MOTH FOR THE STAR

601 - Tenants of Earth (Chapter 1)

* April 2005 *

You would not easily guess

All the modes of distress

Which torture the tenants of earth;

And the various evils,

Which like so many devils,

Attend the poor souls from their birth.

- Shelley

New York

JUSTIN:

The air in New York hit me like a slap across the face. Humid and clogged with fumes, it burned my throat and made my head spin as I stepped across the road from the airport dragging my bulky black suitcase behind me. That suitcase held my entire life, packed up and shoved together for the hasty move to Manhattan. Almost my entire life. I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders up to my ears as I hurriedly pushed thoughts of Brian out of my mind. That last night together, so tender and desperate and full of...love.

A shout jolted me out of my reverie:

"Justin Taylor? Is that you?"

It was Daphne's friend: a voluptuous lady with an elfin face full of smiles that were not unlike Daphne's. She hurried towards me, her multicoloured coat catching in the spring breeze, and her blonde hair all over the place. I couldn't help but grin. She looked around my age, although her weathered red cheeks and sparkling eye makeup made it hard to tell.

"You fit the description Daphne gave me" She gushed, eyeing me over keenly "I'm Adele Hills and I just know you are going to LOVE it here!"

I laughed softly and shook her bangled, be-ringed, outstretched hand. It was a short walk to the taxi stand and before I knew it apartment blocks were sliding past us in a glimmer of mirrored silver.

The apartment Adele brought me to was owned, she told me, by an uncle of hers and was just above her own. I thanked her cordially and invited her to come in when she hesitated by the door after giving me the keys. As she bustled about happily, switching on electrics and gas, I walked slowly through the open plan flat, my hands in my sweater pockets. It was large, nowhere near as large as the loft, but ample for my needs I guessed. The wooden floor was polished, and the stainless steel kitchen was new and clean. The windows were large and looked out down the grandiose promenade of East 34th Street, bordered by trees and bustling with cars and taxis. I swallowed the lump in my throat and forced a smile when she came round to join me.

"So, Daphne tells me you are an artist!' She encouraged, and I turned away from the window.

"Yeah" I grinned sheepishly "Although I got suspended from Art School"

"No shit!" She exclaimed, and I returned her grin. "She didn't tell me THAT about you! Mind you, she hasn't told me a whole lot at all - maybe she didn't want to put me off letting you stay in my uncle's apartment!"

The conversation turned to trivial things and after making sure I was set up and comfortable, she left, beaming and assuring me to call if I wanted anything. Sure. I wanted my home. I wanted Brian. I wanted to take back the decision we had made. But there was no turning back now. I got up, putting it all down to relocation nerves, and paced to the bathroom, determined to do this on my own, and succeed.

***

Pittsburgh

MICHAEL

Brian did NOT sell Babylon. After the club was refurbished, and the last speck of bomb-dust had been cleaned out, it was reopened and business carried on as usual. At least it appeared to. Michael Novotny pushed his way through the throng of bodies on the dance floor, to find Brian leaning against the bar, his eyes fixed on some indiscernible point in the crush, and the club lights lighting his face in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours. Michael noticed how in one flash, the lines in Brian's face were accentuated and his skin seemed pale as sorrow. In another flash, his eyes were lit with a predatory blue and the fine jawline seemed too perfect to be real. Michael thought of comics. And then Brian had seen him, and was moving towards him with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

"Hey, Michael, what a nice surprise!" he forwarded sarcastically, "Where's the professor?"

"They are all at my house" Michael said. "There is a bit of an emergency."

Brian's brow furrowed. "Is everything all right?" he shouted above the crash and drum of the music. By way of reply Michael took him by the arm and led him out and down the steps into the fresh April night. Brian turned and faced him, his features serious and questioning, and Michael couldn't help but smile.

"Its my Mom" he announced. "She is having a crisis!"

Brian took a step back from him, tilting his head back briefly and folding his arms, an invitation to continue.

"With her hair!" Michael looked down at the pavement and up at the sky and then finally at Brian. "She wants to burn her wig!"

But Brian was already smiling, and then he started chuckling. "Really Michael" he responded "You. Are. SO. Pathetic!" Then his face became serious again and he assumed a long-suffering expression. "I should have guessed it ran in the family."

Much as he pleaded, Michael could not persuade Brian to come to help Debbie, and just got more curt laughter when he tried harder. As he walked away from the Club, he turned and watched the lithe figure in black silk shirt and jeans ascending back into the thumpa thumpa, and he supposed that perhaps Brian was not as perturbed by the recent events and Justin's departure than he had thought. Little did he know that Brian also did not sell the house, Britin. Although he did not speak of that to anyone.

***

New York

JUSTIN:

The day after my arrival I received a phone call, stipulating that one Mr. Olsen wanted to meet with me to 'discuss my potential in New York'. I politely accepted, my heart thudding in my chest and, having put the phone down, turned on my heel with my hands behind my head to look at my empty flat. A blank canvas. Hell, I knew what to do with those. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.

The meeting that afternoon came by all too quickly, and after making sure I was presentable in a grey suit and black tie, I stopped and looked closely into my reflection in the bathroom mirror. This is what I want to become. This is my chance. I know am a good artist; my hand is healed, my style is matured and I am sure I can improve to fit the expectations of the big city critics. I know I am sweet, and hot, and desirable, and I know that I can have almost any man I please here in the big apple, so why do I not feel turned on? My eyes stared back at me from the glass, blue and impassive and offering no answers.

It had all happened so fast. You and Brian were together again, and you had accepted him and it was all a blur of joy and giddiness. You had joined like never before, rough and hard, all sweat and teeth and lips and gasps and laughter, lost in the fairytale, the knowledge of your bond a scolding secret between you. And his acknowledgment had been everything for you in those few happy days, you felt like a prince, his prince, and nothing else mattered. But it had mattered, and it was over as quickly as it had begun. And then you were expressing unsaid good-byes and touching his body, perhaps for the last time, trying to commit every inch to memory. The pain and love in his eyes then, as his guard slipped, took your breath away, and all you could do was kiss him, and hold him, and pull him inside you, pretending it would never end. And yet it was you who left, you who insisted that neither of you change.

Mr. Olsen spotted me wavering unsure by the gallery doors and beckoned formally. He was a tall thin man with an upper-class paunch covered by a pristine white shirt and an expensive suit. I approached unhurriedly, my portfolio in my hand, until we met in the middle of the floor and shook hands. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

"So, you are Mr. Taylor' he observed in a cultured Bostonian accent, and I nodded in confirmation. "It was very good of you to meet with me on such short notice Mr. Olsen..."

"Henry, please! On the contrary, I am highly intrigued by what I have heard of you from Simon Caswell. He seemed pretty impressed by your talent, not to mention admiring of your determination in the face of diversity. The fact you have succeeded despite your...difficult past."

He was talking of the bashing, of course. I swallowed a caustic response and turned my head instead to look at some of the massive paintings that adorned the walls of the deserted room. He seemed to read my thoughts and began telling me of their creators, some sponsored by this, his gallery, others with private mentors. I tried not to judge, but could not help but find some of them crude, meaningless and heavy. Henry Olsen picked this up from my expression with a hearty laugh and agreed.

"I am hoping that you are the young blood this city needs to pick it up out of the gutter, Justin! Now, are you going to let me look at your work, or is this a waste of my time?"

***

Pittsburgh

CARL:

Sgt. Carl Horvath arrived home to find his house crowded and filled with activity. From what he could make out; Ted, Blake, Emmett, Michael, Hunter, Ben and a couple of unknown queens were all crammed into the space he ventured to call a living-room. Cups of tea were carried and sloshed, pillows were plumped up and voices all talked at once, whilst in the midst, Debbie sat resplendent on the couch, talking rapidly, gesturing and seemingly protesting and trying to get up, each time pushed back down by numerous hands.

Taking a deep breath, Carl strode into the room, and putting on his most authoritative voice, enquired: "Debbie? What in God's name is going on here?"

Emmett disentangled himself to come over to the bewildered man. "It seems" he nodded at Debbie "that Deb wants to burn all her wigs - I just got the gist from snippets here and there, so my opinion is not as solid as Zach O'Toole, but I think our main goal is to calm her down enough to get a sensible explanation out of her..."

He was interrupted by a foghorn shout: "I'm fine, goddamnit! Can't you just leave me the fuck alone and let me do what I want to do!" Emmett raised his eyebrows and minced off to boil some more water. Carl sighed and clucked before squashing himself down onto the sofa with Debbie. He ushered the others away and held her hand, stopping her from jumping up immediately, and when he looked at her questioningly it all came out.

"I was at the supermarket today and I found myself looking for pasta because Justin so liked pasta..." she banged her fist down on the sofa "and one of these goddamn queens came up to me and told me that I looked like mutton dressed as lamb! ...And then I thought of Sunshine and how he never criticised me, and I realised what's the point of wearing the wigs anymore...It doesn't make me any more interesting, its not going to change who I am, its not going to bring him back, it just makes me look like a plumped up tart wearing a fucking bird's nest!"

Carl leant back against the sofa and looked round at the staring faces surrounding them. Then he looked at Deb. The two unidentified dates had found a way to surreptitiously sneak an exit and were no longer there. Ben and Blake and Ted exchanged glances. Michael had stopped protesting. Then Emmett broke the silence.

"Well!" he exclaimed cheerily. "Lets 'get this show in the road' as they say, and give your birds nests a send-off they will never forget!"

And with that he ordered Michael into the garden to collect firewood, and whilst the others quietly took their leave, he set to gathering the ingredients for a true cult funeral. Carl watched his woman during this; she sat still, unheeding, lost in her own thoughts, her hands playing with the garish leopard print rug.

Eventually, she sighed. "After all that has happened: Justin's bashing, Brian's cancer, bless him, the bomb, Michael's injury... I think its time I grew up." She looked at him with a resolute expression. "I'm always going on at the boys about becoming men, yet I still go around dressed like I was as a goddamn teenager" A comfortable silence followed, in which Carl smiled and Debbie sighed. "You know, I haven't had my own hair in 30 years" she remarked. Carl chuckled "Well, I'm sure looking forward to seeing it."

***

New York

JUSTIN

I lay in the semi-darkness, knowing that I had a couple of hours before my alarm clock went off, drilling the ominous prospect of my first meeting with the board of Mr Olsen's gallery. I had woken after dreaming of Pittsburgh, and Brian. His smouldering eyes seemed to pierce my soul and in my dream I wanted to touch him, caress his soft familiar skin but try as I might I could not reach him; mists of frustration clouding my mind. I woke with my heart aching. So I lay in my bed, and let my thoughts wander back over 5 years.

The first time he fucked me, I had almost choked with my nervousness. Of course I had been turned on, the sight of him alone was enough to do that. And I had known, somehow, from the moment I first saw him underneath that fated street lamp, had got my first glimpse of the pores in his skin, the dark flutter of his lashes, the hard curve of his neck, that he was the one. But that did not prevent my fear: I felt totally lost and yet exited at the same time. Years later when Brian remarked that he could have been a murderer and strangled me, I saw the sense in his words. But sometimes something is just too right to doubt. Brian had been so calm when he took my innocence, and I had needed him to be. Working through my tenseness, he had calmed me with short passionate kisses that spoke to me 'Its all right.' 'Let me lead' 'Want to come along for the ride?'. Brian Kinney had always communicated through his actions, and at that moment, it was the only way I could hear it.

I smiled as I remembererd how I slipped into his life almost unawares, how I became a 2-night-stand, and then a 3-night-stand, and then, after he came to fetch me from New York, I somehow was no longer a trick.

When I had opened the hotel-room door to see him leaning against the door frame, a sardonic expression on his face, and the ghost of a smile behind the pissed-off look he gave me, my heart had jumped a little. Of course I knew I had been passing borrowed time. No-one runs away from home and steals a credit card without any ramifications, and to be honest, I had wanted, nay, LONGED for him to come after me, to give me that little hint that he cared. And so I had helplessly invited him in, and when he swept past me, tersely commenting on how he had paid for everything, I followed him, knowing my fantasy escape was over, but secretly rejoicing in his presence. As I stood opposite him and watched him looking coldly around, I noticed at his rumpled clothes and smelt him. Sweat, and stale car fumes and old cigarettes. As I realised he probably slept in the car, my heart did a little skip and I felt myself harden; moving towards him and taking off his shirt. I loved the way he tolerated me, showed me that he was not really angry, sighed into the hot hotel air. And when he finally claimed me, it was with a passion I had not previously seen in him. Being deprived of sex for the duration of the trip made him desperate, boiling in his need and crushing me. Hot and hard and frantic was what I welcomed, because it was how I felt. It was how we both felt.

***

Pittsburgh

Lindsey smiled as she saw Brian's corvette pulling up outside the entrance to the park. She had left Mel looking after Gus and JR in their new home in Canada to fly into Pittsburgh for a few days, with the excuse of seeing people and meeting a prospective art student. But the truth was, she missed it. She missed having her friends around the corner, she missed seeing Brian with his son, she missed Justin's dazzling smile and Debbie's biting rationality. Biting her lip, she watched as Brian ducked out of the car, dressed smartly in black jeans and a cream V-neck sweater underneath a casual black jacket. She could not help but notice how fit and handsome he looked as he strode towards her with a smile.

"Where's Gus?" he demanded, pulling her in for a hug and kissing her on the mouth.

Lindsey looked down "Actually, I didn't bring him" She stepped back from her friend and smoothed the material over his hard shoulders.

"What? you come all this way and you don't even plan to let me see my kid?"

"Actually, I wanted to see how you were, to talk" Lindsey peered at him, their eyes on almost the same level.

They began to walk through the park, green leaves on the trees heralding the coming spring. Brian was silent beside her and Lindsey found herself twisting her hands. "I encouraged him to go to New York, Brian" she ventured "I knew that if he didn't make the effort now, he never will. And you know how talented he is, it is just not fair...'

"I know." A curt reply. Lindsey sneaked a glance at the man beside her and found his eyes on the canopy of branches above them, hands in his coat pockets. He sighed, and suddenly she felt an outpouring of gratitude and love for him.

Ever since they were kids, she had always seen how, behind the nonchalant and heartless front, he had helped those he cared for. And she had seen how much he had done for Justin, and she knew what the young man meant to Brian. Had seen the way Justin had broken down the barriers of Brian's insecurity, had felt the tangible love they had shared, had seen the way that Brian sacrificed everything to let Justin do what he needed to do. She remembered then, that over and over, Brian had given up his own happiness for the happiness of others, and she felt a tightening in her chest. When he gave up his parental rights to Mel so they could stay together, when he outed Michael at the cost of his friendship, so Michael could move on, when he let Justin walk out with Ethan to experience new things, when he pretended he wasn't going on the liberty ride, so Justin to go to Hollywood. And now he had let Justin go, again, without a word of protest, because he wanted what was best for him. Lindsey felt herself tearing up as she saw how alone Brian felt, and she reached out and took his cold hand out of his pocket.

"Thank you" she whispered.

Brian just looked at her with a woeful smile as they walked and then, gripping her hand tighter, he exhaled and stood straighter, squaring his shoulders. And she knew that was all there was to say in that conversation.

***

End of chapter 1