It had been five years. Five long years, and I could still hear Brian’s voice as he said “It’s only time.” Had I known then what I know now, I would have never left the loft that day. I would have wound my arms around his neck and held on for dear life, because this, this relentless pain had been ripping me apart since that day. I had left Pittsburgh that day with half of my soul in that loft on Tremont and Fuller, and each day that had passed over the last five years continued to chip away at what was left of it.
So here I stood, as I had many times in the past, just a half hour drive out of Pittsburgh into West Virginia hoping that I could somehow repair the hole that had replaced what was once me. The ground was snow covered, and the stately house looked as it always did. Its towering rooftops offering me a little solace as some of the pain receded into the background.
HE didn’t know I was here. Just like he didn’t know that I had come here more times than I could count in the past five years. I had thought that he would have sold the place, or at least come by, but over time I came to realize that he never even sent someone to even clean the place. Maybe it was just as painful for him as well.
I shook the snow out of my hair and stomped my feet on the mat that I had placed there my second visit. When I stepped inside, it was as if I had stepped back into my body after a long break away from reality. THIS was my reality, THIS was my home.
As I wandered through the house, I put my coat on the old couch that I had drug in the third time I had come home. It was old and second hand, something Brian would have scoffed at, but it was adequate enough for just me. I walked into the kitchen glancing at the closed and locked doors to my left. It was the only room in the house that I couldn’t bring myself to go into. The den held the key to what was left of me, the Justin I had been. It was in that room that he had proposed and that I had accepted. It was the room where he had laid me down in front of the fire and made love to me all night long. It was the room where 5 years of ups and downs culminated in the shifting of my entire universe and for once I had allowed myself to believe in the possibility of happiness with Brian.
And then it all went to hell. I left my strange wonderland and in doing so, the only form of safety I had ever felt. I missed it, I missed him. New York was known for its cold winters, but the bitter cold that had swept through me as I stepped off that plane at JFK international had nothing to do with the air temperature around me. It was in that instant that I knew I had broken something vital. What was even more unclear was if I could ever mend it together again.
So, five years later, I am standing in the house that should have been ours but holds no evidence of a co-occupant and praying to higher powers that I had long ago forsaken to take it all back and make me whole again.
I sat down at the bar in the kitchen and laid my head in my crossed arms. I could remember the last call so clearly, that it sounded like he was standing in the room with me presently.
“Justin, I just…I just don’t think this is working for us right now.” He continued on more quietly, “I am not sure if it ever will.”
He was quiet for so long that I thought that he had hung up. I couldn’t say anything, my throat had closed off and my breathing had become erratic.
Then…”Breathe Justin, in and out, in and now out...” I soon began to breathe again, although the pain in my chest kept me from being able to say anything.
He sighed deeply and continued, “I love you…you know that, hell I shouldn’t even have to say it, but this…this distance is killing us…it’s killing me and I think that maybe we should just let things go for a while.”
I finally was able to speak “Please don’t do this, not now.” I couldn’t believe that only six months into this arrangement and he was already giving up. “I can’t let you go, Brian.”
“Sunshine, you need to, for just a little while. Become something big and be happy. It’s still only time.”
And that was the last time I had heard from him. It had been 4 years, 5 months 28 days, 6 hours, 32 minutes and 19 seconds. Not that I had been keeping up with it or anything. If it was only time, time was my enemy and she had won.
I had tried calling him several times only to get no answer or a disconnected message. Debbie told me that Brian had changed his phones and was looking to open another Kinnetic location in Chicago. When she told me that, my heart disintegrated. He had finally left and there was nothing I could do, nothing at all.
I kept coming back to Britin expecting to see a For Sale or Sold sign on the gates, but that was never the case. I wasn’t sure why, but at least it put a slight balm on the gaping wound left inside of me. I cut myself off from everyone, Debbie, Michael, Ben, Emmett, Ted, even Mom. The only person that I ever called believe it or not was my sister Molly. I, to this day don’t understand why I made her the exception. I think that maybe I didn’t want her to think that I had abandoned her, or maybe it was because I knew that she would keep my secrets. I don’t know, but I do know that to this day she has never breathed a word of my comings and goings to Britin.
I lifted my head and stood up. I glanced at the small wall clock I had affixed to the wall facing the windows. It was nearly 1am and I knew I needed sleep. I knew that it would not be restful sleep, it hadn’t been in a long time, but it was needed anyhow.
I climbed the stairs to one of the smallest bedrooms. I had never slept in the master. The mattress was where I had left it in the corner with particles of dust gathered around the edges. I went to the closet for the sealed bag of linens. I quickly pulled down a sheet to lay over the mattress and a quilt to put over me. I laid down and closed my eyes, hoping that sleep would come easier tonight, that the pain would recede just a little and I could finally let the nothingness take over.
~Brian~ Two days later
I looked around my office here in Chicago dispassionately. There was nothing of personal interest here. I allowed no photographs from my life to grace my desk. Even the small one of Gus was pushed far back in my top left drawer.
About two years ago I had moved myself away from the Pitts. I couldn’t take it anymore. They were suffocating me in pity. I was probably the least pitiful of them all. I made my choices, and he made his. Ok so that statement is not exactly fair. I kind of made some of them for him, but still, he went along with it. It was just so goddamn hard. The loft still had traces of him in every corner and I couldn’t even think about the house. So, I left.
Ted said that the investments that I had been making over the years would support the move to Chicago. I knew by the look on his face that he was wondering why not New York. I just couldn’t do it to him. For him to know that I was going to be in NYC and never come by, even I could not be that harsh. If I am being honest with myself, though, I just wanted the hurt to stop and Chicago was far enough away, but near enough to my Pittsburgh family for me to be ok with it all.
Mikey, not one to keep his nose in his own business had told me that Justin had called not long after I made the move. It was all I could do not to call him back, to just hear his voice. But I was not going to be that pathetic. He needed to go on with his life and be something and I was holding him back.
When I made the move, I took only Cynthia with me. Ted I left behind, mainly because Blake was whining about not wanting to leave, but also because I knew I could trust him to keep me aware of any problems that came up. So, with Cynthia in tow, we plowed into Chicago and took the market by storm. Remsen Pharmaceuticals was headquartered out of the city, so they became our primary focus.
After that we took off. TeleBrand an up and coming telecommunications company signed on with us and even offered us stock with their company as an incentive to become their sole advertising agency. The CEO of TeleBrand was a tenacious woman by the name of Gwen Branderton. She was a petite woman, with dark chestnut hair that she wore mostly pulled back in a severe ponytail. Her slight frame was deceiving though, because she was just as much of a shark as any other of the fortune 500 CEO's I had come across. Which was a good thing for me because with my stock in the company I had accumulated more wealth than I had ever thought was possible.
It was with Gwen that I had my next appointment. Gwen had two kids, one of which was 15 and the other, a little girl closer to Gus’s age. With both of our Alpha personalities it has taken us some time, but eventually Gwen and I had established a friendly relationship over the years. The fact that she never brought up Justin helped as well. It’s not that she knew the situation or even his name, but she knew that there was someone and that I preferred not to speak about it.
As that thought went pinging through my head my intercom buzzer went off “Hey Bri, Gwen just came in.” Cynthia had started shortening my name right after Ted had, and it had stuck.
“Send her on in.” I called back. Gwen walked in with her confident stride. “Brian, nice to see you again.” Her voice was low pitched and if I hadn’t told her early on I was gay, and knew from experience that it was her natural speaking voice, I would swear she was trying to seduce me.
“Gwen,” I came towards her and shook her hand, “always a pleasure.” I motioned for her to sit down. “What can I do for you?”
Gwen, being Gwen, came straight to the point, “Well, I have some key players from my next acquisition merger that are needing more than just a wine and dine. I was thinking more of a week away, somewhere away from the noise of the city.” She cocked her head to one side in the odd owlish way some people do, “When I was researching this place and you, I noticed that you had some property in West Virginia…”
I stopped listening at that point, my breathing sped up and then almost stopped all together. She wasn’t talking about just any property, she was talking about the house, Britin.
“Brian…hey Brian,” I was startled to see her waving her hands in front of my face. “Where did you go?”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to or even could answer her. “Gwen, I don’t think…”
“Please Brian, I really really need this favor.” She was almost pouting at this point. I thought about the times that she had walked in with me passed out drunk on my desk, or the times that I had spaced out on her, like I had just done and I couldn’t say anything but “Ok…but on one condition” She cocked her head to the side again, “You are NOT allowed in the den.” She looked at me real hard, but otherwise was silent. Finally, she said “Ok, I am not going to pretend to understand why, but Ok.”
She stood up and before she walked out the door she asked “Are you going to be coming too?”
Now isn’t that the million dollar question. Then an almost masochistic thought ran through my mind…”Why not?”
And with that, I had sealed my fate, and doomed myself to a week of nothing but gut wrenching pain that I had tried to escape for the last 5 years of my life. I was going back to Britin, and to the ghosts that had driven me almost to the brink of insanity.