Even though it was Sunday, Brody was up at 6:00. After his run he shaved, showered, dressed, and ate breakfast. Then he flopped down in his chair by the window. Totally unaware of what was going on outside, he felt numb. And alone. More alone than he'd ever felt in his life. In the Corps he hadn't had to worry about anything except keeping his being gay a secret. Everything he might need physically was provided, along with a sense of pride, a sense of belonging to an elite group. Now, however, he didn't belong to anybody. Pete would be in Columbus for several years and then move on. Their friendship would continue, but they'd gradually draw apart.
He was a regular guest for a meal and a romp with his niece and nephew on Sundays and holidays. Other than Bob, Samantha, and the kids, who was there? Justin was another kid, and he seemed to be perfectly happy with Gary. And now he'd broken things off with Adrian. He had no intention of going back. He'd promised to call, and that's what he'd do. He didn't want to have a face to face meeting and allow Adrian's looks to tempt him to resume their relationship.
His thoughts went back to the previous day, rehashing the scene in the clothing store. Then he thought about their supper. Adrian had even told the server that they'd both have the house dressing on their salad. It was a wonderful salad, with some sort of citrus vinaigrette, he thought. But Adrian hadn't asked what he might have preferred. Little things like that went on all the time.
If he wasn't seeing Adrian any more, he wouldn't need a new suit. Well, he probably should have at least one more dress-up outfit, but it could wait until after the Christmas bills were paid. And he could buy it at Penney's or Dillard's. Maybe he'd ask Roger about upcoming suit sales.
Meanwhile, he was alone. He didn't know anyone on campus. Nearly all of his classmates were four years younger than he. And he had no friends in the community. He didn't know what he was going to major in or what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to blame all of this on Adrian, but he knew it wasn't all his former friend's fault.
`Shit,' he said to himself, `Instead of sitting here feeling sorry for myself, I should do some school work. Don't brood, get busy!'
He stood up, went to his computer, booted up, and began drafting a paper that was due in his English class the middle of the week. Bruce had been lenient in not requiring them to hand it in the Monday after Thanksgiving.
He realized later that the phone had rung several times before it had registered. He'd been deeply into the paper he was drafting.
"Brode, it's Pete. I'm leaving for Columbus and I promised I'd call and say goodbye. Did you and your studly friend have a good time yesterday? And last night?"
Brody could hear the leer in Pete's voice.
"No, man. I broke up with him."
"No shit? Really? What happened?"
"I don't want to talk about it on the phone, but you were right. We had a scene in Brooks Brothers because he insisted on buying me a suit and I wouldn't let him. That's when I realized how right you were. I would have totally lost my self respect if I'd let him buy me that suit."
"How did he react?"
"He was sweetness and light. He told me again that he wanted me to have it. But he didn't make a real fuss over it. Then he took me to dinner at Morton's."
"Exactly! So I told him it wouldn't work between us."
"Brode, do you want me to come over there?"
"No, man, I appreciate the offer, but I just need to be alone and think things out, you understand?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay. You drive carefully, and say hi to Spes for me. Email me, okay?"
"Thanks, dude. I'll be in touch soon, I promise. And Brode, I love you, man."
"Yeah, Petey, I love you too."
Brody looked at his watch. It was 10:30. He pulled his phone book out of a drawer, looked up a number, and dialed. He got a recording saying that the number he'd dialed had been changed; it gave him a new number. He hung up and punched in the new number. He got no answer.
`Wonder where Dave is on a Sunday morning."
He went back to work on the paper. At 12:30, he saved his nearly-completed first draft and shut down his pc. He went to his bathroom, where he urinated and rinsed his mouth with Scope. He had his keys in his hand when he shoved them in the pocket of his jeans and once more picked up the phone and hit Redial.
"This is Brody. You must have moved into your new house."
"Yeah, a week ago. I'm still unpacking. So tell me, why are you calling me for the first time ever?"
"I, uh, I'm sorry to bother you, but I sort of need to talk with you."
"Well, yeah. You've been hinting around about Adrian for weeks, and you said you had things you wanted to tell me. I think I need to hear all that. Could we get together sometime?"
"It sounds like we'd better do it soon. I've got no plans for the day. Would you mind coming here?"
"No, but I'm due at Bob and Sam's for dinner. Can I come there afterward?"
"Sure. Any time. You'll have your cell phone with you, I suppose."
"Well, you know where to turn off the highway. As soon as you do, call me, and I'll talk you in."
Brody took a deep breath. "Thanks, Dave, I'll see you later then." After hanging up, he found his cell phone and entered Dave's new number.
It had begun to snow by the time Brody started for his brother's house.
He knocked on the door and went on in, hanging his coat in the front closet. He'd brought a bottle of riesling he knew Sam liked. She hugged him.
"Ohh, you're cold! Bob and the kids are in by the fire. Go on in and warm up. This wine's cool from your car. I think I'll pop it in the freezer for a few minutes and we'll have it with dinner."
After he and his brother had hugged, Brody flopped down on the floor and became a kind of jungle gym for his nephew and niece.
"How was the trip to Cleveland yesterday?" Bob asked.
"Not good. Adrian and I broke up."
"My god, Brody! Does that mean he's going to cancel his contract with us?"
"Jesus, Bob! I break up with a guy I've been dating for three months and thought I cared about, and all you can think of is the god damned contract."
"Hey, watch your language in front of the kids!"
"Okay. And I apologize, Brode. Here you've been dumped, and I'm thinking about the business."
"For your information, I broke it off with him."
"Why ever would you do that? He's good looking, he's charming, he's rich, he knows everybody."
"Yes, and he treated me as if I were his boy toy."
"Unca Brody, what's a boy toy?"
"Oh, just a really good friend," Brody said, blushing. "Bob, we'd better have the rest of this discussion another time. I don't think Adrian's the kind of guy to be vindictive, but I guess we'll find out, won't we?"
At the dinner table, Sam said as she passed the riesling, "We've been eating Thanksgiving leftovers for two days. I thought we could stand a change. And I was sick of cooking, so I did this the easy way." She served a tossed salad and fettuccini alfredo with baby shrimp. "The sauce is out of a jar, by the way."
Brody hardly tasted his food. He declined chocolate cake, though he agreed to have a cup of coffee.
Back in the family room, he got down on the floor and tussled with Lil Bob for a while. Then he read both kids a story. At 3:30 he thanked Samantha and left.
He stopped by his apartment to use the bathroom, brush his teeth, and change clothes. He took off the new jeans, the loafers, and the cable knit sweater he'd worn to Bob and Sam's, replacing them with a faded pair of 501's, a gray sweatshirt, and, since it had continued to snow, his workboots. He didn't expect to be outside long, so he grabbed his windbreaker instead of his parka.
It was a little after 4:00 when he turned off the highway into Dave's development. He called and got directions. This was an unusual area in that the houses were all four years old or newer, on large, wooded lots, but most of them weren't overly large houses. The snow was the fluffy kind that coats the bare branches. Some of the residents were out putting up Christmas decorations.
When he got out of the car he smelled wood smoke. Several of the chimneys had smoke coming from them, including the large stone chimney of Dave's one-storey ranch style house.
Dave answered the doorbell barefoot. He was wearing old jeans and a tight white tee shirt that revealed just how well muscled he was. Brody didn't fail to appreciate the sight.
The two men shook hands. Then Dave put his left arm around Brody's shoulders, pulling him into a loose hug. The two men patted each others' back exactly twice in that "I'm not gay" hug that straight guys do.
After he'd put Brody's jacket in the entry closet, Dave said, "Sorry it's so fuckin' hot in here. This is only the second time I've had a fire since I moved in, and the fireplace causes the furnace to come on and soon it's like an oven. I think I'm going to have to put glass doors on the fireplace so it won't suck so much air up the chimney."
Brody chuckled. "Draws well, does it?"
"Oh, god, yes! Hey, you're gonna cook in that sweat shirt. Pull it off if you want."
"Think I will." Brody removed the shirt, folded it, and put it over the back of a nearby chair.
Just then a big gray dog who did, as Dave had said, look a lot like a wolf, came up to Brody and began to sniff him.
"Is he friendly?"
"Oh, yeah, he's a pussycat."
Brody dropped to his knees and began to pet the dog. "This is Tom, right?"
Tom perked up his ears at the sound of his name. He licked Brody's face. Brody scratched behind his ears, having, he was pretty sure, made a friend.
"So," Dave said, "I'm not completely unpacked yet, but you want the tour?"
Dave showed Brody around the house. When Tom found he was no longer the center of Brody's attention, he wandered off. There was a formal living room which had no furniture in it. There were three bedrooms. The master had a king-sized bed plus night stands and a big armoire that matched. It was all oak in a rugged style. There was a large walk-in closet and an en suite bathroom which Brody didn't look into. The second bedroom had no furniture.
"This will be a guest room eventually, though God knows whether I'll ever have guests sleeping over."
The third bedroom was full. It contained book cases, file cabinets, and Dave's computer.
"I have the same software here I've got at my office in town, so I can bring work back and forth."
"What kind of work, you mean financial records and stuff like that?"
"Well, that, yeah, but I also use the computer to design my bigger landscaping jobs. I can make blueprints and elevations on the pc. I have to supply that kind of thing along with the financial specs when I'm submitting a bid."
"That's fascinating, Dave. Some day I'd like you to show me more about that if you wouldn't mind."
"Be glad to."
The rest of the house tour went quickly. There was an eating area in the family room, and the kitchen opened onto it. There was also a bar with stools between the kitchen and the dining area. Tom was splayed out on the ceramic tile of the kitchen floor, panting. Obviously he thought the house was overheated, too.
"Brody, I know you want to talk. I've got some merlot, there's some kind of dry white wine in the fridge, or there's beer if you want."
"A beer would be good, please."
Dave grinned slightly. "Had enough wine, have you?"
"Uh, no, I have to admit I've grown to like wine. But right now I'd just like a beer, okay?"
"Coming right up. Go into the family room and take a pew."
Body sank into a comfortable leather chair.
"Take your shoes off if you'd like." Dave handed Brody a can of beer and a coaster and then sat on the sofa, at right angles to Brody. He crossed his long legs. Brody noticed that he had long, elegant feet, with a high arch. Sexy feet.
After they'd popped the tops on their cans and taken a swallow, Dave said, "So where do you want to begin?"
Brody took another swallow of beer while he considered Dave's question.
"Okay. Here's the deal. You've been dropping hints about Adrian Lynch. I think you were gonna tell me something about him the last time you and I talked, but then we were interrupted. I'm pretty sure I know why you were warning me about him now. I broke it off with him yesterday."
"He finally went too far, huh?"
"Yeah. But how the fuck did you know? I remember one time you told me to `be myself.' At the time I couldn't figure out what that meant. But now it's pretty clear you know him, know what he's like."
Dave uncrossed his legs and sat with both of them straight in front of him resting on the area rug that anchored the cluster of furniture by the fireplace. He stared at his feet for a moment.
Brody admired the way the white cotton of the tee shirt stretched over Dave's big shoulders and chest.
Dave asked, "He made you feel like a piece of property, didn't he?"
"Want to tell me what the final straw was?"
"Not until you tell me about you and him."
Still looking at his feet, Dave said, "Yeah, I guess that's fair enough. I've intended to tell you, but we kept getting interrupted. Can I get some pretzels or nuts or something?"
"No, man, thanks. I'm good. I'm still full of Samantha's dinner. Just talk to me about Adrian."
Dave ran his fingers over his buzzed head and took a deep breath.
"Man, you seem nervous. I don't think I've ever seen Dave Cromer nervous before."
"Well, maybe you'll understand why after I've told you all this stuff. So you'd better relax. It could take a while."
Brody said, "I'd be relaxed if I weren't so fuckin' curious. Could you just get on with it?" He grinned to take some of the urgency out of his words.
"Right. Everybody in Higgins knows just about everybody else, as you damn well know. My folks and the Lynches knew each other because we all went to the same church. So I was aware of Junior from the time I was in elementary school. He was five years older, but I at least knew who he was. He didn't go to Higgins High School. He went to some prep school in the East, I think. But he was home summers and for school holidays, and the priest would always mention that he was back in town. I always thought he was great looking. He was so sure of himself. And he had a certain aura about him because he went this fancy private school. And I don't think he even knew who I was. Or if he did, he didn't care.
"When he was in college he didn't come home so much. He has a business degree from Harvard or someplace, you know. Then he went to Paris for a while. But he never trained to be a cook. His thing is restaurant management."
"Yeah," Brody said. "He told me he'd just picked up cooking from watching the chefs at their restaurants."
"Anyway, he came back to help his dad while I was at Colby State working on my degree in landscape engineering and design. We met at church one Sunday morning, and wham! I was mesmerized. He was so fuckin' gorgeous, all I wanted to do was follow him around and hope he'd smile at me or pat me on the head. Know the feeling?"
"Yeah." Then Brody put down his beer and sat up. "Wait a minute! Wait just a fuckin' minute! Are you telling me you're gay?"
Dave put both feet flat on the floor, leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. He looked intently at Brody. "You mean you hadn't figured it out?"
"No way, man! I never, well, I mean, ever since I've been back in town you've seemed cool about me being gay, and Pete, and Justin. But Dave Cromer? No. I'd never have guessed."
"Well, believe it." He stood and grinned down at Brody. "I'll be right back." He went to the kitchen. When he came back, he had a beer in each hand and a bag of pretzels tucked under his arm. "I had a late breakfast and didn't stop for lunch." He gave Brody a beer, ripped open the pretzels, and handed Brody the bag. After Brody had helped himself to a few, Dave took a handful and put the bag on the coffee table where both could reach it.
"So the twerp was right," Brody said, under his breath.
"What's that? What twerp?"
"Oh, I'll tell you about that later, maybe. Now, could you just get on with your story?"
"Yeah. Where was I?"
"You were at CSU, Adrian was back in town, and you were, I think you said, `mesmerized'."
"That's the word. Anyway, he drew me into his web. He took me places. He taught me all kinds of things. I learned to appreciate classical music, the theater, good wine and fine food."
"The ballet?" Brody asked, grinning.
"Yeah, he told me I'd get off seeing the cute boys in their tights. And he was right. We went to Cleveland to see some touring Russian company that year."
Brody chuckled. "Yeah, he took me to Detroit to see a ballet group this fall. You're right, those guys in their tight pants were hot. But I'm interrupting you. Go ahead."
"Well, long story short, I felt more and more that he was using me like a trophy boyfriend, you know, somebody who looked good as his companion when he was out and about. And his fucktoy when we were at his place. And he kept spending money on me. It seemed like generosity at first, but he never knew when to let up. And finally I couldn't hide the fact that I was more or less selling myself to him for all the good meals and the evenings out and the stuff he bought me by giving him sex."
He looked Brody in the eye. "Did he ever let you be the top?"
"Not until I made a fuss about it, and after that not often."
"Same here." Dave took another handful of pretzels. When he'd eaten a couple, he continued. "So I broke off with him. And I'm guessing you've had about the same experience with him we all did."
"Oh, yeah. Junior always manages to have a good looking college-age guy at hand. I was his first here in town, but you must be number four or maybe five. I've lost count."
"You know, Dave, the bastard lied to me. I asked him once if he knew you. He said he knew who you were because your company had done some work for his dad, but he didn't know you personally."
Dave smiled. "It's sad, Brody, but you're learning what he's really like. He was very apologetic when I confronted him with the way he made me feel, promising to change. But his `boys' don't last long, and I'd be willing to bet that they've all had a similar conversation with him. Except for Creed. Poor Creed hung in there. Maybe he had less conscience than the rest of us. But after a whole school year, word has it that Junior gave him the boot."
"Son of a bitch!
"You know, he really is. But he can seem so nice, so sincere. As you've learned."
"And you were trying to warn me. I just wish we'd had this conversation sooner. I know what you mean about feeling cheap."
"I'm sorry, Brody. I guess I should have tried harder to warn you, but I was afraid that if I told you all this before you'd seen it for yourself you'd just charge it up to me being a bastard, which would have been easy enough for you to do."
Brody took a swallow of beer. It was still warm in the room, and he realized he was sweating. He wiped his forehead with his arm.
"Hang on a sec. I'll go set the thermostat back. And I promise I won't put any more wood on the fire."
Brody watched Dave's muscular ass move under the faded denim of his jeans as he walked out of the room.
When he'd returned, Brody said, "Can I ask a question?"
"The last time I saw you, I'd gone to Gridley's hoping you'd be there so I could ask you about all this. When you did come in, you were with three other guys I don't know. Mind telling me who they were?"
"Oh, yeah, I remember that evening. They were guys I know who have a bowling foursome. One of their buddies was sick, and they'd asked me to fill in for him. We stopped in Gridley's for a drink afterward. I would have come over to talk with you, but you were in what looked like a pleasant conversation with a cute guy, so I thought I'd better leave you two alone. Who was he?"
"Oh, that was Rog Norton. He works in the men's department at Dillard's and goes to Colby. We'd only met once at the store, but when he saw me alone in the bar that night he sat with me and we talked. He sort of came on to me, in fact. But when I told him I was with someone he said he was sorry. For himself, that is."
"Well, now maybe you should call him."
"I dunno. I'll see. I'm still pretty confused about all this. But can I ask you another question?"
"What about you and your wife?"
"Yeah. I met Beth at Colby not long after I'd seen the light and escaped from Junior's clutches. We hit it off right away. She's a great person, and we had a lot of fun together. As we got to know each other better and spent more time together, I told her about my affair with Adrian. He was my first, you know. In fact, he was my only. Beth said I was probably just confused. Eventually she convinced me she was right. So when we graduated we got married. I was determined to live the straight life, and she thought what we had would make me happy."
"I'm sorry it didn't work, Dave."
Dave gave him a wry smile. "Well, we gave it the old college try. And I still love her. But I just couldn't get into our sex. I could get it up, but my heart wasn't in it. I kept longing for a guy to share my life and my bed with. Beth finally gave up, and last spring she began to talk about divorce. Finally, last summer she insisted on it. It was a `friendly' divorce, at least. I'm really sorry I couldn't be what she needed . . . ."
"But . . . ?"
"But I'm relieved, too. Now I don't have to pretend a passion I don't feel."
"Are you going to come out?"
"I think I just did."
"Come on, Dave. You know I won't tell anybody."
"Yeah, I know. There are a few people around who might remember when Lynch and I were together, but not many. I've decided not to lie anymore about who and what I am. I'm not going to make a big deal about it, but if anybody asks, I'm gay."
"Does your dad know?"
"Oh, yeah. He had to know back when Junior and I were together. He's had plenty of time to get used to it, but he's disappointed that Beth and I couldn't make a go of it. He was always hoping for grandkids."
"Yeah, my folks, too. Though at least they've got Bob and Sam's pair to spoil. But they're doing that from New Mexico. If they were all that keen on grandkids, I don't know why they moved away."
"Are they coming back here for Christmas?"
"Nope. Not until Spring at the earliest. They say they don't want to deal with crowded airports and snowy weather."
The two sat in silence for a few minutes. Brody enjoyed the companionable silence, broken only by the occasional sounds of the diminishing fire. Outside large, fluffy snowflakes were still falling.
Dave's stomach rumbled loudly. "Brody, man, I'm sorry, but I gotta eat something. You know, Beth and I had a Sunday evening tradition of eating breakfast instead of supper, like pancakes or waffles or eggs. If I fixed some eggs and bacon, would you join me?"
"I don't want to be any trouble, Dave."
"It's no trouble, bud. How about a glass of wine while I'm getting organized in the kitchen?"
"Yeah, sounds good."
Dave gave him a broad smile. "Come sit on one of the barstools so we can talk while I'm fixing supper."
So they switched from beer to pinot grigio as Brody sat at the bar and chatted with Dave, who scrambled eggs, fried bacon, and made hash browns (which he'd poured out of a plastic bag taken from the freezer). He asked Brody to fill the coffee maker and turn it on.
"Okay. I think I can just about manage that," Brody said, smiling at his friend.
As they were eating, Dave said, "You never told me what finally caused you to dump Junior." He chuckled. "I love the sound of that. Somebody else has dumped him!"
Brody didn't laugh. "He took me to Brooks Brothers and insisted on buying me a nine hundred dollar suit. I wouldn't let him do that. He had to back down, and I think he was really embarrassed for that to happen in front of the store clerk. But I still don't think he gets it."
Dave chuckled again. "Brody, are you familiar with My Fair Lady?
"Yeah, I've seen the movie. I guess that's a good sign I'm gay, huh?"
"Do you know the play it's based on?"
"Well, Lerner and Lowe adapted a play by Shaw, a play called Pygmalion. Excuse me a minute." Dave left the room briefly and came back with a paperbound book, which he put down next to Brody's plate. It was Shaw's play. "Keep this as long as you want, but be sure to read it."
Brody looked puzzled.
"You know the story of the musical, right?"
"Yeah, sort of."
"Okay. You read the play. And then think that you and I have both been Liza Doolittle to Junior's Henry Higgins. Maybe our story could be called Pinkmalion."
Brody chuckled, but he was still a bit confused. He resolved to read Shaw's play as soon as he could find time.
Then Dave asked Brody several questions about his classes at Colby, about his intended major, and his plans for the future. Brody was almost embarrassed to admit that he still hadn't any firm notion of what he was going to do with his life. To change the subject he asked Dave how he kept busy now that winter was upon them.
"Oh, mine is a seasonal business for sure. But there are several major buildings about to be constructed in this area. The county's building an annex to the court house and Colby State has a new home economics building on the drawing boards. I'm submitting bids for the landscaping of both of those. If I get them, I'll have to hire some additional guys."
"Great! Good luck with that. I'd be interested in seeing your plans when you get them done. That's the kind of thing you can do on the computer now?"
When it came time to leave, Dave said, "Drive carefully. It looks as if there's at least six inches of snow, and since it's Sunday night, the plows may not be out yet. You could stay over here if you don't want to drive home tonight."
"Thanks, bud, but the Cherokee has four wheel drive and I don't think I'll have any trouble. I promise I'll be careful. And, Dave, I want you to know how much it means to me that you worried about me and that you wanted to warn me about Adrian."
"I'm just sorry I didn't manage to warn you sooner."
"Oh, you gave me hints. If I hadn't been so stupid, I'd have figured it out. I'm just grateful that you cared."
Their farewell hug was a real one.
"Thanks, Dave, for dinner, for listening, for being my friend. For everything."
"Don't mention it. Stay in touch, okay?"
"You bet!" Brody said. He turned up his collar, felt in his pocket for his keys, and was actually whistling as he walked through the snow toward his Cherokee.
Have you contributed to the Nifty Archive recently? If not, give it a thought, please.
As always, my sincere thanks to Drew and Mickey for their encouragement and editorial help.
If you'd like to email me about this story, please do at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim