Night Before - 12:30 a.m.
"I never thought I would see the day," Brian scolded the caller.
"Shut up," Justin retorted. "How else am I supposed to get all my shit back to Pittsburgh? It certainly wouldn't fit in your car."
"Is it my fault you collected so much stuff in one year? For someone who started out practically living on the street, you sure accumulated enough shit in a relatively short time," the brunet pointed out.
"Hey, can I help it if I happened to be successful at what I did? Besides, my art supplies alone would take up the whole trunk space – of a normal car, that is."
"I'll have you know my car is quite normal, thank you very much. It just depends on what you want it for. When I bought it, I never thought it would be used as a U-Haul."
Justin snorted. "No worry about that. I'm surprised with your long legs YOU even fit into it."
"Why, Sunshine, you never complained before about how I fit."
"Ha, ha….. Just tell me you won't forget to pick me up tomorrow at the station."
"Don't worry, you little twat. I've got it practically branded on my forehead. Mikey has already graciously given me permission to bring his Stepford fagmobile to pick you and all your shit up." He recited, "It leaves Penn Station at 10:50 a.m. tomorrow and gets in at 8:05 p.m. in good old Pittsburgh. Jeez, Justin, nine hours and 20 minutes? Maybe the Greyhound WOULD be better."
"No way, Kinney! Several hours on a crowded bus that fucking stinks, listening to wailing babies and sharing one bathroom? No, thanks – I'll take the Amtrak any day. At least with the first-class seat, I'll have a lot more leg room than a bus and they serve you lunch and dinner, too."
"That's my little ray of Sunshine – always concerned about the important things. How in the world you stay so slim with that fucking high-carb intake is beyond me."
"That's because you always provide me with such intense, vigorous exercise, Mr. Kinney," Justin teased. "You just fuck it all off me in no time."
He distinctly heard Brian huff. "Well, I get as good as I give, Mr. Taylor, and I never seem to have that advantage."
"I can't help it if I have good genes and a high metabolism."
"Well, you've always had good jeans, and a hot body to fill them with, too."
"Why, that almost sounded like a compliment," the blond marveled.
"Well, don't let it go to your blond little head, Sunshine – I expect a LOT of vigorous exercise out of you tomorrow night."
"It will be my pleasure, Mr. Kinney. Consider it my payment for services rendered."
"Well, it's going to cost you a hell of a LOT. Probably take ALL NIGHT LONG," the brunet drawled sexily.
"That won't be a problem," Justin assured him, as he felt a certain part of his anatomy standing at attention at the thought. "As you know, I excel at working long, HARD hours – deep into the night."
Brian chuckled slightly. "Yeah, no argument from me there, Sunshine." He suddenly turned serious as he added, "I'll be there to meet you – don't worry." He actually surprised Justin, then, by admitting truthfully in a soft voice, "I've been waiting for this day for a long time."
The brunet could hear soft breathing and could almost see Justin's wistful smile as he answered. "Yeah, I have too." Regretfully, he said, "Speaking of which, I guess I'd better get off. I still have a little more packing to finish up and it's getting late. I'll see you tomorrow night, Brian." He hesitated a few seconds; he knew Brian was still uncomfortable with expressing emotions. But, fuck it. "I love you," Justin softly said, as he prepared to add, "Later."
Just before he could say anything further, though, Brian surprised him again. He could barely hear it – he said it so softly – but he heard it nonetheless. "Me, too, Sunshine," Brian softly whispered. "Later."
"Later," Justin replied, smiling, before he flipped his cell phone shut. Justin couldn't believe that this day had finally come. This past year away from Brian had been so hard. He knew it was important that he relocate to New York City, at least temporarily, to try and establish his career as an artist, and from a professional standpoint, he hadn't really regretted it. He had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Thanks to a few key contacts with some of Lindsey's acquaintances, within a few months he had developed a devoted following of art patrons and gallery directors who were clamoring for his work. In fact, currently several of his pieces were on display in four different galleries, and he had a standing order to place future artwork in any of them. AND his art was fetching prices in the four-figures.
Yes, thankfully he was now successful enough, and well-known enough in the art world, that he could easily have stayed in New York City and been self-sufficient. He was grateful for all the opportunity, but his success had actually paved the way for him to do what his heart had wanted all along – reunite with the man he loved. And not just several days a month, as they had been doing for the past year; at first, Brian had flown to New York City and rented out a spacious suite at the Trump hotel for his and Justin's rendezvous. But as Justin had become more financially stable, they had traded off visits; a weekend or two each month, he would fly back to Pittsburgh, and he would get to not only be reunited with his partner, but he would have the opportunity to see his family and friends for brief periods.
He had expected, and had received, some flak from Brian when he first broached the idea of moving back a month ago. It had taken several conversations with him before the brunet finally realized Justin was sincere about wanting to come back. He reassured Brian that he could be just as successful back in Pittsburgh with the contacts he now had; he simply had to make himself readily accessible for gallery openings and special events highlighting his work. He could paint anywhere to accomplish that. And he chose to come back to his home town and find a suitable studio there. After all, he reasoned with his partner, studio space would be a lot less expensive back in the Pitts, and it had the added advantage of being able to see his inspiration on a daily basis. In fact, once Brian had finally been convinced this was what Justin wanted, he insisted Justin move back into the loft with him – an idea that the blond enthusiastically agreed with. Brian wasn't fooling him for one second – he may have said it would be best for Justin to remain in New York, but Justin knew that wasn't what Brian wanted. And it wasn't what HE wanted, either.
So it was with a great deal of anticipation that Justin packed the rest of his supplies into the last of his medium-sized, cardboard boxes. He had managed to sell his apartment furnishings to a roommate, so despite what he had told Brian, he was moving back with a relatively small amount. At least it would be small enough to fit into the back of the cab he had called to pick him up first thing in the morning.
Smiling to himself with eagerness, he finally collapsed onto his bed and fell into a fitful sleep, too excited to sleep very deeply as he thought of finally being reunited with the man he loved.
Next day – Near Harrisburg, PA – 2:00 p.m.
"Is this the first time you've traveled by train?" the red-haired, middle-aged woman asked her seatmate, smiling.
"Yeah, I've never ridden on a train before," Justin verified. He had been talking to the woman named Valerie, who sat facing him in their cubicle, for several hours now since they had boarded the train together that morning. He had found her to be very entertaining, as she turned out to be a party planner in New York City for several celebrity clients. She had obligingly regaled him with humorous stories about well-known actors and actresses throughout their trip, and had even clued him in on just who the divas were out of the group. He was grateful she had wound up being his seatmate, because her funny stories had helped immensely to pass the time during their long rail journey.
"Well, I never had ridden on one, either, until I moved to New York a few years ago," she confided in him. "I actually look forward to it, now, because I can get so much more done than I can on a plane. Of course, it takes a hell of a lot longer, too, but you can meet some really interesting characters on a train, some in a good way and some in a not-so-good way," she confided, winking.
"I can imagine," Justin answered. He admitted to her, "Actually, it hasn't been as bad as I had thought it would be. At least you can get up and walk around during the trip – no seatbelts – and the food hasn't been half bad. Brian's always teasing me about how much I eat," he said a little sheepishly. "Personally, I think he's just jealous that I can pack away so much food and not gain weight. He says all he has to do is look at high-carb food and he gains weight."
"I bet he doesn't have an ounce of fat on him," Valerie ascertained correctly.
"You're absolutely right," Justin verified to her, grinning. "He's always worried about gaining weight, but he's gorgeous."
Justin had told her about his partner, and he was heartened to find out that she was quite accepting of their relationship. It was reassuring to find someone who was open-minded for a change; too often he had encountered just the opposite in his relatively-short life. That would probably wind up being his only regret about moving back to Pittsburgh – there was definitely more tolerance of the gay lifestyle in New York. But being reunited with Brian was more than worth it, he decided.
"Well, we're more than halfway there," Valerie said cheerfully. "The time will pass by before you know it," she reassured him; she had told him previously that she had ridden this same route several times in the past few years to visit family near Pittsburgh.
"I'm glad I got to sit next to you," Justin answered truthfully, smiling. "Thank you for entertaining me."
"My pleasure," she responded. "And thank you for the wonderful drawing. You are so talented." Justin had secretly drawn a picture of her earlier using the back of an old gallery show brochure when she had turned her back slightly to stare out the nearby window for several minutes. When she had noticed what Justin was doing and had finally persuaded the almost-bashful man to show it to her, she was amazed by his talent. He had graciously given her the drawing as a small thank you for the pleasant company she had provided for the past several hours.
Justin smiled shyly at the compliment; even now, after all his success this past year, he was still sometimes unsure that he was worthy of all the praise frequently bestowed upon him. What he didn't realize was that those showering him with such sincere flattery found his humility absolutely charming, which only added to his appeal.
"You're welcome," he finally said with a small blush.
Justin rubbed his thumb absentmindedly over the closed cell phone he cradled in his left hand; he had hoped his phone would work onboard the train, but he had found out to his disappointment that there was too much interference; even though he knew he would see his partner soon, he badly wanted to talk to Brian, to hear his partner's sexy voice. He knew, however, that he would have an opportunity to give him a quick call soon, because the train was nearing the Harrisburg station; they were due to stop there in about 25 minutes. As soon as they did, he was ready to jump off and give his partner a call.
As if she could read his mind, he heard Valerie say, "Don't worry – you'll have several minutes to call him," she said, glancing down at the phone he held anxiously in his hand. "We have to wait for additional passengers to board in Harrisburg, and there's usually quite a few that get on there."
He flushed slightly as he looked up at her before saying, "Thanks. I would like to give him a call. Just to make sure everything's going okay for him to pick me up."
"Of course," she answered with a knowing smile. It was obvious from the way the young man had talked to her about his partner earlier that he loved the other man very much. "You seem very happy to be going back home," she observed.
Justin's radiant smile was enough of an answer before he confirmed, "Yes, I am. I can't wait." His eyes shone as he thought about the impending reunion with his partner.
As the two seatmates turned to look out the window in a companionable silence, Justin briefly noticed the train was traveling through a hilly and heavily-wooded area. That was his last coherent thought before the fast-moving passenger train barreled head-on into an oil tanker truck that had stalled on the tracks ahead of them and the train quickly burst into a wall of flame.