Brody Comes Home
July blended into August and the summer went on. Brody had to eat burgers cooked on the backyard grille with Bob and Samantha at mid-day on July 4th and steaks cooked on the backyard grille with the Cliffords that evening. He ran twice the next day, once in the morning and again after dark, to work off the meat, potato salad, corn on the cob, pie, and cobbler he'd ingested on the holiday.
Justin joined the Hammers as their utility infielder. No one gave him any flack for being gay. He proved his value to the team by his playing ability. And with Pete and Brody both now "out," with Dave Cromer becoming Justin's self-appointed mentor, sexual orientation became a non-issue for the Hammers.
Pete talked a reluctant Brody into changing his hair style from the high and tight to a simple crew cut. Both Sheila and Samantha liked the change, though Justin and Pete continued to call him "jarhead" occasionally.
His nightmares had become much less frequent, a fact for which he was grateful.
One day at the shop in Higgins, Sheila, Justin, and Brody were in the workroom having pop. The talk turned to the Hammers' season. Not only did Bob and Sam bring the kids to some of the games, but Sheila and Jeremy brought Susie to see some of them as well. By mid August they were leading the county league. After some discussion of the Hammers' chance of winning the league championship, the talk waned.
Justin took the final swallow of his Coke, squeezed the can until it collapsed, and threw it into the trash barrel across the room.
"Nice shot, ace!" Sheila said. "Next thing you'll be telling us you're going out for basketball."
Flashing her the patented Justin grin, he said, "Nope. My sports career ends when school starts." He paused. "And that will really piss off Dave Cromer."
"What's up with Cromer? I thought you two were buddies," Brody said.
"Oh, he just keeps telling me that I should go out for the school baseball team next spring. He says I shouldn't let the homophobes on the team scare me away."
"Well, you do have talent, Jus," Brody said. "You'd be an asset to the Hornets. But it's your call, man. You do what you want to do. Don't let Cromer push you around."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Justin said, "Sarge, remember that night when I replaced Dave in the game against the Clippers?"
Brody grinned. "Sure do! You saved our asses."
Uncharacteristically, Justin blushed. "You're the guy who hit the homer. I just happened to be on base at the time."
"Well, what were you going to say?"
Justin looked at Sheila. "That night when we were celebrating right after Brody and I crossed the plate, this jerk came over and started mouthing off because I'm gay. Pete and Brody both told him they were, too. That made him back off. Then Dave told him to, well, he told him to go away, and he did."
"You're always going to find people like that, Justin," Sheila said. "I'm glad nothing worse happened."
"Yeah, you're right. But what I was wondering is why Dave didn't tell that cop he was gay, too?"
"Hotchkiss is gay?" Brody said, puzzled.
"No, Sarge, Cromer."
"Aw, come on, buddy. No way!"
"Hey, I told you my gaydar is infallible. Or at least I've never been wrong yet."
"There's always a first time. You've got to be wrong about Cromer."
"Ya wanna make a little bet?"
"Yeah, I'd bet almost anything. But how would we prove who's right?"
"Before you take that bet, Brody," Sheila said, "there's something you should know."
Both men turned to her, curiosity written on their faces.
"Dave has moved out of their house and is living with his father. Word around town is that Beth and Dave are getting a divorce."
"Yesss!" Justin said, pumping his arm in the air.
"Stow it, Jus!" Brody said. "You shouldn't be celebrating because somebody's marriage is breaking up." He paused, looking at Sheila. "If what Sheil says is true."
"Yeah, I'm sorry. I mean, it's a shame about the marriage, if they really ever loved each other. But a divorce would probably be a good idea, since he's gay."
"He's not gay! Your so-called gaydar is wrong this time. I'm not so sure I believe in gaydar anyway. Pete says he doesn't have any reliable sense about whether a guy's gay just from looking at him, and I know I sure as hell don't."
Justin didn't say anything. Sheila watched both of them, apparently fascinated.
"So," Brody continued, "you'd better just keep your ideas about who's gay and who's not to yourself."
Since nobody said anything, Brody continued. "Look, I admit Cromer isn't one of my favorite people, but you said he'd befriended you since you came onto the team. You owe it to him not to spread rumors about him, things that could hurt him or his business here in town. If he should happen to be gay, it's up to him to decide when or if he comes out. Got it?" He looked first at Justin, then at Sheila. Both nodded.
After about a minute of silence, Justin grinned and said, "Okay, if you say so. But I sure was looking forward to that bet."
"Oh," Sheila said, raising an eyebrow, "what were you going to have him do if he lost?"
"He'd have to let me sleep with him."
Sheila, usually unflappable, gasped.
"In your dreams, kid!" Brody snorted. "That's never gonna happen."
Justin chuckled evilly and turned to Brody. "I was afraid you'd say that, but you can't blame a guy for tryin'." He thought a minute. "Okay, I'll tell you what I want you to do, but not in front of Sheil."
"Aw, come on, Justin, that's not fair," Sheila protested, pouting.
Justin actually looked embarrassed. "If I win the bet, we'll tell you what the penalty is, okay?"
"I suppose I'll have to settle for that. But," she said, grinning, "you're a spoilsport."
Justin took Brody outside for a minute. "So here's what it's gonna be. When you find out Dave Cromer's gay, you've got to shave your pubes. Then I want a picture of you in your white hat, dog tags, and a stiffie. Nothing else."
"And why should I do that?"
Justin hooked his thumbs in his armpits and began to make clucking noises.
"Fuck! You're so damn sure of yourself, twerp! Okay, I'll promise. But only because if there's a straight guy in Higgins, it's Dave Cromer."
When they were back inside, Brody frowned at both of them. "You two just keep your mouths shut about Cromer. No gossiping. If he is going through a divorce, it will be hard on both him and his wife. They don't need you two fueling the fire. And neither of them needs to have the town tittering because they think the split came from Dave's being gay. He's a jerk sometimes, but I'm sure he's straight."
Justin leered at him. "Just wait till I collect on that bet!" He cackled.
"It ain't gonna happen."
Justin offered Brody his hand.
"What's this for?"
"We've gotta shake on it."
"I think we need to put some sort of time limit on it. Let's say six months. If it isn't public knowledge that Cromer's gay by the end of February, I've won. And little man, you better believe I'll have something humiliating for you to do."
"Okay," Justin said, grinning. "Guess I'll have to work on old Dave and get him to show his true colors."
"Wait just a minute! He hasn't said anything to you, has he? I mean, he hasn't actually admitted . . ."
"No, nothing like that. He's never said anything."
"Well, you start hinting around that he's gay and he'll probably pound you to a pulp. Not that you wouldn't deserve it. Let the man alone!"
"Sir, yes sir!" Justin said, saluting.
"Okay, you guys. I'm a witness. If Cromer is gay and it's public knowledge before the end of February Justin wins whatever it was you two decided out there. If not, then you're at Brody's mercy, kiddo."
"No fear! I'm gonna win this one."
* * *
During July and August, Brody played golf most weekends with Pete and his father. Only the senior Clifford was fanatic about his scores. Brody and Pete enjoyed the companionship, the mild exercise, and the beauty of the course.
Pete offered to take Brody to the airport for his flight to Santa Fe to visit his parents. He spent the night before at Brody's apartment where the two had lusty and affectionate farewell sex. By the time Brody returned Pete would have gone to Columbus for the fall term, and the two expected to see each other only occasionally when Pete could get back to Higgins on weekends. They promised, however, to stay in touch by email.
Brody insisted that Pete not park the car and come into the terminal with him, asking instead to be dropped off at the departures area. When they pulled to the curb, Pete pushed the trunk release and then leaned over and gave Brody a long kiss, much to the surprise of an approaching Sky Cap.
"Good luck coming out to your folks, Brode. Email me when you get back and tell me how it went, okay?"
"Thanks, Petey. Good luck in vet school. I'll miss ya, dude." He jumped out of the car.
While he waited to board his flight, Brody thought about his friend, about how good it had been that they could be together that summer, about how Pete had eased his return to the civilian world. He even suspected that the lessening frequency of his recurrent nightmare had something to do with the support he'd felt from his friend and from their often sleeping together. But what did that kiss mean? They'd never kissed before, not back in high school, not this summer. In fact, Brody had never kissed a man in a sexual way, nor had he been kissed that way. The guys he'd been with in the service wanted a quick fuck, not anything mushy or romantic. He and Pete recognized that they cared deeply about each other, but they'd never talked about how they felt, and though, having added rimming to their repertoire, they'd done about everything two guys can to pleasure each other, kissing had just never been involved.
Now that they weren't going to see each other more than perhaps twice a month, if that often, why would Pete change things? Brody decided he'd need to give that more thought. He didn't have much time for thinking during the flight, however, because he was flirted with by his gorgeous and chatty female seatmate and by a cute male flight attendant. As he was leaving the plane, the attendant gave him a toothy smile, winked, and said, "Enjoy your stay in Santa Fe, Mr. Cox." Brody couldn't help wondering how the guy knew he was gay. Maybe because he didn't do anything to discourage the flirting?
His parents kept him busy throughout his visit. Brody and Les, his father, played golf early each morning to avoid the heat. Brody was happy he'd played regularly with the Cliffords, for, although he never beat his dad, at least his scores were improving.
Each day after golf the men picked up Natalie, Brody's mother, for lunch. By the time the visit was over, he suspected they'd managed to take him to every museum, art gallery, and tourist attraction in the area. One day they got into the parental Lexus and drove to Taos to see the high spots of that remarkable little city.
What they did not do was talk. At least they all seemed unable to talk about anything meaningful.
Brody debated when he should come out to them. He feared if he did it too early his announcement might sour the rest of the visit. But he didn't want to drop the news on them the night before he returned home, either. Thus he decided to do it on his next-to-last evening. They went out to dinner, as usual, and were back at the condo. Les fixed himself and Natalie a scotch and offered Brody a drink.
"No, thanks, Dad. But there's something I need to tell you and Mom. Can we sit down?
Natalie, who was already sitting, looked at her son with concern. "Is something wrong, dear?"
Les sat, crossed his legs, took a sip of his whisky, and said nothing. But he looked expectantly at his son.
Brody squared his shoulders, sat up straight, and said, "I guess there's no use in beating around the bush. I'm gay."
Les put down his drink and sighed. "Jesus! I thought the Marines would drive all that out of you."
"You mean you knew?"
Natalie said, "Well, dear, it was hard not to know what you and Peter were doing some nights."
Brody was dumbstruck.
"Why do you think I supported your joining the Marines instead of going to the university when you graduated from high school?" Les asked.
"Because you wanted me to do what I thought best for me?"
Les had the grace to look embarrassed.
"I understand what you're implying, son, but I really did do what I thought was best for you. I thought you were confused and that, once away from the Clifford boy and in the military, especially the Marines, you'd get over whatever infatuation you had." He took a sip of his scotch. "Apparently I was wrong."
Brody looked at his mother, who was looking back at him intently.
"Mom, don't you have anything to say?"
"Of course I do, dear. I just didn't want to interrupt."
"So, please say it, whatever it is."
"Brody, when your father and I figured out what you and Peter were doing, I did a lot of reading. I looked up all the latest information about homosexuality. I learned that a gay person hasn't made a choice of lifestyles, that he can't help what he is. I also learned that adolescents are often confused about their sexuality. So, like your father, I hoped you'd find out in the service you were normal. Oh, dear, that isn't the right word, is it? I hoped you'd realize that you were straight. Is that better?" She smiled hesitantly. Brody nodded.
"But you're a man now, not a teenager, and surely by now you know what you are. If you are gay, then so be it. You are my son, and I'll always love you."
Brody got up, walked over to his mother and held his hands out to her. When she stood, he hugged her, lifting her off her feet.
"Thanks, Mom. You don't know how much that means to me."
When he set her down, they both turned to look at Les, who had stood.
"Brody," he said, "I wish you weren't gay, but I've had plenty of time to get used to the idea. You know your mother and I are always here for you."
Brody went over to his father and hugged him. He could feel Les stiffen. The Cox men were not in the habit of hugging. But Brody held his father tightly, patting him lightly on the back. Soon he could feel Les relax and begin to pat him on the back as well.
"I've been dreading this moment for years, you two. I never wanted to disappoint you. And I know deep down you are disappointed. It means a lot to me that you can deal with it."
"Let's sit down," Natalie said. She and Les sat.
"I think I need a beer. Excuse me a minute."
Brody went to the kitchen, where he got a bottle of Corona, took off the cap, and returned to his parents. He sat, leaned back, took a swig of the beer, and stretched out his long legs.
"Have you found someone special? Is that why you're telling us all of this now?"
"No, not really. I've told Bobby and Sam, and a few other people in Higgins know. I just didn't want you to hear it from somebody else. I'm not going to broadcast it, but I'm not going to lie about who I am anymore."
"So you don't have anybody in your life right now? Bobby said you and Pete had been together a lot this summer."
"He didn't say anything about me being gay, did he?" Brody asked.
"Oh, no, dear. He just said that Pete was around town a lot this summer, that you were both playing on a baseball team, and that you seemed to have renewed your friendship."
Taking another pull on his beer, Brody said, "Yeah, Pete and I are just as good friends as ever. I feel closer to him than any other guy I know. I love Petey, but I'm not in love with him."
"Brody?" Les said.
"I don't want to pry, but I can't help being curious."
"What about all those girls you used to run around with? Your mother and I worried that you were going to get one of them pregnant."
Brody felt comfortable enough to grin. "I know what you're askin', Pop. I had several girlfriends back in high school. And, yes, I had sex with some of them. Always safe sex. You taught me well in that department."
"Sheila was one of them, as I recall," Natalie said.
"Yeah, and you know what, Mom?"
Natalie just waited for her son to continue.
"She'd figured out I was gay. She said when we made out she didn't think my heart was in it."
"Whoa, Brody," Les said, "too much information!"
Brody blushed and lowered his eyes. "Sorry."
By tacit agreement they changed the subject, talking about how the family business was doing, about Bob and Samantha's kids, about the baseball league Brody was playing in.
Then his parents wanted to know about what it was like in Iraq. Not wanting to alarm them, Brody gave them censored versions of firefights he'd been in with Iraqi insurgents, admitting that buddies of his had been killed in some of the firefights and also as a result of car bombs and things of the sort. He did not tell them about the dreams.
At 11:00 Les looked at his son and asked, "So, big guy, are we still on for our early tee time tomorrow?"
"Yeah, Dad, sure."
Les smiled. "Good, `cause I want to whup your Marine ass one more time before you go back home."
The next morning on the golf course, Les asked, "Son, have you decided what you want to major in at Colby State?"
"I'm not sure. My advisor said I could take some general courses and talk to others and see if I found something that I was really interested in."
"What courses will you be taking this fall?"
"English Comp, Psych 101, and Intro to Botany."
"I'll bet the botany course was Bobby's suggestion."
"Yeah, it was."
"Well, you know there will be room for you in the business if you want to stay with us, so the botany isn't a bad idea."
"I've been messing with flowers all my life, so it won't hurt to know something about the scientific end."
What Brody didn't tell Les was that he didn't think he wanted to spend the rest of his life in the shop. He didn't, like some of his friends, think of it as a job for pussies, but he thought he'd like something more active, perhaps something he could do outdoors. Exactly what, however, he didn't have a clue.
* * *
A few days after his return to Higgins, Brody became a freshman at Colby State University. He'd looked forward to that day with mixed feelings, sometimes eagerly, sometimes with a certain amount of apprehension. As he told himself, his life had been in danger during that year in Iraq, and sometimes his death had seemed imminent. This wasn't that kind of fear. It was more a social thing. Would he be perceived as an old man by his eighteen/nineteen-year old freshman classmates? If they found out he was ex-military, would they avoid him or perhaps be downright antagonistic? And, perhaps his greatest worry: could he cut it as a student? He'd had classes throughout his four years in the Marines, but how would he do as a university student?
As things turned out, he was relieved. His fellow students were a mixed group. At a good-sized university the student body was comprised of people of all ages. He blended in better than he thought. At first, of course, he hardly knew anybody, and he didn't mind that.
His professors were an interesting lot. His English composition class was taught by Bruce Evans, a TA, that is, a guy about Brody's age who was working on a graduate degree and who was assigned two sections of the composition class to teach. He was a nerdy looking guy, Brody thought, about 5'10" with mousy hair, brown eyes, and glasses. All he needed was a pocket protector. But he didn't try to impress the class with his knowledge or anything like that. He told them to think of him as a coach, someone who was there to help them write better. Brody soon discovered that he was enjoying the class sessions, though he was at the word processor late on Sunday nights sweating on the "theme" required every Monday morning.
Gwen Thorsson, Ph.D. was Brody's psych. prof. Nearly as tall as Brody, Amazonian in build, with a blond braid down her back, Dr. Thorsson was as intimidating in class as she looked. She wouldn't stand for any nonsense and she was death on those poor unfortunates who came to class unprepared. Brody took very careful notes, even though much of what he was reading and the professor was saying seemed so obvious as to be self-evident. He wasn't about to let some butch broad embarrass him!
And then there was his botany professor, Aaron Schwartz, also a Ph.D. Somewhere around thirty, Dr. Schwartz was about 5'10" with receding blond hair and blue eyes. His sports jackets and khakis hid what Brody guessed to be a toned, fit body. Many of his younger classmates pissed and moaned about the difficulty of the subject matter, but Brody loved it. He'd always been good at science, and he had a particular interest in botany because of his upbringing in the floral business. Besides, he thought Aaron Schwartz was a stud, and, though he'd never thought he had "gaydar," he was pretty sure Schwartz was "family." The professor didn't act queer, or anything; Brody just thought he was catching certain vibes. Besides that, Schwartz usually managed to flash him a nice smile whenever they were talking one on one.
Brody had arranged to have his three classes in the morning so he could work in the afternoons. The only problem was that there was a botany lab Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:30. Bob rearranged Brody's work schedule so he could work Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, with Brody "floating" between the two shops as needed on weekdays. On Saturdays he was always at the Higgins shop.
That meant Brody had to do his grocery shopping after botany lab since he didn't want to fight the crowds on Saturday afternoons. His evenings, except for Saturdays, were usually devoted to his school work. He had Saturday afternoon and evening for himself, for his social life, for whatever he wanted to do. He continued to have a standing invitation for Sunday dinner with Samantha, Bob, and the kids. Things settled into a routine quickly.
It was several weeks into the fall term when Brody realized he was lonely. He and Pete did, as they'd promised, email several times a week. Justin wasn't working at the shop now that school had started. Floyd Putnam and Gus Graniello, both retirees, were doing deliveries for the two shops. One Saturday evening Sheila, sensing what Brody was feeling, invited him to her house for dinner. Sheila's meal was delicious, and little Susie took to Brody as all kids seemed to do, but it was awkward. Brody couldn't help being uncomfortable with Jeremy, given that he and Sheila had been lovers in high school. Jeremy was polite, if not amiable, and Brody did his best to keep up his end of the conversation, though he couldn't relax and enjoy himself for worrying that Jeremy knew about him and Sheila.
* * *
One Tuesday afternoon Brody was alone in the Colby shop. Bob was at a wholesaler's checking out a new strain of football mums, and Missy was with a prospective bride helping plan the flowers for the wedding and reception. There had been a couple of phone orders earlier, but things had gotten quiet, which wasn't unusual for that early in the week. Brody was wondering whether he dared sit in the workroom and read his psych assignment for the next day, when the shop door chimed.
He looked up to see . . . . sex on wheels. Or rather, sex on two long legs.
The Adonis who had just entered the shop was about six feet even, a couple of inches shorter than Brody. Apparently in his late twenties, he had black hair worn long enough to part with a little to flop down over his forehead, reminding Brody of Justin's new "do." The stranger had intense blue eyes, much darker than Brody's pale blue ones. He had nice shoulders and an impossibly narrow waist with a body that could be described as slim but not skinny. His white dress shirt was open at the collar and turned up at the cuffs to reveal hairy forearms. His khakis, Brody guessed, were tailor made. His feet were shod with expensive Italian loafers. And he had small diamond studs in both ears. It was all Brody could do not to gasp.
Instead, he smiled and said, "Hi, can I help you?"
The man smiled back, looking Brody up and down, though of course he couldn't see anything below the waist because Brody was standing behind the counter. Brody went around it to meet the customer as he approached.
Holding out his hand, Adonis said "Hello. I certainly hope you can help me, but I was looking for Bob Cox. You must be the brother I've heard about."
Brody took the proffered hand and looked into the cobalt eyes. He felt shivers going down his spine. Not to mention a reaction in his boxers.
"Yeah, I'm Brody Cox. Bob's not in the shop right now. Is there something I can do for you?"
Those mesmerizing eyes! Brody had trouble breathing and then wondered what was going on, since he'd never had feelings like this before. He wanted to grab the customer – or what he prayed would become a customer – and drag him into the workroom and throw him onto a table and. . . . `Come on, Marine, get a grip,' something inside him urged.
"I'm Adrian Lynch," a wonderfully sexy voice said.
"That would mean you're the Adrian Lynch of `Adrian's,' I suppose." Adrian's was a Colby landmark, arguably the best restaurant in town and certainly the most expensive.
"No, my dad's the Adrian of Adrian's." He chuckled. "I'm Adrian, Junior."
Brody grinned, relaxing a little as the vision that had just released his hand seemed to become human.
"I see. Do you work with your dad?"
"Uh huh, I'm the GM. Dad's easing out of the business. As, or so I've heard, your parents have."
"Yeah, that's right. They're in Santa Fe now, and Bobby's running the business."
"So tell me, Brody, what's your involvement in Cox Floral?"
"I'm just out of the Marines and starting to Colby State. I help out here in my spare time."
"I don't imagine you have much of that."
"You're right. I didn't realize how much time it takes being a college student."
Adrian nodded sympathetically.
"So, Mr. Lynch, can I ask Bob to call you when he gets in? Or is there something I could do, maybe?" `God! I hope so!' Brody thought.
"Please call me Adrian." Again the dazzling smile. "As you may know, we have fresh flowers on every table plus larger arrangements by the maitre d's podium and elsewhere around the restaurant. Our custom is to give each female dinner customer a rose at the end of the meal. Besides that we often have special floral needs when we have a catering contract."
Brody, who'd only been to Adrian's once, nodded.
"Well, we're not happy with our supplier, and I wanted to talk with someone here about perhaps giving you our business. We'd expect a signed contract, of course."
"Of course, uh, Adrian. Why don't you tell me what you need? I'll pass the information on to Bob as soon as he gets back. I'm sure he'll be eager to talk with you. We'd love to have your, uh, business." As soon as he'd said that, Brody blushed.
"I'd love to give you the business," the other man said, grinning.
`Oh my god, did he really say that?'
Brody coughed. "So tell me more about your needs." `Jesus! He couldn't believe this conversation.' "Uh, why don't we go back to the office where I can take some notes? I can hear the bell if anyone comes into the shop."
"Sounds good to me."
Brody led the way to Bob's cluttered office off the workroom. He knew, he absolutely knew, that Lynch was staring at his ass. Again, his spine tingled – as did his groin.
Glad to be able to sit at Bob's desk and hide his chubbing cock, Brody took careful notes about the needs and expectations of Adrian's.
When the exchange of information was complete, Brody stood and offered his hand to the other man.
"Bob will be back in the shop later this afternoon. You'll probably hear from him tomorrow. Is that okay?"
Still smiling, Lynch said, "No, I think I've changed my mind."
Brody was stunned. Had he done something wrong?
"You find out whatever you need to from your brother," Lynch continued. "But I want you to handle our account. So I'll expect to hear from you."
"Uh, well, I think Bob might go along with that." Brody knew Bob would do almost anything to land the Adrian's account. "But I'm tied up in a botany lab tomorrow until 3:30, so it would be late before I could get there. Could you wait until Thursday right after lunch?"
"Better than that. Why don't you come to the restaurant Thursday and have lunch with me? Then afterward we can talk business. How about 1:00?"
Feeling like an awestruck kid, Brody swallowed and said, "Oh, yeah, that'd be great! I'll be there with what I'm sure is a very competitive offer."
Brody walked to the shop door with Adrian.
"I'll look forward to lunch at our place on Thursday, Brody." Instead of shaking hands, Lynch squeezed Brody's shoulder.
"So will I, Adrian. Thanks."
It seemed to Brody there was a merrier than usual note to the door chime as Lynch left the building.
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