It was an effect of his Marine training that he couldn't help waking up early. So he was up, shaved, showered, and dressed in khakis and the shop polo shirt. He'd made the bed, fixed his breakfast, done the dishes -- his apartment had no dishwasher -- and brushed his teeth. Then he'd gone around the apartment looking for something to tidy up. And it was only 8:00. He had an hour before he needed to be at work.
He'd also learned patience from the Marines. He sat in the chair by the window. The sleek squirrels and fairy-diddles, also early risers, were busy raiding Mrs. Brill's bird feeder. A pair of cardinals sat in the oak tree voicing their disapproval of the activity in what they clearly saw as their feeder.
It had been four weeks since he'd returned to Higgins and begun life as a civilian.
He'd screwed up his nerve and come out to his brother. Both Pete and Sheila kept telling him he shouldn't put it off, so one Sunday after dinner he'd read to the kids. Then Sam had taken them both upstairs for naps. Lil Bob protested briefly, but went along.
While Sam was with the children, Brody said, "Bob, I need to talk with you. In private."
His brother raised his eyebrows. "Okay, we can go out on the patio. I'll just go tell Sam not to come out there for a while. Be right back."
When they were seated out back in lounge chairs, Bob said, "What's up, little bro? This must be something serious."
Brody had been trained to do his duty. Though this was going to be hard, he knew the best thing to do was not to beat around the bush but just come out with it.
He took a deep breath, looked his brother in the eyes, and said, "Bobby, I'm gay."
Bob grinned. "Yeah, and I'm a ballerina! Come on, Brode, what's really on your mind?"
"No, man, I mean it."
"You can't be gay and be a Marine, can you?"
"I'm not a Marine any more."
"Yeah, but . . . . Holy shit, you're for real? You're gay?"
Brody was relieved that at least his brother hadn't called him a fag -- or worse.
He nodded his head.
"But when? I mean, how long have you . . .uh, been like that?"
"I guess I've known since I was about fifteen."
"What about all those girls you dated? What about Sheila, for God's sake? I was pretty sure you were banging her."
"Whether I was or wasn't isn't any of your business. But, yes, I fucked women back in high school. And I've fucked a few since. But I'd rather be with a man."
"I can't believe it." Bob looked out at his back yard for a moment or so. "So the Marines didn't ask and you didn't tell?"
"Yeah, but it got tougher and tougher to hide. So I decided when I was discharged I'd come out. And that's what I plan to do. I thought you and Mom and Dad should be the first to know. And Sam, of course, but I'm hoping you'll tell her."
Bob stared off into space again for a few minutes.
"But you were such a jock, Brode, always into guy things. I never had any idea you were that way."
"That's how I wanted it. I kept hoping I might outgrow it or something. I thought maybe the Marines would kind of force it out of me. But it didn't work that way. I loved all my straight buddies, but being around all those hunky guys was torture. And when it came time to re-up, I just couldn't face it. So I'm here, and I'm queer."
"When are you going to tell the parents?"
"I dunno. Any suggestions?"
Bob thought about that for a moment.
"I think you should wait until you see them. I wouldn't break news like that over the phone."
"But they won't be back here until Thanksgiving at the earliest. And word could get to them if I come out here in town."
"You're determined to do that, huh?"
Brody was surprised when his brother chuckled. Shaking his head, he said, "Well, well. I got all kinds of crap from my buds because they said any guy who was a florist just had to be gay. And now my gay brother is working in the business."
"I hope you're gonna be okay with that."
"Oh, shit, that's no problem. But about Mom and Dad . . . ."
"You've been back in this country a month, you're out of the Corps, and you haven't been to see them. Why don't you fly out for Labor Day? They'd love to see you, and you could tell them while you're out there."
"You know, if they really wanted to see me, they could have come here. There's nothing wrong with their health, is there?"
"No, thank God. They're fine. I admit I was surprised that they didn't even mention coming home when you got back. On the other hand, you never went to see them when you were on leave, at least not after they moved out west."
"Come on! I did see them when I was home after boot camp. After that I was stationed too far away to get home on a short leave. And then they moved to New Mexico and I was sent to Iraq."
"Then why do you think they didn't come here to see you when you got out?"
"I ain't got a clue, bro." He looked around the back yard with its jungle gym and flower border. "You will tell Sam, won't you? I'd don't know how to break that kind of news to her."
"You're planning to come out in town, but you can't talk to Sam? She loves you, you know."
"Yeah, I know, but I'm afraid she'll be disappointed. I'm afraid I've disappointed you, too."
Bob stood up and came over to his brother, who stood up to face him, and grabbed him in a tight hug.
"Little brother, I'm surprised, not disappointed. I love you. Sam loves you. She'll be all right with the news, too, I promise. I don't know how Dad will take it. Mom will be okay, I'm sure. Just promise me you'll go out and have a visit with them at Labor Day and tell them then."
"Yeah, I'll go. And, Bobby, thanks for understanding."
"Well, there's a sweet scene," Samantha said as she closed the slider behind her.
The two pulled apart. "I've just convinced Brody to go to Santa Fe and see the folks over Labor Day. In fact, he's going to take a whole week so they can get caught up."
"But, Bobby, I don't want -- " He shut up because he got a look from his brother making it clear that there'd be no argument on that point.
A couple of days later at the shop Bobby told Brody that Sam was now in the picture and that she was fine with the news.
"She just said `what a waste' and shook her head."
The following Sunday afternoon when Brody had, as usual, been there for dinner, Sam had not mentioned anything about Brody's being gay, nor was her behavior to Brody any different after that.
Since that first night Pete had spent at his apartment, Brody and Pete saw each other and slept together fairly regularly. Pete was spending a few days each week in Columbus. He already had his apartment there, and he was taking a night course that met Mondays and Wednesdays. The rest of the time he was in town.
Not long after their passionate reunion, Pete had mentioned to Brody that he was playing on a local baseball team. Higgins had four teams, all part of a league of amateurs made up of teams from all over Colby County. They were always looking for players, Pete said, and he was sure they'd be overjoyed to have Brody join them. So Brody duly became the center fielder for the Higgins Hardware Hammers. They played Thursday and Friday nights, either at six or at eight.
Brody felt enlivened, invigorated when he was playing baseball. He hadn't joined a gym yet, so his only real exercise had been the running he did at the high school track. It was good to use his body, to stretch the muscles, to work up a sweat, and to compete with other men -- on his own team as well as on opposing teams.
The only drawback to the baseball was that Dave Cromer was on the same team he played on. Brody thought several times that with four teams in town he was particularly unlucky to be on the same one with his old nemesis. He was glad to be playing with Pete, but would have been much happier if the Hammers' third baseman hadn't been Cromer.
As it turned out, however, Brody didn't feel the older man was picking on him particularly. Cromer was aggressive, a fierce competitor. He urged his teammates on vociferously, but he yelled at them equally and supportively.
Brody thought that perhaps Dave wasn't hassling him because he, Brody, was giving each game all he had. No more loafing along the baselines like in high school. He ran full out. He was more focused, more concentrated than he'd been then. Something to do with his Marine training, no doubt. Even his eye and his timing were better, so he soon had the best batting average on the team.
Well, there had been that one evening at Gridley's when Cromer had aggravated Brody. It had been a six o'clock game, they'd won handily over the team sponsored by the Methodist Church, and everyone had gone home afterward to clean up. Several of them met at the bar later to have something to eat. Al's burgers were legendary, and they came with huge baskets of fries. Pete was there, along with Lucky Rizzo, who now ran his dad's barber shop, and Leo Bloom, who worked at the hardware store. Al stopped for a few minutes to chat when he brought their orders. He lamented that he couldn't play ball with them, but there was no way, he said, that he could get off on Friday evenings. Al, who had played baseball at Higgins High, did a stint in the Air Force after graduating. Pete told Brody one day that Al had been a cook. Perhaps that explained the good food you could count on at Gridley's. Or, maybe it didn't.
That particular evening after the four guys had finished their food and were working on a second beer, Dave Cromer came in. With him was a guy Brody didn't recognize. Looking as if he might be close to 40, he wore dress slacks, a blue oxford cloth shirt, a tie, and leather shoes. Cromer said something to him Brody couldn't hear, and the other guy went to an empty booth. Cromer stopped by their table.
"Great game, guys!"
Everyone responded enthusiastically, and some high fives were exchanged.
"Even you were okay, Cox. Looks like the Corps did you some good. We'll make a baseball player out of you yet."
"I can run faster than you can, old man, and we can compare batting averages any time you want," Brody replied, bristling.
Cromer grinned down at the seated Brody and then gave him a nougie before walking on to the booth where his companion was sitting.
"What the fuck!" Brody started to get up, but Pete put his hand on Brody's arm.
"Chill, Brody. He's just being Dave. Besides, he actually gave you a compliment."
"Yeah, but it's the way he said it. I don't like being talked down to! I'd love to get that fucker alone sometime and -- "
Leo and Lucky had joined Pete in calming Brody down, so the rest of the evening passed peaceably enough.
As they left, Brody asked the others, "Who was that guy Cromer was with?"
It was Leo who answered, "That's Todd Hawkins. He's a lawyer. He's in practice with old Floyd Mercer."
* * *
As he sat there looking out his window, Brody thought back to an afternoon when he and Justin had been alone in the store. Bob had called wanting a particular kind of flower container to be brought from the Higgins shop to the one in Cody. Sheila had volunteered to take it.
It had been a slow day, and Justin had only one delivery to make when he reported in. He was soon back at the shop, where he found Brody putting some newly-delivered flowers in the cooler.
"Here, Sarge, let me give you a hand with that."
The two of them quickly had the blossoms under refrigeration.
"You know, I'm seventeen. I'll be a senior when school starts."
"So?" Brody said.
"So I wish you wouldn't call me `kid.'"
"You don't look seventeen."
"Why, because I'm short? Jeez, I hate that. You big guys always look down on short guys!"
"That's because we're up here and you're down there."
"Ah, fuck you, Brody." He sat dejectedly on one of the stools, having lost his confident attitude for the moment.
"Whoa, dude. I'm sorry. Didn't mean to piss ya off. You may not be finished growing. And you look like you work out. You're gettin' good shoulders and a nice set of guns on ya."
Justin seemed to grow an inch.
"Really?" he said, smiling happily.
"That's a great compliment coming from you, big guy." He reached up and Brody gave him a high five.
Brody sat on a stool next to one of the long work tables.
"I'd rather have a Dr. Pepper if there is one."
Justin went to a kitchen-type refrigerator and came back with two cans of pop, handing one to Brody."
"Thanks, uh, Justin."
Justin grinned and popped the tab on his can.
"Thanks for remembering."
"No problem, kid."
Justin's face clouded for a moment, and then his face broke into a broad grin.
"You know, you're not a bad guy for a jarhead. But now that you're not in the Halls of Montezuma anymore, why do you keep that dorky haircut?"
One of the things Brody had learned in the Marines was to keep a straight face no matter what happened. Using that talent, he turned and looked straight at the teen.
"Dorky haircut? This is the way we wear them in the Corps. And once a Marine, always a Marine. Now, speaking of dorky haircuts, why don't you tell me why you wear that sissy pony tail? Just because you're gay you don't have to be such a . . . a queer!"
Justin put his can of pop on the table and stood up.
"Just because you're the owner's son and the boss's brother doesn't give you any right to say things like that. I may be gay, but I don't act queer. You're such a muscle head! Lots of straight guys have long hair and wear it this way most of the time. Look at Brad Pitt. He has worn his hair this way. And with all the women he's had, he's sure as fuck not gay."
"Aww, shit, Jus, I'm sorry. I was just ragging ya. Com'ere." He stood and grabbed the boy into a hug.
They held the hug. Neither seemed in a hurry to let go.
"Get a room, guys," Sheila said, putting her purse on the table.
The two men separated quickly. Brody was blushing. Justin simply grinned.
"It wasn't anything, Sheil. I said something stupid to Justin here, and I was just apologizing."
Justin gave Brody a grateful look and, sitting back down, picked up his pop can.
Later, after Justin had gone home, Sheila said, "Brody, you need to be very careful with Justin."
"What do you mean?"
"He's got a terrible crush on you, you know."
Brody pooh-poohed the idea and thought nothing more about it.
A day or two later Justin was sporting a new haircut. It was still long on top. Some of it flopped down over his forehead. It was long enough on the sides to come over the tops of his ears, and it curled at his collar in the back. But the ponytail was gone.
`He looks pretty damn cute,' Brody thought.
"Jus, it looks great, man. But I hope you didn't get it cut because of the dumb thing I said the other day."
Justin smiled jauntily at him. "Nah, Sarge, it was time for a new `do' anyway."
Brody wondered if he should let his hair grow a little longer, but he decided not to change it until the summer baseball season was over.
* * *
The fat squirrels had moved on, leaving the chipmunks to compete with the birds for what was left in the feeder. They took turns with several sparrows, sometimes actually sharing the perch with the little, brown, speckled birds. One time, however, a noisy jay arrived and squawked at everyone in the vicinity as he helped himself and then flew up into the tree to preen his plumage.
Brody thought back to the previous Saturday night.
He'd been invited to the Cliffords' for another patio supper. Phil did steaks again, but this time Marie, who had obviously visited one of the produce stands along the highways outside of town, served corn on the cob and green beans. The dessert that evening was peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
After helping redd up, the young men got into Brody's SUV and drove to Colby. Pete had said he wanted to continue instructing Brody in "how to be gay" by taking him to Nelly's, the gay bar there.
"I hope it's not going to be full of flamers," Brody had said.
Grinning, Pete replied, "Oh, there may be a few, but the name's mostly a joke. It's largely a university crowd, and you'll be surprised how many of the guys look as normal as you or me."
Brody had agreed to go along, but he was a little nervous. Although he was comfortable being gay and knew he wanted to be discreetly out now that he was back in Ohio, he was still put off by guys who were too femme, as Pete called them.
As Brody and Pete walked into Nelly's, the bartender had nodded, and everyone else paused long enough to give them an appraising look. Then the conversations resumed. Pete told Brody to take an unoccupied booth, and he went to the bar. He came back carrying a pitcher of beer and two frosted mugs.
"Want anything to eat?" he asked.
"No, man, I'm still stuffed from that fine meal. Maybe later."
Nelly's turned out to be a revelation for Brody. In all his life he'd never been in a place where most of the people around him were gay. At first glance it looked like any college bar on a Saturday night, except that there weren't many women and those who were, seemed to be paired off. The men, in whom Brody was more interested, looked, for the most part, as normal as Pete had suggested. A couple of skinheads were drinking and chatting quietly with another guy in a Mohawk. A Black guy, a couple of inches taller and fifteen muscular pounds heavier than Brody, sporting magnificent dreadlocks, flashing white teeth and lots of bling, chatted with three other buff men with crew cuts who looked as if they might be university jocks. The rest of the crowd was pretty nondescript.
He and Pete worked on their beer and didn't say much as Brody continued to look around. He tried not to gawk, but he was fascinated to think that most of the bar's patrons were gay. That felt good in a way he would have been hard put to describe. Even though Pete was the only person there he knew, he felt -- comfortable.
"So, Brode, how's the coming out process going?"
"Slow, man, but at least everybody at work knows now."
"Any problems there?"
Brody ran his hand over his clipped head. "Nope."
"Who else knows?"
"You. Sam. Your parents?"
"Yeah, they've figured us out."
"And they're cool?"
Pete nodded. "They've known about me for four years. It wasn't hard for them to put two and two together and figure out what you and I were doing back then. The fact that I'm spending a couple of nights a week with you now makes it pretty clear we're doing it again, wouldn't you say?"
Brody chuckled. "Sure. I didn't think of that. Guess I'm pretty slow."
"You know, Brode, you're not slow. But you're just not used to thinking about living the gay life. There's still a sort of innocence about you. I think it's cute."
Pete lifted his mug. "Fuckin' adorable, big guy."
"Justin, the kid at work, calls me that, too."
"Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten about him. He's gay, isn't he?"
"What's he like?"
"He's okay. Nice kid, actually."
They talked, drank, and people-watched for another hour. No one either of them knew came into the bar.
Somebody put money in the juke box, and two couples, one male and one female, got up to dance.
"Wanna dance?" Pete asked.
"Don't be pissed with me, Pete, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet."
"Well, if you're too much of a pussy to dance with me, let's blow this place and go fuck."
Brody grinned. "Now that I'm ready for!"
He dropped Pete off at home so he could pick up his car. When Pete arrived at Brody's apartment a few minutes later, he was carrying a small black zippered case.
Pete grinned. "Gimme a beer, and I'll tell you."
A few minutes later they were in the living room, Pete in the recliner, shoes and socks off, wiggling his toes, Brody on the couch with his bare feet on the beat-up coffee table. Each had a can of beer.
Brody took a pull from his can and said, "This isn't as good as the draft we had at Nelly's, is it?"
"Nope. `Fraid not. But there are better beers you can get at the supermarket or the package store than this stuff, you know."
"What should I get?"
"Let me bring you some next time I'm over. We can do a taste test."
"Sounds cool. Now, you wanna tell me what it was you were carrying when you came in?"
Pete grinned again. "It's my mustache trimmer."
"You gonna do a little personal grooming, Clifford?"
"Yeah, you might say so."
"Your beard looks pretty neat to me."
"Well, thanks, jarhead, but it's not my beard that's gonna get trimmed."
Brody looked concerned. "Oh?"
"Yeah, we need to shave your balls and ass crack. We'll start with the trimmer and then change to a razor."
"Wait just a fuckin' minute! Why would I want to shave my balls and crack?"
"So I -- or whoever -- won't get a mouthful of hair."
It took Brody a minute to process that. "Hair?"
"Brody, when you lick my balls, haven't you ever noticed that they're smooth?"
"Well, yeah, now that you mention it."
"It's a lot nicer when you're sucking or licking a guy's dick and balls if they're shaved."
"Okay, I can see that. You don't want me to shave my pubes, do you? No way am I doin' that!"
"No, dickwad, not your pubes. Just the under side of your pecker, your balls, and your trench."
"You want me to do it now?"
Pete leered at him. "I thought I could help."
Brody's cock began to fill rapidly as he thought about that. "Well, okay, sounds, uh, interesting."
Pete told Brody to strip and began taking off his own clothes. When they were both naked, they went into the bathroom. It was cramped quarters, but Pete managed to use the clippers to trim Brody's unwanted hair. Then they got into the shower together and Pete used shaving gel and a razor to complete the job. Brody held his breath while his friend did his balls, but there were no mishaps.
"After all," Pete said, grinning, "I'm gonna be a surgeon. I gotta have good hands."
"Yeah, asshole, but you're gonna be a vet. I don't want you operating on me."
Pete surprised Brody again when he told him to get his middle finger soapy and then stick it up his ass.
"What's that for?"
"Haven't you ever done that before?"
Brody felt himself blushing. The curse of being blond. "Well, yeah, but why now?"
Pete just grinned again. "Just do it, cumbreath. You'll find out why later." Brody noticed that Pete did the same thing to himself.
When they had finished in the shower and had dried off, Pete said, "Is it too soon to go to bed?"
"It's never too soon to have sex, Clifford." He took all the covers off the bed except the bottom sheet. "Now, you want to show me what you've got in mind?"
"Surely you've heard of rimming."
"Yeah, but you don't actually think I'm gonna do that, do you?"
"I thought I'd do it to you. That's why I wanted you clean back there."
"Wait and see. Now lie down on your back."
"Uh, Pete, wouldn't it be easier if I was on my stomach?"
"Will you just shut up and do what you're told, Marine?"
"Aye aye, sir," Brody said, grinning. He stretched out on the bed.
Pete positioned himself between Brody's legs and began licking and sucking his balls. "Might as well take them for a test drive," he said. Diverting occasionally to lick Brody's cock, he worked on the balls until Brody was erect and oozing copious amounts of precum.
After a while he raised his head and said, "Okay, you can turn over now."
"Aww, that was nice what you were doing."
"Trust me. You'll like this."
Brody obediently complied, though he had reservations about what was going to happen. He knew he'd never do what Pete was about to do, and he was reluctant to let his friend do something so gross.
"Stick those great glutes up in the air a little for me, Cox."
Brody did. Then Pete began to just nuzzle him, running his nose around both globes, down to the perineum, back up to the little dimples on either side of the spine just above the crevice. Surprised at how good that felt, Brody wiggled his butt a little and grunted.
Next Pete began using his tongue, repeating what he had done with his nose, only doing it more slowly. That felt even better than the nuzzling, and Brody growled his appreciation. But he soon realized he wanted more, so he began to wiggle his ass again.
"Oh, it's ready, is it?" Pete said, chuckling. He slapped Brody's upturned butt. "Okay, Marine, here we go!"
He pulled Brody's cheeks apart and began to lick up and down the trench. Brody quivered.
"Oh, Petey, I don't know how you can do that, but it feels great! Not like anything I've ever felt before."
Pete continued to lap up and down the crack, just allowing the tip of his tongue to pass over Brody's pucker. Brody lurched every time there was lingual contact with his anus, causing Pete to chuckle each time.
"My god, Pete. I can feel your `stache and beard. That's incredible!"
"Well, get ready for the piece de resistance."
Brody wasn't sure he knew what that meant, so he said, "Whatever. Just don't stop."
Then he lurched. Pete had begun pushing his tongue into Brody's hole.
"Oh shit! Oh fuck! Oh . . oh . . . oh!"
Pete chuckled and began to rapidly insert and remove his curled tongue from the now relaxed anus.
When Pete finally had his tongue in his chute with his lips around the opening, Brody thought he would have to scream. Controlling himself, he said, "Pete man, ya gotta fuck me. This is great, but I need your cock inside me. Hurry!" By inclination and instinct a top, he'd never felt such a strong urge to be fucked. He didn't just want Pete to fuck him, he needed it. He would wonder about that later, but at the moment it didn't seem as important as getting his ass filled with Pete's cock.
Pete, who had needs of his own, wasted no time getting himself sheathed and lubed. Their lusty coupling was so noisy that Brody was grateful Mrs. Brill downstairs was pretty deaf. He hoped she wasn't hearing them, but he couldn't help urging Pete on.
He was surprised when he came before Pete did, but then he couldn't ever remember being so aroused as he was while Pete was rimming him.
Later, after they'd cleaned up the mess and were snuggled together, Brody was thinking. He'd always admired guy's asses. He'd had many a stiffie from looking at a well-formed butt. But he'd never honestly thought of putting his mouth anywhere near one. Dicks and balls, yes. Asses, no. But as he drifted off to sleep that night he was thinking about rimming Pete.
* * *
Glancing at his watch, Brody discovered it was 8:45. Snapping out of his reverie, he stood up, grabbed his keys, and left for work.
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