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.
A/N: A big 'thank you' goes to techgirl_on_ij
for an important plot detail in this chapter and all her
encouragement to keep writing during a particularly
hellish RL I've been dealing with. ♥
THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - CHAPTER SIX
You stub out your cigarette in a state of near shock, just about to race down to the sidewalk and fling yourself into Brian's arms when a wiser thought prevails. Murphy's Law guarantees you'll miss them in crossing. Watching Daphne point to your building before they walk inside, you clamber back in from the fire escape and hurry over to the elevator bay, gnawing on the side of your thumbnail while you try to guess which one they'll step out of.
Your eyes tear up without warning, a gut reaction when you and Brian are wordlessly drawn to each other in a matter of minutes. Sealing your lips together, neither of you wants to break the silent spell.
"See? I told you he'd be surprised!" Daphne takes it upon herself to do the honors, fearing the kiss will drag on forever if she doesn't. "You're surprised, aren't you, Justin?"
Brian grins like a loon. "Surprise."
"I saw you getting out of the car, and I . . . this is so fucking great!" You turn to Daph and hug her tightly. "You never said a word every time we talked. How long have you guys been planning this?"
"Hey, I can keep a secret. Especially when Brian holds the threat of death over my head if I sing!"
He folds his lips inward and feigns innocence. Throwing an arm behind your back as you lead the way to Meg's door, Brian making the first move to bridge the three hundred and seventy-mile gap between you is downright dizzying. Or maybe it's his fingers pressing into your rib cage. All you know is that the dull ache of missing him the past month has instantly vanished, handshakes, small talk, and lighthearted laughter taking its place when he meets your new friends. Learning they'd helped keep you in the dark about his visit completes the perfect picture.
"So where's my miracle cure?" Meg wants to know before long, her appearance still in disarray even though Josh has done a quick cleanup in the kitchen. "Or did the arrival of this good-looking guy make you forget all about me?" Nodding in Brian's direction with a twinkle in her eye, she wouldn't blame you if she happened to be right.
"Oh, sorry, Meg. I'll go get it. It's all ready."
Brian recognizes the stench in your hand when you return with the foul mixture. "Granny Taylor's secret recipe," he identifies it by name. "That shit always works for me!"
"Oh, yeah?" Thanking you, Meg guzzles it down in one breath. "You, um, drink?" She judges from the giggling and eye-rolling you and Daphne can't control that she must be onto something. She raises the empty glass toward Brian in a mock toast. "A true Irishman."
"You've gotta admit, nothin' beats the smooth burn of that first shot of whiskey after a long, hard day."
Meg couldn't agree more. "A kindred spirit," she says with a smile. "I'm quitting, though. As of now. You and Daphne had to take a cab from the airport because of my . . . problem. Justin and Joshua were on their way to meet you, but . . ." Lowering her eyes, her voice trails off.
"Oh, Brian doesn't do cabs." Daphne looks at him and laughs. "We took a limo!"
Swallowing hard, Josh blinks. "H-how much was that?" He sighs and reaches into his pocket before Brian mentions his unlimited expense account and tells him to put his money away. Checking his watch, Josh sees he guessed about right with the restaurant. "Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I'm starving. I called and changed our reservations to an hour later, so why don't you come with us, Aunt Meg? A good meal is just what you need tonight."
"Yeah, Meg, come with us," Daphne says. "I haven't seen you in forever. We need to catch up."
Hesitating briefly, her appetite coaxes her into accepting. Meg pries herself off the sofa and goes to change, the pledge that she's loused up for the last time sounding awfully sincere.
"We'll be over at our place." Josh picks up Daphne's weekend bag from the corner where she'd dropped it. "Just five minutes, okay? Then we're outta here."
You've never been so grateful to anyone for stretching five minutes into twenty, finding your back slapped against the fridge in your apartment as soon as Josh takes Daphne to see his new computer and you offer Brian a beer. Your mouths are inseparable while your hands grope at each other in familiar patterns, desperate to burrow beneath the clothes in their way. You're ready to scrap the foolish notion of moving to New York and march back home where you belong, the intense love you have for him all that's ever mattered.
"God, Justin." He breathes you in, nuzzling the sensitive skin on the side of your neck. "I've missed you."
Tingling all over, your grip tightens around him. "Brian, I . . . I'm so sorry . . ." It's unplanned and stammering, a whisper escaping from you don't know where. "Sorry that I left . . . Left us."
"We'll always be us."
His words etch themselves into your heart, the nagging anxiety you've felt about the survival of your relationship swiftly packing up and waving good-bye forever.
You're not even fazed when Daphne and Josh stumble out of his room after their quickie and try not to gawk at your boyfriend devouring you in the middle of the kitchen.
"Please tell me you didn't actually buy that." You don't appreciate the interruption while you're busy being brilliant, your mom's intrusion into your room forcing you to look up from the four-page essay you're tweaking to perfection well before its due date. "Seriously? A blazer?"
"You need it for Saturday night, honey. Edgewood has a dress code, you know." She removes the navy blue garment from its protective plastic bag and holds it out for your inspection. "It'll look good with your charcoal slacks. I'm going to shop for a tie tomorrow that'll go with your light blue button-down."
"A tie?! Mom!"
"Justin, you're thirteen. It won't kill you to dress up." Hanging the new jacket in your closet, she locates your better things and separates them from the jeans and tee shirts. "You've been growing like a weed. We're going to have to get you some nice clothes."
You didn't object when your father announced you're old enough to start dining with them at the country club once in awhile, but the past five minutes have left you wondering whether you'd really like to or not. You only hope the food is all it's cracked up to be. Otherwise, what's the point? "I gotta finish this essay, okay?" gets your mom out of your hair and your mind back on your footnotes.
Three days later, the point pokes its head out of obscurity. And it has nothing to do with food. Rather, the young man who serves it.
"And for you, sir?" he asks most attentively, his pencil poised to jot down your order after taking your parents'.
You'd noticed his skillful hands earlier when he uncorked the bottle and poured their wine, not fully understanding your desire to touch them. And now the musky scent of his cologne as he leans down toward you wreaks havoc on your previously logical existence. No longer a gangly tween, you've acquired a more mature look, the onset of puberty responsible for the growth of body parts that operate with a mind of their own. You thank the gods in heaven for the cloth napkin in your lap and make eye contact with the cute twenty-something waiter, telling him you'll have the prime rib.
Salad fork on the outside, bread plate on your left, you've been schooled in the social graces like any good WASP boy. You gulp from the water glass on your right to cool the fire under your skin, relieved that your mom and dad are ignoring you while they fret over what headaches Molly might be causing the new babysitter.
Covering your mouth when you burp, you say 'Excuse me' to no one in particular.
"THE PEOPLE WHO WEEP BEFORE MY PICTURES ARE HAVING THE SAME RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE I HAD WHEN I PAINTED THEM." - Mark Rothko
"Forget it, Brian. Not happening. Now can you get out of here and let me wallow in misery alone?" Yanking the quilt up over your head, you dive under the pillows and squeeze your eyes shut, willing the cruel world away. With any luck, you'll wake to discover it was all a hideous nightmare and won't have to deal with the old age issue for a long, long time.
"Stop being a fucking princess and come downstairs with me. Everyone's waiting on your ass. Unless . . ." Your husband thinks back. Twelve years back. Wasn't he was forcibly hauled off to a twisted celebration of his own birthday, set up by a little twat who unlocked the loft door with his key and enabled the gang to barge in? "Hey, Mikey!" Brian shouts out of your bedroom door. "Get up here! Bring Emmett and Ted with you!"
Just as you'd dreaded, kicking and screaming are fruitless, your slight build no match against the four guys who dig you out of your cocoon and lug you down to Britin's great room. Erupting into cheers and applause at your not-so-grand entrance, your partying guests are having way too much fun.
"What is it, Sunshine?" Debbie's no help while you struggle with your captors. "Thought you could hide from the big three-0?"
"Sweetheart!" Your mom rushes over for a hug when they set you down on your feet and unhand you. "What do you think?" She points out more gaudy streamers and balloons floating around than you've ever seen assembled in one place. "Molly and I did all the decorations!"
"Uh, thanks." Trying not to wince, you're pissed off that your sister's not sharing whatever she's tripping on. "It's a lot of . . ."
Ben seems to be the only one who understands your plight, materializing in front of you with a cup of spiked punch. "Here, Justin. You'll feel better after you down a few of these." He laughs and puts his arm around Michael.
"He'll feel better after he stops queening out about his advanced age." Brian reels you into his side and plants a kiss on the top of your head. "Face it, dear. You're one of us now."
Pouring half the punch down your throat, you can't help but crack a smile when the tide suddenly shifts, Michael not about to let that one slide.
"Oh, and you didn't queen the fuck out when you turned thirty?! I had to cut you down from the fucking rafters! At least Justin hasn't attempted to scarf his life away!"
"Not yet!" You begin to loosen up a bit in spite of yourself. Leaving Brian and Michael to reminisce about the good old days, you wander over to the sofa and plop down next to Daphne. "If you say happy birthday, I'll never speak to you again. They're getting so big." You don't know how she copes with her boisterous twins, who're rolling around on the carpet and pulling on her legs like a couple of, well, toddlers. "What are they? Like two now?"
"Almost." She pulls identical Matchbox cars out of her bag of tricks and hands one to each of them, hoping it buys her some sanity. "Josh was so disappointed that he couldn't get away from work. He wanted to come with us to wish you a hap-. Oops. Just about said it."
"Don't even think it. I'm glad you're here, though. I need to tell you something, and I didn't want to do it on the phone. When you said you'd be here in Pittsburgh for my, um, you know . . ."
"What's going on?"
You take a deep breath. "Let me just start by saying you looked really pretty at our senior prom. Your dress. Your hair. Gorgeous." You're expecting her stunned, incredulous stare. "I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago, Daph. Like a heavy curtain was lifted and the darkness faded away. All my lost memories. They're not lost anymore. I can see everything now."
"Really?! Justin, that's awesome!" She gives you a big hug, but she needs answers. "How?! What?!"
"Come with me. I've gotta show you something." Waving Gus over, you ask him if he'll keep an eye on Trevor and Travis. "See if J.R. will sit here and play cars with them. We'll be right back."
You climb up the staircase with Daphne close behind and stop in the hallway outside your room. "Brian kind of freaked when I had it hung over the bed, so it's gonna go somewhere else." Maneuvering the piece from its resting spot facing the wall, you scoot it around so she can see it, mindful not to scratch the frame on the hardwood floor. You'd hold it up at eye level if it weren't so damn heavy, making do for now with flipping on the overhead light fixture in the hall to enhance the multilayered images. "Working on this is what opened up the floodgates."
You give her ample time to soak it all in, waiting until several minutes have elapsed. "Daphne?"
Still reverently hushed, she stands transfixed, a lone tear trickling down her cheek.
He's fucking unbelievable. He's been fucking unbelievable so many times you've lost count, although you honestly felt that anything else he'd ever come up with would pale in comparison to his buying you a country manor six weeks ago and convincing you to marry him.
But then tonight happened.
Tucked snugly under his arm in the back of the limo, you share a look and a smile with your best friend, who's sitting equally contentedly in Josh's lap. You're still trying to digest the events that unfolded at the restaurant when Meg launches into another round of undying thanks to the fucking unbelievable Brian Kinney.
"And I don't wan't you to consider it money that you're just throwing away." She wiggles out of her shoes and relaxes back into the seat across from you. "I mean it, Brian. I'll repay every cent, with interest if you like, as soon as I'm earning a living again."
A peck on your lips prefaces the simple method to his madness. "I figure it's the least I can do for the clever soul who got Justin here back into school. Fuck knows I tried several times. Getting a degree from NYU is the smartest move he can make right now. And from what I've heard tonight, we owe it all to you, Meg."
Nodding in affirmation is all you can do. The decision to fast-track your way to graduation at the prestigious university was definitely motivated by the first person you'd met on this adventure to New York City. You could have done without all her raving during dinner about the hype that surrounded your enrollment and the stir you can still cause some days when your classmates cluster around to watch you paint, but you guess Brian was bound to hear of the flap sooner or later.
"Justin has a gift, but even the gifted have a hard time breaking into this business. I've been around long enough to know that NYU's art department is crawling with influential bigwigs who can open doors for someone with Justin's talent. And trust me, it's gonna happen for him." Meg smiles at you before she looks Brian in the eye. "Now, with your kind generosity, I'll be back in time for the annual senior show to witness the official start of his career."
"Just get well out there, Aunt Meg. I know you can do it. Betty Ford's one of the best facilities in the country." Josh turns toward Brian as if he were some kind of divine redeemer. "You have no idea what this means for our family. Thank you."
You're proud of him for accepting their gratitude. You know from experience that saving the day behind the scenes and claiming no involvement are more his style. Listening to Meg and Daphne gab about how nice it will be to dry out in sunny Rancho Mirage, California, you take in the scenery along Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan from the car's tinted windows. You can hardly believe you're on your way to spend the weekend holed up with your boyfriend at the five-star Peninsula Hotel, soon visible up ahead.
"Well, it's been fun." Brian watches the driver jockey for space in front of the Peninsula's doorman. "But this is where Justin and I get off."
"Ha ha," you reply to Daphne's lewd comment. No doubt she and Josh will put their privacy in the apartment to good use.
Lowering the partition as the limo rolls to a stop, Brian settles up with the chauffeur to the tune of a couple hundred dollars. "This should cover everything. Plus one more trip. Just take these fine people back to . . . what was it?" He looks at Daphne. "Alphabet soup? Avenue Q?"
"Oh, my God!" Daph shrieks. "I told him Avenue B in Alphabet City when we were leaving the airport! So he'd know the neighborhood!"
"Close enough. Later, guys." Brian flashes his killer smile amid heaps of appreciation for footing the transportation bill. He pulls you out of the car with him and hangs his arm over your shoulders while you wait for the doorman to get your carryalls out of the trunk, almost more impatient than you are to get you alone.
You've never seen him hand over his credit card as quickly as he does at the front desk, finally stepping into the elevator with him on your way to his prebooked penthouse suite. "Jesus, Brian!" You tackle him from behind while he jabs the button for the top of the hotel, pinning him into a corner before the doors seal together. "You're so fucking unbelievable!"
"Why? Because I want to fuck you in luxury for two days straight?" He interlocks his fingers behind your waist, his eyes sparkling with lust.
"No!" You laugh and kiss his lips when he rests his forehead down on yours. "I mean paying for Meg to go to Betty Ford. Where did that come from? You just met her tonight!"
Brian shrugs. "I don't know. For some reason, I took an instant liking to her. It's obvious she really wants to get sober. And then I was sitting there eating my steak and thinking about what alcoholism's done to my mother. I might not have turned out this fucked up if she'd had some professional help when I was a kid. Besides." A wry grin comes over his face. "Meg reminds me of Stevie Nicks. I used to think she was hot."
"Who the hell is that?"
"Stevie Nicks? The hippie-chick singer with the raspy voice in Fleetwood Mac? They practically dominated top forty radio in the seventies and eighties."
"You do realize I was born in 1983, right?"
Brian exhales a stifled groan. "Christ. Remind me again why I'm with you?"
You don't need a more blatant invitation, promptly reaching out for the panel and halting the elevator mid-climb. Sinking to your knees as it lodges between floors, you don't know how you've managed to keep your mouth off his dick this long.