"Adrian is amazingly hot, isn't he?"
"I have to tell you, Jus, he's the best looking man I've ever seen."
"Well, big guy, you're not exactly chopped liver yourself. I keep picturing the two of you getting it on. Man!"
"Justin!" Brody squawked.
Justin held up his hands. "Sorry, I can't help it. I'll just go home after a while and jack off to the image. But I won't talk about it any more, I promise."
"Please don't. You're embarrassing me."
"Okay, like I said. Besides, I want to tell you about this guy I've met."
Brody thought Justin seemed a little nervous. He concluded that probably meant Justin liked the guy.
"A guy, huh? So tell me about him."
"Well, his name's Gary. Gary Keller." He paused.
It was unlike Justin to be reticent about anything.
"He's in my honors history class, and he's really smart, and when we get a chance to talk we just go on and on, and he's so interesting! And I'm sure he likes me."
"That's great, Jus. But is he gay?"
"How do you know, have you two, uh -- ?"
"I knew the first time I saw him."
"Pretty swish, is he?"
"No, dumbass, he's not swish. And how retro is that word, anyway?"
"Sorry. So how did you know?"
"Sarge, you're dumb as a stump sometimes. I've told you my gaydar is never wrong."
"Watch who you're calling dumb, squirt. And, yeah, I know you've said your gaydar is perfect, but you're wrong about Cromer, so I don't believe it's infallible."
"Believe it! Anyway, Gary's one of us, trust me."
"Have you two done anything?"
The normally cocky Justin blushed.
"It's really none of your business, but yeah, we're gettin' there."
"You guys aren't wasting any time, are you?"
"I knew from the beginning of the semester he liked me. I just sort of held him off as long as I could hope there was a chance with you."
"Jus, I don't know what to say."
Justin grinned. "Okay, then just shut up and listen. We sit next to each other in history, and we hit it off from the beginning. I mean I found out right away that, like I said, he was smart and interesting and nice. So we were already starting to be good friends. We sat together at lunch, and sometimes we'd talk on the phone in the evenings."
"How about weekends?"
"I was spending my Saturday mornings with you, if you remember."
"Of course I remember."
"Well, Friday nights Gary was never available because he plays trombone in the band. So he was always at football games. I even went to one of the home games alone so I could see him march. The `bones are in the front rank, you know, and because he's tall, almost as tall as you, he's the right guide." Justin took a sip of his beer and belched.
"Sorry. So, anyway, after you made it clear that day in the park nothing was gonna happen between you and me, I asked him to go to the movies with me the next Saturday afternoon. And then we got something to eat at the food court in the mall. We just sat there and talked about the movie, and then about our families and what we liked to read and groups we liked and it seemed like we just sort of clicked, ya know?"
"Jus, that's great!" Brody paused for a swallow of beer. "So he's not into sports?"
"Well, he watches sports with his dad and his brother."
"What does that mean?"
"But he reads a lot and we like a lot of the same authors, and he writes poetry."
"Ah, a poet."
Justin smiled. "Yeah. He makes me look at things in a different way sometimes. And then I wonder why I'd never thought of that."
"So when do I get to meet him?"
"Oh, soon, I guess, if you want to."
"Hell yes, I want to. Why not bring him by the shop tomorrow morning?"
"Sorry, Brode. We've got something else planned. Maybe the next Saturday?"
"Sure, Jus, that'd be great."
* * *
When Brody arrived at the shop the next morning at 8:55 Dave Cromer was there waiting for him.
"Morning, Dave. What brings you here so early?"
"Morning, Brody. I've got a job today, but I want you to deliver some flowers to a client."
"Okay. Come on in."
"The Murchisons are having an open house, and they're good customers of mine, so I want a nice bouquet. The container won't matter too much because Rachel will probably put it in something else anyway. But something for around a hundred bucks."
"No problem. What did you have in mind?"
"Well, I don't want the usual mums. You got lots of asters?"
"Yep. Claret, pink, white, lavender and purple."
"How about something sort of airy with all those colors and something else for texture?"
Brody reached under the counter and got out a book. After flipping through some pages, he turned the book toward Dave. The book was full of color pictures of flower arrangements. He pointed to one. Something like that?"
Dave looked him in the eye and nodded. "Yeah, that's just what I had in mind." Dave's eyes were green that morning. Sometimes they were more like hazel. The man was wearing a gray sweatshirt under a dark blue windbreaker with his company logo on the chest, jeans, and work boots. He wasn't handsome in a movie-star sense, but he had a great body and a strong, masculine face.
`Strange,' Brody thought, `I've never been attracted to him before, but he's a stud. How did I miss that?'
"Okay, Dave. You fill out this address form, please, while I ring it up. Oh, and there'll be a professional discount, of course."
"You don't need to do that."
"You could go to any florist in town – or in the county, for that matter – and ask for a discount and get it. Especially since this is for a client."
"Well, then, okay. Thanks."
After he'd signed the credit card slip he thanked Brody again and started to leave. Brody, always an ass man, admired the way Dave's jeans hugged his muscular butt. When he got to the door, Dave turned back toward Brody. "You still seeing Lynch?"
"Do you feel like his boy toy yet?"
"Dammit, Cromer, what's that supposed to mean? How do you know Adrian?"
"I guess I should tell you about that some time. Can't now, though. Got to get to my job." He nodded and left.
Sheila came in a few minutes later. She agreed to work on the Murchisons' arrangement if Brody would take care of the phone and the front of the shop. It was a slow morning, so Brody took the occasion to tidy up. He also brought some roses from a refrigerated case in the back and put them into a similar but smaller case in the front.
As he puttered around he thought about Cromer. The man was an enigma. Could he be gay? He'd appeared to be perfectly comfortable around Brody and Pete. And Justin, who'd insisted all along that Dave was gay. But Brody had always doubted it. After all, the guy had been married until recently, not that that necessarily meant anything. He just didn't seem gay.
"Yeah," he could hear Justin saying, "and that don't mean shit either, Sarge."
After taking a phone order and relaying the information to Sheila in the work room, he thought more about Dave. He wondered what his former nemesis and now supposed friend knew about Adrian Lynch. This was the third time he'd made some sort of negative comment about him.
Brody was still embarrassed that Adrian had given him and Justin a free meal the night before. The boy toy remark hit pretty close to home. He felt the familiar burning in his groin whenever he thought of Adrian. The man was undeniably a feast for the eyes, he could be charming, and he had been generous with Brody. The sex had been amazing, hotter than with Pete, better than Brody had ever imagined. But he and Adrian would have to have a talk about the one-sidedness of their relationship. And the sooner the better.
When he got back to his apartment he fixed himself a sandwich and then called Adrian's home number. Getting no answer, he called the restaurant, where he'd become known to the staff. "I'm sorry Brody, but the boss isn't here. I expect him to stop in later before he goes to Cleveland."
"He's going to Cleveland tonight?"
"Yes, to hear the orchestra."
"He does get around, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, he sure does. Would you like me to ask him to call you?"
Ten minutes later his phone rang.
"Brody, it's Adrian. How's my studly Marine?"
"Hi." Suddenly he didn't know quite what to say. "Uh, this is awkward. But we need to talk. I hear you're going to be out tonight. Any chance we could get together tomorrow?"
"Why don't you come here for dinner about 7:00? And bring clothes for Monday so you can stay the night."
"You don't have to feed me. I'm having one of Sam's Sunday dinners tomorrow afternoon, so I probably won't be very hungry."
"I'll fix something light. Quiche perhaps."
"I usually work on my English essay on Sunday nights."
"Brody, you're the one who wanted to see me. Why can't you do the essay this afternoon? Or tomorrow morning? You don't go to church, do you?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Okay, I'll see you at 7:00. Thanks."
Adrian chuckled. "No need to thank me, sweetheart. I plan to fuck your brains out."
Brody wanted to make some kind of retort, but he felt himself getting hard. "See you tomorrow then."
"Have fun at the symphony tonight. Bye."
Brody hung up before Adrian could say anything.
He decided to forgo watching football that afternoon so he could write the English assignment due Monday.
As he drove to Adrian's condo the next afternoon he was preoccupied with thoughts of the man he was about to have dinner and presumably spend the night with. He should have brought a gift, but he had no idea what. He didn't know anything about wines, and Adrian was an expert. He could have taken flowers, but that would have looked cheap, even though the cost of the flowers less the staff discount would have been deducted from his pay. Adrian had a beautiful home. He had closets full of expensive clothes. Brody was frustrated because he hadn't been able to think of anything he could give Adrian or do for him.
When he arrived at the penthouse, Adrian hugged him and gave him a welcoming kiss. It was more than a peck on the lips, but not terribly passionate.
"I'm sorry to come empty-handed, but – "
"Never mind. I'm just glad you're here." Adrian's cobalt eyes sparkled, adding to the welcome. "Everything in the kitchen's under control. Let's have a drink. I want to know more about Justin."
"Could I just have a beer, please?"
"A beer it is. Go sit, and I'll be right there.
Brody sat in one of the big leather chairs at right angles to the fireplace, where gas logs made the large room seem cozier. Adrian returned with two glasses of beer. He set one on a coaster on the table beside Brody's chair. Then he sat, facing Brody, in an identical chair. He put down his glass, cocked his head slightly to one side, looked intently at Brody, and said, "You're not happy. What's wrong?"
Brody looked out the window at the lights of the campus, moved his head slowly from side to side, and said, "This isn't gonna work."
"Us. Our . . . friendship."
Adrian leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands, a concerned expression on his face.
"Why not? Have I done something?"
"Yeah. But it's not only that . . ." He paused, apparently searching for words.
"Brody, whatever it is, you have to tell me so I can fix it."
"That's just it."
"What's it? Tell me, baby."
"You just said you'd fix it. You called me `baby.' You wouldn't let me pay for what was supposed to be my birthday present for Justin Friday night. Do you have any idea how that shit makes me feel?"
"Like I'm worthless."
"I never meant to make you feel that way."
"Look, you take me places, you do things for me. I don't know how to pay you back. I worried this afternoon about what to bring you and couldn't think of anything you needed or wanted. I don't have lots of money, so I can't keep up with your lifestyle. Besides, whenever we're together, you're always teaching me about your favorite things. It's never really about what I want."
A serious look on his face, Adrian replied, "You've never invited me to go anywhere with you. I've never been to your apartment. You've never asked me out. So I just assumed you were happy being my companion and friend."
"Adrian, my apartment is little and very plain." Brody gestured at their surroundings. "After this, I'm ashamed for you to see where and how I live. And what am I gonna do, ask you to go to a bar with me or to the movies?"
"You might have tried."
"Yeah. The Adrian Lynch would go out and have a beer with me?"
Adrian grinned. "Try me."
"You're on! How about later tonight?"
"Why not? Whatever you want. And look, I'm sorry about Justin's birthday dinner. I know money's tight for you and I wanted to help. Did Justin know that I'd comped the meal?"
"Yeah, he doesn't miss much. He saw that I hadn't put enough cash in the folder to pay for a meal like that. And I'm not totally stupid, you know. I would have tipped the waiter and the valet out front. And another thing, I didn't appreciate your remark about me doing Justin!"
"Oh, for Christ's sake, I was just having a little fun with you. He's a beautiful boy!"
"Yeah, but you don't know the situation there."
"Because you haven't told me?"
"Okay, I guess I haven't. But forget that for now. I just don't know how I can help feeling like a charity case." He was quiet for a minute or two and then added, "Or a boy toy." He picked up the glass of now tepid beer and took a deep swallow.
Adrian stood up and in one long stride was standing in front of Brody, holding his hands out. Brody took them and stood as Adrian pulled him up.
"Boy toy? Never! You must understand that you are a very special friend. I love your company. I love doing things with you. Perhaps I've been selfish in wanting to show you things you've missed out on. I've got more money than I need. It gives me pleasure to spend it on things we can do together. You pay me back by being my friend, Brody."
He hugged Brody, who just stood there for a moment, hands at his side. Then he put his arms around Adrian and said in his ear, "Friend? That sounds a lot better than boy toy. Or gigolo."
Adrian giggled. "Gigolo! Bite your tongue! Friend is the word. I just don't see why, since I'm comfortably fixed and you've only started to college, I can't use some of my money so that both of us can have pleasure. Does that make me a monster?"
"When you put it like that, it doesn't sound so bad."
Adrian stepped back. "Good! Let's go have some supper."
"I'm sorry I was bitchy."
"I'm sorry I wasn't more tuned in to what you've been feeling. Now, do you want more beer with supper or some wine?"
"Neither, thanks. How about some coffee? If we're going out to a bar later, I'll have beer then."
"Oh, you were serious about going out tonight?"
"You bet your ass I was."
As he'd promised, Adrian had made a quiche, which had just enough jalapenos in it to give it a tang, and a salad. Afterward he set out a bowl of bosc pears plus a wedge of white cheese with hunks of something dark yellow in it.
"Try putting a bite of cheese on a slice of pear."
Brody did so and tasted it. "Hey, this is great! What kind of cheese is that?"
"It's white stilton with mango and ginger in it."
"That's great! It's a little sweet, goes just right with the pear." He cut another slice of pear and another small hunk of the crumbly cheese. "I thought stilton was like blue cheese."
"This white stilton is a younger, milder cheese. And the Brits have taken to putting fruit in it. There's another one with apricots that's a lovely dessert cheese, too."
"Have you offered this at the restaurant?"
"We tried it at Synthesis, where it's become a favorite of some of our regulars. The Colby crowd may not be ready for anything like that yet."
"I think you should offer it just the way you've served it tonight. Or you could use apples, too. I'll bet once people tried it, it would catch on."
"Well, Monsieur Cox, since you think so, I'll have a talk with the chef tomorrow. We could probably push some nice port to go with it."
About ten o'clock they decided to go to Nelly's. Brody had worn his red Semper Fi sweatshirt with a clean but faded pair of Levis and his newer pair of sneakers. Adrian held his windbreaker for him to put on. Then he reached into the closet and took out a caramel-colored leather coat. When Brody took it from him to hold it while he put it on, he noticed that the leather was amazingly soft.
Adrian was wearing a pair of designer jeans, a cream cashmere sweater, and a pair of what Brody knew must be expensive Italian loafers.
"Let's take my car. God knows what might happen to the Jag if we parked it near Nelly's."
Adrian laughed. "Those queens wouldn't dare touch my baby. They all know it."
Taking Adrian to Nelly's wasn't quite what Brody had in mind when he suggested they go out for a beer. He was thinking of a place more like Gridley's. But that was in Higgins, and there was no point in driving that far to get to a bar. So he agreed when Adrian suggested Colby's most popular gay bar.
He'd been to Nelly's several times before, but never with Adrian Lynch. From the time they entered, Adrian held court. People came up in ones and twos to say hello. Adrian introduced Brody to everyone who approached. They had no chance to talk, so busy were they being polite to the assortment of butch and femme of both sexes.
"God," Brody said, grinning, "it's like Nelly's is having a visit from the queen."
"Well, darling," Adrian said, camping it up, "they are!"
Just then a couple approached the royal table. A mixed couple. The man was easily 6'5" with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and the typical high ass. He wore dreadlocks to his collar. He had piercings everywhere one could see and, Brody imagined, some that one couldn't see. He wore several gold chains around his neck.
With him was a woman who might have looked tall if she hadn't been with her escort, probably 5'10". She had red hair to her shoulders and was carefully made up. She wore no jewelry. Both were wearing baggy jeans and sweaters. The woman had, Brody observed, nice breasts.
Adrian stood up. "Kelly," he said, hugging the woman, "how are you dear?" He turned to the man, who engulfed him into a hug so tight it obviously took his breath away for a moment.
Fanning his face with his hand, a gesture Brody had never seen him make before, Adrian said, "Ty, still the cave man I see." Then he stepped back and looked at Ty again. "Jesus, you're more blinged out every time I see you. Business must be good."
The man called Ty laughed, and said, "Oh, it is, it is."
"Well," Adrian said, "I'm forgetting my manners. I want you to meet my friend. Brody, as you've probably figured it out, these are Kelly and Ty. Guys, this is my good friend, Brody Cox."
"A Marine, huh," Ty said, smiling. "I was in the Corps, too." When Brody put out his hand to shake, the other man pulled him into a hug. "We couldn't do this when we were in the Corps, could we? Glad to know you, Brody." And it was Brody's turn to be squeezed so tightly he couldn't breathe.
Then Brody turned to Kelly, who said, "I'm not missing out on a hug from a hunk like this either." Her voice was surprisingly deep. Then she hugged Brody and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"Adrian, baby, I don't know where you get them, but this one looks like a keeper."
"Yes, he's adorable, isn't he? And you wouldn't believe what he's like in bed!"
Brody blushed again and looked angrily at Adrian.
"I can just imagine." Ty put his arm around Kelly. "Nice to meet you, Brody. Now, gentlemen, Kelly and I have to go indulge in some nocturnal gymnastics."
Adrian chuckled. They bade one another farewell.
When they sat back down, Brody took a big swallow of beer and then looked across the table at Adrian.
"What?" Adrian asked.
"I don't know where to start."
"Why don't we get out of here then? I've upset you again, and our chances of having an uninterrupted discussion here are nil."
Back at the condo, they hung up their coats. Brody thought that compared to the sleek Adrian he looked both shabby and lumpy.
"Kick off your shoes, sweetheart," Adrian said. "I'm going to. Now sit on the sofa, please. I'll be right there.
He went into the kitchen. When he returned, he had two snifters of cognac. Handing one to Brody, he sat next to him. He swirled the cognac in the snifter and inhaled. "Ah, this is nice. A fire on a chilly fall night, some classic cognac, and wonderful company." He put his stockinged feet on the coffee table. Brody had never seen him do that before.
"Now, what were you going to say back at Nelly's after we saw Tyrese and Kelly?"
Brody took a sip of cognac. He was beginning to like it. "Well, for starters, Kelly isn't a woman is she? He?"
"She thinks she is, and that's all that matters."
"You mean she's a, a . . . "
"Yes, Kelly's a tranny. She and Ty have been together for over a year now. They seem to be very happy together."
"He looks like a pimp."
Adrian laughed. "Not exactly. He's a very successful lawyer."
"Where? Not here in Colby?"
"No, his practice is in Toledo. He just prefers to live here, mostly so that his social life and his professional life don't mix."
"Yeah, that makes sense. And Kelly's a guy. Amazing! But I felt his dick when he hugged me, and, of course, his voice is a little low for a woman."
"Which goes to show that you shouldn't jump to conclusions about people, doesn't it?"
Brody looked at Adrian, arched an eyebrow, and said, "Yes, daddy." He took another sip of cognac, enjoying the warmth as it slid down his throat to his stomach. "Now, there's something else I want to say."
"Say away," Adrian said, waving his snifter.
"Well, you and those two talked about me like I wasn't even there. Where I come from that's rude. Then there's your remark about what I'm like in bed, which is nobody's fuckin' business. And one of them called me `this one' and said I looked like a `keeper.' That makes me feel like so much meat. How many boy toys have you had, anyway?" Brody hadn't meant to put his concerns so forcefully but that was exactly how he felt.
Adrian put down his snifter. Then he took Brody's snifter and put it on the coffee table. He turned to face the younger man.
"Brody, I haven't asked you about your previous sex life, have I?"
"You knew I was gay from the day we first met, didn't you?"
Brody remembered that day at the shop and how mesmerized he'd been by Adrian's looks, his charisma, his sexiness. "Yeah."
"I've had other sex partners. So have you. What's important is what we have now. Don't let anything Kelly and Ty said upset you. They're good friends. We go way back. They were teasing me, and I'm sorry what they said bothered you."
He scooted over next to Brody. "Hold me, please."
Unable to resist, Brody put his arms around Adrian and nuzzled his hair. They sat there without speaking, watching the fire.
The fire, the cognac on top of beer, the warm body against his combined to envelope Brody in a warm haze. Then he remembered something.
"Adrian," he whispered into the other man's ear. "Do you know Dave Cromer?"
Adrian sat up and looked at him. "Cromer. Cromer? You mean the landscaper?"
"I know who he is. His dad did some work for us. I've seen the son around, but I don't think I've ever met him."
Thanks to Drew and Mickey for encouragement and for editorial help with this story.
If you'd like to email me, please do at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim