The Mask
Chapter Fourteen

The hospital waiting room was packed with anxious waiting families, but Brian had never felt so alone. The kicker was that it was his own damn fault. He had never felt the need or desire for someone to hold his hand and tell him lies, like everything was going to be okay. Brian was no fool; those lies didn’t bring him comfort. But shit, he badly wanted a certain blond beside him right now. 


Lindsay was inside Gus’ room, settling down on the cot the hospital provided. Mel had left long enough to bring some clothes back for her wife. All Brian wanted was for his chance to see Gus and say goodnight. The small body of his son had looked so lost and swallowed by the large hospital bed, but what had Brian’s stomach churning and threatened to undo all his careful control were the tubes and machines attached to his little boy’s body.


The accident had been bad.


Some stupid asshole decided to run a stop sign because he was late for work and ploughed right into the school bus carrying 17 pre-schoolers to the local children’s theater for a morning of Peter Pan.


Five kids had been injured seriously, Gus included. He had a broken arm, brushed ribs, and had to have emergency surgery to fix a collapsed lung.


Brian didn’t know about Gus’ classmates; he had been barely able to hold it together when they wheeled Gus by on his way to the operating room, let alone asked about other’s.


For once, he and Mel had put aside their animosity and had sat together waiting for word of their son’s condition. But while Lindsey and Mel had each other to comfort, to whisper words of encouragement, fetch coffee, and to just keep close for support, Brian had no such person to turn to, and he’d never felt Justin’s absence more.


He had known the time was coming when his two lives would collide, but Brian didn’t think he would be the one who wanted the secrets over. If he called Justin right now and asked him to come, Brian had no doubt the blond would be on the next available plane. It was the aftermath of such a decision that he dreaded. Losing the life he had built with Justin in Chicago, that was his greatest fear, and it had been that fear that had kept Brian silent, long after he had admitted to himself what the blond meant to him.


Could he live with what ever the outcome was? Brian knew, if he called right now, tomorrow, he’d have to finally come clean. Could he?


He wasn’t surprised to find that his hands were damp as he reached into his pocket for his phone. What had him silently berating himself was his pounding heart. Brian dialed the phone.


The flash of relief followed by disappointment had Brian clenching his fist. He shot up from the chair and paced out to the hallway and back again to his seat, over and over again. Was it unfair for him to suddenly be pissed at Justin? Yes, he knew it was. But when Brian had finally found the nerve and he needed the blond, Justin had not answered the phone. Where was he? Brian didn’t think he had ever felt this conflicted. Perhaps, not since his father had come to him with news of his cancer and imminent death.


He just wanted Justin here.


The truth could come out, the family could interfere, offer their opinion, their criticism, and their bad mouthing of him and everything he had ever done. Brian just wanted to hold Justin and have the blond tell him everything would be okay, even if it was only for one night.



The captain announced the planes approach and imminent landing. Justin searched his memory one last time for any tiny bit of information that may lead him to Brian. So engrossed in his thoughts, he paid no mind to the flights landing or the captain’s words, missing that he could now turn his phone back on…



Justin shouldered his backpack and moved to the aisle of the plane to exit. In one hand he held the open notebook that contained all his clues to finding Brian in this strange city. The older man had given Justin more information than he bet Brian knew. Little bits of conversation and remarks added up. After careful thought, he had a pretty good idea where to start looking for his lover. Justin hailed a cab and once inside, turned to the driver.


“Liberty Avenue, please.” Justin sat back, his thoughts all ready spinning toward what he would say when face-to-face with Brian.



Justin wandered down Liberty, enjoying the colorful atmosphere and ruefully shaking his head no more than a few times at the blatant offers from some of the passersby’s. He could only imagine Brian’s impact on the masses, and, not for the first time, he wondered about his older lover’s life here in Pittsburgh. Did Brian enjoy the nightlife here? Justin could just see the hazel-eyes man leaning against a lamppost, lighting a cigarette and surveying his kingdom. The mere thought gave him shivers; he knew he wouldn’t be able to say no to that Brian.



He stopped, peering into the brightly lit windows. He knew this must be the place. The Liberty Diner. Justin had been amazed, once he had given it serious thought, just how many times Brian had mentioned the diner. This was the first place Justin had planned on looking, but, glancing again inside before he pulled open the door, Justin felt like it was a needle in the haystack shot that he actually found Brian. The place was packed, and, by colorful clothes and swishy walks, he knew this had to be the Gay Mecca of Liberty Avenue.


Justin hesitated inside the diner entrance; the bell that had rung upon his arrival drew no attention, the sound too frequent for the regulars to look up at. Peeking around a large leather-covered bear, Justin spotted an empty stool at the counter. Moving fast despite his smaller size, he managed to snatch the seat before the big bear could. Giving the guy a huge sunshine smile, Justin thankfully settled his pack at his side when all the leather man did was smile back. Good to know he thought that one of his best assets worked in Pittsburgh as well as it did in Chicago.



Loud laughter behind him had Justin spinning on the stool to face a smiling red headed waitress. “Get a lot of miles out of that smile sunshine,” she cackled and Justin knew his mouth was hanging open, but he had never seen quiet such a get-up, at least not unless it was Pride week or something similar. The face was friendly, and Justin closed his mouth and smiled back.


“You have no idea,” he replied, winking at the women. Then he registered what she had called him, Sunshine. Up till now, Brian had been the only one who named Justin such. But before he could asked any questions of the waitress, she was pulling out her pad, pen posed.


“What can I get you sweetie?” she demanded.



“Coffee and I hope some help?” Justin asked. At the women’s raised brow he explained further. “I’m looking for someone.”



“Coffee coming right up,” the waitress’ chewed her gum for a moment and eyed Justin until he was almost squirming in his seat. “Now for the help,” and hear she gestured with the very full coffee pot at the full diner. “That’ll have to wait for my break, but don’t you worry, Sunshine. I know every gay boy on Liberty Avenue.” Sitting down the pot briefly, Justin’s new source stuck out her hand. “I’m Debbie.”


Justin graced Debbie with another of his full wattage smiles. “Justin,” he said. “And I can wait. No problem.”




Brian had finally stopped his restless pacing and once again assumed his seat, staring silently at the closed door to Gus’ room. It was Mel’s rushed arrival and her entrance into Gus’ room that had Brian rising and moving toward the room. He stood outside the closed door. Maybe now he would get a chance to see his son, and, he hoped, sit with him awhile. The door opened and Lindsey and Mel stepped into the hall.


Lindsey laid a hand on Brian’s arm. “I’m going to walk Mel to the car if you want to go in and say goodnight.”


Brian started to protest, but Lindsey cut him off. “Brian, the doctor said Gus won’t wake up until morning. Were all exhausted, and, I’m going to try and sleep when I return. Go home, eat something, and get some sleep.”


Brian ignored Mel at Lindsey’s side. “I can stay Linds.”


Lindsey smiled softly at her friend and reached up to kiss Brian’s cheek. “Please, go home. Come back early in the morning and hopefully Gus will be awake to see his daddy.”


Brian nodded, swallowing thickly around the lump in his throat. “I’ll just go in and say goodnight,” he murmured, stepping around them he carefully opened the door to his son’s room.


He heard Mel start to say something, but Lindsey’s shush had her shutting up, and Brian didn’t turn back; he didn’t want to argue with Mel tonight. Exhaustion crept up upon him and all he wanted was for his son to be all right and to call Justin and hear the blond’s voice.


The room was dim. The only sounds were of Gus’s breathing being assisted by the whirl-click-hiss of the ventilator and the constant beeping of the machine monitoring the boy’s heart rate.


Brian swiped a hand across his mouth. The urge to vomit strong as he took in his son’s white face.  He glanced away taking little notice of Lindsey’s cot made up and ready, the bag Mel brought, and finally the lone chair beside the bed. He pulled the chair close and gingerly picked up Gus’ small hand.


Brian tenderly laid his other hand atop Gus’ small head. He smoothed back the bangs that had fallen on Gus’ forehead, taking note of how large his hand looked on his little boy’s head. He had not wanted this responsibility.  This feeling of helplessness. So much of his heart wrapped up in this tiny being’s care. But since the moment he held him, since the first time Gus’ eyes landed on his, Brian had been lost, so captivated by this miracle, his blood, that the question of love for his son was a mute point.


There were two beings that held a tight hole on Brian’s heart, and that one was hurt and lying so vulnerable and that Brian could do nothing about it. He wanted to rage, to scream, something, but all he could do was sit here and hold his son’s hand.


“Hey Sonny Boy,” Brian whispered. “Dada’s here.”




Justin took little notice of the group that entered the diner and took a booth right behind him. While he waited for Debbie’s break, he went through the phonebook she had provided. He moved through the Peterson and Peterson-Marcus entries, writing each phone number and address down in his notebook.


The diner slowed down and individual conversations could be heard as the noise level died down. It was from the booth behind him that Justin heard a name that had his head shooting up and his interest sharpening.


“Brian,” one of the voices said behind him.