"Shit!" Brian swore as he hung up the phone. He yelled for Cynthia and barely even glanced up from the file he was flipping through when she scurried into his office. "We lost Brown Athletics to Berkley out of Chicago."
"Fuck," Cynthia swore, understanding her boss' shitty mood. "That makes three accounts in as many months."
"Tell me about it," Brian chuffed. "Mike Jensen let it slip that we had better copy, but they have some new hotshot Art Director who came up with boards that blew Brown away. I want everything you can find out about this guy. Everything. Who he is, where he comes from, what fucking toilet paper he prefers. This asshole is fucking with my business, and I need to stop him."
"I'm on it," Cynthia said.
When she was gone, Brian picked up the empty coffee mug that Michael had given him last year. He weighed it in his hand for a minute before throwing with as much force as he could muster. It hit the wall of glass block across from his desk and shattered with a satisfying explosion of sound. Brian took a deep breath and, feeling slightly better, went back to work.
Cynthia came back at seven that evening with a file folder filled with everything she could pull together on Berkley's newest Art Director. She gave Brian a self-satisfied smile and he knew that she had busted her ass to get this much information in only six hours.
"Give me the highlights?" Brian said as he flipped through the pages of articles printed from the internet.
"Justin Taylor graduated from PIFA in 2001," She started. "He's a bit of a genius, apparently, because he was only 19 at the time. He went from there to Columbia where he got two master's degrees: one in fine arts and one in business administration. In 2003, he started working at Milner and Feinstein in Manhattan. He won several awards for his artwork and was wooed by several major firms, but he refused all offers until Berkley got him six months ago and made him the youngest Art Director in their company's history."
"What did they give him to get him to move?" Brian asked.
Cynthia gave a Cheshire cat grin. "Well, that's the big mystery. Everyone in the industry is trying to find out what Berkley offered, because money and shares wasn't enough to make this kid go."
"So no one knows?" Brian asked, though he was sure that Cynthia had solved the mystery.
"Well," Cynthia said, drawing out her tale, and Brian allowed it. She'd worked hard for this, he was sure. "It turns out that Justin Taylor was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and his mother is a member of the local PFLAGG group. So I called up Debbie, who redirected me to some guy named Cornelius. Cornelius is quite the talker. Apparently, Jennifer Taylor dated this guy once or twice before dumping him. But not before telling him why her brilliant son was moving to Chicago."
Brian grinned. Cynthia was a fucking genius in her own right. "And why is that?"
"Justin Taylor simply wanted to be closer to his mom," Cynthia smirked.
"His mother who lives in Pittsburgh," Brian laughed. "So he moves to Chicago, which isn't really much closer than New York, to work at a firm that is in the same general market as Kinnetik and starts targeting accounts that belong to Kinnetik, the best firm in Pittsburgh."
"He wants to come home," Cynthia agreed. "And he wants you to woo him."
Brian laughed. He could like someone as devious and manipulative as this guy. "Well, he's got my attention. What do you suggest?"
"He's been nominated for an award at the national advertisers convention at the end of the month," Cynthia said. "I would wait and approach him then. It will give you time to put together a strategy and figure out what we can afford to offer him. And it will put you both on neutral ground."
Brian nodded. "I wasn't going to go this year, but it looks like I'll be making a trip to Las Vegas."
Brian read through the file Cynthia gave him over the next few days. Surprisingly, Justin Taylor's genius was not limited to advertising. He was well respected in the fine arts community as well. He'd sold his first painting when he was only seventeen, and had been invited to hold shows at some of New York's top galleries over the past several years. The file was filled with articles on various awards and reviews for his paintings, many of the early ones from Pittsburgh's local media outlets.
There was also an article about Justin Taylor that had nothing to do with his work or art. When the kid had been a senior in High School, at the young age of fifteen, his father had gotten drunk one night and beaten Justin with a bat. Jennifer Taylor had tried to intervene, and had been severely injured. Molly Taylor, Justin's younger sister, had been the one to call 911 and had saved her mother and brother. Craig Taylor had been arrested that night and was later sentenced to twenty years in prison. The article never came right out and said so, but it implied that the attack was a result of Craig Taylor's intolerance of his son's choice in lifestyle.
Brian snorted. As if being gay was a lifestyle choice.
Justin had been lucky. The worst of his injuries were a few cracked ribs. Jennifer had not been as fortunate; she'd spent several days in a coma and had suffered from long-term motor damage from the one good swing her husband had gotten at her head. It had taken several months for her to recover, and Justin and Molly had been forced to live with a family friend until Jennifer was released from the hospital. Even then, there was permanent damage that she would always have to live with.
Brian could see why Justin Taylor would want to be close to home. Not only had his mother saved his life, but she was still forced to deal with the after effects of doing so. Cynthia had clipped a bit of information about Jennifer Taylor's condition to that article and so Brian knew that she would still have tremors and the occasional panic attack, even all these years later. And raising a daughter, who would be a teenager by now, could not be easy.
Cynthia had also included information about Justin's private life. It wasn't that hard to find people who would talk about a past affair with someone famous, even marginally famous. Justin always brought a different escort to his gallery openings and to award ceremonies. Never the same man twice, but many of them had been named in the articles Cynthia had found and she had tracked down half a dozen of his exes.
As Brian read through Justin's personal history, he got the feeling of deja vu. Different city, different clubs, but the same pattern was present. Never met a man he couldn't fuck. Never fuck the same guy twice. No relationships. No regrets. No love. Brian smirked, Cynthia must have been laughing her ass off when she found this out.
The biggest difference between Brian and Justin seemed to be the fact that Justin didn't seem to have any friends. There was one girl that Cynthia found from his High School days, but no one since. There were colleagues, and there were acquaintances, and there were tricks. There were no confidants, no group of friends, nothing like Brian had surrounding him, and he was reminded of how lucky he really was to have his friends and chosen family.
Brian went to see Gus the next evening, thinking again how lucky he was to have his son, who loved him unconditionally. Once Gus was in bed, however, Brian turned to Lindsey. "Have you heard of an artist named Justin Taylor? He's from around here."
Lindsey nodded and her face lit up. "Justin Taylor is the best thing to happen to the art world since Jackson Pollock. He's got fresh ideas and a bold style that he incorporates into something they're calling new neo-realism."
Brian gave her a blank look. "Explain it in terms Gus could understand."
Lindsey rolled her eyes. "You know what realism is, right? Well, the neo-realism painters took what they saw, and painted it exactly as they saw it, but…with a twist. Like using bolder colors, or changing scale or perspective. This resurgence in neo-realism, has taken that concept even further, adding surrealistic touches or gesturing towards past styles. Justin Taylor is the best of the new neo-realists. He works almost exclusively with male nudes, recreating the settings of some of the renaissance masterpieces, but in such a way that it incorporates both a social and political message."
She got up and searched through her briefcase for a magazine. "Here. This is a review of his latest show at MOMA. See how he has put this very modern man into a pose that we would usually expect in a painting of a renaissance woman. He has piercings and tattoos. See the detail here? What would have been a bowl of grapes in the past has been replaced by prescription bottles and pills. And his choice of colors takes us out of the past and into the future. It's fucking brilliant."
"The model looks like a trick I picked up last week," Brian drawled.
Lindsey huffed and took the magazine back. "Why did you ask if you didn't want to know?"
Brian just smirked. "I did want to know. I still do. I just don't care so much about interpreting his art as I do about interpreting the artist."
Lindsey narrowed her eyes. "What are you up to, Brian Kinney?"
"Nothing!" Brian denied. "I just want to know who this guy is."
Lindsey didn't look convinced, but she told him what she knew anyway. Brian listened and wasn't surprised that what she said went along with what Cynthia had already told him. Eventually she said, "And I understand he works in the advertising industry. Wait. Is that why you want to know about him? Has he been competing with Kinnetik?"
Brian stuck his tongue in his cheek before answering, "Well, since I don't really give a shit about art, that's a good guess."
"You aren't going to mess with this kid's head, are you?" Lindsey asked, her protective streak coming out even for this man she had never met before. Though if she loved his art as much as she seemed to, Brian wasn't all that surprised. "He's been through a lot, Brian. Please don't do anything to hurt him."
"I'm not going to hurt him," Brian said. "I'm trying to decide if I should attempt to lure him away from his cushy Chicago job."
Lindsey looked like she was trying to decide if that was a good thing or not. "Just be careful with him. He's extremely talented."
Brian rolled his eyes. "I've read about what happened to him. I also know that he's as big a player as I am. I don't think I could hurt him if I tried. Besides, I'm not looking to fuck him."
"Seriously?" Lindsey asked with not a small amount of skepticism. "Because I've seen photos of Justin Taylor, and he is a real hottie."
Brian rolled his eyes. He'd seen pictures too, and Justin Taylor was good looking with blond hair, blue eyes and a bubble butt, but Brian had some self-control. "I don't fuck employees. I learned my lesson after Kip."
"Well, he's not an employee yet," Lindsey pointed out. She shook her head. "I think it would be a good thing for the local art community to have someone with Justin Taylor's reputation move here, but I don't know whether to wish you luck or call him and warn him."
The convention was being held in one of the newest hotels in Vegas, and Cynthia had pulled a few strings to get Brian one of the hotel's best suites, despite his late reservation. Brian had a great view of the strip, but wasn't really interested in the scenery. He knew that his best option for getting close to Justin Taylor would be before the award ceremony tomorrow night. After that, he'd most likely be inundated with more job offers from agencies. There was no doubt in Brian's mind that the kid would win the award after seeing the work that the other nominees had submitted.
Brian unpacked quickly and took a shower before dressing for the welcome dinner. Cynthia had wrangled favors and had guaranteed Brian a seat at the same table as Justin. Brian had no doubt that Justin had done his homework about Kinnetik and would be expecting to be approached this week. The question was whether he would be expecting Brian. Either way, Brian was out to look his best. It never hurt to impress your prey with your wit, charm and good looks.
The ballroom was already crowded with people all dressed to impress when Brian arrived. These conferences were as much about networking as about anything else. In his business, everything rode on your reputation and your ability to sell yourself and your ideas, whether to clients or to other agencies, and these sorts of gatherings were a prime place to see where you stood. Brian, who was approached by numerous hopeful ad execs, knew that his agency was high on the list of places people wanted to be, even if it was located in the Pitts. He'd built his firm into one of the top ten agencies in the nation after only a few short years, and had numerous national campaigns. He could have made the move to New York three years ago, but he'd chosen to stay. Not because he was afraid of the competition, but because he knew that anything that made them unique was a good thing.
By the time Brian made it to his table, the dinner was about to begin. The only open seat was right next to Justin Taylor, and Brian smirked. Justin looked even better in person than he did in the many photos Cynthia had included in the file. He was wearing a Zegna suit, tailored to perfection, along with a Paul Smith striped shirt and tie. His eyes seemed to sparkle with humor when he spotted Brian standing over him.
"Brian Kinney," Justin said with a smile. "I was wondering if I would see you here this week."
Brian pulled out the chair and took his seat. "I got an engraved invitation and couldn't refuse."
"Justin Taylor," Justin said as he held out his hand. "Art Director at Berkley out of Chicago."
"I know who you are," Brian drawled as he took Justin's hand. "And you've got my attention."
Justin chuckled, "What makes you think I want your attention?" Brian quirked his eyebrow and Justin chuckled. "Alright. But to be fair, I tried sending you my resume, and never heard back."
Before Brian could answer, the mc for the dinner began speaking. Brian leaned over and whispered into Justin's ear, "Have drinks after and we can talk." He was pleased to note a shiver run through Justin with his proximity. He was more pleased when Justin nodded in agreement.
The rest of the dinner was the same boring shit as always. The guest speaker spent more time talking up his own accomplishments than he did giving any helpful advice or useful information. The food was about as good as the shit Debbie served at the diner. And their other table mates were all boring.
Justin, however, kept Brian entertained with sarcastic remarks and asides about everything from the cheap suit the mc was wearing to the toupee the guest speaker kept scratching. Brian found himself smiling and laughing through most of the interminable meal. When it was finally over, Brian realized that he hadn't enjoyed one of these functions so much…ever.
"Can we find a decent restaurant for that talk," Justin asked. Brian had noticed that Justin hadn't done more than politely pick at the dry chicken and vegetables. Since Brian had done the same, he too was rather hungry.
"I'll ask the concierge to make a reservation and get us a cab," Brian said. "I'll meet you in the lobby in half an hour?"
Justin agreed and left. Brian made the arrangements and then went to his room to change into something more casual. He put on a pair of black trousers and a charcoal gray cashmere v-neck sweater over a white t-shirt. He checked his appearance in the mirror and then went back down to the lobby. Justin was already there, wearing casual pants, a turtleneck and a designer leather jacket all in black.
"Ready?" Brian asked.
"Very," Justin replied as he eyed Brian up and down.
They had dinner at a restaurant owned by some celebrity chef. Justin enjoyed the food, but the he enjoyed the company more. It was surprising to realize how much he had in common with this man. Brian had said that he had his attention, and Justin had intended to get that attention, but now that he had it, he wasn't sure what to do with it. If this was just about the job, he would know how to react. If it was just a personal connection, he knew how to react to that as well. But this was more complicated. What had begun as a business tactic had become so much more. Brian Kinney was smart, funny, and hotter than any man had a right to be. And the sexual tension between them was almost palpable. Justin had done his homework before he'd gone after Kinnetik's clients. He knew who and what Brian Kinney was. But seeing him in person, and experiencing his allure first hand was something completely different.
They enjoyed their meal, and avoided talk of business until they were enjoying brandy after dinner. Finally Brian turned to Justin and said, "I think we should just cut to the chase. You want to come back to Pittsburgh. I want you to stop stealing my clients. There is one obvious answer to both of our desires. But I have to tell you, we may be one of the best, but we are still a relatively small agency. I doubt we can beat what you are making at Berkley."
"Match it, and give me profit incentives," Justin said. "Look, you've obviously done your homework. I want to be close to home; my mother is not in the best of health. I'm the best art director in the business. I'll make sure your agency grows. And give it a year for those contracts to expire and I'll bring back the clients I stole. Your reputation for great copy is unmatched. Between the two of us, it shouldn't take long for Kinnetik to be one of the best agencies in the world."
Brian nodded. He knew the potential was there for tremendous growth with Justin's art matched with his copy. But only if they worked well together. "I'll warn you right now, I'm a controlling bastard. I like doing things my way. And since it's my company, I get my way."
Justin nodded. "I'm sure you do. I also know that you've built your company from the ground up by requiring the best of your people. I will need a certain amount of leeway in how I manage my people, but I will also promise to get you results like you've never seen before."
Brian smirked. "I think this just might work out well for everyone."
They hashed out more details over a second round of brandy, and finally agreed on an offer they both could live with. "We should celebrate."
Justin raised an eyebrow. "What did you have in mind?"
"There's a club the concierge told me about," Brian said. "We could dance, drink, and release our pent up tensions?"
Justin grinned. He loved to dance. And relieve tension. "I'm in."
Brian woke up with a massive hangover and tried to recall where the fuck he was. He looked around the room and realized it was a hotel. Right. He'd come to Vegas to woo Justin to Kinnetik. They'd had dinner and then gone to some club the concierge had recommended. He recalled the cab ride to the club but not much after that. Christ, he must have been stoned out of his mind.
The bed shifted and Brian realized that he was not alone. He'd brought someone back to the hotel? He hadn't done that since…well, since the cancer scare a couple years back, which had been followed by some twink stalking him and threatening to kill himself if Brian didn't love him. Because of those two scares, he'd slowed down his tricking and had stuck to the back room at Babylon.
The person yawned and stretched and rolled over and Brian was shocked to see Justin laying there beside him. The blond was equally shocked, if his wide eyes and slack jaw were any indication.
"You can say that again," Brian muttered. "What the fuck did we do?"
Justin screwed up his face in thought. "I can remember going to the club. We danced and compared notes on several of the guys. I think we tried to compete over one."
Something rang a bell, and Brian continued, "He was the tall one with red hair. He said he do us both."
Justin nodded. "That's right. We went to the men's room and he gave us something. E, I think. After that… I can't remember anything."
Brian shook his head. "E doesn't cause blackouts like this. He must have given us something else. GHB, maybe."
"I'm pretty sure we had sex," Justin said as he sat up and winced at the soreness in his ass. "I don't bottom very often, but I must have last night."
Brian looked at the garbage can beside the bed and noticed four used condoms. "I'd say we did it more than once."
Justin looked at Brian and started. "I don't remember reading that you were married."
Brian frowned. "I'm not. I don't do relationships."
"Then why is there a wedding ring on your finger?" Justin asked.
Brian held up his left hand and saw for the first time the ring on his finger. It was a simple band, probably silver, with a simple design etched into the metal. "Fuck." He looked at Justin and Justin looked at him. Then they both looked at Justin's hand, which was still clutching the sheet. There was a matching silver band on his left ring finger.
"This isn't good," Justin said. "What the fuck did we do last night? It can't be legal, can it?"
Brian winced. "Since they passed the gay marriage bill in Nevada last month, I'm pretty sure it is. The mother of my son was all excited about it. Told me how couples were flying to Vegas from all over the country to get married. And with the new national policy in place that guarantees reciprocity…"
"It's legal in all fifty states," Justin finished with a sigh. "Fuck."
"Maybe we just bought rings," Brian said in a bout of uncharacteristic optimism. "Maybe that guy thought it would be funny to mislead us."
Justin got out of bed and grabbed his boxers. Once he was somewhat covered, he began looking around the room, and then the suite. Brian pulled on a pair of sweats and joined him just as Justin picked up a piece of paper from the desk and sat down hard on the sofa. Brian didn't want to see what it said, but he couldn't stop himself. He sat beside Justin and read what was printed there. It was a marriage certificate and his name was printed right beside Justin's and he recognized his signature at the bottom.
"Well this complicates things," Justin sighed.
While other convention attendees were going to meetings about the latest upgrades in graphic design software and other bullshit, Brian and Justin were on the phone and internet trying to see how to undo what they had done. It turned out that the state of Nevada did not grant annulments based upon drunkenness and required that a couple remain married for a minimum of ninety days, cohabitating, before they would even consider granting a divorce. Some bullshit about making marriage a serious commitment. If they applied for a divorce in Pennsylvania it would take even longer.
The funny thing was, as freaked out as both Brian and Justin were, neither of them had even thought about taking off their rings.
"This really makes things complicated," Brian said. "I don't sleep with people who work for me."
Justin chuffed a laugh. "And I don't sleep with my employer. But I doubt I could make a case for sexual harassment, since we're married. Either way, it seems I'm definitely moving to Pittsburgh now."
"I hate that word," Brian said.
"Marriage is for breeders and Stepford fags," Brian said. Justin laughed a genuine laugh this time. "What? Do you disagree?"
"Not at all," Justin said with a grin. "I just think it's ironic that two of the most adamant commitment-phobes on the planet actually ended up married to each other."
Brian grunted; he found nothing amusing about this situation. "I need to call my lawyer. From what we read, Nevada is a community property state. I need to find out how we're going to handle this. I can't afford to lose everything because I got high with the wrong person."
"I'm not going to fleece you for the agency," Justin said with a frown. "It's worthless without its hotshot CEO anyway." He was right too. Their business was all about concepts, and Brian was the best concept man in the business.
"I'm not worried about the agency," Brian told him. "The business charter protects it from being broken up because of any personal financial obligations. Though you would be entitled to half the profits as my spouse. What isn't protected is the club, my loft, and a couple other businesses I've invested in over the years."
"I'm not interested in any of that either," Justin protested. "Well, maybe the loft, since it seems I'm going to have to live there for a few months."
Brian groaned. The thought of sharing his home with anyone seemed more like a nightmare than anything. "It's small. One big room with dividers to separate the bedroom from the living space. There won't be much privacy for either of us."
"I'd offer my penthouse in Chicago, but I doubt you want to uproot for three months," Justin shrugged. "Or we could move in with my mother, but I doubt any of us would enjoy that experience."
"I wish I could find the guy who slipped us the GHB and hurt him," Brian said and Justin laughed again. "How long will it take for you to get your shit together and move down?"
"A couple weeks," Justin said. "Long enough to give notice and sublet the penthouse. The rest the moving company can handle. I'll fly back tomorrow. I'd go today, but I still have to accept that fucking award tonight."
Brian snorted. "Make sure you bring that with you. It'll look good on your desk at Kinnetik."
Justin hesitated. "You sure you still want to hire me? After all this shit?"
"Might as well make the best of it," Brian sighed and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He handed one to Justin and they both lit up. "After all, you're part owner now. What better incentive to win clients over?"
Justin nodded and took a drag of his cigarette. "Just so you know, I'm not broke. I've got my art, a few investments and a trust fund. This won't be easy for either of our lawyers to figure out."
"It's good to know you didn't marry me for my money," Brian said ruefully. "Shit. I still hate that word."
"Yeah," Justin agreed and stubbed out his cigarette. "Wanna fuck?" At Brian's glare, Justin shrugged again. "Sex always helps me relax. And it's not like we can get an annulment."
Faced with that logic, Brian could not come up with a good reason not to, so he stubbed out his own cigarette, rose from the chair he was sitting in, and began stripping off his clothes. Justin grinned, taking his answer from Brian's action and began to remove his own clothes. At least they had this.
"Stop laughing," Brian seethed through the phone. "Fuck, John, if you can't take this situation seriously, I'll find another goddamn lawyer. Yeah, I thought that would shut you up…. No, I just got back last night…. We already looked into that. There's no option for annulment, and divorce takes a minimum of ninety days cohabiting…. Yeah…. Yeah, I understand…. I'll email Justin's lawyer's information today. Get back to me when you know more."
Brian hung up the phone and longed to pound his head into the desk, but knew that Cynthia was already standing in his doorway, having overheard the tail end of his conversation. He turned to her with his eyebrows raised, silently daring her to comment.
Unfortunately, Cynthia was no longer cowed by his glares. "So I take it more happened in Vegas than getting Justin Taylor to agree to come to Kinnetik?"
Brian sighed. He could lie to her, but it would eventually get back to her. And he could trust her to keep his secrets. "He agreed to come, and we went out to celebrate. Unfortunately some asshole slipped us both GHB and we woke up the next morning married."
Cynthia couldn't help herself, though she made a visible effort, and she burst into gales of laughter. "Oh…oh my god…Brian Kinney's m-married!"
Brian glared harder, hoping it might have some effect. "Justin seemed to find the irony humorous as well."
"Well, yeah," Cynthia drawled once she'd gotten herself under control. "He's as big a man-whore as you are. It is ironic that you two would end up together. Almost like destiny."
"Great," Brian said. "The universe is amused. This isn't helping me solve the problem, Cynthia."
"Okay, okay," Cynthia relented. "What can I do to help?"
"First of all, schedule a meeting with Jenna, and then write her a good letter of recommendation," Brian said. "And I'll need Ted to put together a severance package for her."
"So Justin's still coming to take over the art department?" Cynthia asked.
"He fucking owns half the agency now," Brian said humorlessly. "Of course he's going to work here. Besides, once we work all this other shit out, I still want him working for Kinnetik and he still wants to be in Pittsburgh. I doubt he's interested in working for what's left of Vanguard."
"Okay," Cynthia said blandly. "I'll get Ted working on putting that package together as well, shall I?"
"I'll email the details to both of you," Brian said. "Also, I need you to find a way around the quarterly profit payouts until he and I can work this shit out. I don't want Ted to know about this, and if he's writing quarterly checks, he'll know. If he knows, everyone will know."
"He's kept your secrets before," Cynthia pointed out, thinking of the testicular cancer.
"Only when it's bad news," Brian said. "Something like this would be just too juicy for him to keep quiet."
"Alright, I'll figure something out," Cynthia said. "How soon do you want to meet with Jenna."
It was already Thursday, and Justin wouldn't be in town for two weeks. "I don't want to shut down the department for two weeks, but the team will need some time to come to grips with the change. And there will more than likely be more changes once Justin starts." Brian sighed. He was not usually so indecisive, but this whole marriage thing was throwing him for a loop. "Make sure we don't have any major projects outstanding and set the meeting for Monday. Then schedule a full staff meeting Tuesday morning, followed by a department staff meeting that afternoon. Make sure we have some examples of the work Justin's done over the last year or so. I want them to see what he's been producing in comparison to what they've been cranking out. They need to understand the reasoning behind the change. After that, it'll be up to Justin to fix the problems that arise from the transition. "
"You want to plan something for Justin's arrival?" Cynthia asked.
"Nothing big," Brian said. "Maybe a breakfast thing. Get Emmett to cater it. And you'll want to contact Justin to see if he wants to set anything up for his first week."
"You got it," Cynthia said. "Anything else?"
"That's it for now," Brian said. "I'm sure that Ted will be beating down my door soon to discuss the why's and wherefore's."
Cynthia smiled. "I'll let you know when he's coming." She chose not to say anything about the ring Brian was wearing. If he really wanted to keep this marriage a secret, he'd figure it out eventually.
It had been just as easy as Justin had predicted to pack up his life in Chicago. He'd only been there a few months, after all, and hadn't really done more than buy a couple pieces of furniture to make the penthouse look less empty. He had very few personal possessions, besides his wardrobe and his art supplies. And his penthouse had been easy to sublet since it had a great view of the lake and was in a trendy district of downtown.
It had taken a bit more effort to arrange for a studio in Pittsburgh. If the loft was as small as Brian had intimated, he would definitely need some place to work. So he had asked his mother, who had become a real estate agent after divorcing his father, to look for something suitable near Brian's place. She'd actually found one of the apartments in Brian's building was for rent, and had perfect lighting, so he had signed a lease.
Most of Justin's things went into storage, but the movers had brought the rest to the studio. Only Justin's wardrobe, toiletries, and the bare essentials from his art supplies had been packed into his SUV. Once in Pittsburgh, Justin went to his studio first and was pleased to see that his mother had been right about the light, though the sun was setting low in the sky by now. It was also much larger than he had anticipated for the price. The space was mostly an open floor plan, with only the bedroom and bath walled in at the back of the space. It would be perfect for his work.
After checking to see that the movers had gotten all the canvases and painting supplies to the correct place, Justin took a few minutes to arrange the few pieces of furniture he'd kept out of storage and to set up his computer and printer. Then he took the single flight up to Brian's loft. The building was fight stories, with one apartment on each floor. Justin's studio was on the fourth floor, and the loft, was apparently on the fifth.
Justin knocked on the door and waited for Brian to answer. It didn't take long before the brunette was pulling the heavy steel door aside and Justin got his first good look at his husband in two weeks. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing only a faded pair of jeans that hung low on his hips and hugged his ass. His hair was wet, and he had obviously just come from the shower. Justin thought he might just be the most delicious thing he'd seen in a long time.
"You're here," Brian said as he looked Justin over. Justin had taken a minute to freshen up in the bathroom downstairs while he was there, so he knew he looked at least presentable. If the look in Brian's eyes was any indication, he looked more than presentable.
"Yeah," Justin said. "I just stopped at my new studio on the way to make sure everything arrived okay, and then came directly up."
Brian held out an arm and indicated that Justin should come in. Justin carried only one suitcase with him, having decided that the rest of his clothes could wait.
"You want anything to eat or drink?" Brian offered as he picked up a towel he'd obviously discarded to open the door and began to dry his hair. "I don't have much in the fridge, but help yourself."
Justin went and grabbed a bottle of water. "It looks like you were planning to go out?"
"I thought I'd take you to Woody's and Babylon," Brian shrugged. "If you aren't too tired from the trip. You can meet the gang."
"Sounds good," Justin said. "Just let me shower and change first."
"There's no rush," Brian said. "Even Woody's is dead this early. You probably don't know much about the nightlife in the Pitts do you? You were what? 19 when you left?"
Justin nodded and pulled out a cigarette, "You mind?" Brian shook his head and found an ashtray for Justin. "When I was at PIFA, I was on an accelerated course, so I didn't have much time for the clubs. And I was still living at home at the time. My mother…well, let's just say she had a hard time letting go after the incident with my father. And it didn't help that I was so much younger than my peers.
"But I thought that Babylon was that club that was bombed a couple years ago," Justin continued.
Brian nodded and got a haunted look for a split second, "It was. I rebuilt not long after."
"So that's the club you own?" Justin asked. "Well, in that case, I can't wait to see it."
"Shower's up the stairs and to the left," Brian said. "I cleared some space in the closet and the dresser, but if your wardrobe is as large as I think it is, we may have to find some extra room somewhere."
Justin smiled and finished his water. "I rented the apartment downstairs for my studio, so we'll have some extra storage space."
"Oh," Brian said with some surprise. "I wish I had known. I own the building, but a management company takes care of the rentals. I would have just told them to leave it empty for a few months."
"It's fine," Justin told him. "It's probably better to keep our finances separate."
Justin took his suitcase into the bedroom and unpacked it. He was grateful for the space Brian had made for him, but it would be tough fitting all their clothes. He grabbed his toiletries and headed into the bathroom.
The strange awkwardness that had settled over them continued to linger in Brian's car on the way to Woody's. Eventually, Justin brought up the fact that he would need to go see his mother the next day.
"What does she think about all this?" Brian asked.
Justin smiled. "Nothing. I told her I was moving in with a friend for a few months until I get my own place. I thought it would be easier in the long run not to have to explain the divorce."
"Good," Brian said. Then he realized how that sounded. "I mean, I haven't told anyone but my assistant and lawyer. None of my friends know. They'd never let me live it down if they did."
"Cynthia's your assistant?" Justin asked. "We've talked a few times about the transition and paperwork. She never mentioned anything."
"She wouldn't," Brian said. "That's why she's been with me forever. She's smart and can keep a secret. She may, however, say something to you once she gets to know you better. She's teased me almost every day since I told her. You'll meet Ted tonight. He's our CFO, but we've been friends a long time. "
"So if you aren't telling your friends, how do we explain the fact that I'm living with you?" Justin asked.
Brian shrugged. "We don't. It's none of their business. And if they push, we just tell them the same thing you told your mother."
The crowd at Woody's was just starting to thin out as the patrons moved on to Babylon and the other clubs, so when they arrived, they were able to find Brian's friends easily at one of the tables near the bar. They all eyed Justin with various levels of surprise.
"Everyone, this is Justin Taylor," Brian said. "He'll be working at Kinnetik as the art director. Justin, this is Emmett, his boyfriend Andy, Ted, his partner Blake, Michael, and his husband Ben."
"Nice to meet you," Justin said and shook each man's hand in turn. Once the introductions were over, Brian went to the bar and Justin was left to field questions.
"So you're the hotshot art director?" Ted asked. "The office has been buzzing over your arrival. You start Monday, right?"
"I'll be there for the party and to meet with my staff, but only until lunch," Justin said.
"You aren't just in advertising though." This came from Ben. "I've seen some of your paintings. Remember Michael, when we were in New York last year?"
"What? You mean at that museum?" Michael asked.
Justin nodded. "I did have a few paintings on display at MOMA last spring. Nothing in their permanent collection yet."
"Yet being the operative word," Ben said. "You are very talented. From what I understand, you could easily paint full time if you wanted to."
"Part of my inspiration comes from the challenges I face in my work everyday," Justin contradicted. "Without those challenges I would be bored and my art would suffer."
Brian returned with two scotch doubles and handed one to Justin. He glared at Ben. "You aren't trying to convince my VERY expensive new art director to leave his job and join some artist colony, are you?"
Ben looked sheepish, but Justin laughed. "It will never happen. Not enough tricks in a colony, even a gay one."
Talk turned to light topics for the rest of their stay at Woody's. Justin enjoyed listening to the friends, gossip and banter. He'd never really had friends like this. He still kept in touch with Daphne, but their lives had gone different directions a long time ago, and he'd never found the kind of friendship these men seemed to take for granted.
After an hour or so, they went to Babylon and the club lived up to everything that Justin had heard about it when he was younger. It didn't take long before he and Brian to start targeting their prey for the evening. It even became somewhat of a contest between the two of them to see who could get his trick to the back room first.
While they danced and hunted, Brian's friends observed, mostly with amusement, but there was a touch of jealousy in one pair of eyes.
"It seems like Brian has found a new buddy," Blake said casually, unaware of the dark looks Michael was throwing Justin's way. "He beat Brian to the punch this time around."
"Cynthia told me confidentially that he's as much a predator as Brian," Ted added.
"He certainly is hot enough to give Brian a run for his money," Emmett added. "The boy's got the face of an angel."
"And the heart of a slut," Michael said bitterly. "He's just using Brian."
"You don't know that," Ben scolded his husband.
"Sure I do," Michael argued. "He's new in town and taking advantage of Brian's good nature."
"Brian doesn't have a good nature," Ted said with a laugh.
"Well, something is certainly going on," Emmett said. "Did you see the looks they were giving each other on the dance floor? Brian might have just finally met his match."
"Brian doesn't fuck people who work for him," Michael reminded them all.
"I don't know," Blake said. "I think he just might make an exception for this one."
Ben and Emmett looked at each other. They had both noticed the matching rings that Brian and Justin were wearing, but they silently agreed that it was best not to mention anything in front of Michael or the others. Even after all this time, even though he was happy with Ben, Michael still had a blind spot where Brian was concerned.
"Look, they're coming back," Andy pointed out a few minutes later. And they were. They had left the tricks behind and were smiling and laughing together. Brian put a pill on his tongue and shared it with Justin. The kiss that they exchanged was nothing short of pornographic, and then they moved onto the dance floor together.
"Come on, let's dance," Michael said and pulled Ben into the mass of gyrating bodies. Ted and Blake soon followed.
"I think your friend Michael might just be wrong about this one," Andy told Emmett after the others were gone.
"Sweetie, I think you're more right than you know," Emmett agreed. "Come on, let's dance."
Justin met his mother for lunch the next day, still slightly feeling the after affects from the night before. Despite that, he had a good visit with Jennifer. The shaking in her hands wasn't as noticeable as it could be and she said that the new medication the doctor had prescribed was helping. Molly, now seventeen, however, was not. She had begun to act out and Jennifer was upset more and more often with her daughter's choices.
Justin listened and offered to talk to Molly, but he wasn't really sure what he could do. Yes, he had moved home to be closer to his mother, but mostly as an emotional support as her motor skills continued to deteriorate. She had already been forced to give up writing altogether. She now used her blackberry and her laptop for just about everything.
Her condition, caused initially by the blow to the head several years before, was worsening. The doctors had found a blood clot that was growing and cutting off her brain's access to motor functions. If left untreated, it would eventually cause her to lose all motor function, and could possibly kill her. But, with Molly still in high school, Jennifer was afraid to undergo the brain surgery that could stop the degeneration. The chances for surviving the surgery were only fifty-fifty.
Justin had tried to convince his mother that the surgery couldn't wait, but Jennifer was adamant. She would not do it until Molly was in college. That meant another four months of degeneration that might never be regained. It also meant that she took the risk that she could suffer a stroke or die at any time.
So Justin had moved home, only to realize that there really wasn't much he could do for his mother or sister besides be there for them. Jennifer had waved off his offer of financial support so she could quit working. He and Molly both had trust funds set up by Craig's father before he died and Craig went to jail. Justin also made very good money between his art and his advertising career. He could afford to support his mother and sister, but Jennifer was too stubborn.
It was a subdued Justin who returned to the loft that afternoon. He was quiet through their dinner of take out Chinese and as they watched some lame show on the television. Brian, despite having only known Justin for a short time, picked up on his mood and asked about it. Justin had been reluctant at first to talk, but eventually found himself telling Brian everything.
"The worst part is the guilt," Justin sighed as he drank the scotch Brian had poured for him. "My father was an ass, but he was never violent until I came out. He hurt her because she was trying to protect me. And now, all these years later, the damage he did could kill her."
"You can't blame yourself for what your father did," Brian said. "My father was an a-one asshole, but it was his choice to raise his fists. It was my mother's choice to let him and get drunk instead. Your parents made their own choices. And you can't blame yourself for those choices."
Justin sighed as he finished his drink. "It's not that easy."
"It never is," Brian agreed. "I blamed myself for years. And then I punished myself because I thought I was just like my father. It wasn't until I became a father myself that I understood. The choices I make affect my child, but they are my choices and if I fuck things up with him, it's my fault, not his."
"Right, you said something about a kid in Vegas," Justin said.
Brian nodded and went to his desk to bring back a framed picture of Gus. "Mel and Lindsey took him to Canada after the bombing. But when they split up last year, Lindsey brought Gus home. I usually see him a couple times a week, and sometimes he stays the night."
"He looks just like you," Justin said.
"But my son has a happy life," Brian said. "He's not going to be as fucked up as I am."
"It sounds like you've worked through a lot of your issues," Justin said as he handed back the photograph.
Brian nodded in acknowledgement. "Some. Mostly because of Sonny Boy, here. The rest…well, they made me who I am and I like my life."
"You ever feel like you're missing out on something?" Justin asked. "I was watching your friends last night and I kept feeling like maybe they have something. I mean, I've been alone a long time, and mostly it has been okay. I like my life too. But sometimes, I think it might be nice to have someone who understands, someone to come home to at night."
"I haven't really met anyone who understands," Brian said. "After all, who's going to put up with my desire to fuck whoever catches my eye? No one deserves to be miserable because they have the unfortunate luck to want to be with me."
Justin nodded. "I tried monogamy once. It sucked. I lasted three weeks."
Brian laughed and poured them another round. "You've got me beat. I've never even tried. Come on, let's go to bed. I'll let you blow me before I fuck you into the mattress."
Justin laughed. "You'll let me?" But he followed behind Brian eagerly.
The staff meeting Monday morning went well, and Justin met with his team following. They were a talented group, but they lacked focus and direction. Justin told Brian over lunch that day that he would hold off making any personnel changes until he could see them in action and learn their strengths and weaknesses. It didn't make sense to just make changes for the sake of change.
After lunch, Justin went back to his studio to set things up. He had been surprisingly inspired since coming to Pittsburgh, and he spent several hours painting and contemplating where he needed to take Kinnetik's art department that afternoon.
When Brian came home that evening after stopping at the gym, Justin had gone to the grocery store and made dinner. It was nothing fancy, just grilled salmon over steamed vegetables, but it was more than Brian could manage and better than the take out he usually ate. They discussed work more while they ate, and then considered going out, but Justin was tired and Brian didn't really feel like facing his friends, so they stayed in and made an early night of it.
One of the benefits, they found, to having a husband was the fact that it made fucking so much easier. They didn't have to go through the hassle of going out to pick up a trick when they had a willing partner at home. So on nights like this, when they were tired and still horny, they could easily solve their problem at home. And since there was rarely a night either man wasn't up for sex, it really made things convenient.
The next two weeks passed in much the same easy manner. One night Justin went to Woody's alone. Another night, Brian went to Babylon. A couple nights, they went out together and brought home a trick to share. Justin visited with his mother and Brian went to see Gus. It was simple and easy and both were rather pleased with the way their marriage was working thus far.
Justin had quickly thrown himself headlong into putting together the artwork for one of Brian's dream clients. This was an international beverage company that Brian had wanted to snag his entire career. They were finally in the market for a new agency, having fallen behind in the market, and Brian was hyped to get this campaign. This was a client that would mark them as one of the top agencies in the nation if not the world. And Justin seemed to be just as excited by the prospect. The two brainstormed together for several days over lunch and dinner, tossing ideas around until they came up with a concept that they knew could win the client over. And so Justin had his team working long hours to produce the kind of art that had made him the darling of the industry.
They went out Friday night with the rest of Brian's friends. They were both in high spirits with hopes for landing the dream account in the forefront of their minds. So it wasn't surprising that they spent much of the night pulling tricks and laughing together. Hopped up on adrenaline, E and hormones, either one was a force to be reckoned with. Together, they cut a swath through the crowded dance floor a mile wide. They danced, they laughed, they fucked—tricks and each other—all night long.
The longer they were there, the more upset Michael became. "Look at them! Now they're going after the same guy!"
Ben, who had listened to Michael's tantrum for two weeks now, had enough, "Leave it alone Michael. Brian is a big boy and can make his own choices. He's not doing anything with Justin that he wouldn't be doing alone."
"It isn't right," Michael muttered. "This kid comes out of nowhere and just takes over Brian's life and his business."
"They're just feeling good because they made progress with a really important potential client," Ted said. "They work really well together. You should see the pitch they put together. It's better than anything I've ever seen before."
"Brian should be celebrating with his friends, not some trumped up twink," Michael complained.
"That's it!" Ben yelled. "I've had it with your shit, Michael. You are fucking obsessed with Brian! You can't even see when you are being completely unreasonable. Well, if you want to fixate on your best friend, you'll have to do it alone. I'm leaving."
Ben walked away, and Michael stood there for a few minutes looking completely lost. "What do I do?" He asked Emmett.
Emmett sighed. "Go after him. Tell him you don't care about Brian. Tell him he's the most important person in your life. And MEAN it."
"You're going to lose that man if you don't pull your head out of your ass," Emmett warned. "He's the best thing that has ever happened to you, and all you can see is Brian. Well, guess what? Brian isn't in love with you, and he never will be. Get over it and go get the man who actually does love you!"
Michael looked around at his other friends. Ted was nodding his head and Blake and Andy were trying not to meet his eyes. Shit. Michael ran after Ben, praying that he wasn't too late to fix this.
On the dance floor, Brian noticed the drama between Ben and Michael and sighed. Justin looked at him. "What's up?"
Brian shook his head ruefully. "Michael is an idiot."
Justin nodded. He'd gotten that impression himself. "And?"
"And I think he just fucked things up with his husband because he's jealous of you."
"Oh," Justin said with a small frown. "Anything I can do to help?"
Brian gave Justin a smile, "No. I've tried in the past, but Mikey just needs to learn how to let go of the things that were never his and hang on to the things that are. Maybe he'll learn this time."
"Alright," Justin said and moved a bit closer to Brian as they danced. "So, do you want to go back to the loft or do you want to find another trick? Because I'm still feeling a bit needy and wouldn't mind having your cock up my ass at least once tonight."
Brian's eyes darkened and he grabbed Justin's hand to drag him from the dance floor.
Michael was absolutely miserable. Ben had gone by the time he got outside the night before, and he hadn't come home all night. He wouldn't answer Michael's calls or texts. Unsure where else to turn, Michael went to Brian's loft for some sympathy and advice. He used the key Brian had given him years ago and let himself in, expecting to find Brian still sleeping off his hangover.
What he found instead was Justin making coffee, wearing only a pair of sweats and a smile. "Good morning, Michael. Want a cup of coffee? Brian's in the shower, but he should be out any minute."
"What the fuck?" Michael said. "What are you doing here?"
"He lives here," Brian said as he came down from the bedroom wrapped in a towel. He paused to give Justin a kiss before stealing the blond's mug of coffee. "Shower's all yours."
Justin smiled at Brian and said to Michael, "See you later."
They were both silent as they watched Justin pull some clothes from the dresser and head into the bathroom. Once the door was closed, Michael turned to Brian with a scowl. "He's living here now?"
"He's been living here since he got into town," Brian said calmly.
"Why?" Michael asked belligerently.
Brian raised his brow. "I don't think that's any of your business, Mikey."
"So what, you two are fuck buddies?" Michael continued, oblivious to Brian's anger. "You and the twink pick up tricks together and pass them back and forth?"
"Sometimes," Brian said calmly. "Sometimes we do two side by side. Sometimes we leave the tricks out of the equation all together. And I ask again, what business is it of yours?"
"You're my best friend!" Michael shouted. "You can't expect me to sit by and watch you let this asshole ruin your life?"
"Why are you here?" Brian said, hoping to get Mikey off topic before he said something Brian couldn't forgive.
Michael looked confused for a minute and then his shoulders sagged dejectedly. "I fucked up with Ben. He didn't come home last night and he won't answer my calls."
"Were you ranting about me and Justin to Ben?" Brian asked. "Because that kind of fucked up jealousy, over a man who isn't your husband, might make Ben feel pretty shitty, Mikey."
Michael nodded, "That's what Emmett said last night. And I went after Ben to tell him I love him, but he was gone and he didn't come home."
"So the first place you thought to look for him was my loft?" Brian asked.
"No," Michael said bewildered. "Why would I look for Ben here?"
"Exactly," Brian shouted. "Mikey, go find your husband. Work things out with him. You can't keep doing this shit, Mikey. I've tried every way I know how to make you let me go. We aren't ever going to anything more than friends. Who I fuck, who I live with, isn't any of your business because I'm not in love with you. Do you understand? Find Ben. He's the man who loves you."
Michael looked at Brian with tears in his eyes before turning and leaving. Brian leaned against the counter and sighed. He was still leaning there when Justin returned twenty minutes later.
"Are you okay?" Justin asked.
"Yeah," Brian nodded and turned around. He wrapped his arms around Justin's waist and leaned his forehead against Justin's. "Mikey… Well, Mikey might take a bit more time to be alright."
Justin let Brian hold him and gain whatever comfort he needed from Justin. "Do you still want to go to the diner for breakfast? We could skip. I make a mean waffle, assuming we have a waffle iron."
Brian laughed at that. "You keep forgetting. I don't cook. Why would I have a waffle iron?"
"I'll buy you one," Justin said. "Call it a late wedding gift. Then we can have waffles whenever we want. There's absolutely nothing better than homemade waffles when you've got the munchies."
"I don't have the munchies now, but you are making me hungry," Brian chuffed. "Let me get dressed and we'll go to the diner."
Twenty minutes later they entered the diner to find Emmett sitting in a booth by himself. Brian led them over and they sat down across from the tall southern man.
"Where is everyone?" Brian asked. "I thought everyone would be here gossiping as usual on a Saturday morning."
Emmett shrugged. "Well… Ted and Blake are doing something to their house and Andy had to work. Michael stopped in a few minutes ago to look for Ben, but left right away. So I guess you're stuck with me today."
Justin smiled at Emmett and flirted a little. "I'm not at all disappointed. I think you are probably the most interesting one of this bunch, anyway."
Emmett raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Honey, you can keep flattering me like this all day. But I'll warn you, I'm easily excited. I might just jump you."
Justin laughed at that, but Brian snorted. "Seriously Justin, he'll be like a dog humping your leg if you give him the least bit of attention. It's best just to ignore this horndog and smack him on the nose with a newspaper if he gets too frisky."
"Hey!" Emmett pouted. "Don't listen to that awful man. Besides, I've got my Andy now. He likes when I hump his leg."
Kiki came to take Brian and Justin's order. Justin ordered a waffle but Brian stuck with his usual egg white omelet. "I thought you were going to get waffles."
Brian shrugged. "I'll wait until you can make them at home."
"Oh ho!" Emmett crowed. "So now we are getting somewhere. Home?"
Brian rolled his eyes. "Yes, home. Don't try to bullshit me and tell me Michael didn't tell you when he was in."
Emmett looked somewhat sheepish. "He might have said to that effect. But I wasn't sure if this was going to be something everybody knows but we don't actually talk about. Like those rings you two are wearing."
Brian and Justin both stopped. Neither looked at the other, and neither looked at Emmett. It wasn't until Kiki had brought their plates that they even moved. It was like time had stopped and they were all frozen in place. Then Justin cut into his waffle and that seemed to break the spell.
"Well?" Emmett demanded. "I've kept my big mouth shut for the sake of peace, but both Ben and I noticed those rings the first night you brought Justin around. What's the story?"
Justin finally looked at Brian and shrugged. This was his friend, and his decision to make.
"Emmett, I swear to god if you ever repeat a word of this to anyone…" Brian growled.
"Yeah, yeah," Emmett waved the threat aside. "Something horribly painful and nasty will happen to me. I get it. Now tell me the juicy details."
Brian rolled his eyes while Justin laughed again. "I went to Vegas to a conference in the hopes of getting Justin to come work for Kinnetik. He agreed. We celebrated and ended up taking what we think must have been GHB. We don't remember anything after that, but we woke up the next morning married. Now, we have to live together for 90 days before we can get divorced in the state of Nevada. Okay? Happy now?"
Emmett was too busy laughing to answer. Justin chuckled as well, but Brian just glared at them both. Eventually, Emmett wiped the tears from his eyes and said, "Sorry. That was just…God, that was funny. So, what are you two going to do until you can get divorced?"
"Keep living together," Brian said coolly.
"And tricking together," Justin added with a smirk.
"And fucking," Brian retorted.
"And working," Justin concluded.
Emmett looked back and forth between the two men. "Are you sure you want to get divorced? Because you two seem to be made for each other."
Both Brian and Justin looked uncomfortable with that pronouncement. "We aren't…"
Emmett looked at their discomfort and laughed again. "You two are absolutely priceless. God, I wish that I could share this with someone."
"But you can't," Brian growled in warning.
Emmett held up his hands in surrender. "I promised, didn't I? Your secret is safe with me. But if you want it to remain a secret, boys, I would think about putting that jewelry away. It does scream married, you know?"
Brian and Justin both looked down at the rings on their hands and grimaced. Emmett laughed one more time before standing up from the booth and headed towards the door. "I must be off. Ta ta!"
"God, your friends are weird," Justin sighed once Emmett had gone.
Brian snorted. "At least I have friends." Justin retaliated by pinching Brian's thigh.
"As long as you continue to maintain separate finances, the divorce should be fairly straightforward," John told Brian and Justin over lunch a few days later. "Any income earned during the marriage should be split evenly, so I would recommend getting a joint account that can be divided at the time of the dissolution. That includes any salary and dividends from your various businesses. You should also use this account for any joint expenditures. For instance, mortgage payments on the shared residence."
"But won't that complicate matters with the loft when we split?" Justin asked. "I mean, the loft is Brian's. I don't want it when this is all over."
"Brian still holds the deed, and he brought the property into the marriage, so there shouldn't be any question that he will take it after it's over," John told them. "But part of Nevada's cohabitation requirement includes paying for shared expenses. If one of you was unemployed, there wouldn't be an issue, but as it is you'll need proof that you made an effort to come to an amicable arrangement."
"Okay, so we'll get a joint account and pay the bills from that for the time being," Brian said. "What else?"
"We need to discuss reasons for the dissolution," John sighed. "There are a number of categories we can explore…"
"Let me guess, we were high isn't one of them?" Brian drawled.
John gave a short laugh, "No. And any reason we choose, we are going to have to justify. For instance, if we choose irreconcilable differences, we'll have to expound on those differences."
"What about infidelity?" Justin asked. "We've both slept with multiple partners since the marriage began."
John looked a bit uncomfortable here. "Was it with the knowledge and consent of your spouse?"
"He was there for some of them," Brian said calmly. "And I certainly never object when he want's to bring a trick to bed."
"Then that won't do it," John told them. "Any abuse? Drug use? I won't even bother to ask about impotence."
"No abuse," Justin said. "And drug use was mutual as well. That's how we got into this mess in the first place."
"Well, I wouldn't bring that up in front of the judge," John told them. "In fact, let's just forget I heard that piece of information."
"Let's go back to irreconcilable differences," Brian said. "That's probably our best shot."
"Okay," John said. "Any arguments?"
"Disagreements over financial matters?"
"NO!" they both responded vehemently.
"Religion? Lifestyle? Family? Fetishes? Television? Sports? Anything?"
Justin shook his head. "We agree on just about everything except what kind of toothpaste to buy."
"And whether or not a waffle iron is a necessary tool in every kitchen," Brian added. "But those aren't really things worth fighting over."
"So let me get this straight," John said as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "You get along great. The sex is fulfilling. You work well together. You don't argue about anything. You genuinely like each other. Your sole reason for wanting a divorce lies in your mutual contempt for the institution?"
"Yeah," Brian said. "Is that going to be a problem?"
John was utterly bemused. "It might be. It depends on the judge. You've still got two months and I would suggest you seriously try to come up with a better answer before then. Without one, you'll likely end up having to wait three years to apply for an estrangement divorce, whether you apply in Pennsylvania or Nevada."
"We didn't need a reason to get married, but we need one to get divorced," Brian moaned in bed later that night. They had fucked for hours after getting back from Woody's and were now enjoying a joint and the afterglow. "How the fuck are we supposed to come up with that?
"I suck at lying," Justin said, seemingly out of the blue. "So if you are thinking we should just make something up, I doubt I could pull it off."
"I must have some annoying habit that you hate," Brian encouraged. "Something that you are just too polite to mention? I know! I've been told I snore."
"It's kind of cute," Justin said. "All breathy and soft. Kind of soothing, to be honest. What about me? I moved into your loft, your sacred space. I must do something that annoys you. I put my wet towel in the hamper yesterday. Didn't that annoy you?"
"No, the cleaning lady takes care of the laundry," Brian said. He took another hit of the joint and passed it back to Justin. "Despite what Emmett seemed to think at the diner the other day, we are not identical. We have differences. So there must be something we can point to as a reason for the divorce."
"You won't eat carbs after seven," Justin pointed out. "I like them anytime. I just do a couple extra miles on the treadmill if I think I'm gaining weight."
"You prefer Zegna suits over Prada," Brian pointed out. "But that's mostly because you don't look as good in Prada."
"They design clothes for a different body type," Justin said as he handed the joint back to Brian.
"Yeah," Brian said. "Can't have a bubble butt and look good in Prada. I'll take your Zegna and keep the bubble butt. Besides, we agree on Armani and Dolce and Gabbana."
"You lean towards the Italian designers in casual wear," Justin said. "While tend to like the British and American designers better."
"Admit it, you hate my corvette," Brian said.
Justin shrugged. "There's no room for canvases or sex, but it's okay."
"What about kids," Brian said. "We both agree that we don't want any, but I already have one."
"You don't expect me to change his diapers, do you?"Justin asked warily.
"He's eight, you twat!" Brian laughed because that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.
"Well then, there you go," Justin said as if that answered everything. In a way it did. "You don't have some secret desire to buy a dog, do you?"
"And have it piss on my rugs?" Brian asked, totally scandalized. "I don't think so."
"I know, we can have sex until one of us can't get it up any more," Justin said. "Then we can claim sexual incompatibility."
Brian laughed again. "We already tried that a couple hours ago. We both collapsed at the same time."
"Oh yeah," Justin said as he bit his lip. "Well, I'm out of ideas. What say we have sex again and forget about it for now?"
"Now that's the best idea you've had all night."
"This is all your fault, asshole!" Debbie shouted and swatted at Brian's head as soon as he opened the loft door.
"Ow! What the fuck?" Brian said as he rubbed his head. He wasn't even fully awake yet, since it was only ten o clock on a Sunday morning. "What is my fault this time?"
"He's leaving!" Debbie cried. "And I blame you!"
"Who's leaving?" Justin asked from the steps to the bedroom. He was wearing a pair of Brian's sweat pants and they hung low on his hips. His hair was still mussed from sleep and Brian thought he'd never seen anything so sexy in his life.
"Oh! Hello Sunshine," Debbie said pleasantly, her outrage momentarily forgotten. If there was one thing Brian would never understand it was the way Debbie doted on Justin. He and Justin were so alike in so many ways, yet, he got hit and cursed at and Justin got smiles and nicknames. "My Michael is moving to Colorado."
"He is?" Brian asked.
"You didn't know?" Debbie said, turning a suspicious eye on Brian.
"I swear, this is the first I've heard of it," Brian said.
"They haven't talked for several weeks," Justin added and Brian noticed that Debbie seemed to accept Justin's word.
"Ben was offered a job as head of the English department at some university in Denver," Debbie said. "And now they're selling the house and the shop and leaving. And it's all your fault!" She tried to hit Brian again, but he ducked away in time.
"How the fuck is Ben getting a job in Colorado my fault?" Brian asked reasonably.
"Because they never would have agreed to the move if Michael wasn't still hung up on you!" Debbie said. And then she burst into tears.
Brian warily wrapped his arms around Debbie and tried to soothe her. "Hey, you know I've tried to get him to see sense for years. I tried with Dr. David. I tried with Zen Ben. The first time he actually listened was last month. I didn't think he'd up and move over it."
Debbie nodded and Justin discretely handed her a tissue. "I know. I know. But my baby's leaving and I have to be mad at someone."
"Okay," Brian said. "You can be mad at me."
"Fucker," Debbie muttered and hugged Brian.
After a while, Justin made coffee and they all sat down to talk about the situation. Justin even risked his position as favorite adopted child to say, "Maybe it will be good for him. I mean, being away from Brian. He doesn't seem to be able to let go otherwise, and Ben seems like he really loves Michael. It might give him a chance to realize what he's got."
"And you can go out to visit," Brian added. "I'll make sure you have airfare for at least three trips a year. And I'm sure he'll want to come home sometimes, too. Just wait, it won't be as bad as you think."
Debbie gave them a watery smile. "Thanks. I just… I hated when he was in Portland."
"But you have Carl now," Brian reminded her. "And you'll still have us."
"So you'll start coming to family dinner night again?" Debbie asked pointedly. "Both of you?"
Brian rolled his eyes but nodded. "Justin and I will be there."
"And you're going to start fessing up about this secret marriage thing?" Debbie asked slyly.
"Fuck," Brian muttered. "How'd you know?"
"Kiki heard you talking to Emmett about it a while back," Debbie said. "Sunshine, you really ought to tell your mother."
This time it was Justin's turn to mutter, "Fuck."
Lindsey invaded that afternoon. "Well hello, Lindsey, so nice to see you? Where's my son?"
"Gus is with a sitter," Lindsey said as she plopped herself down on the armchair in the sitting area. "You got married?"
"Lindsey, this is Justin Taylor, my husband," Brian said as Justin came over to see what the commotion was all about. They both sat on the sofa. "Justin, this is Lindsey, the mother of my child. And an art history professor."
Lindsey's eyes lit up as she was distracted by the fact that she was meeting one of her favorite artists, "I love your work."
"Thanks," Justin said with a genuine smile. "Brian talks about you and Gus all the time."
Lindsey smiled in return, and then turned back to Brian with a frown. "I told you not to fuck with him, and now look what you've done!"
"Hey, I wasn't the only one too stoned to know what he was doing!" Brian protested.
Justin laughed at that and turned to Lindsey, "You really can't blame Brian. We both signed on the dotted line. There was no deception involved."
"Hmmm," Lindsey said skeptically.
"What is it with the women in my life?" Brian said in exasperation. "First Debbie, now you! No wonder I'm a fag!"
Lindsey looked confused but Justin laughed. "Debbie seems to like me better, too."
Lindsey looked back and forth between Brian and Justin. Justin looked smug, and Brian was pouting in the way only Brian can. "I don't like you better…I just… Well, I know how Brian can be."
"Well, don't let Justin's angelic face fool you," Brian said. "He can be just as bad as I can. There's a reason we've lived together for a month and haven't killed each other yet."
Lindsey shook her head when Justin wasn't offended by that statement. "Well, how did this happen?"
"I went to Vegas in the hopes of getting Justin to come work for Kinnetik. He agreed. We celebrated and ended up taking what we think must have been GHB. We don't remember anything after that, but we woke up the next morning married. Now, we have to live together for 90 days before we can get divorced in the state of Nevada." Brian recited in a bored tone, already tired of repeating it.
"That is, assuming we can come up with a decent reason for wanting the divorce," Justin added morosely. "So far, we're coming up blank."
Lindsey smiled. "You can't come up with a reason for the divorce? Well, that's certainly a unique problem."
"It wouldn't be so bad if Justin could lie for shit," Brian sighed. "Then we could just tell them whatever we wanted."
Justin shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault my mother raised me better than that. Blame her."
"I may just have to call her up and do that," Brian said. "And if you can't lie, how did you pull off not telling her about all this?"
Justin got a devious grin on his face. "Easy, I didn't lie. I just omitted a few facts."
"Well, I think you're going to have to talk to her soon, because it's apparent that Debbie now feels free to blab all over town about our private affairs."
"Shit," Justin muttered. "You know she's going to want to meet you."
"And you should meet Gus," Lindsey told Justin. "I can't believe the two of you have gotten away with this as long as you have."
Brian rolled his eyes and got up to pour a drink. "I told you Justin can be devious. Alright, bring Gus by this weekend. Then Justin can meet him and we can schedule lunch with his mother. I'm sure she'll be less likely to hurt either of us in front of my kid. Mothers are like that. But you'll have to tell her before that, Sunshine."
"You know this is not going to be easy, right?" Justin said. "I'm not sure how… With her health and Molly and…"
"Then don't tell her about the divorce," Brian said as he sat back down and wrapped a comforting arm around Justin. "You don't have to tell her about the divorce right now. That can wait until after the surgery when she's feeling better. Alright?"
Justin looked up at Brian and gave a shaky smile. "Thanks."
Lindsey watched the interplay and wondered why they were even considering a divorce. What she wouldn't have given to have that kind of understanding from Melanie once in a while.
Justin cleared his throat and stole a drink from Brian's tumbler. "Um, Lindsey, if you want, while you're here, I'd be happy to give you a tour of my studio. You can get a look at the canvases I've completed for my next show."
"I'd love that," Lindsey said excitedly.
"Hey, you've never let me see your studio," Brian complained.
"Hey, you've never shown any interest," Justin retorted. "You are welcome to join us, Brian. You can come down anytime."
Brian nodded and followed Justin and Lindsey. Once they had reached the lower floor, Justin walked around showing Lindsey each of the six paintings he had completed. Brian was impressed, but he didn't need to spend half an hour discussing techniques and themes. Instead, he looked around the space. It was obvious that this was Justin's second home. His desk was set up in one corner, there were paintings on the walls, not all of them Justin's. He looked into the bedroom and realized that Justin had set up a workout room there with everything a home gym could fit. He had all but the few clothes he kept upstairs in the walk in closet down here. He must have been rotating his wardrobe each week.
Back in the studio area, Brian noticed a chaise upholstered in black velvet and a red leather sofa. Both pieces were modern and would have easily fit into Brian's décor upstairs. It seemed even their taste in furniture was compatible.
Brian laid down on the chaise and waited for Justin and Lindsey to finish their boring discussion. He must have dozed off, however, because the sun had set and Justin was sitting across from him on the sofa, a sketchpad on his knees as his hand moved furiously over the page.
"Don't move," Justin commanded without even looking up from the page. So Brian just laid there and watched Justin at work for a while.
"How long was I out?" Brian finally asked.
"A couple hours," Justin said, his concentration still on drawing. "Lindsey left and I just had to capture you like this. Too bad you woke up."
Brian laughed. "I sleep in the same bed with you. You can see me sleep anytime."
"You've usually worn me out by the time you're asleep," Justin said. "So I'm asleep too. Now close your eyes and try to relax again."
Brian complied and laid there drifting in and out of consciousness for a while longer. Eventually, he heard Justin getting up. He opened his eyes and sat up. Justin came back over and handed Brian a bottle of water.
"Thanks," Justin said. "You'd make a really great model."
"I thought that's what I was doing," Brian smirked.
"No, I mean for one of my portraits," Justin said. "I'd need more than a few hours of your time for that, though."
"I'll tell you what," Brian said. "You let me use your workout room when I can't get to the gym and I'll pose for you."
Justin raised his eyebrows. "Really? Because I'd let you use the weights anyway."
"Sure," Brian shrugged. "I always thought my cock was a masterpiece, now it really will be."
Justin had dinner with his mother on Monday night, and his conversation with her went better than he had hoped. She actually seemed pleased by the thought that Justin wouldn't be alone anymore. And she had readily agreed to meet with Brian and Gus that weekend. Molly, who had been getting somewhat better, was going to be at an early graduation party. Justin had almost forgotten that Molly would be graduating the weekend following. He tried once again to convince Jennifer to have the operation right away, but she still refused.
The rest of the week was busy with two new accounts and reorganizing his department. He had decided not to replace any of the staff, but some of them weren't being used properly in their current roles. Carla was hired as a graphic artist, but was better at Photoshop than any of the others. Manuel was doing Photoshop, but should be doing storyboards. He also spent some time reviewing the work of each of their contract photographers and commercial directors. He liked some of their work, but wanted to start calling in some people he had worked with in both New York and Chicago.
On top of that, he wanted to begin implementing regular brainstorming sessions and weekly progress meetings. The team needed to start working together better. When he'd first arrived, he'd gone over some of their past work and had given them examples of how it could have been better. Rather than taking the constructive criticism, they had started pointing fingers. "That was so and so's project." In Justin's mind, every project was a team effort.
They had the presentation to the beverage coming up and Justin was pleased with the progress they were making. He and Brian would go together to New York next week to make the pitch. He thought it might be a good opportunity to find a nice graduation gift for Molly and do some shopping as well. Brian certainly didn't seem to mind the thought of a trip to Barney's.
On Saturday, Lindsey dropped Gus off at the loft and Justin got the chance to meet a miniature of his husband. Gus didn't just look like Brian, he used the same facial expressions and had the same wicked sense of humor.
"So you're the one who trapped my dad into marriage?" Gus asked with a smirk that should not be possible for an eight-year-old.
Justin laughed. "I am. What are you going to do about it?"
Gus shrugged. "Nothing as long as you're nice to him. And me. Though I wouldn't say no to a few guilt gifts or bribery." With that, he went to help himself to a juice box in the fridge.
Lunch with Jennifer was even more surreal. "So that makes you my step-grandma?" Gus asked. "Because I already have two grandmas but they're both mean and I'm not allowed to see them. But you look nice enough."
Jennifer was enchanted with Gus, which went a long way to making her accept Brian. And Brian was at his most charming, using the same charisma which mesmerized clients and tricks alike. By the time lunch was over, Brian had been invited to Molly's graduation and the party following and he had graciously accepted. Justin was surprised that Brian had agreed, but pleased. It really did make Jennifer feel better to think that Justin was finally settling down. And if she had some picture of love at first sight, Justin wasn't about to disillusion her just yet.
After lunch, they took Gus to the zoo and walked up and down the many hills as Gus dragged them from exhibit to exhibit.
"Thank you for today," Justin said while Gus walked ahead of them towards the big cats display. "I think she really took comfort believing I was finally settling down. That if something happens to her, that I won't be alone."
Brian nodded. "Have you thought about what you would do if something does happen? I mean, Molly may be starting college this year, but I doubt she's ready to be completely independent."
Justin swallowed hard. He'd thought about this, despite his desire to just pretend it wasn't a possibility. "I'll get a place big enough for her to come home on breaks. Her trust will pay for school, but she's going to need a home. She's pretty pissed at me right now, because I've been gone for so long. And she's pissed at mom for being sick. And she's pissed at my father. And she's just generally angry with the world. But she's still a kid and she needs to know that she's got someplace to go where she's loved, even if she's pissed at me."
Brian hesitated before he brought up another touchy subject. "There was a message on the machine last night. Your father called, asking for money."
"Shit," Justin sighed. "I just sent him money last week."
"It must be expensive to protect your ass in prison," Brian said with a smirk. He liked the idea that the homophobic prick who had hurt Justin and Jennifer might be getting his own back.
Justin laughed dryly. "What? You aren't going to lecture me about helping the man who hurt us?"
Brian shrugged and bit his lips before he spoke. "Before my dad died, I used to give him money for his gambling debts. He was a drunken abusive asshole, but he was my father."
"Yeah," Justin said quietly. He cleared his throat and went on in a normal voice, "My father owned a chain of electronics stores. We had to sell them when he went to prison. Mom got some of the money in the divorce, but most of it went into a holding account for my father. He can't access the funds as long as he's incarcerated, so he comes to me for loans. He swears that he's going to pay me back when he gets out. I can't bring myself to tell him that I hope he never gets released. He's never even acknowledged what he did, let alone apologize. Well, I guess I need to make another trip to Greensburg."
"You don't have to go," Brian said. "You could just send the money. You don't have to talk to him or see him."
"Yes I do," Justin said firmly. "I need him to see me, to see that I'm happy and successful. To see that I not only survived his hate, but that I'm stronger, that I'm not some victim. I want him to remember that I'm free and he's in prison. I want to rub my lifestyle and my achievements in his face."
Brian chuckled. "In that case, do you want me to go with you?"
They both went to Greensburg the next day and Brian got to meet Craig Taylor. He couldn't imagine what the man had been like before prison, but the man Justin had described certainly wasn't the same man that greeted them across the table in the visitor's room. He was scruffy looking, like he hadn't shaved in a few days. His prison issued uniform was wrinkled and had stains on both the shirt and pants. He looked, to Brian, like any other convict.
Craig didn't try to hug Justin or even smile at seeing his son. "Who's this?" Craig asked.
"Dad, this is Brian Kinney, my husband," Justin said. He didn't try to explain the circumstances of their mistaken union. "I brought you the money."
Craig didn't even look at Brian; he just took the envelope Justin handed him and counted out the bills before tucking it away in his shirt pocket. "How's your mother? Molly's graduation is next weekend, isn't it? Those two must be busy making plans for the party. They haven't had time to write in a while."
"They're fine," Justin said. "I'm sure grandma would let you know if something happened. Listen, I'm going to be out of town this week. If you need something, call my cell phone. Don't bother mom or Molly."
Craig narrowed his eyes at this request, thinking he ought to be allowed to call his wife and child anytime he wanted. There was a silent battle between father and son, but eventually, Craig's practical side won out. Justin held the purse strings. "Fine. Where you going? I heard you took a job with some up and coming firm to come home. You aren't wasting your talents are you?"
Justin smirked. "Brian is also the owner of Kinnetik. We're going to New York to pitch to one of the top beverage companies, and we have a very good shot at it. That will mean Super Bowl commercials and wider recognition. Brian's the best concept man in the business. Between the two of us, Kinnetik will be the top agency in the country. I also have another show at MOMA this fall, so, no, I'm not wasting my talent."
Craig scowled, as if Justin's success was a personal insult. "Are we done playing catch-up?"
"Sure Dad," Justin said dismissively. "Go back to playing cards with your bunk mate. I'd hate to keep you from anything important."
Craig left without another word, but he did pause to look Brian over. The look of hatred on his face was unmistakable. Then he left and Justin let out the breath he'd been holding.
"I hate coming here."
"I can see why," Brian agreed. "Let's get the fuck out of here. We have to pack for New York still."
"Did you see their faces?" Justin asked as they left the offices of the beverage company. "We are so in!"
Brian grinned. He'd seen and he was pretty sure they had the account, but he was keeping his excitement in check. Justin's team had put together the best presentation Brian had ever seen before. And his copy, while a step away from his "sex sells" ideals, was brilliant. And the suits had known it.
"We won't know for sure until next week," Brian reminded him. "But they did seem receptive."
"Fuck, we have got to celebrate," Justin said. "Milner and Feinstein, is the only agency left to present and they don't have a shot. I know their people, and their copy is sadly lacking. And Mitchell said that they hadn't liked anything they had seen so far. We have got this, Brian."
Brian stopped just outside the office building's front doors and grabbed Justin. The kiss they shared was filled with passion, excitement and hope. "Let's celebrate."
Justin grinned. "Barney's or the hotel?"
"Barney's and then the hotel," Brian said.
"And a quick trip to Tiffany's for a present for Molly," Justin reminded him.
They decided to go to Tiffany's first and were soon going from floor to floor looking for the perfect piece for Justin's sister. While Justin was looking at a key shaped pendant with diamonds in platinum on a chain, Brian decided to browse a little.
What he found was a double milgrain wedding band in platinum, 6mm wide, with a single 3 carat diamond inset. It was much nicer than the ring he currently wore: the cheap silver band they had bought at the wedding chapel in Vegas. It seemed silly to buy new bands for a marriage that was only going to last a few more weeks, but Brian chose not to think about that. Instead, he pulled out his personal credit card, one not attached to their joint account, and bought one in each of their sizes.
By the time Justin returned with his purchase, Brian had tucked the small box into his jacket and Justin was none the wiser that Brian had done something so monumentally ridiculous and completely out of character.
The rest of their trip to New York was spent either shopping or hunting for tricks at some of Justin's favorite nightclubs. By the time they returned to Pittsburgh, they were both relaxed and ready to face the last month of their enforced marriage. Though, surprisingly, neither was looking forward to the day it would end.
Molly loved her graduation present and it seemed like she was almost ready to forgive her brother. The fact that Jennifer continued to look work and worse as time passed certainly seemed to be sobering up the teen and making her think of something other than herself. Though it may have been Jennifer's health and her fear of being left alone that had been behind her rebellion in the first place. So Justin made sure to spend time with both his mother and sister in the days that followed.
Brian, spent Michael's last days in town rebuilding his friendship with his best friend, while Justin dealt with his own issues. The day of the divorce was fast approaching and Justin's mind was constantly occupied by the many complicated relationships in his life.
"You should start thinking about where you're going to live when this is all over," Emmett told Justin over lunch one day. They had run into each other a few times and had started to become friends in their own right.
Justin sighed and put down his grilled chicken sandwich. "I know. The hearing is in just three weeks. But I've kind of gotten used to the loft with my studio right downstairs."
"Kind of gotten used to your husband, as well?" Emmett asked carefully. Their friendship was new and he wasn't sure how far he could press such a sensitive subject.
Justin nodded miserably. "It's nice, having someone to share things with. I've never really had that. Not since I left for college at sixteen, and even then, I only had one friend. I've always been so wrapped up in school or my work that I didn't have time for friendships. And certainly not relationships. I've been with a lot of men in my life, but I've never even been tempted to make them a permanent fixture. But now…"
"Now you've met a man who is perfect for you," Emmett said wisely. "You two share a lot of the same ideals and interests. You work great together. And you are just different enough to keep things interesting."
Justin nodded again. "But I know how Brian feels about relationships. Hell, up until a couple of months ago, I felt the same way. I'm not going to risk our working relationship because I changed my mind about our personal relationship."
"I'm sorry, baby," Emmett said with sympathy. "But if that's how it has to be, you need to start thinking about what you are going to do when it's over. You can't just pretend it will last forever."
"No, you're right," Justin said with determination. "I need to start looking for my own place. I would normally ask my mother to help, but since she doesn't know about the divorce, and I don't want to tell her yet, I'll need to do a bit of looking on my own. Would you like to help?"
"Sounds like a fun way to spend my free time," Emmett smiled. "I just love getting to look at how other people live. Open houses are such fun."
"How about Saturday?" Justin said. "I'm having dinner with my mother, but my day is free."
"It's a date," Emmett said.
Brian was lounging on Justin's chaise, nude and totally bored. "I can't stand this. At least talk to me."
Justin chuckled and looked over at Brian from behind his easel. "I told you that posing wasn't going to be as much fun as you thought. There's a reason I usually have to pay someone to just lie there."
"So talk to me," Brian said again.
"About?" Justin asked as he mixed a dab of raw sienna into the swirl of burnt umber on his pallet.
"Anything!" Brian huffed. "What are your plans for tomorrow?"
"Emmett's helping me search for a place," Justin said distractedly, his mind on the image he was trying to create. "For after the divorce."
"You're looking for an apartment?" Brian asked, tension lacing his voice, but Justin didn't notice.
"Well, I can't stay here forever," Justin told him, still not paying any attention to what he was saying. It was like he was simply speaking his thoughts aloud. "Though I love the loft, and this studio. Even if we stayed together, though, it would be too small in the long run. But since we aren't staying together, I'll need somewhere to go. Most of my stuff is still sitting in storage. I'll need to go through it soon. Maybe I'll get another penthouse like I had in Chicago. Or I could find a converted loft. I really do like the feel of this place…"
Brian closed his eyes and listened as Justin rambled on about the possibilities and the things he would need to do once the divorce went through. After a while, Brian realized that Justin had fallen silent again.
"We still haven't come up with a valid reason to present at the hearing," Brian reminded.
"Well, maybe we can go for a psychological argument," Justin said. "Is commitment-phobia a real disorder? Do you think we could get a psychologist to declare you unfit?"
"No psychologist," Brian insisted. It wasn't so much that he didn't respect the profession; he didn't need some quack to pick apart his brain to know he was fucked up. But in this case he might have allowed it for the sake of expediency, if it wasn't for the fact that commitment didn't seem to scare him where Justin was concerned. That he wasn't scared terrified him, however. That he could see spending the rest of his life enjoying this easy friendship and sex scared the shit out of him.
Justin shrugged as he wiped his brush off on a rag. "Whatever. I think I'm done for tonight. You want to go to Babylon for a while? I'll just need to shower and change."
"Yeah, sure," Brian said as he got up to pull on this clothes.
They went to Babylon but, unlike most nights, they danced only with each other. They picked up no tricks and when it got late, they went back to the loft alone. They didn't talk about it, but every move and glance all night had been for each other. And once they made it to the bed that night, the sex was slow and gentle and lasted all night.
Justin had only been sleeping for a couple hours when the alarm went off the next morning. He had to pick up Emmett in an hour. He was careful not to wake Brian as he got out of bed and went to the dresser. He looked through his clothes and realized he hadn't brought anything from the studio, so all he had was an old t-shirt and jeans that he used for painting. With a sigh, Justin pulled on his sweats and made his way downstairs.
When he got back up to the loft, Brian was in the shower. Justin was surprised that the brunet had decided to get up so early when he didn't have to be anywhere, but didn't think about it too closely. Instead he joined Brian in the shower and enjoyed Brian's hard wet body against and inside his own.
When they were finally getting dressed, Justin turned to Brian and asked, "I thought you'd take advantage of the weekend and sleep in today?"
"Well," Brian hesitated, tongue in cheek. "I thought about sending you off alone with Emmett but decided that there's just too much risk involved. You might just end up in the tackiest house in Pittsburgh."
Justin laughed. "So you are coming with us to prevent such an unbelievable catastrophe?"
"You better believe it, Sunshine," Brian said. "I'll not have my husband, even an ex-husband, living in some tasteless duplex in an unfashionable neighborhood."
Justin grinned at Brian and held his tongue. It was sweet that Brian wanted to take care of him. Eventually he said, "You know, Emmett may have outlandish taste in clothing, but I'm pretty sure that I could resist the urge to buy a duplex."
"We aren't going to take the chance," Brian told him. "Now let's go. I want to stop for coffee on the way. I don't know what the hell you were thinking of scheduling this little outing for so early on a Saturday."
They arrived at their fourth open house and Emmett sighed, as he had every time, "Isn't this just perfect?"
Brian rolled his eyes, but Justin thought that he might have a point this time. It was an old house; some might even call it a mansion, built around the turn of the 20th century. Despite being in the city and only a few minutes from downtown, the house was still surrounded by a large property. The stone walls and trees guaranteed privacy from the rest of the quaint neighborhood filled with historic single family homes. There was an iron gate at the end of the drive which swung wide after they requested admittance through the intercom. The long tree lined drive led up to a circular courtyard in front of the house, built from some sort of hand chiseled brown stone. There was ivy growing up one side of the house, but the front porch was huge and free of the clinging plant.
They stepped onto the porch and entered the vestibule. Justin noticed the clean liens of the original craftsman style wood trim and the hardwood floors that gleamed with a century of polishing. To the right, the vestibule opened up into a formal living room with a huge fireplace. To the left, the formal dining room was perfectly maintained in its original condition and had a beautiful stained-glass window. To the front, the staircase went directly up to a landing where there were French doors and then split left and right to lead to the second level.
Before any of them could move to explore, however, the real estate agent hosting the open house emerged from the hall beyond the stairs. "Welcome. I'm Amy Taggart. Here's an information sheet about the property as well as a map of both the house and the grounds. Feel free to take a look around and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask."
With that, the three men began to ramble around the first floor. Off of the formal living room they found a library with the original built in bookshelves all around, another stained-glass window and other windows opening up to the view of the back gardens and the wooded area beyond. Another door, disguised to blend into the décor, led them down a two steps to the pantry/mud room and the door to the basement. They took a look around down there, but it was a typical basement for an older home: cobwebs and dark corners, but it looked dry and the large forced air furnace and large tankless water heater were top of the line and had obviously been replaced in the past couple years. It also had a great wine cellar.
Back up stairs, they followed the pantry into the kitchen. This room had obviously been redone recently. All of the appliances were restaurant grade stainless steel, and the countertops were done in granite. There was an island in the center of the room, with barstools lined up along the breakfast bar. Off to one side, there was a table and chairs which led to an informal family room which had obviously been added on at some point. The kitchen had two exits, one to the hall, and one to the dining room. They went to the hall and found a coat closet and a guest bath.
Upstairs, they went through the French doors to a room that was absolutely made to be a studio of some sort. Justin was sure that whoever had designed the house hadn't realized what he was making, but the wall of French doors looking out over the garden and…was that a pool?...was breathtaking. The artificial lighting was perfect and it had sky lights. There were even a few built in shelves and cabinets done in the original craftsman style.
"Probably a music room originally," Emmett said. "But wouldn't this make a wonderful studio?"
"It would need a sink," Justin said, but he agreed.
"There's a wet bar over there," Brian pointed out. "It has a small sink. It wouldn't take much to put in a larger one."
Emmett opened the French doors and stepped out onto the balcony there. The garden was below, with the pool to the right. The garage was to the left with a covered walkway leading to the mudroom entry below them. The balcony had a circular stair case leading up to the higher level and one down to the garden, but they decided to see the interior first.
On the second level, there were four guest rooms and two guest baths—both recently remodeled—as well as the master suite. Justin checked out the huge master bedroom and saw another wall of French doors leading to the upper landing of the balcony. Then he went into the bathroom and found it too had been completely renovated and now had a huge steam shower, a large claw foot tub, and two sinks, though the subway tiles and cabinetry matched the craftsman style of the rest of the home.
Brian looked at the walk in closet and called out, "Justin, there's enough room for both our wardrobes in here and then some."
Justin followed him into the closet and saw the rows of shelves and racks all done in a rich hardwood with matching cabinets in the center filled with drawers. This had obviously been a renovation. "We wouldn't even need a dresser any more."
Emmett heard the two men speaking of the house as though it was a mutual purchase, but he kept his tongue. If they were going to stay together, it would have to be on their terms. Nether one would appreciate his interference.
They went up to the attic next, which was split into several smaller rooms and another bathroom. But with the low sloped ceilings, Brian and Emmett both had difficulty walking in the rooms, so they went back downstairs.
"I doubt we'd use that floor for anything but storage," Brian muttered.
"But with four bedrooms on this floor, Gus could have his own room," Justin pointed out.
"And we could use one for a work out room," Brian said. "That would still leave two actual guest rooms. Unless you think Molly might want her own room."
Justin looked up at Brian with a sad smile, "That will depend on Mom, I think."
Brian nodded and decided to change the subject. "We should check out the garage and pool."
Emmett led the way down from the master's balcony to the garden. The patio began in the covered area below the balcony and went all the way out to the pool with plenty of room for outdoor furniture both in the shaded area and in the sun. There was an outdoor kitchen between the house and pool. The more formal gardens fell away directly behind the house with terraced areas and hidden nooks along the path leading down the sloping hillside and into the woods below.
"I never knew that there was this much green inside the city," Emmett commented. "How many acres does this place have?"
"Seven and a half," Brian said after consulting the information sheet. "All walled with security sensors. About half of that is wooded."
They walked over to the four car garage and took a quick look around it and the small apartment above. Probably for the chauffer, Justin thought. Though Molly might like her own apartment if she had to come live with him. Then they went back to the house.
"I love this place," Justin muttered unhappily as they walked.
"And that's a reason to be depressed?" Brian asked.
"It's too big for just me," Justin explained. "I can afford it, I can even afford the upkeep and grounds keeping it would require, but I can't really justify this much house for just one person."
Nevertheless, Justin noticed that Brian took the agent's card and promised to get in touch with her when they had made a decision.
After that house, Justin had been too depressed to even think about looking at any more places. He and Brian dropped Emmett off at his apartment and drove back to the loft in silence. They walked into the loft and Justin thought about spending a couple hours in the studio before meeting his mother for dinner, but he couldn't be bothered. Instead, while Brian worked at his computer, he sat in front of the television and flicked through channels randomly until it was time to meet his mother.
Once he was gone, Brian sighed and pulled out the information sheet. It really was the perfect house. A bit more traditional than his loft, and they would have to work carefully with the decorator to balance their modern tastes with the traditional architecture. At least the craftsman style would blend better with modern furnishings than a Victorian, and it had everything either of them could want in a house. If they were going to live together for more than the two weeks left before their hearing in Las Vegas.
Brian picked up the phone and made a call. "Mikey! How's it going in cowboy country?"
"It's really great," Michael gushed. "We bought this really great house, and from the back yard you can see the Rockies. Ben loves his new job and Hunter has decided to transfer here next year, so we'll all be together. And I've been looking for a new comic book store, though I haven't really found one. Ben thinks I might like doing something a little different this time, so I've also been looking into opening a coffee shop near the university."
"Wow," Brian drawled. "Sounds like Stepford fag heaven."
"Brian!" Mikey groaned. "Did you just call to rain on my parade?"
Brian sighed. "No, actually I didn't. I called to ask you something."
"Do you…" Brian hesitated and tried again. "Do you ever regret taking the plunge with Ben?"
"No," Mikey said firmly. "Even when I fucked up about Justin, I never really wanted out of our marriage. Ben is everything to me. Why?"
Brian closed his eyes and leaned back against the sofa. "It's all this shit with Justin. Neither of us wanted this. We both like our freedom and the thrill of the hunt. But…"
"But you've gotten used to having him around," Mikey finished.
"More than that," Brian said. "I LIKE having him around. I like that we like the same things. I like that we can still give each other space when one of us needs it. I like the little differences, like the fact that he cooks and paints and drives an SUV. He's going through all this shit with his mom being ill and his dad in jail, and I find myself wanting to help him. Fuck, I even went to his sister's graduation party. And I find myself dreading going back to Vegas to end it all."
"So don't," Mikey told him. "Don't go through with the divorce. Stay married. Give this a real chance. You were lucky enough to find someone who will put up with your shit, someone strong enough to give back as good as he gets. He doesn't seem to be putting demands on you that you can't live up to like monogamy."
"Hell, I doubt he could be monogamous either," Brian said. "But tricking with Justin is better than tricking alone, and fucking Justin is better than fucking some nameless twink."
"Has he given any indication that he might not want the divorce?" Mikey asked.
Brian shrugged though he knew Mikey couldn't see him. "He might have said something indirectly. And there's this house…"
"A house?" Mikey asked.
"That's not really important," Brian said. Yeah, you're right. I think he's looking forward to the divorce about as much as I am."
"So talk to him," Mikey advised. "Who knows, you could become the next Stepford fag."
"Fuck you," Brian muttered. "Even married, I'll never be a Stepford fag."
Mikey laughed. "No, you'll set your own rules for this just like you do for everything else. And you'll make it work if you want it badly enough, just like you do with everything else. You are the king of the grand gestures, so go plan some grand gesture and cancel the divorce."
Brian laughed. "I love you Mikey. You know that right?"
"Of course you do," Michael said teasingly. "Where would Super Kinney be without his faithful sidekick?"
"Probably dead in a gutter somewhere," Brian said in all seriousness. "You've saved me more often than I've ever needed to save you."
"I doubt that's true, but I don't think we'll ever really know for sure since there's no scorekeeping in friendship," Michael said. "Or marriage. Remember that when you are making up the Brian Kinney Rules of Marriage, okay?"
Brian didn't have to worry about making his grand gesture right away. When Justin came home that night he was visibly shaking. Before he even made it all the way through the door, he was lighting a cigarette, and headed to the liquor cabinet.
"Hey, Sunshine," Brian said. "What's wrong? Is your mom alright?"
Justin brought his double of scotch over to the sitting area and sat on the sofa beside Brian. "Molly and the doctor finally talked her into the surgery. She goes to the hospital tomorrow and the surgery will be first thing Monday morning."
"But that's a good thing, right?" Brian asked as he wrapped comforting arms around his husband. "The sooner she has the surgery, the better her chances for recovery."
Justin nodded and gulped down the rest of his drink. "But she might never wake up."
Brian held Justin while he cried for a while and let the fears he had been avoiding free. Once Justin had settled down again, Brian wiped his tears away with his thumb and kissed him gently.
"I'll call Cynthia tomorrow," Brian said. "She can reschedule everything for the week for both of us. Our staff can handle most everything that might come up between now and next week."
Justin nodded but said, "If we push off this week's meetings, we won't be able to go to Vegas next week."
"So we reschedule that, too," Brian said. "Being married hasn't been so bad. I think we can live together for a while longer, don't you?"
Justin gave a small smile. "It hasn't been bad at all."
They took Jennifer to the hospital together the next day and while Molly and Justin were making sure she was comfortable and settled, Brian made arrangements with Cynthia. When visiting hours ended, Brian and Justin brought Molly back to the loft for the night. She didn't want to be alone, and it would make it easier for them all in the morning when they went back to the hospital.
The surgery was scheduled for eight in the morning, and they were allowed to spend the last hour with Jennifer before they prepped her. She was smiling and making jokes, trying to cheer up her worried children. Brian teased her about seeing her for the first time without makeup and she sent him a grateful smile.
Just before they wheeled her out of the room, Justin leaned over to give his mother a kiss. She grabbed his arm and said, "This isn't goodbye honey. I'm going to be back here in a few hours and you'll see just how silly you were for worrying."
Justin nodded, but wasn't really reassured. "I love you."
"I love you too, sweetheart," Jennifer said. "Take care of Molly. She's not as tough as she likes to pretend."
"I will," Justin promised. And then they wheeled her away and the small family was left alone to wait and worry.
Debbie came by at lunchtime with sandwiches from the diner. Brain was grateful, but Justin and Molly both picked at the food. Emmett and Andy stopped in for a few minutes in the afternoon, and Blake and Ted brought dinner. It wasn't until eleven that night, however, that the neurosurgeon appeared to report.
"She's out of surgery and everything seems to have gone well," he told them. "She's a strong lady. The anesthesia will take a few hours to wear off. After that, it's a matter of wait and see. With this type of surgery, there is a chance that she could fall into a coma. But, like I said, we're optimistic."
"Thank you," Justin said quietly. She had made it through the surgery. "Can we sit with her?"
"I'll let you go in to see her for a few minutes, but not long," the doctor said. "There's really no chance that she'll be waking up until morning, so after you've seen her, I would suggest you go home and get some rest. When you get back tomorrow, she'll be out of recovery and you'll be able to sit with her as long as you would like."
A nurse escorted them into the room one at a time. Molly went first while Brian held Justin loosely in his arms. When she emerged, she was crying and Brain hugged her and let cry into his chest so Justin could go see his mom. Justin returned a few minutes later, brushing tears from his eyes and nodded at Brian. They all went back to the loft and tried to get some sleep.
It took two days for Jennifer to regain consciousness. As luck would have it, Brian was alone in the room when she woke up. Justin and Molly had both been by her side as much as the hospital staff would allow, but Brian had finally convinced them both to go to the cafeteria and eat some dinner.
Jennifer stirred and Brian watched as her eyes fluttered open. "Jennifer?"
She blinked at him a few times and gave him a soft smile. "Brian." Brian smiled back at her.
Then she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Brian rang for the nurse, and by the time Justin and Molly got back to the room, the doctor had already been in to check on Jennifer.
"She woke up," Brian told them with a grin. "And she recognized me."
"Thank god," Justin murmured and hugged Brian tightly.
"She's sleeping normally," the doctor told them. "Everything seems to be normal. The fact that she recognized Brian is a good sign. I expect that she'll wake for brief moments over the next 24 hours as she begins to recover. Once she can stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, we'll be able to do some tests on her motor functions, but the uncontrolled trembling seems to have stopped, so we are hopeful."
The rest of that week, they spent all of their time at the hospital. Jennifer continued to improve and the worst of her symptoms seemed to have disappeared over night. She still trembled and had muscle cramps in her hands if she tried to use them for too long, but she was recovering and the physical therapist thought that she would be able to lead a somewhat normal life.
Brian went back to work the next week, and Justin continued to spend much of his time with his mother and Molly, though he did show up for an hour or two each morning before going back to the hospital. He also spent time with Molly helping her get ready for college, shopping for the things she would need, helping her decide on classes and talking about what she should expect and what she should avoid.
When they sent Jennifer home two weeks after the surgery, Justin talked about moving into her condo for a while, but Jennifer adamantly refused. She had a home health aide to assist her when she needed it, and Molly wouldn't leave for school for two more weeks. Justin needed to get back to his life.
The problem was, Justin didn't want things to go back to normal. Because normal meant there was no longer any reason to put off the trip to Nevada. Which meant that the divorce was now eminent.
The day Jennifer went home from the hospital, Brian dragged Justin to Babylon to celebrate. It was just like old times. The guys were all there to celebrate with them. Brian and Justin danced and tricked. And when it was time to go home, they went home together. Despite the dread in Justin's gut, he had a great time.
Life went on as it had before Jennifer's surgery for a few weeks. Brian didn't bring up the divorce, and Justin didn't either, but the thought of it hung in the air between them. Their friends avoided bringing the subject up as well. It was as if they were all waiting for something to happen, but didn't quite know what it was.
When something did finally happen, it wasn't what Justin had expected at all. He and Jennifer had spent the weekend taking Molly to school. She was attending Princeton and was very excited to be starting. The three of them had a really great time, and Justin returned to Pittsburgh happy and relaxed.
He went to the loft, but there was something off about the place. He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was, but he knew something was different. Before he had much time to figure out what it was, Brian came down from the bedroom.
"Glad you're home," Brian said as he pushed Justin towards the door. "We have some place to be."
"Brian, I just got home," Justin complained as Brian locked the loft door. "I do not want to spend the night at Babylon. Or Woody's"
"Good, because we aren't going there," Brian smirked.
Justin frowned. "So where are we going?"
"You'll see," Brian smirked. And no matter how many times Justin asked on the way, that's as much as Brian would tell him.
It wasn't until they were pulling up to the familiar iron gate that Justin realized where they were. "Are they having another open house?"
"No," Brian said.
"Then what are we doing here?" Justin asked.
Brian pulled the corvette to a stop in the courtyard and climbed out. "Well, are you coming?"
Justin rushed to catch up to Brian, who was already opening the front door. Justin followed him inside and found that instead of the empty rooms they had seen the first time through, the house now had a few pieces of furniture scattered around the large living room. It wasn't much, but a couple modern black leather club chairs now flanked the fireplace and a coffee table sat between them. Most surprising, however, was the candlelit dinner waiting there.
"What is all this?" Justin asked.
Brian shrugged. "I bought the house."
"You…" Justin took a large gulp of air. "You bought the house? This house? Why?"
"Because it's perfect for us," Brian said. "Come on, dinner's getting cold."
Justin hadn't seen any other cars in the driveway, but someone must have been there recently because the food on the table was still warm. There was swordfish and steamed vegetables, and two glasses of wine. Justin decided to just go with whatever Brian had planned, so he sat down in one of the chairs and began to eat. Brian joined him and they watched fire roaring in the fireplace and contemplated their meal.
"Yes?" Justin asked
"Well, I got to thinking," Brian said. "About this house, and how perfect it is for us. Both of us. I mean, it has the studio for you. It has the library so I have a place to work from home. It has space for Gus and a workout room. It had that great walk in closet that would hold both our wardrobes."
"It is perfect for the two of us," Justin agreed.
"Yeah, so that got me thinking," Brian said. "We still haven't come up with a good reason to tell the judge at the divorce hearing. And the truth is, I can't even come up with a good reason to tell myself. So I thought maybe we should give this house a try, and maybe give this marriage thing a try."
Brian huffed out a breath. "Because you're about as perfect for me as this house is for the two of us."
"Thank god," Justin said. "I kept waiting for you to bring up the divorce, but I was dreading it. I think you're perfect for me, too. I mean, who else would put up with my obsession for John Varvatos and Paul Smith? Who else would let me go out and fuck some trick because I was bored?"
"No one," Brian smirked. "Just me. But there have got to be rules. I've made up a list." He handed Justin a paper with a list printed on it. Justin looked at the title and laughed.
"The Brian Kinney Rules of Marriage?" Justin asked.
"Just read it," Brian instructed. And so Justin did. He laughed a few times and one or two items brought a tear to his eyes. When he was finished, he looked at Brian and just nodded.
"Yeah," Justin said breathlessly. "Yeah, I can live with this."
"That's good to know," Brian smirked and finally pulled out the box from Tiffany's that he had bought so long ago. "So, take that cheap ring off your finger so we can do this properly."
Justin looked down at the silver band that he had worn every second since Brian had placed it on his finger. He was somewhat reluctant to remove it, but he did it. Brian was going to, willingly and soberly, replace that ring with something better and more permanent. Truly fitting for their relationship.
Brian took Justin's hand and pushed the new ring onto his finger. "With this ring, I thee wed."
Justin chuckled and then took the other ring and repeated Brian's actions. "With this ring, I thee wed."
They kissed then, and it was long and sensual and filled with all of the emotions they weren't ready or able to voice. Brian eventually pulled back. "I only had time to get one other piece of furniture. The bed."
"Lead the way," Justin grinned.
They blew out the candles and left the dishes where they were. The paper with Brian's rules fluttered to the floor as Justin stood up, but he vowed that later, tomorrow even, he would have those rules framed and hang them up in their bedroom as a reminder to both of them.
The Brian Kinney Rules of Marriage
1. There will be no divorce, now or in the future. If we need time apart, then we take time apart, but there will never be anyone as perfect for either of us as we are.
2. There is no scorekeeping in marriage. We do what we do because we want to do it and when it's done, it's done.
3. Tricking is both welcome and expected. Tricks, however, will not be invited to our house or our marriage bed. If we want some place besides the backroom or an alley to fuck, we'll take them to the loft.
4. Tricks are not for kissing. Save that for your husband and he'll save that for you.
5. There will be no more 'mine' and 'his', only 'ours'. Whether it is possessions or friends or family or problems or triumphs, everything is shared from now on.
6. There is no requirement for lesbianic declarations of love or discussions about our feelings. Our actions speak louder than words ever could. If either of us ever feels the need to make such a declaration, however, it will not be rebuffed.
7. Communication is crucial. There should never be anything we feel scared or ashamed to tell the other. Marriage means acceptance.
8. Even two studs like us will eventually grow old and wrinkled. Marriage means that when that happens we're still stuck with each other. However, we will both do our best to hold off that eventuality for as long as possible.
9. There will be no preconceived expectations for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. We do what we are comfortable doing and give what we are comfortable giving.
10. Marriage means neither of us has to be alone ever again. Everything else is negotiable.