DEVILS IN THE DETAIL Title: Devils in the Detail Written By:l_j_88 Timeline: Post 513 Theme: Challenge in 2 parts. Graphic #14. Author's Notes: Thanks to my wonderfully brilliant (unnamed for now) beta who seriously needs an award for all the hand holding they did. So all possible remaining mistakes are completely mine and a special thanks to cam_a for supplying the inspiring artwork.
“First thing,” Lily had handed him a ‘Tiersen Art’ memo pad from her desk and smiled assuredly,” is an invite list.”
The paper had suddenly felt ridiculously heavy in Justin's hand. “An invite list?”
Lily’s smile faltered slightly and Justin tried to remember that he was essentially responsible for a large percentage of her commission for a month and four days that year. People with that kind of responsibility generally understood what invites were.
“Yeah. Invites, honey, for the press release. Publicity…”
Lily Dubois was the product of a particularly striking, Parisian sketch artist and an investment banker from Queens. It had left her with a sacred admiration of the art, but a Rottweiler like aggression for the business. It was a dynamic combination, in Justin's opinion.
“My mother would have never forgiven me if I sold out,” she had told Justin once, “But my father would never forgive me if I didn’t bend you in half for the highest commission cut.”
She had hung Justin’s first show piece, back when he was broke and unknown and a complete blind bet. She had let him use studio space in exchange for heavy lifting and told him stories of her mother and of France.
She was his friend. A friend that he probably wouldn’t dare cross or underestimate for fear of castration, but a friend none the less. So when she had asked him to do his first solo exhibit in her gallery that May, Justin had only hesitated for a millisecond. The millisecond was due to something that Alexis had said to him the year before, when he was helping her hang prints for her own solo show in that very gallery.
Alexis was what Justin considered a stereotype. She made her own clothes and painted in dark colours and considered the fact that she never got that pony she always wanted an angst-ridden back story. She was exhausting, most days, Justin found.
“It’s not exactly the Guggenheim.”She’d thwacked a tack into the plaster with precise aim and swung the hammer loosely as Justin tried not to duck and dive wildly beside her. “I should have probably held out for something. You know, a lot of working artists in New York completely devalue after their first solo exhibit. That’s why you should always try to start the highest you can.” She turned back to the tack solemnly and Justin wondered if her parents had put her dog to sleep when she was a kid or something.
The reason why it was no longer than a millisecond was because, like everyone else, Justin tended to take Alexis’ life views with a pinch of salt. And a hit of Prozac, usually.
Lily continued to glare expectedly at him now from across her desk, dark, auburn hair falling in pretty waves around her stony face. She was like that, Lily. Her glares and pokes and jibes were all in good taste. They showed you were important to her, showed you were part of her cliché: and she would trip over herself to set you right with glowers and the occasional shove. She reminded Justin a lot of Debbie: if Debbie was a size four with tasteful fashion sense and a feeble case of OSD.
“Oh.” Of course, a commission grabbing art show in her gallery probably ranked a little higher than coddling his little girl jitters, and Justin realised if he didn’t claim an epiphany on the subject then and there she might collapse.
“Of course, yes, the publicity,” Justin shook the memo pad enticingly between them, and smiled wide, “Invites. Sure. It’s as good as done, Lil.”
Justin had then stupidly gone to Brian, blank pad in hand: and asked him exactly how one might start a contact list for a New York art exhibit.
“You take care of the people you want there.” Brian had told him, snatching his empty memo pad out of his hands with a smirk, “I’ll take care of the people you need there.”
Justin wasn’t actually sure there was a distinct difference, but made a show of pretending to write extensive lists in Lily’s presence for the next week to keep up appearances.
Really, though, listing his immediate friends and family shouldn’t be as hard as he was making it, Justin was sure. Then again, before he’d actually signed the contract, he was under the disillusioned impression that the main hurdle to a solo show was painting pretty pictures and letting people hang them. He had underestimated the various embellishments that had been speedily flung at him in the two months prior.
New York life moved fast. Art exhibits were no exception.
When he’d first moved there, Justin remembers thinking things moved so fast he’d never be able to keep up. That was the beauty of growing up somewhere like Pittsburgh, he supposed. Life seemed so ordinary, so mundane; so routine that you seemed to move light speeds in comparison. Everything you did seemed faster than Pittsburgh, better than Pittsburgh: meant you were ready for far greater things. Then you get out of dreary old Pittsburgh and realise you were full of shit.
You move exactly the same as you always did. It’s everything else that spins faster.
Justin hadn’t liked it one bit.
He remembers hating everything those first few months. He hated his shitty apartment, with the shared bathroom and stupid window that wouldn’t shut all the way. He hated the stupid bar he waited at every night to save money for art supplies, with its stupid pretentious cocktail list and unrelenting boss. He hated being so far away from everyone; from everything.
“It’s supposed to be liberating.” He remembers Brian mocking down the phone, one night when he had called him to bitch about a particularly prominent asshole that had yelled at him that night at the bar. Justin tried to make an effort, in those phone conversations, to not come across as a whiny little bitch boy, but had failed on that occasion spectacularly, apparently.
“You’re not supposed to call home every five minutes and bitch to your mommy about the unfairness of the big bad world.”
Justin had known that. He hated that he knew that.
When he was younger, Justin probably would have taken New York by storm. He’d have been forceful and ruthless and brass. He’d have stood on a sidewalk somewhere and screamed at people to watch him drawing, to get him noticed: to get him famous.
But he wasn’t that young anymore and he wasn’t that naive.
Bats and guns and bombs and Hollywood promises had seen to that.
Now he needed something. Anything. Just one little thing that told him it would be worth it. That all of his efforts and all of his sacrifices would eventually pay off. Because alone in New York, with no art supplies and an apartment that leaked: a thousand miles away from everything he’d worked for back home, Justin wasn’t sure he could take another knock without finally breaking something.
He doesn’t know what that something was, though. He thinks he still might be waiting for it, sometimes.
“What about Cynthia?” Justin asked, one Thursday afternoon as they were slouched in a deli, three blocks from his apartment. Brian had flown in for two days because he had a proposal for a sneaker company on Madison Avenue and Justin took the opportunity to pounce on the second opinion.
After he finished pouncing on Brian, of course.
Brian had finished his list days ago. In fact, Justin was pretty sure Brian’s list was constructed and laminated before he even found out the exhibition date. Apparently, amongst the people Justin needed there, were several local gallery owners and three reporters from Art Forum.
Justin’s list was kicking his ass. And he hadn’t even gotten to his old acquaintances from PIFA.
“Do you think she’d want to come? Would you give her the time off?”
Across the tiny table, that leant precariously to the right when either lent more than a folk on it, Brian was grimacing at the mouldy looking salad that had been slid in front of him.
“Justin, you just send the invitations.” He snapped, polishing a folk off on the sleeve of his suit jacket and glaring around distractedly for someone to bark his revulsion at. “You don’t RSVP for them.”
Justin frowned and pushed his sandwich to one side to get to his list. It was getting kind of shoddy: with ambiguous arrows and a coffee stain in the top left corner marking Lindsay’s name.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to waste printing charges when I know they won’t come. What’s the point in that?”
Brian reached over, grabbed the pencil out of his hand and pulled the sandwich back in front of him.
“The point is that if you only send invites to the people you know are coming, what’s the fucking point of sending invites at all?!”
In his irritation over wilting salad leaves, disproportional table legs and the list that wouldn’t die, Brian’s voice had risen to a near shout and the old woman across from them, with a startling vivid blue rinse, looked up from her soup with a pointed glare.
Brian glared back for a second but then leant forward and lowered his voice carefully, “Now would you stop fucking obsessing over this fucking list and get a grip!”
He thwacked the pencil back onto the table and sat back to poke at his salad bowl, “And eat your sandwich!”
Justin waited a second out of sheer petulance and then picked up a square and silently took a bite.
He was mid chew, eyes averted when Brian’s much steadier voice asked the question he’d been asking himself for the last two weeks.
“Why are you making this list such a big deal, anyway?”
Justin shrugged a shoulder and kept his eyes trained on his malt bread, “I don’t know.”
“Yes you do.”
Justin sighed and slid the sandwich back onto his plate. It was kind of gross. The place was a shithole, really. He doesn’t know why they came in the first place.
“My mom called.” He told Brian, who was doing a spectacular job of pretending he wasn’t really paying attention.
“She said my Dad had moved again. To somewhere on Crafton, closer to his office.”
Brian hummed half-heartedly, but Justin noted that his grip had tightened on the spit-shined folk he was stabbing tomatoes with.
They didn’t talk about his father. Ever. Just like they didn’t talk about Joanie, or Cancer or violins. It was under the ‘open at own risk’ section of their relationship filing system. Which was just fine with Justin, usually, but then usually, someone wasn’t breathing down his neck for a detailed contact list for a printing deadline.
“She said it was incase I wanted to send him an invitation to the show.”
The produce excavation paused momentarily while Brian lifted his eyes to search out Justin’s across the table.
An eyebrow was raised in a characteristic show of expectancy, “And do you?”
And fuck if that wasn’t the million dollar question.
“I don’t know.” Justin wasn’t even sure if he was lying, but lowered his eyes anyway, just in case, “Maybe.”
He could feel Brian’s gaze boring into the top of his head as he mumbled.
“He probably won’t even care. He probably won’t even open it.”
And even to Justin’s own ears he suddenly sounded seventeen again.
When he was younger, Justin had thought a lot.
He thought that parents would love you no matter what.
He thought that love would sound like a violin crescendo.
He thought that revenge would feel like a steady trigger finger.
He’d thought wrong about all those things, Justin knew now. But now he thinks he feels sad sometimes, for the boy who had thought them.
“Then fuck him.” Brian said, decidedly, going back to his turkey salad. “You’re better than him. In life, in business, in bed…”
Justin cut a pointed, horrified glance up to where Brian was idly flicking anything not- green out of his bowl.
“How the fuck would you know what my father’s like in bed?”
Justin almost, almost, didn’t want to hear the answer. Because with Brian, you’re never really sure how he knows anything.
Brian looked up from a particularly stubborn crouton and shrugged carelessly, “Your mother talks when she’s drunk. Believe me, Sunshine; the most exciting thing to come out of that bedroom was nineteen collective hours of childbirth.”
Justin frowned and picked his pencil back up.
Brian always said if pro-creation was the best thing to come out of your sex life; you mustn’t be doing it properly.
Justin glanced down to the list that was staring back at him tauntingly with half shaded words and nameless stains and sighed.
And Brian was usually right. About some things. Eventually.
“I guess you’re right” Justin mumbled, his pencil hovering over the sheet, ready to write the name then strike it through. Just so he could see how it would look.
His father, scratched from his list. From his life. From his show.
The truth was Justin knew damn well he was lying. He did want Craig there. Not because he needed approval. Not because he needed reprisal. Not because his father deserved anything like forgiveness from him. But because he needed him to see how wrong he’d been.
About Art, about Brian: about everything.
Because mostly, Justin couldn’t stand that somewhere, wherever he was, his father still thought of him as a helpless, errant child: wasting his time in a world he knew nothing about.
Justin wanted Craig to see him, just once. As he was: as a man.
Even if he knew he could never accept it. Even though Justin was well aware it probably wouldn’t change a thing if he did.
Having his father be wrong wouldn’t change the way he painted. It wouldn’t change the way Brian looked at him. It wouldn’t change the last eight years of his life. Justin knows all this, because he’d already done it. He’d already proved him wrong. And knowing that should be enough.
But then Justin had always been a greedy, pushy little shit.
Slamming the pencil back down on the table, he looked up and pushed the half bitten sandwich away with a clatter.
“This place is for shit.” He said out-loud, ignoring the second horrified glare from blue rinse lady, “Let’s go to Vercelli’s.”
Brian was already reaching for his jacket and throwing bills on the table. “Thank fuck.”
Justin thought that Blue Rinse was gong to burst a blood vessel with the final glare, and smiled as she added a loud tut for good measure when Brian hustled Justin through the door, him arm wrapped tight around his neck.
“See, Sunshine,” Brian grinned as they fell instep along the airy side street, “Your judgement calls are improving already.”
Justin left the stained list behind on the rickety deli table.
Alexis had been right about one thing, Justin reasoned. The Tiersen wasn’t the Guggenheim. But that was perhaps why Justin was so strangely fond of it.
He still quirked a dubious eyebrow when Marty had slid the prototype in front of him.
“The font can be changed in size and colour and we were playing with light effects, but…”
“It’s perfect.” Brian had announced, effectively cutting off Marty’s detailed presentation of all the ways he’d covered his own ass on this particular project.
Justin felt kind of bad for him. It couldn’t be easy working for Brian Kinney at the best of times. Justin had felt the strain just interning and he’d been getting copy room blowjobs for his efforts.
“It’s kind of…pretentious.”
Justin had twisted his head to the side to try and get another take on it as Marty started deep breathing beside the drawing board.
He liked the art, because he remembers liking that particular piece more than most of the others he’d shown last year.
It was one of those rare ones where he’d had no direction. Just kind of spaced out and let his hand move over blank canvas, then only realised when he was finished that what he got was exactly what he’d been aiming for all along. Exactly how it always should have been.
Justin loved it when his art imitated life like that.
Brian had frowned beside him and stepped closer, ignoring Marty’s panic babble about test groups and alternate colour schemes.
“It’s not the Met, Brian. It’s just a side street gallery.”
Brian had raised an eyebrow and leant over to push the invite further towards him with a pointed finger.
“The side-street gallery where Justin Taylor made his first solo, New York debut.” He had challenged, his voice sure and steady.
But then, Brian had always been able to spin shit like that. Justin suspected that he could probably sell snow to an Eskimo, actually. A very horny Eskimo: with disposable income.
Justin was still overly dubious of the invite.
“You look adorable.” Lindsay had gushed, fingers running over the card like she was checking a Monet for authenticity.
“He looks hot.” Brian’ had quickly retorted, running a hand over the back of Justin’s frowning head.
Justin thought he looked like a Backstreet Boy, but then, he’d almost forgotten Brian’s number one selling campaign.
If you can’t abuse it or have sex with it, it’s probably not worth buying.
And he knew that Brian had his business hat on. Because that’s all this was, apparently: business.
“The gallery allocated publicity expenses for the marketing company of your choice.” Brian had explained, in the patent voice he also used to explain to Gus why pebbles didn’t belong in the nose. “Kinnetik was your choice. This isn’t a favour. Favours are when checks for surmountable amounts of money don’t exchange accounts.”
Justin knew that. He also knew that all of Kinnetik’s other accounts had been pushed back to the deadline so the art department could run three variations of his picture against a test background.
Ted had a babble mouth if you happened to ring the office during a lull. In fact, Justin suspected he was three seconds away from hearing all about his latest prostate exam one day last week, had Brian not finished the pitch early and intervened.
“He’s proud of you, you know.” Ted’s babble mouth had told him, low and quick, like he was doing something dangerous and top secret: Like he was sitting in his office, frantically scanning for bugs or moles or Brian, ready to burst in and threaten him with pink slips for disclosing such information.
Knowing Ted, he probably was.
Justin had known, as a matter of fact, but he didn’t tell him that.
Not that Brian had actually told him in human words. No, that would be far too easy and monotonous.
Grand declarations amidst death and debris and stately-mansion proposals aside, he was still Brian. And he was still nauseated and fearful of all things that made his stomach flutter.
But Justin had known.
He’d known the afternoon he’d flown back to Pittsburgh and burst into Kinnetik on nothing more than instinct and a giddy high.
That night, the contract lay proud and crinkled on the bedside table, while they lay sweaty and tangled and breathless in the sheets. And Brian had pulled back, just enough to see his face, in between grunts and spit kisses and morepleasemore and swiped all the damp hair out of Justin’s eyes with one thick hand to stare him down, “Congratulations, Taylor.”
And the soft rumble of his voice before he leaned in again had been better than any declaration or mansion or newspaper announcement. .
So yeah, Justin knew. But he kept quiet and hummed along to Ted’s revelation and tried to act surprised and aghast.
He tended to encourage Ted’s rebellious ways when it came to Kinnetik and Brian.
It was good for him.
“So is your family coming?” Alexis inquired the day before, as they were hanging prints for the afternoon mosaic exhibit. She towered above him on a step ladder, thwacking nails into the plaster with that lofty aura she always seemed to carry.
Justin nodded, “Yeah. Of course.”
Alexis spared a glance down at him, “My grandmother couldn’t afford the airfare for mine last year.” She said distantly, in her ‘isn’t the life of a struggling artist so testing’ tone.
Justin shrugged and pretended to be enraptured by a wall tack, “Oh, yeah…well, they have a lot of flying miles.”
He didn’t mentioned that Emmett’s last plane ride had probably averted him for life, and the only vacation Debbie had been on involved flying to Europe to watch her brother die of AIDS.
Justin feared that any real angst may dampen her eccentrics.
He also didn’t mention that all of their airfares were no doubt being charged to Kinnetik’s personal account.
Yeah, Ted had a babble mouth.
“I bet they’re excited, huh?”
Justin shrugged a non-committal shoulder and reached up to adjust one of back lights, “Yeah, I suppose.”
His mother had clutched the invitation in her fist like it was an Oscar speech and promptly burst into tears while reliving his first Kindergarten watercolour.
Debbie had plastered announcements up over every available booth and window space in the diner and had been cooking provisional Ziti and Parmesans for about a month in preparation for the reception, that Justin hadn’t yet dared tell her was already fully catered by the Gallery.
Michael had stared at him blankly for a minute before Ben had gently explained exactly what a ‘solo art exhibit’ meant for a relatively new, 25 year old artist with no formal art degree. Then he’d smiled wide and patted Justin’s shoulder.
“Hey, that’s awesome Justin!” Pause “You don’t happen to have those panels with you do you, cause they’ve kinda been on my back…?”
Justin was the first to admit he’d been a pretty shitty business partner. In fact, if he was any type of friend at all he probably would have pushed Michael harder to find someone else to illustrate, but for some reason, someone else drawing Rage just didn’t sit well with him. Justin’s reluctance had therefore left him trying to cram mismatched, post-deadline panel sheets into FedEx packets and sending them back home to where Michael was probably sitting in a darkened room, implementing Ben’s breathing techniques and cursing the day he was born. It worked: at a push. But then Justin was all about juggling nowadays.
Brian had just raised a curious eyebrow when Justin had swept into his office unannounced, the same afternoon Lily had offered him the dates. His confusion deepened when Justin had pulled the contract free of his backpack and laid it with flourish into his desk. He had raised his eyes from the crumpled papers and briefly glanced at Justin vibrating on his office tiles.
“Solo?” He had inquired, still reading intently, and that was all Justin needed to release the flood gates and restage the entire meeting he and Lily had that morning laying out the dates and commission prices.
“It starts May 13th.” Justin almost squealed, reminding himself that he was still a twenty-five year old man.
A twenty-five year old man with own solo exhibit in New York! The seven-year-old girl added in his head.
“It runs for a whole month! And Lily said it might even be extended based on...”
“How many pieces?”
Justin hesitated, only slightly, and thought about maybe just bending the truth slightly, just to keep his buzz going, but decided it was pointless really. Brian knew when he was lying even when the truth wasn’t typed up in bold and laid out in front of him.
“Twenty-five. At least…” He watched Brian lower his eyes, seemingly blankly, back to the contract and nodded shortly.
He didn’t say anything, but Justin knew exactly what he was thinking, because it was the first thing he’d thought of when Lily had thrown him the number. And he still hated that it was.
“But I already have six or seven that haven’t been shown I could use and a lot of it is going to be merged with graphics so I don’t think its going to be much intricate hand detail, and even if it is, I have months yet, right? So I can just take it easy….I mean, I still have some stuff to…”
Brian pushed the chair back against the tiles and silenced the seemingly endless dribble of ramblings with his mouth against Justin’s. Justin closed his eyes and held onto the arms that had slid round his waist to pull him tight against firm, familiar heat and Armani.
“It’ll be fine.” Brian said low and sure, his breath a warm puff of air against Justin’s cheek when he pulled back.
Justin lent back slightly to see his eyes, just to make sure that they were saying ‘fine’ too and not ‘cramp’ and ‘gimp hand’ and ‘too many pieces in too little time.’
They weren’t. So Justin believed him and let Brian deepen the kiss and let his right hand reach for Brian’s zipper.
“It’s probably best to try and build up its stamina slowly though, huh?”
Brian grinned wide and Justin remembered why he had wanted him to be the first to know.
When Lily had approached him two days before the show and asked him how he wanted his pieces spaced, Justin ran into the bathroom and lent his face against the mirror for fifteen minutes and tried to push the bubbles of panic back down his throat.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t been prepared. He’d been prepared from the second he stepped off the plane three years ago.
It was everything he’d been preparing for his whole life, wasn’t it? And Justin never balked. He never faltered. He took things on the nose and rendered them in bold shades and made a certified master piece out of them, goddammit!
So, yeah, he was more than prepared. He just wasn’t expecting everything to happen so fast.
But then, if things were moving too slowly, he probably would be still whining and winging his nights away, with long distance phone calls back home.
Life was funny like that, he supposed.
When he slunk back into the gallery, Lily was standing by one of the empty walls, hands on hips and a pointed Manolo tapping against the marble.
“When you’re quite finished with your goddamn queen out, can I perhaps get my poised artist back and a valid fucking answer, please?”
Justin threw out a random number to fend off the beast and then didn’t feel the sickening creep of dread again for another twenty-four hours.
Right up until Alexis asked him how his speech was coming.
“You’re just doing that thing.” Daphne had stated the night before on the phone.
Justin had frowned from where he was trying to hold the phone between his chin and shoulder while simultaneously trying to measure canvases, “What thing?”
“That thing: where you finally realise you have everything you want and then start panicking because you have it.” She exhaled knowingly, like her insight was a chore, “Typical Taylor mechanism.”
Justin hadn’t bothered asking how her psych rotation was going.
Exactly how Debbie had managed to get three plates of Ziti, two lasagnes and a large bowl of chicken parmesan through customs was anyone’s guess. Justin, for one, just took them from her with a smile and slid them between the cheese platters and mini duck pastries before Lily could see.
“Couldn’t have you living off fucking cum cheese and caviar!” She crowed, cackling loudly while smacking red kisses across Justin’s face, “Now where do you want me, Sunshine? Want me to man the buffet?”
She was positively vibrating, a bright red blouse matching the jewels in her ears and the bow in her hair and the flush to her cheeks.
Justin grinned and lent in to press a kiss against her rosy face, “It’s alright, Deb. It’s covered…go mingle.”
Carl lent over and shook Justin’s hand before he trailed after her, “Good job, kiddo. We…we’re all proud of you.” He kind of stuttered and shot a hesitant glance over his shoulder and Justin wondered why Brian and Carl didn’t spend more time together, really. “No more so than Debbie. I swear, if she told one more customs officer where we were going without being asked we’d probably be in an airport holding cell about now.”
Justin grinned and relayed his thanks and didn’t tell him that if it was going to be for anything, it would probably be for the suspicious twelve helpings of Italian pasta his wife was transporting across states.
He watched them push their way through the crowd to where Michael, Ben and Hunter were semi-circled around the drinks table. Alexis was still meandering around the perimeter, staring openly and wide mouthed at where Emmett was gracefully leading Calvin from painting to painting by his elbow. It probably wasn’t so much the graceful leading that seemed to hold her attention as it was the partially mesh tank top with accessorizing bracelets and eyeliner.
“I assumed we were hitting the clubs after,” Emmett had explaining simply, adjusting a stray feather on his belt when Justin had done a subtle double take.
“What do you think? Out said the heroin chic look is red hot on the NY scene right now!” He’d done a 360 degree spin as Calvin stared on in dreamy eyed admiration.
Justin liked Calvin a lot. He was good for Emmett and was completely smitten and got major discount for them all at the Gucci store he managed back in the Pitts.
“I think you’ll fit right in, Em.” Justin smiled, as Emmett smacked a kiss on his check and bounced off giddily.
Justin maybe excluded the part where he would absolutely not blend into an Upper East Side Art Gallery exhibit, but whatever. No one said the dress code had to be black-tie-boring.
“And you look pretty special too, Miss Chanders.” He told Daphne, who was hovering beside him as if he was going to crumble like a stack of cards and Justin reminded himself that he had to be a lot more careful unloading his neurosis on her now that she was reading medical journals on a regular basis.
“Why, thank you, Mr. Taylor.” She grinned, her sparkly lilac eye shadow offsetting the gleam of her eyes.
“And you can go enjoy the party at any time.” Justin continued, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to faint in fit of panic induced hysteria.”
Daphne frowned and tilted her head thoughtfully at him, “I dunno. I haven’t heard you practising your speech, yet.”
That was mostly because he hadn’t exactly got one planned yet, but she really didn’t need to know that, and Justin had been doing a remarkable job so far of not hyperventilating over anyone’s expensive clothes.
“Don’t worry about it.” He lied shiningly, swiping a champagne flute from a passing waiter and handing it off to her, “Here.”
She took it willingly and he nudged her in the direction of his mother and Tucker, “Go make sure he isn’t planning on turning Molly into a big sister.”
Daphne pulled a face and shuddered as she moved away and Justin waved back to Ted, where he and Cynthia were huddled in the corner people watching. No doubt calculating the best people to pass off business cards to later.
Kinnetik minions rarely rested. They probably wouldn’t have it any other way, though, knowing them.
Alexis took the opportunity to skirt across the room behind him.
She’d been uncharacteristically thrown when they’d bustled through the door fifteen minutes ago: all twelve of them in Technicolor and giddy hysteria.
“They’re all your family?” She’d gaped, her usually dim and scheming eyes wide and slightly alarmed as Emmett squealed and pointed excitedly at the huge photo of Justin near the doors that had background profile on.
Justin’s grin had pulled so wide it had hurt his cheeks, “Well, no that’s not all of them.”
Brian was flying in with Mel and Linds. He’d spent the weekend in meetings with a new client company in Toronto and spent the rare out of country opportunity to visit with Gus. The meeting ran over schedule, and then the flight they were all forced to push back to had been delayed due to high force winds.
Alexis quirked an eyebrow beside him, and lowered her voice an octave, “There’s more?”
He thought of Brian stuck in a packed Canadian boarding gate somewhere, with Mel tutting about selfish business priorities and Lindsay fretting over them killing each other before anyone even handed over a boarding pass. Justin smiled.
“Oh yeah, “ He let himself be tugged away by Lily, who just had to have him meet so and so from god knows what gallery downtown, “There’s more.”
Lily insisted on having the exhibits on the same layout every year. The reception room was in front of house, with the drinks and the buffet and the programmes and some of the artist’s past show pieces on the walls. The second gallery room holding the exhibit was closed until the all guest list had arrived and then opened for entry after the artist had been officially introduced to the crowd and press.
Justin had always thought it kind of felt like a holding cell until then, but Lily insisted that it was what worked and Justin knew better not to argue. It was because of that, Justin had been in full view of the gallery doors for most of the night.
Truthfully, he was Brian watching, and was subtly trying to steal glimpses of the entrance while being completely absorbed in a conversation with one of the art reporter’s, who was appraising the New York Ballet she’d recently attended in remarkable, tear-inducing detail.
She was part way through her evaluation of Sleeping Beauty, Act 4 when Justin had caught sight of a vaguely familiar outline moving across the frosted windows outside and watched it slide stealthily through the doors.
The reporter paused, confused and followed Justin’s wide eyed gape to where Craig Taylor was hovering uncertainly behind the crowds.
“Are you alright?” She had laid a probing hand against this forearm before Justin quickly shook her off and faked a beaming, Sunshine smile, “Of course. Can you excuse me, for just one moment?”
Then he promptly turned on heel and half ran to the nearest bathroom.
Justin tried to remember unintentionally scrawling the name to the list, but he knew he hadn’t. He hadn’t even added it to the old list that he lost to that shitty Deli months back.
Justin had never sent the invitation, but he instantly knew who had.
He was still hiding out near the bathroom hallway when a flash of platinum and a familiar dark scowl drew his attention to the doors. He cut across the room and bee lined over to where Melanie and Lindsay were sliding out of jackets and scanning the crowd for familiarity. Mel’s pissy frown turned beaming when she saw him rushing towards them and poked Lindsay’s side to re direct her attention.
Melanie pulled him in a tight hug and Lindsay pressed a kiss against his cheek, “We’re here!”
Melanie scowled somewhere behind her, “Finally.”
Lindsay smacked her side and turned her full beaming smile to Justin, “Brian’s paying the cab,” She explained, patently, as a waitress hurried over to ply them with drink flutes, “He’s so nervous you wouldn’t believe. All we heard for the whole trip was, He better not be hiding in the back room like a pussy, and that Dubois bitch better have re-measured the spacing, and…”
Justin cut her off with a fake smile and a hasty glance behind him to make sure his area was still father free, “Yeah, that’s great Linds, where did you say he was…”
“He’s right here.”
Justin glanced back at the doors when the familiar voice cut him off and Brian was there, flushed and tousled and shooting them a bothered frown.
“Why?” He glared as Justin lunged forward and latched onto his jacket to tug him off to one side, “And why are you fucking around wondering where I am? You should be talking to the Forum reporters…”
Pushing him into a relatively abandoned corner near the coat racks, Justin turned on him.
“My fucking father’s here!”
Justin gestured somewhere behind him to where Craig was still skirting the perimeter of the far wall. So far, blessedly, the room had been big enough and crowded enough that Justin didn’t think he’d seen him.
Then again he had spent the majority of time hiding in bathrooms, lurking in shadowed corners and ducking behind the occasional pillar.
From what Justin could tell Craig had mainly just skirted the walls with his head down, and a programme clutched in one hand.
Brian glanced over with a disinterested eye and turned back to Justin nonchalantly,
“He made good time, then.” He said dryly, sliding out of his jacket, and flinging it at a passing waiter in a champagne flute trade off, “He clearly didn’t use Canadian fucking Airlines.”
Justin stared with disbelieving eyes as he downed half the flute and lent in to jab a pointed finger at his chest, “You fucking invited him without telling me?”
Brian slapped his finger away.
“Please. You would have had a fucking princess melt down.” He threw back the rest of the drink and unloaded it onto a passing tray, “I nearly had to medicate you to write the invite list.”
“Which, clearly, I needn’t have bothered doing if you were just going to completely ignore it and invite whoever the hell you wanted…” Justin was three seconds away from a full out meltdown when he followed Brian’s warning glare to where a couple of people were starting to openly stare at them. He suddenly snapped his mouth shut on a hysterical retort and turned on his heel, fully initiating a Grade A temper tantrum just as soon as they were in private, but then a strong hand was pulling him back by his suit jacket and a warm, steady weight pressed up against his back.
He quickly swung accusing eyes around to where Brian had come to saddle up behind him, but before Justin could even turn, Brian’s voice was low and steady in his ear.
“Like I said Sunshine,” Justin didn’t even try to suppress the involuntary shudder, because temper tantrums were usually a lot more enjoyable with an undercurrent of sexual tension.
“You took care of the people you want here.” A gentle hand was placed on his lower back and gave a decidedly less gentle push of encouragement away from heat and breathe and skin, “I took care of the people you need.”
Justin stumbled out of Brian’s hold and turned round to shoot his retreating back a glare that would’ve made Lily proud.
He found Craig hesitantly loitering back near the doorway; head down; eyes occasionally daring to do a quick scan of the crowd.
He looked old, Justin thought, as he paused just out of sight still, to watch him. Not different, just older. But then he imagined he looked older too. Four years did that to people.
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
Craig startled and snapped his head up when Justin stepped up to him and raised his voice above the din around them.
“I, uh…” Craig slipped a hand out of his pocket to gesture pitifully behind them.
No wedding ring; not that Justin wouldn’t have heard if it was otherwise, but you never know. He’d been pretty pre occupied these past couple of years and unless it was about lip-gloss or Zach Effron’s twitter updates, you rarely got any regular, detailed information out of Molly.
“I got an invite. A couple of weeks ago and you’re…your mother mentioned she was coming and it was some big deal so…” Justin suddenly realised where he got his penchant for rambling nonsensically until someone stopped him. “I didn’t send it.”
Craig’s eyes snapped back to his and Justin watched his mouth twitch slightly. The hand was dropped to his side. “I know. It wasn’t your handwriting.”
Justin startled at that then. Because he sometimes forgot, and certainly had up until that point, that this man standing in front of him, this stranger, knew him. Maybe not anymore and maybe not all the important stuff, but most things.
Allergies, blood type, favourite ice cream. How he hated seafood but loved paella.
He’d taught him to ride a bike and tie his shoes and write his name.
Fathers did that stuff, Justin supposed.
“Your, uh…” The flaying hand was shoved through his thinning fair hair, “Your boyfriend sent it.”
Justin smirked and pretended he didn’t hear the way Craig’s voice dipped at the word boyfriend. As if the room was listening in ready to pounce and mock at any minute.
“Yeah, I figured.” Justin watched him scan the crowd cautiously and then meet his eyes.
“So this is it, huh?” Justin wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that. Justin wasn’t exactly sure what any of the legitimate responses were when involved in a conversation with your estranged father eight years in the making.
He went with a shrug and let his eyes wander behind him for a second to try and see what Craig’s eyes were keep hesitantly tripping over.
Debbie and Emmett had their heads together, trying to feign pleasant conversation while not so subtly casting worried, hesitant glances. Brian was sprawled artfully against the far wall, focus solely and openly on the conversation near the door. Ted and Cynthia were crowded together with Michael, Hunter and Ben; all dividing their confusion between Justin, his father and Brian: clearly waiting for the first indication that they should use their collective muscle and persuasion to intervene.
“I’m not staying.” Craig said, jostling Justin’s attention back to him, “I just wanted to see…well,” He waved his hand around them again and lowered his voice to an embarrassed mumble, “Well, you know.”
Justin didn’t know, actually. But then, he’d never really known much where his father was concerned. He’d never known if he’d ever felt bad about what happened. He’d never know if he truly believed he did the right thing. He’d never known if he still thought about Justin, the way Justin sometimes thought about him.
If there was ever going to be a time when Justin could know any of that, when he could get answers and ask his questions, he figured it would have been then. With his father standing awkward and as humble as he’ll ever be in front of him, offering him a branch.
Justin nodded and watched Craig shift uncertainly on his feet.
“Well I’m glad you did.” Justin forced a smile, and held Craig’s gaze.
Justin could ask him anything he wanted in that second. And he’d answer, Justin knew.
“I guess I’ll just…” Craig tilted his thumb behind him to the door and took a hesitant step backwards and Justin forced himself to stay planted where he was. Because the hell if he was going to be the first to bail.
Craig was partway out the door, when he suddenly turned back, retracing steps quickly and stopping closer to Justin than he was before. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flutter of movement and knew that Brian had pushed and straightened, cautiously quick, from the wall and that Michael and Ben had taken a mirrored step forward.
His father didn’t seem to notice though, because for the first time in the whole weird encounter, his eyes were focused solely and entirely on Justin’s cautious face.
“Justin, I…I just wanted to say that…I’m sorry.”
All the hairs on Justin’s arms and neck had suddenly shifted in a jittery sense of alertness as he stared at Craig in front of him, and listened. His voice was low and hushed, but Justin heard every word as if Debbie had screamed them through a loudspeaker.
“I’m sorry, for how things are between us, it’s…” Craig smiled rueful and shook his head, “It’s my fault. It is. And I know that it can’t go back. I know that I can’t change, and you…well, you can’t either. And I know I have no right to say this now, and that you probably won’t even believe me, but…I’m proud of you.”
Justin felt all the air rush out of his chest in a single, shocked exhale. Like he’d been sucker punched and someone had kept the pressure on. He blinked hard and watched Craig run a weary hand over his eyes tiredly and sigh, “You’re a good boy. A…a good man. And you deserve everything you worked for,” The programme was waved through the air around them, presumably to show what everything incorporated, but Justin’s eyes were stoic on him. “And I just…I wanted to come here and tell you that.”
He shifted weary eyes to meet Justin’s again and smiled uncertainly, “Okay?”
Justin stared blankly for a second, his hands clasped in tight fists by his side and it wasn’t until Craig’s smile started to waver and dip into a frown that Justin realised he was expected to answer.
“Yeah,” He croaked, clearing his throat, and trying to shake the surreal fog that had momentarily settled in his brain, “Okay.”
Craig studied him for another second, before nodded shortly and started back peddling towards the door. “Okay. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you, then.”
Justin nodded dumbly and watched his father disappear through the glass and out into the dark street, programme still clutched tight in his hand.
Lindsay and Mel were the first to flank him at the buffet table and speak in quick, hushed tones.
“Your father came, huh?” Lindsay gave a subtle glance around the room as if to get a locale. Mel leant in over his shoulder and squeezed his hand.
Justin remembered his very first art show, a million years ago, when these two women had saddled up to him just like this and told him the very same thing, “She came. That’s huge.”
Except it wasn’t the same. They were different people now, in different times, with different priorities.
Justin wasn’t seventeen years old anymore, desperate for approval, desperate for acceptance. He’d found all those things a long time ago: without his father. He’d done all of it without his father, really and maybe that’s why Justin felt so indifferent.
He had thought, before, that his father turning up here would be some kind of revelation. He thought it would give him closure, peace of mind, and that he’d feel it shift and settle physically inside of him.
But clearly, he wasn’t the only one who’d assumed.
Craig had been out the door for almost five minutes and Justin had still been standing stoically by, waiting for something to shift and set in, when familiar, warm arms had slid over his shoulders and down his chest.
A smile pushed through his confusion as a warm voice painted his ear.
“You know you could have invited him to the after party at BoyTown.” Brian’s voice had a teasing tilt to it as he tongued the outside of Justin’s ear, but Justin could feel the contained tension still thrumming through his body, “There’s enough cocktails and cabana boys to go round, I’m sure.”
Justin leant back into familiar heat and tilted his head to allow better access, “Not when Emmett gets through with them.”
Brian hummed a laugh and twisted him around to lean his forehead down against his. It was something he did sometimes: when Justin was being jittery, or queening or spacey. Lent him close and stared him down and made him calm.
One on one: Just them.
Even though Justin’s peripheral vision told him that pretty soon it would be Just Them, plus fifteen, because their hell-bent-on- helping family were rapidly edging closer, subtly closing ranks like a group of inquisitive hyenas. Presumably to make sure Justin hadn’t crumbled or imploded or been horrifically and irreversibly scared from the interaction.
The truth was, Craig coming hadn’t changed anything at all, really. His revelations hadn’t shifted anything, and Justin was left to wonder if they ever would have.
It wasn’t until then, standing at the buffet table, with Mel and Linds peering at him assuredly and Debbie and his mother hovering cautiously behind him and Daphne shooting him encouraging, wide smiles that screamed, ‘Jesus Christ, please don’t freak!’ that Justin realised the reason why.
The reason why a hundred declarations and a thousand grand gestures from his father could never come close to a whispered ‘congrats’ from Brian, or a bowl of Ziti from Deb, or a trip down memory lane with Lindsay.
Because to his father and to Lily and to Alexis; this was just an art show. Some pretty pictures that got hung on a wall to admire and to sell and to make him famous.
They didn’t know what he had done to get there. They didn’t know anything about him, other than the work on the walls and the words on the programme. They didn’t know what he’d been through to get right where he was standing.
They couldn’t, because they hadn’t watched him bleed out onto cement, or re-learn to hold a pencil or wake up from a nightmare. They hadn’t fought for him in court, or helped him toss a tennis ball, or picked him up and pulled him out the dark and yelled at him to be okay, to try again, to work harder for it.
They hadn’t hung his crappy, half shaded sketches on their walls or in their diner or in their loft, as if they were authentic Degas’.
Except that some of them had. Some of them did all of that.
The truth was; Justin loved art. It made him whole. It made him passionate and it made him happy and it paid his bills. It was what pushed him forward, and made him fearless, and got him noticed. But it wasn’t everything he was. It didn’t defy who he was.
They did that.
They had made him an artist and a friend and a son, and a business partner. They made him a lover and a survivor and the best homosexual he ever could have been.
And Justin would give up every brush stroke for any one of them: Anytime. Because they were his family; and they’d give up just as much for him.
Across the room, Debbie was incessantly piling too many spoonfuls of Ziti on Hunter’s overflowing plate, while Brian and Michael hovered behind them making dismayed eye rolls.
Justin smiled to himself.
They already had.
Justin smelt the distinct warning tang of expensive, vanilla perfume before Lily’s face appeared in his line of vision.
“Okay, kid.” A set of neatly manicured fingers wrapped themselves around Justin’s forearm and started to tug him away from where he’d been laughing with Daphne, “Time to get this show on the road, you ready?”
Justin floundered slightly and turned back to watch Daphne beam at him encouragingly and mime a steady breathing technique across the divide, ‘Breathe.” She mouthed, and gave him a bubbly thumbs up for good measure.
Justin kind of felt he was being pushed into his first day of Pre School again.
“Uh…ready for what?” Justin quickened his step in the blaze of Lily’s Jimmy Choos and tried to pry her piranha grip off his arm, “I thought the show was already rolling.”
They came to settle beside the tiny stage, at the entrance to the second gallery room, and Lily stopped abruptly and turned to straighten his collar, “Well then it’s time to pick up speed.”
She frowned as the lapel of his jacket failed to flatten and Justin mentally willed it to just behave and do as she said before he lost a nipple.
“You have to do the speech before we open the doors the main room, yes?”
Justin nodded dumbly and tried to remember the handful of bullet points he’d hastily scribbled onto a napkin at breakfast that morning. Something about the contrast of artists works before him, and the masters that inspired him. Or was it the work of previous masters and the artists that inspire him?
He probably should have gotten Cynthia’s advice on holding the attention of a defying audience. She’d been doing it long before Justin had come on the scene, he figured.
Lily’s insistent fingers prodded him back to focus and he quickly realised there wasn’t any time to ask anyone anything.
“You’re fine.” She assured him, in that straight forward assertiveness that told him it was true no matter what he thought or felt or held to the contrary, “Now go up there and speak from your heart!”
She gave Justin a forceful nudge towards the step but then pulled him back quickly by the hem of his jacket and fixed him with pointed eyes, “And don’t forget to sell. Sell, Sell, Sell. It’s what they’re here for.”
Justin was going to tell her that what they were actually going to be here for was to watch him crash and burn, but another push propelled him onto the tiny stage, where a microphone had been positioned.
A couple of random heads swung his way, but then Lily was clanging a glass and clearing her throat and the din of chatter and mumbles evened off until the room spun and stared at him standing awkward and unprepared, front and centre.
His eyes frantically skipped over the bundles of upturned faces, sifting through bald heads and fancy hats and expectant eyes until he skimmed the familiar.
Debbie, beaming loud and bright, even when she was standing there saying nothing at all: Daphne, calm and bubbly excitement all at once, in that way she has: his mother, already clutching a hanky to her chin; lifting an eager hand to draw his attention.
His throat opened up again, and the knots in his gut eased a little and then his eyes snagged what he’d been looking for, near the back, towering a little above the rest. All familiar lines and calm composure and then they locked eyes and Justin breathed.
“I, uhm…” The microphone gave a cackle as he stepped up to it and he reached out to steady it with his hand, “I guess its mandatory for the artist to give a speech before the doors open: officially and all, so…”
Justin was certain it was perhaps the worst start to a speech the Tiersen or any surrounding gallery had ever witnessed. And one of last year’s solo artists had gotten so drunk beforehand he’d said five words and thrown up on the mike.
Lily’s voice piped up from the side of the stage before Justin could choke more elaborately and he whipped his head to the side and covered the mike with a shaky hand.
“I said from the heart,” She hissed, gesturing at him to get on with it already, “Not from the ass!”
Justin smirked and cleared the croak from his voice and pulled his hand back.
In the crowd Daphne’s grin had wilted to a shaky grimace and Debbie and his mother looked bristled enough to fight the first unsuspecting heckler. Over the heads, Brian smirked and raised an eyebrow.
“I guess you’re waiting for a synopsis on the show?”
The two reporters to his left with poised note pads and Dictaphones indicated that, yes that was generally what they were waiting for.
“But, uh, the truth is, I don’t really have one to give you.” Justin shrugged a shoulder and scrubbed a hand through his hair, “The art you’ll see: the art that I’m showing here doesn’t really have the direction you’ll be looking for. I don’t paint for a purpose: for a means to an end. I paint…” He smiled to himself, suddenly struck with late nights and the smell of acrylic and the feel of a brush in his cramped fingers, “I paint because I love it.” He said simply, “I love everything about it. And because I’m good at it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s something I ever take for granted. All of this…”
He swept an arm lazily across the room; to the walls and the art and the people.
“It’s what I work for, and it’s what you’re here for and it’s probably all you’ll take away from tonight, but for some people, here, tonight, it’s more than that. It’s more than art hanging on a wall. “
Somewhere in the crowd he heard the distinct sound of Debbie’s watery ‘oh, Christ,’
“It’s all the sacrifices that they’ve made to get me here. To make me what I am: to make me into this person whose standing here, opening his own solo show in New York City. And it hasn’t always been easy and it hasn’t always worked out like I wanted, but they’ve always, always been right there with me. Through all of it. And the truth is, I couldn’t have done it, any of it, without them.”
Justin suddenly felt the hot sting of tears behind his eyes and he lifted them quickly, willed them away and caught a set of familiar, hazel eyes through the crowd.
“And a thousand paintings and a hundred art shows won’t ever be enough to thank them for it. But it’s what I’m giving them.” He smiled shakily, “And a Thank You, I guess.”
Brian’s eyes shifted and softened over eighty stranger’s heads and Justin smiled.
“So, uh…” Justin cleared his throat and ran a hand over his twitching mouth, “I hope you like it.”
Lily’s coughed pointedly from the side, as his foot threatened to step off the stage and he hastily brought it back.
The first splattering of applause died a quick death as Justin waved a halting hand and gestured to where Lily was glowering on the lower step.
““Oh, yeah, but uh…it’s mainly just about the art.” Justin back peddled and smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner, “So remember to buy stuff and give generous commission.”
The applause was littered with a polite hum of laughter as Justin stepped down and quirked an inquiring eye at Lily, whose stance was back to being warm and heartening.
“Good job, baby.” She squeezed his forearm with a gentle hand before pulling away to go open the doors.
“That was quite the motivating speech, Picasso.”
Justin pivoted to see Brian right behind him, and needed no urging into the circle of his arms. Brian lent down and Justin pressed a kiss against the side of his smiling mouth.
“Maybe you should have done a business degree after all.”
Justin laughed and pushed Brian towards the gallery doors, “Yeah, now you tell me!”
A teary eyed Debbie tackled them before the entrance and pressed kisses over his face and hair.
“Jesus Christ, Sunshine, are you trying to kill me here?” She swiped a hand under her runny nose while Emmett blew noisily into a tissue beside her.
“That was beautiful, baby!” He gushed before quickly pausing and turning to Calvin behind him in a panic, “Wait, has my mascara ran?”
Lindsay stuck her head out of the gallery doors as a couple pressed their way inside and smiled giddily over at where Brian was mumbling something about ‘not being able to fucking take them anywhere.’
“It’s not much of an art show without an artist,” She yelled perkily, her blonde hair forming a luminous halo around her grinning face, “Get in here!”
Michael nodded his head in Lindsay’s direction as Ben steered him inside with a strong arm around his shoulders, “Yeah, come on Boy Wonder. Time to make your dreams come true.”
Justin felt Brian roll his eyes above him at all the gag worthy sentimentality and laughed and allowed himself he herded inside.
The truth was, Brian had been right all along, really. All the drama had been unnecessary.
Craig and the show and New York were all just fancy trimmings. Because Justin already had everything he never realised he needed, before he even got on a plane three years ago.
But then, Brian was usually right about these things.