The Gift

The Gift

Justin drew in a deep breath then slowly let it go. The scent of sweat and sex and exotic soap swirled around his head and a soft smile formed at the corners of his lips. "Yes," he thought, "I'm really here. I'm really home." The smile grew a little wider as he wondered how he could have ever doubted that fact. This bed, this loft, this man lying beside him lost in sleep, bathed in a soft orange glow . . . they were always a part of him. They always would be, no matter what. He understood that now.

He'd never felt as safe and comfortable—as right—with Ethan as he did here. At Ethan's, he'd always felt a little like a visitor, treated with special attention, but never really allowed access to that part of Ethan that lay past the flowers and dreams, past the scented candles and the violin solos. He'd only ever inhabited the guest room of Ethan's heart. He'd never been allowed to wander any further or any deeper. But maybe . . . maybe he'd never really wanted to go any further with Ethan. Maybe all he really wanted was to be a visitor there. How could he be anything else when every day—whether he'd acknowledged it or not—his heart felt the constant pull to come back. Back to the place he always knew he belonged. Back to his home and family. Back to Brian.

Justin sighed and glanced at the alarm clock on the end table. 3:30AM. He felt Brian shift under the duvet and, as if on cue, his dick began to twitch, anticipating the soft touch it always welcomed at any time of the day or night. But it relaxed again when Justin felt Brian settle down heavily and a soft snore begin to fill the space between them. He grinned mischievously. Out like a light and they'd only done it three times that night. He'd have to tease him about that tomorrow.

He rolled over and tried to get some sleep. He had an early class in the morning and he could use the shut-eye. But, after a few long, fruitless minutes, he decided it was useless. Instead, he got up and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.

He took his glass and padded softly through the silent loft. Each perfect piece of furniture was meticulously placed to accentuate the minimalist design. The simple white curtains that framed the window were pulled back. The golden light from the streetlamps and the full moon's cool, silver glow seemed to melt together, casting a shimmering liquid light through the window that settled like a sheet of silk across the entire room. Its touch seemed to soften the stark elegance of the arrangement.

He stopped beside his computer and considered trying to capture that light in a sketch when his attention was diverted to the low table in a corner of the room.

There stood a handful of small, framed photographs—the only tangible items in the loft that proved that its owner had any human connections. Justin wandered over and placed his water glass on the table. His eyes grazed over a picture of Brian and Michael with their arms around each other, Michael staring into Brian's eyes like a puppy looking up at his master while Brian smirked at the camera. There was a picture of Lindsay and Brian from what must have been their college years, and one of Debbie and Vic. He smiled when he saw his favorite photo. He picked it up and let his eyes wander over the strong arms that cradled Gus, the beautiful hand that gently held the bottle to the baby's mouth, the way Gus looked up at his Daddy with trust and faith and the way Brian looked back with tenderness and caring. Whether Brian would admit it or not, Justin knew there was a tender heart hiding behind his "fuck the world" attitude. This picture was proof of it.

Gently, he set the picture down. He was about to walk away when he noticed something that caught his eye. Hiding behind all the other photos, in a very small, unassuming frame stood the picture of a person Justin had never seen before. Curious, he picked it up and studied it. A young man with bright eyes and wispy blond hair stared back at him with an amused expression on his face. He wore a white, long sleeved dress shirt unbuttoned around the neck, and a pair of straight dark dress pants that made his legs seem very long. The man leaned casually against the side of a small black car that looked like one of those Model T's. His arms were crossed over his chest and in his right hand, he looked like he was holding something--but Justin couldn't quite figure out what it was. The picture was black and white and by the make of the car and the style of the man's clothes, it was certainly at least 60 years old. And though Justin was sure he'd never met this man, he had to admit there was something familiar about his face—something around the mouth and nose . . .

"Whatcha doin'?" Brian's voice and the sensation of arms snaking around his middle made Justin jump.

"You scared me," he breathed. He was tempted to quickly set the photo aside as Brian started to run his lips along the side of his neck. He wasn't sure how Brian would react to his studying a private part of his life, but he quickly dismissed that concern. After all, this mysterious picture was set out on display with all the rest. If Brian wanted to keep this man a secret, he'd never have put it out on the table, right? And anyway, Justin was beginning to have trouble keeping his insatiable curiosity at bay. It was worth the risk. "Who's this?" he asked.

"Hmm?" Brian replied somewhat absently, giving Justin the impression that he was still half-asleep.

"This," he repeated, pushing the picture up to Brian's face.

Brian grabbed the photo and studied it. Justin saw how Brian's eyes darkened as his expression grew serious—how he bit at his lips in the way he always did when he was unsure about how to proceed with something. Finally, he turned to Justin and looked him in the eye.

"He's my grandfather," Brian answered matter-of-factly.

Justin smiled. "I didn't know you had a grandfather."

"Surprise," Brian snarked. "Though it may seem that my parents landed on earth from some ice planet at the back end of our galaxy, they actually were born here and actually had parents of their own."

"You know what I mean," Justin replied. "You never talked about him before."

"There wasn't much to say," Brian answered in a low voice. He started to place the photo back in its spot on the table, but Justin snatched it from his hand.

"Was he Jack's dad or your mom's?"

Brian sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Justin, it's almost 4 in the morning. It's cold and the only reason I'm standing here naked is because I'm horny and I don't feel like doing it solo. Now get back to bed."

"Tell me, first," Justin said, wrapping an arm around Brian's waist.

Brian hesitated for a minute, but soon he seemed to realize that Justin had his number. Again.

"He was Joanie's dad," he replied simply.

"He was real handsome," Justin commented. Looking at Brian, he could see the resemblance between the two now. "What's that he's holding in his hand?"

"What?"

"There—in his right hand."

Brian took the picture and studied it again. Justin thought he saw shadow of a smile flicker across his face, but it was gone as quickly as it came. "It's a harmonica," he answered.

"A harmonica?" Justin asked as if he hadn't heard Brian correctly.

"Yeah. He always had it with him—since long before I was around."

"Did he play it well?" Justin asked.

Brian bit his lips again and set the picture down. "He was OK."

"He looks like a real nice guy," Justin pursued. "Hard to believe he was your mom's dad."

"Well, she took after her mother," Brian replied coldly. "No wonder he got a job as a traveling salesman—anything to get away from those selfish cunts. He was always happier on the road. But he wasn't some selfish shit. He always took care of them. Always sent money home regularly—no matter how shitty they treated him."

"Did you know him well?" Justin asked as Brian turned away toward the bar. He knew he was pushing Brian, probing deep, but the fact that he'd been allowed this far into Brian's private life emboldened him to delve even deeper.

Brian grabbed a glass and poured a double JB. "He came over a few times when I was a kid. Always unannounced," Brian snickered and took a drink. "You should have seen Joanie's face when she'd open the door and he'd be standing there playing some blues shit on his harmonica—he must have known it drove her crazy."

Brian took another drink and was silent. Justin felt the awkwardness build as Brian's gaze drifted out before him to a place far away. Justin started to cross the room toward the bar when Brian's low, quiet voice stopped him.

"He'd take me out whenever he came over. We'd go to a field or the park or something—always outside. He hated being inside. Anyway, we'd sit on a park bench or under a tree or whatever and he'd play his harmonica. And I'd listen. It always sounded like he was telling a story—sometimes sad, sometimes happy . . . but—there was always something, I don't know, something—free—in his songs. Like he was free. And just listening to him . . . it was like he was telling me I could be free, too. Free from all the shit my parents dumped on me every fucking day of my life." He took the glass, downed the rest of the JB in one gulp and snorted. "Amazing the shit you believe when you're eight."

"What happened to him?" Justin asked quietly.

"He died."

"That must have been hard."

"It didn't matter," Brian said as he poured another double. "Fuck, I didn't even know about it until all his shit was delivered to our house. There wasn't much—a few boxes. I knew Joanie would throw everything out or give it to Goodwill, so when she wasn't looking I hijacked that picture."

"What happened to his harmonica?" Justin asked.

"Fuck if I know. Probably buried it with him or something."

Brian finished his drink and headed toward the bedroom. Justin knew that the conversation was over, as far as Brian was concerned. But Justin still felt that both the conversation and the story were still unfinished. He wanted to say something . . . to tell Brian that he cared, that he was honored that Brian would share even this little bit about himself, that Brian was his family, that—he loved him. But words—especially words like "love"—never sat well with Brian. Justin knew that all too well. No, Brian reacted much better to action.

A smile crossed his lips as an idea began to shape itself in his imagination.

"Fuck the world!" Brian growled as he slammed the sliding door shut behind him.

"Hello to you, too," Justin called from the bathroom. He had to laugh. Brian's moods, though legendary and often frightening, could also be pretty hilarious at times.

"Why is it that I'm forced to work with every incompetent asshole that walks the face of the earth? Tell me what I did to deserve that?"

Justin listened as Brian performed his usual routine, tossing his briefcase onto the table, then stomping up the stairs to the bedroom to change.

"Gardner forced the shittiest, most boring account on me today—one that any zit-faced intern could have successfully . . . what the fuck is this?"

Justin emerged from the bathroom and watched as Brian picked up the small white box. Justin had considered wrapping it in fancy paper and tying it up with a bow but soon thought better of it. Brian would never have opened it if it looked all fru-fru.

Brian glanced over at Justin and then back down at the box. Justin saw how the irritation in Brian's eyes began to dissolve as curiosity took over.

"Well?" Justin prodded. "Aren't you going to open it?"

Without a word, Brian lifted the lid. For a second he stood there, just staring into the box. Justin's heart began to beat a little faster as he noticed Brian's face go blank.

"Do you like it?" Justin asked quietly. "I saw it in the music store this morning on my way to class. The guy there said it was an antique from the Sixties. It was in good condition, so I thought I'd buy it."

Brian lifted the harmonica from the box and held it in his hand. Gently, he fingered the bright metal and then looked up at Justin. For a minute, Justin wasn't sure whether Brian was going to pummel him or kiss him. Instead, Brian simply said, "thanks."

Justin let go of a breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding. He walked over, snaked his arm around Brian's waist and looked down at the harmonica resting in Brian's hand. It looked right there. It looked like it belonged there. Just like he belonged there with them.

He reached up and traced the top of the harmonica with his finger. He smiled again when he saw the word engraved there—"freedom".

The End