As the jeep sped along the dark streets Brian kept glancing worriedly at Justin. The gasping and trembling had stopped, and the blond head now rested on the head rest of the passenger seat. Justin had his eyes, trying to think of anything but the pounding in his head, but even through the pain he could still sense when the troubled hazel eyes turned his way.
Please don’t ask Brian, please don’t …….
The blue eyes blinked then Justin’s head turned and he looked at Brian.
“I’m taking you to the loft; I think I’ve got some Tylenol there”
“Can’t, allergic…meds at home”
Who the hell is allergic to Tylenol Brian thought, but at the next stop sign he turned right instead of going straight like he normally would have; a moment later Justin gasped and grabbed his head.
His only answer was a low moan and Brian pressed down on the gas pedal a little harder; hoping none of Pittsburgh’s finest happened to be patrolling the area but soon enough they were pulling into the driveway.
The glow from the headlights briefly lit up the darkened living room before Brian turned the ignition off and jumped out. He ran around to help Justin out of the passengers side, grabbing the keys to the house out of the blond’s hand. Fumbling in the dark Brian finally unlocked the door and helped Justin into the room, quickly flipping on the light switch next to the door.
“Where are they?”
“Kitchen, top cabinet over the sink.”
After retrieving the pill bottle and filling a glass with water, he carried them back to the living room and sat down next to Justin. He handed the water to Justin, quickly read the instructions on the pill bottle, unscrewed the lid and handed two pills to the blond.
Justin leaned back, feeling Brian’s arm slip around his shoulders and gentle fingers begin slowly massaging his scalp; after a few minutes Justin began to relax.
“Yeah, thanks” Justin answered, not sure if it was the pills finally kicking in or Brian’s fingers or a combination of both. As the constricting band of pain in his head began to lessen, he curled further into the warm body next to him, tucking his head up under Brian’s chin. Brian briefly rubbed the bottom of his chin on the blond locks, feeling a few stray hairs tickle his bottom lip. He wanted to kiss away the few remaining shards of pain from the plump lips but knew now wasn’t the time.
There was something far more important that he needed to get out in the open.
“We need to talk about this,” Brian said, running a soothing hand up and down Justin’s arm when he felt the blond’s body stiffen slightly.
“Not now, okay?”
“Justin….” Brian’s hold tightened slightly when Justin tried to pull himself out of his arms. He finally had the blond where he wanted him, even if it was under less than desirable circumstances, and he wasn’t about to let him go now. He reluctantly gave in to Justin’s wishes.
Brian felt a small wave of relief when Justin sighed and settled back in. The hand that had been on Justin’s arm moved to the back of his neck, fingers lightly rubbing small circles while the other rested across his shoulders. As they sat there Brian felt a surge of contentment that he hadn’t felt in a long time and knew the small blond wrapped tightly in his arms was the reason.
Then a light came on in the hallway. “shit”
Jennifer wrapped a fluffy pink robe around her as she walked into the room and stopped when she saw her son and Brian on the couch. She started to smile at the sight, but then her eyes fell on the pill bottle sitting on the coffee table. Her eyes flashed back to the couple, seeing the challenge in Brian’s dark eyes as he stared back at her and the protective way he held her son. She came further into the room and sat down on the edge of the couch cushion.
“What happened?” she asked quietly, picking the bottle up and looking at it.
“He ran into a little problem at the club,” Brian answered.
Jennifer gripped the small plastic tube tightly in one hand as she gently smoothed the other over the blond head nestled in the crook of Brian’s neck. It had been nearly six months since Justin had had a panic attack; she’d hoped they were finally over. Her son’s eyes were closed but she knew he wasn’t sleeping.
Justin sighed and sat up, giving the brunet an apologetic smile and this time Brian reluctantly let him go. He stood, knowing that if he didn’t escape to his room now his mother would spend the next two hours coddling him to death. Both Jennifer and Brian reached for him at the same time when he wobbled slightly and he held a hand up to stop them.
“I’m going to bed” he said to his mother as he shifted his eyes to Brian.
“Thanks..” he said before starting toward the hallway.
“Justin, I think……”
Justin stopped and looked pleadingly back at his mom, shaking his head slowly. “Not now mom, please”
“Mom, what’s going on?”
Two pairs of eyes looked up to see Molly coming into the room. Justin lowered his to the carpeted floor.
“Molly, honey, it’s nothing, what are you doing up?”
As Jennifer started to rise to take her daughter back to her room, Molly gazed thoughtfully at her brother. Justin’s head was down, staring at the floor, his shoulders had that hunched look she’d seen so often when he was with Glen, like he was trying to mentally prepare himself for something bad that was going to happen. Unfortunately, she had first hand experience what that something bad could be, something neither her mother nor Justin knew about.
In her mind’s eye she watched that horrific scene unfold again. She’d gone to Justin’s to show him the A she’d gotten on her math test, she had worked so hard for that A and she knew Justin would be proud of her. She had just started to ring the doorbell when she had heard a sharp cry. Curious, she had wandered over to the side of the house intending to go through the gate leading into the back yard. Just as she was passing the large picture window in the living room, she heard another yell; the voice was muted because of the glass but she could tell it was Glen’s. She stopped and looked in, and what she saw had made the blood in her veins freeze.
It had been something a girl of her age should never have had to witness, something she never should have seen.
“Molly?” the sound of her mother’s voice brought her out of her memories with a jerk and she turned to look at Jennifer. The sight of the tears streaming down her daughter’s face brought Jennifer up short. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
But Molly’s eyes weren’t focused on her mother; instead she was gazing at Brian, still seated on the couch. Her blue eyes, so much like her brother’s, flashed to Justin then back to Brian and something inside her snapped. “You ass, you said you wouldn’t hurt him. I thought you were different but you’re not, you’re just like Glen. I hate him and I HATE YOU!” she hadn’t realized she was moving until suddenly her small fists were beating on Brian’s chest with everything she had and Brian didn’t try to stop her. It was Justin who finally managed to wrestle her away from him.
“No, Mol! Brian didn’t do anything.”
Her breathe caught in a sort of hiccup as she managed to turn in the tight grasp Justin was holding her in. “I KNOW WHAT HE DID TO YOU, JUS. I SAW HIM…. THE CIGARETTES, I SAW WHAT HE DID TO YOUR BACK!”
“What?” Jennifer’s hands flew to her mouth.
Justin stumbled back, shock written on his face; how could she have seen that?
Brian moved from his seat on the couch to the floor, lifting himself up onto his knees to put himself at eye level with Molly as his hands flew to her small shoulders, shaking her gently to get her attention. “Molly, what did you see, who hurt Justin?”
The young girl wiped furiously at her tears as Brian waited impatiently, trying not to shake her as his concern for her brother, and the frustration of not knowing, rapidly grew to a boiling point. She looked at him and Brian seemed to read what was going on inside her head. “Molly, I would never, ever hurt Justin, you’ve got to believe that.”
It took another few seconds but then she began to speak in a small voice. “I went to show Jus the A on my math test; you could see the big mirror in the bedroom from the living room window. I could see Glen, he had a cigarette in his hand, he….he…”
Molly covered her face with her hands, not able to go on and Brian gathered the small body close to him, looking first at Jennifer then at Justin.
“Who the fuck is Glen?”
Brian said this in a conversationalist tone, but Jennifer could see the deadly rage in his eyes. She swallowed, hard, suddenly glad that the man was on their side. Justin, on the other hand, was gazing at Brian with the classic deer in the headlights look, but again it was Molly that answered. Her voice was muffled against Brian’s shoulder.
“He’s Jus’s ex-boyfriend.”
Even as the girl cried her heart out, arms wrapped tightly around Brian’s neck, Brian was gazing at Justin with a look that said that talk was going to come a hell of a lot sooner than the blond had wanted.
“Justin, take your shirt off.”
Justin shook his head, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there.
Brian gently pushed Molly toward her mother and stood up, slowly advancing on the blond.
“Either you take it off or I fucking will.” The anger in Brian’s voice was clearly evident now and Justin backed away even though he knew the anger wasn’t directed at him. It was the reaction to a different man’s anger surging to the surface. Brian stopped just a foot from Justin when he saw the fear flashing in his eyes.
They were so close to getting every thing out into the open, they couldn’t stop now; he took a few deep breaths trying to calm himself down.
“Come on, Sunshine, don’t stop now.”
“Molly, come on, honey, lets get you back to bed”
“No, mom, I’ve seen Jus’s back, the other scars, too”
Brian’s eyes slightly narrowed; there were other scars on Justin’s back?
Justin’s gaze dropped, giving in to the inevitable as he slowly pulled the shirt over his head, turning as he did.
Brian tried, really tried to stifle the gasp that came bursting from his lips as he stared horrified at the scars littering the pale skin.
Four long strips of criss-crossed, slightly raised pink welts started at the top of the blond’s shoulders and ran down the length of his back, two disappearing into the waistband of his pants. Brian had visited a few BDSM clubs in the past and knew that only a whip, wielded with extreme force, would leave that same type of scar.
Small, round, darker welts that appeared older than the others peppered his back like splattered rain drops; those he suspected had been made by the lighted end of a cigarette.
Justin’s shoulders started to shake; this was the last thing he’d ever wanted Brian to see, the marks that another man, in desperation and in anger, had left on his skin. Tears blurred his eyes and ran down his cheeks. He knew Brian wasn’t perfect, but for Justin he had been, he was everything he’d ever wanted in a friend and as a lover and now that chance had been taken away. Brian would never want him now; he lifted his gaze to stare brokenly into Brian’s eyes. That shattered look in the blue eyes staring back at him was Brian’s undoing. He moved swiftly, gathering Justin into his arms and held on.
Neither one noticed when Jennifer and Molly left the room.
The morning sun shone brightly as Jennifer filled the coffee pot and turned it on. She puttered around the kitchen trying to keep her mind off what had happened the night before. A short time later the timer on the coffee pot went off, indicating it was done brewing. Hearing a noise behind her, she turned and wasn’t a bit surprised when Brian came walking into the room. She’d seen his jeep still parked outside and knew he’d stayed; she took one look at his tousled hair and handed him a cup of coffee.
“You didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“No” he said, taking a swallow.
“Some.” Brian ran the fingers of one hand through his hair.
Jennifer finished pouring herself a cup of coffee and sat down across from Brian, running the edge of her fingernail on the edge of the cup.
Brian took a deep breath then cut right to the chase. “How the hell did he get involved with that son-of-a-bitch?”
Over the next hour Jennifer related the details of Justin’s coming out, his fight with his father, Craig’s refusal to pay Justin’s college tuition and her parents’ refusal to let her ex-husband ruin Justin’s dreams.
When she got to the part about Glen, she felt her breath catch. She hated to even think about the man much less talk about him, but she also knew Brian wouldn’t let it go until he knew every detail.
“Glen began chasing Justin almost right from the start.”
Jennifer took a sip of her coffee trying to gather her thoughts, then continued. “Justin tried to concentrate on his job, his work.” She looked at Brian with a small smile. “My parents had put their trust in him, putting him through college; he didn’t want to let them down.”
She got up to refill the cups then sat back down. “Glen wouldn’t take no for an answer, constantly hovering over Justin at work, sending him small gifts, calling him at home.” She shook her head, remembering.
“I guess after a while, Justin got tired of saying no.”
“When did the beatings start?” Brian asked.
“After I moved in with him.”
Neither one of them had noticed Justin leaning against the entrance to the kitchen until he spoke. Brian pulled out a chair, motioning for him to sit.
“I didn’t know you were up, honey,” Jennifer said as she set a cup on the table filled to the rim with steaming black coffee “How’s your head?”
Justin took a sip. “Better.” He then looked at Brian as he added “I missed you.”
A crooked smile crossed Brian’s lips as he reached out, running the palm of his hand over Justin’s T-shirt clad shoulders. “I’m not going anywhere, Sunshine”
Justin faintly smiled back, leaning into the touch. Jennifer noticed this and was thankful that what had transpired the night before, had actually seemed to draw the two men closer together.
“I thought he really cared about me, turns out he was more interested in what I could do than me.”
“What do you mean?”
“He saw me as a way of getting rich….he found some buyers, who would pay a lot of money to buy an exact replica of famous pieces of art.”
“The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, American Gothic, things like that.”
Brian let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “You can duplicate those?”
Justin nodded and shrugged his shoulders “sure”
Jennifer rose and touched Brian’s shoulder. “Come look at this.” She waited until Brian was standing next to her, then led him into the living room and stopped in front of a framed painting hanging on the wall. She smiled, gazing at the picture. “Justin’s very gifted when it comes to painting, he always has been.” She turned to Brian. “He painted this when he was ten.”
The painting was of a wild stallion rearing against a stormy sky. The dark clouds swirled and clashed together as if battling for dominance with the horse. Jagged streaks of lightening hung down through the black clouds, sending brilliant streams of light across the wind and rain swept prairie. Brian could almost hear the thunder echoing out from the painting.
“Now you know why Glen was so interested in Justin’s talent.”
Justin stopped next to Brian also gazing at the picture. “Sometimes I think it would have been better if I’d never picked up a paint brush.”
Brian wrapped an arm around Justin’s shoulders. “Then I would never have met you,” he said, placing a gentle kiss on the blond head.
“He’ll find me eventually.” Justin replied, laying his head on Brian’s shoulder. “He won’t stop looking until he does.”
Brian moved to stand in front of the blond, placing a large hand on either side of Justin’s face and waited until the blue eyes locked onto his.
“He’s got to get past me first.”
“He said he’d be here, ma, he had to pick up Justin.”
Debbie pulled another pan of lasagna out of the oven and set it on the hot pad Michael had just placed on the table. “Well, they’d better hurry the fuck up or we’re going to start with out them.”
As Michael set the garlic bread on the table, the sound of voices could be heard in the living room, mainly Gus’s.
“Hi, Sonny Boy”
Debbie poked her head out and saw Brian standing just inside the doorway, holding Gus in his arms. Gus had his head turned toward the door as if looking at something or someone. “About time you got here, asshole. Where’s Sunshine?”
“Well, hello to you, too, ma,” Brian said sarcastically as Justin popped out from behind him.
“Right here, Deb,” Justin said. “I was just saying hello to this little guy here.” It was then that Debbie realized what had caught Gus’s attention.
“Justin, let me introduce you to the rest of the family,” Brian said, lowering Gus back down to the floor. Justin watched as Gus toddled back to two women whom he thought must be his mothers. Brian had told him about his son several months ago and was amazed to see how much the youngster looked like Brian. Justin sent a quick glance at his tall, dark- haired boss/soon-to-be-lover, at least he hoped, and knew that Gus, like his dad, would soon be heart stoppingly handsome.
“You’ve already met Emmett, Ted and Mikey,” Brian said, as Justin gave each a friendly smile as well as returning Emmett’s little wave. “That’s Gus’s mom, Lindsay, and Melanie,” Brian gestured toward the two women. The pretty blond gave Justin a tight-lipped smile while the small dark- hared woman glowered at the two of them.
“And, this is Debbie’s brother Vic.”
“Hi, Justin, nice to meet you.” Justin smiled as Vic stood up to shake his hand.
“Christ, Brian, now you’re bringing tricks here?” This came from the woman Brian had pointed out as Melanie.
Before either Brian or Justin could say anything Michael stepped in, surprising both Brian and Justin. “Justin’s not a trick, Mel. He’s the head of the art department at Kinnetik.”
“Uh, huh,” Mel sniped; leaning back against the back of the chair she was sitting in and crossing her arms; she wasn’t going to believe that for one second.
Lindsay’s eyes faintly lit up, though. “So you’re an artist?”
Justin smiled and nodded. “Yeah”
The rest of the evening went smoothly, although Mel kept sending glaring looks at Brian throughout the night.
The only down side for Brian came when he went into the kitchen to get a glass of water and turned around to find Lindsay behind him.
“Brian, what do you really know about Justin?”
“Like Mikey said, he’s the head of my art department”
“Yes, I know, but how long have you known him?”
“Four months; anything else your inquiring little mind wants to know?”
“So he really isn’t a trick, is he?”
“Fuck, Linds, when have you ever known me to bring a trick here?”
Brian sighed, setting the glass in the sink. “Look, I like him and …..” Brian shook his head, not wanting to say more. “Just leave him alone, ok?”
At that Brian had gone back out to join the others and Lindsay hadn’t been able to corner him again.
As the evening dwindled down everyone got ready to leave. First Emmett and Ted left, then Michael, the girls and Gus and finally Brian and Justin. As soon as they got to the jeep, Brian pressed Justin against the passenger door, kissing him thoroughly.
“Mmmm, I’ve been waiting all night for that,” Justin said in almost a whisper.
Brian smiled. “You could have kissed me anytime, Sunshine.” He gazed into Justin’s eyes, wondering if he was correct in reading the lust coming from those blue orbs. “Want to go someplace?”
Justin nodded. “How about back to your loft?”
Brian looked at him. “Are you sure”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
Debbie watched from the window, smiling widely, as the two climbed in and the jeep sped off into the night.
“It’s about fucking time.”