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 TEN
Your mother's real estate friends are likable and witty. One of them even talks Renaissance Art with you over cocktails, the irresistible aroma of a soon-to-be-served Christmas feast filling the house. All in all, it's good to be home, especially a few minutes later when Molly brings the last of the side dishes into the dining room and urges everyone to gather round. Your taste buds are already thanking you.
Curiously, there's an extra place setting next to your mom after she, you, Molly, and the four guests take a seat. You're just about to ask her if she's expecting anyone else when the doorbell rings.
"Oh!" She jumps up. "I'll get that. But please, everybody, go ahead and start. Don't let the food get cold."
A green and silver bow adorns the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon he presents to his hostess at the door, their hello kiss and warm embrace contrasting starkly with the displeasure she'd once held toward him. Long past their thorny beginnings, she's truly happy to see him, taking his arm and pulling him in from the cold.
"Fashionably late for dinner!" she teases, hanging his coat in the entry closet. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Give me your firstborn son? Just a thought."
Entertaining a thought or two of your own, you cut into the slab of HoneyBaked ham on your plate and pop a bite into your mouth. Let them have their mutual admiration society. Let them have their schemes and their plots. Whatever they've cooked up won't inspire you to roll over anytime soon. Working through the anger had been one thing, but you still have issues. Issues with the flawlessly handsome man striding up to the table with your mom.
"I'd like you all to meet Brian Kinney," she says to her guests. "Justin's boyfriend. Brian, these are my friends Sue and Donna. They work with me. And this is John and his wife, Denise. John owns the real estate company."
"Nice to meet everyone." Natural charm oozes from every inch of his body as he acknowledges the women, Sue and Donna trying their best not to gawk.
Denise doesn't care. She stares openly while he shakes hands with her husband, 'Where've you been all my life?' screaming from her features.
Brian continues around the table, saying a quick hi to Molly before he pauses at your side. Bending down, he swoops in for a kiss, taking what he wants with unflinching confidence. He grins at you afterward. "Hey."
You watch him absorb the sugary glaze from the ham. "What are you doing here?"
"I believe it's called sharing the holiday with family and friends. Mother Taylor invited me." Brian heads for the vacant chair, everyone but you enjoying the show. "You'll have to excuse Justin," he deadpans. "He's a little ticked at me right now." He sits by your mom and lays his napkin in his lap, thanking her as she slides a couple of serving bowls toward him.
"Oh, my God, Brian. Are you serious?"
"Well, you are, aren't you?"
You guess you're doing this. Right here. Right now. "Do you even remember the last thing you said to me?"
"That I had to get to a staff meeting?"
"Before that, dipshit."
He's always liked you feisty, refusing to take crap from anyone, including him. "Ah, well, I never had a chance to finish. I tried to call you back as soon as the meeting was over, but your phone wasn't working. Still isn't, by the way. I actually have a very good reason for what I said. You just don't know what it is yet because you read e-mail from everybody in the world except me."
"Jesus, Brian." Draining half your water goblet, you clunk it down in front of yourself and shoot him a look he knows better than to fuck with. "You have a very good reason for not wanting me to come home? Do grace us with your pearls of wisdom."
"No pearls. Plenty of wisdom, though." He picks at the candied yams on his plate, pushing them around with his fork. Eating them never occurs to him. "Look, you have every right to be upset, Justin. I take full blame for this . . . this crazy mess that somehow spiraled out of control before I could explain." Searching your face, he hopes for a shred of understanding. "But I can fix it now."
"You can fix it now."
"Yeah. I can totally clear this whole thing up. All you have to do is come with me. There's something I have to show you."
. . . show you . . . show you . . . Awash in deja vu, reality stands still while you fly down the highway in his Vette, no clue where you're going. Less than half an hour out of Pittsburgh . . . Taking a chance on love . . . Never meant anything more . . .
What the hell does he have up his sleeve this time? Your eyes penetrate his. You just know his lips are going to press against each other before they twitch upward at the corners and form a whisper of a smile.
Your pissy attitude begins to crumble when they do exactly that.
Merry Christmas to you.
"I really hope I haven't done the wrong thing here. I mean it's such a personal work with a tremendous emotional hold on him. We've been keeping it in the storage room, but somehow she wandered in there and found—"
"Lindsay, Christ! What are you talking about?" Your partner signs the last document in Ted's folder and signals for him to close his office door on his way out. "What the fuck are you saying?" he barks into his phone.
Already stretched incredibly thin on this busy Monday morning at the Bloom Gallery, Lindsay sighs and starts over. "Justin's painting. The one he didn't know what to do with. A young woman was in here earlier with her toddler, and she asked me where the restroom was when she needed to change him. I guess I'd accidentally left the door to the storeroom open and she'd wandered in and looked around because she came back out and said she wanted to buy it. I told her several times that one isn't for sale, but she was adamant about purchasing it. I broke down in the end and said I'd speak to the artist and get back to her."
He has no time for this, as his loud groan indicates. "And you're telling me this why?"
"I'm asking your opinion, Brian. Do you think Justin should know someone's interested in buying it? As far as he's concerned, it was never supposed to be seen by the public. It was tucked away safe and sound, both physically and mentally. I don't want to . . . open up old wounds . . ."
The first thing you notice when you enter your husband's inner sanctum at Kinnetik is the absence of any audible conversation even though he's holding his cell phone to his ear. The second is the pained look on his face. He can't be conducting business in this state, and you wonder if that's good or bad. Unwinding the scarf around your neck, you raise an inquisitive brow when he snaps out of it and focuses on you.
"I'll talk to him, okay? He just walked in. Bye, Linds." Brian glances at the time before he leans forward in his chair, your lips meeting together midway over his desk. "You're early. We said lunch at eleven forty-five."
"I'm having a for shit day in the studio. Thought we could leave now and drink our way through lunch at Woody's. Talk to me about what?"
That look again. Uneasy and pensive. Procrastinating as long as he can, Brian finally joins you on the other side of the desk. "Let's sit down." He takes you by the hand and walks to the sofa.
What if they were discussing Gus going back to live with her again? That would seriously bite because you've grown quite attached to your little family of three.
Brian pulls you down with him, practically onto his lap. He pats his shirt pocket out of habit, but his cigarettes aren't there. Haven't been since you helped each other quit. He takes a deep breath. "That was Lindsay."
"Yeah, I kind of gathered as much when I heard 'Bye, Linds.' What'd she say?"
More hesitation, but you've never been so happy to see that classic Brian Kinney smirk emerge a few seconds later.
"You know, drinking our way through lunch is a fabulous idea. Let me just get Cynthia to cancel—"
"Fuck, no! I'm not moving until you tell me what's going on. What the fuck did Lindsay say?"
"She said someone wants the housekeeper repellent. A girl saw it in the storeroom at the gallery and kept insisting she wants to buy it. Lindsay told her that one's not for sale, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. Now she's waiting to hear back from Lindsay whether or not the artist will relent and consider selling." Your husband stops as abruptly as he'd begun, ready to provide any level of comfort and support you might need. Keenly aware of the sleeping monster he's most likely riled, he's prepared for any reaction.
Except the one he gets.
It starts with a giggle and quickly grows, your eyes twinkling with relief. You throw your arms around him and squeeze. "So Gus can stay?"
"She doesn't want Gus back? It's only about the stupid painting?" You kiss him through your laughter with a loud smack.
"Stupid painting?" He shakes his head. "Stupid painting?! Justin, that thing's been a noose around our necks for the past year! All the pain and anguish it's caused? All your dark moods and mysterious behavior? Fuck! I've been weirded out ever since that first time you showed it to me." Brian turns and looks through his office window, nothing but the image of a blood-soaked canvas staring back at him. He almost winces. "Three cooks and five housekeepers have walked out on us because they couldn't handle it, and now it's stupid?"
You spend less than a minute in contemplation, your thoughts never clearer. "Hard to believe, isn't it? But I think it's served its purpose. I relived the horror of the bashing over and over again every single time I worked on it, but you know what? That's how I got my memory back. And now? All the fears and hang-ups that prick Hobbs left me with seem so distant. Mollified. Laid to rest."
Your spoken thoughts are music to your ears, rolling off your tongue so easily. That's when you catch on they're coming from a place that hadn't existed until this very moment. A place of beauty. A place of peace. A place of healing. "It's like I'm free, Brian. I'm thirty fucking years old, and I'm finally free."
"Tonight? Sorry, Mom. I've got plans. You're gonna have to find someone else to brat sit for you." There's no way you're going to get roped into staying home with your ten-year-old sister tonight. No way in hell. Not after the many weeks you've spent immersed in introspection, wrestling with your deepest, darkest, most titillating desires. No, most certainly not now, after you've finally worked up enough courage to act on them. It's taken guts, but you've come to a firm, calculated decision: tonight's the night, and you're not backing down. Shit! You've even got the bus route from your neighborhood in the suburbs to downtown all mapped out.
Hearing the pastry box on the kitchen counter calling your name, you lift the lid and peek in. "Can't you get Annie to come over?"
"Justin, how many times have your father and I asked you to stop calling Molly a brat? And you never told me about any plans. Where are you going?"
You're a senior in high school for fuck's sake. You can't have plans she doesn't know about? Stuffing half a doughnut in your mouth buys you some time. "Daphne. Uh, Daphne's house. We need to study for a test. There's a big Chemistry test tomorrow." You brush the crumbs off your uniform tie. "And I'm spending the night with her."
Your mom sighs, somewhat disappointed, reaching for the phone on the wall. "I guess I can call Annie. Heaven forbid you get a B on a test." Sarcasm. It doesn't look good on her. But she laughs soon enough. "I'm kidding. Your dad and I have always been proud of you and your straight A's. You're a good son."
Ouch. That jolts your brain. Would they still be proud if they had the slightest inkling of what goes on in there? You pour yourself a tall glass of milk and gulp it down while she books the babysitter. Enduring a motherly peck on your forehead before she hurries off to pick up the brat from Brownies, you're just glad she's gone when Daphne knocks on the back door.
"Hey, Daph. Come on in. Want a doughnut?"
Daphne eyes the pink box and nearly swoons. "God, yesss! I'm PMS-ing so bad!"
"It's uncanny how you always find a way to tell me that." You close the door behind her while she skips over to check out the sweets.
"Want to hang out tonight? Dirty Dancing's gonna be on at nine. We haven't seen it in awhile."
"Tonight?" Jesus! One fucking night away is all you want. "I can't tonight. My mom. She um, needs me to babysit my sister." Out-and-out lying. To both of them. You prefer to think of it as craftiness since there's really no other way to pull this off.
Daph scoops up an eclair and savors the first bite. Then she frowns at you. "Dirty Dancing is kind of an old movie. It's just that Patrick Swayze's hot. For an old guy. Sorry you're gonna be stuck home with the brat."
"It sucks." Thankfully, she'll cover for you if your mom calls her house. Just as you've covered for her plenty of times. It's a best friend thing, which is why you'll definitely come clean to her tomorrow morning at school when this is all over.
Yeah, Daphne's cool. She'll get it. She won't freak the fuck out when she learns of your secret venture down to Liberty Avenue, your city's mecca for all manner of things audacious and queer. Unlike your mom, who'd absolutely, positively, without a doubt kill you if she knew you were gay.
"Hey, Daph? Want some milk with that?"
"ART IS THE ONLY WAY TO RUN AWAY WITHOUT LEAVING HOME." - Twyla Tharp
You'd helped yourself to seconds and lingered over coffee and Molly's homemade apple pie, happy to see Brian enjoying his food also once he sensed Desert Storm coming to an end. But then, shocking no one, it'd been time to leave.
Like a well-oiled machine, you moved in unison, a single beckoning glance from your boyfriend's soul into yours sparking a flurry of holiday sentiments and good-bye hugs for all. And yes, for the record, you've always known the telepathic-like private communication you share with him is a beautiful gift to possess.
Almost as beautiful as the one that's waiting for you at the top of a certain country residence.
"It's empty in here. What happened to the Hendersons?" You knew where he was taking you this time. The only mystery was why? Giving up needling him about halfway through the familiar trip, you figured it was useless when every inquiry you made was met with the same mischievous grin. Now you're standing in the very room where he proposed marriage what seems like a lifetime ago, bursting with curiosity. "They moved out?"
"Yes, they moved out. They kind of had to since I didn't renew their lease." Brian tosses his keys onto the mantel above the fireplace and turns to face you. He reaches for both of your hands and holds them in his. "I told them I was going to stop renting it to them when their lease was up at the end of October."
"Because, well, let's just say I felt a change was coming and I wanted to be prepared for it? I heard it in your voice every time we talked on the phone or saw each other the past six months. You were becoming so disillusioned with the rat race of living and working in New York. I knew it wouldn't be long till you decided to leave, and . . ." He rubs at a phantom itch on his chin before taking your hand again. "You've established yourself in the art world to such an extent that it doesn't matter where you paint now. This is our home, Justin, and I was hoping you'd come back to the Pitts and be ready to live in it. With me. You know, together." Brian stifles the catch in your breath with kisses. Then he lowers his forehead to rest on yours. "Remember when you said it was all you'd ever dreamed of?"
How could you forget? The love of your life had bought his prince this palace. Heady stuff for a young adult newly braving it out on his own. Your heart pounds in your chest almost as hard as it did that day seven years ago. "You wouldn't believe the dreams I've had of this place. Of us in this place. It's just that—"
"Wait!" His index finger shoots up to press against your lips. "Hold that thought. I brought you here to show you something, so not another word until you see it." He leads you over to the mansion's majestic staircase and tows you by the arm higher and higher, beyond the second floor landing and all the way up to the attic. Finally stopping in front of a closed door, he twists the knob and slowly pushes it open. His sly grin is back. "Now tell me if it's all you've ever dreamed of."
"Holy fuck, Brian! What have you done?" Gaping in disbelief, you ought to pinch yourself or something, but you're too busy trying to process the vision he's just revealed in this vast upper room. Easels and work tables in front of all five dormer windows. Dozens of canvases in a variety of sizes and at least as many stretchers along the walls. Your eyes widen as you scan the polished hardwood flooring from one end to the other, gradually raising your line of sight and admiring the massive sloping ceiling beams. "Skylights! You had skylights installed?!"
"An artist needs natural sunlight. Or so I've been told. Are you gonna stand here in the doorway all night, or are you gonna go in and check out your new studio?" A full-on blinding smile covers his face when you wrap yourself around him.
You want to spend eternity kissing it into submission.
"Hey, hey!" Brian gently wrangles free from your embrace and guides you inside. "Come on. I want you to see it. Tell me if everything works. We can change anything you don't like."
"This is unbelievable! You're unbelievable, you know that?" Exploring every square foot of the space in detail with Brian close behind, you find buckets of brushes and knives everywhere you look and multiple cabinets overflowing with enough jars and tubes of color to last you forever. Cans of remover and turpentine and every other chemical you'll ever need have been placed on nearby open shelves. Boxes of rags are stacked by the sink. "You had the attic plumbed!? How long ago did you start this project?"
"Last month. They told me they'd have it done in two weeks, but the contractor still hasn't built the bathroom or run the duct work for the heating and central air system. I should have fired him, but he's hot."
"Oh, my God! A bathroom? Where?" Your eyes follow his pointing finger into the farthest corner. One side of your face is scrunched up when you look back at him. "I don't get it."
"What don't you get?" Brian makes himself comfortable on the black leather couch he picked out specifically to fit in a recessed niche. "You won't have to track paint all the way down to the second floor to piss. I thought of that myself. Lindsay helped me with a lot of other things, though. Made sure I ordered the right supplies and equipment to get you started in a new location. I told her as much as I could remember about your loft in SoHo."
"You know what I don't get. I love that you did this for me, and I could never begin to thank you enough. But . . ."
He pats the spot next to his leg and waits for you to nestle in beside him. "I know you were hurt, Justin. That's why you hadn't talked to me in weeks until I showed up at your mom's today. But I said I take the blame for everything. Said it in a roomful of witnesses, too. What more do you want?"
You're eerily quiet, asking yourself the same question. Will thoughts of the recent tempest ever stop boiling under your skin? "You told me not to come home. Why'd you do that if you wanted us to live here together and you were already making me this amazing studio? And bathroom. I was so angry. Then I just felt crushed. I really thought we were over."
"I know. That was the first thing to go horribly wrong in this series of unfortunate events." Enveloping your torso, he holds you fast within his arms. "I wanted to surprise you with a completely finished kick-ass space when you got here, and that was the day they informed me it wouldn't be done until after New Years. It sounds like such a lame reason for everything to get blown out of proportion so badly, but it's the truth. I was going to talk to you as soon as my staff meeting was over and make up some excuse why it would be better for you to move home after the holidays, but—"
"But I'd shattered my phone in pieces when I threw it against the wall."
"And then you ignored all my e-mails."
You wonder if the fucking universe has any simpler lessons to impart. The complicated ones are about to do you in. Clinging to his body, you kiss him softly. The only thing you know for certain is you'll never let go. "God, Brian. What's it been? Twelve years? Will we ever get this right?"
"Probably not." He plants one more peck on the lips that'll never stop driving him wild. "But we can move into our country manor with the stables and the pool, and your almost completed studio and bathroom, and spend the rest of our lives figuring it out."
"You really want to do this? It's not too late to reconsider." Brian laces his fingers through yours as you walk into the Bloom Gallery together, his tight clasp on your hand just another example of the unwavering support system he's been. "We can get back in the car and leave if you're having second thoughts about selling."
You smile at your husband, loving him for playing objective sounding board all week while you hashed and rehashed your decision. "I'm fine. Honestly. I told you. We set the cost outrageously high because of the piece's inherent value to me, which kicked the ball into this girl's court. If she buys it, that's great, and if she doesn't buy it, that's okay, too. I only asked Lindsay to schedule a meeting with her today so I can find out for myself what kind of a nut job likes my disturbing art."
"Hmmph." It sounds more like a snort than he intends. "And now you agree it's disturbing. Whatever happened to magical? Cathartic? How many times have I heard you sing praises to the most uplifting canvas you've ever painted?" He could go on. And on, if not for the palpable side-eye boring into his skin.
You're still smiling, though, pausing just outside of Lindsay's office. "Let's get through this meeting, all right? Then it won't matter what we call it 'cause I'm gonna throw the damn thing out if she doesn't have the money. I know it's a monstrosity, Brian. I've known all along." Rising on tiptoe, you throw a speedy kiss onto his lips. A long sigh emanates from under your breath when you turn to go in. "It's an eerie fucking monstrosity."
"Your words, dear, not mine." He follows you through the door, unable to resist a playful swat to the bubble butt swishing in front of him.
"Here's our famous artist now! I knew he wouldn't keep you waiting!" Lindsay appears to be soaring sky-high on happy drugs at first glimpse, fawning all over the young woman sitting on the opposite side of her desk as if she were royalty. "Justin! Right on time! This is Tamara. She adores your work."
Flashing your trademark grin, you approach the fair-haired girl and shake hands. She looks about the same age as you. "Hey. Nice to meet you. This is my partner, Brian."
He barely manages a friendly 'Hi' before Lindsay's off and running again.
"I'm not sure if you're aware of this, Tamara, but Mr. Taylor's currently the most noted painter in Pittsburgh. You only need to Google him to learn of his early career successes in New York and the long list of esteemed galleries he's shown in over the years."
She smells dollar signs. You've been in business with her long enough to know. Thank fuck you're into creating art, not selling it. Especially your own. You'd go crazy if your bottom line depended on shameless promotion every hour of the day.
Although Tamara isn't put off in the least. "Yeah, I've read all about you and your impressive background, Mr. Taylor. That's how I discovered the Taylor Art website. Your gallery in New York looks awesome. But it's a painting I saw here that I need to buy. The red one."
The red one. How novel. Now why haven't you and Brian simply been referring to The Red One all this time? You don't even bother to sit. "The red one?"
"Oh, I've often been lost inside its profoundly deep scarlets and crimsons! In fact, the sanguinary nature of-"
You cut Lindsay off mid-sentence with a quickly raised open palm in her direction, keeping your focus on Tamara. "You've been informed of the hefty price tag, I assume? I just can't let it go for less than that. It means too much to me."
"Price is no object, Mr. Taylor. My husband's construction company has really taken off this year, so we're financially comfortable. Not to brag or anything, but we're more than comfortable. I'm redecorating my living room in red, and your painting will be ideal over the sofa. I knew the minute I found it I had to have it."
Yes, you heard correctly. You can't make this shit up. She needs your red nightmare for her new red living room. Who are you to argue? You look over at Brian, who's sprawled on the love seat in the corner. "She has to have it."
Brian's face comes alive, his tongue poking the inside of his cheek. "She has to have it."
"Well, then." Lindsay laughs a little along with the girl in front of her. "I guess you have to have it! Congratulations, Tamara. You've just bought a Justin Taylor original."
"Thank you! Thank you so much!" Tamara thrusts her hand out, shaking with you again to seal the deal. "I love it! The color's perfect!"
"Wonderful. I'm happy it works for you." Seems you just made six figures off a girl who likes red. Is Brian actually gloating? "Um, I think I'll let Lindsay finish this up if you don't mind, Tamara, 'cause Brian and I are late for our next appointment. But, hey, thanks for coming in today." You nod at Lindsay then give your husband the eye. "Come on, Bri."
"Our next appointment? What the fuck was that?" Brian zips up his jacket when you leave the gallery and head for the parking lot. Kissing your cheek, his Cheshire grin refuses to hide. "I thought we had the rest of the afternoon off."
You weave an arm behind his waist and pull him into your side. "Your dick's urgent appointment with my ass? You know you can't wait to get me home and fuck me silly."
"Aah, right. And here I was afraid you had to rake in another hundred thou before we could call it a day."
He aims the small remote on his key ring toward the car, clicking to unlock it.
"I'm onto you."
"Moi?" Straight face and everything. He's good. He's really good.
So are you. "Admit it, Brian. You're more turned on right now than you've ever been in your life. You've been secretly hoping for days she'd come up with the cash and get that thing out of our lives forever." Leaning backward against the passenger side door, you peer up at him through your lashes.
His eyes are closed when he sticks his tongue down your throat, your crotches scraping together. "Guilty," he whispers against your lips. "You?"
It's been a long time since you've fucked in the car, but this is infinitely better. Funny how sucking his dick all the way to West Virginia while he steers with one hand and fondles your fully clothed ass with the other makes you feel seventeen again.