Justin sidestepped quickly to avoid the two adolescent boys who spilled out of the comic shop, almost running him over. Comics clutched tightly in their hands, the boys were excitedly discussing, not even noticing Justin. He shook his head and let himself in the store, nodding his head at Michael who was busy with customers. Moving to the small office at the back of the store, Justin removed the story boards from his satchel. Leaving it, he moved back to the front and waited at the counter for Michael to finish.
"Hey Boy Wonder," Michael said, looking up and taking the story boards laid out on the counter.
Justin said nothing as Michael looked over the boards. They had already laid the full story out; these were for promotional materials only, not the actual comic. Sales were exceeding everyone's expectations; Rage was turning into a very profitable venture for them both. But thoughts of those profits brought a frown to Justin's face. He had argued with Brian for hours trying to understand why the older man would not let him help with some of Brian's debt. They were partners he had argued, but Brian had replied he didn't need any help, from anyone!
Justin blinked and realized that Michael had been calling his name. "I'm sorry," he said. "A lot on my mind," he offered.
"What's up?" Michael asked. "Is it Brian?" he demanded, his tone already sending Justin's hackles up. But he had to admit, to himself at least, this time, he could use some help figuring Brian out.
But before he could speak, they were interrupted. Justin gritted his teeth. Five minutes passed, then ten, all the while he had to stand there and listen to them drum on and on. And the topic! Instead of showing any interest in what was going on with Brian, Michael was standing there arguing who would win in a battle between the Cat Women and Wonder Women! Justin shook his head and quietly slipped out the door.
Justin did not know who to turn to next. He had spoken with Lindsey and Mel, explaining the truth behind the Concerned Citizens for Truth ad and while they were upset over Brian's situation, Lindsey also made it clear that she knew Brian, and he would never accept help. That had been the end of it, according to them, and Mel had dragged Lindsey off to buy shoes. Justin had just stood there, staring after them in shock. What the hell was wrong with Brian's so called friends?
Justin juggled groceries, his satchel, and the mail, as he tried to slide open the heavy loft door. He glanced at the back of Brian's head. He was seated again on the sofa, parked in front of the windows. He made no sign that he had even heard Justin enter.
"Brian?" he called out, sitting the bags down on the counter.
Brian turned his head slowly and blinked at Justin. "Hey," was all he said before turning back to the windows.
Justin abandoned the groceries and moved to sit next to Brian. "I was thinking," he said, ignoring the fact that Brian had not even acknowledged his presence.
"How about we meet the guys at Woody's tonight?" Justin almost flinched at the blank-eyed stare Brian turned on him.
Justin waited for Brian's answer. Reaching up, he pushed back Brian's bangs, carefully noting that he needed a hair cut. But the silence was making Justin nervous. He nudged Brian in the side gently with his elbow and smiled when the man turned to look at him again. "So you want to go?" he asked again.
"Go where?" Brian asked. He rose off the sofa and went into the kitchen. Justin heard the fridge open, then the sound of the bottle cap hitting the counter, before Brian returned with a full beer in hand.
"Woody's," Justin said, unable to keep the frustration out of his voice.
Brian looked at him like he was an idiot. "Justin," he said, as if explaining things to a child. "I do not have the money to go out," Brian stressed each word carefully, and then he turned back to his view, ignoring Justin once more.
Justin went to Woody's. Anything was better than sitting there watching Brian zone out, only moving to restock his drink. Justin sat at the bar, nursing his drink, absently running his fingers around the glasses edge. He could try talking to his mom, but immediately Justin nixed that idea. Justin's mom tolerated Brian at the best of times. All he needed was to give her something else to confirm that the older man was not right for her son. He could go to Vic, but the older man had just moved in with Rodney, and had enough on his plate trying to placate Debbie.
"Hey baby, what are you doing here drinking by your lonesome?" Justin turned and smiled as Emmett sat beside him. "Where is his queenship?" Emmett asked, and Justin snorted. Emmett was always coming up with new names for Brian, usually only sticking with the ones that drew a comment from the man himself.
"Brian's at home Em. He didn't want to come out tonight." Justin answered, picking up his drink and finally finishing it off.
"Hum," Em said. "He hasn't wanted to do much of anything lately, has he?" he asked, signaling the bartender.
Justin accepted the drink with a smile and picking it up, gestured to Emmett to follow him to a table. If he was going to be discussing Brian, he wanted more privacy than what could be had sitting at the bar where every gossip hungry queen's ears automatically perked up at the mention of the name Brian Kinney. Justin waited until Emmett had settled himself.
"I can't get him out of the loft, Em," Justin said, the worry leaking through.
Emmett laid a hand on Justin's arm. "You sound really worried baby. What else is going on?" He had not seen Justin like this, well, not since right after the bashing.
Justin almost hugged Emmett! Finally, someone wanted to listen. "He has been depressed, Em, and before you say, Brian Kinney doesn't get depressed, he does, and he is!" Justin said angrily.
Emmett did give the boy a hug. "Calm down baby. I believe you," he said, and watched concerned when Justin blinked back tears.
Justin took a deep breath. "He doesn't leave the loft. He hardly eats or sleeps. The only thing he does is sit in front of the windows and drink. When he does sleep, he mumbles and tosses and turns until he wakes himself up." Justin stopped, taking a gulp of his drink, he went on. "He says he has interviews and clients lined up everyday, but Em, I know that's not true!" Justin lowered his head. He was kind of lightheaded. The relief he felt at finally getting this out in the open and off his chest leaving him dizzy.
Emmett frowned. "That doesn't sound like his royal badness. Have you talked to Michael?" Em asked.
Justin sighed. "I've tried to talk to him, but every time I get ready to tell him about Brian, we get interrupted or he has to go. I even talked to Lindsey and Mel, but they said Brian wouldn't accept our help, no matter how bad a shape he was in. I don't know what else to do Em. It's like he's given up," Justin whispered. He didn't think Emmett could help either, but it did do him some good to talk about it.
"What are you going to do?" Emmett asked, eyeing Justin worriedly. The boy had an almost desperate look upon his face.
Justin tried to smile at Emmett, but it came out more a grimace. "I don't know yet. But I have got to do something. It's my fault he lost his job and had to risk everything." That said, Justin finished his drink and with one squeeze to Emmett's shoulder, he left.
To be continued...