*This one covers a seven year span, starting at the end of ep. 513 when Justin left for New York City at 22 and ending when he moved back home to Pittsburgh at age 29.*
Title: THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - COMPLETE STORY
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.
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.
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.
"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."
"What a mess. Why the hell haven't we done this before now?" You unfold the top of yet another cardboard box and peek in, frowning at the random belongings you haven't seen in six months.
Brian isn't making any better headway than you are going through his long lost things. "After living without this shit all this time, we could probably get rid of it and never miss it."
"That's why I've got a throw away stack going on over here. Feel free to add to it." You'd had your life in SoHo packed up and shipped to your property in West Virginia, meeting the truck on your doorstep at the same time Brian's loft arrived in its own crates. Blending the essentials from both moving vans, you worked together to create a warm, eclectic home. Only problem seems to be the miscellaneous stuff relegated to one of the spare rooms upstairs. There'd always been something more exciting to do than deal with it. But now you have to. "We only have a week until Josh and Daphne and the twins get here for their visit. And Meg texted me this morning that she'll be able to make it, too. I knew we should have fixed up these three bedrooms sooner."
Brian lets out a small groan. "You thinking what I'm thinking? If anyone can furnish and decorate in a crunch, it's Emmett. Let's give him a call."
Your face lights up. Not only do you have the most brilliant boyfriend on the planet, but you've also just spied your favorite woolen scarf wedged between some old NYU textbooks. "I've been looking for this!"
"And you find it in July." Brian shakes his head and laughs. "Hey . . ." He digs deeper into the pile he's been sorting through and scoops up a handful of black velvet from the bottom of it. "Remember these?"
Your eyebrows arch halfway up into your forehead when you look over at him. "No, Brian. I don't remember ever seeing our wedding rings before. Or shopping for them. Or trying them on the day we picked them out. Or—"
"Okay, smart-ass. Come over here." He waits for you to set a dusty desk lamp aside and pulls you close when you cross the room.
You'll never get tired of the way he kisses you while he palms the back of your neck. You watch him hesitate briefly then pry open the small boxes. "Gorgeous. Just like the day we bought them." Your thumb traces over the exposed surface of the slightly larger fourteen karat gold band. The one that was going to be yours.
"See if it still fits."
He's already loosening both of them from their slotted nests. "All right. If you insist. I'll put mine on, too. I'm sure my slender fingers are the same size they were seven years ago."
"What are you saying? I have fat fingers?!"
"Your fingers are great, Sunshine. See?" He works your wedding ring onto your left hand and raises it to eye level between you. "Perfect."
A swarm of butterflies awakens in the pit of your stomach when he drops his ring into your other hand. You slide it down over his tiny knuckle with halted breath. What exactly is happening?
"We talked about having them engraved."
"Still want to?"
You check the carpet for nonexistent stains, slowly looking back up at him. "What are we doing, Brian?"
"FOR ME, PAINTING IS A WAY TO FORGET LIFE. IT IS A CRY IN THE NIGHT, A STRANGLED LAUGH." - Georges Rouault
Still the most beautiful guy you've ever laid eyes on, Brian brings the fourth finger on your left hand to his lips and kisses the never-ending gold circle he's just placed on it. "You once said we don't need rings or vows to prove that we love each other, and it's true, but why should we hide these away in a drawer for another seven years? We're already married in every way that counts." His eyes pierce through yours. "Technically." He cocks his head and grins.
You want to memorize every pore in his face at this very second, but the membranes in your nose are stinging and your vision is blurred with welling moisture. Throwing your arms around his neck, you fight to keep it together. "God, I love you so much! I was just a kid when I fell in love with you, but thank fuck you waited for me to grow up. You were always there for me no matter what, mentoring, protecting, shaping who I am today. We've made it through everything, and now, just when I think it couldn't get any better, you want to be husbands."
"Husbands. Partners. Whatever you want to call it. You know I love you, Justin. Just promise me we won't get weird."
"Too late." You squeeze him closer. "We're already weird. Unorthodox. Uniquely screwed up. We wouldn't be us if we weren't." Brushing away a happy tear, you kiss him long and hard, your dueling tongues and traveling hands postponing project Clean Out the Guestroom for now and landing you down the hall in your bed.
Hours later, exhausted and sated, you lie tangled together on the threshold of sleep. You've been here a million times before, and you'll be here a million times again, yet why is this so different? You close your eyes and listen. There simply are no words for the first time your married hearts beat as one.
Maybe that's why there are dreams. Hypnotic dreams seeping into your brain, compelling you to slip from your lightly-snoring husband's grasp and follow them into the night.
Haunting dreams you must paint.
~ ~ ~ THE END ~ ~ ~