Love of His Life
by Julad

Post S3. This one's for Jenn, whose enthusiasm kept me working on it. Thanks to a lot of people who read it at various stages, including Cesca and Mia and Josselin. Final beta duties by Jenn and Mia. This isn't what I wanted it to be, but season four is upon us and it's probably now or never.

After the party after the election after a very long fucking month, Brian drank a lot of booze and took a lot of drugs and fucked a lot of men. Then he went back to the loft and hit his head on the kitchen counter as he passed out.

He woke up in a strange bed with a totally hot blond resting a hand on his forehead. He knocked the hand away-- his head was really hurting.

"Brian, are you okay?" the blond asked.

"Sure," Brian said, sitting up. Headaches were for sissies. "Where the fuck am I?" Kind of a stupid question--he was in a really posh apartment. The blond must be a trust fund kid. And seriously, he was hot. Not his type, but he was annoyed that he didn't remember fucking him.

The blond bit his lip. "It's okay, Brian. You're at home. Just lie down."

"I need to get home," Brian said. He had shit to do. He needed to get home and shower and possibly puke and then take a ton of codeine and get on with it.

"Brian, you are home."

Okay, so the blond was a creepy possessive deluded trust fund kid. Fuck, his head hurt too much to deal with this. "Fuck off," he said, getting up and looking around for his pants. "It was just a fuck, and now I'm going."

"Brian!" The blond pushed him down to sit on the steps. "Fuck, what the fuck is wrong with you? I know the furniture's gone, but this is still your home."

Brian looked around and laughed, which drove bright spikes of pain through his head, so he stopped.

"Very funny," he managed. "Can I go now?"

The blond swore and fetched a pile of papers from a cupboard. The papers all had his name on them. He squinted at them through the haze of hungover agony.

"What the fuck's this?"

"It proves you live here," he said, biting his lip. "And, um. You live here. See, it says on all the letters."

All the letters had his name and some other address. "Have I been drugged? Is this a kidnapping?"

The blond sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm calling Michael now, okay? I think you should lie down."

There was something about this guy. Why would a one night stand pretend to know Michael? "Do I know you?" Brian demanded, and then it clicked. He grabbed him by the throat and pushed him up against the wall. "If this is some fratboy joke, I'll break both your fucking arms. I'll break them both in six places, I fucking swear it."

"Brian!" the blond shouted. "Brian, it's me, Justin. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I don't know your fucking name," Brian snarled, "and I don't care. I'm going." He looked around for his denim jacket, but couldn't see it. Well, fuck it. He'd find it later. He had a paper to write and the closing shift at Il Centro tonight, and then he was going to get fucking laid.

"Brian," and the blond was sure as fuck persistent. "I know you. You sucked off your gym teacher."

The world, which had been slowly righting itself, promptly tipped over onto the side. Brian stopped with his hand on the door and carefully composed his face.

"You climbed into the shower with him. Do you remember that? You told me about it. You hate your parents, their names are Jack and-- okay, I don't know your mother's name, but your sister is Claire. And I know Debbie, and Michael, and Vic, and, um. Lindsay!"

"Who the fuck is Lindsay?" The only Lindsay he knew was the stuck-up bitch in his Art History class.

"Okay, forget Lindsay." He laughed, a strained sound. "Which you obviously have. Brian, what year is it?"

Brian rolled his eyes. "'91. Why?"

Justin grabbed the phone -- an incredibly small, sleek phone -- and punched in numbers, swearing under his breath. "I need to talk to Michael," he hissed, while Brian hunted furiously for a newspaper. "Shit. Fuck. What about his cellphone? Okay, fuck. No, Deb'll freak, I'll call Lindsay."

Newspaper, found. Front page news about some stupid election. The date on the front was --

"Yeah. He's got fucking amnesia."

-- the date was 2003.

"Brian, lie the fuck down!" the blond shouted, phone forgotten. "Don't go in there!"

"Fuck off, I need to know."

The bathroom was posh as well, with a great shower. Brian looked in the mirror, and nearly puked.

He got old.

The blond, who kept saying his name was Justin, brought him pills and made him lie down. Brian couldn't stop seeing his reflection in the mirror-- bags under his eyes, sagging chin, wrinkles around his mouth. It was a joke, it had to be a joke-- or bad drugs. That couldn't have been E he took last night. He was never buying drugs from that prick Aaron again.

Justin fussed around him, putting a bottle of water by the bed and plumping up the pillows. He was wearing indecently thin trackpants and rubbing Brian's forehead and running hands through his hair. Okay, he was hot. That ass.

"Come here," Brian said, grabbing his hand and pulling it down to his cock.

"Brian!" the blond squealed. "You have amnesia!"

"So?" Brian tugged him into the bed. "Jog my memory."

Brian woke up in the strange bed again, but this time his head didn't hurt, and he remembered fucking the blond. Fuck, he'd been fucking fantastic.

Then he remembered that he was old. Or maybe Aaron's shit had sent him on a really bad trip last night. He tiptoed into the weird bathroom and peeked into the mirror.


"Brian?" the blond called, and then appeared, tugging him away from the mirror. "Are you feeling better? Can you remember?"

Brian looked around at the loft. It was very weird-looking, like a movie set or the Green Goblin's lair. "Okay, so say, theoretically, this is my place. Did I just move in?"

The blond shook his head again. "I think you've lived here for about five years."

"So why isn't there any furniture?"

The blond sighed. "Long story."

He might be hot, but he was dumb as fuck. Brian tapped his foot. "Short version?"

"You sold it all to buy a hundred thousand dollars worth of TV spots to stop a politician winning an election."

"I did what?" Brian looked around. "Why the fuck would I do that?"

The blond sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Really long story." He handed Brian jeans and a shirt. "Get dressed, Lindsay's here."

It was the Lindsay he remembered, sitting at the kitchen bench, except she was really old, fat, and frumpy.

He squinted at her. "Barbie girl from Art History? What the fuck happened to you?"

Lindsay laughed her stupid little laugh, hands over her mouth like she was three years old and somebody said 'poo'. "The scary scholarship kid! My God, Brian, I'd forgotten how you used to be."

There was something wrong with this picture, this assumption that he would ever be friends with this silly cow. He folded his arms and stared down at her coldly. "And how did I used to be?"

"Exactly like that!" Lindsay shrieked, and waved her hands at Justin. "You see? Mister Icy Cool. He was all, 'I wouldn't be caught dead at one of your stupid parties, you're all so immature and pathetic because you don't get perfect grades.'"

There was a sick feeling in his stomach, a slow pounding starting up in his forehead again. This was some kind of bad acid trip, a fucked up Christmas Carol which was obviously teaching him the perils of hanging out with sorority girls. "I have to get perfect grades," he said, furious. "Unlike you and your rich bitch friends, I can't do this without a full scholarship."

"Oh, God, I'm sorry." She stopped laughing, took both his hands and kissed him on the mouth. "Brian, I love you to death, okay? We-- here, sit down."

"Can't," Brian said, gesturing around. "In my dotage, I decided I could live without furniture."

"We can sit at the kitchen counter," she said, like that solved everything.

Justin made coffee, and Brian stared at Lindsay.

"We are friends, you know," Lindsay said.

Brian kept staring.

"I walked in on you fucking, I can't remember his name, some quarterback. And the quarterback ran off and I was--" she stopped and laughed.

This day was turning out to be really fucking annoying. All these weird people kept reliving these bizarre memories that he didn't have at all. And also, which quarterback? He had plans for Charlton McIntyre, and if he'd actually nailed that phobic fuck, he wanted to know about it.

"You called me a dumb bitch for ruining your sex, and you grabbed your jacket and said there was no reason to be at this stupid party if you couldn't get laid."

He didn't know her well, but he could see the shape of her face from class, the voice echoing with deja vu of Degas and Miro. Justin leaned on the counter, listening, interested.

Lindsay took a sip of coffee. "And I had been so confused, for so long, and there you were, fucking another guy like it was the only thing to do on a Saturday night. So I said, 'I'm gay.' And you looked just like you do now, you were so unimpressed, but Brian," and she reached over and gripped his hand. "It was the first time I'd said it, even to myself. So I started crying, and you went into the bathroom and came back with a roll of toilet paper and told me to wipe my nose and get the fuck over myself."

"Yeah, well, crying fucks me off," Brian said, getting angry at this woman. She was just like Claire, like his mother, thinking tears could change anything. "It's pathetic. Life isn't fair, so bring on the waterworks."

Lindsay nodded. "That's what you said. And I did get over it. I shaved my head, fucked a hundred women, and petrol-bombed a police station."

Brian laughed out loud. "You did not." Justin was laughing too.

"No fucking way."

She laughed back, and leaned over to Justin. "He didn't believe me when I called him to post my bail, either. I sat in a cell for thirty hours before he came and got me."

Justin laughed again, and slapped Brian's shoulder. "You asshole."

Lindsay was beaming. "It was all right, actually. That's where I met Mel."

She and Justin doubled over laughing, and Brian scowled at them. "Who the fuck is Mel?"

"My wife."

"Your arch-nemesis."

And they were off again, telling stories about things he'd never done, to people he'd never known. He gave up and listened, trying to glean clues about what had happened to his life.

Michael finally called. Apparently he was on the run from the law with some teenage kid. Michael had changed, but he sounded the same, flooding Brian with relief. Thank fucking God, somebody he knew.

"Brian!" He sounded panicked. "Are you all right?"

Brian gripped the phone, even though Justin had put it on some fancy speaker thing. "Mikey, you have to help me. I'm old. I'm an old fat fart. I've got wrinkles and flab and I'm going bald."

"Justin, you've got to get him to the hospital."

"I'm not going to the fucking hospital."

Justin rolled his eyes. "He hates doctors."

Michael sounded like he was rolling his eyes too. "You think I don't know that? You think I don't know what it'll take to get him to one? But he could have brain damage!"

"Who gives a fuck about my brain? My face, Mikey! It's all saggy and flabby!"

"This could be from a tumour or an aneurysm or a, what's that thing with a blood clot--"

"That's an aneurysm," Justin said, "or a stroke, depending on the--"

Jesus. "It's nothing!" Brian insisted. "I'm not going."

"My great aunt got amnesia when she had stomach cancer," Mikey said.

"That's senile fucking dementia. I'm not that old." Then he remembered. "Oh, god, I am that old. I've got alzheimers'. There's a cure for that now, right? I'm going to the fucking hospital."

"Brian," Justin said, folding his arms. "Shut the fuck up and let me handle this."

In the end, Michael and Justin decided to wait a couple of days and then take him to the hospital. Justin made Michael break the news that Brian was unemployed, had no health insurance, and couldn't afford plastic surgery.

Brian tried to get Justin to explain this to him.

"Um. That's another long story. Because of the whole thing with Stockwell."

Brian looked at him blankly.

"The politician. You were partner in an ad agency, but Stockwell was a client and you got fired for what we did to him."

"I turned on a client? Why? Did I go insane?"

Justin smiled wryly. "You certainly seemed to think you had."

Brian glared at him. "Yeah, well, I was fucking right."

So that was that, then. He was thirty-two, he wasn't dead, he was unemployed, and he lived in this weird loft with weird space-age appliances and no furniture except Justin. There was more than one thing wrong with this picture.

Also, he was really getting agitated, because he had a paper due on Monday.

Justin didn't understand. "Brian, it was due thirteen years ago. You probably aced it."

Brian knew it wasn't rational, but he couldn't stop thinking about it-- it was worth forty percent of his grade, and it was vital to go into finals with perfect grades on everything else because you just never knew what would happen once you got in there. Plus the scholarship committee was pushing him to do more extracurricular shit and he needed even higher marks this semester to get out of joining the fucking tennis team. Bad enough that he'd lost an entire day of writing; if he didn't submit anything at all, he'd blow his whole average.

"Hey," Justin said, putting a gentle hand on his arm. "Maybe you kept the paper somewhere."

Justin found some keys and led him down to the basement, which was much tidier than most basements, but still basically crammed with junk. "I don't know what's in here," Justin admitted. "It's kind of your space, but those are mine from when Mom moved--" he indicated a pile of meticulously labelled movers' boxes-- "and there's some stuff of your Dad's in these."

Those were tatty-looking boxes, probably scavenged from behind a supermarket; they had Michael's handwriting on them, and Brian wondered why. He lifted the flap of one, and there was his father's brown leather wallet and black glasses case, on top of a pile of papers. He closed the box again-- he didn't have time to think about that right now. He had a paper due.

"Okay," he said, turning away. "Where do I start?"

It was actually fairly easy. If he'd kept old papers, he'd keep them in a locked filing cabinet. Against the back wall, there were three filing cabinets, and the keys were on the ring Justin was holding.

"How are we going to find anything?" Justin sighed, staring at the labels, but Brian knew exactly what the labels meant. College stuff was in the drawer labelled fPh (for fucking Philadelphia), which was neatly organised into Sch (scholarships), P&A (prizes and awards), and papers and blue books by year and semester.

He got 39 out of 40 for the paper.

"Happy?" Justin said, smirking.

"No," Brian said, pissed off. "That asshole Jenkins never gives full credit."

"Good." Justin relocked the cabinets and led him back upstairs. "Now you can relax. Maybe we can go watch the Alien trilogy at Deb's. You love Alien."

"I've never seen that stupid movie. Did they make more of them?"

Justin sighed. "You love it, Brian," he said very slowly. "They made more. We should watch them. You'll enjoy it."

"I can't. I don't have time to watch--" His head was hurting again. "Christ," he said, and turned to Justin. "Do I have job interviews lined up? Of course I do. Have I done all my research? It's Sunday, right? I need to be ready for tomorrow."

"I don't think you have any interviews."

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because you only got fired a few days ago! Brian, just chill out, okay?"

"Then I have to get another job! Is my CV up to date? Are there recruiting agencies I should call? Jesus, how did I let my life get into such a fucking mess?"

"Brian, it can wait." Justin pushed him back into the bedroom and onto the bed. "There is nothing that can't wait a few days. I have a job, and I can do extra shifts until you get back on your feet. It's fine."

Brian shook his head. Just because it was two-thousand-and-fucking-three didn't mean he didn't need money.

Justin lost his temper. "Look, you hit your the head. Really hard. You've got a bitch of a headache and don't lie because I can tell. You can miss work, okay? Pretend you have a job. I've called your boss, told him what happened, and he said you should take it easy for a few days. So just lie down and sleep it off."

His boss was a crazy Sicilian who thought second-degree burns were no excuse for letting the tortellini overcook. Fuck, he had the opening shift tomorrow. He had to set the alarm.

"Brian." Justin shoved more pills into his hand. "Swallow."


"Swallow, or I won't help you get a job in the morning."

Brian swallowed.

"That's better," Justin said, and lay down beside him, stroking his hair. A beautiful golden numbness started seeping into his throbbing skull, and Brian let it overwhelm him.

"Holy fuck," he said, sitting up in the middle of the night. "I missed the new millennium."

Beside him, Justin jerked awake. "Fuck, Brian! Will you fucking relax already?" He sighed loudly, scrubbed his hair, then sighed again and put his head on Brian's shoulder. "You're crazy." He rubbed Brian's arm, pulled him back under the covers, and then the covers over his head. "Anyway, the millennium was a big anticlimax. You didn't miss anything."

"I did," Brian insisted, because the millennium, that was the moment he'd lived his whole life for. "I was going to drive to the lookout at Mount Washington in my black corvette, drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and jerk off, thinking about all the great things I'd done." He turned to Justin. "Did I do that?"

Justin shook his head. "I don't know. I hadn't met you."

Brian stared at the ceiling for a long time. "Where are my parents now?"

"Um, your father died a couple of years ago. Cancer."

He wasn't thinking about that right now. "My mother?"

"She's still alive. I think she lives the same house. She didn't remarry or anything. She goes to church and drinks a lot. Your sister says you should spend more time with her."

Brian stared at the ceiling for a long time, thinking.

"Did I ever--" He didn't want to ask. He didn't want to know. But thirteen fucking years had gone by. "Did they ever--"

"I don't think anything ever changed," Justin said softly. "I'm sorry."

Well, he already knew that good old Mom would never get over herself. Brian rubbed his temples. "What's Lindsay's phone number?"

Justin hit 2 on the phone and handed it to him. Okay, Lindsay was a good friend. A muffled grunt answered.

"Lindsay? This is Brian."

"So it wasn't a joke," the woman said, and it didn't sound like Lindsay. "Brian Kinney really did lose his marbles."

The arch-nemesis. He already hated her. "You must be Melanie," he said. "I hear you're a frigid bitch."

Give me that, he heard, and then it was Lindsay, breathless. "Brian? Is everything okay?"

"Do you know what I did for the new millennium?"

"Um." It sounded like she was rubbing her face. "Not really. You were going to rent a corvette, but I don't think you did."

Something inside him clenched.

"Brian? Is something wrong?"

"What could be wrong," he said, and hung up. Justin stared at him, but what the fuck did he know, anyway. Brian rolled over and tried to sleep.

Justin went to work in the morning and left the number and made Brian swear on the coffeemaker that he'd call if he needed anything.

As soon as he was gone, Brian took the keys and slipped downstairs to the basement. The loft was all bare and shiny, even where there weren't spaces empty of furniture, and he liked that about it, but he down here was where he'd keep his personal stuff.

Mostly his own codes were pretty clear: taxes and finances, legal paperwork, a few boxes of books and magazines, quite a few boxes of clothes and shoes. Spare mattress, still in the plastic. A toolbox. No car things, so there must be a garage somewhere. Extra kitchen stuff; a couple of things he recognised from his first apartment. There was a stereo system in Justin's pile that was probably old, but looked new to him. He carried that upstairs along with a pretty nice coffee table, set it up in the living room, hauled up the mattress and piled it with sheets and cushions, and then wondered where all his music was.

Under a black sheet in the basement, he found six boxes labelled MCN, and two guitars. He didn't keep crap for sentimental reasons, of course, but he did keep stuff that was part of his history with Mikey. He carried it all upstairs and dug through the boxes until he found the one with all his CDs and cassettes and LPs. Led Zeppelin, a sandwich, and a beer from his fridge, and life was starting to look bearable.

He spread out on the mattress and sifted through the boxes, stuff that was familiar and stuff that wasn't. Concert t-shirts, comic books, plastic toys from Happy Meals, a battered copy of The Joy of Gay Sex, which Vic had given him. Eyeliner and studded leather pants, which Brian quickly shoved back-- even in '91, the eighties were hopelessly dated. A shoebox full of letters they'd written to one another in detention, mostly his fantasies of blowing up the school and killing everyone in it, and Michael urging him not to do anything stupid.

Another box yielded newer photos, slipped loose between the blank pages of a leather-bound notebook. Brian smiled at the irony this-- he'd never known what to do with the photos Michael gave him, of their birthdays at Deb's, and Halloween and the trip to see Vic in New York and the first day of summer. The family albums downstairs had made him sick and angry to look at, every picture worth a thousand lies. Michael's photos were different-- like Mikey, they were honest and real. He couldn't display those pictures, though; couldn't let them be tainted by family scrutiny, so in the end he slipped them into a spare exercise book, and left it in the trunk with his old textbooks. He never looked at them, but sometimes in his mind he would creep out of bed and open the trunk and sit on the cold concrete, drinking in every detail of each one.

He touched the soft, rich covering of the notebook, the luxuriously heavy texture of the blank white paper, and felt reassured. So he hadn't changed, not really.

There were probably ten years of photos that Michael had shoved on him. His graduation, one photo with his parents and one with Michael and Deb; lots of Mikey, by himself or with guys Brian didn't recognise; Brian with guys he didn't recognise; the Lindsay chick with a shaved head. Mikey and a hot, hot guy-- way to go, Mikey! Him and Mikey in a comic book store, toasting one another. Pictures of himself and Lindsay and what looked like Lindsay's ugly kid. Himself and Justin at some kind of party.

Justin came home just as the sun was setting outside the windows, bringing groceries and a stack of magazines and newspapers.

"We really should get a TV," Justin said as Brian flipped through the glossy pages. "You need to see those ads as well."

He'd brought home Thai food, so they sat on the mattress to eat. Justin poked his toe curiously at the pictures.

"You know, I didn't know you kept any of these."

Brian turned the page, uncovering another jumble of years. "Mikey gives them to me."

"Actually, I gave you the ones of us. Lindsay probably gave you that one--" Justin sitting on a swing in a park, holding Lindsay's kid in his lap.

Brian tried to remember that, but it just wouldn't come.

It was almost creepy, this weird intimacy, this stranger in this strange apartment, more at home in it than Brian was, telling him about himself. This weirdness of being somehow so much older than a boyfriend his age. This weirdness of having his neck stroked, when nobody had ever done that to him before. It felt good, but he wondered if this was something he liked, or something Justin liked doing.

"Hey," Brian said, and turned to look at him. A Boticelli face, clear eyes, worried frown. "I'm sorry, but I really don't remember you."

"It's okay. Shit happens." Justin looked back at him, and grinned.

Brian shrugged. "You seem all right. I guess I got lucky or something."

"You got so lucky, you have no idea." He rubbed Brian's calf with his toes. "Nobody knows why I've put up with you for so long."

"So long? How long have we been together?"

"Oh, man," Justin said. "Really, really long story." He held his hands up. "I know, short version. Three years, on and off."

"So we were, what, sixteen?" Then he remembered that he'd forgotten. "You were sixteen. I was-- I was fucking thirty?"

"I was seventeen. And you were a really immature twenty-nine." He poked Brian in the stomach. "You seem much older and wiser and now."

"Christ," Brian said. "I'm a filthy old perv. What the fuck was I doing with you?"

"Fucking me until I screamed," Justin said, and rolled over. "Wanna see if you remember how?"

The next day, Justin had a double shift, leaving him with his portfolio of ads. They were really fucking good. He couldn't believe he was unemployed. Oh, that turning on a client got him fired, he could believe that. He just couldn't believe that he'd let himself get into a situation that fucked up. He read all the newspapers about Stockwell, found his own stash of research on Gardner Vance, thought through the long story that Justin had told him, and tried to work out what had gone wrong.

He read through all his papers until he was livid at himself for fucking up, then got bored with being angry and flopped down on the living room mattress, annoyed again.

He couldn't stop looking at all the pictures of him with Lindsay's kid. Gus, Justin said his name was. Justin with the kid. His father with the kid. There was definitely something Justin wasn't telling him.

And how did a dyke get knocked up, anyway?

"Oh, fuck," he said, and slammed the book shut.

After that, it seemed like a good idea to take more Valium.

He woke up with a headache and Justin beside him, sleeping peacefully. Brian switched on the orange light and studied him in it: pale, flawless, cozy, in this expensive bed, arm over brian's chest like it belonged there. Cute, charming, fucking fantastic in bed, and happily in love with him. He was the kind of fantasy boyfriend Brian wouldn't even bring himself to picture, but here he was.

A total stranger.

And then there was the money -- Justin kept saying not to worry, it didn't matter, but if he didn't have a job, he needed to get one, and if he was in debt, he had to get out of it, and if he'd blown his career, he needed to repair it. He needed to get some work, and he could get behind a bar and pour drinks eighty hours a week, but that wasn't the kind of money that could deal with a hundred thousand dollars and a ruined reputation. He needed to get into sales, something lucrative, but he didn't recognise half the appliances in his own home.

The apartment felt small and cramped, making Brian imagine he was fifteen again, lying in his small, hard bed, hurting all over, hours until it's dawn and he can get up, go out, do something to scratch the gnawing, burning itch under his skin that never went away no matter how much he fucked or drank or wreaked havoc.

He was up and getting dressed before he knew he'd made the decision. Christ, he didn't even know where he lived in Pittsburgh. The city skyline in the window was just vaguely familiar, like he'd only seen it in the movies. He didn't know where his car was parked, or what kind of car it was. Never mind. His wallet was on the bench-- driver's licence, Tremont Street, good, and five hundred fucking dollars in cash, so he could take a cab.

He found a pen and paper to leave a note for Justin, but he didn't know what to write. Eventually he left it at, Gone for a walk. It felt alien, like it was inappropriate, but it would be stupid to let Justin wake up and find him gone, so he ignored the wrongness and left the note on the kitchen counter.

The street outside was strange, so he didn't look at it, just hailed a cab. He stared at his hands as it took him through more strange streets, then a turn and things were halfway familiar-- the shop where he and Mikey bought Pepsi and donuts, condos where the crazy lady's house used to be, then the bus stop where they sat and talked about what movie to see, even though they'd decided right after the last movie which one would be next.

And then the Novotny house. He got out, paid the driver and watched it glide off. Even the cars were weird, now-- quiet with strange curves.

Did they still live there? He'd have to kill Mikey if he still hadn't moved out of his mother's house, but his heart was pounding as he surveyed the front garden, because what if Deb had moved as well?

But there were the same ugly metal swans in the front yard, and the same weeds among the struggling roses, so he climbed over the gate and slipped down the side of the house. In the back yard, in the moonlight, it looked the same as it always had, and when he tried the latch, the back door was unlocked, and the kitchen light was on.

Deb was in the kitchen, hair redder than ever. She flashed him a quick smile, and he felt dizzy with relief. "Hey, stranger," she called, and beckoned with the spatula. "Pour us both a drink."

He shut the door softly behind him and looked around, but the liquor cabinet wasn't where it used to be. She turned around and he saw her face in the flourescent light.

"Christ," he said. "You got old." He just couldn't get used to it. His whole life was shocking oldness and shocking newness.

She laughed, harsher than he remembered. "No fucking kidding." She looked at him, hard, and then put the bowl down. "You look like shit. Here, sit down." She pulled out a chair, plonked down two glasses and pulled a bottle of scotch from the cupboard. "What's up, kiddo?"

"Nothing," he said, his automatic response, and she nodded as she sat down, her usual pretense. "I hit my head," he admitted. "Bitch of a headache."

"Brought back the good old times, huh?" She lifted her glass in toast. "Here's to Jack Kinney rotting in hell where he belongs," she declared, and knocked back a good two inches.

He didn't really like scotch, but the glass felt familiar in his hand, and the muscles in his arms moved with an ease he didn't recognise as he lifted it to his mouth. There was that deja vu again, in the burn of his throat as it went down.

Deb patted his hand. "He'd dead and buried, Hon. The worms are eating him."

"I don't remember that," he confessed. "I don't--" The situation was fucking ridiculous. Some instinct made him wait until she refilled her glass and took another gulp. "I think I'm nineteen. I think it's 1991."

She choked and he laughed, louder than he expected.

"You shit," she began, but he couldn't stop laughing. Thirty-two, he was thirty-fucking-two and he had an apartment and a kid and a fucking boyfriend who was half his own sudden inexplicable fucking age.

"Thirty two," he said, aloud this time. "I'm going to drive my car off a bridge when I'm twenty-nine. That's the plan. I'm gonna make a million dollars and buy a Corvette and drive it off a fucking cliff in the year 2000, but I haven't handed in my economics paper and I'm missing my shift at Il Centro." He gulped at his drink. "And it was all years ago."

"Jesus motherfucking flagwaving Christ!" she shouted. "You've got fucking amnesia!"

He was laughing again, poured another glass of scotch and drained it. "I've got a fucking kid, is what I've got. I've got my own place and, and--" It seemed like a cruel joke, suddenly. "This Justin guy, and that Linsday girl. I just lost a job I don't remember, and I don't know how the fuck I'll get another one. I don't know anybody. I don't know anything."

"Christ, Brian." She got up and hugged him, held him tight, like all the times when he couldn't even say what was wrong. He let himself relax for a minute into the half-familiar smell of her.

"You listen to me, kiddo," she said. "'Cause I've never lied to you and I never fucking will, okay? Are you listening?"

He nodded.

"I remember you at nineteen, and you were fucking miserable. But you did good, okay?" She kissed the top of his head. "You did real good, almost in spite of yourself, but you made it."

"I guess so," he said, but he didn't feel it.

She let him go with a few pats and sat down again. "Not all that, the loft, the agency, never mind all that. You got a family now, and we love you. You got Lindsay and Gus, and Michael's still your best friend, and I'm still his fat-mouth interfering hag of a mother and I still tell you what's what, okay? And Michael's got Ben, a damn good man, but you've got Justin."

"Justin. He's--" He didn't know who the fuck Justin was, or what were they doing together. None of it seemed real to Brian.

"Hey." She shook her glass at him. "Sunshine's the love of your fucking life, and don't you forget it."

He snorted. "I did forget it."

"Well," she stood up and stretched her back, and Brian felt sick to hear the groan of an old woman. "Remember this, then: that kid's like a son to me, and if you fuck with one of my boys, you'll answer to me for it." She shoved a plate of lemon bars at him, and kissed both his cheeks. "Go home, Brian. Talk to Justin. Tell him to bring you by the diner in the morning."

He sat at the bus stop and ate a lemon bar, then walked up to the main road and took a cab to the address on his drivers' licence. Upstairs, he checked that Justin was still asleep, took more Valium, and lay on the couch until it knocked him out.

In the morning, because Justin somehow managed to win the argument before it even started, he went to the doctor and let them poke him and scan him and shine lights in his eyes. They sent him on his way, telling him the same stuff they always said on TV.

"I need a job," he told Justin, as they walked home. He owned a corvette-- the first good news he'd had since he woke up on Sunday morning-- but Michael had run off in it, so no car and no best friend. Another cruel joke.

"Brian," Justin began, but Brian cut him off.

"I'm not going to hang around that place all day, waiting to get my memory back. I need money, and the sooner I start, the sooner I'll have it." As he said it, he felt the weight of pressure lift from his chest-- he had a plan. He knew what he had to do. "I'll get a job, and I'll study."

Justin's friend Daphne had a university library card. Justin was at work when she brought over the textbooks Brian wanted, so Brian made her a sandwich and poured her a glass of juice and asked her all the things he didn't remember about her.

"You're a fucking pod person," she told him, head tilted to the side. "I really like it."

He liked her a lot. He could see Daphne as his friend, while Lindsay was still a bizarro mystery. Maybe it was just that they were the same age. He ended up going to her place to watch something called "Will and Grace".

She'd promised him he'd hate it with a passion, but it was pretty funny. Weirdly vindicating, fags on a big TV network, but he was learning that the world now was different than he remembered.

And it turned out Justin lived here, with Daphne, not with him, and nobody had bothered to mention this to him. Daphne told him it was "one of those things, you know, where he only sleeps here when he's really mad at you or you kick him out or whatever."

He looked around the apartment with new eyes-- strewn with bright colours, cheerfully crowded with furniture, and it seemed a huge piece of the puzzle, the other half of Justin that he hadn't been able to figure out.

He turned around the living room, gesturing at the artwork on the walls. "Justin said he was an art student."

"He didn't show you his work?"

This seemed to be a crime of cataclysmic proportions. Daphne jumped up and seized his arm and gave him a guided tour of all the paintings and sketches in the flat, and piece after piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Justin had a little sister, and his mother was a classic beauty, in a posed portrait that captured her love for the artist sketching her. Justin saw red and gold in the view of the city from the loft window, and green and blue in the brick walls outside. There were portraits of Brian, and they didn't look like the self he recognised, but they looked more like him than his face in the mirror this morning. Looking at himself through Justin's eyes, Brian thought he was frightening, and beautiful.

"And I bet you haven't seen this," Daphne said, shoving a comic into his hand.

And holy fucking time-leaps, Batman, but Justin and Michael published their own comic book together. It was a completely insane storyline, but looking down at a panel of Mikey in superhero costume, he realised that there was some kind of weird truth in it.

He'd been missing Michael, but in a sort of abstract way, because he didn't talk to him much during semester anyway. He just had that nagging feeling, like when the cheap rates came on, he should pick up the phone and talk to him for a couple of hours. But Michael was on the road somewhere; he'd left his store and his boyfriend and his mother behind, because he was trying to save some teenage kid from his abusive home.

He traced the face on the paper, and longed for Michael with all his heart.

"You okay?" Daphne said softly. Brian remembered where he was.

Justin had drawn this Michael, and it struck him that he recognised Michael, through the older face and the stupid costume, saw Michael's whole personality shining out from every line of Justin's drawing.

"He's really talented," he said, simply amazed.

"This is the happy stuff," Daphne warned him. "There's a lot that isn't."

"What's the other stuff?" he asked, putting the comic aside for later, hungry to see-- what? Justin depressed, hurt, angry?

"I bet nobody's told you about you and Justin," she said suddenly.

Just her tone of voice told him more than Lindsay and Justin and Deb put together. Brian shook his head. "Tell me."

The long story was that Justin wasn't a sweet little blond twink. He caused a hell of a lot of trouble and got bashed for it and then got up and caused more. The long story was that he and Justin didn't live some happy homo fantasy life. They fucked around on each other, and Brian was an asshole to him, and Justin was a self-righteous little bitch when he didn't get his way, and underneath all the 'good for each other' and 'love of his fucking life' crap, they were mainly together for the sex.

"You're a couple of fucking drama queens," Daphne concluded. "You can't live together, you can't keep your hands off each other. You drag everyone into it when you fight, then make up in the backroom at Babylon and bitch at us for taking sides. You're the most dysfunctional, self-involved, histrionic couple in the entire history of time."

It was a relief to hear.

When he got home, Justin was pissy, swallowing three children's aspirin and slamming the glass down on the counter. "Jesus, Brian," he said. "I still don't know if you're going to drop dead from an aneurism or something. Leave a fucking note, so I don't start calling hospitals."

It was just so drama queeny. Brian smirked. "Yeah, well. You left me for a violinist. How lame is that?"

Justin froze. "What did Daphne tell you?"

Brian kissed him, long and hard. When he pulled away, Justin was breathing heavily. "Mmm," he said, running his hands possessively down to Justin's ass. "I think I understand this relationship now."

He stacked all textbooks on the floor and spread out on a pile of cushions, under Justin's baleful glare. Introduction to Marketing seemed like the place to start, so he opened it and started reading. Situation analysis -- okay, he already knew that. Media planning -- he'd already done all this. He flipped to the next section, demographics and spending habits. Teens, yeah, 18-25s, yeah, 25-35s, yeah, lower bracket, middle bracket, men, women, couples, the usual misguided textbook shit, because when you sat down and analysed the figures, after 35 there was a significant shift between the spending habits and the spending decisions made by men versus women.

But of course you didn't tell the clients that, because they always wanted to attract one or the other. You targeted the decision makers, and then pitched the campaign as if it was for whatever fucking demographic the client wanted to believe in.

He looked up, and Justin was watching him.

"You remember, don't you?"

Brian looked down at the textbook, which he'd slammed shut. "Maybe," he said, and reached for the next book, because he didn't remember any of this, but he somehow knew.

"Maybe you can work freelance," Justin suggested, after they had amazing sex on the floor, and then against the refrigerator, and again in the shower. It wasn't all coming back to him, but he was beginning to feel lines around him as he moved, like invisible diagrams of how everything worked. He and Justin had amazing sex on a daily basis, and that was enough to get them through the rest of it. Also, Justin was a pretty cool guy. He had talent, and attitude, and from what Daphne had told him, he had the balls to back up his talk with action. Brian liked that a lot. He was starting to think he had a good thing going, with Justin.

"Brian?" Justin poked him, and Brian swatted his hand away. "I thought you wanted work. If you remember how to do it, you could freelance."

No, he couldn't, because he wasn't stupid, he knew it was a jungle out there, and in his weakened state, he'd have his throat torn out.

"I need money coming in now," he said.

He was never without a job. It was one of the first rules he'd made for himself at fifteen, when he sat down at Deb's kitchen table at two in the morning, icepack to his eye, and worked out how he was going to get away from his family. One: always know where your next rent check is coming from. Two: always know where your next payraise is coming from. Three: always know where your better life is coming from.

So job first, then sort out his career. Then-- better life? He didn't know. He decided he'd waive that clause until he remembered what was wrong with his current life.

He went out in the morning and talked his way into five shifts a week behind the bar at the Pittsburgh Heights Golf Club, because his instincts (location, demographics, disposable income) told him the tips would be lucrative and then some.

They went to Lindsay and Melanie's for dinner.

"It's a thing," Justin explained. "They cook food and you eat it, which keeps you quiet while the rest of us act like a family. Then we go home and offer orgasms to the sex gods in thanks that we're not lesbians."

Melanie was ugly and rude and Brian hated her. And she was having Michael's fucking baby.

"Is Michael insane?" he demanded. "He's reproducing with you?"

Lindsay refilled Brian's glass. "Have another drink, Brian."

Justin put more food on his plate. "Here, Brian, have some more broccoli."

His first day at work wasn't too bad for the first couple of hours. His boss was smart, and Brian had the ropes down well enough that they stopped for a smoke before the lunch crowd came in.

"Brian Kinney? What in hell are you doing behind that bar?"

Brian had rehearsed this moment over and over in his mind. He smiled confidently and reached over the bar to shake the man's hand. "I may not remember you," he said. "I got my brains scrambled in an accident." Saying it hurt. Somehow, saying it aloud made him feel damaged. However it seemed to him, the world hadn't changed-- he had. He searched the man's face for a hint of memory, and saw shock and pity. For the first time in a long time, he felt himself as insufficient. He was doing less than was expected of Brian Kinney.

"Well, fuck me," the man said. "I hope it's not permanent. You were the best ad man I ever had the displeasure of working with. Peter Walberg," he added, and shook Brian's hand again. "Smith & Walberg Pathology."

"Pleasure. Are you still with, uh--" He feigned confusion. It was useful to be underestimated.

"Vangard?" Walberg frowned. "Between you and me, not for much longer. There's a New York firm moving in on my territory, and the latest campaign just isn't competitive."

One thing hadn't changed-- Brian could smell opportunity, like the sweet crisp moistness of coming rain. "Give me a few weeks to straighten my head out," he said, "and I may be able to help you with that."

When he finished, he had a message on his fancy phone: "Running late, can't pick you up, meet me at Daphs." It wasn't very fucking helpful. He tried to call Justin back but he couldn't work out how to make the call. He didn't remember the address; he didn't know Daphne's last name.

He went home first, to call Justin, but he couldn't find the fucking number. His cellphone had three hundred people in it, but none of them were Justin. His filofax had another three hundred numbers, and none of them were Justin. He tried the numbers programmed into the home phone. #1 got him Michael and Ben's answering machine. #2 was Lindsay. Three was Vangard Advertising. Hot Studs R Us. A woman called Cynthia-- Christ, what if he had another kid? He hung up on her. Honeycutt Party Planning. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he tried 7 through 0 -- a cleaning service, the building super, Michael's comic book store, and Time.

Finally he dialled Michael's old number, the one he actually remembered, and asked Deb. "Sure thing, Hon," she said, and rattled it off.

He stared at the paper, pissed off that he hadn't known seven little digits. Then he dialled, and Justin wasn't there yet, but Daphne gave him the address and a list of booze she wanted him to buy for her.

Christ. He had ID, and it was real.

When he got to Daphne's, he handed her his cellphone and asked her to show him how to put numbers in it.

"What's the number?" she said.

Brian unfolded the scrap of paper and handed it over. "I don't know why I didn't have it," he said. "Don't I ever call him?"

"Duh," she said, giggling as she keyed rapid numbers with her thumb. "When you're horny you call every ten seconds until he comes home." She handed the phone back. "You know it by heart, silly."

When Justin finally got to dinner, Brian snapped at him for leaving useless messages. Justin rolled his eyes. Daphne giggled at how cute they were. Brian had a headache.

Brian worked all weekend and made six hundred dollars in tips, which improved things considerably. They had food in the fridge and paid a few bills.

Monday was Brian's day off, and he planned to study all day, but Lindsay called and said the sitter was sick and would he please please please look after Gus for just a few hours Brian please.

"Sure," Brian said, a little nervous because she made it sound like he was going to hate every minute. "It can't be that bad, right?"

Lindsay, when she dropped Gus off, assured him that Gus was an angel and as long as Brian didn't leave him alone to go get laid, everything would be fine.

Brian had heard enough famous last words to approach the kid with extreme caution, but once they got past the awkward introductions part, Gus was cool. In fact, Brian just couldn't get over how cool it was that he had this gorgeous kid who was really smart and curious and fun. He'd never imagined that he'd be a father-- he'd never wanted to be a father, because who the hell would want to put some innocent kid through what parents did to them? But now here Gus was, his kid, and he'd never felt more removed from his own father. He'd never felt less like the kind of man who could hit a little boy until he cried, and then hit him again for crying over it. He looked at Gus and knew, to the marrow of his bones, that his own father was a sick, selfish fuck.

He and Gus played trains on the floor, and then Brian made them banana and peanut butter sandwiches. Gus wanted to play on the computer, but Brian couldn't even figure out how to switch it on, so they did drawings on the printer paper instead.

"Justin," Gus said, pointing to a yellow scribble.

"Yeah," Brian said softly, "Justin." Justin must be kind of a step-dad, Brian figured, if they'd been together for three years. They must have got together just before Gus was born. Hell, maybe fatherhood had changed him. Gus also drew a tree, and his mommies, and Mrs Henderson, and a chocolate cake, and a dog. Brian promised to buy him a dog, and was sticking another ten drawings of Gus with his dog on the refrigerator when Mel came to pick him up.

"He's not drunk or dead, I guess that's something," she said. Gus informed her that Daddy was getting him a dog.

"Don't bitch at me," Brian said. "I need to check-- Gus has a college fund? Has he got health insurance? Is his name down at a good school?"

"Yes, you asshole," she said. "Gus is taken care of. And when he isn't, Lindsay pouts prettily and you write checks."

"Good. What about Mikey's kid?"

"Mikey's kid isn't born yet. We haven't planned its life."

Brian thought for a moment. "Bullshit," he concluded. "You're a Jew dyke lawyer. You've had its college picked since you were four. You just don't have the money."

She blew out an annoyed breath. "Okay, so I don't have the money. Families are fuckin' expensive. So what?"

"So I'll give you the fucking money," he said.

"Are you feeling all right? It's not Lindsay's kid we're talking about, it's mine."

"I don't care if it's popping out of your hairy twat. It's Mikey's kid and I'm gonna take care of it."

Mel cradled Gus close, and looked at him for a long time. "I don't know what went wrong with you, but--" she trailed off, and sighed. "I don't know what went wrong with you, Brian," she said seriously. "You could have been a good man. I hope you'll remember that."

Joseph Chang from Drysdale Software introduced himself over the bar the next night. "Good luck with a speedy recovery," he said, and gave Brian his card. At a charity dinner on Thursday, he also got cards from Rudy Miller of Miller & Associates, and a facelifted woman called Maria Gershin.

"Fashion designer, right?" he said, pretending to try to remember. "I remember a red dress and a black model."

"Darling!" she cried. "It's coming back to you!"

"Slowly," Brian said, pouring her drink. "I get fragments." He'd studied that layout for hours, and read all the briefs Justin printed out of his computer. He didn't remember a damn thing.

On Friday night, Justin deemed him suitably recovered to take him out and introduce him to his supposed best friends. Ted was lame and boring and pathetic, and Brian doubted he'd ever voluntarily be seen with him. Emmett seemed like a silly flaming queen until he looked Brian right in the eye and said, "I know you better than you know yourself, Sweetheart, so don't fuck with me."

Ben was hot and didn't rise to any of Brian's bait. "I already passed your patented Endurance Test For Michael's Boyfriends," he said blandly. "You're wasting your time."

So Ben was cool, and Emmett was fantastic. Justin went to work, Whatsisname went home, and the rest of them went to a club and danced until four in the morning.

"Have we fucked?" Brian whispered in Emmett's ear, hot and horny and in no doubt that Emmett could suck like a pro. "'Cause it doesn't count if I don't remember."

"Oh, Honey, you fucked me the day I moved in with Michael." Emmett kissed his cheek. "You were fabulous, but I don't think your grown up self would appreciate me going back for seconds, and neither would Justin." He pointed to a guy at the bar. "He's new, you probably haven't had him."

According to the guy, Brian had him ten minutes after he first set foot in Babylon, but he was hot, so Brian led him into the backroom and had him again.

On Saturday morning, a blonde woman in a business suit showed up at his door. "I hear you've forgotten that you can't function without me."

"And who the fuck are you?"

"Your new partner," she said, and pushed the door open. "Get out of my way, asshole, I've got an agency to start."

She knew him, obviously, but nobody had told him about her. He called Justin at the diner. "There's a woman here," he began, and she grabbed the phone out of his hand.

"Justin Taylor, I'll have your balls for earrings next time I see you, you thoughtless little prick."

She handed the phone back.

"That's Cynthia," Justin said. "Just do what she tells you."

When Mikey showed up on his doorstep, Brian had never been so glad to see anyone in all his life.

"I love you," Brian mumbled into his shoulder. "You look beautiful, I'm so glad you're still my friend."

"I'm sorry I couldn't be here." Michael was all sniffly. "I'm so fucking proud of you, Brian. You're doing really well."

Brian was getting sniffly too. "You're so amazing, I can't believe you. You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Me too!" Mikey cried, and so they did a shot of JB for every year they'd been best friends, including the ones Brian didn't remember. Then they had a lot of pot, and a lot of pizza, and lot more JB, and Ben came and collected Mikey, and Brian hit his head on the kitchen counter as he passed out.

When he woke up, he was in a strange bed -- what the fuck had possessed him to buy red sheets? The loft was weird, full of bizarre almost-retro furniture, and although he could remember buying it, he wasn't terribly pleased with his purchasing decisions. It was all right for his nineteen year old self, taking care of business, taking care of the kids and the family, completely ignorant of the stakes-- what about his reputation, for fuck's sake? Brian got out of bed, ripped the drawings off the fridge, took the photos off the bookshelves, and hauled the fucking red and purple bean bags down the stairs and dumped them on the sidewalk.

Then he made coffee and shook his head in disbelief. He remembered remembering his shitty little apartment like it was yesterday, but that was a lifetime ago. This was his life now-- fantastic loft, hot men lining up to be fucked by him, and most of Gardner's best clients.

He had such a headache.

At first, Justin was happy to realise he was back, but Brian was not happy with Justin. It was not pleasant to wake up and realise your not-a-boyfriend had let you believe that you had some hetero dykey marriage thing going on.

"Don't even fucking start," Justin said, scribbling angry lines in charcoal. "You drew that conclusion, based on the evidence. I didn't even know what you were thinking."

"Yeah, right," Brian said.

Justin got sick of his bad attitude and shitty mood, and retreated to Daphne's. "Call me when you get over yourself," he said, and slammed the door shut behind him.

Brian poured himself a drink. He wasn't that kid, that pushover who showed Justin his photographs, and was impressed by stupid-ass sitcoms, and offered to pay for Mel's evil spawn. That hadn't been him.

He went to Babylon and fucked a couple of guys and did some lousy E that made his eyes feel gritty and dry and lit a painful burn in his balls. The DJ was playing shitty nineties techno that he didn't want to hear, so he took a bottle of JB to the baths and lost himself there.

Life became a haze of clients and briefs and meetings and sandwiches that appeared by his keyboard and coffee that didn't appear nearly often enough. Brian was starting to think being thirty-two was no better than being nineteen, or dead. He already did his time, he thought sullenly, as he cooed at photos of a potential client's ugly fucking family. He worked his ass off for ten fucking years and he was not supposed to be back here, starting over. He sure as hell remembered the plan, and he was starting to really hate himself for not sticking to it.

This wasn't supposed to be happening, he thought, after three sleepless nights working on the pitch to Northwest Mitsubishi. This wasn't how it was supposed to play out, he berated himself as he drove home after the pitch failed. He was not supposed to be fucking fired, he was not supposed to be fucking blackballed, he was not supposed to be an insignificant startup without the resources to handle a major campaign. The plan was, partner in a major agency, with clients coming to him, so that he could pick the accounts he wanted and leave the crap to the pissants. His hard fucking work was supposed to be paying the fuck off by now.

And he'd fucking blown it. He hadn't even made it up to Mount Washington at twenty-nine.

"So go up the stupid fucking mountain then!" Justin yelled at him in the diner at two in the morning, sick of him. Fuck, Brian was sick of himself by now, the hot seething self-hatred that boiled away in his gut and called him a fuckup and a failure. He rented a beat-up Toyota, bought a few bottles of no-name whiskey, and drove off in a blind rage.

He parked right next to a deserted lookout, and sit down with his legs dangling over the edge, staring down at the city below. Up here, it was deadly quiet, and he felt a sense of that not-quite-deja-vu. He hadn't been up here, but he'd imagined it too many times. This was where he was supposed to make his fucking peace before his death. This was the buildup to the brilliant ending, the victory he needed before he could go out in a blaze of fucking glory. But he wasn't at peace. He wasn't fucking glorious. He was fucking pathetic.

He drank a toast to his fifteen year old self, who made the plan to save his own life and then set it in motion. He drank to the sixteen year old who did soccer and the track team and the fucking chemistry club and essays for extra credit and still managed to get laid twice times a week. He toasted the seventeen year old who filled out all the scholarship applications and did sixty hours a week at the meat packing plant all summer to buy a car. The eighteen year old who talked his way up to front-of-house supervisor at Il Centro and still got a 4.0 average. The nineteen year old-- assistant manager of the restaurant until he had to quit and focus on his internship. The twenty-year-old who graduated with seven job offers, and enough money in the bank for a down payment on a shitty apartment with a view of the bluff he was now sitting on.

He remembered sitting on the floor of that apartment with Michael, boxes everywhere, and drinking their way through a bottle of JB.

"You made it, Brian," Michael had said, hugging him and crying. "You really got away from them." He'd been drunk, and so had Brian, because he'd started talking about his even better life than this-- get laid every single night, pay off the mortgage in five years, buy a better place and pay it off in three, partner by twenty-five, senior partner by twenty-nine, a corvette and a walk-in wardrobe full of designer suits. He was just sober enough not to mention driving the corvette off a cliff to avoid turning thirty.

"But we'll start having fun now, right?" Mikey said, clinging to his neck. "I missed you so much."

"I missed you too," Brian said, hugging him back. "Yeah, we're gonna have fun now."

They'd had some fun, him and Mikey. Too much fun. He hadn't bought the loft until he was twenty-six, and hadn't paid it off until he was thirty. He didn't make partner until thirty, either, or buy a corvette until he was thirty-one, and he'd fucked up colossaly on making senior partner. Maybe that was why he hadn't done this. On New Year's Eve he'd planned to come up here, but Michael had wrapped his arms around his waist and dragged him onto the dance floor for one more dance, and then another drink, and then he spotted the hot guy from the Armani store, who he'd been keeping on tenterhooks, saving him up for a special occasion, and next thing he knew, there were fireworks going off in his cock to mark the new millenium.

Brian didn't believe in introspection, but maybe he hadn't come up here at twenty-nine because somewhere inside, he knew he didn't have enough to celebrate. He'd gotten too lazy, careless, chickenshit, to see his own plans through. He finished the bottle and thought about driving the stupid Toyota off the stupid mountain, but he knew he wasn't going to. He wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, a fuck-you to his parents and the school and the fucking fag-hating world.

Brian threw the bottle over the edge and listened to it smash instead. He couldn't kill himself now, because that would mean the world beat him. He called for a taxi and left the rental car up there, shining its headlights into the blackness.

In the morning, he was hungover and couldn't find the filters for the coffee and they were demolishing the building behind the loft and the noise was hideous. Photoshop was acting up on his new G5 and he didn't know enough about the stupid new operating system to fix it. Cynthia had fucked off to New York for the week to hustle new clients and taken his filofax with her. The proofs for the campaign arrived, and he suspected there was something wrong with the reds that he was too colorblind to see. They stopped the demolition outside for something that involved an hour of deafening offkey beeping, and then started with the wrecking ball again. He gave up and went to Starbucks, where an old orange post-it fell out of his wallet-- Justin's phone number. Annoyed at his pathetic younger self, he threw it in the gutter, and deleted the number from his cellphone for good measure.

Since the loft was useless, he went and hung out in Mikey's store for the rest of the day, fending off come-ons from Hunter and yelling at customers who bothered him while he was trying to work. When it closed, he wanted to go to Babylon, and Hunter wanted to go with him, but Michael insisted they were going home to spend time with Ben. Brian insisted that they were going to Woody's first, and Michael called Justin.

"I'll give you a million fucking dollars if you'll get your fucking boyfriend out of my hair," Michael said, and Brian sighed and didn't argue.

Brian cut up tomatoes for salad while Justin grilled steaks, and they watched Citizen Kane on the crappy forty inch TV Brian remembered thinking was good enough. He stared at the screen and wondered if it was supposed to be telling him something.

"Do you like this movie?" he asked Justin.

"I love it," Justin said, mouth full of the mashed potatoes Brian had refused to eat. "But I never heard all the hype, so I had nothing to be disappointed about."

They needed to change the hype, Brian thought. Promoting something as a classic was just lazy branding. You needed to bring the hype up to date, add new relevance, make your angle challenging so that people would tune in and take sides. The secret to good hype was making weaknesses into strengths.

"I'm an asshole," he said to Justin.

"I know."

"So why the fuck didn't you stop me when I wasn't acting like an asshole?"

"Because you're an asshole," Justin said, and smiled angelically at him.

That pretty much left him in a foul mood for the rest of the week, not to mention that he had his memory back and Joseph Chang from Drysdale Software had been trying to get Brian to fuck him for years, and now he'd not only fucked him, he worked for the fucking guy. And he'd been stupid enough to given Cynthia an inch and she'd taken 30% ownership of the new agency. And he'd made a pass at Emmett, who'd told Ted about it.

Then he had to go to Wisconsin, and after that he had to go spend a week in Fucking Philadelphia, and if that wasn't enough, some new regulation meant the Baths always reeked of disinfectant, and Britney Spears had another number one album that they even played in the Armani store.

And if that wasn't enough, Justin told Brian to move the new agency out of the loft.

"You don't even live here!" Brian yelled. "We're not married, we're not partners, and this isn't some bullshit lesbian relationship where I pretend to care what you think. You don't get to kick my business out of my home!"

"Yes I do," Justin said, eating buttered popcorn with his feet on the coffee table. "Because I'm the one with the amazing oral skills, and I'm sick of your shitty work moods intruding on my fuck space. Home offices are not sexy, Brian. Get it out of here." He tossed Brian his car keys, his check book, and a handful of real estate listings with red circles on them. "And get me some Oreos on the way back."

Standing in a second-storey floorspace, picturing his desk and Cynthia's, new lighting and fixtures, some edgy interior design, he wasn't entirely dissatisfied with the idea. Picturing himself leaving all the work here, sliding the loft door open and walking up to Justin and fucking him where he stood -- that was satisfying. And then fucking him on every piece of furniture that wouldn't be covered by layouts and papers and product samples -- that was fucking inspirational. He signed the lease and then fucked the realtor the parking garage. He was saving the office for Justin.

On his way home, he picked up Oreos and beer and a pizza, and then swung a sudden left and headed for Lindsay's place. He'd written thousands of dollars worth of checks for Gus. He might as well get his money's worth.

The day before the official opening of the agency, he sat at his new desk and stared at the view of the street below, mindless drones scurring about their stupid lives, and resolved that he wasn't going to end up like them.

He'd lost sight of the important things in life-- money and sex. He needed a new plan

Number one was obviously to make the agency the best in Pittsburgh, then expand to New York. He'd do that by forty.

Number two was to clear the debt from the Stockwell fuckup, and then make sure he'd never be in debt again. Six months to clear the debt, and another six to get a hundred grand invested somewhere. And if Ted was still off the crystal by then, he could even reap the rewards of having a financial planner so pathetically grateful that he'd stop at nothing to make Brian a very rich man.

While on the topic of money, he needed college funds for Mikey's kid, and to pay off Deb's mortgate, except Mikey wanted to do those things himself. He jotted down a few ideas for making the comic book store successful. Maybe he could talk Michael into making him a partner in it, fund renovations and a great website, and do the marketing for free. He could treat it as another investment, he thought, and smiled to himself. Okay, that was goal number three.

Justin--, he wrote, but he wasn't sure what to do there. Buy him a laptop, maybe. But that was bullshit. He almost crossed the name out, and then didn't. If he wanted to keep getting the best sex in Pittsburgh and possibly the universe, then he had to do something to keep Justin happy, but Justin seemed to be handling it just fine by himself. Maybe he should buy the kid a fucking ring, he thought, and then laughed. Yeah, he'd buy him a ring. Fuck it.

That was a pretty boring list, though. He added:

- piss off Mel
- mock Ted
- take over Vangard and fire Gardner
- take over the GLC and put Deb in charge
- fuck the new deli guy
- lose five pounds and get a facelift
- get a '69 Charger for weekend driving
- drive it off a cliff at 39

and then, after some thought:

- have another kid.

When he got home, he folded the list and put it in his book of photographs, then got dressed to go out. He stopped by Tiffany's and bought Justin his stupid ring, left it in Justin's locker at the diner, went to Babylon and got superbly drunk, then found the deli guy and got magificently laid.

He liked having a plan. Having a plan gave him something to live for.

Brian began his fortieth birthday by getting three new accounts and, as a special treat for himself, firing the Junior Exec with the bad BO. Justin wasn't speaking to him, but he did send a hand-painted card which said "Happy Birthday, Wrinkly Old Asshole," appropriately illustrated. Brian told Cynthia to send him a dozen roses, and wrote Fuck You on the card personally.

The Munchers gave him a framed photograph of all the little Munchkins, no doubt because the little Munchkins needed new shoes or another dog or an educational trip to Paris or something. Brian decided New Orleans at Mardi Gras would be much more educational, and told Cynthia to make the arrangements for the whole fucked up extended family.

Cynthia gave him a new personal assistant and promised to put arsenic in his coffee if he broke this one.

He spent an hour at the salon before going to Woody's, where he coped with the inane commentary by getting completely wasted and pointing out that he was still richer, better looking, better hung and a better fuck than everyone else in the room. At Babylon, he found Justin in the backroom and made him pay for the stupid birthday card with his ass.

"You see?" Justin said the next morning, stretching out in the sunshine from the skylight. "There's life after forty."

"Fuck forty," Brian said, and stomped through Justin's kitchen, looking for coffee and codeine. He was only putting up with all this ageing shit because he still hadn't got the New York office off the ground.

He needed a new plan, but he was definitely going to drive his car off a cliff at 49. No fucking way was he going to turn fifty.

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