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.
start at the PROLOGUE
THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - CHAPTER EIGHT
"EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE IS REAL." - Pablo Picasso
"God, Justin. How can you find anything in here? It looks like a war zone." Meg lets herself into your airy SoHo loft with the key you'd given her when you first moved in. She negotiates her way around the living quarters through scads of clothes and shoes littering the carpet as well as books, papers, and practically everything else you own piled on the furniture and kitchen counter. "Don't you know what closets are for? Do you even possess a hanger?"
"And hello to you, too, Meg." Your brush never leaves the canvas as she approaches you in the immaculate half of the open space, the side where neatly ordered file cabinets and supply shelves line the walls. Where easels sit in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows and display paintings in various stages of completion, each precisely equidistant to the work table in the center of your studio. Ironically, you can't paint under any other circumstances. "When are you gonna chill about the mess over there? I keep telling you, it's organized chaos. I know where everything is."
"Artists." She stops behind you and regards your work in progress with a knowledgeable eye. "Nice. I've got just the buyer for it, too. He purchased the two similar abstracts you did last year. Maybe we can put it in the William Bennett show on the 18th. I told you about that one, right?"
"Come on, Meg. You know I'm not good with dates. That's why you're my agent and my manager. We've done extremely well for ourselves. Let's not fuck it up by trusting me to remember anything important."
"Amen to that." Meg spends some time contemplating the pieces on the other easels while you busy yourself with shading, purposely withholding her comments.
You don't notice that she's moved on to silently observing the ant-like civilization down on the street from your ninth story windows until you prop your brush in a former soup can and reach for the rag dangling halfway out of your back pocket. Ready to take a break, you dab at the smudges of wet color on your thumb. "So what'd you want to talk to me about? The wedding? You sounded excited on the phone."
She waits for you look up and focus on her, wanting your undivided attention. That's when it hits you. She never brings up anything important while you're working. Didn't she once put off telling you about Josh's emergency appendectomy for hours, burying herself in the invoice catalog and accounts receivable rather than interrupt your wildly productive spree? She's considerate like that. Or a shrewd businesswoman.
Stuffing the rag back into your pocket, you motion for her to come join you on the settee in the corner. "I'm all yours. Spill."
"Okay. The wedding's going to be beautiful tomorrow, but that's not it. I need to know if you were serious when you were kicking around the idea of opening up your own gallery. No sense even getting into it if that was just idle talk."
Your eyes widen. "Oh, I was definitely serious about that. Still am. Why? What's up?"
"Well, you know Fuller's bookstore in front of that old hole-in-the-wall studio where you started out?" Meg rids herself of her shoes and sits on one leg, her favorite position for delving into heavy topics. "I was browsing in there yesterday and heard him say he's retiring after forty-seven years. I started talking to him about it, and he said he's probably going to let the lease go when it's up next month, but he's willing to sublease if someone wants to take it over. He remembered you when I suggested you might be interested."
"Yeah, I'm interested. It almost sounds too simple, though. It can't be that simple, can it?"
"I'd call it luck more than anything else. Most of the shops down here in Lower Manhattan have been grandfathered in for generations. Fuller said he always liked you. Recalled you being a hardworking kid and said he'd be happy to strike a deal with you."
At twenty-five, you're not a kid anymore. Your mind reels at the opportunity knocking on your door. Maybe you should let it in. "I've been thinking about it for awhile now. All the different galleries you've arranged for me to show in. The Village. Here in SoHo. Uptown. Do you realize how many owners have made a commission off of me?"
"That's the name of the game. How everyone breaks into the art world."
"I know. And I'm so grateful to be a part of it. But if I open my own gallery, we cut out the middleman. I may not be good with dates, but I know that's a shitload of cash we keep for ourselves."
Meg laughs and stretches out her bent-up leg, immediately drawing the other one under herself. "Talent and brains. You really do have it all. It would be a logical next step, Justin. If you're ready."
"I'd love for my paintings to replace Fuller's books, but . . ." You can't ignore the only snag you see in this rapidly forming plan. "I'd still work here, and you'd operate from there? Could you do the nine-to-five route again? You've been free to get things done on your own time for so long."
"Hey, selling your art is what I do best. A structured day won't kill me. Truthfully, having everything under one roof will make my life a lot easier. And it's in a perfect little niche location near NYU. I'd enjoy the hell out of it."
Scanning your canvases in the fading afternoon light, you mull over your options. Keep lining the pockets of gallery owners throughout New York City, or take control of your finances. And your future.
You haven't been labeled a genius for nothing.
"Listen, Gus. I don't know what you're doing to make them quit, but whatever it is, you better knock it the fuck off."
"I'm not doing anything to make them quit, Dad! Mrs. Beasley liked me. She really did!"
You turn off the oven and join them at the table, setting a serving platter of lightly seasoned roasted chicken breasts next to the rice pilaf and tossed salad. "I'm sure Gus isn't driving them away, Brian. You're just aggravated with the situation." Bending down, you press your mouth onto the sole set of lips you've chosen to kiss for the rest of your life.
"Hell, yes, I'm aggravated! You've stopped working early every night this week to make dinner, and I'm out of excuses why I can't do it." Brian helps himself to modest portions of food compared to the amounts you and Gus routinely put away. "So when do we interview the next prospect?"
"When we find the next prospect. We've gone through the entire list." You take a roll and pass the bread basket over to Gus. No way he's to blame for the parade of new cooks and housekeepers giving their notice soon after they get the lay of the land and settle in. And what about the last three consecutive job seekers who declined employment after you'd merely shown them around? You wish you knew.
"Can I cook tomorrow night, Justin? My moms taught me how to make tacos. They're really good. And Dad won't have to think up another excuse."
Brian raises an eyebrow while you and Gus snicker at his expense. But the more important issue is the elephant in the corner the mention of Lindsay and Melanie has riled. Fearing the worst from the moment Lindsay called and asked if they could come out to Britin that evening, you're still hoping your instincts are off. For Gus's sake.
"Come on, Sonny Boy. Help me clean up." Brian stacks your empty plates and carries them to the sink after your laughter-filled wisecracking competition disguised as a family meal. "We'll let Justin do some more painting before your moms get here. Any idea what this little visit's all about?"
"Bad news, prob'ly. They were fighting a lot when they said I could live here, and I can tell it's not any better every time I talk to one of them on the phone."
Rising when Gus does, you walk over to him and pull his spindly frame against your chest. "We're here for you no matter what happens. This will always be your home." Visions of sprinting down a long hospital corridor beside the hottest guy you'd ever seen fill your head. You'll do everything in your power to ensure that newborn baby he'd been racing to meet feels wanted and secure. After all, you know what it is to suffer the opposite during these fragile teenage years.
"'M-kay," Gus mumbles into your shoulder. He hugs you back before he grabs the silverware off the table and brings it to the dishwasher.
Brian looks up from the running water, your eyes connecting on their own private wavelength. Absorbing from each other what words can't convey, neither of you has ever been in a better place. You're heading up the kitchen stairs to your studio when you actually hear it.
"I love you, Gus, and Justin does, too. Everything's gonna be fine."
You like to think you had something to do with the evolution of Brian Kinney.
You'd flourished during freshman year at St. James Academy, utilizing your natural mental abilities plus hard work and earning your trademark excellent grades. Blending in with the student body as if you were no different, you only needed to scratch a few layers below the surface to grasp just how fundamentally unlike Breeder Central's general population you were, a tiny detail that also applied to the rest of the world the more you thought about it. Nevertheless, and especially when you pondered the closet case who sat next to you in Honors English, you'd come to like the guy who greeted you in your bathroom mirror every morning.
Armed with a burgeoning sense of self-awareness, you expect more of the same from your sophomore year, prepared for another nine months of endless chapters to read, projects to complete, and tests to ace. But that's before you wander into Homeroom on the first morning and make your way to an empty desk. Scoping out an unfamiliar face two rows over as soon as you sit down, you can't help grinning at the new girl when she looks around and catches your eyes on her.
Finally! There's nothing this white-bread suburban high school needs more than a healthy dose of diversity! You might even be beaming when she grins back.
"They stick sometimes. If you pound on it with your fist right about here . . ." You stop in the crowded hall at lunchtime to help her with the temperamental locker she's been assigned, popping it open like magic with the patented method you use on your own Fort Knox. "Mine does the same thing."
"Hey, it worked! Thanks!" Breaking into an infectious smile, she throws her books in and slams it shut. "Hope I remember how you did that. Now, if I can just find a veggie wrap. I'm so starving. I'm Daphne, by the way. Didn't I see you this morning in Homeroom?"
"Yeah, that was me. I'm Justin." You've never made a friend faster, her outgoing personality meshing seamlessly with your more reserved, observant one. "The cafeteria's down here. I'll show you if you want. So how do you like St. James so far?"
"It's okay, I guess. I sort of miss my old school, but my dad got transferred and we moved here last week. My parents bought a house over on Edgewood Circle."
"You live on Edgewood? I live right around the corner from you on Ashby." You hand her a tray when you get to the lunchroom and take one for yourself, standing in the food line together and then finding a table. Your conversation only lags once during the allotted thirty-minute period, but Daphne finishes off her pint of milk and quickly fills the void.
"So what's with Erica Jacobson? She's in History with me. I hope she's not your girlfriend or anything 'cause oh, my God! She seems totally stuck up."
"Fuck, no!" Your eyes roll at the thought. "She's not my girlfriend at all. She does it with any guy who looks at her. And, yeah, she is pretty stuck up about it."
Daphne giggles her head off, leaning closer to soak up every morsel of dirt you dish on her new classmates. "Tell me! Tell me! I need to know!"
"Now September, you'll like her. She's really nice. I'll introduce you to her tomorrow."
"You better be dead. That's all I have to say to your ass at three forty-five in the goddamned morning, Justin. You better be fucking dead. You know I have to fly to Chicago at the crack of daw—"
"Briannnn! You picked up! I miss you sssooo much! Wanna have phone sexxx?"
"Now? I'm trying to slee . . . Where the hell are you? It sounds like you're in the middle of Times Square on New Year's Eve."
"Oh, that? That's just Josh and all the rowdy guys in this straight bar. They're straight. Stripper just jumped out of the cake, so they're all yelling at her and shit. I kinda don't fit in. Like a square peg in a round hole. Oops! I said hole. Wwwanna have phone sexxx?"
"Christ, Justin. How fucking drunk are you?"
"Fffucking drunk. That's funny, Brian. I'm fffucking drunk like everyone else in here 'cause it's a batch . . . it's Josh's bache . . . hic . . ."
"Josh's bachelor party. I get it. Now how are you supposed to look your sunshiny-best tomorrow as Daphne's maid of honor if you're all hung over?"
"You know what, Brian? Naked girl is naked standing on the table. I can never unsee that. I should go home. I'm gonna go home and have phone sex."
"I hope you throw the phone away after."
"Wwwith youuu! Can't you blow off that meeting with Leo Brown and come here for the wedding instead? Never mind. I know. I know. I'm mature now. Business comes before pleasure. I'll just be all stag without you. Brian? Briannn? Can a gay guy be stag? Or does it just mean a straight guy without a date? Briii-an?"
"Quiet. I'm sleeping."
"Shhhhh. Remind me to tell you something when you wake up. Impooortant, Brian. I did a lot of thinking today, and . . . Life changing, Brian. It really is. Bye. I love you."
"JUSTIN?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? WAKE ME UP AT THREE FORTY-FIVE IN THE GODDAMNED MORNING DRUNK OFF YOUR ASS AND LAY SOME CRYPTIC LIFE CHANGING SHIT ON ME AND THEN HANG UP? JUSTIN?! WHAT ABOUT THE PHONE SEX?!"
"And now you know. We wanted to tell you in person before Jenny and I leave for Florida." Melanie brushes a tear from her cheek and looks out onto your moonlit pool, struggling to keep it together. Then she turns to Gus and tugs on his arm. "How about you give me a grand tour of this gorgeous house? I've only seen a couple of rooms down here on the first story."
Lindsay watches her son open the sliding glass door for his other mom and lead her inside. Sighing audibly, she shifts in her lawn chair to face you and Brian on the A-frame swing. "She wants some time alone with him to say good-bye. Accepting that position out of state was tough for her, but she's determined to get away and start over."
"Do you need money?" Brian fires up the nightly cigarette and inhales sharply before he hands it off to you.
Savoring a single pull of tar and nicotine, you drop it into your empty beer bottle, the one-drag-three-times-a-day-for-each-of-y
"Thanks, but I'm okay." Lindsay takes a swig of her own beer, apparently mistaking your patio for a therapist's office. "Mel keeps saying I haven't tried very hard to save our marriage. But if you want to know the truth, there was nothing left to save. We've fallen out of love."
Brian holds his tongue for all of five seconds. Five more than you expected. "So love's dead in Muncher Land. What a bitch." He weaves his arm around your shoulders and scooches you a little closer to him, unmistakable code for it being alive and well in Queerville.
"This place is huge. You guys have made it into a beautiful home." Melanie's eyes are red when she comes back outside with Gus. Their last evening together until who knows when is tinged with sadness, but exploring every square foot of Britin with her personal tour guide is one of the many memories of him she'll take to her new life. "Cool aquarium in Gus's room. I guess they were out of the small ones the day you bought it?"
That makes you laugh. "You know Brian. He never does anything small. Now we just have to get Gus to clean it by himself. We're working on that, aren't we, Gus?"
"Yeah. I almost got the whole tank done by myself last time, remember?"
Melanie hugs her son. "I'm glad I came out here tonight. Lindsay and I did agree he's at the age when he needs to live with his fathers, but it's nice to see for myself how happy he is." She makes eye contact with Brian first and then you. "Gus is thriving, and I thank you both for that."
"Gee, Melanie. I don't detect a trace of the deep and abiding resentment you've held toward me all these years." Your husband's tone is remarkably snark-free. "Could it be, perhaps, a thing of the past?"
"Dead and buried. No hard feelings, huh, Brian?"
"No hard feelings."
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Melanie gets her bag from the chaise where she left it, gearing up to leave. She only has one question. "I just wanna know how the hell you guys can keep any domestic help in this mansion with that emotional, bloodstained painting hanging in the butler's pantry?"