by Josselin Kohl
Brian was leaning against the counter and flipping through a magazine when someone knocked on the loft door. He frowned briefly at the magazine, then pushed himself away from the counter and padded barefoot over to the door. He pulled the loft door open, and raised his eyebrow at the man standing outside. It was Ethan Gold.
Ethan looked uncomfortable and stammered for a minute before finally managing, “Can I talk to Justin?”
“He’s at work,” Brian said.
“Oh,” Ethan said, still avoiding eye-contact and fidgeting. Brian put up with him blabbering pointlessly for like thirty seconds before interrupting.
“Is there a reason he would want to see you?”
Ethan sucked in a deep breath. “Look. I just thought I should come tell him in person that,” he paused, swallowing, “I’m HIV positive. I owe it to him to tell him that. And –”
Whatever else Ethan might have wanted to say to Justin was cut off when Brian slammed the loft door shut.
With the sound of the door echoing in his ears, Brian stalked over to his desk and flipped on his palm pilot, checking a date. Spinning his desk chair, he picked up the phone, clicked it on, and listened to the dial tone for a moment while he stared at it. He used his thumb to turn the phone off again instead of dialing a number, and he spun his chair away from the desk.
* * *
Justin came home from work to find Brian pacing the loft with alcohol on his breath. Justin pulled away from Brian’s attempt to kiss, making a face, and dropped his coat and backpack on the floor near the door.
Brian followed in his wake and picked his coat back up. “Here,” he said, handing it back to Justin. “We have to go.”
“Go where?” Justin asked incredulously. “You’re wasted, and I just got home.”
“Clinic,” Brian said. “It’s time for you to get tested, Sonnyboy.”
“Huh?” Justin said.
Brian kept shoving things into Justin’s hands – his coat, Brian’s keys, Justin’s wallet – and Justin kept trying to figure out what was going on. Finally he figured out what Brian was talking about. “Jesus, Brian, what’s the rush? I’ll go tomorrow.”
But Brian was adamant that Justin go right away, pushing him out the loft doors and into the elevator, then staring at the button options with drunken consternation.
“Shit,” Justin said finally, getting a clue. “Who was it? That guy from last Tuesday? I told you we should have gone for the redhead, instead. But it’s too early for the test to do any good…”
In the end, Justin realized that it was easier to sacrifice a quarter pint of blood than try to get Brian to make any sense, and fuck if that didn’t say something about his life on an allegorical level.
* * *
Brian first asked when they were in the shower. He was fingering Justin’s ass, and he had been thinking about it for days, hours, minutes—every seven seconds since the echoing of the door slam.
“Did you ever do it raw with the fiddler?”
Justin turned away from the glass wall, staring at Brian and dropping the slippery soap in his shock. “What?”
Brian just waited. The soap slid down to the drain in the center of the tile, and sat there, washing away through the grating as the water flowed.
“Why did you ask me that?” Justin demanded.
“It’s a yes-no question, Sunshine,” Brian said. “Just give an answer.”
“Fuck you,” Justin said irritably, bending over to pick up the soap. “You’ve made it quite clear that what I do is none of your business.”
* * *
Brian knew, deep down, that Justin would find out eventually, somehow. He half expected Ethan to continue to hunt Justin down himself and actually finish his little pronouncement, but a few days passed, and Justin didn’t say anything about it and acted the same as ever.
When Justin did find out, through a convoluted stream of Ben dragging Hunter to some support group and Michael blabbing in the diner, he figured everything out right away, and he was just as pissed as Brian had anticipated.
“How did you know? And don’t give me any bullshit,” Justin said, raising a hand up as if to forestall protests.
Brian didn’t say anything, but Justin kept following him. “Tell me,” he insisted.
“He came by the loft,” Brian said finally.
“Fuck!” Justin shouted. “Jesus! How am I supposed to trust you if you don’t tell me anything? You’re as bad as he is!”
Brian flinched. “Justin,” he started.
Justin gave him a withering glare.
* * *
It had been after Ethan had given him the ring. He’d been sitting in the tub, thinking about the call from Ethan’s agent and fingering the new ring with his thumb, and thoughts of Brian were flitting through his head—flashes of memories of the lesbians’ wedding and the odd reality that while he had been able to picture standing up in front of his friends with Brian, he couldn’t imagine doing that with Ethan even with a ring on his finger.
He leaned back up against Ethan in the tub, and Ethan reached around and started to stroke him in the water, and Justin sighed and pictured Brian’s hand and then immediately felt guilty for doing so. He almost thought that he could even feel the ring on Ethan’s finger through his dick, which ruined the illusion, and he told himself fiercely that that was good.
Ethan was saying something about trust and love and Justin hadn’t really been paying attention so when he started to pay attention again he felt even guiltier. And he knew, he had known even then, that the guilt sprung not from love but from his utter determination to make this work, and that very awareness made him all the guiltier.
He pushed the guilt aside, forcefully, he gave a mental fuck you to Brian, who was always fucking there, and he turned around in the tub, sloshing water out and sort of hoping that it would splash on the phone and make it short circuit and they could just miss a few more phone calls from Ethan’s agent. He kissed Ethan fiercely, cutting off his words—what did they mean, anyway—and he grabbed Ethan’s ankles, and did it, thinking “Fuck you, Brian,” with every stroke.
In the morning, Ethan woke him with a kiss, and Justin felt sick to his stomach.
* * *
So at first, Justin was angry, stalking out to sleep at Daphne’s. The next night, Justin came back to collect some things, but by then, Brian was angry. He was drunk again and cornered Justin with belligerence as he walked around grabbing his shit.
“So you went off to find everything I wouldn’t give you,” Brian said, “And now you’ve got AIDS, too.”
Justin sighed with frustration. “I do not have AIDS.”
“Well, we don’t know that, do we?” Brian said fiercely. Justin rolled his eyes and continued to pull socks out of the drawer. “So, was it worth it, Sunshine?” Brian taunted. “Was the love and trust worth the risk? Was it hot? Meaningful? Romantic?” Brian spat out the last word as though it pained him.
Justin dropped his duffle bag, and Brian watched his shoulders move for a second before he realized that Justin was sobbing.
“Fuck,” Justin said angrily, quickly wiping at his eyes. “Of course not! How can you even ask me that, God!”
Brian stood in shock for a moment, the fight having gone out of him at the sudden sight of Justin’s tears. But he couldn’t totally let it go. “It was a risk you shouldn’t have taken,” he said stubbornly.
Justin sighed again, and he turned away, squeezing his eyes together tightly for a moment. “It was a mistake,” he insisted, heading for the bathroom. “Okay? A big fat mistake, I admit it, are you happy now?”
Brian wasn’t happy, though, and he watched Justin take his toothbrush with a frown.
Justin was getting angry again. “There’s always risk, Brian,” he said, looking away from his blotchy complexion in the mirror to look Brian in the face. “Even with condoms. You know that. Besides, risk is what makes it hot, right? Did I learn my lessons well enough?”
Brian almost choked around his immediate response to say that no, obviously Justin hadn’t learned well enough, and this was just a vivid fucking example of why he needed someone to take care of him.
“Well, this is the end of it,” Brian said.
Justin looked up tiredly after zipping his bag. “Fine. I’m too stupid for you, I get it, go find someone else to make into the best fag possible—I’m outta here.” He picked up the bag and slung it over his shoulder, but Brian stopped him with a hand in the middle of his chest.
“No,” Brian said. “I mean no more risks.”
Justin stared at him blankly. “What are you talking about, Brian?”
“You fucking know what I’m talking about,” Brian said.
“No,” Justin said, looking like he might get angry again. “I really don’t.”
“I mean,” Brian said, “No other guys. Ever.”
Justin blinked. He slumped a bit and let the bag drop to the floor and then started pacing back and forth himself.
“Sometimes I hate you, you know that?” Justin said suddenly, looking up from his pacing.
Brian creased his forehead briefly and shrugged.
“You cannot just wait until I am moving out and then decide we’re going to be monogamous,” Justin told him. “Relationships don’t work that way.”
First things first. “You are not moving out,” Brian said. “You’re a fucking drama princess who’ll go stay at Daphne’s for three days until you miss my dick.”
Justin glared at him for that, but Brian ignored him since he knew he was right.
“What if I don’t want to be monogamous?” Justin challenged.
“Too bad,” Brian said calmly. “There are locks on the doors now and you’re stuck inside. Sometimes we make bad decisions and then we have to live with the consequences.”
“No,” Justin said, truly angry again now. “Sometimes you make fucking random pronouncements and the rest of us tear our hair out trying to get you to be rational!” he yelled, turning towards the door again, and this time, Brian had to let him walk out.
* * *
They had to wait two weeks for Justin’s test results, and on the thirteenth day, Brian found himself standing in Daphne’s doorway, totally sober.
Daphne looked from him, to Justin, and back at him, and then suddenly remembered that she had to go…do…something…somewhere else.
“Brian,” Justin began wearily, but Brian cut him off with a raised hand.
“When he told me,” Brian started, keeping his eyes open and focused on a point just above Justin’s right shoulder, “I wanted to rip his intestines out with my bare hands.”
Justin looked like he might start to say something, but Brian cut him off with another hand. “And when,” he paused awkwardly, then swallowed and continued, “when I think,” he couldn’t totally suppress the crack in his voice “about if I did that to you…I feel the same way,” he finished finally.
Justin exhaled a soft breath, and finally Brian shifted a bit to look him in the eyes. Justin reached a hand up to wipe the tear off of Brian’s face. “Hey,” he said softly.
Brian grabbed Justin’s shoulders and pulled him into a close hug, and when he could feel Justin’s arms tighten around his ribcage, something inside him loosened, and he buried his face in Justin’s neck.
“It’ll be okay,” Justin soothed, but it was just words, because they didn’t know that yet.