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"If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else?" ~RuPaul Charles
Justin's journey to self-acceptance and personal transition is long and winding. Will he learn to love himself as others love him?
A/N:I started writing this series back in December 2015.
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Disclaimer:I own nothing but this story.
Comments are love.
~ Same Day, Blake's Studio, Mid-Morning~
"You're late," Blake pointed out as I walked into his studio.
“It’s only quarter past eleven," I countered, taking my jacket off.
"I know that, but as you may have noticed, I'm running a business here, and there are other people who booked their appointments for the day as well," he replied.
I looked back at him, feeling quite awkward. I came in here feeling so elated, knowing this was our last session, and that by the time I left here I’d have my full on tattoo just the way I wanted it. Not only that, but I was still elated that I had summoned up enough courage to call Brian, and I couldn’t wait to tell Blake how well that call had went.
Seeing Blake all stressed and distracted, however, and hearing the terseness in his voice, really made me feel uncomfortable. I guess I should have called Blake to let him know that I would be running late, but after my conversation with Brian over the phone, I had needed a bit of time to get my head together, and it had simply slipped my mind.
"Is everything okay?" I asked Blake, my brow furrowed with concern.
My friend’s lips were pressed into a firm line as he responded curtly, "Not exactly, but I don’t want to get into it now.”
I nodded, worried as well as confused. "Okay. But I'm here for you. If there's anything I can do, please let me know.” He sat by his desk and didn't answer. Seeing him like that reminded me of all the times I used to sit and stare aimlessly at the wall in my room, thinking there was no way out of the inner hell I was facing daily, and how tempting it would be to just surrender to the darkness within and let it all end. I definitely never wanted to feel that way again, and I owed a large part of that to Blake. Now, as I peered over at his sad-looking, grim face, I wished that I could return the favor somehow. "Look, I was supposed to meet someone at the Liberty Diner after we’re finished here, but if you need someone to talk to, I can call and cancel it. God knows you’ve been with me enough times when I was down, so it’s the least I could do.”
Blake threaded his fingers through his hair as he replied with a half-smile, "Thanks, that means a lot to me, but there’s nothing you can really do. You see…Leda moved out yesterday. So unless you can turn back the hands of time 24 hours, and give me another chance to replay what happened, I don’t think you can help me,” he explained bitterly.
"No, I guess not," I said. Seeing Leda and Blake exchanging their carefree banter yesterday when I came in had felt so encouraging. I had no idea why she would have moved out so abruptly, but I didn't want to pressure Blake about it. " Sorry to hear that, Blake," I murmured after a slight pause. "We could talk about it if you feel like it. I know it always helps ME when I talk about my issues with someone else who’s willing to listen… I mean REALLY listen, not just pretending to listen," I added, my thoughts drifting slightly to my and Brian’s phone conversation yesterday, and how great it had felt just to TALK to him.
"I wouldn't want to bother you, Justin; it's not what you came here for today, is it?" Blake sighed. " Plus, I think I just took it too far. You see… it was our three-year anniversary, and I thought it would be so cool if I proposed to her. So I asked a friend of mine to help organize everything, and when Leda came home from work yesterday afternoon, I just popped the question." He stopped, a look of sorrow appearing on his face.
"And?..." I asked quietly. I was facing Blake directly, so I could look at him while he was talking, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a text message on my phone screen. I was itching to sneak a peek at it, because I was hoping it might be Brian. I didn't pick up the phone, though, because Blake needed someone to talk to.
"Well, she declined as you may have concluded," he answered. "And THEN she moved out. She said she needed more time to think, and that she'll be staying at her sister's place for now…and, well, you know the rest, I guess."
"No I don't actually. I mean…I've never really been in a long-term relationship before," I admitted quietly. "So I’m not sure that I can totally relate to what you're going through right now. But, hey, don't just assume that you’ve broken up for good. I know it hurts, but she didn’t say she was breaking it off. She said she needed time apart; there’s a big difference between the two. It might not be the end of the road for you two," I said.
Blake raised his head and tried to smile. "Look at you, giving relationship advice," he huffed with half a smile. "But I think you're right. I mean…we really love each so much. I think maybe she’s feeling just a bit overwhelmed, but I'm not going to give up on us. I'll call her later tonight," he decided. "Okay, roll up your sleeve and let's get it done," Blake instructed me after a slight pause.
When I got up from where we were sitting at Blake's desk to move into his work station, I couldn't help but notice yet another text message on my phone.
"Who's the mystery caller?" Blake asked curiously, sounding more cheerful now.
"Um…the CIS gay guy; the one I told you about, Brian…Brian Kinney," I answered, feeling how the corners of my mouth rose upwards, and how my face warmed up merely at the thought of him.
"Okay, I want to hear EVERYTHING," Blake urged me playfully.
"You're not going to get every detail yet, because there isn't anything to tell. But I actually took your advice, and called him yesterday while he was at work," I revealed.
"Ouch! That must have gone badly, " Blake noted.
I shook my head. "On the contrary, we talked for like an hour. Shit, I didn't want it to end," I answered candidly.
"AND?" Blake asked.
"I was supposed to meet with him and go get something to eat, but I don't know if I'd be up for it," I answered.
"Oh come on! Don't you start, Justin! Didn't I teach you anything?" Blake looked back at me in disbelief. "Why the fuck won't you meet with him?"
" First of all, my arm could look like a swollen cucumber after I leave here," I answered.
"There's nothing wrong with a swollen cucumber. In fact, something tells me Mr. Kinney might second that motion," Blake replied with a smirk as he started to arrange the tools and inks that would be needed to complete my tattoo.
"Well…yeah, but here's the thing, " I continued. "I was kind of planning on coming out to him, ya know, but now I think it might not be such a good idea.” I took a breather, noticing how reserved Blake had become again. “I’m sorry, Blake. I didn't mean to lay my own insecurities on you, especially not today when you're dealing with Leda's departure and everything, but…" I stopped mid-sentence and swallowed hard, reminding myself to relax and take a deep breath, so I could stick with the promise I made to myself about no ‘but's,’ and no ‘what if's’.
"Okay, let's do it then. Ready?" Blake asked a few minutes later, switching his tattoo ink pen on.
"Sure am," I smiled back. "But just a second; I need to text him back first to let him know I might be a little late."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
~ Liberty Diner, 1 p.m. ~
"Hey." I stood next to the booth where Brian sat, looking amazing as usual, and making my heart pound in excitement. I tried hard to keep my voice calm and as nonchalant as usual, but I was finding it extremely hard as I openly stared at him.
"Hey yourself," he answered as he peered up at me. God! Brace yourself Justin, I kept telling myself. "You're late," he pointed out in a half-accusatory tone.
"My appointment ran a bit longer than I had expected. I texted you; didn't you see it?" I asked, taking a seat across from him at the booth in the corner, trying not to move my arm too much, since it was still a bit sore from where Blake's needle had touched my skin.
"No, I didn't, actually, but it doesn't matter, because you're here now," he replied, looking right at me. HIS EYES!!! I knew I had to calm myself down before I told him what I came here to say.
"Are you okay?" he kept his gaze on me, gesturing at my arm. He couldn't possibly see the bandage Blake had put on there, because I was wearing a light-weight, long-sleeved jacket, but he obviously noticed the way I was holding it rather awkwardly across the table.
"Oh, it's nothing," I mumbled bashfully as I tried to contain my excitement. Fuck, he seems to like me after all if he cared enough to ask how I felt.
Okay, I need to do this, I told myself inwardly.
"I need to tell you something, Brian," I started, reaching my other arm across the table to nervously hold onto the fork that was laid there.
"I'm listening," he answered in a deep, velvety voice, grabbing another fork from the table to engage in some impromptu fencing with the fork I was holding. As he did so, the palm of his hand opened, and our fingers brushed against each other's while we both manipulated the metallic objects between us. At that moment, I suddenly noticed he was wearing a cowry shell bracelet around his wrist. I swear I needed to master all the powers of mind control I could muster to carry on with our conversation.
"Okay, here goes," I started, taking a deep breath. "Remember I told you I was struggling with a cold that day when you asked me to join you at Woody's, the one you mentioned again when we spoke yesterday? Remember I told you I might not be able to meet with you in the next couple of weeks?”
Brian silently nodded, his brow creased slightly.
"Well, it wasn't because of any health scare, or anything like that. I'm…The truth is…I'm a transgender man, Brian. I started my transition back in December, and it's still a long and winding road, but I don’t regret any of it.” I took another deep breath as Brian remained silent. “There, I said it, and now you know. I wouldn't have wanted to lead you on, and get you involved in something you wouldn't feel comfortable with. So I think you can guess why it felt so weird that first night we met, when I somehow ended up sleeping on the rug in your living room." I took a long breather, keeping my eyes fixed on him the whole time. "You've got a great place, by the way, " I added awkwardly, knowing how lame I must be sounding to him.
Brian didn't answer. He just sat there, still staring at me. It was then that I noticed that our fingers had still been touching the entire time I was telling him about myself. It felt so great and right and beautiful to feel his fingers touching mine that I didn't even care what would happen next. I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, because in a sense I had come out for the first time to a CIS person who wasn't one of my friends. I felt I should be proud of myself, because at that point I'd never even contacted my parents, let alone came out to them. At that moment, I felt as if wasn’t really experiencing the actual event, but instead it felt as if I were sitting outside the frame, directing my own life story, as if Brian and I were actors in a scene. I was literally preparing myself mentally for the next 'scene' in which Brian would get up and walk out of the diner all together without turning back. I could even see my own face in a tight shot, looking distraught yet euphoric almost, having savored the memory of his touch, his scent, his breath, from when we had sat together at the table a moment ago.
"When we met at that gay bar that night with your friend…Daphne, were you already starting to transition then?" Brian asked, his rich, deep voice brought me back to the present.
"Yes, I was," I responded simply, baffled by the fact Brian hadn’t rose to leave, but was still sitting beside me after what he'd just heard from me.
Brian gazed at me intently with a raised eyebrow, pulling his lips inward. God, he looked so stunningly beautiful, but also extremely confused. How I wished I was a CIS gender gay man at that moment!
I could hear him hissing to himself quietly, and my heart almost sank. "Look, don't get me wrong. I'm not judging you or anything, ‘cause I've been through some shit myself.” I watched as he rubbed his head momentarily before he revealed, “I …I LIKE you, Justin. I like you a lot. I was attracted to you since that first night I saw you at the club. Fuck, I know it sounds corny, but you’re NOT my usual type. I guess you were wondering why I kept calling you after that night, even if I didn't know anything about you. I was wondering about it myself, but I kept calling and texting you anyway, so…yeah, there's something about you… something I really find…intriguing." He leaned close to me over the table. I could almost feel his breath on my neck, which gave me goose bumps, but I suddenly felt the urge to pull back.
"What's wrong?" Brian asked, looking quite puzzled.
"I already told you; I don't want to lead you on. The first night we met I was actually celebrating my birthday, but it was also a small victory for me, because I'd just started taking T – testosterone shots – and it felt really great not to be misgendered," I explained. Luckily for me, my voice sounded deep and calm, but I stopped talking anyway, giving Brian time to ponder everything I had just said.
"Brian…" I started again once I noticed he was still looking at me with those deep, rich, moss-colored eyes. "Please understand that this is the first time I’ve ever had a personal conversation with anyone other than my close group of trans friends, or someone who's not my therapist or one of my doctors. I…I'm not even sure if you really understood half of the terms I've just used, but that’s because for me, these are not just words. For me, it's the way I am, it's WHO I am. You have no idea how anxious and frightened I was that night at the club, but when you approached me and looked at me it felt…good. When I introduced myself as Justin you didn't even flinch. You kept calling me by my chosen pronoun without even knowing that I'm trans. Damn, you even took me back to your loft! I mean…it felt SO liberating, so…REAL. I guess I was too caught up in the moment to take a step back and tell you right then and there who I really was, but luckily nothing happened." I had to stop again, because now I could feel the tears burning down my throat. I sniffled and cleared my throat before I continued. "Oh, I really didn't want this conversation to go THERE, but I guess it was inevitable," I admitted, allowing myself a small smile.
"Who knows what wonders Fate has in store?" he quipped then with a beautiful, crooked smile of his own.
I smiled a bit wider and sighed a breath of relief.
There were a million and one things running around my brain at that moment. More often than not, when I get into that kind of mental limbo, it leads me into a state of total disassociation, where I feel like I’m sinking into my own twisted world. This time, though, it wasn't the case. I felt as if Brian's gaze was keeping me grounded. His fingers and his smile and his unbelievably captivating scent all felt so real, granting me a firm grip on reality.
It was then that I finally allowed myself to breathe, slowly and evenly. It was then that I was finally able to offer him a genuine smile, wide and bright. This was the way I wanted him to see me, from that very first night at the club.
"Brian! Long time, no see," a raucous but warm voice rang out from behind me.
Before I even had a chance to turn my head, I noticed a woman wearing a red, curly-haired wig, and a colorful T shirt, approaching our table as she kissed Brian on both cheeks. As he kissed her back, she took one glance at me and smacked her gum. "Well, who do we have here?" she asked, one eyebrow cocked at me curiously.
"Debbie, this is Justin. Justin, meet Debbie," Brian introduced us without much fanfare. Once again my heart almost melted, and not just because of how hot and beautiful he looked as he sat there wearing his skinny, dark denim jeans and a long-sleeved, black top that accentuated his toned torso. No, it wasn't just about that. It was about how he related to me, and understood everything I'd just told him about me without even doubting me, even though I'm sure he had lots of questions.
“Well, you sure are a cutie!” Debbie chirped. “What can I get you, Sunshine?" She asked, flashing a smile at me, not questioning how Brian had introduced me. I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude – not to mention her calling me Sunshine out of the blue – that I had to sniff really hard so they wouldn't notice my tears of joy. BOYS didn’t cry. That is, unless they feel comfortable enough in their own skin to do so.
"Is everything okay, sweetie?" She asked. I loved that woman already.
I smiled back at her, thinking this had to be Debbie, the diner’s owner, the one Brian told me about. I leaned back in my seat and sniffled again. "Yes, it’s my allergies," I answered. That actually wasn’t far from the truth, because I had always been allergic to many things from a very early age, even before I had transitioned.
"And he's also vegan. I don’t suppose you have a veggie burger back there in that grease pit, do you?" Brian queried, glancing sideways in my direction and flashing a crooked, top-toothed smile, which I found utterly charming. Was this guy for real? The thought crossed my mind that I had to be dreaming, but I knew it was all wonderfully real.
“Well, Mr. Finicky, it just so happens we DO have a veggie burger. Three, in fact. We can keep up with the times, too, you know,” Debbie told him in mock indignation. She smirked. “Well, well, well…Sunshine over there seems to have had some kind of effect on you. I’ve never seen you so considerate about someone else. You sure you’re feeling normal?”
"Never felt better, Deb," Brian assured her briskly as he chewed on his straw. "Now can you please bring me my usual?”
Debbie smacked her gum again, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, turkey, no mayo.” She peered over at me with a smile. “What about you, Sunshine?”
I couldn’t help smiling back at her as I replied, "I'll have the lentil vegan burger, please," I decided as I studied the menu.
"Coming right up," Debbie replied as she scurried away, grabbing a couple of dirty plates from the table behind us before heading over to the cook’s station to place our order.
"So…where were we?" Brian asked, turning his attention back to me. He rested his chin on the palm of his left hand and reached his right hand towards mine, his fingers caressing first my wrist and then traveling up my arm until he reached my shoulder. To say I was barely able to contain myself would have been a major understatement, but there was no other way for me to describe it. Then suddenly as his fingers slightly brushed against the bandage that covered my fresh tattoo –which Brian obviously knew nothing about, because I was still wearing my jacket – I flinched slightly, pulling back.
"Is everything okay? " He asked, concerned.
"Yeah, it's…it's nothing major," I mumbled, feeling a little awkward.
"What is it, then?" he inquired softly, his eyes searching mine.
"It's my tattoo. I just had it done today," I answered, wondering why I was feeling so self-conscious all of a sudden.
"Can I see it?" Brian asked, and all I could think of was literally OMFG. My heart was beating so fast, and my mind racing so furiously that I wasn't even thinking in proper sentences, merely abbreviations.
"Uh… I don’t know," I murmured in hesitation. Blake did a great job on my tattoo finishing it up earlier this morning and it turned out to be everything I hoped it would be so there was nothing for me to feel anxious about. I could have just taken my jacket off and pulled the sleeve of my shirt up to show it to Brian, but still there was something that stopped me, something I tried to resist, something that I couldn't explain. "S…sorry, but I can't, not yet, anyway, Brian," I resisted, closing my eyes shut. It was all a little too much, too soon.
"It's okay Justin; it's okay, relax, " I could hear Brian's voice as I felt him squeeze my hand briefly before letting go. Able to breathe again, I opened my eyes and looked deeply into his, finding the comfort and reassurance that I so desperately needed at that moment.
"Thank you," was all I was able to say. But somehow I could tell he understood what I was trying to convey without expressing it so openly as he simply nodded back at me with a smile.
Luckily for me, Debbie came back to the table then to place our orders in front of us as she replied, “There you go, Sunshine.” I smiled at her as she placed a sandwich on whole wheat down in front of Brian’s spot at the table.
“Kiki!” she shouted over the din of the restaurant. “More coffee over here for Mr. GQ!” she called out to the other waitress, smirking at Brian before turning on her heels and rushing off to deliver another order. It helped to break the slightly awkward moment that had just occurred between us as we both grinned at each other and Brian rolled his eyes good-naturedly in reaction to her comment.
"So…?" Brian's deep, velvety voice brought me back to the present once more.
"Hmm?" I replied, regaining my composure as I peered over at him curiously.
Brian appeared a little uncomfortable as I frowned, wondering why, before he asked, "So when can I see you again?" My eyes widened in reaction to his question, and my heart pounded in my chest, while our food was quickly forgotten.
"I'm right here; you're seeing me now, Brian," I chuckled nervously, averting my eyes from him as I thought about the implications of that question. I swallowed hard and took a huge gulp of water from the tall glass Debbie had placed in front of me earlier as I tried to regain some semblance of normal breathing. As I lifted my eyes at last to peer over at him, he smiled at me, and I couldn’t help returning his smile, our hands almost touching from either side of the table, but I felt I'd better not say anything out loud for fear I might start rambling incessantly as I tended to do whenever I felt nervous or anxious. And right now, that feeling was off the scale compared to any previous experiences.
He smiled at me indulgently. "I want to see you again, but not somewhere like this," Brian clarified, and I knew there was no way in hell I could wrap my head around that kind of statement. I knew precisely where he was going with his statement, but I was too overwhelmed to even begin to get my thoughts in order to respond coherently.
"Are… are you sure?" was all I was able to say.
"Why wouldn't I be?" He replied as if it were the most natural thing in the world, which made me even more attracted to him.
"Maybe…because of what I just disclosed to you?" I replied, feeling no need to elaborate.
He looked right at me again, taking a sip of water from his glass before licking his lips. I wondered what those lips would feel like against mine, and it was then that I knew I was lost, falling deeper and deeper for him.
"It's part of your past,” he explained nonchalantly to my stunned surprise. “Everyone has a past.” He paused for a moment before he told me, “When I first saw you that night at the club, I didn't see the person you used to be, I saw the person you've become, and I really liked what I saw." He paused for a second, leaning closer towards me from across the table as he rolled his lips inward. "And I have to admit I like it even better now." He took a bite out of his sandwich before placing it back down as I pondered what he had just said. It was so simple…but at the same time so utterly amazing and profound.
"So, Mr. Taylor…The ball’s in your court,” he told me with a smirk, making me grin over the double entendre. “I’m waiting. What’s it going to be?”
At that moment, I wasn’t sure what lay ahead for us. But I DID know one thing: with every fiber of my being, I knew our two lives would be intertwined for some time. At least, that was my fervent wish.