Pittsburgh weather could be a bit two-faced in spring. One never knew what to expect.
Justin could feel the promise of rain in the air as he plopped himself down on the weathered bench of the picnic table, just a few feet from the sandbox and merry-go-round where he and Brian had played with Gus a few times. It was a peaceful place made for laughter and happiness and families – a place he had begun frequenting alone lately. Just to feel closer to what he had so callously walked away from.
He could sense the precipitation hovering in the few gray, low-hanging clouds – vacillating between do it or don’t. Justin pulled the hood of the sweatshirt up to cover his head and the arms down to cover his fingers, and thought how very much the weather reminded him of Brian Kinney. Then again, every single ambivalent thing in the universe, it seemed, reminded him of Brian Kinney. He wasn’t sure if he should smile or grimace at that. Whatever. At this point an ambivalent Brian was a total non-epiphany.
And a total non-presence in Justin’s life.
Despite all his own early claims to the contrary, Justin had never been (completely) sure he was more than a distraction for Brian. A diversion or project. Some big-boy’s toy trotted out to make an impression or provide a quick feel-good. But he honestly hadn’t cared, at first. He’d taken what he could get even though he wondered if Brian thought of him sometimes like one of those girls the jocks joked about in the locker room – the ones they knew would put out without flowers or dates or proclamations of undying love. Then again, Brian Kinney didn’t ‘do’ flowers or dates or proclamations of undying love. And Justin had been in love with Brian Kinney.
He still was.
It had only been a few months ago that he had finally told Brian he’d had enough of the uncertainty about who ‘they’ were. And he’d told him in a language in which Brian was particularly fluent. Actions instead of words, and the message had been received, loud and clear. “You won’t give me what I need,” he’d told Brian with the turn of his back. “Then I’ll find it elsewhere,” he’d followed up with a kiss to Ethan on the crowded floor of Babylon.
Only now, Justin couldn’t remember what it was he’d even wanted at the time. It certainly couldn’t have been the flowers and picnics and proclamations of undying love from Ethan Gold. That had been a joke, one he suspected had been totally at his own expense. He and Brian had never been what Justin wished they’d been, but at least Brian had never made him any promises he couldn’t keep. Had never lied to him that way.
Justin pulled a thick textbook from his backpack. A Retrospective of Fauvism. He feathered through the newness of the pages, letting the harsh brush strokes and primal use of color which permeated the genre engross him. It was bold, raw, honest and in your face. It cried out to be taken for what it was with no pretense or window-dressing. It was rare and individual. It was… Brian.
Justin slammed the book closed and slumped down onto the hard bench. He had to stop this! Had to stop imagining the man in everything, feeling him everywhere, for chrissake.
“Not a good idea to abuse the pretty picture book, Sunshine.”
He startled. Hadn’t heard that voice in weeks. Had been actively avoiding it. And as the liquid chocolate smoothness of it now ran up his spine and tingled at the nape of his neck, Justin unconsciously wrapped himself a bit tighter into his hoodie. God, he had missed that confectioner’s sweetness wrapped in snark that was pure Kinney.
Justin peeked up from beneath his lashes, his blue eyes wide, taking in the elegance of his lov… of Brian in work attire, complete with overcoat. The slight chill of the early spring day had worked a bit of a glow into the man’s naturally olive tone. He furtively watched as Brian angled himself onto the old bench, crossed one long leg over the other at the knee and oh-so-fucking-slowly pulled off his leather gloves – one finger at a time. Justin groaned inwardly and his body shivered in a way he knew had nothing whatsoever to do with the weather.
“What are you doing here, Brian?” The question sounded brusque even to him, though he hadn’t meant it to be so. Justin just needed to say something to help him maintain control, all the while praying Brian wouldn’t notice this sudden need Justin had to squirm. Didn’t matter if they were touching or not, just being near the man created a physical response. That was just a fact of the known universe.
“Just in the neighborhood… having some lunch,” Brian replied innocently, holding up a familiar white bag as proof, his signature smirk firmly in place. That smirk made Justin squirm again. “Wanna share?”
“I asked,” Brian drawled smoothly, “if you wanted to share my lunch.”
Justin stared into the wide hazel eyes. The two men hadn’t spoken in weeks – not since the issue with Brian’s little shit nephew – and even then only a few words in passing. Now suddenly Brian was here, in the park, asking if he wanted to share a sack lunch? It all seemed so very… non-sequitur.
“Um… Brian…I’m not sure…”
“It’s not chateaubriand at LeMont, Justin,” Brian chastised as he meticulously smoothed out several paper napkins on the table-top between them. “Just a sandwich.” He unwrapped the turkey on wheat roll and placed one half on the napkin in front of Justin.
The young man stared for a moment at the food in front of him, as if expecting it to impart some vast bit of wisdom, then picked it up cautiously. “Just a sandwich,” he repeated under his breath, trying desperately to figure out why this all felt like so much more than half a hoagie.
“Okay. Yeah. Thanks,” Justin finally replied with a hesitant smile. Perhaps he had been imagining things and it really was just a half a hoagie. The time apart, all the second guessing and self-recriminations had messed with what was left of his Kintuition. He’d already lost so much of that innate ability he’d once had to ‘read’ Kinney. Lost it to a set of scrambled brains stirred up with a wooden bat. Justin may have been impetuous, naïve, inexperienced… He might have made the biggest mistake of his young life when he walked out of Babylon with… the biggest mistake of his young life… but he wasn’t a total fool. He knew Brian had intentionally sabotaged him that night. At least in retrospect. If only he’d been wise enough, Kintuitive enough to recognize that fact at the time. But he hadn’t been and he’d have to live with that knowledge. They threw each other away.
Justin sighed and sank his teeth into the sandwich, surprised when his tongue was met with the sweet tang of an unexpected flavor.
Okay. Definitely more than just half of Brian Kinney’s lunch.
“When did you start eating mayo?”
“Now, Sunshine, you’re the one who loves that shit. I haven’t touched it in years.”
“Yet…there’s mayo on this.”
Brian leaned over to inspect the sandwich in Justin’s hands, his head cocked, one brow raised in controlled wonder. “Hmm, odd…” he uttered, briefly pulling his lips in between his teeth. “My half is totally condiment free.”
Justin narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized the obviously bogus disbelief in Brian’s own. “Yeah. Odd,” he murmured skeptically, taking another bite.
“So, you’re studying a little post-neo-pseudo-impressionism this semester?” Brian nodded his head toward the much abused textbook peeking over the top of Justin’s bag. The young man had been filling Brian in on his classes. Brian was continuing to pay for them, after all. “I’m surprised there was even enough material on fauvism out there to justify an entire book.”
“When you toss around names like Matisse and Derain, someone’s bound to write about it,” Justin laughed. It never failed to surprise him just how much Brian actually knew about the art of art.
“I tried my hand at replicating it once in undergrad.” Brian ducked his head sheepishly as he nibbled at his condiment free half of the sandwich.
Justin’s grin broadened. “Really?” he laughed. “You? I can’t believe I never knew you painted, Brian.”
“Oh, I don’t think it could have been considered painting, Sunshine,” the older man chuckled. “My self-portrait came out looking more like a poorly executed paint-by-number Emmett Kelly.”
“Somehow, I’m hard pressed to believe anything you set out to do could have ended up poorly executed, Mr. Kinney.” He had missed this, the banter, the joy of just being with Brian sometimes. Why had they thrown it away? His question faded when he saw the pained look that crossed Brian’s face.
Justin watched the corners of Brian’s lips curl up into that soft, sad smile he rarely let anyone see. The one that always made Justin’s heart jump. “It’s rare,” Brian replied softly. “But even I have been known to… execute poorly.” Justin looked into soft hazel eyes, saw them filled with so much… god… regret?
A harsh sound interrupted the moment as Brian cleared his throat and reached into the diner bag. He withdrew a bottled water and two – two? – paper cups.
The two men sat quietly eating their lemon bars, one nibbling while the other attacked the treat with gusto. Of course by now Justin wasn’t surprised to find there had been two lemon bars in that bag. He had given up any idea that the quaint ‘would-you-like-to-share-my-lunch’ moment had just been a happy cosmic coincidence.
“Why are you here?”
“Asked and answered, Sunshine.”
“With mayo, two cups and double lemon bars.”
Brian didn’t respond.
“In the park…”
“…on a picnic table.”
Brian sighed and rolled his eyes. He gathered up the trash from their impromptu meal and walked to the waste can to toss it.
“I have to get back to the office,” he whispered when he returned. He reached up and pulled the collar of Justin’s hoodie, threading a single yellow crocus into the buttonhole at the neck. “Found this growing over there. First one I’ve seen this year,” he explained shyly.
“Brian.” Justin pulled his bottom lip in as Brian placed his now gloved hand on Justin’s chest near the flower. His eyes grew a bit brighter and his smile grew wide as he looked deeply into the questioning eyes of the man he had once walked away from. “You gave me a flower?”
“Yeah, well… a momentary madness. Makes us do things out of character. We’re all allowed to have a moment.” He leaned in and pressed their lips together, gently. Sweetly. Then he whispered against those lips, “But only one.” Justin knew the words had nothing to do with a crocus.
“I promise,” he whispered back.
Brian brushed a wayward bit of hair from Justin’s face, cupped his cheek and smiled. It was a start.
“Tomorrow. Be ready at 7:00. It will be chateaubriand at LeMont. No hoodies,” Brian called over his shoulder as he walked away. Justin sat back down onto the bench and turned his face up to meet the scattered rays of the sun struggling to break through that now dissipating, equivocal cloud cover.
He and Brian had just shared a picnic, such as it was, in a public park in broad daylight. Brian had actually given him a flower, unconventionally as it had been done. Brian fucking Kinney just asked him out on a date, for chrissake.
Justin’s fingers wandered to his ‘lapel’, reveling in the waxy softness of the crocus hanging there as he thought back to the older man’s words – everyone is entitled to a single moment of madness. And one of forgiveness.
Brian had missed him.
Brian came after him, with food.
Brian had just rewritten the entire Kinney/Taylor world paradigm.
Justin decided he could live with that.