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AN: Almost all the chapters from here on in have only one POV. They were just getting too long to fit both POVs into one chapter. They are still alternating though. We start off with Justin.



“I never meant for it to happen.”

It’s a stupid thing to say, but it’s true. When I saw Jon again after the first fuck, I expected it to be awkward. I’ve been in these situations before. You fuck and one or the other would like it to be more. The only place where that doesn’t happen seems to be Babylon and even there I had to tell people to fuck off once or twice.

I’m not like Brian. I can’t just fuck someone and then pretend not to know them the next day. Especially not when I see them around a lot. That just doesn’t work for me. At first, I thought it wouldn’t work with Jon either, because when I got to my studio two days after we first fucked, he was busy welding. That’s always noisy and he has that mask on to protect his eyes, but I thought it quite possible that he was deliberately ignoring me. Then he looked up, smiled, raised his hand in greeting and carried on working. And that was that. It was as if it never happened.

And then Brian told me about Ben and he never came back to the loft that night or any other night for almost a week. Jon asked me what was bugging me and I told him. He has this really calm way about him, where he listens without looking at me and then just throws out an opinion. Or not if he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t try to convince me that he’s right, just tells it as he sees it and if I don’t follow up, he just strolls away again. This time all he said was, “You can’t really blame him for something that happened before he met you.”

I like him, I mean, really like him. He’s the type of guy I would go for if I wasn’t with Brian. Come to think of it, he’s a lot like Brian, quiet, a little aloof, self-sufficient. Only he’s not so cynical, more open and he makes it clear that he likes me and would like it to be more without pushing it. He’s not nearly as hot as Brian, of course, and the sex is slower and softer, like the sex I used to have before I met Brian.

So I fucked him again the day after Vic’s goodbye dinner and every day after that. It was just so easy and I kind of fell into it. Brian did his disappearing act that always makes me wonder if we’re really getting somewhere in our relationship. When he’s around, I can believe that he wants this, that he wants to be with me but when he isn’t, I have doubts.

So when Jon touched my arm during a conversation, just gently, almost accidentally – although it certainly wasn’t that – I just went with it. It was nice to be wanted and cherished by someone, who says, ‘you’re beautiful’ during a fuck, not ‘I’m gonna fuck you until you can’t sit down for a week’. Someone who asks how I’m feeling and doesn’t ridicule me when the answer is anything other than ‘horny’.

But deep down I know it isn’t right. It’s unfair to Jon even though he knows full well that I have no intention of leaving Brian. It’s unfair to Brian even if I know that he probably doesn’t care. And ultimately it doesn’t even make me feel better, on the contrary it makes me feel worse, because I’m cheating on Brian and using Jon. I really don’t like myself much at the moment.

“I was going to tell you.” It’s true. I don’t like this situation. Jon knows the score, it’s only fair that Brian does, too. Only, I’m not entirely sure what the score is.

“And take all the fun out of it?” Brian sneers at me – naturally. What else did I expect? Does he really think I get some kind of kick out of going behind his back? Would he, if the situation were reversed? We’re lying on the bed after round two and he moves onto his side, with his head propped up on his hand so he can look at me. His other hand moves over my body until he’s stroking my cock.

“So, how big is his dick?”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“Since when? You love cock. You love…”

“Stop, Brian. I’m not discussing this with you. Yes, I love sex. But it’s not about that.” Which is part or maybe all of the problem.

His hand doesn’t stop and he’s watching me intently, while I find it harder and harder to concentrate on the conversation. I’m almost hard again already. No one can turn me on like Brian can. I often wonder if that is because he’s so intensely sexual or because of my feelings for him.

But some part of me doesn’t want this, wants to talk about the situation instead. When Brian came to the studio tonight, I was rattled. It wasn’t just that I didn’t expect him to turn up and was caught in the middle of a fuck – that would have been embarrassing with anyone – but I also suddenly realized what I was doing, that I was effectively two-timing him.

I knew that Brian would know straight away what Jon and I were doing. He’s not stupid, plus he always expects everyone to fuck all the time anyway, like he does. I wanted to tell him myself, but failing that, I wanted to get a reaction. And I did. He snarked about the rules and then he kissed me like he never kissed me before. I swear I was close to coming just from that kiss alone. Then he fucked me, on the floor, just by the front door. It was fast, hard and a little rough. But it was real. It was a reaction and it made me feel claimed, owned. I needed that from him.

Then we moved to the bed and did it all over again. Sex with Brian is always fantastic, nothing compares. But at the moment I really need him to show me that he’s affected by what happened in some way. No, that’s not true. He has shown me, I need him to say it.

“It’s different from tricking. If you did the same to me, I'd be upset.”

He looks at me and he looks exactly how I would feel in his situation, hurt, disappointed, angry. For a moment it looks like he'll say something, tell me that he’s upset or that he wants me to stop seeing Jon, or that I should stick to the rules – anything will do.

“Lucky I’m not you then. You do what you have to do.”

And then he kisses me, slowly at first, then more and more desperately and I realize that this is the most I will ever get from him. If I told him to leave, he would get up and go without any hesitation. But I don’t want him to leave. I want him to tell me that he wants me to himself. That’s all he has to do. But, as always, I have to make do with what he’s giving me: sex, mind-blowing, passionate, beautiful, but wordless. And I really want it to be enough.

Jon nods when I tell him that I can’t have sex with him any longer. “Thought so.” He pats my arm and ambles back to his work bench. Well, that was unexpected. Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but I’m beginning to wonder if anybody will ever find me worth fighting for. It’s crazy. I should be happy that there‘s no ugly drama and instead I’m pondering what it means that the two guys in my life can walk away from me with not much more than a shrug.

But over the next two weeks I can see the advantage in that. Jon behaves like he did before we started fucking. He’s as friendly as he always was, doesn’t try to flirt and the only difference is that we don’t talk much about Brian any longer. Brian turns up at the loft every night at exactly three o’clock, showers and then fucks me for as long as I can keep awake. In the mornings he chats as if nothing ever happened and not once does he mention Jon.

I’ve been extremely busy at work as we were nearing the opening for our emerging artist show. This is the first time I’m nervous about having my work shown. Up until now, I didn’t have any hopes or expectations. Selling art in Pittsburgh is really not very exciting. The paintings that I’ve sold so far have gone to private collectors and didn’t leave the slightest ripple in the art world. But this time there will be a critic from New York and that’s a whole different ball game.

Sidney and I decided that it will be better for me if nobody knows that I’m the gallery manager. It might give the impression that I only got my work displayed because I work here. So tonight I’m just standing around like the rest of the artists and the guests, itching to tell that waiter with the canapés to stop cruising and get on with his work. But when he catches my eye and I glare at him, he seems to get the message anyway.

Mom’s here, of course, beaming with pride and telling me that my stuff is the best in the room. I do agree, but I know she’d say that even if it wasn’t true. Daphne turns up with Steve, holding hands and looking radiantly happy. I never thought I’d see the day when Daphne falls in love. It makes me happy just to see her whisper in Steve’s ear and laugh with him. I like him, but if he ever hurts her in any way, I’m willing to bury his body where no one will ever find it. Luckily he seems just as smitten with her.

The critic from New York talked to me earlier. He seemed to be interested in my work, but I have enough experience to know that he was really more interested in my ass. He’s a real cunt, but an influential one, so I played nice. He went to look at the other work for a while and drink the free wine, but he keeps coming back to me, talking conspiratorially about the other artwork as if only he and I have a real understanding of it. Like I thought, a cunt.

Ben and Michael are here, too. Michael looks a little sullen, but he’s gracious enough about my art, if totally clueless as to what he’s even looking at. Ben has a better handle on it and we chat for a while. He's written a book – albeit with limited success – so he knows how nerve-wracking it is to have your work judged by other people. We've spoken on the phone since Vic’s dinner and neither of us have a problem with what happened with Brian. Michael, however, is a different matter. Ben told me that he keeps interrogating him about what the fuck was like. I really thought Michael was over that. Ben, on the other hand, doesn’t seem terribly surprised.

Lindsay has turned up with Melanie and she’s gushing over my paintings. I wish I could believe that she’s as sincere as she sounds. This is always the problem among artists, too much envy. But I can appreciate that she’s making an effort and we haven’t really talked much since she slept with Brian, so she may just feel a little awkward. I haven’t talked to anyone about the baby, although I’m convinced that they all talk about it enough amongst themselves. I’m just not sure if any of them know that it wasn’t planned. They probably think that Lindsay had her fondest wish realized and that Mel and I gave our tacit approval, because there was nothing we could do about it anyway. Just how anybody could believe that Brian would agree is beyond me. But they seem to sense at least that I’m not happy about it, so it doesn’t get mentioned. Small blessings.

Even Melanie and I tiptoe around each other a little. I think she’s still worried about what Brian will do in the end, but she wouldn’t discuss that with me, not after our last conversation on the subject. That’s fine by me. I just wish that Lindsay would get a clue and see what she has in Melanie. At the moment, Melanie merely looks at my paintings for a long time, then smiles and says, “You’re damn good. If you ever decide to paint something for me, feel free. I could finance my retirement with the proceeds when the time comes.”

Ted talks to me for a little while, sipping water and eating canapés. He hasn’t touched any alcohol or drugs since that druggie put him in a coma over three years ago. I’m not even entirely sure if he got laid since then. Naturally, Brian got the blame for what happened because he introduced Ted to the guy that night. Well, at least Debbie said something about it once when she was upset about Michael. As if Brian wasn’t feeling guilty enough about it already. Not that he ever talks about it, but I know. Then Ted spots Melanie and wanders over there.

Emmett was here for all of five minutes. He had some guy in tow and obviously more important things on his mind than staring at pretty pictures. I don’t mind. It was nice of him to show his support.

Jon asked me yesterday if he could have an invitation. I just laughed and told him that this is Pittsburgh and we’re lucky to get people through the door in the first place, so no, there aren’t any invitations. He looks rather handsome in his suit tonight and I’m glad he’s here. We’re friends and it’s nice to have someone to talk to who is an artist himself.

Then Brian turns up, fashionably late as always. He and Lindsay must have got closer again because he makes a beeline for her, kissing her cheek and exchanging a few unpleasantries with Melanie, by the looks of it. He just can’t leave it be, although I’m sure Melanie gives as good as she gets. She always does. Of all our friends she was the one person I never worried about getting upset over Brian, annoyed yes, but not hurt. I thought she simply didn’t care about him enough. But then, of course, he found a way.

Brian wanders over to Michael, but for once Michael doesn’t look too pleased about it. Their conversation is short and this must be the first time ever that I’ve seen Michael turn away first. He must have learned how to hold a grudge from his mother.

My heart beats a little faster when Brian turns towards me and comes over. He looks incredible in dark slacks and a white button down shirt. He could have stepped straight off the pages of a fashion magazine, complete with the deliberately mussed hair and the aloof look. But my heart would speed up no matter what he looks like. It’s Brian. Even after four years, I get excited when I see him. Every single time.

He kisses me a little too enthusiastically, but I expected that. Then he greets Jon with a short nod. “This it?” he asks, turning towards my painting.

“Yeah. What do you think?” Since I’ve started renting a studio, he doesn’t often get to see my work any longer. He used to watch me sometimes, when I painted at the loft, but nowadays he just sees it in leaps and bounds when he picks me up from PIFA.

“Why the fuck would you care what I think? It wouldn’t make it better or make you richer, if I liked it. And you have your own art critic right here.” He indicates to Jon. “It really doesn’t matter what I think, does it?”

I want to tell him that it matters to me. It always has. But I just bite my tongue and look at the floor, wishing that the night was over already. I don’t want to be here any longer. He puts his arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer and kissing my temple. I can smell the alcohol on him.

“It’s exquisite,” he says emphatically and I know that he means it.

I smile.

Then he looks around the room. “Now if you excuse me, I saw a waiter earlier, who looked in need of my attention. I’ll be home later, dear.” And then he’s off, heading straight for the guy with the canapés, who smiles and follows without hesitation at whatever suggestion Brian whispers into his ear. I will have to make sure that we never hire him again. He’s here to work, not to fuck in the bathrooms.

“He’s not, is he?” Jon asks with a disbelieving frown, following Brian and canapés-boy with his eyes until they disappear in the back.

“Yeah, he is.” I don’t know why he's so surprised. We’ve talked about Brian at length. Didn’t he believe me?

But Jon is already back to his usual laconic self. “Ah well, we make our choices and we pay our dues.”

I have no idea what he means by that, but when I look at him, he just smiles softly at me and walks away. I don’t have time to think about it either because Daphne and Steve join me almost immediately.

“Brian up to his old tricks again?” she asks and she doesn’t seem amused for once.

“Never old, Daph. Or ugly.”

“In that case, I suspect he'll run out before long,” Steve says in a deadpan voice.

We all look at each other for a few moments, then burst out laughing at the same time. It’s the single most enjoyable moment of the night.

It turns out that gallery showings are not at all what I expected. I’ve always enjoyed opening nights. Usually I’m insanely busy, making sure that everything runs smoothly and fixing last minute hitches. I never realized how boring it is to stand around near your work on the off chance that someone will want to talk to you about it or, if you’re really lucky, want to buy it. There’s some interest in my stuff, more than there is for any of the others, but I can’t shift the feeling that my paintings stand out only because they’re displayed in a mediocre environment. If the other art was more remarkable, maybe no one would even look at mine. And if the other artists were hot and gay, Simon Caswell wouldn’t be so interested in me.

But I’m wrong. Very wrong. When I get to work three weeks later, Lisa, our receptionist beams at me. “Did you see it?”

“See what?”

“You’re only in Art Forum.” She hands me the magazine, which just came out today. My copy of it will no doubt be waiting for me in my mail box when I get home. I thumb through it with shaky hands until she says, “Page 19.” She seems incredibly excited.

And there I am, complete with a photograph of me taken on the night and two large pictures of my paintings. I’m slack-jawed as I skim-read the article, which is spread in full color over two pages. The art critic cunt really did an impressive job. Impressive in that he’s using a lot of superfluously long words to describe my work and doesn’t leave anyone in any doubt that if I ever become famous, I will have him to thank for it. Caswell makes it sound as if he and I are best buddies and I wonder if people in the business will think that we fucked. Quite frankly he couldn’t have been more complimentary if I had agreed to his offer to ‘have a drink’ in his hotel room after the opening.

Everybody is really excited for me all day and I eventually get caught up in it, wanting to call everyone I ever met and tell them about it. Sidney has already trebled the prices on my paintings. A write-up in Art Forum for anyone in the show would have been a great success, but he’s even more pleased because I’m so closely connected to the gallery. He’s expecting this to give his business a boost and he’s probably right. It will bring in a lot of visitors.

By the end of the day, the excitement has left me tired but happy. I’m surprised to see Brian turn up. He often picks me up from PIFA because he has the Jeep more often than not, whereas the gallery is close to the loft, so it’s rare for him to come here. But when I’ve locked up the back and walk through the gallery switching off the lights, there he is, standing in front of my paintings.


“Hey. What are doing here?”

“Admiring Sidney’s business sense.” He nods towards the new price tag.

I have to laugh. Brian takes my hand and pulls me towards the door. “Come. I’m starving.”

I want to tell him about the article, but I remember how he reacted when I asked him if he liked my paintings and I don’t want to spoil my good mood, or his. So I just follow him for a couple of blocks, listening to him talk about one of his lecturers, who has a habit of telling lengthy irrelevant anecdotes during class. Strangely enough Brian actually makes it sound funny, even though the point of the story is that it’s not.

Then he ushers me into a restaurant, where he gives his name and we’re shown to a table. We’ve been here before, usually on special occasions. Those would be when there’s something to celebrate, like exam results and such like, because this is Brian and celebrating things like anniversaries or, God help him, Valentine’s Day is out of the question. It’s a little more up-market than what we’re used to but not so much as to be stuffy. Brian orders some wine and while we’re perusing the menu, I marvel at how much he’s changed from our first meal together in Chicago. Then, he didn’t know anything about wine or food or how to order with just the right amount of confidence without coming over as an arrogant jerk. Now it seems second nature to him. He’s come a long way in some respects.

When we’ve ordered and the wine has arrived, he raises his glass to me. “To the next Andy Warhol.”

I smile. “You’ve seen the article?”

“Lindsay showed it to me in class.”

He drinks some of his wine and asks, “Is it as big a deal as she says?”

I nod. “Yeah, I suppose it is.” It’s a tremendous achievement and I’m only gradually becoming aware of it. My surprise and, quite frankly, my dislike for Caswell have so far distracted me from the enormity of it.

“So, was he a good fuck?”

I nearly choke on my wine. “Did you see him at the showing?”

“Which one was he?”

“The guy with the glasses, black hair – receding – the one Sidney was fawning over all night.”

“When the guy wasn’t drooling over you. Yeah, I saw him. So you didn’t fuck him. Wow. Your stuff must be good.”

“Must be.”

“I knew it was.” His smile is soft and he looks so… proud almost. But there’s something else there as well, that I can’t quite identify, something he’s holding back.

“Thank you.” It means a lot to me. I got used to Brian voicing an opinion about anyone and anything. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes annoying, but it never leaves me unaffected because no one is as important to me as he is.

For a while, we discuss the article, which he knows almost as well as I do. He must have been paying real close attention.

“So when are you leaving to conquer New York?” he asks casually.

“Uhm, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Why not?”

“Because my life’s here. And because a single article isn’t going to make me the darling of the New York art world for more than five minutes, if that.”

“So you’re just not going to try? What about your dreams?”

“What dreams are those?”

“Becoming a famous artist in a place that actually has an art scene?”

He has no idea. Does he really not know what my dreams are? Maybe it’s difficult to comprehend for a twenty-one-year-old that I’m at a stage in my life where I’m ready to settle down, where people are more important than places or a career. I could never leave here because I could never leave Brian. I would like to be able to make a living from my art, but I want to be with Brian more. I worked out some time ago that he’s my one chance at true happiness. I just have to wait for him to get to the same point.

Of course, if I pointed any of that out to him, he would scramble for the nearest exit. I’m very much aware that he’s not anywhere near that point yet. In fact, recently he seems to have moved further away from it. He’s spending more time at college now, hanging out with the other students, going to parties, getting drunk, fucking around. Whereas over the past two years, he seemed to gradually warm to the idea of a relationship.

Brian has always had phases where he pulled away from me to live more of an unattached life and phases where he’s seeking my company and even intimacy. I don’t know what happened over the summer that made him pull away, but I’m hoping that this phase will end soon. It’s been going on for months now, disregarding the spell when he was hiding from Lindsay, and there seems to be no end in sight. Sometimes I get despondent and wonder if I’m just a convenience to him, but I’m determined to stick with him until he gets it all out of his system. He’s worth the wait.

“You’ve no idea how many people come to the gallery every week to show their portfolio to Sidney or me. And half of them have a recommendation from their professor, or some newspaper article or someone or other in the art world, who thinks they’re the next Picasso. I’m not going off to New York, where I have no job, no place to live and no connections, to become one of them. New York has enough starving artists without me.”

He is unconvinced. “Maybe. But this could be your big chance. I'd be off like a shot.”

“I’m sure you would.” I smile softly because it came out a little more sarcastic than I intended. He’s young and ambitious. Of course, he would take whatever opportunity presented itself to him. And he never said that I'll have any part in his plans for the future. “I like my life.”

“I d…” He stops and then changes tack. “You should be very proud regardless.”

“I am.”

At the end of the meal, he insists on paying, saying that I can’t pay for my own celebration. I feel a little uncomfortable about that because I know he doesn’t have much money this year, but he insists and I don’t want to deflate his ego. Then he comes home with me to celebrate some more in our own unique style.

My two paintings sell within a week or so, but other than that nothing changes.

Two weeks later Debbie and Vic return home. They've emailed Michael a few times during their trip and the news was always upbeat and, quite honestly, too good to be true. Michael insists on having a welcome home party for them. I have my doubts about that. Even though I never expected to see Vic again, the fact that he survived the last two months doesn’t mean that he'll survive much longer. A party after a long flight might be too much for him to handle.

I arrive a little late because I was working at the gallery until eight. Everybody is already here and there’s food laid out on the table for people to help themselves, while Ben is setting up the projector for the slide show. Debbie squeezes me in greeting and when I see Vic, I’m surprised how well he looks. Not only does he have a suntan, but he also looks a lot less exhausted.

“Wow, Italy really agreed with you.”

He grins at me. “You should see the Italian men. But I have to admit that it’s more down to my meds agreeing with me.”

“They’ve kicked in?”

“Well, my T-cells are up. So yes, they’re kicking ass.”

I give him a spontaneous hug, which I’ve never done before. This is really the best possible news and all the more welcome for being so unexpected. We get interrupted by the lights going out for the slide show. There’s not really much room, so I move to sit on the side of the armchair Brian’s lounging in and find myself pulled into his lap within half a minute. I haven’t seen him since yesterday and we use the cover of the darkness for a make-out session as you can only have them with Brian.

I don’t see much of the slides, but I find other people’s holiday snaps boring anyway. I really hope that the others are engrossed because I can’t imagine anybody else finding it very entertaining having to watch us and my mother is here as well. Mom never says anything, but I still get embarrassed kissing in front of her. She doesn’t like Brian, never did, but sometimes I wonder if it’s less about him and more about the fact that he’s a guy. It was easy for her to accept my other boyfriends because none of them ever made it obvious what we were. Even when visiting her, we would always sit apart. Brian’s not like that. In fact, he revels in physical contact and innuendos in front of her because he doesn’t like her much either.

Debbie mutters something about how much she hates couples making out in front of her and to my surprise Brian just chuckles and carries on. After that I lose all my qualms about this because all I can think of is that he didn’t correct her when she said ‘couples’. And since he’s not jumping up to escape, I don’t have to fear him acting out because of it either.

Two months is a long time and there are a lot of slides. Not that I mind in the slightest. When the lights come on, Brian and I stop and he wriggles out from under me to go and have a smoke outside. He’s in extraordinary good spirits. I remain in the chair with my head hanging over one the arms, looking at Ted and Melanie upside down, while they’re discussing college funds. Nothing can faze me at the moment. Not even the thought of the baby and all the upheaval that might bring still. Everybody seems to be happy today. On days like this it really feels like a family.

We’re having a very pleasant evening until Brian uses a lull in the conversation to say, “I was headhunted today.”

“Isn’t that a bit early?” Ted says. “You’ve got a few months at college left to go and you haven’t done your finals yet.”

“The offer's dependent on keeping my high scores, but otherwise it’s pretty much a done deal.” He has every right to be so nonchalant about it, because he's never gotten anything below an A. I feel a sense of pride that people have already started taking an interest in him. I always knew he'd go far.

“Who made the offer?”

“Adam Lyons himself. He came personally to offer me the job.” He looks at me and it’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking. I do sincerely hope that the same is true for me.

“From Kennedy & Lyons in New York?”

There are a few seconds of silence.

“So, if you get this job, you’re going to New York?” Michael then says incredulously. It’s the first time he’s spoken to Brian all evening.

I know exactly how he feels. And our conversation over dinner comes back to me, where he told me that he'd be off like a shot if he had an opportunity like mine. I should have paid closer attention.

“Not if, when,” Brian says cooly.

I want to be happy for him. I want to congratulate him because Kennedy & Lyons are one of the best advertising agencies around. I want to be proud and I am. But at the same time, all I can think is that he'll be leaving next summer. And, for once, I don’t care what people will make of it, I just pick up my jacket and leave.

PART EIGHT here: http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/23565.html
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