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 NINE
Fury. Indignation. Outrage and hurt. The jumble of emotions punches you in the gut, your mind swimming with confusion as to what it all means. Surely you misheard him or didn't understand. He couldn't have just said—
"I said you can't move back home now, Justin. It's not the right time. I'm not . . . We haven't . . ."
Okay, now you're irate. You don't hear him blabbering his next line of shit because of all the steam blowing out of your ears. It has to go somewhere. If it doesn't, your head'll explode.
"Fuck you, Brian! Last time I checked, I was the one in charge of my life, not you! How can you tell me not to come home?"
"Listen, I gotta get to a staff meeting. I'll call you later."
Your phone is damaged beyond repair when it crashes into the wall above your kitchen sink and lands in a bowlful of water with a loud plop. You stand there cursing at the fucking thing before you storm out of your loft and slam the door. Walking the streets of SoHo in a rage, you finally stop at a sidewalk cafe, scowling into a bottle of beer while you analyze yet again what just went down with your boyfriend.
If you can even call him that. What the hell have you been doing for the last seven years? Somehow making a long-distance relationship work, as you've always thought, or merely fucking whenever you get the chance? Is that all he thinks it is? You've never questioned his love for you until now, the chunk of doubt in the pit of your stomach expanding by the minute.
"Another Heineken for you?" The waiter shows up on your last gulp, his flawless timing due to the fact that he's been cruising you hard ever since you sat down.
Lost in misery, you hadn't noticed. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks." You relax your furrowed brow and smile at him. Cute. Definitely cute. You might be receptive under normal conditions, but your knotted insides won't hear of it.
Besides, hooking up isn't any fun unless you spend the entire dalliance anticipating its retelling to Brian the next time you talk. Or make love. But now who the fuck can say when either will occur again. More like if either will occur again. Drowning the problem in alcohol doesn't help, so you pick yourself up and trudge back to your loft, descending into a funk you just can't shake.
You don't know exactly how or when you changed, but the unbridled enthusiasm you always held for New York had gradually started to ebb. You found yourself fighting the city of packed subways and sky-high rents more often than embracing it, the daily hassles gobbling up your creativity a lot of the time and frustrating you to no end. Breakfasts were tasteless. Painting felt empty. Lonely nights, the price you willingly paid for a successful career, became unbearable. After endless bouts of soul-searching, you knew it was time to go.
But broaching the subject with Brian on the phone earlier had been a disaster of epic proportions. One that you certainly didn't see coming. How can he not want you back in Pittsburgh?
Days later, your anger scaled down to a dull heartache, you take Meg to a trendy Midtown place for lunch and break it to her over ice cold glasses of lemonade. One of your major concerns is laid to rest when she goes for your idea of how to keep your gallery open. You both order rich desserts and hammer out the details in twenty minutes.
If everything else falls into place this swiftly, you'll be home by Christmas.
"Come on, Justin. Rise and shine." Your husband turns to look at the clock on his nightstand. "Aren't they going to be here in forty-five minutes?"
"I can't. You feel too good. Lie here with me a little longer." You'd pay a king's ransom right about now in exchange for the natural cessation of time, but you know you're in the midst of a losing battle when he inches out of your grasp and his feet hit the floor.
"I'll warm up the shower."
A graceless, unbecoming grunt is your answer to that. Brian pinches the bridge of his nose and squelches his urge to call you a drama queen. He's brushing his teeth by the time you sleepwalk into the bathroom to piss, hot vapor wafting through the air and leaving a foggy mirror in its wake. You contort your face into a gaping yawn, flush the toilet, and question your sanity. Why in hell did you ever schedule this transport to take place so early?
No wonder Brian's so chipper. He's probably been crossing off the days. He sticks his minty-fresh tongue in your mouth when you nearly collide in front of the shower, then he opens the door and pulls you inside with him. Pouring expensive body wash on your chest, he works it into a sudsy lather.
You may have had to drag yourself out of bed to supervise the packing and shipping of your masterpiece-turned-colossal-headache to downtown Pittsburgh, but his slippery fingertips rubbing your nipples into erect stubs as the hot water pings off your back wakes you up in a hurry. Your dicks thickening and bobbing upward, you can't stop yourself from running your right hand through the soap he's whipped up and clasping it around his shaft. "Too bad we don't have time to fuck in here."
"This is good." Brian kisses your lips under the steamy spray while you tug and twist and knead, moaning softly when his come eddies down the drain in record time. The gleam in his eye is blinding. "Who says you're not a morning person?"
"Justin?" Your mom waits for a minute and then calls up the staircase again. "Justin, Daphne's here!" She gets no response because your music's cranked full blast, but she tells your best friend and cohort in crime to go on up anyway.
A permanent fixture in your life for the past year, Daphne breezes into your room and tosses her backpack on the bed. She chatters away while you show her your new CD's, both of you set to hang out as if it were a typical Thursday afternoon. A little gossip, a little raiding the fridge, a little studying for your driver's tests—
And then your eyes land on her unzipped bag and its contents spilling out everywhere. "Oh, my God, Daph! What's that?"
You point to the item in question, not believing what you're seeing. "A pack of cigarettes? Where'd you get it?"
"Shhh!" She quietly closes your door. "My uncle left it at my house. No one knows I snagged it."
"Have you tried one?" An inkling of what's going to happen plays out in your head when she admits she's smoked two already. "No shit?! What's it like?"
"Well, I had to drop the first one and mash it into the dirt 'cause I coughed so bad I thought I was gonna throw up. But the second one was better."
You sit on your bed and wedge a Marlboro between your fingers. It makes you feel all grown up. "Let's tell my mom we're gonna be at your house. I gotta try it."
Thank God the neighborhood park's empty. You climb up to the top of the slide and settle in next to each other, ten feet above the ground for your secret deed.
Daphne pulls the cigarettes and lighter out of her pocket. "It hurts like hell the first time. You're gonna cough."
"No, I won't." Self-confidence has always been your middle name. Instilled in you from early childhood by attentive, supportive parents, it's the reason you succeed at pretty much anything you try. You place a cigarette between your lips and light the end of it, coolly sucking in.
To say you're not prepared for the war your sixteen-year-old lungs wage against the fire you've breathed into them would be the mother of all understatements. Cross-eyed with suffocation, you gasp for air, ignoring Daph's 'told ya so' while a violent choking jag wracks your body.
Your throat isn't the only thing burning, though.
The rude awakening that not everything is easy just because you set your mind to it stings your healthy ego, yet you're not about to give up. You observe the way she inhales and practice until you can blow out a long stream of smoke without coughing your head off. It gets smoother every time. "Okay, I got it. Let's have another one."
Daphne giggles and reaches for the cigarettes. "I can't believe how persistent you are, Justin." She nudges your shoulder with hers. "It's inspiring."
Fierce determination. Dogged perseverance. You have no idea how valuable these character traits are going to be a year from now in the hot pursuit of all you've ever wanted.
Your sister's car idles in the passenger pick up area while she confirms your flight's arrival on her phone. She's just about to circle around again so the traffic cop won't hassle her when she looks out the window one more time and spots you. At least she thinks the weary guy making his way toward her with all that luggage is you. She jumps out of her Volkswagen Beetle when she's sure. "Hey, you really did it! You're finally coming home after making it big in New York!"
"Something like that." You laugh and give her a quick hug. Lifting your suitcases into the trunk, you're thankful the former bane of your existence has volunteered to drive to the airport at such a hectic time of year. It's actually good to see her. "Thanks for coming to get me. I guess Mom's crazy busy?"
"Mom is fucking freaking out trying to get ready for tomorrow. She invited some friends from her real estate office to have Christmas dinner with us. Hope you don't mind going straight over there. I told her I'd help with the cooking and baking."
"Yeah, that's fine." As if you have anywhere else to go. Your mom does have a few houses lined up to show you, but you want to take your time looking for a home of your own and make a sound investment. Until then, you'll be staying in her extra bedroom.
You climb in and fasten your seat belt, looking over at Molly while she waits for an opening and pulls away from the curb. Focusing solely on her for the first time in well, ever, it doesn't take long to see she literally grew up while you were gone. What was she? Like fifteen when you left? You know next to nothing about her. "So how's school? What's your major again?"
"Used to be Computer Science. I had to drop out last semester 'cause our asshole father quit paying."
"Jesus. That brings back memories."
"It's okay. I'll finish later, after I save up some money." She thinks about it and shrugs. "Mom told me when you opened up your own gallery in New York. I've always wanted to go and see it, but work and classes kind of tied me down, you know?"
It's funny how you don't recall ever having a meaningful conversation with your sister before. You're tired, but it's nice to relate to her on an adult level. "Yeah, we've got a pretty good thing going. Business has been great ever since we opened four years ago."
Molly glimpses at you through her sunglasses. "We?"
"Meg and me. She's my agent and a good friend of mine. She runs Taylor Art for me so I can concentrate on painting. Maybe you can come with me sometime when I go back to check on things and you can meet her and see the place."
"Seriously? You'd let me come with you? I'd love that!"
"Why not? I'll probably put in an appearance three or four times a year to see how the new format's working out. After I decided to move back to Pittsburgh, we turned it into a place where kids right out of school can show their work and not have to wait for a big break to show in one of the older galleries. Meg said she loved helping me get established so much that she wants to do it for other young artists, too."
"That's really cool, Justin. I can't wait to see it."
"I'll send a couple of pieces there every month for Meg to sell. My paintings will keep our buyers coming in to look, and then they'll be exposed to all the new artists' work. We don't know of any other gallery that does that."
"Amazing. You guys are doing an awesome thing for people who might not have anywhere else to sell their art." Flipping her right blinker on, Molly turns off the highway and comes to a stop at the end of the exit ramp. You're waiting at the light when she decides to ruin your day. "So what's up with you and Brian? Mom says you won't talk to him?"
You stare at her with your jaw hanging open. Just when you'd finally convinced yourself you didn't care anymore, too. "How the fuck does Mom know what's going on with Brian and me?"
"Oh. I thought she told you." Molly reaches for her soda in the cup holder and sips at it most annoyingly, a torturous thirty seconds elapsing before she makes another peep. "Brian's been calling her a lot. He says your phone number is disconnected or some weird thing?"
"My phone, uh, broke. I do everything by e-mail."
"Yeah, he's pissed about that, too. Apparently, you don't reply to any of his e-mails."
Perfect. First he tells you not to come home, and now you find out he's the one who's pissed? That is so fucked up.
Almost as fucked up as your not caring act.
"ART IS NOT WHAT YOU SEE, BUT WHAT YOU MAKE OTHERS SEE." - Edgar Degas
You sign the work order and pay the movers in cash, breathing a sigh of relief now that your precious painting will be safe here and out of the way. Eternally grateful to Lindsay for offering to keep it in a closed off storage room at the Bloom Gallery, you thank her again when she joins you in the dimly lit space with two cups of fresh coffee.
"It's no problem. Really. Sidney would have come up with the idea himself if he were still here."
"I should probably trash it, but I can't. Something won't let me."
Lindsay evokes her inner art teacher and thoughtfully inspects the piece, which is propped against the wall beside a clunky old desk she'd recently replaced in her office with a new French Provincial one. "It's mesmerizing, Justin. The dream-like hues. Your impeccable technique. Regardless of the tragic subject matter, it's a stunning work."
"I just wish I knew what to do with it." You scratch the side of your head and drink more coffee, nodding while she assures you it'll stay right where it is until you decide otherwise. You're not surprised when she veers off into more lucrative territory as soon as the conversation permits, namely how prepared you happen to be for your upcoming show.
Immersed in a deep discussion about the themed series you've almost completed, neither of you is aware of the couple pushing their toddler in his stroller early Saturday morning out in front of the gallery. Stopping to glance up at its sign, they check out what fine art they can spy through the windows.
"Hey, maybe we should get an oil painting for the living room. I've always wanted something over the sofa. What do you think?"
"I think I've never thought about it before. I build homes for a living, Tamara. I don't decorate 'em."
"Let's go inside and look around."
That's the last thing on earth Tamara's husband would like to do. "I gotta get home and watch the game. Just come back Monday and buy anything you want."