I glance at Brian who looks decidedly uncomfortable even though I can see how much respect, adoration and love he has for Father Charles. Frankly, Father Charles would be a very difficult man to dislike. I don't know any details but I know Brian turned to him as a child and young adult because of his horrible home life and his need for someone to confide in… I honestly don't know how Brian survived, now that I know what his family was like, how they treated him; but I think the Father really helped him during those dismal years. I just wish Brian had the faith in himself as a man, person, father and soul that I do and quite apparently, the Father and his own child do as well.
Father Charles – or Charlie, as he called himself (that's hard to think, much less say) - immediately focuses on little Gus who is in a much better mood than just an hour ago. Brian and I are both slightly surprised at the Father's intuition that Gus is the reason for our visit but James looks completely unfazed and Gus is totally at ease, spilling his little seven-year-old guts about Michael, Debbie and what happened at the diner and even his two mothers. I pay close attention and see no judgment in the Father's eyes as the child talks about all these quite gay adults in his life – some of them more immature than he is.
As he and Gus talk, James sits on the sofa to be what he'd consider "helpful" and I'd consider "nosey" and Brian tugs my sleeve, motioning me aside. I look at him questioningly. "Something wrong?" I whisper. "I mean, besides the obvious?" I add.
He smiles slightly. "No. Not more than the obvious. But Justin, it occurred to me earlier that Father Charles –"
"Charlie?" I chuckle.
He rolls his eyes. "Charlie then… Um." He swallows. "I should have mentioned before that he's a pretty fantastic guy… I mean, I know you already realize that. But I just thought that if you need to talk to someone other than me about the last couple days and your," he hesitates, searching for the right wording although I know what he's trying to say. "And your homo angst –" I smirk (but I don't believe any person on earth could possibly love another person more than I do right now). "Well, the Father's very tolerant and a good listener. I turned to him for about a gazillion reasons when I was younger; one of which was when I was grappling with the realization that I was gay. He's one of those rare, loving, true Catholics who actually takes not only his vows seriously but genuinely has a heart of gold. I can count on one hand how many people I'd say that about; I'm pretty sure you know that.
"Believe me, the Father will not tell you you're going to hell. He's much more a follower of the Golden Rule than the Pope's narrow views. He'll probably give you a handful of condoms, some lube and a fucking safe sex lecture." I laugh outright and Brian smiles. "Sunshine, he's a remarkably good judge of character and would be more likely to cast a suspicious eye on my devout mother than you. With very good reason, might I add.
"And, while I don't know your parents from Adam, I doubt they'd be as harsh as you imagine. No parents would raise a man like you and then turn their back on him just because of his sexual identity." He subtly clears his throat but I sure as hell notice. And want somehow to comfort him knowing his own parents aren't like mine – they just can't love. To be blunt about it, it sucks… because Brian deserves the best. They're the worst. "I'm just going on gut instinct here but I think you believe you're alone in this." My mind swings back to what he's saying. Saying and meaning. God, I love him. "I mean, except for me but you've only really known me a few months. I'm not all you have." Brian says all of this rather shockingly un-Brian-like advice in a very hushed voice and as seems typical for me since I met this beautiful man, my eyes are welling up. I glance at the Father; he looks over and smiles. It's as though he knows it's not just Gus he's dealing with but me, as well. And he knows how sage Brian is.
Fuck. I don't need to talk to the Father; I've got all the understanding and love I need right in front of me. I shake my head and swipe my eyes; if Brian heard the monologue going on in my head, there'd be a Brian-shaped hole in the wall and a slowly disappearing scream in the distance.
"Thanks, Brian. I'm okay…" I whisper, my tone wavering a little despite my best efforts to control it. "I mean that."
He nods a little tersely, not much liking how kind and sweet he sounds or how sappy I'm reacting. He puts his hand on the small of my back, leading us back to the children and the Father.
Gus beams at his Daddy and Father Charles' eyes land solidly on him. "Brian, your little man is not only a fabulous singer but he's a pretty deep thinker and a darned smart tyke!" he grins. Believe it or not, I would swear that Brian blushes. The Father turns to me. "Hmm. Well. Justin – how are you? You seem to have a few things on your mind tonight too."
Now I blush. "Um. No, Sir. I'm better than I've ever been."
"Ah." He nods in understanding, looking at Brian with a big, toothy smile. "These Kinneys are charmers, that's for sure. Well, these two are. I'm not so much in touch with the senior Kinneys anymore, or Brian's sister."
Brian overhears and grimaces. "You can thank God that Joanie dragged my father and sister to another church all those years ago, Father." Then he realizes what he said and how it came out. "Um. Sorry Father. But you kinda know what I mean."
The Father looks down briefly, his expression a little sad. "Well, if there's anyone around here who's likely to thank God, I guess that would be me." Brian and I guffaw. "And I absolutely know what you mean, Brian. I am so amazed at how wonderful you turned out after living through all… that…
"--And how incredible you are as a father. I know Lindsay and Melanie are having troubles lately and how you've really stepped up as a full-time Dad."
"Daddy's the bestest in the world!" Gus interjects.
Brian shuffles his feet a little and acts uncharacteristically shy. "Thank you, Gus. I have to admit that any shred of good fathering I have comes solely from Father Charles." He glances at the door like he's wishing he were anywhere else but here.
The Father winks at me, knowing exactly how uncomfortable Brian is and why. Still, he rises and goes to Brian and surprises me, Brian and even Gus when he gives Brian a big hug - a hug that lasts for like a whole minute. I want to kick Brian in the shins since he doesn't return it for about thirty seconds. Not 'til a little bit after Gus finally stands and goes over to the two men and hugs them both, which makes Brian melt. I can see how emotional this is for him and I can see how hard it is for him not to break down. He finally hugs the two loves in his life back.
Finally the little group-hug breaks up and the Father comes over to me as Brian recovers himself. "Justin." He looks at me earnestly and I focus on him. "I kinda have an inkling what's happening with you – I mean, you're here with the Stud of Liberty Avenue after all." I snicker and nod. "I want you to know that you are always welcome at St. Mary's, my home and all spots in between. I suspect you've been a little concerned about your feelings, your sexual identity and how I'll react. You have no reason to worry."
Okay, I'm admittedly pleased that I get away with only shedding one tear this time. "Thank you, Sir."
"Charlie," he corrects. "Now," he continues in a serious tone. "It sounds like you had a pretty dramatic if not also traumatic day at the diner today. I guess you've gotten a crash course in the ways of Brian's makeshift family. They can either be absolutely wonderful or…" he pauses, thinking about how to be diplomatic.
"Or unbelievable asses?" I finish for him helpfully. I figure he's pretty accustomed to colorful language given how close he and Brian are despite the passage of several years, so I sorta decide to forego my normal polite pretenses.
And I'm right – he laughs. "I suppose you could put it that way. They really helped Brian as a young man. They offered him a haven –"
"The Novotnys you mean? Yeah, I know. Unfortunately, his other friends were the ones who acted more caring towards him today. Emmett and Ted, especially Emmett. Michael and Debbie were awful. Michael basically attacked me. Brian blew up; if he hadn't, I was about to myself. Then Debbie really lit into Brian. It was totally unfair! Emmett was wonderful and defended Brian, Gus and even me.
"Why are the Novotnys like that? I mean, I take it that you know them all…"
He nods and sighs. "Yes. I do. Well, each member of Brian's 'family' has his or her own story, Justin. I think you should know that Michael… well, ever since he met Brian, he's had a pretty sizeable crush on him." I frown knowingly but I don't think the Father notices. "Unrequited love can make you act differently than you normally would. Hmm. Then there's Deb. Michael's mother loves Brian like her own boy but her blood child is her blood child, if you follow me. Furthmore, Brian has always been willing to take all the blame for everyone's and especially Michael's faults. That's something Debbie knows deep down but as Michael's mother, it's always been easier to let Brian take responsibility for whatever goes wrong rather than admit her son is to blame. I think Brian's upbringing made him believe he deserves less than others, Michael in particular. It always pained me to see. Especially since he's always the one who fixes everything - quietly and behind the scenes." Shit. Okay, one more tear shed isn't bad, is it?
He puts his hand on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze. "Justin, I am so pleased you found each other. I can see how much you love Brian and he needs that unconditional love and acceptance that I know you can give him. It's sort of like you were made for each other and I don't think I've ever said that about anyone except for when it came to me and God."
"Don't let today's drama make him shut his 'family' out though. He needs them but he's going to be stubborn and shun any efforts his friends do to try to make amends. And they will – Emmett will unnecessarily just because he hates to see anyone attacked – he's an empathetic soul; Ted probably will because from what Gus told me, he didn't stick around the diner long enough to help or add his two cents. Debbie will definitely try to apologize one of these days; she's a spitfire but she's not a mean woman and again, Brian IS like a son to her. Unfortunately, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Michael to make any friendly overtures towards you but I guarantee that he'll try to get back into Brian's good graces and maybe even Gus's.
"They all adore both Brian and Gus and I'm pretty sure they'll want to make it up to the both of them. And I'm certain all except Michael will want to get to know you better; after all, you've done what no-one has ever done before. As I said, you've slipped under the wire and into Brian's heart; you've made the ultimate Non-Romantic actually fall in love."
"You think so? Really? Because he's so vehement about there being no such thing as love and feelings and –"
"Justin," Father Charles interrupts softly, glancing over to the sofa where Brian and the boys are goofing around. "Brian may talk like he's a heartless bastard but take it from me as a man who has known and loved Brian since he was a wee lad: The man loves harder and is more honest and loyal than most saints. Even Mother Theresa would be hard-pressed to measure up." I laugh, a bit surprised at his analogy. The man's an ordained priest after all. Isn't that blasphemy? Father Charles grins but then his smile fades. "The thing is, he's very reluctant to expose his heart to anyone and for good reason; I mean, look at his birth family. I don't know how much you know about the Kinneys, probably not much as Brian doesn't like to talk about them. They were – and probably still are – not very good-hearted people. Jack Kinney is a vicious drunk who used to beat Brian regularly. Joan turned a blind eye to what was happening and I'm sorry to say this: She hid behind her strange idea of piety. I'd see her at church with Brian every Sunday and it was as though she didn't even see the myriad bruises and cuts all over her son. He'd sing in the choir some Sundays and other parents noticed his injuries. I'm sure they asked Joan about them but who knows what she answered. They surely asked me about them but what could I say?
"God's witness, I tried to get Brian out of that house," he whispers almost to himself. That news surprises me. "But I kept hitting brick walls. Brian was such a lovely child and it just tore at my heart how terribly unhappy he was. I felt so helpless. He'd often come and talk to me after services were over. That was all I could do, really, to help him through those times. Just be there for him and listen." The Father sighs and shakes his head. I blink back more damned tears. It looks like he's even getting a little misty.
"I've known Brian since he was about six but his makeshift family came into his life when he was a teenager and after. And there hasn't been anyone new since. Except you.
"Michael, Debbie and Vic, God rest his soul, have been in Brian's life since he was fourteen. Emmett and Ted I think he met a few years later. He's loved Gus for the child's lifetime and probably the nine months before that though he insisted he never wanted a child; Brian was scared of being like his own father. Thank God that Brian is about as opposite Jack Kinney as possible. He casts a loving look over to Gus on the couch, playing with his Daddy. "Of course, as soon as he held his newborn child, if there was any question in his mind, it evaporated. He fell in love with Gus."
I just gaze at Brian and finally turn my eyes back to the Father. "He definitely loves his boy."
The Father takes no vocal notice of what I say but he nods.
"Hmmm. And there's Lindsay of course – he's loved her since college. And then…" The Father smiles. "And then as I said, Justin, there's you: Whom he's loved for the last few months but with you, it's a different kind of love. He "love loves" you so to speak, though he might never tell you so - in words. But as I suspect you already realize, you'll see his love demonstrated every second of every day. And Justin, for him to have let you in and put his trust in you now after such a bitter life, after years of developing his hardened life philosophies is a little shocking. I am so grateful he found you. You have just the right amount of patience to deal with him; just the right amount of wisdom to see through his brash exterior; just the right amount of fortitude to not put up with any of his shit; and just the right amount of soul to realize what a truly remarkable man Brian is - the stubborn ass."
I'm stunned by these revelations and again look at Brian on the sofa. He glances at me warily and gets up, walking over to the Father and I, letting the boys continue playing. His expression gets even more cautious as Father Charles grins at him. "Are your ears burning, Kinney?"
"They're on fire, Charles. What the hell has Father Charlie been telling you, Sunshine?"
The Father cocks an eyebrow. "'Sunshine', eh? Very nice, Brian. Fitting, too."
"Shut up, Father," Brian interjects but without any malice. "Justin is crying. What'd you do to him?"
I sniffle. "He's just been talking about you. How you used to put buttons in the collection plate, how you'd steal the hymnals so you could write in dirty words and how you regularly shocked the old ladies by mooning the congregation when you were singing in the choir."
Brian eyes the Father who is unable to hide his mirth. "Actually, Justin… you aren't too far off. Brian's always been a prankster."
My eyes go wide for a moment but I don't know why I'm surprised. Maybe it's just picturing Brian, this poised, eloquent, gorgeous creature alongside young Brian, mischievous, silly, rebellious. The image lasts like a second because it's not hard to reconcile the two. "Well, be that as it may Brian, the good Father was just telling me how wonderful you are."
Brian's eyes narrow. "Liar…"
The Father shakes his head. "Believe it or not Brian, the lad speaks the God's honest truth. I have a few nice things to say about you…" he winks.
"He also said that you shouldn't shut out Michael and Deb 'cause of what happened at the diner earlier," I add quietly.
"Pfft!" he scoffs. "After what they did to you and Gus, I don't see me making nice with the Novotnys any time soon!"
The Father nods sadly. "Yeah. From what Gus told me, they were definitely over the top, I agree. But Brian, they love you and Gus. They just don't know Justin yet and you have to admit that you having a boyfriend for a single night, let alone for months now with no break-up in sight is pretty novel and takes some getting used to. Sheesh, it's pretty staggering to see even for me. It thrills me but if I said I'd ever expected you to have a boyfriend, I'd be lying."
"I don't do boyfriends," Brian mutters automatically – it's like he isn't even aware he's saying it. I roll my eyes.
"Walks like a duck, Brian," Father Charles answers knowingly and winks at me. He turns to the boys who are chatting on the floor by the couch. "Now, I'm pretty sure that it's way past the kids' bedtimes; it's sure past mine. So, gather your respective offspring and get out. You've worn out your welcome."
Brian smiles and I'm snickering, wiping my eyes and glad that I’m finally no longer crying in earnest. "You have to be one of the most ornery church guys I've ever met," Brian sighs dramatically. "Gus, James, come on! Time to go! We're being booted out!"
"Pfft. I suspect I'm the only church guy you've ever met. Besides Justin, I suppose." I giggle. Father Charles leans down when the boys scamper over. "Gus my boy, are you feeling less sad?"
Gus nods with a grin.
"And I want you to know that you can always come to me if you're having problems. You can always go to your Daddy too, just like I've always told you. He loves you very, very much."
Gus nods again. "I know, Sir."
"You've been a visitor in my home now; call me Charles, son."
Gus glances at Brian who bows his head in assent. "Thank you, Charles."