Justin’s big break comes almost exactly at the moment that we both accept that it’s never going to happen. Resourceful as always, he’d been able to ride his ArtForum buzz into a reasonably successful career doing commissioned work and the occasional gallery sale up until now, but that probably doesn’t count as conquering the art world.
Then, one Wednesday afternoon while I’m working from home, surrounded by storyboards on the living room floor, Justin bursts through the door and skids over to where I’m sitting. He’s red-faced and breathing hard, so I raise an eyebrow.
“Ran- all the way here-” he pants.
I stand up. “Is something wrong?”
He shakes his head, grinning, chest still heaving. “It happened.”
“Remember that guy I told you about, the one who’s been hanging around the Village gallery but never buys anything?”
“Well,” Justin says, “he owns the biggest gallery in SoHo.” He throws out his arms to both sides of his body. “And he wants to give me a four-week solo show and a permanent sale space in their front room!”
He’s glowing, pulsing with that vibrant energy I only rarely get to see unfiltered, so I have to sweep him off the floor and spin him around as he laughs, head thrown back, radiating magnificent, heart-stopping beauty.
I set him back down and french him, hard, tangling my hands in his hair and pulling him up onto his toes before coming up for air, drawing back so that just our foreheads are touching. “So, this is it, huh? All that schmoozing to the public finally paid off?”
He nods, cups my neck in his hands and starts laying tiny kisses up my jaw. “We’re going out to dinner tonight. Anywhere you want, my treat.”
I laugh and loop my arms around him. “What did I do? You’re the big success story today.”
Justin jumps and wraps both his legs around my waist, and I catch him. He kisses me, rough and wet, until I’m nearly gasping, then pulls back and purrs, “You’re going to take me to the bedroom, and you’re going to fucking destroy me with your dick. I think that’s deserving enough.”
I can’t argue with that logic, so I secure my grip on his ass and set about making his dreams come true.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that - what is? - and two weeks later, Justin is having daily existential crises over the setup for the show.
“Gordon wants me to tell the world who I am,” he says, pacing his millionth circle of the evening around the living-room sofa. “But everyone always assumes they know who I am anyway as soon as they meet me, so why even bother?”
I’d learned about five pace-and-rant sessions ago that it’s best not to interrupt him when he’s on this particular topic, so I just light a joint and sit back in my chair.
“Art-world people either think I’m a naïve kid, or some kind of pretty-boy paint nymph, or defined by my trauma, or by my dad’s bullshit, or one of a thousand other overly simplistic and wrong understandings of my life and what I care about.”
I offer him the joint as he passes by me, and he takes a drag and hands it back before restarting his orbit in the other direction, still visibly seething.
“I mean, really, I’m supposed to correct all of those assumptions at once with a painting?”
“Thirty paintings,” I correct.
He throws himself onto the sofa - I’ve come to realize, over the years, that Justin and I really are more similar than we’re different, and one of those similarities is an infinite capacity for gloriously dramatic queen-outs - and covers his face with his hands. “Thirty paintings, and I only have six that I even sort of like. Fuck.”
I wait for him to keep going, but he just sinks back into the cushions with a self-pitying look on his face. I watch him stare glumly at the ceiling for about five minutes before I stub out the joint and get out of my chair.
He frowns. “Huh?”
“Stand up.” I grab his wrist and start tugging him off the sofa.
“Brian, this is not a good-”
“I don’t care if it’s a good fucking time. You’re going to come up to your studio, and you’re going to paint something.”
He glares at me. “Were you even listening? I don’t know what to paint.”
“I. Don’t. Care,” I say, yanking him a little more to his feet with each word. “You’re going to paint something, and it’ll probably be shit, but then you’ll have six paintings you sort of like and one that’s shit, which is more than you have right now.”
Justin cracks a smile. It’s a tired, pale version of the one that feels like a punch to my gut in the best way possible, but right now, I’ll take it. “You’re an asshole.”
I kiss his cheek. “What can I say? Sometimes that’s what we all need.”
I meet Justin in the studio with two glasses and a bottle of the cheap prosecco he developed an unfortunate taste for when he lived with Frances. He’s standing in the middle of the floor, eyes narrowed at a blank canvas on an easel a few feet away.
He rolls his eyes. “What do you think?”
I pour out two glasses of the wine. “Brought you your favorite vinegar soda.”
“Thanks,” he says, taking his glass with one hand and flipping me off with the other.
I look at the canvas. “You know what your problem is?”
“Yeah, I have no inspiration and this opening is going to ruin my career, if I even manage to put a show together.”
I elect to ignore that. “It’s too small.”
He snorts. “Never heard you complaining before.”
I grin and move so I’m standing right behind him, my half-hard dick - this may be serious business we’re talking about, but I’ve been looking at his ass for the past three minutes, so it’s a miracle I don’t have a full boner right now - nestling delectably between his sweatpants-covered cheeks. I rest my chin on his shoulder. “I mean the canvas.”
I kiss his neck and walk over to the easel. “You need something your ideas have space to breathe on. This” - I take out the canvas - “is not going to cut it.”
I set the canvas down and start looking through the rest of the blank ones. I pull out a big rectangular one, probably eight feet long and six feet wide, and hold it up.
He raises his eyebrows. “Wow, I can feel the creativity flowing already.”
My turn to roll my eyes, as I fasten the canvas into the easel before opening the curtains covering the studio’s plate-glass wall. “Look at this, you little shit,” I say, grabbing his shoulders and turning him to face the windows, where the lights of the city at night are glowing up to the horizon. “Are you looking?”
Justin shrugs. “It’s New York. I see it every night.”
I turn to face him and take a handful of his collar. “That’s right, brat, you see it every night, because we live here, because we’re here together, because, by sheer force of will, you managed to get your dream and make me so crazy about you that I’d fucking follow you anywhere.”
He’s staring at me, eyes wide, but I’ve built up too much steam and I can’t stop now. “You think people assume all kinds of wrong things about you, and you’re probably right, because people are dumb as shit. But you don’t need to to correct them, you need to show them exactly what you’re made of and tell them that they can fuck off if they don’t get it, because you’re amazing, Justin, you’re strong and brave and loyal and so fucking beautiful, and anyone who won’t look at the real you doesn’t deserve to see what you’re capable of.”
I drag him over to the easel and hand him a paintbrush. “Put that on your damn canvas.”
For a moment, he doesn’t move, and I’m worried that it didn’t work, that he’s just going to go back into his slump. Then he reaches for a palette, squeezes out a line of cobalt acrylic, dips the brush through it and slashes a broad angry diagonal into the white, corner to corner. He steps back, looks at it, looks over his shoulder at me, and then picks up a tube of yellow and squirts it right onto the canvas, uses one hand to smear it across, carving a bolt of lightning through the blue.
He keeps going, putting paint on his hands and shoving it over the mess on the easel, flicking silver droplets from the brush in bright constellations on top of the swirling rainbow madness he’s building, until I can see him chiseling his soul into the colors, losing himself in it. He’s breathtaking, and I can’t move from where I’m standing, bound to the floor in awe.
He pauses about forty-five minutes into the kaleidoscopic war he’s waging on the canvas and I think he might be done, but then he picks up yet another tube of paint and squeezes it into a Solo cup, mixing it with something from a white plastic jug - pouring agent, I think, or thinner.
Justin takes three steps back, tilts his head, and then flings the cup at the easel, spattering a dripping black gash across the blaze of colors. Breathing hard, he stands still, both hands shaking at his sides, and then turns to face me.
“Finished?” I hardly recognize my own voice; it seems weak, too quiet in the face of what he’s created.
“Take off your clothes,” he says, and stalks towards me with a dark fire in his eyes that might terrify me if it didn’t make me want to pound him into every flat surface in the condo and a fair number of the bumpy ones as well. I strip both of us as fast as I can - years of practice paying off, here - while he bites at my mouth, snarling when I have to step away to pull my shirt over my head.
We end up on the floor, kissing (if you can call the messy face-mashing we’re doing kissing), him on top of me. He makes a strangled sound, and I realize that he’s scissoring two fingers in his ass, a lube packet torn open on the floor next to us. I reach for my jeans and scrabble for a condom, because if I don’t get inside him right fucking now I’m going to go insane, and he snatches it out of my hand, rolls it onto my dick, and then skewers himself on me, gasping, slamming down brutally hard, face twisted in decadent agony as I hammer up into him just as roughly.
Justin rides himself to two shuddering orgasms, pulling me up to kiss me so hard and deep I feel like I’m the one getting fucked, before I reach my first, groaning, my vision graying out, because holy fuck. When we’re done, he crumples onto me, limp and deliciously pliant, and I ruffle his hair and press tiny kisses all over his face. He whimpers into my neck as my softening cock slips out of him, quivering on top of me, and I stroke his back until he falls asleep, totally spent in every sense of the word.
I wake up the next morning with a backache, paint handprints all over my body, and Justin snoring gently on my chest.
Justin’s breathing quickens, and he lifts his head a moment later, my favorite smile breaking across his paint-smudged face.
“Hi,” he says, nudging my chin with his nose.
I do not giggle, no matter what he says later. “Hi.”
He nuzzles against my face. “Last night was really something, huh?”
I smile and stretch, feeling a sweet ache in my thighs. “You bet.” He sits up, and I do too, putting my arms around him from behind, burying my nose behind his ear, breathing him in.
He’s studying the painting, I can tell from the way his shoulders are set, the curve of his neck as he holds his head perfectly still. He turns to face me, and I realize that there are tears in his eyes, and he wraps his arms around me tight enough that it’s a little hard to breathe, whispering thank you, thank you, thank you against my cheek.