Justin is exhausted. He's been working nonstop for the past month. Get up, go to his shift at the diner, go to his studio and paint, go to work at the bookstore, make gallery rounds, maybe go paint some more, get home, sleep, repeat. He feels dead on his feet, more tired than usual because he cant make it back to Pittsburgh for his own birthday and no one else has the time or money to make it out to New York, and that depresses him.
He undresses and looks at the clock. It's nearly 2:30 in the morning. He rolls over, but his eyes wont close. He tosses and turns for a while before sitting up and grabbing his cell phone. He punches in the number he'd memorized long ago and waits, counting the rings.
Brian answers. "Hey, Sunshine."
"Brian." Justin's sigh of relief is just on this side of flat and Brian notices.
"What's up, Justin?" he was never one to beat around the bush.
"I'm exhausted. And my fucking birthday…" he trails off with a sigh. His tired mind latches on to the memory of a birthday so very long ago. He lies back down on the bed and closes his eyes, remember, and speaks softly to Brian. "When I was eight, my parents bought me coloured pencils for my birthday. Well, my mom did. My dad got me a couple of hermit crabs. I spent hours sketching them. My mom hung the best drawing on the refrigerator."
He hears Brian murmur softly, an indication that he's listening. "Brian?"
"Tell me a birthday memory of yours."
Brian sighs heavily. "When I turned sixteen, my dad almost broke my arm. I went over to Debbie's. She baked me a huge chocolate cake that I couldn't possibly eat. She and Mikey and Vic all pitched to buy me a birthday present because they knew my family wasn't going to give me one. So they gave me my first camera." It's the most Brian has said about his family in a long time. He hears Brian's inhale through the phone.
"When St. James accepted me, my parents gave me a real sketchbook and real drawing pencils. It was like they trusted me with adult things."
"When I graduated from high school, Debbie threw a huge party for me and Michael and Lindsay and invited all my high school friends. She gave us all lots of food and supplied the keg herself." Justin chuckles. He hears Brian's tired half-smirk through the phone. "Since we're talking about memories, tell me something that no one else knows, something you've never told anyone."
Justin groans. "Christ, Brian. Hold on, I gotta think." He flops onto his back and squints up to the darkness. "I…..kissed a boy once in middle school. I fucking loved it. I think he did too. But….he moved away the next week. When his father came to pick him up for school, I saw him glaring at me like I did something wrong. At the time, I didn't understand. I never saw him again and I don't know what happened to him but I know I was the reason he moved away."
"Sunshine, it wasn't-"
"My fault, I know. But to a thirteen year old mind, it's different, you know?" Justin licks his chapped lips and runs a hand through his hair. "Now you tell me. Tell me something no one else knows."
He recognizes Brian's heavy sigh and pictures him sitting up in bed, the blue lights washing over his bare back, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. He almost grins. It's not an unusual image. Another sigh penetrates over the line, but this one is shakier, more uncertain, more pained. Brian clears his throat and through the phone line it sounds like he's hiding a whimper. In the absence of words, he hears the rough slide of skin on skin as Brian rubs at his face.
Another shaky sigh. Justin can hear Brian open his mouth. His words are slow, soft, uncertain, scared and pained, the sound of memories, of wounds still open and hurting, that will never heal. "After….after you were bashed…..I didn't just leave. I…..waited there for three days to see if you were gonna be okay…And I….I came to the hospital….every single night while you were there….while you were asleep. I didn't….want to lose you….Someone….someone had to look after you at night when you were….all alone."
Justin sits bolt upright in bed. His own voice his rough, barely above a whisper. "Brian?"
Justin can hear tears in Brian's voice now. "It's the truth. I just….couldn't see you like that…couldn't let you see me that...way….couldn't let you see that I…."
"Brian?" Justin's soft voice cuts of his ramblings. "It's okay. I'm alright now. I love you."
"You're alright. But you're not here."
"I know." But even now, Justin's mind is drifting to a plan to order a plan ticket in the morning. "But I'm alive. I'm okay. I love you. That's all that matters."
"I know, Sunshine. I….love you, too." It's still painful for him to say.
"Go to sleep." Justin hears a murmur of consent and listens until he hears the gentle wheeze from Brian's deviated septum. Then he hangs up and sits on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands.