After Lynch left the shop, Brody had an intense hardon. It had been weeks since he'd had any sexual release other than what he could provide with his hand. Pete hadn't been home from OSU yet despite having said he expected to be home every other weekend. Brody's problem wasn't merely a matter of lack of sexual activity, however. He realized that his erection sprang from having been in the presence of a man who was not only very attractive but who was also clearly flirting with him.
Adrian was not only great to look at, he was also obviously well off. Sophisticated. Knowledgeable. More important, he was in a position to say yea or nay to a contract Brody knew Bob would be eager to land. But it was his smile, his scent, his aura, and most of all his insistence that Brody handle their account, implying that the Coxes getting the contract was contingent on Brody's involvement, that had the younger man hard.
When Bob returned to the shop, he grinned at his brother and said, "Hey bro, everything under control?"
"Yeah, everything's cool. But somebody stopped by . . . ."
"From the look on your face it must have been somebody special."
"Well, special for the business, maybe," Brody said, not wanting Bob to know how excited he was. He'd just managed to get rid of his stiffie, and he wanted his brother to think of him as a useful participant in the family business, not a horny gay guy.
"Adrian Lynch, Jr."
"Lynch? What did he want?"
"They're unhappy with their current supplier and he wants us to make them an offer."
Bob looked surprised. "No shit?"
"Did he leave you specifics?"
"Uh, huh. I wrote it all down and left it on your desk."
"Well, let's go have a look."
The two went into the office where Brody explained the notes he'd taken as Lynch told him of his restaurant's floral needs.
"Let me do some figuring, Brode. You cover the front and the phone for a while, okay?"
"No prob. You think we can make them a competitive offer?"
"Oh, I'll make sure we do. I'd love to get that account back."
"Uh huh. We used to supply Adrian's. But then old man Lynch took his business to Dixon's, you remember, Bouquet Boutique.
"Do you know why?"
"Yeah. Pop and the senior Lynch used to play golf together. They were pretty competitive. And one morning Pop accused Lynch of cheating. They fell out over it, Lynch took his business to Dixon's, and the folks never went to the restaurant again. It'll be quite a coup to get that contract back."
"Uh, Bob – "
Bob looked up from the tablet on which he was already scribbling figures. "Yeah?"
"There's just one problem."
"And that would be?"
"Adrian Junior says if we get the account he'll only deal with me. He's invited me to have lunch with him tomorrow at the restaurant to present our offer."
"That figures," Bob said with a grin.
"What do you mean?"
"Junior is probably Higgins' most out gay. He must be smitten with your charms, Brode."
Brody blushed. Then when his cock began to chub up, he blushed all over again.
Bob laughed. "Well, it looks as if somebody else is smitten, too."
"I'm sorry, bro. Can't help it. He is a hot dude."
"Look, little brother, I don't care what you two get up to as long as we can land that contract." He started scribbling again. Then he looked up. "No, that's not what I meant. I don't want you to do anything to compromise your integrity. The contract would be great, but not at the expense of your self-respect."
"Bobby, this guy's one of the sexiest men I've ever seen. I don't know what will happen, if anything. But I want us to get that contract, and if something develops between Junior and me, well, que sera, sera."
"Just don't do anything you're not okay with," Bob said, returning his attention to the pad on his desk.
* * *
The next morning Brody dithered uncharacteristically about his choice of clothing. In the Marines he was always told what to wear, and he knew he always felt great in the uniform, whether it was dress blues or camis. But this day he had to go to class and then on to his lunch meeting with Adrian Junior. There wouldn't be time to go back to Higgins and change clothes in between. He'd learned that when they moved to New Mexico his parents had given all the clothes he'd left behind to the Goodwill. Although he'd bought some new clothes to wear to classes, he hadn't bought a suit since his discharge, so that wasn't an option.
Figuring the preppie look might work, he wore a brand new pair of khakis, a blue oxford shirt, a navy V-neck sweater, and a highly-polished pair of cordovan loafers. As he left his botany class, the prof looked him up and down and gave him an approving grin. `Well,' Brody thought, `at least Dr. Schwartz thinks I look good. Let's just hope Lynch does.'
Arriving at the restaurant at 12:55, five minutes before he was due, he was greeted by a tall, suave thirty-something in a black suit, obviously the maitre d'.
"Hi, I'm Brody Cox. I think Mr. Lynch is expecting me."
"He certainly is, Mr. Cox. Come this way, please."
The man led him through the main dining room into a smaller room with one table set up for two people. Crystal and silver shone against the white tablecloths. Something vaguely classical was playing softly on the hidden speaker system. Just as they arrived at the table, the younger Adrian came through a door, saw Brody, and approached them.
As they shook hands, he said, "Brody, good to see you. I hope you're hungry."
Brody smiled and admitted that he was.
"So, let's sit down. Would you drink a glass of wine, or would you like something else?"
Not wanting to ask for beer, Brody said he'd like some wine.
"Jules" [he pronounced it `zhool'], Lynch said to the maitre d, "you can send in Barry now. Tell him we want some of the special reserve chardonnay."
Brody looked into the deep blue eyes of his host, took a deep breath to settle the butterflies in his stomach, and said, "Adrian, I appreciate what you're doing, but you could serve me the cheapest thing on your wine list and I wouldn't know the difference."
Lynch laughed and said, "Then it's time we began educating your palate."
Looking back on it, Brody couldn't remember everything they'd been served. He did remember the main course was veal piccata.
"You can find veal piccata on a lot of menus," Adrian had said, "but nobody in this part of Ohio makes it as well as we do." And he was right. Everything, in fact, was way off the scale compared to any meal Brody could ever remember having. He was dazzled by the food, the wine, the service.
Most of all, however, he was dazzled by Adrian Lynch, Jr. The man was attentive, genial, totally charming. Brody felt as if he were an honored guest, not someone trying to make a business deal. And that realization made him wake up a bit. He'd been well briefed by his brother. So when the meal was over and they went into Lynch's office to talk business, he told himself to forget all the attention that had been showered on him, all the food and wine, and to keep his wits about him. He was glad he hadn't drunk much of the wine.
As it turned out, Lynch seemed delighted with the Cox brothers' offer. He asked a lot of questions and suggested some changes in details about delivery times, but he didn't quibble about the money side of the deal.
"Brody, I'll have our lawyer draw up a standard contract. I'll sign it and send it over to your shop. I suppose your brother will have to sign it, but I want it understood that you are handling our account. If there should be problems, I will call you. Okay?"
"Sure, so long as you understand that I'm in class most mornings and in labs two afternoons a week. Let me give you my cell number. I turn it off in class, but I'll be available any other time. If you have any problems, be sure to let me know."
Adrian walked with him to the door.
"Thanks for lunch. I don't quite know what to say. I've never had a meal like it."
"Thanks for coming, Brody. I'll look forward to working with you, for a long time, I hope." Then he surprised the younger man by hugging him. He said softly in Brody's ear, "We must get together soon in a non-business setting, don't you think?" Although he hadn't been aware of Adrian's scent before, when they hugged he caught a whiff of something faint, exotic, expensive, and very sexy.
"Yuh yeah," Brody stammered, "I'd like that."
A couple of days later the Lynchs' lawyer sent the contract. A delighted Bob promised he'd have his lawyer look it over right away and get signed copies back to them quickly unless the attorney found something to quibble about. He didn't, and the agreement was duly entered into, much to everyone's satisfaction.
* * *
Since Brody was now working in the Higgins shop on Saturday mornings, Justin had taken to dropping by. Although he wasn't being paid, he made himself useful. When there wasn't anything to do, he seemed happy just to hang out with Brody, who then took the teen to lunch, usually at Arby's.
The Saturday after Brody's lunch with Adrian Lynch, he and Justin had found Arby's packed, so they went to the drive-up window and, since it was a splendid early fall afternoon in northern Ohio, ate their lunch in Brody's Cherokee – with the windows down.
"Jus," Brody asked after swallowing a mouthful of sandwich and washing it down with some Dr. Pepper, "you said a while back there was this guy you really liked."
His usual smile gone, Justin looked warily at Brody. "Yeah."
"As I recall, I kind of urged you to see if you could break the ice with the guy. Have you thought any more about that?"
Justin smiled, but it looked forced. "Yeah, I've thought about it. But there's no point in doing it. The guy isn't interested in me."
"You're sure he's gay?"
"Does he have some other guy in his life?"
"I don't think he does right now."
"Well look, dude, what harm could there be in letting him know you like him?"
"Oh, he knows."
"And the bastard has told you he's not interested?"
Justin's smile became more genuine for a moment, though for the life of him Brody couldn't figure out why. "Yeah, the bastard has."
"Then he doesn't deserve you. You're a hot young dude, and you're a nice guy, sometimes, when you're not being a smartass. Maybe you'd just better set your sights on somebody who realizes what a catch you'd be."
Justin got a funny look on his face. "Maybe I should." Then he turned toward Brody and grinned. "But the bastard just told me I'm hot and a nice guy. Oh, yeah, and a smartass."
Brody almost choked on the bite of sandwich he was chewing.
"Me? I'm the guy? I thought you were talking about somebody you know at the high school, somebody your own age."
"I never said that, Sarge."
"You didn't? I guess I must have just assumed that, then."
"Uh huh. But I've also told you I think you're hot and that I'd like to sleep with you."
"Yeah, but I thought you were just shitting me, you know, yanking my chain."
"No, I'm not. I've never met anybody that makes me feel the way you do, big guy."
"Yeah, that's the general idea."
"Jus, I'm sorry, man. Sheila told me a long time ago that you had a crush on me, but I didn't believe her."
He looked hurt. "I don't think it's just a crush."
Brody, who'd flipped up the steering wheel to get it out of the way, turned to face the teen. "Yeah, it's got to be. You don't really know me. And I don't really know you. You haven't told me much about your family except that you don't have any sibs and your parents both work. I'm not even sure exactly where you live."
"We could fix all that. What do you want to know? Would you like to come over sometime and meet my parents?"
"Whoa! Sure, I'd like to meet your folks. But if they thought you were bringing me home as your boyfriend, they'd call the cops. And they should." He drank the last of his pop and dropped the drink cup into the bag the food had come in. "You gotta remember the difference in our ages. You're not eighteen yet, and I'm gonna be 23 soon. That's almost six years' difference. If I even touched you, I'd go to jail. And it's not just that, you know. You're still in high school. I'm in college. I've been in the Marines.
"Brody, I'm not just some dumb kid. Besides, I'll be in college myself next year. I could go to Colby State. I'll be eighteen and legal, since you worry about that so much. We could be college buddies." Then he gave Brody one of his cocky smiles. "We could even be fuck buddies."
Brody had never had anyone come on to him so strong since high school, and that was a cheerleader. He wasn't sure what to say.
He bopped Justin lightly on the arm. "I'm sorry I can't be what you want me to be, Jus, honest."
Justin sighed. Then he grinned. "Okay. I feel better now that I've told you, even if I did get the answer I've been afraid of all along. But we are buddies, right? And you'll think about next year?"
"Sure we're buddies. But I don't want you to get your hopes up about next year. By then both of us may have found guys to really like, maybe even love. Meanwhile, I know there's got to be somebody out there who'll light your fire, or want you to light his."
Justin grabbed up the paper trash from their lunch and took it to a nearby barrel. When he got back in the Cherokee, Brody drove him back to the shop, where he'd left his car.
"Thanks for lunch, Sarge. And thanks for letting me down easy."
"Jus, I've been thinking."
"Yeah?" Justin said, smiling hopefully.
"Well, you don't have any sibs or anything. Why can't I be sort of like your big brother?"
"Hey, man, if that's the best I can get, I'll take it." He reached in the pocket of his jeans for his keys. "Thanks again for lunch. Is it okay if I stop by the shop again next Saturday?"
"Sure, lil bro. See ya then."
* * *
That evening Brody had nothing to do. He refused to do school work on a Saturday night. There was nothing on television. So, about 9:00 he went to Gridley's.
He'd gotten himself a beer and was sitting at the bar chatting with Al when Dave Cromer parked his butt on the next stool.
Dave asked Al for a Corona and then invited Brody to join him in a booth. Unable to think of a reason to refuse, Brody went along
"I'd expect you to be at Nelly's," Cromer said once they were seated.
"Nelly's is in Colby. I live here. Besides, I don't like the flamers you see in there."
Cromer smiled and raised his glass. "There may be hope for you yet."
"Don't get me wrong, Cromer. I'm gay. I just don't like the girly types."
"Yeah, I understood that. I just meant I agreed with you, that's all."
"You've been to Nelly's?"
Cromer looked him in the eye and said "Yes," as if daring him to make something of it.
Although he was interested to learn that Dave had been to the gay bar, Brody decided a change of subject was in order. He knew about the recent divorce, so it wouldn't have been appropriate to ask about Dave's former wife.
"So, Dave, how's the business coming along?"
"Busy. We've got the contract for several new houses out in that fancy development east of town, `Castlemain.'"
"Silly name," Brody said, grinning.
"Fuckin' A," Dave said, returning the grin.
Brody felt more comfortable with the man across the table from him than he ever had. When Cromer lost his attitude, he could be pretty decent, as he had been that night when he hurt his ankle.
He realized Cromer was still talking. "—but they'll keep us busy, along with all our regular contracts whose yards and plantings we have to get ready for winter." He paused to take a pull on his beer. "So you've started at State?"
"Are you still working at the shop?"
"Sometimes one and sometimes the other. Where they need me the most, actually."
"I hear you guys landed the Adrian's restaurant account."
"Yeah. But how did you know?"
"Man, there are no secrets in this little burg."
Brody nodded. He'd thought the same thing often since his return to Higgins.
Cromer finished his beer. "Want another?"
"Sure, but let me get it."
"No, that's okay. You can do it next time."
Brody wondered whether Dave was planning to stick around for a third beer or whether he was referring to some vague time in the future when they might conceivably run into each other in Gridley's again. Either way, he sensed a distinct thaw in their relationship.
When Dave came back, they chatted about local happenings, watching as they did so a college football game on one of the tv monitors placed around the room. Brody wondered just what had happened to make Cromer seem so relaxed. Could it have been the divorce? And why would he have changed his attitude toward Brody? Maybe it was because they'd been teammates all summer long. Could it be that he'd somehow managed to prove himself to Dave as they played baseball together? Whatever it was, he was happy about the new attitude.
As they sat there, drinking, talking, watching the game, Brody studied Dave. `My God,' Brody thought, `I must be terminally horny. Cromer looks fuckin' good to me!'
Cromer and Brody were the same height, 6'2", but the older man was bulkier in the chest and shoulders. He had dark brown, crew-cut hair which looked good with his skin, still deeply tanned from his work outdoors. By this point in the evening he had more than a five o'clock shadow, as if he'd cleaned up after work but hadn't bothered to shave. His face was long, as was his sharp nose, which made him look as if he might have some Native American blood. He was wearing a white tee with a green checked shirt over it. When he looked at you with his green eyes, sometimes they seemed to bore straight into you. Or so, at least, it seemed to Brody.
Although he was only two years older than Brody, he seemed more mature than that. `Or,' Brody thought, `maybe he just makes me feel young and inexperienced. Fuck that, I'm the one who's been in a war!'
When they'd finished their second beers, Brody offered to get another round.
Cromer stood up. "No, thanks, Cox. I've got to drive, so I won't have another."
Brody, who'd walked to Gridley's, decided he'd stay awhile.
"Well, thanks for the beer, Dave. It's, uh, it's been nice talking with you."
Cromer grinned. "And you didn't even need a long spoon."*
It took Brody a minute to figure out what he meant. Then he gave the other man an embarrassed grin and stood up. He offered his hand.
"Dave, whatever friction there was between us, I'd like to think it's gone."
He got a genuine smile. Cromer's eyes were nice when he smiled. "Yeah, Brody, let's assume it's gone." He turned and started to leave. Then he turned back to Brody. "Oh, there is one thing. If you're going to be working with Lynch Junior, watch out for him. He's trouble." He turned again and left before Brody had a chance to ask him what he meant.
* * *
Brody puzzled all weekend about what Cromer could have meant by the remark about Adrian Lynch. How did Cromer know the restauranteur? What could have happened between them to cause Cromer to mistrust him? Brody had instinctively liked Lynch, whereas his attitude toward Cromer had always been one of anger and resentment.
At his brother's house the next day he asked Bob and Samantha whether they knew of anything that had ever transpired between Cromer and the junior Lynch. Neither of them did.
That evening after he'd finished doing his English essay for the next day he thought about the two men, so unlike. He could imagine that the macho Dave Cromer would dislike the very polished, urbane Adrian Lynch. But why would he have said not to trust him?
That raised another question. He had to work with Lynch. That was stipulated in the contract Adrian's had signed with Cox Floral. But he was sure Lynch wanted the two of them to become, what, friends? Brody knew his own reaction had been half awe and half lust from the time he'd first seen the man. And he thought he was getting all sorts of signals that Lynch wanted them to become . . . better acquainted?
Brody chuckled. Bruce Evans, his English instructor, had been talking about euphemisms in class the other day. "Better acquainted" was pretty obviously a euphemism for what Adrian had in mind. He realized that what he himself had in mind went a good deal further than simply being well acquainted with the sexy restauranteur.
Monday he had classes all morning and botany lab until 3:30. By the time he got back to his apartment it was 4:30. He dropped his book bag on his desk, kicked off his sneaks, and grabbed a Sam Adams from the fridge. Then he checked his answering machine. There were two messages.
The first was from Justin. "Hey, Sarge, it's Jus. You gotta do me a big favor, man. I know you usually have Sunday dinner with Bobby and his family, but the `rents have heard me talk about you so much they insist you come for dinner this Sunday. Can you do that? Give me a call, please."
The second caller didn't identify himself. First there was a chuckle. "I envision you laboring away in your botany lab, drawing diagrams of pistils and stamens, or something of the sort. I'll be at home this evening. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. I'd like you to pencil me in on your busy social schedule. The number here is 555-6969. I'll be up all evening looking forward to hearing from you."
Brody chuckled both at the phone number and the double entendre about Adrian's being up all evening.
He decided to respond to the second call first.
"Hey, Adrian, it's Brody, Brody Cox. I got your message. You wanted to talk to me?"
There was a rich chuckle on the other end. "Indeed I do. I've decided to give myself Saturday evening off. I'm sure the staff can run the place for one evening. So I would like to cook dinner for you here at my place. Are you by chance free?"
"'Won't you step into my parlor?' said the spider to the fly." That was a saying Brody's grandmother Cox had used occasionally. He wondered why it came to mind just then. Because of what Cromer had said? He knew he wasn't about to refuse the invitation, however. For one thing, it was smart business to keep a good relationship with this major client. More importantly, he was irresistibly drawn to Lynch, knowing full well he wanted to wind up in bed with the man.
"Yes, I'm free. Uh, thanks for the invitation."
"Wonderful! I'll be wearing khakis and something, so don't feel you have to dress up. Come about 7:00?"
"Sure. Can I bring anything?"
"Only your criminally sexy self, Mr. Cox. I'll let you get back to the sex organs of flowers, or whatever you were doing. Can't wait until Saturday."
It was Brody's turn to chuckle. "Me neither, Mr. Lynch, me neither."
He called Justin back and accepted the invitation for Sunday dinner, reminding himself to tell Bobby at work the next day that he wouldn't be having dinner with him and Sam that weekend.
* * *
Tuesday evening after work he stopped by Nelly's for a beer, a burger and onion rings. He didn't see anyone he knew. A couple of the older patrons gave him come-hither looks, but he just smiled and shook his head. There were a few university types, most of them pretty cute, but other than giving him the once-over when he came in, they left him alone.
Instead of going straight home after he left Nelly's, he headed for the mall on the edge of town.
He'd bought a few clothes when he got back from the Marines, but during the summer he hadn't needed much except for khakis, jeans, shorts, and a bunch of tees, some with collars, some without. He'd bought a few more things when he'd started attending classes, long sleeve tees and button-up shirts, though like everyone else he tended to leave them unbuttoned while the weather was still warm.
Now, however, he realized he still had nothing for dress up. Adrian had said to come dressed casually on Saturday evening, but he suspected his host's idea of casual was a bit different than his own.
At the mall he went into Dillard's. He'd decided a nicer pair of khakis than the J. C. Penney ones he'd been wearing might be a good idea. As he was looking at the khakis in the Tommy Hilfiger section of the men's department, a good-looking guy about his own age wearing a dark suit asked if he could help.
"Yeah," I need some really nice khakis. And maybe a navy blazer." He noticed the guy's nametag said his name was Roger. "I've been in the military for four years, and I need to restock my wardrobe." He grinned at the salesman. "Think you can give me some advice, Roger?"
Roger beamed. "Oh, yes, I'd be glad to, Mr. . . ?"
"Cox. But just call me Brody."
"Okay, Brody, come to the suit and sport coat department, please. Let's pick out the blazer first, and then we can accessorize it."
Roger showed Brody three navy blazers. The first one Brody tried on looked great, but he decided to try on the other two as well. Roger was a smart salesman. The first one was the most expensive, so expensive in fact that Brody was shocked. But although the other two blazers were good looking, somehow they just didn't fit as well.
"Not everyone with a chest like that has a waist as small as yours. This blazer is not only exquisitely tailored, it's made for a younger man. We won't even need to alter it. It fits perfectly and looks gorgeous on you."
Brody said he'd take it.
"Now, you said something about khakis. And don't you think for winter wear you'll need a pair of gray slacks to wear with your blazer? I've got some great wool worsteds over here."
Brody wound up with a pair of each. He had to make decisions he'd never worried about before. Did he want them cuffed? No. How much break did he want? At first he thought he didn't want a break, but Roger talked him into a slight one so his pants didn't look like "floods." As the salesman was kneeling to mark the bottoms of both pairs of trousers, his face was close to Brody's butt. The idea of this good-looking young guy kneeling there behind him caused the old familiar tingle in his groin. He was relieved when Roger stood up. But Roger, who seemed to enjoy the fitting process, was unhappy with the fit of the gray slacks. Tucking his fingers down behind the waistline in the back, he suggested that the waist be taken in just a bit. Having the guy's fingers inside his pants didn't help Brody's growing excitement. By the time Roger finished making chalk marks on the back of the pants, Brody had a full-fledged boner.
The moment was over immediately, however, when Brody went back to the changing cubicle.
As Brody was signing the sales receipt, Roger informed him it would be seven days before the alterations were ready. Brody's face fell.
"Is there a problem, Brody?"
"Yeah, I've got a date Saturday night, and I was hoping to wear the khakis."
This time it was Roger's face that fell. But only momentarily. "I could put a rush on the pants. Could you pick them up here after noon on Saturday?"
"Yeah, that would be great, thanks. I appreciate the special service."
"Well, you'll want to look great for your date. I'm sure she'll be impressed."
"I hope he will," Brody said, grinning.
"Lucky guy," Roger replied, smiling brilliantly.
Brody also bought two dress shirts, one white, one blue. Then of course, he needed a tie. Roger told him that stripes were back. The array of ties to choose from was bewildering. Roger picked one that had two shades of blue, the colors in the Marines' dress blue uniform. The diagonal blue stripes were of equal width. But there was a very narrow stripe of red between each of the larger ones.
"This is a nice fake regimental, and I think you'll like the colors."
Brody did indeed like the colors, so he took that, too.
Roger suggested that he'd need more than one tie, but Brody said that was enough for this trip. He was worrying about the shock to his VISA card, so he told Roger that would be all.
"Here's my card, Brody. I'm at student at the university, so I'm not around in the daytime, but I'm here weeknights until closing. When you need anything else, I'd be really happy to help you."
Brody looked at the card. "Thanks, Roger Norton. I'll do that."
Brody knew when he was being cruised, and he headed for the door to the parking lot with a nice glow on.
On his way out of the men's department, however, he stopped by the designer sportswear section, where he picked up a couple of nice shirts.
Back in the apartment as he cut the tags off his new purchases, his thoughts were all about his Saturday night date.
*Dave alludes here to the proverb, "He who would sup with the devil must have a long spoon."
If you'd like to write me about this story, please do so at t (dot) mead76 (at) yahoo (dot) com. Be sure to put the story name in the subject line so I'll know it's not spam. Thanks. --Tim