by Tim Mead
The senior Coxes had planned to come to Higgins for Thanksgiving, but on the Sunday before the holiday Natalie called Bob and Samantha to say that Les had thrown his back out while teeing off and that they wouldn't be coming. When asked if they might come for Christmas, Natalie had said they didn't want to be there when there was a good chance of snow, so perhaps they'd try to get there in the spring.
Thanksgiving week was a blur for Brody. End-of-term projects would be due soon after everyone got back from the holiday, and both shops were frantically busy.
On Tuesday Brody received an email from Pete.
Brodude, Sorry I haven't been in touch more, but grad school isn't like undergrad school, believe me! Spes is going to Charleston after his last class Wednesday. I've got to study Wednesday night, but I'll be home Thursday morning. After we've had the big food orgy with our respective families, let's get together. We've got some catching up to do, and there's something we need to clear up. I'll call ya, okay? Pete.
Brody noticed that Pete hadn't used his usual signature, "Your favorite Peter." He supposed that was because Pete, aware of his affair with Adrian, assumed, well, Brody wasn't sure what Pete had assumed. But he was eager to see and talk with his best friend, and Pete would always be that. As he thought of Pete, he found himself getting hard. `I must be terminally horny. I chub up for Adrian and Pete. Hell, I get hard over Justin. And Dave Cromer sometimes. Even Roger, that guy from Dillard's.'
When Brody left Bob and Sam's house on Thanksgiving afternoon, Sam made him take home a bag full of plastic containers with leftovers. When Pete arrived at Brody's apartment not long after that, he too had containers of leftovers.
His face rosy with the cold, Pete grinned and said, "Yeah, Mom said we could eat this for supper. I told her I might not be back until morning. I hope that's okay."
Brody took the leftovers and put them in the refrigerator. Then he put Pete's coat in the closet by the door. Turning back to his friend, he asked, "Is it okay if I kiss you, or are you and Spes . . . ?"
He didn't need to finish. Pete put his hands behind Brody's head and pulled it forward for a long, eager kiss.
When they were finished, Pete raised an eyebrow. "At least that Adrian dude has taught you how to kiss!"
Brody chuckled. "Yeah, he's taught me all kinds of things. Now, do you want anything to eat or drink?"
Pete groaned. "No, man, I'm stuffed. Ask me again later, though."
Putting his arm around Pete's shoulder, he led his friend to the sofa. "Sit. Let's talk."
"I've missed you, and I need your advice. But first you said in your email there was something we needed to clear up."
Pete grinned. "Well, the kiss partly cleared it up." Brody's puzzled expression invited Pete to continue. "When Spes and I were here, I couldn't help thinking you were jealous."
"Fuck, was it that obvious?"
Pete put his hand on Brody's shoulder. "Who knows you better, asshole?"
Brody sighed. "Okay, dipshit, you're right. So I guess I was a little jealous."
`Wanna tell me why?"
"I thought about that afterward. I know you've had other guys, other fuck buddies, maybe even a lover or so. And I've always expected that. But seeing you with Spessard was different. You two seemed so close. Not just like two guys who fuck each other, but like two guys who are really good friends. Like you and me. I guess I just didn't expect that."
"Brode, let's be clear here. What are we, you and I?"
"I'm a little hurt you had to ask. We're best of friends. Always. Or at least I thought so."
"No, Petey, not lovers. I love you, man. I'll always love you, and you damn well know that. But I'm not `in love' with you."
Pete expelled a big breath and said, "Exactly! We're more than fuck buddies, though maybe we'd ought to talk about that. And we'll be best friends forever, count on it! But we're not in love. Our friendship hasn't changed, and I hope it never will."
"So you and Spessard aren't lovers?"
"See, dumbass, that's where you misread everything. Spes and I have known each other for several years. We're good friends. I know what he's thinking, just as I know what you're thinking a lot of the time. We click. We have fun doing things together."
"What so funny?"
"When you call me `dumbass' I think of Red Foreman and expect you to threaten me with a kick in the ass."
It was Pete's turn to chuckle. "Well, Eric, if the shoe fits. . . ."
"Yeah, well, anyway I could tell you and Spessard were pretty close just from watching you."
"But, Brode, you made one big assumption, a wrong assumption."
"Spes is straight, man. He goes through women like a hot knife through butter."
"Then you and he aren't, uh, don't . . . ?"
"Never! And that's why I'm horny as fuck. I haven't gotten any since the last time you and I did it. And that's why my next question is how exclusive is this thing you've got with the Adrian guy you've been telling me about? I know you think he's the sexiest thing in pants. But do you and he have any sort of understanding?"
Brody ran his hand over his closely-cropped head. "We've never talked about it. I haven't been with another guy since Adrian and I started dating. Now that you mention it, I don't know whether he has or not. He sure could have. He's so hot. And he knows everybody." He shook his head, as if to clear away cobwebs. "But, to answer your question, I want to have sex with you, Pete. Now. We can talk more later. So are you gonna take off your clothes or do I have to tear them off of you?"
Pete grinned and stood up. "I'm just a poor grad student. I can't afford new clothes, so I'd better take them off. But you better be naked by the time I am or I'm going to start tearing yours off you."
An observer wouldn't have called it relaxing sex. Nipples were chewed on, balls were licked, asses were eaten out, cocks were sucked, and both men were fucked enthusiastically. But for Brody it was relaxing in that he didn't have anything to prove. He and Pete loved each other and loved having sex with each other. So they did it with abandon and without tension.
Afterward Pete went to sleep with his head on Brody's chest. Brody was thoroughly content lying there on his back, his right arm around Pete's shoulders. He must have slept, too, for he opened his eyes to find it had gotten dark. The numerals on the bedside clock glowed 6:25. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could see that there was some dried cum on Pete's beard. Instinctively, he used a fingernail to scratch it away.
"Wha? What time is it? Oh! That was nice, Brode. I needed that. Wanna have another go?" He grinned and nuzzled between Brody's pecs.
Brody stuck his nose into Pete's hair and sniffed. It was a familiar smell, the smell of Pete. He'd known it for years.
"Pete, we've got until morning. I have to open the shop, so I'll have to be there by 9:00. By then we'll have had a couple more goes, probably."
Just then Brody's stomach gurgled, and Pete chuckled. "Sounds like somebody's hungry. What's the matter, Pete's magic sauce not enough?"
"It's like Chinese food. An hour later, you want more. Seriously, though, I was just about to suggest we see what's in the food boxes your mom and Sam sent home with us. I've got some wine. And beer of course. How about a drink while we heat stuff up?"
"So long as you promise to heat me up again soon, big guy! And what's with this wine stuff? Your boyfriend making you into a sophisticate, huh?"
Brody felt himself blushing. "Well, yeah, Adrian's taught me a lot about a lot of things. We even went to the ballet. And I've learned to like the taste of wine. Some wine. Sometimes. It's a lot less filling before eating than beer."
"I know, dufus. I drank beer all summer with you because that's what my hunky ex-Marine bro wanted. What kind of wine ya got?"
Both guys got up and pulled on their underwear and socks. Since it was a little chilly in the apartment, Brody got each of them a pair of sweat pants.
"God," Pete exclaimed, "do you have anything that doesn't say `Semper Fi' or `U.S. Marine Corps' on it?"
"You're at Colby State now. You should show your loyalty by having some CSU gear."
"Somehow I don't feel like I belong there. I'm too old, I guess. Now, you want red or white?"
When Pete said he'd prefer red, Brody took stemmed wine glasses from a cupboard and poured two glasses of cabernet sauvignon. "Not the traditional wine with turkey, but Adrian says to drink whatever appeals to you at the moment."
Pete raised his glass. "I think this guy's been good for you, fuckwad. To Adrian!"
Brody frowned for a moment. Then he raised his glass and said, "Yeah. To Adrian."
They rummaged around in the food containers, each filling a plate and heating up its contents in the microwave. They sat in front of the TV and watched a football game as they ate.
When they'd finished, Brody said, "Sam sent pumpkin pie, and I've got a can of ReddiWhip in the fridge."
"Mom sent pecan pie, but I had some of that earlier. Think I'll have some pumpkin. Got any milk?"
"Always! And I'm gonna have some of your mom's pecan pie."
Later, full as ticks, they were both lolling in front of the TV.
"Man, I'm really gonna have to hit the gym when I get back to Columbus."
Brody chuckled. "Yeah, I'd better put in some extra sessions, too. Since the weather got bad, I haven't been running as much as I should, either."
"I don't want to see love handles when I get back at Christmas, jarhead."
"And what about you, doc? The student life can be pretty sedentary."
Pete bopped him on the shoulder. "Sedentary, huh? I'm surprised you even know that word. College isn't totally wasted on you after all."
When the football game was over, Brody switched off the TV.
"Pete, you've had a lot more experience with relationships than I have. Can I talk at ya and then see what ya think?"
"Well, duh! Something wrong with you and this Lynch guy?"
"I'm not sure. That's what I want to talk about."
Pete put his feet on the coffee table, laced his hands behind his head, and said, "Shoot."
"First of all, I gotta say, Adrian's looks just make me melt into puddles."
"I never thought my tough Marine would talk like that. And, hey, what am I, chopped liver?"
Brody leaned over and kissed Pete long enough that they were both breathless when the kiss ended."
"No, you're not chopped liver. You're my buddy. You're incredibly sexy. And I love you. But you're not my lover, fuckbreath. Understand?"
"Yeah, I just said that to see how you'd react."
Brody smirked. "Well, are you satisfied?"
"So, as I was saying, Adrian is gorgeous. Our sex has been amazingly hot. And he's been incredibly generous."
"There's a problem here somewhere?" Pete asked, looking bewildered.
"That's what I'm trying to figure out."
Pete said nothing, waiting for Brody to continue.
"You see, he has money that won't quit. And he's spent a pile of it on me. He takes me to the ballet, to dinner at expensive places. When I took Justin to Adrian's Restaurant for dinner for his eighteenth birthday Adrian picked up the tab. He gave Cox Floral the contract for all the flowers they use, and they use a fuckin fortune's worth each week, and he insisted that I was the only person at the shop he'd deal with. Bobby's deliriously happy, of course."
"I think I'm beginning to see the problem, but why don't you tell me?"
"Petey, I can't keep up with him. I've told him I feel bad because I can't pay him back for all he does. When I go to his place for dinner, I can't take him wine because he's an expert and I know fuck all about wines. I can't take him to dinner. He has the best restaurant in Colby and an even nicer one in Detroit. What can I do for him?"
"Except . . . ?"
Brody nodded. "Yeah. He says I shouldn't worry. He says he really enjoys my company. He says he's got lots of money and he likes to spend it so he and I can have a good time together."
"Pete, am I being stupid? Should I just relax and go with the flow here?"
"Well, think about this. Do you feel guilty about what you and I did this afternoon?"
"If your feelings for Lynch were the kind you'd have for a guy you were really in love with, wouldn't you feel differently?"
"I guess I would, yeah."
"Now, tell me this. What does Lynch expect of you? You know, as a return for the money he spends on you, the things he teaches you, the experiences he gives you?"
"Well, he wants me to be his escort. He wants me to look good."
"I'm sure you look fuckin' fabulous. But go on."
"Well, there's the sex."
"What about the sex?"
"Because he's such a hot dude?"
"Then tell me this. Is it a free and equal exchange, sort of like you and I have?"
Brody was quiet for a few minutes. Pete let him think.
"No, it's not. He is always in charge. Most of the time he tops me. When he found out that I liked to top as well as be on the bottom, he started letting me fuck him."
Brody thought some more.
"About one time in five."
"And then you have the feeling he's `letting' you top him?"
Pete said, "Man, I gotta whiz. Be right back."
"Wanna beer when you get back?"
"Is there more of the wine open?"
"Let's finish it off."
When they were once more in the living room with glasses of wine, Pete said, "Brode, somebody who sells their body for money is called what?"
"A whore, or a slut."
"What if she looks great and is there not only for sex but to go places with her man, sort of like an adornment?"
"Still a whore, but I think they're called `call girls,' or something like that." Brody didn't like where this was going, but he waited for Pete to continue.
"What if it's a man? He is a great-looking escort. And back at his `friend's' pad, he is the guy's sex partner?"
"Well, if it's a woman he's with, he's called a gigolo, isn't he? I haven't heard anybody use that word, but I've read it."
"If it's a guy, he's, what, a `boy toy'?"
"Petey, I'm not stupid. You've led me through the steps. You'd make a good professor. Or a lawyer. But you're seeing just what I've been wrestling with for a week or so now. When I see Adrian, I almost come on the spot. I can't wait to get in bed with him. And when we're in bed I can't think about anything because I'm so out of my mind with the idea that this amazing guy is fucking me."
"Yeah, but. It's all so one-sided. I can't help feeling like I'm his boy toy, his whore."
"Have you talked about this with him?"
"I tried to right after he paid for the meal that was supposed to be my birthday gift to Justin."
"He went all apologetic. He said I shouldn't worry about it, that he had money to burn, that he enjoyed spending it on us. He loves to take me places and show me things I've just never experienced before. He sounded so sincere. When I said he should try learning more about my life for a change, he went to a Colby State football game, and we went to a bar for beer. Like he wanted to make me feel better."
Pete sighed. "Bro, I don't know what to say. One minute he sounds like a master manipulator. The next minute he sounds like a really nice guy who just enjoys your company."
"That's just about where I am at the moment."
"Well, all I can suggest is that you sort of keep your eye on what's happening between the two of you. If you see more signs that he's trying to control you, use you as something like a living Rolex on his arm, get out of the relationship in a hurry. You gotta keep your self respect, babe. Seems to me you need to get into a more equal relationship. But you're the only one who can decide."
"Thanks, Petey. It feels good just to be able to talk with you about it. Hope you don't mind me dumping on you."
"Hey, asshole, that's what best buds do, right?"
"Uh huh. Now, I'm thinking about something else best buds can do. Wanna go to bed?"
Pete grinned. "Yeah, sure. But I stink, and so do you. You think we should shower first?"
"We're just gonna get smelly again, aren't we? Why not wait until morning? I'll be awake at six. Wanna shower with me then?"
"Fuck, no. Let's take a shower together now. That could be a good start for what's gonna happen in bed. Then I'll just sleep in and you can go on to work. I'll lock up when I leave, okay?"
Brody held out his hand. "You know my shower's pretty small."
Pete grinned. "Yeah, but it's cozy. Let's go."
That night's sex was comfortable. Both men knew what buttons to push to make the other feel good. Brody didn't feel any pressure to perform. He just relished the good feelings he received from Pete, and he enjoyed being able to make his friend feel good, too.
When he got up at 6:00 the next morning he went out for a run. When he got back he showered, shaved, and had breakfast. He made a couple of turkey sandwiches for lunch, and wrote the still-sleeping Pete a note.
Thanks for talking me through my problem. I feel a lot better. I'm going to Cleveland tomorrow with Adrian. Maybe he and I can have a talk on the way or the way back.
There's plenty of food in the fridge. Help yourself to clean underwear and socks.
Give your folks my love, and thank your mom for the food. Call me before you leave Sunday, okay?
I love you, bro.
It was a tediously slow day at the shop. He had only two customers all morning. The phone never rang. At noon he opened a bottle of Dr. Pepper and drank it as he ate his turkey sandwiches. He wished he'd brought a textbook along, but the thought had never crossed his mind when he got up that morning. His mind had been on the sex he and Pete had had that night and, even more, on the conversation with Pete about Adrian.
"Keep your self respect," Pete had said, "get into a more equal relationship." Maybe he was right. But Adrian was so fucking sexy. And it was fun going places with him, learning new things. Brody was looking forward to the next day's trip to the Cleveland Museum. He had vague recollections of a field trip to the Toledo Museum when he was in middle school. He remembered his teacher going on and on about the great collection of glass there. He couldn't remember anything about paintings or statues, though he assumed they had some.
The ballet had been better than he'd expected. And he'd really enjoyed the play on campus. `But that was my idea, not Adrian's,' he thought. `Not that that makes any difference.'
He remembered Adrian's promise to let him drive the Jaguar to Cleveland. `Yeah,' Brody thought, `just like a daddy bribing a little kid to get him to do something.'
The afternoon dragged on as slowly as the morning had. Brody was immensely relieved when about 3:00 Justin and Gary came in.
"Hey, dudes, good to see you!" he exclaimed. He gave Justin a bear hug. When Gary offered to shake hands, Brody grabbed him into a hug as well. At first the slender boy tensed up, but then Brody could feel him relaxing. When he felt a twitch in the boy's groin, he let go quickly.
"What have you guys been up to?"
"We joined the great American hordes and went to the mall," Justin said, grinning.
"Yeah," Gary added, "but we got tired of being pushed and shoved and stepped on, so we left. Justin said you'd be here and that you'd probably be out of your gourd by now."
Brody chuckled. "How did you know that?" he asked, looking at Justin.
"It figures. Who buys flowers on the day after Thanksgiving? How much business have you had?"
"Fuckin' little. So, I'm glad you came by. Did you both have a good Thanksgiving?"
"Yeah, but I don't want to see turkey again for a while."
"Yeah, a bowl of chili or a plate of spaghetti sounds good right now," Gary said.
"Tell you what, dudes. You stick around until quitting time, or else go do something and come back, and I'll fix chili for us at my place, what do you say?"
Justin looked at Gary, who answered, "Yeah, that'd be cool." Then he grinned. "Jus said he didn't die when you made spaghetti for him."
"Great! I've even got turkey dressing and leftover mashed potatoes and turkey gravy we can have with it," Brody said with an evil chuckle.
"Oh, yecch!" Justin said. Gary just grinned.
"Seriously, I've got pumpkin and pecan pie. How does that sound?"
"Okay by me," Justin said. "Same here," Gary said, still grinning.
"Tell ya what. I'll close the shop about 4:30. Bobby wouldn't approve, but he won't know, will he? I've got everything I need for the chili. You guys want salad with it?"
They looked at each other and said "No, thanks" simultaneously.
"I'll be home by a quarter to five, and I'll get the chili started. Come by whenever you want. And bring a flick to watch later if you want."
And that's what they did.
* * *
The next morning Brody was up at his usual 6:00 for a run. It was still dark at that time. It was cold, and despite the streetlights he could see enough stars to know it was going to be a clear, sunny day. After breakfasting, he shaved, showered and dressed. Adrian had said to wear a jacket and tie, which, of course, meant the blue blazer, since that's all he had. Adrian had explained that they could wear almost anything to the museum, but that they'd need their jackets for the restaurant though he hadn't said which restaurant they were going to.
As he got into his car, he noted that it looked pretty dirty. It was hard to keep cars looking decent when they put so much salt on the road. He decided he would have to run it through a car wash the next day, Sunday.
Adrian's building had a small parking lot in the back for visitors and deliveries. Residents parked underneath, out of the weather. When Brody pulled into the back lot, he saw the dark red Jaguar sparkling in the sun. Obviously Adrian had had it washed and left it sitting out. He pulled out his cell and punched the key for Adrian's phone to let him know he'd arrived. It was 11:00, and that's when they had planned to leave.
Adrian arrived quickly and, after giving Brody a hug and a quick peck on the cheek, unlocked the Jag with the key fob. He produced two wooden coat hangers.
"Here you go, hot stuff. Hang up your jacket. We don't want to get wrinkled on the way to Cleveland. The car will warm up quickly enough." So both men hung their jackets in the back seat. Then Adrian tossed the keys to Brody. "I believe you agreed to drive this morning."
They got onto the Ohio Turnpike at the Colby interchange and headed east. Brody was quiet, engrossed in the pleasure of handling the hot, heavy, precise car. They stayed on I-90 when the Turnpike swung toward the southeast, getting onto the Innerbelt briefly and then the Shoreway.
"Better move to the right lane, Brody. We want MLK Boulevard, which is coming up here pretty soon. MLK will take us to University Circle."
As they drove south through the various national gardens, Adrian asked, "Have you ever been to University Circle before?"
"No, I don't think so. Isn't that where Case Western Reserve is?"
"Yeah, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, The Cleveland Institute of Art, the Natural History Museum, the Western Reserve Historical Society, Severance Hall, and the CMA."
"Wow! Sounds impressive. What's Severance Hall?"
"You really don't know?"
"It's the home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Pull into this parking area coming up. I want to drive now."
Once they had traded places, they soon came to a traffic circle. "Up there on the left you can see the Museum's parking building. But I'm going to take you out onto Euclid first. Then we'll swing back."
"Okay, maestro, you're the boss."
When they came to Euclid Avenue and turned left, Adrian said, "Now, look over there." He nodded toward the left. Brody saw the museum in its magnificent setting, far back from the busy thoroughfare with its irregularly shaped lagoon and beautiful landscaping.
"Hey, that's quite a place. Somehow I never would have figured Cleveland to have anything like this."
"Well, as you'll see, there's new construction going on in the back, but the front is pretty impressive, isn't it?"
"Oh, yeah. " They stopped at another traffic light. Adrian was in the left turn lane, his signal flashing. "What's that building?" Brody asked, nodding at a large round building with a classical portico on the front.
"That's Severance. We'll have to come to a concert here soon. That would be an excuse to stay over and do some more museum prowling the next day."
Once in the museum Adrian took Brody to the café, where they had lunch. After eating, they spent an hour or more looking at the special exhibit, which Brody enjoyed, since it was comprised mainly of fairly realistic landscapes involving trees and a river. "The Hudson River," Adrian reminded him. "That's why these guys are called the `Hudson River School'."
It was still only mid-afternoon, so Adrian took Brody around to see some of his favorites among the museum's permanent exhibits. Brody was especially interested in the armor gallery.
"I might have known," Adrian chuckled. "All the kids love this display." And as if to prove him right, there were half a dozen families with excited kids saying things like "Look, Mom!" or "Way cool!"
"Laugh if you want to, gramps. But I've never seen anything like this, and it is cool!" Then Brody noticed something. "Hey, these suits of armor look like they were all made for boys."
"No, Brody. Men were just not as tall back in those days."
As they gradually wended their way back toward the entrance, Adrian insisted they browse a while in the Museum's gift shop. Brody was impressed with the number of art books and especially the reproductions of paintings and the like in the Cleveland Museum's collection.
About 4:00 Adrian looked at his watch and said, "We'd best hop it if we want to do a little shopping at Tower City before supper."
"How about you shop and I follow you around? I'm not ready to do my Christmas shopping yet, and as I recall those places in Tower City are all pretty much out of my league."
Adrian smiled at him and said, "Okay, let's say we'll window shop. Unless, of course, we happen to see something we really want."
On the few times Brody and his family had come to Tower City, they'd always parked in the parking area under the complex. That day, however, Adrian never left the downtown street level. He pulled up to a pair of brass double doors, and a uniformed valet came out, took the keys, and whisked away the Jag. Adrian and Brody entered the shopping area on one of the upper tiers instead of coming up the escalator from the lower parking area.
Tower City Center looked splendid. It was, after all, now officially the Christmas season, and the whole place was suitably decorated.
They wandered around, window shopping as Adrian had promised. He took them into the Museum Store, where again Brody was impressed with the number and quality of the reproductions of all kinds of paintings and what Adrian called objets d'art.
The next shop they came to was Brooks Brothers. "We need to go in here, baby."
"Yep. We're going to look at suits."
"You need another suit?"
Just then, a tall, white-haired man in a dark suit approached and asked if he could help them.
"Yes," Adrian said. "We'd like to look at a suit for my friend here."
The man looked Brody up and down and seemed to like what he saw. "Very good, gentlemen. Please come this way."
"Maybe a forty-four," Brody said, still a little unsure what was happening.
The clerk looked at Brody's blazer. "Better clothing tends to run larger. Let's try the forty two."
Brody had never been in a store like that before. It even smelled expensive. He didn't see any price tags he could look at without being obvious, but he knew he was way out of his league here. The rack of suits in his size seemed to go on forever, but they were almost all navy, black, or very dark gray. Some with pinstripes, some without.
Adrian pointed to a plain black suit. To Brody it looked like something an undertaker would wear, though he knew Adrian had several suits that were similar.
"Let me help you off with your blazer, sir, and we'll just slip on the jacket."
Adrian watched intently as this process took place. He said to the clerk, "You're right. The forty-two is perfect. I don't think you'll even have to adjust it anywhere."
"His left shoulder is just a tad lower than the right," the clerk said. "That's true of almost everyone, by the way." He turned Brody so that he could see the back of the jacket in a triptych mirror. "You see those slight wrinkles across the shoulders? We'll take care of those."
Brody sneaked a look at the tag fastened to the sleeve of the suit coat. It said $895.
"Let's let him try on the pants, shall we?" Adrian said.
"Very good, sir," the clerk said to Adrian. Then, turning to Brody, he said, "If you'll just come with me, sir, I'll show you where you can slip into the trousers."
"Uh, no, thank you. I won't need to try on the trousers. I'm not really going to buy a suit today."
The clerk was nonplussed. "But, I thought . . ."
Adrian came over to the two. To the clerk he said, "Let me just have a moment with my friend, please."
"Of course, sir." The clerk went a discreet distance away and began to straighten a display of neckties that didn't need any straightening.
"Brody, what's going on?"
"I can't afford to buy anything in a place like this, much less a nine hundred dollar suit! I could buy a couple of Ralph Lauren suits at Dillard's for that money, and could probably get three Staffords at Penney's for that amount. Besides, it's Christmas time. I've got to spend my money on presents, not on myself."
"I didn't expect you to pay for the suit, Brody. I've been taking you so many places, we're putting a strain on your wardrobe. Let me ease the strain a little. You'll get a lot of wear out of this suit, and you look fantastic in it!"
"No, Adrian. I can't let you do that. Nine hundred bucks is a hell of a lot of money. I just wouldn't feel right."
"It seems to me we've had this discussion before. Please don't embarrass yourself and me in front of the clerk. Just let me do this for you. Call it your Christmas present if you want to."
"Yeah, like I could buy you a nine hundred dollar gift. I just can't do it. It's more than generous, Adrian. I don't know how to thank you for even wanting to. But please, let's just go have dinner. Or, if you're pissed at me, take me home."
Adrian rolled his eyes. Brody didn't remember ever seeing him do that before. "Okay, we'll go. Maybe we can talk some more about it over dinner."
Brody heaved a sigh of relief. "Thanks, man."
Adrian put a hand on Brody's shoulder and then went over to talk with the clerk. When Brody saw the clerk look his way with a disapproving frown he wanted to go hide somewhere.
Once they had left the store, Adrian said, "I'd debated whether we should have dinner at the Ritz Carlton or at Morton's."
"If you just want to take me back to your place, I'll get something to eat on my way back to Higgins."
"Is that what you want, Brody?"
"Not necessarily. I'd like to talk about this. I'm sorry I disappointed you. Maybe over a drink and dinner, which I know you won't let me pay for, I can try to explain."
"Okay, I'm going to make an executive decision. Morton's it is. I'm gonna fill you full of beef and see if I can get you to see reason."
Morton's was dark and clubby. And this early they were able to get a table without waiting. Or perhaps, Brody wasn't sure, they knew Adrian. Anyway, they were shown to a table in a secluded niche. Instead of ordering drinks for both of them, Adrian made a point of asking Brody what he wanted.
"You said we were having beef. Shouldn't we have some kind of red wine?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Yeah, sure. I know you'll pick out something fabulous."
Adrian and the waiter had a wine conference, and the server disappeared, leaving menus. Brody was surprised that almost everything on the menu was beef. Steaks, prime rib, you name it. He commented on that.
"Well, this is a steak house. It's perhaps the steak house. So, yes, you can have lobster if you want, but it would be foolish to be here for the first time and not have beef. Since it's the weekend, they have their prime rib available. If you like that, you can't do better this side of Chicago or New York. But if you feel like tearing into a steak, they've got a tantalizing variety."
When the waiter came back with their wine, making an appropriate show of opening the bottle, allowing Adrian to sniff the cork, sniff the wine, and taste it, he also asked if they wanted appetizers. Brody shook his head no.
"Then are you gentlemen ready to order, or would you like more time to study the menu.? Or perhaps just to chat?"
Adrian looked at Brody questioningly.
"I'm ready to order." He gave Adrian a weak smile. "I've been told the prime rib is pretty good, so I think I'll have that."
"And how would you like it, sir?"
"I'll have the same, and we'll have the house dressing on our salads, Franz, please."
After Franz had left, Brody said, "I might have known you'd know the waiter."
Adrian grinned. "He used to work for me. Then he decided he wanted to move to Cleveland, so I helped him get his job here."
"Funny, he never said anything about knowing you."
"That wouldn't be seemly. The wait staff here aren't encouraged to get chummy with the patrons. We do things a bit more casually out in the boonies."
The meal was all any beef lover could want, and the service was the kind that Adrian always seemed to receive wherever they went. They talked about the food, about what they'd seen at the Museum earlier, about University Circle. Despite what each had said not long before, however, they didn't talk about what had happened in Brooks Brothers. Perhaps because they didn't want to spoil an impressive meal, neither seemed ready to go back to that topic.
When, after their dinner, the valet brought the car back to the door, Adrian asked, "Do you want to drive?"
"That's up to you."
"Brody, does it make you feel like a chauffeur to drive for me? Do you feel demeaned?"
"No, man, of course not. I love driving this baby."
Brody needed help finding his way through the downtown streets and back onto I-90.
They rode in silence all the way back to Cody.
When they arrived at his building, Adrian asked Brody to drive right into the underground parking area.
"Let's go up, light the fire, kick off our shoes, have a drink, and talk."
"No, I don't think so."
"Why not? You're spending the night, aren't you?"
"No, I'm just gonna go on home."
"But why? Are you angry with me? Did I do something wrong by trying to buy you a suit? If it isn't that, what is it?"
"Look, Adrian, this whole thing just isn't gonna work."
"Must we stand here in this cold garage and talk about it?"
Brody did not want to go up to the penthouse with Adrian. He feared that he'd get too comfortable, that Adrian would somehow manage to smooth things over.
"Let me just say this, and then you can go upstairs. I felt like so much shit in that store today. You took me in there like you were the daddy, gonna buy his little boy a new suit. I know you're generous, man. You've been great to me in lots of ways. But every time you spend money on me any more, I feel like your whore, your boy toy. And that's not what I am!"
Adrian put his hand on Brody's arm. "Brody, I "
Brody stepped back. "Thanks, Adrian, for all you've done for me. But I just can't do this any more. I gotta break it off before I've lost all my self respect. I'm gonna go now. Thanks again."
He turned and walked toward the exit.
"Brody, I'm sorry, baby. Let's talk after you've had time to think about all this. Call me."
Brody turned back toward Adrian. "Yeah, sure. Thanks again for supper."
As usual I must thank Drew and Mickey for all of their encouragement and editorial help.
If you would like to email me about this story, please do at email@example.com. Be sure to put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim