When I wrote this, I had just been reading Myrna's fantastic series (it makes me cry every time I've reread it) "If You Needed Me" so this snippet is kind of set in a post-"For To Ease Your Pain" universe, though you won't need to have read Myrna's fic to get it, and it doesn't really give anything away about her stories.
Justin and his mother are walking around Linens 'N Things, because Jennifer guilted Justin into helping her choose some new furnishings for their guest room. Jennifer hopes that if Justin helps choose the furnishings and stuff then he might be more likely to visit more often; Justin hopes that if he goes shopping with her this morning, he can get his parental visiting hours out of the way before this evening, when he has plans to go out with Brian and the guys.
So Jennifer wanders around the store, fingering things with interest, checking prices and color combinations, and Justin trudges behind her, making the occasional, "It's good, Mom," comment when prompted.
Walking around the end of an aisle, following his mother, Justin almost runs into two other women. He starts to apologize automatically, but when he looks up and recognizes them, his voice trails off. Finally, he speaks again. "Mrs. Kinney," he says, nodding towards the older woman with gray hair. "Claire," he says to the other.
Joan and Claire look even more uncomfortable than Justin, who introduces his mother. "Mom," Justin says, "this is Brian's mother and sister."
"Oh," Jennifer says, setting down the soap dispenser she was holding, and extending her arm to shake their hands. "It's a pleasure to meet both of you." Mrs. Kinney and Claire shake her hand, still looking remarkably uncomfortable and somewhat in shock. "Brian has been," Jennifer searches for the right words--there aren't really any that do justice to how helpful and supportive Brian has been while Justin's been sick--"absolutely amazing to Justin. You must be proud to have him as your son."
Claire has turned her head away with a sudden interest in the towels in the next aisle, but Joan looks Jennifer straight in the eye. "Well, it's not like I ever see him," she says acidly. "You don't see Brian taking me shopping, do you?" Jennifer is disconcerted by this response, and starts to kind of shrug, but Justin is sick of hearing Brian verbally bashed by his mother and yells at her.
"The fact that he doesn't take you shopping might have something to do with how you tell him he's perverted and going to hell," Justin says exasperatedly. He turns around and starts to stalk out of the store. "Come on, Mom," he calls out.
Jennifer gives a last awkward shrug to Joan and Claire. "Bye," she says quickly, before following Justin towards the door.
They had agreed to go to the diner after shopping for lunch-that was where Brian was going to pick Justin up. So Jennifer decides to head to the diner anyway, even though they were a lot earlier than they had anticipated being. In the car, Justin stares out the window, almost twitching with barely suppressed anger.
"Look, Justin, I'm sorry if I said something wrong," Jennifer offeres sincerely, "I didn't realize Brian was on such delicate terms with his family."
"Delicate terms?" Justin snorts. "They fucking hate him."
"I'm sorry," Jennifer repeats.
"It's not your fault," Justin says. They finish the ride to the diner in silence. Once they get there, though, Deb immediately notices that something is wrong. Justin is still fuming silently, and his mother looks nervous and uncomfortable.
"So, what's wrong?" Deb prompts, standing next to their booth.
"We ran into Brian's mother and sister at the store," Jennifer explains.
"Oh," Deb says understandingly. "Joanie and Claire. The biggest bitches on the planet."
"I didn't realize that Brian was on such poor terms with his family," Jennifer says. "I mean, I've never really heard him mention them, but I just didn't think…" she trails off.
"Jen," Deb says, sitting down next to Justin in the booth. "After his childhood, it's a wonder that he doesn't knock the living daylights out of them each time he sees them."
"What do you mean?" Jennifer asks.
"Jack and Joanie hated each other and both managed to take it out on Brian. Jack with his fists, and Joanie with her words. I don't think that either of them showed a kind word to Brian his entire childhood. And Claire was always right there, ready to point out all the things Brian was doing wrong and get him into more trouble than he got himself in in the first place. If that was possible," Deb raises her eyebrows at that last statement.
"That's terrible," Jennifer says, eyeing Justin who is still staring at the wall, fuming. "I didn't know."
"Well, I did know," Deb says indignantly. "It was hard to miss when a black-eyed boy is hanging around your doorstep all the time, always starving and scared to go home. And his excuses-you name it, he tried it on me, and I never believed a word of it. And I tried to contact social services, and the police, and no one did anything! It's a fucking disgrace, that's what it is!" Deb says, raising her voice.
Deb tells some more stories about Brian's childhood, and Jennifer continues to be more and more shocked. On the one hand, she's even more amazed by Brian than before, awed that he has managed to overcome this kind of childhood to be the man he is now. On the other hand, she has a sinking awareness that no one can really ever overcome that kind of childhood, and she's scared for Justin's sake-what if Brian has inherited his father's abusive tendencies or something. She never wants to see Justin hurt.
Finally, Deb asks how they recognized Joanie and Claire in the first place, and Justin explains that he'd met both of them before, which is of course a surprise to Deb. And finally, during a lull in the conversation, Brian walks in and strolls up to their table.
"Hey," he says, taking in their faces.
Jennifer greets him politely, and Deb edges out of the booth to go resume taking orders, but Justin's greeting is still a little listless. Brian takes Deb's place in the booth next to Justin. "So how was shopping?" He asks Justin.
"I don't want to talk about it," Justin says, staring pointedly at the wall.
Brian blinks, glances at Jennifer, who is giving him an apologetic look, and turns back towards Justin. "All right," he says calmly. "Do you want to eat, or should we just go?"
Justin says he just wants to go, and leaves to go wait in the Jeep while Brian gets a sandwich to go from Deb. "I'm sorry," Jennifer tries to apologize for Justin's behavior, but Brian brushes it off.
"Don't worry about it. He'll pout for a while, and then, all of a sudden, he'll suddenly burst with information and explode with more details of whatever's bothering him than I ever wanted to know, and he'll be fine."
Jennifer nods, because of course this is true, that's exactly how Justin is. But she had meant her apology in a more universal sense, too. She's sorry for not knowing how hard his childhood must have been; she's sorry there's nothing she can do.
Brian takes his sandwich from Deb and pays, then leaves the diner, the bell on the door tingling as he walks out.
Jennifer sits at the counter and sighs. "I wish there was something I could say," she says to Deb."
"Yeah," Deb snaps her gum. "Me too."