COMEBACK Title: Comeback Written By:_alicesprings Timeline: AU Author’s Notes: MASSIVE amounts of beta thanks! I could not have done it without you! ♥
The guy wakes up just as I’m pulling on my boots.
Stretching, he gives me a lazy smile.
“Morning, babe. Want to get some breakfast?”
“Yes, I do.” I stand. “But not with you.”
His smile drops and I leave. Babe? Jesus.
I head for the diner two blocks down. The décor’s tacky and the coffee’s for shit, but it’s close to where I live and I come here a lot.
A slim blond holding a coffee pot comes over and I dutifully turn my cup over.
New waiter. Cute.
“Ready to order?”
“Egg white omelet. Side of bacon.”
“Coming right up,” he says with a blinding smile.
I watch his rather spectacular ass, framed by apron strings, as he walks away.
I sip my coffee, grimacing at the taste, and a few minutes later he deposits my meal on the table and leaves a check.
He bustles around, fine ass clad in tight denim on display, the Sunday brunch crowd keeping him busy refilling coffee cups and delivering food.
He catches my eye as I’m leaving and gives me another one of those blazing smiles. I walk blinking out into the sun.
~ * ~ * ~
“Back again?” the blond asks the next night.
“What can I say, the coffee’s great,” I drawl, turning my cup over.
He laughs. “Yeah. No matter how many times we wash the pot it still tastes like it was brewed in a shoe.”
He smiles at me, and for some reason I find myself telling him I only come here because the place reminds me of home.
He wrinkles his nose. “Me, too. I used to work in a diner just like this back in Pittsburgh. Although the lady who ran the place was a lot wilder than this guy.”
I almost choke on my coffee.
He grins and pulls out a notepad. “Anyway, what can I get you tonight?”
I place my order and he heads off to the kitchen. Later, I hesitate by the door and he catches my eye and waves goodbye.
I nod, and head out.
~ * ~ * ~
I’m forced to stay late at the office the next night thanks to a fuck-up in the art department. I don’t know how it’s possible, but even at one of the top advertising agencies in New York City I’m still surrounded by incompetent people.
I’ve been standing over this fucking “artist” for the last two hours, not trusting him enough not to fuck up the boards a second time to leave him unsupervised.
When they’re finally done and set up for the next morning’s pitch, I pack up my briefcase and head home. I take a mental inventory of the refrigerator’s contents. There’s nothing in there that could ever be mistaken for a meal, so I stop in at the diner and take a seat at the counter. All I want to do is eat something, drink half a bottle of Beam and possibly get laid.
Blondie’s on again, unloading a full tray for a crammed booth of guys in the back. He joins in their laughter, but I can’t make out what they’re joking about.
I'm somewhat inexplicably lost in a memory of sitting in the Liberty Diner, Michael chattering on about the newest edition of Captain Astro beside me and Ted and Emmett discussing the latest celebrity plastic surgery disasters and Torso’s shipment of trashy disco couture, when the blond waiter appears in front of me.
I blink away my trip down memory lane. He takes my order and I surprise us both by asking him if he’s off soon.
“Twenty minutes, actually. Why?”
We both know why, and he at least has the good grace to blush when I don’t answer.
I start over. “You live around here?”
“Not too far.” A beat. “In a studio apartment. With three roommates.” He grins at what must be the horrified look on my face.
“I’m just down the street. I’ll wait.”
He starts to walk away but then stops and turns back. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Justin Taylor.”
~ * ~ * ~
“Nice place,” Justin says, looking around.
“It does the trick.”
He sits on the arm of the sofa and toes off his shoes. “Do you like living in Chelsea?”
I shrug out of my jacket. “Boys and bars. Everything a fag needs.”
“I have studio space here, but it’s half the size of what I had in Pittsburgh, and I have to share it.” He pulls a face.
“So why the move?”
“I’m doing what every starving artist in North America does. Coming to New York to conquer the art scene,” he laughs.
“Is it working?”
“Not yet.” He wrinkles his nose. “These things take time.”
“Are you any good?”
He grins. “I’m fucking great.”
“And modest, too.”
“Oh please. I suspect you and modesty have never met.”
I shrug. “If you’re good, why hide it?”
“My thoughts exactly.” He smiles. “So, are we going to fuck now?”
~ * ~ * ~
“Oh god, I love this shower.” He’s standing under the spray from the multiple shower heads, arms spread out wide and an orgasmic look of bliss on his face.
I frown. “You didn’t even look that happy after I rimmed your brains out last night.” I step into the shower.
He laughs. “Oh believe me, the rim job was much appreciated.” He presses his slippery body against mine and puts his arms around my neck. “But remember, I have three roommates plus an inadequate hot water system. I haven’t had a shower this good in… well, actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a shower this good.” He pulls me under the spray and kisses me. “This is seriously decadent.”
I let my hands wander down to what may be one of the nicest asses I’ve ever fucked, and give it a squeeze. “So I like a good shower, sue me.”
He smacks his lips against mine. “Mmm. How about I blow you instead?” He slides down and takes my cock inside his talented mouth. I’m hard in seconds and he’s swallowing my come just a few minutes later.
~ * ~ * ~
We walk out of the building together and I pause once we’re outside, putting on my sunglasses.
“This is a really nice suit,” he says, running a hand down my lapel. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m in advertising.”
“That’s cool. I interned at an ad agency back when I was in school. I’m not too popular there any more,” he says sheepishly.
I raise an eyebrow.
“Let’s just say I took exception to one of their clients.”
I wait for him to elaborate.
“There was this guy, Stockwell, who ran for mayor. He was an ex-cop, total homophobe. And I kind of used agency resources to make some posters. Anti-Stockwell posters,” he grins.
I laugh. “Good for you.” I smack his ass gently. “Little rebel.”
He laughs. “You’ve got to stand up for what you believe.”
“And on that note, I believe I had better get my ass to work, or I’m going to be late.”
“Okay,” he says, and leans up to kiss me goodbye. “That was fun, thanks.” He grins at me before turning and heading off down the street.
As I watch him walk away I vaguely remember Michael ranting about some guy named Stockwell a couple of years back. Debbie had every homo in the Pitts up in arms about him. I never really paid much attention, and the guy lost the election anyway. I never heard about it again.
~ * ~ * ~
I'd been debating between ordering in Thai or Japanese after work, so when I find myself walking into the diner instead, I pause for a second, not entirely sure how I got there.
I order soup to go and sit at the counter to wait. As I’m flipping through a worn copy of Out, Justin emerges from the kitchen.
“Hey,” he smiles as he walks past on his way to deliver burgers and meatloaf.
I pay for my soup and head for the door, stopping just inside.
Justin comes over. “Heading home?”
I nod. “What time do you get off?”
“That depends on you,” he says cheekily.
I huff out a laugh. “Smartass. You get off about 15 minutes after you get off.”
He grins. “I get off at 10.”
“See ya then.”
~ * ~ * ~
I pull open the door and let Justin in.
“Hey,” he says, and presses against me, face tilted up for a kiss.
“Hey.” I kiss his mouth, then his cheek and nuzzle behind his ear. “You smell like fries.”
He laughs. “I know. The drawback of working in a diner.”
“Come on.” I lead him into the bathroom and reach into the shower to turn on the water. When I turn around he’s already naked.
“I really, really like your shower,” he grins. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day.”
“My shower, huh. It is pretty spectacular,” I agree.
I strip off my clothes and pull him under the spray.
“Very memorable,” he nods in agreement and picks up the bar of soap. He rubs it along my chest, watching suds form and cling to my skin. “Really, really good,” he murmurs, soaping me all over.
I take the soap from him and return the favor, rubbing it over his shoulders and chest, watching his little pink nipples grow hard.
I put a finger on his chin and tilt his head up to mine. His eyes are blue and clear, and water is beaded on his eyelashes and dripping from the tip of his nose. I kiss it, then his lips.
He makes a low, growly sound and I feel my cock harden. I pull away from his mouth and reach for the shampoo, lathering up his hair and then rinsing him off.
He sighs, and then presses his whole body tight against mine and kisses me, his hard cock poking into my thigh and his fingers digging into my back. I push him back against the tile and grab his left thigh, lifting him against the wall. He breaks away from my mouth with a gasp, wrapping both legs around my waist and lifting himself even higher, using my shoulder as leverage. He’s kissing me hard and groaning against my mouth. I can’t get enough of the taste of his mouth, my tongue darting all over his teeth, reaching in as far as I can.
He pulls away and takes a deep, shuddering breath. I use the opportunity to lick at a stream of water behind his ear, chasing it down his shoulder.
“Brian, Brian, Brian,” I hear dimly and then realize he’s been chanting my name for a while now.
I lower him and turn off the water. “Bedroom.”
He nods and exits the shower. He dries himself quickly before heading for the bed. I follow him in and fall down on top of him, kissing him deeply.
His fingers trace circles on my shoulders as mine find my way into his hair, twirling it around as we kiss.
I pull away from his mouth. “Roll over,” I tell him, and he scrambles onto his stomach.
I sit on his thighs and run my hand down the smooth expanse of his back, then follow it with my tongue. I spread his firm, flawless cheeks and bury my face in his crack, licking up and down before spearing his hole with my tongue.
He groans deeply and bucks up, trying to push me off his legs. I move back and let him get up onto his knees before attacking his hole again. He’s so eager for my tongue in his ass he's pushing back, demanding more.
I work my way up to fucking him with one finger, and then two. When I have three fingers inside him and I realize he’s chanting my name again, I quickly don a condom and slide inside him in one smooth thrust.
“Oh god!” he chokes out. “Fuck me.”
I thrust in and out of him deeply, keeping his legs spread wide with my own. At first I hold onto his shoulder for support, pulling him back into every thrust, but when I feel that familiar tingling in my balls that tells me I won’t last much longer, I lean over his sweaty back and entwine our fingers on the mattress, and we rock towards a climax.
Neither one of us lasts long, I come just a moment after he does and we both fall exhausted onto the bed. A moment later I pull out and toss the used condom off to the side of the bed.
He’s lying on his back, chest heaving. “Wow. That was…” he shoots me a glance. “Wow.”
“It was… all right.”
“All right?” He looks outraged. “Just all right?” I feel a smile threaten to emerge but I bite it off my lips. He starts to tickle my ribs and I slap his hands away laughingly. “Okay! Okay, it was great,” I admit.
He looks satisfied and flops down beside me on his stomach, flinging his arm over my chest.
I reach for my smokes on the bedside table and light one up, inhaling deeply. I hold it out to Justin, but he shakes his head no.
We lie quietly for a while, and then he breaks the silence.
“That took longer than 15 minutes.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You said I’d get off 15 minutes after I got off work. That was more than 15 minutes.”
“Mmmm,” he turns on his back and stretches out his whole body, even wriggling his toes. “Nope.”
I put out my smoke and reach down to pull the sheet over our bodies.
“I can stay over?” he asks.
“Why not? No need to suffer the indignity of your shared rattrap.”
“Hey!” he smacks my arm half-heartedly. “That’s my place you’re talking about,” he says, about three seconds before falling asleep.
I watch him for a while, my body worn out from the pretty incredible sex we just had, but my mind's not quite ready to shut down from the long day.
I touch a finger to the blond silk of his hair on the pillow. He’s not my usual type. Undeniably pretty, though.
Justin shifts a little and makes a snuffling sound, and I let the steady rhythm of his breathing lull me to sleep.
~ * ~ * ~
Friday rolls around, and I’m unsettled to realize that Justin’s slept over almost every night this week.
I head straight home after work and order in Chinese.
Later, I pull on tight black jeans and a sleeveless black shirt, raid my stash and head out.
~ * ~ * ~
I emerge newly blown from the backroom and head for the bar.
Beam in hand, I survey the dance floor.
Had him, had him, not with that haircut, had him, had him.
Jesus, nine million people in this city and I’m reduced to doing seconds. I need to start hanging out at a new club. I’ve clearly been coming here too long.
Just then, a sweaty, laughing Justin emerges from the crowd. He lunges for the bar and grabs on, swaying a little.
“Why, Justin Taylor. I do believe you’re drunk.”
He turns and sees me. “Brian!” he giggles. “Yep, I’m a little drunk.” He holds up his thumb and index finger, about an inch apart. “Just a little bit though.” He giggles again.
I roll my eyes. Then I do my best imitation of Michael and order him a bottle of water, watching his throat move as he downs half of it at once. I shift and discreetly adjust the crotch of my pants.
“I like this place,” Justin says loudly, above the music. “It reminds me of this club I used to go to back home.”
He’s bobbing up and down next to me. “Come dance with me,” he shouts, and heads back onto the crowded floor.
I follow him, and we dance for a while. He’s a good dancer, I notice. He’s certainly drawing a few admiring glances.
He turns and fits his back against my chest, bringing my hands down to his hips, and grinds his ass against my cock in time with the beat.
“Let’s go,” I shout against the side of his face a few minutes later.
He nods and I grab his hand and lead him outside.
We pause out front, buttoning up our coats and adjusting to the quiet again.
He’s looking at me questioningly, with a hint of a smile.
“Am I staying over again tonight?
“If you want. Or don’t, I don’t fucking care.”
He smiles again, as if he knows something I don’t.
“Nothing,” he says. “I want to. Let’s go.”
~ * ~ * ~
He’s in his favorite post-fuck position, lying on his stomach with his arm over my chest as I smoke. I pick up his hand; there are tiny flecks of blue and red on the back of it.
“You been painting today?”
“Hmm?” He’s half asleep, but he opens his eyes and sees me inspecting his hand.
“Oh, yeah. I spent most of the day in the studio.”
“Do anything good?”
“Of course,” he says lazily, already nodding off to sleep.
“Maybe I’ll come by and have a look one day.”
He smiles with his eyes closed. “Okay. Maybe tomorrow?” And then he’s out.
~ * ~ * ~
The studio is big and light-filled but kind of a shithole. I don’t even want to imagine what his apartment in the Village must be like.
A skinny guy with a blond mohawk is standing by an easel in the far corner of the room. He looks up as we enter.
“Hey, Lars,” Justin calls out in greeting. “This is my friend Brian.” Lars nods in acknowledgement and turns back to his work.
It feels weird to be introduced as someone’s friend. I can’t remember the last time it happened.
While we were walking I had tried to imagine what sort of stuff Justin does, but I couldn’t come up with anything. When he actually does show me his work – abstracts on huge canvases, vivid colors, textures that I want to reach out and touch – it's like nothing I could have imagined or that I'd ever seen before.
They’re mesmerizing, and beautiful.
He’s standing over a table, rifling through cans of brushes, pulling out a few and setting them aside. I walk over to him, and he looks up with a smile.
“What do you think?”
He looks pleased. “Thanks. Lars and Fiona, she’s one of the other artists who works here, are going to hook me up with a few galleries where they show.”
“You’re on your way.”
“I guess,” he shrugs. “It’ll be easier once I get an agent.”
“I don’t think you’ll have a problem with that."
He smiles and starts picking through his cans of brushes again.
“So,” I tell him. “I’m from Pittsburgh, too.”
His head snaps up. “You are? Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Does it matter? I haven’t been back in years.”
“I guess not.” He fiddles with a paintbrush. “Any other secrets you’ve been keeping?” he asks, only half serious.
“My best friend’s mom is Debbie Novotny, and I have a son.”
His eyes widen. “You have a son?”
“Gus. He’s almost five. I’m strictly a drop-in dad. Not that I drop in much these days.”
“Wait, Debbie Novotny, from the Liberty Diner?”
I nod. “I figured that must be where you worked.”
“Wow. Small world, huh?” he laughs nervously.
“Justin.” I wait for him to meet my eye. “It’s not a big deal. Okay?”
“Sure,” he gives me a tight smile and changes the subject. “So, Gus. Do you ever see him?”
“What for? He’s got two mommies; that’s more than enough parental influence for any child. He doesn’t need me.”
He frowns. “Maybe he does, Brian. My father turned out to be a fucking asshole, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t love him when I was a kid. Or need him, and want him around.”
This conversation has suddenly gotten way too heavy for a Saturday morning.
“Look, I’ve got to get going. I’ll leave you to your work.” I head for the door, but stop when he calls my name.
“Thanks for coming to see my stuff.”
~ * ~ * ~
I exhaust myself for a couple hours at the gym before returning home, but it’s not enough to stop the wheels turning in my head.
I give up fighting and pick up the phone.
“Brian? Well, hello there, stranger!”
I roll my eyes. I hate that expression. “Just thought I’d check in with the little people.”
She laughs. “We’re fine, thank you. Mel says hi.”
I snort. I can just imagine which gesture Melanie was making on the other end of the line.
“He’s fine too,” she sounds surprised. “You could come see for yourself.”
I clear my throat. “Maybe. I’ll think about it. Listen, I’ve gotta run.”
“Okay, Brian. Call again soon.”
I hang up, and decide getting blind drunk sounds like a fabulous way to spend the afternoon.
~ * ~ * ~
I’ve made a good dent in a new bottle of Jack, but I still can’t ignore this strange and uncomfortable feeling.
It wasn’t even anything she said. Lindsay gave up guilt-tripping me over broken promises of visits and father-son bonding years ago.
But I can’t help remembering how I felt when I first held that tiny bundle in my hands. Of feeling that strange pang in my chest that had made me want to look after him and promise him things and do better for him than my old man did for me.
But of course I’d never delivered on any of it. So I’m a shitty father; is anyone surprised?
By 2 o’clock I’ve given up on the glass and am swigging straight from the bottle. And thinking about yet another cause of one of those uncomfortable chest pains.
Who does that little fucker think he is bringing up my shitty parental skills? I have a good mind to call and ream him out, but I don’t have his phone number. And that just pisses me off even more.
I take another gulp and feel it burn its way down my throat.
I decide to punish him by avoiding the diner instead.
“Ha! Take that, fucker!” I raise a toast to the wall.
~ * ~ * ~
I’m completely sick of takeout by Thursday. That, and I haven’t had a decent blowjob in days.
I slink into a booth and scowl at a menu until Justin appears beside me.
“Hey, Brian. What’ll it be?”
“Turkey sandwich, hold the ...”
“…mayo. No problem, I’ll be right back.”
He brings my sandwich. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
I shrug. “Busy busy busy.”
“Oh, okay. I was just wondering.”
“What’s with the interrogation?”
He stares at me in disbelief. “Interrogation? What the fuck, Brian?”
“Just because we fucked a few times, doesn’t mean I owe you anything.”
“Who said you owed me anything?” his voice rises.
I glance around; I can practically see ears pricking up.
“Oh, my god!” he says. “You’ve been deliberately avoiding me all week.”
“Look, it was just fucking. I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”
“And I’m not shopping for one! Had one once, it didn’t work out. I’m not really looking to repeat the experience.”
I think he’s going to go into a full-blown queen out, but he glances around and seems to remember where he is. He leans closer to me, lowering his voice. “Fuck you, Brian. Every night I’ve spent with you has been at YOUR invitation. This may surprise you, but normal people can actually spend time together without there being some big plot involved.”
He storms off to the kitchen, disappearing from sight.
I refuse to leave and give the gossip hounds more ammunition, so I stay and eat my sandwich. And leave a big tip.
~ * ~ * ~
It’s a few weeks later. I throw the pen onto my desk in frustration, and pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Trouble with work, dear?” Justin mocks from the sofa.
“You know, I used to enjoy my job,” I tell him. “I got off on it. Literally, sometimes.”
“And you don’t any more?”
“I thought moving here and working on Madison Avenue would be a dream come true.”
“Surprisingly, being fabulously rich and successful isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
He laughs. “I wouldn’t know.”
“It was great at first. I had the money and the title and the corner office overlooking the park, but half the guys at the agency are complete idiots.”
“There are idiots everywhere,” he says helpfully.
“And I don’t have as much control over the accounts as I’d like. And I have to compete with every other titled asshole there who thinks he knows better, when clearly they do not.”
“Have you ever thought about starting your own agency?”
I snort. “Yeah, right. I’d be chewed up and spat out in about five minutes.”
“Maybe here, but what about back in Pittsburgh?”
I look at him like he’s crazy. “Move back to the Pitts? From New York?”
He shrugs, “Why not? I probably will, eventually. I don’t actually have to be based here. And I miss my mom, and Daphne. Don’t you ever miss it? Or your friends, or your kid?”
I shrug, and he turns back to the TV.
~ * ~ * ~
We’ve just finished dinner one night in November, and I’m tossing empty containers when Justin calls out from the living room.
“Can I use your computer?”
I grab a fresh beer from the fridge on the way out.
“Looking up porn, young man? Again?”
He rolls his eyes. “My mom said she’d send me an e-ticket to fly home for Thanksgiving. I just want to check on it.”
I wave a hand at the computer. “You know where it is.”
He busies himself with his Mommy’s latest email, and I flop onto the couch and grab the remote.
“No James Dean,” he calls out from the desk.
“Fuck you. He’s a classic.”
“Brian, he only made three movies and we’ve seen them all like a million times.”
“Fine. We’re watching porn, then.”
I wait for him to shut down the computer and then I pull him down onto the sofa with me; he makes an excellent body pillow.
“How are things in glorious Pittsburgh?”
“Cold, wet and miserable. The usual.”
I snort, and then his hand is unbuttoning my jeans and making its way inside, and I stop thinking.
~ * ~ * ~
I’m massaging my temples and willing away the headache this fucking baby wipes campaign is causing when the computer dings.
It’s Michael, emailing about Debbie’s annual Thanksgiving monster marathon of mastication.
I know you never come anymore, but Ma said to "ask the asshole anyway." So consider yourself invited. Asshole.
And he signs off with one of those ridiculous smiley faces.
You’re pathetic, I reply. Tell Debbie to try and keep the saturated fats to a minimum. I’ll be there in time for the booze.
~ * ~ * ~
I visit the munchers the day before Thanksgiving.
Gus is shy at first, hiding behind Lindsay’s legs until she manages to convince him to “go play with Daddy.”
We play trucks for a while, smashing them in some sort of horrific head-on collision game devised by Gus in which the rules seem to change every five minutes.
I give him what I was assured by the salesperson at the toy store was all the rage in the under 5 crowd, and he seems to love it.
“Thank you, Daddy,” he says in a small voice, and hugs me with chubby arms around my neck.
I put my nose to his hair, so like my own, and breathe in his smell. I feel that pang in my chest again.
“You’re welcome, Sonny Boy.”
~ * ~ * ~
Family lunch at the Novotny residence is as raucous as I remember.
Debbie’s gone and hooked herself an ageing detective while I’ve been away. He seems all right though, at home among the homos, so I decide to be charitable for the season and not even rag about his dress sense.
We stuff ourselves on Debbie’s lasagna and chicken parmesan, and Carl carves up a huge turkey. When we’re all groaning and can’t fit in another bite, Deb warns us that there are six types of pies and we’d better make some room for them.
I head outside and pull out my cell.
“Hey. How was lunch?”
“It was great, but I’m so full I think I may vomit.”
“Charming. So, you don’t have any room left for pie?”
“I always have room for pie.”
I roll my eyes. “Wanna come over here and have a slice?”
“Where are you?”
I give him Debbie’s address and he tells me he’ll borrow his mom’s car.
~ * ~ * ~
Emmett is doing a piss-poor job of guessing Theodore’s attempt at charades when the doorbell rings.
“Who the fuck could that be?” Debbie asks.
“I asked a friend over for pie; there’s plenty, right?”
“Sure, honey,” she says, not even attempting to hide her surprise.
“Brian has friends?" Ted asks.
“Besides us?” chimes in Emmett.
I give them both the finger and open the front door.
“Hey,” Justin smiles.
“Sunshine!” Debbie screeches from behind me, and grabs him in a bear hug.
“Oof! Hi, Debbie.” He hugs her back. “Happy Thanksgiving. Is it okay for me to stop by?”
“Of course it is, honey!” She drags him in and addresses the crowd. “Look everyone! It’s Sunshine, from the diner!”
“Justin,” he corrects. “Hi, everyone,” he waves shyly.
“Jus-tin,” Emmett drags out both syllables. “From the diner. Of course, sweetie. We haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Yeah, I moved to New York a few months ago.”
“Oh? And you met Brian there? Isn’t that interesting.”
I drag him away before the third degree begins.
“Come and meet Lindsay.”
Lindsay and Melanie are in the kitchen, cutting up pies.
“Lindsay, Justin. Justin, Lindsay.”
Lindsay smiles questioningly.
“Um. Hi,” he greets.
“Justin’s an artist,” I tell her. “Lindsay works at a gallery, you two should chat.”
I make my exit to the living room where no one has moved since the big entrance. I can tell they’re all about to start asking questions that I don’t really feel like answering, so I ignore them all and sit down on the floor next to Gus, who’s drawing at the coffee table, fat crayon clutched in his fist.
“Whatcha drawing there, Sonny Boy?”
“A dog and a house and a fire truck.”
He holds out a drawing for inspection. Nothing on the page could possibly be construed as either a dog, house or fire truck.
“Excellent work, Gus,” I tell him and he rewards me with a smile that shows off all his tiny baby teeth.
I sit with Gus for a while, watching him draw, and then Justin comes in. I grab his wrist and pull him down before Michael and Emmett can attack.
“Gus, this is my friend Justin.”
“Hi Gus. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Justin is a really good drawer,” I tell him.
“Can you draw a dinosaur?” Gus asks.
“Sure. What color should we make it?”
Justin draws an incredibly detailed picture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and then fulfills requests for a red rocket ship and a green elephant.
I leave him drawing three brown cats. “I’m going for a smoke,” I tell him, and head out the back door.
A few minutes later I hear the screen door open.
“Shit!” Justin’s breath is white in the frigid air. “It’s freezing out here,” he says, and dives under my coat.
I put my free arm around his shoulder and smoke in silence for a minute.
“Gus is a great kid,” he says.
“Yes, he is.”
“Lindsay wants me to email her some photos of my work. She might have a spot for me in this emerging artists show next year.”
“That’s good,” I tell him, and toss away the cigarette butt.
He presses closer and rests his cheek against my chest and I wrap both arms around him, trapping him under my coat.
We watch the day slowly turn to night, and hear the faint sounds of joking and laughter drifting from inside.
I rest my chin on his soft hair and he sighs happily.
“Don’t fall asleep.”
“M’kay,” he murmurs and we stand together for a long time and watch the stars come out in Pittsburgh.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if I’ll ever move back to Pittsburgh, or start my own agency. Here’s what I do know: I’m going to eat way too much crappy diner food. I can make Gus’s eyes light up. I want to sit at Debbie’s crowded table again next year. And I want Justin to be there, too
After a while, I decide I also want more pie, and we go back inside.