t h i s   i s   n o t   a   p i c k   u p   l i n e

“You’re Gus.”

At first, he tried to ignore the guy standing next to him. He’d heard all sorts of stories about New York weirdos, mostly from Emmett and Grandma Deb, and he could never be sure how much of their tales were truth. He did know that when strange thirty year old men in jeans and leathers jackets approached you out of nowhere, it was generally considered wise not to encourage them.

However, Gus figured that your garden variety psychopath would generally not know your name, and his curiosity got the better of him.

“Who are you?” he asked insolently, turning to stare at the man front on. A glimmer of recognition grew in his mind when he met crystalline blue eyes, but he could not place the face, the name, the shag of messy blond hair.

“It is you,” The man grinned. “I knew your parents.”

Gus stared at him. As a rule, he didn’t like strangers. Babysitters. New kids. The endless parade of men that wandered through his father’s life. Generally, strangers didn’t bring anything good until they weren’t strangers anymore.

“What are you doing in New York? Are your moms with you?”

Shook his head warily. Gus was all too aware that he still didn’t know the man’s name, or anything about him at all, despite the fact that his smile and his movements spoke of a familiarity long forgotten. “No. I’m on a class trip.”

The guy looked to either side of Gus and then around the busy street. “I know they’ve been trying to reduce class sizes, but isn’t this taking it a little bit far?”

Gus smiled sheepishly. “I kind of skipped out on the trip to Wall Street. Don’t tell my moms?”

He saw the loneliness that settled over, turning those blue eyes grey. “You don’t have to worry, we don’t talk much anymore.”

“Justin!”

The call came from a few metres down the footpath, turned the blonde’s attention away briefly. He nodded to a guy holding up a takeout bag, called back, “I’ll be right with you, hang on.” He turned back to Gus, smiled reluctantly. “I better go.” He dug his hand into his pocket, pulled out a stiff white business card printed in stark black lettering.

Justin Taylor
antidote designs

Gus stared at the card, wondered what the fuck was going on. He’d been hit on by guys before, he was 16 and looked just like his father and spent way too much time on Liberty Avenue for a straight guy, but this didn’t feel like that. He didn’t know what it did feel like, but it wasn’t like that at all.

“You need anything while you’re out here, give me a call. And say hi to your moms for me.”

And then the guy - Justin - was walking down the street, taking the paper bag from his friend, and disappearing into the crowd.

--
“Mom?”

“Gus! Honey, how’s the trip? Are you behaving?”

Gus thought with some satisfaction of the day he’d had, stealing away unnoticed from his boring class schedule and exploring New York his own way. “Uh-huh.”

“You sound so convincing,” Lindsay drawled. “You really are a terrible liar, Gus.”

“I ran into some old friend of yours,” Gus said quickly, hoping to distract her. He dug the card out of his pocket, staring at the black letters. “Justin Taylor?”

His mother was silent for a moment. “Justin?” A quick intake of breath before she continued. “You saw Justin.”

“Yeah. When I was getting lunch. He recognised me.”

“We haven’t spoken to Justin in a very long time. How is he?”

Gus felt an uneasiness settle in his stomach. “Did he do something wrong?”

“Oh, Gus, don’t be so dramatic,” his Lindsay laughed, sounding less shocked now. “We just lost touch after he moved to New York, that’s all. How was he?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t get his life story. Just spoke to him for a few minutes. He looked normal. Gave me his card. Said to say hello. How d’you know him?”

“He was a - friend - of your father’s.”

Gus snorted. “One of Dad’s many mistresses? No wonder you lost touch. S‘kind of pathetic that he‘s talking to me, don‘t you think?”

“No, Gus. It wasn’t like that at all.” Her voice was muffled for a moment, talking to someone in the background. “I have to go, honey. Mel just broke a vase.”

“Mom’s a klutz.”

“We love you, Gus.”

“Yeah. You too. Whatever. Bye.”

Gus hung up.

--

He lay awake all night trying to place Justin’s face, going through the many faces that he’d seen in his father’s loft, when it struck him with frightening clarity.

His mother kept a startling array of photo albums, pulled them out when she got tipsy and nostalgic. He’d seen the one from his second birthday only a handful of times, because the photos were over exposed and just the sight made her sad. Occasionally, Mom - Mom as in Mel, and Gus wondered why he hadn’t worked out a better system of identity before now - would pull it out but Mom as in Lindsay would just end up ranting about how she’d like to sue Kodak for screwing over her negatives. Generally, they avoided that album altogether.
Gus remembered one photo, though, a photo with ‘some guy’ and his father, and a two year old Gus sitting on his father’s shoulders, his tiny hand tangled in a fistful of blonde hair. He’d never asked about the guy, figuring he was just another one of his father’s many lovers, despite what the calm, happy smirk on Dad’s face might say.

He’d heard the stories about Brian Kinney. Heard them from Michael, who related them with a kind of vicarious glee, and from Mel-Mom, who rolled her eyes and made snappish, affectionate comments. He’d heard about how Brian did tricks, not boyfriends, how monogamy was for straights, how Brian was the last great gay Casanova. He could imagine it, wondered what that guy was like.

Now, his dad went through boyfriends like he might have done tricks. Gus had given up trying to accurately remember their names long ago. There were there one month, two, three at most, and then they were gone, and his father didn’t seem to really care. He didn’t know whether or not they were monogamous - honestly, he didn’t really give a shit, because he didn’t like the guys that much anyway. If he thought his dad did, he might have given them a chance, but Brian seemed to barely notice their existence.

Sometimes it felt like Gus’ was the only existence Brian did notice. Even if it was only in his weird Brian way - dropping off obscure presents and forcing Gus to read Atlas Shrugged and standing up for him when his mothers were being righteously bitchy. Gus had never doubted that his father loved him, that he loved their whole family, but he doubted that Brian could love anybody else.

Gus couldn’t connect the lonely man he knew with the smiling guy in that picture.

--

He stood in the hall outside his hotel room, staring at the phone in one hand and the business card in the other. He didn’t want to wake up Adam. He didn’t feel like answering his friend’s questions, didn’t feel like being accused of matchmaking. He had a very clear image of Adam dancing around him singing songs from Fiddler on the Roof, and he shuddered.

He wanted to know things, but he didn’t know what they were. He had the strongest urge, suddenly, to know all about his father, know all the things his father refused to tell him. He didn’t know if Justin could tell him that, but he figured it was as good a starting point as any.

The sounds his phone made as he dialled frightened him in the stillness and silence of the hall, and he jumped.

“Calling your boyfriend, Peterson?”

The voice behind him made him jump again, and Gus turned to meet Jake’s eyes.

“No, just your mom.” The retort was lacking creativity, but the phone was ringing already so Gus gave him the finger and walked away, letting himself into the stairwell and settling down on the concrete.

--

“Hello?”

The voice didn’t sound remotely groggy, and Gus wondered if Justin kept the same hours as his father.

“Was my dad in love with you?”

“Gus?”

“Yes. Was he?”

“You called me at 3am to ask if Brian loved me?”

“You weren’t sleeping,” Gus objected. “I can tell.”

“No, but we’ll have to send away to NASA to figure out the answer to that question, and I’m pretty sure they’re not open yet.”

“He did, then.”

“What? Gus, I don’t know.”

“He had to have. Because if he didn’t, you would have just said no. You wouldn’t have even had to think about it.”

He heard Justin’s sigh. Felt almost bad for bombarding him like this, but he figured that if Justin wanted to come up to him in the street and make him think all sorts of weird things about his dad, then he had to be prepared for the consequences.

“He loved me in his way,” Justin said quietly. “I’m sure you know all about that.”

“But he did love you.”

“Yes.” The voice was only slightly unsure.

“And you loved him.”

“Yes.”

“Do you still?”

“Even if I do, it’s none of your business.”

“If you didn’t, you’d have just said no.”

“That’s probably true.”

“I’m sorry for calling you like this. I know it’s rude.”

“That’s okay, Gus.” The voice was tired now. Justin sounded resigned, like a man being led to his death. “I know what it’s like to want to know things about Brian that everyone refuses to tell you.”

Gus had been trying to figure out his father his whole life. In the past couple years, he’d accepted half-formed answers, half-known truths, because searching was getting him nowhere.

“He has all these boyfriends,” Gus confessed. “And he doesn’t love any of them. I kind of always thought he wasn’t capable of it.”

Justin’s reply was dull, exhausted. “So did he. Go to bed.”

“Bye, Justin.”

“Bye.”
--

Gus dreamed of a loss so great it tore at his gut and made him scream and clutch at his mother. He was four years old and watching a car pull away, watching it get smaller and smaller, taking his friend farther and farther away. He wasn’t old enough to understand the words ‘New York’, but he knew instinctively from the set of his father’s shoulders, the hardness in his daddy’s voice, that Jus was going very, very far away, and would not return.

In Gus’ dream, a four year old child wept for the loss of his companion.

--

He showed up at Justin’s office the next day. He’d probably be caught this time, punished by teachers at their wits end. He didn’t care. He stood across from Justin, stared at him. He wondered what Justin would be to him if he’d stuck around.

“We were friends,” Gus said. “I dreamed about you - leaving.”

“Lindz and Mel used to exploit my eagerness to babysit for you,” Justin admitted with a wry grin. “You were a cool little kid.”

“Could - could things be different between you and my father?” Gus had to ask it even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“It’s not that easy, Gus.” Justin’s eyes were dark, and he recognised the sadness that was all too present in his Dad’s eyes. “It’s been forever.”

“Why can’t it be that easy?”

“It’s just not. It just can’t be.”

They stared at one another challengingly, and Gus saw the fear in Justin’s posture. “At least - at least call him.”

“I can’t.” The man heaved a sigh, rummaged around on his desk until he pulled a business card from a stack. He bent over, wrote a note on the back. Handed it to Gus. “Give him this. If he wants to call me, he will.”

“Will that be enough?”

“Depends on if Brian’s still Brian. If he’s not, then I probably don’t want to hear from him anyway.”

--

Gus stood on the footpath outside Justin’s building, once again gazing down at the flat white business card. He flipped it over, read the words in Justin’s messy blue ink scrawl. He stifled a laugh.

So, What are you wearing?

If Brian’s still Brian. Justin knew his father too well.

--

Gus let himself into the loft, pausing in the doorway to make sure there were no illicit sounds emanating from the bedroom. He’d only walked in on his father once, but it had been enough to embarrass him for a lifetime.

Dad was sprawled on the couch, his eyes on the television. Gruesome footage of the San Francisco riots threw light on his face, as he tore his attention away and focussed on Gus.

“Sonny Boy,” he greeted his son warmly. “How was New York?”

“It was with school, what do you think?”

“You didn’t get laid, then?”

“No.” Gus dug around in his pocket and produced the card, holding it in his hands. “I got you a present, though.”

Brian took the card with a raised eyebrow that froze when he read the named emblazoned across the front. He turned it over in his hands, and Gus saw the amusement that mixed with the surprise on his face.

“His handwriting is still the same.”

Gus didn’t think his father was as surprised as he should have been, considering he hadn’t seen the guy in twelve years. “I thought you’d be more shocked.”

Brian shrugged, let his head flop back against the arm of the sofa. “I guess I expect him to pop up all over the place. He’s sneaky like that.”

Gus wondered if his father could hear the affection in his own voice.

“You should call,” Gus said encouragingly.

“Nah.”

“You should,” he repeated more insistently.

Brian ran his fingers over the letters of Justin’s message. “We’ll see.”

--

Three weeks later, Justin answered his cell phone on the way to bed, hearing Brian’s long adored voice floating down the line.

“I’m not wearing much at all,” his lover said. “What are you wearing?”

fin.

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