Growing Pains (A Toronto Connections Novel)
This title is part of the Toronto Connections universe.
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Gigi Rosenberg is living his best life: performances in the big city, side gigs at a dance company, a successful drag act, and the boy of his childhood dreams who now adores him. Even if the boyfriend part isn’t the sparkly ride of passion he expected it to be, life is sweet. So when his sister’s wedding calls him back to his hometown, he sees an opportunity to show the hicks from his past how wrong they were about him. Only, his boyfriend isn’t quite on board.
Brock Stubbs left their hometown and his parents behind for a reason, and the prospect of facing them again is terrifying. He swore he’d never go back, but Gigi has made it clear refusal isn’t an option, and Brock will do nearly anything for him. There’s just one deal-breaker of a problem: Brock promised Gigi he was out to everyone, including his parents. He lied.
It’s magical to run into the sunset together, but staying the course takes work. For Gigi and Brock, going home feels like the finale of a long, disappointing year. Sometimes love isn’t all you need.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Gigi Rosenberg sat in the driver’s seat of his rented car and glared through the windshield at his boyfriend. Brock stood in the driveway, hands in pockets, his face set to that miserable expression Gigi was starting to despise, not least because it always tugged at his heart, and definitely not least because Brock had been using it a lot lately.
And why the fuck was that again? Oh, let’s think.
Ire fully loaded, he lowered the driver’s-side window and leaned out. “Last chance, boyfriend!”
Brock seemed to curl in on himself. It would have been pathetic if he were any less built, those big shoulders rounding by his ears and his chiselled face dipping into his chest.
No, actually, even with the muscles it was still pathetic.
“I can’t,” Brock said.
Typical. Fucking typical.
A red haze clouded Gigi’s peripheral vision, and he slammed the car horn multiple times as he bellowed, “Fuck you!” Then he pulled his head back in, released the car from park, and began reversing down the driveway.
Unbelievable. Unbelievable. This had to be a sign right? Yeah. This is totally a sign that I’m meant to be wild and free and not attached to some overbuilt—he turned into the road—oversensitive—shifted into drive—overworked—stomped on the accelerator—asshole of a dude who would rather stay home than support his beloved boyfriend.
Gigi looked in the rearview mirror as Brock’s house fell farther behind him. In the backseat, he could see his duffel bag, suit bag, coat, Toronto gift hamper, wedding present, and snacks for the journey. Too many snacks, of course, because his supposed boyfriend wasn’t coming anymore.
He paused at the corner, then made a right. Brock’s street was behind him now, out of sight in the rearview mirror. At the next red light, he punched at the GPS and glared as it began chirruping directions to Highway 400.
Highway 400, which then turned into the Trans-Canada Highway. North on that for almost four hours of forest, then a turn off after Sudbury for another hour of more fucking forest. God, Gigi thought he’d never have to deal with nature again after leaving home, or if he did, it would be a nice distance away. Like Niagara Falls, all safe behind a viewing platform and some cliffs. Being in a car would help, sure, but he’d have to drive through kilometres and kilometres of goddamn trees and leaves and moose and shit, and all he’d get for his trouble was his hick hometown in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario. Alone.
After all, it wasn’t, like, important they go or anything. So what if his big sister, Sophie, was getting hitched to love-of-her-life and all-around-decent-heterosexual Alan, and Gigi was so excited and happy for her he could barely express it? Sure, no big. No big at all.
Seriously, didn’t Brock get what a big deal that was to him? To his family? Sophie deserved all the happiness he could imagine.
Even though happiness apparently meant holding the wedding in their hometown because Maney in the autumn was lovely and beautiful and she wanted her poor fiancé to see where she came from.
Please. She wanted to rub her yummy fiancé and big, fancy wedding in the faces of all those hometown hosers, the ones who’d told her she’d be lucky to get a boyfriend, let alone a husband, especially with a brother like hers. Part of him was ecstatic at the idea of helping her, and another part was scared shitless.
Brock might have been grumpy as shit most of the way there, but his grumpy company was always better than no company at all. And no company was what the journey now promised.
No, wait. That’s good. Fuck him.
His fingers tightened on the steering wheel.
Thing was, he’d had such hopes for rest stops. “Rest” stops where they rested their mouths on each other’s dick and maybe swapped drivers. But no, he wasn’t even going to get pit stop blowjobs now.
It almost made him pull into the nearest parking lot to turn around.
What the hell was Brock’s problem? Okay, he hated their putrefied waste of an ex-hometown as much as Gigi did, but he’d definitely had an easier time of it there as a teenager, and he wouldn’t be the only openly gay guy there this time around. Gigi remembered their teen years like they were yesterday, and he knew Brock did too, but those years were gone. Past. Freaking Sean Penn to Guy Ritchie to Independent Madonna. All Brock had said was that he didn’t want to go back there ever, and not even Gigi’s sister’s wedding was enough incentive, apparently.
Did other divas ever have to put up with shit like this? Probably. He could see Guy Ritchie being all whiny and clingy and Madonna having to bitch-slap his English ass into behaving. But they were divorced now, so obviously she hadn’t put up with whatever bullshit he’d dished. Beyoncé and Jay Z had been tight . . . but then Lemonade had happened. Nah, Kylie did things right: all gorgeous boy toys and nothing long-term. Smart girl.
Actually, he was seeing a pattern there that he wasn’t entirely sure he liked.
The passenger seat was empty and it seemed wrong, but Gigi elected to ignore that and focus on the drive, on getting the car through Toronto’s Friday traffic. It was just before lunchtime but somehow still bad. The red haze faded from the edges of his vision the closer he got to Highway 400.
He hadn’t even left Toronto, yet the 400 still felt too close to home.
If he were being honest—and Gigi prided himself on knowing exactly when to be honest and when bullshittery was needed—he couldn’t blame Brock. Going back to their hometown, The Place Where Death Went to Be Bored, was in their top-five Things They Never Wanted to Do. It was also in their top-three things of Stuff I’ll Only Do With You.
For him it was a no-brainer: he’d left the relentless homophobia of his adolescence behind and was so uninterested in visiting it, he might as well wrap it in grey and stripes and call it a police cell.
Brock, though, was being totally closemouthed about whatever his exact problem was. Who knew what it could be? From what little he’d mentioned over the year and three months they’d been dating, and the fact that Gigi had never heard him speak to or mention his parents, Gigi guessed that it had something to do with Brock’s family. But he’d never said anything, so Gigi didn’t actually know.
And when that lousy, traitorous wimp had dropped that I can’t this morning, shut down and pulled out—and not in a sexy way—it had really hurt. Gigi was furious and fucked—also not in the good way. There wasn’t even an excuse this time. Just I can’t. If Gigi could make himself go—not like he had a choice or anything—Brock could put on his big-boy pants and come with.
Gigi’s fingers were all tight on the wheel again, knuckles showing white. Oooh, that couldn’t be good for his skin. Age showed in the hands. He took a few deep breaths, forcing his hands to relax.
All right. So. He was going all toned, sexy, fabulous, and alone.
Well, if Kylie and Gaga could do it, so could he.
He flipped his hair—not that there was much to flip, but that wasn’t the point—and at another red light, dug around for his iPod. If he was going to be driving for the next five-ish hours without any prospects of blowjobs or bitching about this stupid hometown wedding, he needed the next best thing: spiritual sisterly support. He found the iPod and stuck the cable into the car’s USB port.
The synthetic opening of Lady Gaga’s “Applause” beat into his car and Gigi grinned. Yes.
He emphatically did not think about Brock, or Brock’s expression as Gigi had yelled at him, or how tense and monosyllabic Brock had been in the last two weeks. Nope. And, okay, his phone chimed and lit up repeatedly beside him on the passenger seat, but like hell he was going to check it. He was driving and he was going to Maney and nothing was going to stop him.
He reached the junction that fed onto the 401 Expressway, the road that would then feed onto Highway 400. Fuck. Here we go.
Something ticked over in his brain, and before he’d realized it, he pulled off the road, into the parking lot of the Yorkdale mall, and stopped in the first bay he saw.
Deep breaths. Centre yourself. Think about this.
What was he doing? Was he really going to go back to Maney alone? Okay, Sophie and his parents would be there, and it was only for four days, but they wouldn’t be with him all day. They’d be focused on the wedding, not on dealing with any shit from the neighbours or from people he’d known at school.
Gigi could handle himself. He’d been handling himself since he was twelve and Turk Rogers had caught him reading men’s health magazines in the only bookstore in town. He was twenty-five now and a queen. If he wanted to, he could go full Priscilla on their asses, stroll down Main in a frock and ten-inch stilettos, and use those stilettos to punch holes in anyone who so much as looked at him wrong. Maney was going to get Gigi LaMore, because his queen was who he channelled these days, who he really was, not shy, scared, chubby Toby Rosenberg. Toby was long gone.
The problem was, no one else would see him as Gigi. They’d still call him Toby, still know him as the gay kid who ate his feelings and did theatre and sang too much. He didn’t mind his family calling him that, because they loved him, but having no one else there who knew and appreciated Gigi as his full and complete self was going to be hard.
Brock knew him. Brock loved him.
Or so he said.
Gigi felt tears threatening, and leaned forward to rest his forehead against the wheel. Fuck. He did need Brock. He really did. Why the hell couldn’t Brock be there for him? What was four days of crazy and a wedding? Four days.
Maybe Gigi could have tried to persuade him instead of throwing down a Mariah and driving away. Brock’s expression was starting to seem less selfish and weak, and more scared stupid. Still stupid, because they’d had a year to discuss this. A year. And all Brock had said was yes to going, right up until he’d said no.
Maybe Gigi should reconsider that last chance thing.
His phone buzzed again, and he picked it up. Fifteen missed calls from Brock. Three messages. Gigi didn’t even read them, he just called Brock.
“Thank God,” Brock answered. “Babe, I’m sorry.”
The anger was back, but it was caught up in a bucketload of relief. “Sorry isn’t good enough, but I’m glad you called.”
“I know.” Brock hesitated. “I have never seen you that angry. Not when we had to cancel Montreal. Not even when Woody’s dropped your show during makeup.”
And that really had been some bullshit. But it was liveable bullshit. And Brock didn’t get to use Montreal like that. “Hey, we cancelled Montreal because you had to work. Again.”
“Fuck you for bringing that back up again, by the way. This is not Montreal. This is my sister’s wedding. This is not a weekend trip or a fancy restaurant or one of my shows. And by the way, I’m over you cancelling that shit too. If you tell me right now that you couldn’t go to my sister’s wedding because of work, I will fucking end you when I get back.”
Brock took a deep breath. “It’s not work. It’s not.”
His voice quivered slightly. “I promised myself I wouldn’t go back there. Not for anything.”
“So did I, but life’s a bitch, honey.” Gigi paused. “Not for anything? Not even for me? What about what we talked about? You and me, together. Remember that?”
Brock was silent.
“So, not even for me. Thanks a lot, boyfriend.” Tears were close again. Gigi sat back against his seat, staring out at the parking lot. He hated this. He really, really hated these kinds of conversations. “What are we doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“What is this? I’m sitting in fucking Yorkdale, staring at cars—by myself—because you can’t man up and visit the shithole that is our hometown. I hate it too, but I’m doing it, and I’m the one who got more shit for being gay there than you ever did.”
“I’m not done yet. What I can’t do is explain to my sister why my boyfriend isn’t going to be there, because all I got is his principles are more important than my family, and that’s too crappy a reason to give her, by the way. Because I’m wondering if it’s not something more like he doesn’t want to be seen with his femmy queen boyfriend in public there. Because why else would my boyfriend of over a year keep cancelling on me? Why do you keep doing that?”
“I don’t mean to. I want to do well at my job. You know that.” Brock sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder, and I won’t drop plans again. I promise, it’s nothing to do with you. I love you exactly the way you are.”
Gigi had heard that before. He’d heard that the first night they’d gotten together, one year and a summer ago, and he’d heard it since, and somehow it no longer meant anything. “Yeah? Prove it.”
A note of anger appeared in Brock’s voice now. “What do you mean, ‘prove it’? Haven’t I already done that?”
Crap. That hadn’t come out right. Deep breaths. Collect and try again. “Look. Babe. What I mean is that this is important. You don’t cancel a wedding unless it’s an emergency, and this isn’t. People in relationships don’t do that to each other. So this thing that’s happening right now? It doesn’t feel like a relationship.” As soon as he’d said it, Gigi realized with a shudder how true it was. “You’ve been a grumpy asshole for how long now? Since you graduated? And you won’t tell me why. You don’t tell me anything. You just work and let me come over to suck your dick and cook food. You’re not happy. And I’m not happy. And now you’re letting me down big time, and I’m tired of all of it. Is this how we are now?”
Brock was quiet for what felt like a long time before he said, “Are you . . . are you breaking up with me?”
Oh please. “Like hell I’m showing up unattached at my sister’s wedding. I’m going to Maney and telling them all about my hot boyfriend and sweet job so they see how awesome my life is, then I’m going to come back and dump your ass.”
Which he was angry enough to do right now. When Sophie’d announced the engagement last year—and once Gigi had stopped flipping his shit at the location of the wedding—he’d slowly concluded that maybe this wasn’t an entirely bad thing. He’d pictured returning home, all toned and sexy and fabulous, with his gorgeous boyfriend on his arm, showing off just how wrong everyone there was about him and his sister and Brock. He wanted to fuck his boyfriend in the room he’d had as a bullied, outcast teenager. He wanted the dumb hicks who’d tortured him to see him happy and out and attached. He wanted to dance with Brock at his sister’s reception. It would totally bring things full circle.
And if he couldn’t do those things, he was going to do the next best thing and lie through his winningest smile with a pic of his boyfriend at the ready on his phone.
But, damn it, he really wanted to do those things.
He also wanted to take everything back. Brock had a quaver in his voice that Gigi hadn’t heard in a long time, which had him checking himself. Had it really come to this? Was he really going to dump Brock over this? What was he doing?
Gigi cast back over the last year. The last three months or so had fucking sucked, like seriously sucked, but it’d started out so well. How had they reached this point?
Regardless of good beginnings, they couldn’t keep going. Not like this. So now was as good a time as ever to—
“No.” Brock’s voice growled through the phone. Goose bumps rose on Gigi’s skin. Oooh, he knew that voice. He liked that voice.
“No to everything you just said. I don’t know if you’re trying to threaten me or manipulate me, but there is absolutely no way I want to break up with you, babe.” His voice lost the edginess. “Are you really that unhappy with me?”
A lump lodged in Gigi’s throat. “I don’t want to go to Maney. If I have to go, I want to go with you. You keep saying that you have my back, but you’re not here and I don’t understand why. I feel like you haven’t been with me for months now.”
A long silence followed his words.
* * *
Brock couldn’t believe he’d fucked up this badly.
He’d been trying. Ever since he’d convinced Gigi he was serious about him at the start of last summer, Brock had made sure he was the perfect boyfriend. They’d met each other’s friends. Taken weekend breaks in Niagara, Syracuse, and Buffalo. He’d gone to as many of Gigi’s shows as he could—the dance performances, the small stage roles, the drag shows when Gigi LaMore came out to play. None of them had been left out. He’d been nothing but supportive of Gigi’s drag and creative pursuits. He even called him Gigi instead of Toby at his request, even though Brock’s memories of Gigi were irreparably tangled with seventeen-year-old Toby Rosenberg. Guilt alone over their history would have ensured his game was up and on point, but he did love Gigi. When Brock thought about it, he wasn’t sure there had ever been a point since he was a teen when he hadn’t loved him.
And he’d assumed he was doing okay there. Making ads was earning Brock the most money he’d ever made, and even though he sometimes had to cancel stuff lately, he’d helped Gigi out with money for other things. And he was building some savings so they could do something together for their future, like buy an apartment or go on some crazy overseas trip. He knew he wasn’t around as much now, but Gigi’s jobs had led to cancelled plans too, so it wasn’t as though he was the only one who prioritized work.
Only, somehow he was standing in his living room, on the phone with a very upset Gigi and feeling like everything was falling down around his ears. Gigi sounded so far away, and not just physically. He sounded like he was poised to go and, apparently, to never come back to him. To Toronto, yes, but not to him.
How had he let things get this way?
Brock flopped down on his sofa, a tattered and ripped thing he and his housemates had dragged off the street when they’d moved in. The cell felt hot in his hand, as though Gigi’s anger had infused the metal and plastic. His stomach roiled.
He didn’t have a choice. Not really.
“I hear you,” he said. “I’ll go.”
A slow exhalation. “You saying that because you think it’s what I want to hear?”
“No. I’m saying it because I don’t want to have this conversation on the phone. And I don’t want . . .” you to stop loving me. You to leave me. “. . . to let this go. I’ll go to Maney with you.”
He heard some muffled movement from Gigi’s end. “I’m still angry at you, asshole.” Gigi’s tone had lightened slightly, which gave Brock a sliver of hope. “But I know it sucks. I promise, it’ll be better if we’re together, okay? I’ll try too. You have an hour to get to Yorkdale. I’m going to walk around and resist buying the entirety of Zara, but I’m not waiting forever for you, got it?”
Gigi hung up, and Brock rose heavily to his feet.
So, he was doing this after all. Going back.
Returning to their shitty hometown for Gigi’s sister’s wedding had seemed . . . well, not fine, but kind of doable when Gigi had first mentioned it a year ago. There were awkward things about that which he’d meant to discuss with Gigi before they went. But life had been too perfect to screw up with an argument, and there would be an argument if Gigi knew just how not-out Brock was to his parents, and how he wanted to remain that way. Three months into this relationship at the time felt like too soon to have that kind of argument. He’d wanted Gigi too long to wreck it.
So there was no choice now. Stay and lose him, go and maybe try not to lose him. A total no-brainer.
He called a taxi, then quickly packed a bag. He’d started packing the night before, but midway the thought of going back had paralyzed him to the point that he’d crawled into bed instead, mind playing through how he could tell Gigi in the morning.
All the scenarios he’d thought of paled in comparison to reality. Gigi had been absolutely livid. Of course he’d been—and honestly, Brock was kind of dumb for expecting anything different. He knew Gi. The man was a queen who saw life as a permanent stage and any hiccups as attempts to upstage him. He’d flipped his shit in a display worthy of Mariah Carey and barely paused before sweeping out and screeching away. No questions, no concern for Brock at all, no attempt to try to understand that Brock could not and did not want to do this. Nothing except some scathing one-liners and insults Brock couldn’t bear to respond to.
The thing was, Brock got it. He totally did. But, and not for the first time, he wondered if it would kill Gigi to calm the fuck down for once.
Also not for the first time, he wondered if it would kill him to actually fight back and stand his ground instead of folding like this. Seriously, it wasn’t like it was the worst thing in the world, right? He could have explained himself a year ago, six months ago, six weeks ago. He could have sat Gigi down and explained just how fucked up his family was, and why his gap year had turned into two gap years, and why he never spoke to his parents, and why he never ever wanted to be in the vicinity of his parents ever again. But he hadn’t, and now it was too late. Now any excuses would just show how much of a coward he was.
And he was a coward. Big time. Because despite refusing to go back and hiding that he was still in the closet where his parents and Maney were concerned, there was one thing he was especially scared of: killing this relationship. That was enough to make him backtrack on everything else.
Problem was, he’d trapped himself. Too scared to go back, too scared to stay. And while it was so tempting to sit here and pretend his promises to himself mattered more than his boyfriend, Brock knew Gigi wouldn’t forgive him if he stayed here this weekend.
So. He was going. Because if there was a sliver of a chance he could mitigate that whole coming-out thing better while being there, he might be able to keep his relationship. Hopefully.
As he tossed in boxers and a clean sleep shirt, he paused at the sight of lube and tissues on the dresser. A new bottle, unopened, ready for action. Would it be too presumptuous to take it with him? Maybe. Maybe not. He tossed it in the bag.
One suit, shoes, phone charger, some spare socks, and a shirt, and he was good to go.
His stomach tied itself in knots as he put on a jacket and got into the taxi, twisting further the closer he got to Yorkdale. By the time he paid the driver and went into the mall, his stomach was a lead weight. He was well within time, but the centre was huge and his boyfriend wasn’t patient.
He texted that he was at Starbucks, bought some coffee, and waited.
Oh God, he was really doing this. He was going back. With his boyfriend. They’d be open as boyfriends in front of the homophobic assholes who’d made Gigi’s high school years a genuine misery and Brock’s a closeted wreck. He’d be out in front of everyone who’d once known him. The idea of being out in front of Mrs. Sable from down the road and his English teacher who’d hated him and anyone from school who was still there and his parents was horrifying. Being boyfriends in Toronto wasn’t a problem, just as being out in Toronto wasn’t a problem. But in Maney?
And having to deal with all that in front of Gigi as well as dealing with Gigi . . .
The coffee was a mistake. The lead in his stomach had turned into heavy roiling acid, ready to be ejected all over the shiny mall floor.
He saw Gigi before Gigi saw him. Not difficult—the man stood out in a crowd. He was practically walking art: lean and muscular from dancing, spangled with jewellery from earlobe to glittery shoes, and hair dyed to a deep red like fallen leaves. There was a now-familiar surge of blood as Brock watched him, and his stomach somersaulted before settling back down again—a little lighter and steadier this time.
Under the red hair and sparkles, Gigi’s face was wan and frowning as he walked towards the store. “I’m not happy” replayed in Brock’s head, and he fought to keep from laughing hysterically. If Gigi wasn’t happy with him now, despite everything Brock had done to be the boyfriend Gigi deserved, he was going to be miserable by the time they came back to Toronto. Guaranteed.
This weekend is going to be a fucking disaster. Maybe I should just stay here and save us all a lot of trouble.
Yeah, no. Going back was happening.
Brock took a few steps to meet Gigi, coffee in one hand and weekend bag in the other. Gigi glanced him over, unimpressed. “That’s all you’re bringing?”
“I didn’t want to be late.”
“Please tell me there’s at least a suit in there.”
“Yes! Not everyone needs five outfits a day.”
That took Brock back to their Syracuse trip, when he’d taken two shirts and a mountain of lube and condoms, and Gigi had brought a massive suitcase stuffed with clothes. They’d teased each other in between kissing and fucking and eating and taking in the sights of Upstate New York. It had been Gigi’s first time out of Canada. Granted, it hadn’t been exactly far out of Canada, but it still counted.
That had been an amazing trip.
Gigi stiffened, his eyes narrowing. “You’re meeting my family.”
“I’m pretty sure I can buy anything else I need in Maney.”
Gigi crossed his arms and looked aside. That set jaw meant he was either angry or nervous. Maybe both. If he was nervous too, that was something. Brock gripped the handle of his bag tighter and watched Gigi refuse to react—he could tell, he knew how Gigi’s mind worked. The sounds of the mall filled the silence between them. His coffee warmed his fingers through the thin cardboard cup.
So stupid. And weird. Why all this over a trip? Over clothes? How could someone he understood this well also be someone whose reactions sometimes completely confused him?
“You done here?” Brock gestured to the mall.
Gigi nodded, the movement jerky. “Let’s do this.”
Brock followed him out into the parking lot. The day was bright and sunny, a pleasant autumn day, which was a perfect contrast to the black mood between him and Gigi. Brock trailed behind him, sipping his coffee and watching Gigi’s ass flex as he walked.
One year and three months ago, he’d watched that ass walk up to a dance audition stand and he’d been unable to look away. Not that he’d been expecting to know the owner of the ass at the time—Brock was only there to do a documentary with his friend and project partner, Katie. As far as he’d been concerned, Gigi was just another dancer in the dance competition they’d be filming.
Brock had been setting up the camera, gauging light and focus and watching the dancers congregate next to the stands. Strong, lean, tough bodies flexed and stood and sipped coffee, completely unaware of their beauty or the looks they were getting from passersby. Brock lifted weights and jogged, so he knew he was built, but the athleticism here was something else.
And so was the last dancer to show up: tight jeans and a T-shirt that gave everything away, iced coffee in hand and wide grins for his fellow dancers. His hair was dyed an electric purple, earrings sparkled from both lobes, and his ass looked tight enough to spank back. Beautiful and crazy sexy.
So obviously when he and Katie approached the dancers to introduce themselves, he’d approached the hot guy with a grin.
Sexy Ass smiled widely back at him, a thrilling, cheeky smile that seemed familiar and made Brock’s blood surge. One dextrous, elegant hand was held out—not for Brock to shake, but to kiss.
Brock took it gently. “I feel like we’ve met before.”
Sexy Ass frowned and cocked his head. “Hmm. Possibly. You . . . Wait, maybe you know me as Gigi LaMore.” His expression turned sultry. “I’ve had some very fun shows.”
“How would he recognize you out of drag?” his fellow dancer, Tyler, asked.
“Hush you.” Gigi batted his eyes at Brock. “Enchanted.”
A drag queen. That explained a lot. Smiling, Brock bowed over Gigi’s hand, almost but not quite kissing it. Queens could be temperamental about that. “Pleased to meet you, Gigi.” He straightened. “I’m Brock Stubbs.”
Gigi stiffened and went pure white, grey eyes wide. He whipped his hand out of Brock’s. “Y-you don’t say.”
Just like that, the flirty vibe was gone. Looking back, Brock could see this was when Gi had recognized him, but at the time, he’d just been taken aback by the one-eighty.
Katie had stepped in, given them some spiel about looking forward to working with them, then hustled Brock back to their equipment. Throughout the auditions, Brock had kept eyeing Gigi, a feeling that he knew him niggling away in his gut. No particular thing stood out, but the guy just seemed so very familiar. Had he slept with him and forgotten? Brock doubted it. Gigi looked like he’d be a memorable lay.
Gigi kept glancing at him too.
A few long hours later and Gigi was finally assigned to a sporty guy named Mark, who had a very supportive girlfriend in the audience. Katie groaned when Mark and Gigi met, Mark shaking his hand enthusiastically and Gigi looking like he’d touched something gross.
“Christ, this is going to be a mess,” Katie murmured to Brock.
“Look at them. Hetero überjock with gay sex kitten.” She popped her gum. “Guy’s practically allergic to Mark. It’ll either be hilarious or mortifying on film.”
Brock let his eyes linger on Gigi. “What’s Gigi’s deal?”
“Deal? He’s a dancer. He’s . . .” Katie looked between Brock and Gigi, the penny obviously dropping. “Him? Really? I thought you went for the serious, conscientious type, not—” she waved towards the dancers “—that.”
“Hey, what do you mean by ‘that’?”
She gave him a hard look. “You remember telling me about Toby?”
A bolt of guilt went through Brock. Toby. He’d never get over Toby. Wait, how did she know about him? “No,” he said honestly.
“Thought not. You were wasted. End of semester party at my house, remember? I got you to the bathroom okay, and after throwing up, you mumbled something about trying to find Toby because he was the love of your life and you wanted to make things up to him.” She shrugged. “I figured you wanted to find your high school boyfriend and play house, not chase tail.”
“But look at the tail.”
Her jaw moved as she frowned at him. “Brock, you’re the kind of guy who wants to settle down with a nice man, adopt a few babies, and grow old together. Do you even do flings and one-night stands?”
“Uh, yeah?” Was that how he came across? He knew he wasn’t sex on legs like Gigi over there, but he didn’t do badly in the gay scene. Especially once he’d dropped his hang-ups about his sexuality, which had happened during his extended gap year. After doing charity work in Indonesia for a year, then working and fucking his way through Europe for another year, he’d definitely sorted through the mental scars his upbringing had left about sex and same-sex relationships. No more closet for him. That meant having fun in Toronto’s Village and gay bars while also keeping a lookout for Toby’s face. Because yeah, he had to find him and at least apologize for what he’d done.
“It’s just that the way you were about this Toby guy made it seem like that’s who you’re holding out for. You were so into him.” Katie snapped her gum again. “Gigi, on the other hand, is a high-maintenance queen; even I can see that.”
Brock grinned. “Maybe so, but he’s fucking hot.”
“Ugh. Just don’t do anything that jeopardizes this project.” She pointed at the dance machine where two girls were waiting. “Film them. I think one of them knows Tyler. She might get through based on friendship.”
After the auditions were over, Brock had packed up the camera and headed to lunch with Katie. Thoughts of Gigi warred with memories of Toby throughout lunch and well into the afternoon.
Toby Rosenberg. Brock had moved to Toronto specifically to find the guy and make amends with him, and to finally attend university, but he’d been here for three years and hadn’t seen so much as a hair. He wasn’t on Facebook, none of Brock’s gay friends knew of him, Brock hadn’t spotted him out in any of the gay clubs and bars, and Brock was starting to wonder if Toby had given him the wrong information about his university plans back in school.
The Toby in his memories had been tall and overweight, with big grey eyes, floppy dirty-blond hair, and a filthy mouth. Adorable. A drama club member who could sing and dance, Toby had haltingly told him about his dream to move to Toronto, leave Maney behind for good, and take the stage. The Maney gossip mill backed that up; he’d gone to Toronto, been in a few plays. But Brock hadn’t seen him, so was he still here? Or had he moved on to somewhere more exciting for actors, like New York?
It had been seven years since he’d last seen him, and, sure, Brock had figured Toby would have grown up a lot, but he’d been counting on recognizing him by the eyes and hair. Maybe a secretive part of him had hoped he’d recognize him no matter what, that their connection had been deep enough to keep them attuned despite the years.
Yeah, no such luck.
Then Gigi had introduced himself to Evie the next day, in front of Brock and Katie, as Gigi Rosenberg, and that had been it.
Seriously, it was like electricity shivering through him, lighting up every nerve and cell, and afterwards Brock had been overwhelmed by absolute and complete certainty. Gigi was it. Brock had never been more sure about anything in his life, and it felt so good. He wasn’t religious, but this moment came damn close. It was like the clouds had parted and a freaking ray of sunlight had beamed onto Toby/Gigi’s head and revealed all the features Brock had once known like the back of his hand. The wicked eyes, the wide mouth, the long nose, all of those were still there and so obviously Toby’s that Brock had wondered how he hadn’t recognized them before. Okay, he’d gained a ton of definition and muscle, and sure that changed his outer shape, but the core of him was still there.
So, he’d finally found Toby Rosenberg. The search was over. Brock had decided then and there that he wasn’t letting him go ever again.
Now, in this parking lot, that decision was laughable in its optimism.
They reached the car. Brock dropped his bag into the back, then settled into the passenger seat. Gigi fussed with his seat and belt, avoiding Brock’s gaze.
What was the phrase? Cut the tension with a knife? This felt more like a suffocating cloud of bad energy.
He could try to clear the air? Or give Gigi an opportunity to speak his mind? Things tended to go better if they spoke (ranted) openly about problems.
Brock took a deep breath. “It’s a mistake that I’m coming.”
Gigi turned to him, eyes flashing. “You trying to convince me, sweetie?”
“No. But you’ll see once we’re there.”
Gigi rolled his eyes. “I’m supposed to be the dramatic one. It’s not a mistake. It’s a wedding. And it’s four days.” He stared at Brock. “We can handle four days.”
“It’s not the time, it’s the people.”
Gigi blinked, then his expression softened. “I know. I’m scared too. But we can handle them. We’re adults now, you know?”
Brock wasn’t so sure about that. “I . . .” I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want my parents to know I’m in town. I don’t want you to be exposed to them. I don’t want to come out to them.
He couldn’t say that. Not with their history. Not when Gigi had no sympathy for closet cases. Saying he was scared to be out in Maney and could they maybe please not be all over each other would get him dumped and out of the car quicker than it took Gigi to rip a heckler to shreds.
Such a coward.
His throat closed up, and he looked out the window.
“What? You what?” Gone was any softness or understanding from Gigi’s voice. “Finish the fucking sentence.”
Gigi made a noise of frustration and started the car. “See, this thing you’re doing? Right now? This is driving me fucking nuts.”
Oh, like he could talk? “And you getting on my case because I decided to not finish a sentence is getting real fucking old.”
Gigi shifted into drive with unnecessary force. “To think I was vaguely missing you before you came here. Clearly absence does make the heart grow fonder.”
Brock’s own heart panged. “What is this? You were the one saying you wanted to break up.”
“I do not want to break up!” Gigi glared at him. “But this isn’t working, babe. This fucking sucks.”
“I’m here. That’s what you wanted.”
“I didn’t want to make you come to Maney with me! Not like this!”
“Then like how? I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here. I can’t suddenly want to go just because it’s important to you. I want to be at home, with you, queuing up some shitty movie on Netflix, and settling into the weekend.”
Gigi’s eyes took on a glistening sheen, but he scowled and blinked it away. “Then how about you queue up some shitty movie on your phone so that at least you’re doing something important to you?” He took his foot off the brake, and the car began rolling forwards. “And don’t talk to me. I want to drive, not crash into a tree for some freaking relief from bullshit.”
Fine. Fucking fine.
Brock pulled out his cell and headphones and turned to stare out the window, wishing this weekend was over already.
Gigi curled up in his chair, hands over his eyes so he could block out the screen in front of them. Oh God. It was unbearable. Too horrific to watch. So gross.
Brock nudged him. “You can look now.”
Gigi uncovered his eyes to see Carmen and Claude stumbling around on the screen instead of him and Mark. He breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Katie and Brock’s documentary about the summer’s dance competition, Fierce, was being shown in a U of T screening room, and Gigi and Brock were watching along with the other participants and most of Katie and Brock’s film class. So far it was kind of amazing to see each couple progress through their routines, to watch them become friends and discuss LGBTQIA issues on screen. Seeing the progress condensed into twenty minutes alone was awesome.
Or it would be if the camera hadn’t added like twenty pounds to Gigi. Why? Why? He looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man galumphing around with Mark. You’d never know the guy behind the camera was dating him. Jeeesus.
He jerked up straight, struck by a horrifying thought: what if the camera wasn’t lying? What if that was actually how he looked? Omigod what do I do?
Brock took his hand as the film went from Carmen and Claude to Tyler and Evie. Gigi watched them dancing, totally oblivious to the camera. It really was very sweet the way they looked into each other’s eyes and kept blushing and laughing. It was less cute when they were doing it now, in the seats next to him. Practically vomitous. That was a word, right?
“Oh fuck,” Brock gasped, dropping Gigi’s hand.
Hey. What’s that about? Gigi looked over at him, then heard the questions start on screen. Katie was asking Evie and Tyler about the routine, then Brock interrupted with some kind of freaking monologue about how great they were.
Gigi watched in disbelief as Brock sat in a circle with Evie and Tyler, getting love advice from them. The audience around them chuckled as Brock blatantly broke documentary fourth wall logic or whatever the film rules were, but Gigi barely heard them. Brock’s face on screen was totally desperate. He was begging for help with Gigi. With him.
Brock had done this? Why hadn’t he said anything? Didn’t he realize how totally . . . how unbelievably . . .
Gigi didn’t even have words for this.
He glanced over at his boyfriend. Brock’s hands covered his face as he slumped in his seat. So cute. He turned back to the documentary and watched Evie hatch a plan to get Brock together with him. A plan that had worked very well, incidentally. Three months later, they were totally dating and serious about it.
Like, Gigi had daydreamed about being boyfriends with someone and doing all the cutesy shit couples seemed to do, but it turned out getting to that reality was difficult. Not that he had problems meeting guys and hooking up or whatever, but sometimes he’d thought it would be impossible to meet someone and actually be with them.
But Brock was easy to be with. And right now, Gigi wanted nothing more than to fuck his adorable, devoted, completely amazing boyfriend until they both passed out.
Her embrace of a broad range of queer identities and her themes of forgiveness and coming through for loved ones will feel sweet and healing.