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Part 27: Justin

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“So,” Brian says, balancing his fork on the side of his plate. “Next Wednesday.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Brian-”

“Next Wednesday,” he continues, and I can tell that he’s determined not to stray from whatever script he’s prepared for himself, “we should do something nice. Dress up, go to Jean-Georges-”

“Brian.”

“What?”

“You don’t have to do this.”

He knows exactly what I mean, but he still says, “Do what?”

“The whole birthday … thing. Daphne’s coming up to visit this weekend before, we’ll go see a Broadway show and split a brownie sundae at that place we always go to, it’ll be great.”

Brian sighs. “I just want to, you know, make you feel” - he frowns, and I can’t tell if he legitimately can’t think of the right word or if he’s mentally steeling himself to talk about feelings - “appreciated.”

I scoot my chair over so that I’m right next to him and kiss his cheek. “I do feel appreciated. All the time. You respect me and you take care of me, and I don’t need some fancy dinner at a restaurant where the menus don’t have prices to prove it.”

“But this is- this isn’t a normal birthday.”

I laugh. “Well, maybe not for you it wasn’t.”

He grins at me and ruffles the hair at the base of my neck. “Not all of us can eternally look twenty-two, you know.”

He puts an arm around me and pulls me in for a kiss. When I come up for air, I ask, “So what did you do for your thirtieth, besides mope and pull possibly the most spectacular queen-out of your life?”

Brian snorts. “They got me a coffin. It would have been a shame not to use it.” He kisses my cheek. “I brought, like, ten guys home. One after another, two at a time, sometimes. Fucked them until they got tired out and then called in the next.”

Now, that’s interesting. I get out of my chair so that I can straddle him in his, then kiss up the side of his neck. “Sounds hot.”

“It was.”

I reach for his belt buckle. “Want to take me to the bedroom and tell me all about it, veeeery slowly and in great detail?”

He smirks and stands up, arms still around me. “You ask, as if I’d ever say no.”

***

Daphne has big news, and it’s the best birthday present I could have asked for. “I’m moving to New York!” she blurts, about ten seconds after I meet her LaGuardia.

“What?”

She beams. “Remember that job I applied for months ago and never heard back? They couldn’t fit me in at the Pittsburgh location, but they liked me so much that they forwarded my application to the Brooklyn office!”

I throw my arms around her, and we jump up and down, giggling, in the middle of the airport, teenagers again.

Over brunch, Daph tells me all about the new job and how soon she’ll be moving. “And there’s this guy I met at a job fair last month who just got hired at the same location,” she adds, in the tone of voice meaning that this is a significant part of the story.

“Cute?” I ask, doing my best attempt at a Brian-style eyebrow raise.

She grins. “Very cute. And nice, too.”

I steal a cube of melon off her plate. “Just don’t get embroiled in a messy office-romance scandal and have to leave the city again.”

Laughing, she throws a balled-up napkin at me. “You’re unbelievable, you know that?”

I catch it - barely. “Why, because I don’t want my best friend to be any further away than she has to?”

We do dinner at our place, and Brian does all his usual stuff, flirting ludicrously with her and nuzzling behind my ear while I finish cooking.

“So what are you two doing for-” she says, but cuts off when I give her a Look.

Not soon enough to stop Brian, though. “Nothing, actually,” he says.

“We try to show each other our love in little ways every day, instead of just doing it a few days a year,” I say, and Brian rolls his eyes but then looks at me with the most pathetically adoring expression on his face.

Daphne grins. “Good to know some things never change.”

As we’re sitting down to dinner, though, she says, to me, “You should do something to commemorate the occasion, though. Do a painting, or something.”

I frown. “Why? It’s just one more year.”

She shrugs. “You should celebrate! You’re, like, a real adult now.”

Brian snorts. “Tell that to the socks on the coffee table.”

***

On Sunday, I have an idea. I let it percolate throughout the day, but after I drop Daph back at the airport, I give Frances a call.

“Are you still friends with that pansexual biker tattoo artist on Long Island?”

“Who, Maurice? Yeah, I ran into him last month. Why?”

I pause, then decide that if I’m going to talk this over with someone, Frances isn’t a bad choice. “I’m thinking about getting a tattoo.”

“Like, soon?”

“This week. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I didn’t know what I wanted, but I’ve just figured it out.”

“Good for you,” Frances says. “I’ll get you Maurice’s number.”

I get home on Tuesday afternoon with a piece of plastic wrap around my right forearm. I’m rinsing off the last traces of blood and stray ink when Brian comes into the bathroom, grabbing me from behind in a tight hug and nosing into my jaw.

He looks down at my arm. “What’s that?”

I raise my eyebrows at him in the mirror. “For someone who prides himself on being a rebel, I’d think you’d be able to figure it out.”

Brian turns me around so I’m facing him. “You got a tattoo?”

I shrug. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It seemed like a nice birthday present to get myself.”

He takes my right hand and holds up my arm, gently turning it so he can see the whole design, bright lines snaking in tangled curls from my elbow to stop just over my wrist. He smiles. “This is one of your drawings, right?”

“That big one I did on the Cape last summer. It’s a section from the center. I asked the artist to copy it as closely as he could.”

Brian puts his other hand on the back of my neck and pulls me a little closer to him. “Any reason you decided to do this now?”

I shrug, again. “Daphne was saying all that stuff about commemorating the occasion, and- I don’t really care about the date, I guess, but I care that I’m here and I’m happy, and that’s something I want to celebrate about this birthday. That things are good.”

He kisses me, sweet and warm. “I’m glad you’re happy.”

“Are you? Happy?”

“Of course,” he says, eyes going all melty and beautiful. Then he grins, gesturing to my arm. “This is hot, by the way.”

I lean forward to kiss him again. “I know.”

***

On my actual birthday, I wake up to a fantastically good blowjob from Brian - not especially unusual, of course, but he stays in bed and makes out with me for a good twenty minutes after, so I’m totally onto him - and after he leaves for work, I cover my new tattoo in aftercare ointment before heading up to my studio to sketch and try out some new powder pigment I’d found a week ago at a tiny hole-in-the-wall supplier two neighborhoods away.

I’ve just finished washing off the paint from the day’s projects when the doorbell rings. I jog down to the first floor, drying my hands on a rag as I go.

When I open the door, Brian is standing there in the suit that he knows is my favorite, holding an armful of fiery yellow-orange roses and smiling, almost shyly, at me.

I stare at him. “You know you have a key, right?”

Brian smirks. “I thought the whole effect might be better this way.” He hands me the roses and kisses me as he walks into the condo.

“I told you, I don’t need - or want - a big fancy celebration,” I tell him, unwrapping the flowers and cutting half an inch off each stem.

He spins to face me. “I know, which is why we have reservations at that Italian place that you love that only has five tables in it.”

I arrange the flowers in the nearest vase and fill it with water from the kitchen sink. “I’m not sure what to do with you, being all romantic and understanding like this.”

He laughs and kisses the back of my neck, then pulls me over to the kitchen island, where there’s a big box that was definitely not there five seconds ago. How he manages to pull this shit off, I will never know.

I look inside, and see … pots and pans? Lots and lots of bright-blue pots and pans, all wrapped in brown paper and stacked inside each other. I look at the lid of the one on top and realize what this is.

Brian’s smiling at me. “Le Creuset cast iron cookware, the best there is. I saw you looking online when we were in bed last week.”

I sigh. “Brian, this is-”

“Possibly the first really good birthday present I’ve ever given you, so it has to make up for a lot.” He’s still smiling. “I know you’d never buy something like this for yourself, but if it makes you happy, why shouldn’t I?”

I run my fingers up his tie. “You know, I don’t think I can come up with a good answer for that.”

“Good. Then you can go put on something slightly less covered in paint so we can make our reservation.” He leans forward and kisses my nose and tugs at my work sweatshirt. “Happy birthday, Sunshine.”

“I love you,” I tell him, and I smile and let him pull me into a deep soft kiss.