
Your eyes are already acclimated to the darkness when you enter your studio in the middle of the night. Stealing quietly out of your sleeping husband's arms, you were somehow drawn up to the attic, concluding a very long time before that fighting the haunting vision never works. Obediently, you've given yourself over to its power.
Locking yourself in, you hesitantly approach the easel in the corner while the painting beckons from under its cover. You unveil your work in progress and regard it with a critical eye. The perspective's a little off, but you need to create the shade you'd seen in your dream before it fades from view. You pick up a clean palette and three tubes of pigment, setting off to chase the color of hopelessness.
Soon buried in your work, time has no meaning as you slide further and further away, losing pieces of yourself as you go.
"Dad! Dad! Guess what?" You scamper out to the driveway when your father gets home from work, clutching the spelling test you'd aced earlier that afternoon in your hand. Jumping up and down, you can't wait to show it to him.
"What have you got there?" He ruffles your hair as he takes it from you, smiling when he sees the large red A+ marked on the top. "Wonderful, Justin! Mrs. Baker even gave you a gold star. Has Mom seen this?" He grabs his briefcase from the car and heads into the house with his little blond shadow in tow.
"Yeah. She doesn't feel good, though. I don't like that baby in her tummy. It makes her throw up and go to bed and be sad."
"You mean she doesn't feel well." He loosens his tie as you walk into the kitchen together. "Why don't we surprise her and fix dinner tonight? You want to help me? I bet that'll make her happy." Tacking your perfect spelling test next to the grocery list on the bulletin board, he beams down at your six-year-old self. "I'm proud of you, son. I think we should put every A you bring home right here on this board. What do you think?"
You think there won't be enough room for the grocery list before long, First Grade the easiest thing you've ever dealt with in your life. "Sure, Dad! I'll be right back!"
He doesn't know your book bag is full of homework papers and tests that are decorated with Mrs. Baker's felt-tipped red A's and gold star stickers. "Just be quiet up there. Your mom needs her rest."
You really don't like that baby in her tummy.
"Jesus, Aunt Meg! What the hell are you doing?"
You snap your head toward the door just in time to catch the horrified look on your new roommate's face.
Evidently aghast at his overly-forward relative, who's spent the past thirty minutes shedding every inhibition she's ever possessed, he drops a six-pack on the counter and glares at her. "Button up your shirt!"
"And open some windows!" Airing out his apartment, he finally makes it over to you and shakes your hand. "Hi. I'm Josh. Sorry about this."
"Justin." You stand to meet him, more than a tad relieved to be rescued.
Josh spies your duffel bag on the chair and turns back to his aunt. "You didn't even show him his room? I'm sure Justin's exhausted! God, I'm sorry," he apologizes to you again. "My brother moved out last week, so you're in luck. It's small, but there's an empty bedroom."
"Great! I thought I might be sleeping on your couch until I find a place of my own."
Meg scouts around for her shoes, bummed that the party's over. "We were just getting to know each other, weren't we, Justin? I was behaving myself. Tell him."
"Right . . ." Collecting her paraphernalia from the coffee table and depositing it in her hands, Josh shoots you another regretful look while he ushers her to the door. "Come on. I'll help you home. Say good night, Aunt Meg."
"You're no fun, Joshua. See you boys later."
You begin to understand that omen for what it is when he walks her across the hall and waits while she fumbles with the key to her own apartment. "This is perfect," you tell him when he returns and shows you around. Thanking him again, you promise to be more human in the morning, hitting the mattress in your tiny room the second he makes himself scarce.
Maybe leaving Pittsburgh at ten p.m. for parts unknown wasn't the most well thought-out plan in the history of plans, but you booked the last flight of the day for a reason. You think about your long good-bye in Brian's loft and muster a sleepy grin, your ass still thanking you for the proper send-off he made sure you received.
"THE EMOTIONS ARE SOMETIMES SO STRONG THAT I WORK WITHOUT KNOWING IT. THE STROKES COME LIKE SPEECH." - Vincent Van Gogh
You don't know how long he's been banging on the door and calling your name, but the muddy din outside your studio somehow brings you back. 'Open up, Justin!' slowly registering as his command, the alarm in his tone tips you off to what you'll find when you do.
Setting your palette on the table, you drag your knuckles across your tear-stained cheek and rub your forehead, willing yourself to get it together. You hide your work under its snow white sheet and start to back away, Brian's impatience robbing you of your normal recovery time. When you open the door, you avoid his eyes at all costs. "Let me just rinse—"
"What the fuck, Justin?!"
You don't finish your thought because Brian's are too urgent.
"The door was locked. Didn't you hear me? It's three-thirty. I woke up alone, and . . . Hey, look at me." He takes your face in his hands. "What is it?"
"Go back to bed, Brian."
That's the one thing he has no intention of doing. "Talk to me. Come on. What is it?" He crushes you into his chest, his soft breath tickling the side of your neck.
If you hadn't loved this man with all your heart for almost half your life, you'd be embarrassed by the trail of snot staining the front of his tee shirt where your nose is pressed. You release your brushes and knives from your grip as he reaches for them, slumping to the floor in a heap when he walks to the sink and turns on the water. The heels of your hands dig into your eye sockets while he carefully cleans your instruments and lays them out to dry, only falling to your sides when you feel your husband's lanky frame lowering down next to you.
"It's okay." He gathers as much of your drooping form as he can hold, his chin settling squarely on top of your head. "I'm here."