The photo albums
Through time his mothers had showed him the pictures in the various albums present in the living room. But they were always choosing the pictures he could look at, commenting on them and vaguely dismissing others, turning the pages quickly. Gus, being too little to remember the faces and the names associated to them, tended to ask the same questions over the years: "who is this? Who is that? Where is that? Is this baby in your arms me? I was so little…". But that day, as his mothers were doing some gardening in the backyard, eleven-year-old Gus checked through the window that his mothers were still indeed busy and walked purposefully to the selves in the living room. He set a chair in front of the library case and climbed on it. He knew very well which albums to choose from the dozen displayed on the selves. They were the ones he wasn't allowed to look at by himself. He simultaneously grabbed three of them and settled for another one that he particularly liked and quickly exited the room. The albums almost fell on the floor at several occasions as he climbed the stairs, stopping in fear at every noise coming from the house. He didn't want to get punished today. Tomorrow he was supposed to go to his friend's house.
He didn't really understand why his mums wouldn't allow him to watch some old boring pictures but he was also well aware that it was the forbidding that made him want to break the rule even more. Gus also knew his family well enough to guess that a lot of those photographs were probably not that boring either.
He entered his room, set the albums on his bed and closed the door. He wasn't allowed to lock his bedroom and didn't even have a key so he brought his desk chair to the door to block it. He was starting to get used to this technique that his own dad had taught him. His dad understands the need of an eleven-year-old man to have some privacy, which seem to be a strange and unknown concept to his mothers and sister. Sometimes Gus hates to have to live with three girls. They are privy and mock him when he says he's the man of the house. The young man doesn't find it particularly funny. He is indeed the only man living in the house and he takes his duty of protecting the house and his family very seriously. He even asked for advice to Carl, who's Debbie's boyfriend. Gus finds it really funny that at their age they are still boyfriend and girlfriend. They are so old! In fact, practically everybody in his family is old. Except him and JR. So yeah, his mums seem to still consider him a baby. Sometimes it's nice when for instance they're making him his favorite snacks or hug him really tight when he's having a bad day, but other times it's just damn annoying! Yes, Gus is old enough to say damn and shit if he wants to.
He comfortably settled on his bed and set the first album on his lap. He knew it was one of the oldest of the four. The pages were yellowish and he never ever looked through it. His mum selected a few pictures and removed them from the album once or twice but that was it, so Gus was pretty excited to finally discover the treasure it held. On the first page he read:
The boy turned the first pages rapidly. It was mostly pictures of the campus and the dorms. Then he smiled as his mother's face appeared. She looked so young and damn beautiful. For Gus, it seems that time is not affecting his mum. She looks the same to him than five years ago but staring at a Lindsey in her twenties he finally noticed some changes. She still looks really good nowadays but back then she had a… what the word they use… yes, an innocent face. There was Lindsey and some people he didn't know. Probably some old friends. Here and there he noticed one or two familiar faces. There were two or three of his mothers' lesbian friends. They are the ones that always come to his birthday parties, despite the fact that he barely knows them. His mums tell him every year that it's a tradition for them to invite their friends as well. That those people have being coming from his very first birthday and that some of them even were at his birth. He probably would find them in another one of the albums reserved for the birthdays.
After the fifth page, he finally saw him. Tall and slim and sexy. Yes, sexy was the right word. Gus might only be eleven but he already can recognize a sexy person when he sees one. There were a lot of pictures of him. Of him and his mum on a couch. Him and her on the grass. Them again at a bar, on a bench. Them lying down: her head on his chest, her head on his lap. Them hugging tight. Gus slowly rubbed a finger on the photographs. They looked so young and happy. Their smiles were bright. They were making a lot of funny faces. There was a picture he particularly liked: his dad riding a bike and his mum on the front holding on the handlebars, both had their legs in the air, their mouths big open as they were screaming, Lindsey's hair floating in the wind. Gus loved the picture so much that he wanted to keep it to himself. He knew he was taking the risk to be discovered but he didn't care. He didn't have any picture of his parents together when they were young. He carefully removed the picture from the page and resumed his first task. Now, he understood why his mum forbids him to watch those photos. There were several pictures with them smoking and drinking and kissing. Gus was not that shocked. He already had seen his parents -the three of them- drinking, and possibly drunk, and he remembered a time when his dad was smoking a lot. Brian had progressively dropped down to a few cigarettes a night, when partying, after Gus had explained how stupid and dangerous smoking was. But Gus thought it was when he told his dad that he was afraid his dad would get sick and die of lungs cancer that Brian got the message. As for the kissing, he was also used to it. His mothers are kissing sometimes, mostly when he isn't around – because he told them that it was disgusting- and his uncles and well, his dad is always doing a lot of disgusting things even when he is around. Brian is always telling him "if you don't like it, don't watch it".
He also caught a few kisses exchanged between his mum and dad. It was not as disgusting as it was between his two mums for instance, not because it was a man and a woman -Gus couldn't care less for that- but because it wasn't as long and as wet. He asked once, to both of them, why they kissed on the mouth if they were not a couple and his mum told him that it was because they deeply loved each other and had been doing so since they first met. His dad told him, well dismissed him would be a better word, with a "Sonny boy, I kiss your mum because she's my friend and it's the same with your uncle Mike and I kiss my best friends on the mouth because, well, they are my friends and it means nothing more than that, and hmm well, because I do what I want". And he let it at that, dismissing him with a hand gesture. His dad is really not good at explaining feelings.
So Gus went through the first album laughing a lot. His parents were funny and idiotic in most of the photographs. He also saw that they really liked each other. No wonder why they had him together.
He opened the following album with pictures from his mother Mel and her friends and family. She really looked awful as a youngster. Her haircut was horrible and her clothes boyish. But then Lindsey came into the picture (literally) and Melanie seemed more at ease and happier and less masculine. They looked really good together and Gus stole another picture for his own photo album. Actually he stole another one of them dressed up as boys, with mustaches and all.
He closed the album and picked another one. This one, he knew. His mums always showed it around at his birthdays to show "how he grew up fast!". It started with him as a baby and there were a lot of nice pictures of him and his mums and with his dad. He quietly went through the pictures, staring at each face just to see if he remembered every person in them. They were a lot of people for his birth. That's when he noticed him. In the background. All in blue. He looked so different that Gus didn't recognize him at first. But it definitely was Justin. He wasn't so difficult to find him as they weren't a lot of men in the room that day. Well, actually some people could have mistaken some of the dykes for men but Gus was trained by years of practice to difference a masculine woman from a man –or a feminine man to a woman for that matter. He took pride in it. He was part of a world few of his friends knew. More pictures of him as a baby; as a toddler. His first birthdays… Gus made it a game to find each and every one of them in the crowd. He looked attentively, staring in wonder at the different haircuts (people tend to change their hair very often, and sometimes Gus wants to yell: thank god!), but what he prefers the most is to look for his dad and Justin. Then, he would very carefully pay attention to every single detail, even the one that could seem insignificant. He would look at their posture, the distance between their bodies; just looking for any gesture of closeness or affection really. He loves to do that, especially in real life. Through the years he has become really good at it. He can tell from just a word or from the way they hold or kiss or brush past the other the mood they are in or if they just had a big fight. He also catches up on the "Brian and Justin story" just by being present in a room and listening carefully and silently. Grownups would be surprised to know how many things kids can learn by just looking at or listening to them and how easy it is for adults to forget that they still are even in the room.
So Gus started his favorite game. He went back to the beginning of the album. That was the thing. You can't perceive any differences if you watch pictures one by one or by staying in a particular period of time. No, you have to look at the bigger picture. You have to take all the pictures together and through time so you can compare. Only then you can notice the changes.
Once again, the boy grazed the photos and focused on the usually imperceptible signs. Nothing in the birth's pictures –which means something by itself. Brian and Justin were far away from each other. No physical contact. Not a look from Brian towards Justin. Actually, they weren't a lot of pictures of them, especially not of the blond. It seemed quite normal now to Gus, because he remembered that it was the first night the two of them met -or should he say the three of them? – so no one knew Justin back then and did not include him in a lot of photos. It was so weird to see his dad and Justin like that. But if Gus examined closely the man he could see the look in Justin's eyes. He might have been imagining things but it seemed that even back then, Justin had only eyes for his dad. After that, they were a few pictures of all the family and Gus could see that Justin was sitting next to his dad at the table or one of them holding the baby -him- and the other standing next to them. His dad was smiling sometimes. It was actually more of a smirk. Gus knows the difference between the two of them. Luckily for him, his dad appears to be grinning more than smirking those past few years.
After some photographs of his first birthday, in which Justin and Brian were noticeably mostly absent, he could see that they were more and more pictures with his dad and Justin together. And they were quite often close to the other. Gus was looking precisely to their hands: where they were placed, where they rested on each other's body. He was also checking at what or whom their gaze were directed to. No matter where Brian was in the room you could be sure that Justin was looking at him. It was a fun game. Then, pictures where you could find one of them were few and with both of them almost non-existent. Gus wanted to know why, but he couldn't asked his mums, not without admitting he went through their stuff without permission and he knew for sure his dad wouldn't tell him. He should ask Justin. The young man would tell him.
His favorite photographs were next. Justin had long hair and his dad was always near him. No matter that it wasn't a picture of Justin and his dad, but Justin and Lindsey or Justin and Uncle Emmett, Brian was in the corner or in the background. And the pictures of the two of them were the brightest, the sweetest. Brian had in arms around Justin's waist, sometimes around his shoulder. To Gus there was a difference between the way Brian's arm was encircling Justin's shoulders in those pictures and the ones years ago. It seemed to be in a more affectionate way. Before, you could have thought that the two of them were only friends. His dad always held Uncle Michael the same way. It was a friendly embrace where Brian still seemed more in control, stronger. Justin and Mike seemed much younger, a bit like younger brothers. No, after a certain time nothing could make you think that Justin and Brian were only friends. Everything screamed love; even when they weren't kissing. Gus noticed the difference between his mum and dad kissing or his dad and Michael or Brian and some unnamed guy who never appeared in another picture again, and his dad and Justin. With Justin there was no distance what so ever between their bodies. Hands were touching necks, shoulders, hair, waists, hips, cheeks. They were holding and smiling.
As Gus turned the pages he shook his head. People told him that for the longest time Brian refuted having any kind of interest or feelings for Justin and refused to admit that they were in a relationship. Looking at the pictures Gus wondered how anyone could have thought that to be true. It was so obvious that his dad was in love that it was laughable. It would be funny to see if his dad could also see it. Would he be blind to what the pictures so easily and irrevocably captured? The loving and admiring looks. The tender kisses. The protective embraces. The not quite so well hand holding or brushing -Gus couldn't be sure with a photo, but there was definitely something going on with the hands. And of course: the indisputable brilliant smiles. As Gus was reaching the end of the album he started reminiscing the moments in question. He was so used now to see his father expressing his love to his partner than it seemed strange that there had been a time when it hadn't been the case. He wondered if it had been painful to Justin to be ignored for so long. Now, they seemed to love each other so much that Gus couldn't believe it wasn't like that at the beginning for his dad. What an idiot! He really loved his dad, no matter how hard or awkward it had been or could be between them –it always took time for them to reconnect every time they saw each other because, well, they never lived together and it's always hard for them not to be able to share every part of each other's lives, like Gus do with his mums- but as far as his relationship with Justin, his dad is clueless most of the times. It felt good to see that after a few years his dad stopped denying Justin and that they showed their love and happiness and accepted to have them captured on film.
The funniest part is that Gus thought that his mums probably had more pictures of Justin and Brian together than the two men. So Gus couldn't resist one more time to surrender to the urge to transfer some of the pictures into the little album he had for photos of his father and Justin. The artist offered it to him as a gift for Christmas. It was full of photos of the three of them. There were some of him or his dad alone or of the two of them and a few of the three of them. It was a nice album with some nice words and comments written in a beautiful script under the pictures with the date, the place and the occasion. There were also some drawings and various posters and tickets from the different shows they saw together. Justin explained to him that he had made the exact same album for his dad so that the two of them could watch them whenever they wanted. He also had left plenty of empty pages that Gus could complete with "future pictures". It was a really nice gift and Gus already knew where he would put the new picture he inquired of his dad and mum on the bike and the one of his two mums.
Smiling he closed the album, placing it on top of the other two and grabbed the last one. This one was dedicated to Jenny Rebecca. Most of the pictures were of her and their mums and of Uncle Mike -who is JR's dad- and his husband. His family is kinda complicated, but it's so much fun to see how people get lost when he tries to explain to them. They often tell him it's weird; he tells them their family is boring.
As Gus quickly and silently padded to the living room, holding tightly to the precious albums, not wanted them to end up loudly on the floor, he was thinking of the other albums he wanted to check next time. Maybe if he went through more of them, he might be able to catch something that would help him to understand better the people in his life and their relationship towards another. Maybe he should check at Debbie's house and at his dad and Justin's place. Maybe he could…
"Gus, what do you have in your hands?"
Oh oh. Busted!
For this vignette I wanted to use someone else's perspective on Brian and Justin's relationship than some unknown narrator. I wanted someone new but not entirely excluded from the character's lives, who would still give us an external point of view; someone who would depict the B&J story through time by looking at pictures. Gus seemed a good choice as he directly witnessed some of the events and moments in B&J's story, but was too little to remember or understand them. So he could perceive some parts of the romance as an outsider but would also be able to give us an insight on how the pairing evolved.
Let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. Property of Cowlip.