He looks up at me. “I promise, Brian, I wasn’t scared.”
He was scared then, and he’s scared now, but I don’t think it’s the same fear.
“What do you think’s going to happen if Brian knows you were scared?”
He doesn’t look at Peter he looks at me. “I’m sorry.”
He hides again. Great.
“Justin, why are you apologizing to Brian?”
He still won’t look at Peter. “He trusted me and I messed up.”
“And you think he’ll punish you?”
My head shoots up. Is Peter insane? I’d never… Justin’s nodding against my chest. Motherfucking Isaac.
~~~414~~~ Brian’s hand twists in my hair. I wince quietly. He lets go of my hair but tilts my head up so I can see him. “I’m proud of you. I would never punish you.”
“Not even if I took clients who want to brand me?” I’m smirking it was a joke. I don’t think he finds it very funny. I think he’s going to cry. I shake my head. “I wouldn’t, Brian. You told me not to.”
He exhales and doesn’t let go of me. “Yeah. You don’t, because I told you not to.”
Why doesn’t that make him happy?
~~~415~~~ I look up at Peter to see if he’s starting to understand what I’m dealing with. I think he is because he seems a little shaken. When you’re so fucked up you can make a shrink cringe, then you’re pretty far-gone.
“Justin, were you trying to hurt yourself?”
Justin shrugs and Peter tries another way. “What did you want to do?”
“I didn’t want to remember.”
“But you do remember?”
“I don’t think I remember it right.”
I’m afraid to even breathe.
“Because Isaac didn’t want to hurt me.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“Yes but only for practice.”
~~~416~~~ “I’m tired.”
Brian looks like he’s going to let me go to bed but Peter starts talking again. “Why do you think Isaac hurt you if he didn’t want to?”
“Because he loved me.”
“Do you hurt people you love?”
“I only love Isaac and maybe Brian a little.”
“Did you hurt Isaac?”
“No. That wasn’t how it worked. He didn’t need to practice.”
“Because he didn’t have those kinds of clients?”
“He didn’t have clients. I was enough for him.”
“Why don’t you hurt Brian?”
“He doesn’t like stuff like that.”
I don’t know how to answer.
~~~417~~~ He freezes. I don’t know what the issue is. I’m shaking my head. He doesn’t like being hurt. He turns to face Peter. “I like the money I make doing it. I like that it makes Isaac proud of me. I like that it makes me special.”
Peter nods. “It’s important to make people you love proud?”
“Well, yeah. Why? does that make me crazy?”
“I didn’t say you were crazy.”
“But you think I am. Everyone does lately.”
“Because I’m stronger than they are. I put up with what they can’t so they think it’s nuts.”
~~~418~~~ My anger is building again and I turn to Brian. “You know it’s true. You told me the first time you met me that I was out of my mind.”
“You are. And just to clarify. Isaac didn’t love you, and he’s gone so you can start speaking about him in the past tense whenever you’re ready.”
I recoil from his anger. He reaches for me but I pull away. “I love him. No past tense required. You can’t just walk in and tell me that everything he taught me was pointless. That I’m pointless!”
“I never said you’re pointless.”
~~~419~~~ Peter is watching every move we make. I’m surprised he’s not taking notes. Justin’s anger is flaring again and he’s pushing away from me. I check quickly to see if Charlie noticed. He has. He’s blocking the door.
Justin’s staring at me. He turns to Peter, “Are you going to lock me up?”
“I’m underage. Don’t you have to hand me over to a social worker or put me ‘in care’ or something.” He uses the air quotes.
“Is that where you think you’d be safest?”
“I’m not safe anywhere. I was fine and then…”
“You were not fine.”
~~~420~~~ “Brian, I’m really tired. It’s been a long day. Go home. Take Peter home. Send Charlie home.”
“Your locks are broken.”
I look over and see that Charlie has taken the door off its hinges. I want to weep. “I’ll sleep in the other room.”
He raises an eyebrow and stares. “I’ll sent Peter and Charlie home. I’m staying.”
“On the sofa.”
He shakes his head. “That’s all the negotiation you get tonight.”
I fall back on the sofa, physically and emotionally drained. He walks Peter to the door.
Now I just need to get rid of Brian.
~~~421~~~ Peter promises me that he won’t call social services as long as he can see Justin by Wednesday. I nod and lock the door behind Peter and Charlie.
I turn back to Justin who looks like he can barely keep his eyes open. “C’mon. You can sleep in your room. The door here is locked, and I’ll sleep in there.”
He shakes his head but doesn’t fight me when I guide him to his own bed. I pull the covers over him and take his laptop with me when I leave. I’m interested in seeing what he was writing earlier.
~~~422~~~ I wake up and there’s an odd glow from the living room. I stumble out and find Brian leaning against the arm of the sofa, his shoes off and feet up, using my computer. I squint and he moves the machine off his lap and stands up. His shirt is open; his tie’s hanging loose around his neck. He puts an arm around me. “Go back to sleep.” I yawn. “You’re working?”
He shakes his head. “I’m reading what you wrote.” We sit on my bed. He leans back against my headboard and pats his thigh. Lie down.
~~~423~~~ He’s asleep. I just want him to stay that way. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight. Not after what I read. Not after what he said. He still hasn’t figured out that I’m not going to punish him? He still thinks men who want to brand him are a harmless joke. We’re going to see Peter tomorrow. He’s going to see Peter every day for the rest of his life if he has to. I can’t be angry with him just because he thinks he still loves Isaac, or that Isaac ever loved him, but I am.
~~~424~~~ I wake up again. He’s shaking my shoulder.
“You were having a nightmare.”
“Well I didn’t notice 'til you woke me.”
He laughs and I close my eyes. “You can go home, Brian.”
He doesn’t move. I fall back asleep, I guess. When I wake up again he’s there. I’m sweaty and panicky. I guess I had another nightmare. He shushes me back to sleep.
I lose count of how many times it happens that night but at nine I get out of bed and give up on the sleeping thing altogether. I don’t think he’s slept at all.
~~~425~~~ He heads towards the kitchen but seems to lose his momentum halfway there. He turns and goes into the bathroom. I sit and wait. He reemerges almost forty minutes later, freshly showered and dressed. “Brian, don’t you have to be at work?”
“I called out, we have an appointment at noon.”
“I’m double booked?”
“No. We’re meeting Peter.”
“Brian I have a client at one.”
He’s fucking kidding me right? “No Justin. No more clients.”
“Because I got scared?”
“Because you fucking lost it. Because it’s not safe. Because you’re seventeen and can’t keep doing this”
“I’m not fucking going.”
~~~426~~~ I’m cursing the day I ever let Brian into my life. He’s messed up everything. “I have to get the door fixed.”
“Not if you’re not bringing clients here anymore.”
“That’s not for you to say.”
“Justin, listen to me. If I don’t bring you to see Peter he has to call social services.”
I panic, he’s right. “I’ll leave.”
He closes the space between us in two quick steps. “You’re not going anywhere.”
His hands are on my shoulders. I look up at him. “I don’t want to go.”
He nods. “I know.”
I wish he’d stop saying that.
~~~427~~~ I called someone to come in and fix the door. No need getting the super involved. Charlie’s gonna let him in and have it all repaired when we get back. I also cancelled Justin’s appointments. Charlie tells me over the phone that it’s the best news he’s heard in a while. “That kid shouldn’t be letting people hurt him.” I couldn’t agree more. We stop at the diner before the appointment. I mainline the coffee and bite back a yawn. Justin shreds his burger into little pieces. He manages to avoid eating any of it, but we can’t avoid Debbie.
~~~428~~~ Debbie is so loud I jump when she greets us, and again when she delivers our order. Brian’s not eating but she doesn’t let me get away with the same thing and brings me a burger. When I’ve shredded the burger 'til you can’t tell if I’ve eaten any or not she points at me. I flinch away but she just smiles and takes off. “What was that about?”
Dinner, she wants both of us there tomorrow night.
“I have a…”
He stares at me and I slump down. How am I going to pay my rent? I need a plan.
~~~429~~~ We drive to Peter's office and Justin looks like he’s about to bolt through all of it. The receptionist hands me a bunch of forms. Peter greets Justin and takes him into his office. I’m hoping Peter's can help. I don’t know if I can, or if I even have. They come out 45 minutes later and I get five minutes to myself with Peter. “He’s in a dangerous place, don’t leave him alone.”
“I’m not trying to soothe you. If I put him in care, he’ll run. He trusts you.”
“Use it or we’ll lose him.”
~~~430~~~ I don’t know what to say to Brian. I tried to convince Peter I’m okay. He seemed to believe that I didn’t need to be in care. He’s not required to call social services unless I’m being abused. He said he thought what Isaac did could be classified as abuse and that if I wanted he could have them track down my father. My father didn’t want me then, I’m not exactly more desirable now. I thought we’d head back to my apartment, or the loft. Brian's still wearing his suit from yesterday, but we end up at the museum.
~~~431~~~ I’m trying to process what Peter said. Justin smiles when I park. He has his pass in his wallet. No driver’s license. No credit cards. Not even a library card but Peter's business card my card with my cell and his membership card are there. In some ways, he’s still 14 years old. I let him wander. He’s safe here and I can think. Did Peter mean that he’d leave or hurt himself? Does Peter know? He tried like hell to hurt himself last night. He was scratching at his body in his sleep trying to rip the memories away.
~~~432~~~ Brian’s watching my every move. He’s trying not to be obvious about it but if I turn a corner, so does he. It’s kind of comforting today. I’m tired though. I sit in front of an abstract and sort of lose myself in a corner of it, following the bursts and forms when I feel a hand on my shoulder. It feels to heavy to be Brian’s. I look up. Shit. I smile. “Hi.”
“Haven’t seen you around.”
Brian’s here, removing the man’s hand from my shoulder. “No.”
“Hey, let him talk, we go way back.”
~~~433~~~ Justin stands up and I move, pushing Justin behind me a little. “He’s out of the business.”
The fat bastard holds his hands up in surrender. “Hey, I didn’t know he’d found a sugar daddy. No hard feelings.”
I take a menacing step forward and he steps back. Justin’s hand is on my arm. “Brian, let’s just get out of here. I’m tired.”
I nod and put an arm around Justin’s waist. The man turns and walks away. And only when I see him leave to I feel safe turning my back on him.
“Old friend huh?”
He just shrugs.
~~~434~~~ “Did Isaac introduce you to him?”
I nod and wait for him to start the car but he doesn’t. “Justin…”
I look up. He wants to say something but can’t seem to. I save him the trouble. “Yes, he hurt me. They all did. I met him again after Isaac left. He was… he… when… the… my back.”
Brian seems to put it all together. Last week? That’s the motherfucker who hurt you last week?”
“Would he be a better person if it had happened a year ago?”
He deflates but jaw is still clenched as he starts the car.
~~~435~~~ If I hadn’t been there would Justin have gone with him? I want to ask but I’m afraid of the answer. We’re at the loft. I need to shower and change my clothes and maybe get some sense of sanity that I can’t quite find in his apartment. I set the alarm once we’re inside. If he tries to leave I’ll hear him. I needn’t have worried. He follows me into the shower. He drops to his knees and I close my eyes as I reach for his arm to pull him back up. “No.”
“That’s all you ever say.”
~~~436~~~ He washes my back, shampoos my hair and makes me feel good, but I can do these things myself. Why doesn’t he want me? We don’t speak and when I’m dressed again I think about what Peter said. “I need to go home.”
He nods. “Let’s go.”
I shake my head. “Alone.”
He crosses his arms. “No.”
“And it’s going to be all I say for a while. Get used to it.”
“I just need…”
He’s staring at me and I give up. “Never mind, we can stay here.”
He sits back and tosses me the TV remote.
~~~437~~~ He seems calmer but Peter said it’s not safe to leave him alone. So what do I do? Sitting here and staring at him seems a little creepy. We could go out but then even the museum is crawling with men who want to hurt him. What’s safe? I look at the clock, it’s almost six.
“Where are we going?”
“To get a drink. Meet some people…”
“They won’t serve me.”
I roll my eyes and he even smirks a little. He knows it’s true.
I reconsider the idea at least a thousand times on the way to Woody’s.
~~~438~~~ I’ve never been here. They don’t cater to my clientele, and Isaac was always the one to find me clients before that. Brian waves to a few people and then joins a group at the bar. They look me over and it’s kind of nice to be admired again. One of them seems to be admiring me less. “You’re still hanging out with him?”
Brian nods. Michael snorts. “Never figured you for a chicken hawk.”
Brian actually laughs and kisses Michael. He orders us both a shot and a beer. I’m startled when Emmett puts an arm over my shoulder.
~~~439~~~ I take Emmett’s hand off of Justin's shoulder and pull him a little closer to me. “Leave the kid alone.”
Emmett ruffles his hair and does everything but pinch his cheeks. “Rough day baby?”
Justin nods and plays the coy little boy. I’m going to strangle them both. “He’s not a baby.”
I motion to the bartender and he refills both our shot glasses. Justin looks around. I know that look. I pull him closer. “We’re not here to recruit clients.”
He nods as I whisper it to him.
Ted can’t tear his eyes away. This was a bad idea.
~~~440~~~ I need some time to myself, but until I can get it, I’ll just keep drinking the shots. Ted looks like an easy mark. Nothing too rough is my guess. A little regression on my part, a little letting him be in complete control. I smile at him shyly and hear Brian growl in my ear. I bite my lip. He doesn’t like that either. “Leave Ted alone.”
I can’t help it. He’s already practically drooling. The conversation turns to stars they’d never have guessed they’d still want to fuck. I don’t recognize any of the names. I zone out.
~~~441~~~ His eyes are blank. We lost him. He matches me shot for shot. I shake off a couple of guys cruising me. He doesn’t shake off the ones cruising him. He does that lethal flirty gaze from under the lashes. Smiles this half smile and then bites his lip. One guy is actually drunk, or stupid, or mesmerized enough to approach. I pull him in for a kiss. He lets me for a couple of seconds and then pushes me away. “That’s not fair.”
“We’re not here for…”
“I know but…”
He downs his shot. “Can I just get laid?”
~~~442~~~ He gives me a look that makes me blush. We both know that’s not what I want. He shakes his head and I take my beer. We move to a table. Michael convinces Brian to play pool. He doesn’t take his eyes off of me while he breaks.
“So what’s the deal with you two?”
I shake my head at Emmett. “I thought he was just a trick, turns out, he’s a fucking baby sitter.” Emmett laughs. I’m not ready to be amused.
“He does seem a little possessive.” Emmett runs his hands through my hair. Brian glares at us.
~~~443~~~ He’s playing Emmett differently than he was playing Ted. He’s good. I lose the game because I won’t take the time to line up any shots that require having my back to him. When we’re done Michael’s gloating and I’m just ready to get back to Justin. Peter's words keep echoing and I don’t know what the fuck to do. We’re both drunk now and Justin’s a lethal flirt. Eventually he sits on my lap and starts kissing my ear “take me home.”
I put my arms around his waist and bite his earlobe. “The loft.”
He nods. We leave.
~~~444~~~ He’s kissing me and guiding me back to the loft. When we’re inside he sets the alarm but it takes him three times because he’s drunk. I pull him towards the bed. He’s stands in front of me, taking his clothes off. He really is beautiful. I pull my own clothes off but don’t toss them far. He fucks me, face to face, kissing me, and telling me I’ll be okay. I come, gasping and already missing him a little. He passes out when he comes and I crawl out from under him, dress quickly, deactivate the alarm and leave.