When Brody got home he flopped down in his chair next to the window. The big trees in the back yard were showing lots of color, though they weren't yet at their peak.
Even though the chair was comfortably upholstered, that spot on his butt felt a bit sensitive. He didn't think a hickey should hurt if it was made by someone sucking the blood to the surface of the skin. Curious, he stood and took off his pants and boxers. Naked from the waist down, he went to the bedroom so he could look at himself in the mirror. He turned and looked over his shoulder. There, sure enough, was the dark red spot. He rubbed it, and it was slightly painful. He backed up closer to the mirror. There were teeth marks. Adrian had actually bitten him, yet he'd never noticed, probably because he was getting an erotic digital-rectal exam at the same time.
He put his shorts and khakis on, went back to his chair and sat again.
Adrian was unlike anyone he'd ever met before. As it turned out, he was a take-charge guy. Brody had known – and had sex with – men who were more impressively built than Adrian, especially if you liked the bulging muscle types. But Brody didn't think he'd ever seen anyone as handsome or as sexy as Adrian. He'd lusted for the elegant restauranteur since the first time he'd seen him, and he'd been 90% sure the two would have sex at the first opportunity.
Looking back on the evening, more especially the night, he realized that he hadn't seen much of Lynch naked except when they were undressing each other. Brody had his face on the bed and his butt in the air both times they'd fucked, so there was little opportunity to appreciate the beauty of his sex partner. As he had anticipated being with Adrian that evening, he'd somehow assumed he'd be the top. Not that he didn't enjoy being expertly skewered by the suave Lynch. He was just a little surprised that Adrian hadn't given him any choice in the matter.
Next time, he vowed once again, he was going to do the skewering.
He went online, where he found an email from Pete wanting to know all the details of last night's tryst. Brody had told him about the date the same day it had been set. He was about to return the email, describing what had happened, when he realized that Pete never told him about sex he'd had with other guys. So he just said the meal and the sex were great and left it at that.
Pete also said that he'd definitely be home the following weekend. "Save Saturday for me," he'd written. "Unless you and what's-his-face are engaged by then. Your favorite Peter."
Though Brody had showered that morning, he'd put on the previous night's clothes to wear home, so after he shaved he decided to shower again.
Then he dressed in the new plaid sport shirt and the gray flannel slacks he'd just bought. He had to wear black socks with his loafers. `Better get some gray ones to match these flannels,' he reminded himself.
* * *
The Quinn home was a two-story brick colonial in a newish subdivision on the edge of town just off the main highway between Higgins and Colby. Justin must have been watching, for he came out to the car to meet Brody.
"Hey, Sarge, I'm, uh, glad you could come."
"Hi, Jus. I've been looking forward to it."
"So," Justin asked with a leer, "how'd it go last night?"
"It was great, and that's all I'm gonna say," Brody said, grinning back at the teen.
"Damn! I was hoping for more than that. Oh, well, come on in and meet the folks."
Justin's parents were in their fifties. He'd obviously been born when they were already in their thirties. Of medium height, Moira Quinn was a stunning woman, a partner in an architectural firm in Colby. Her eyes were green and her hair auburn. Brody suspected that she had it professionally touched up, but that was clearly her natural color.
Larry Quinn, an architecture professor at Colby State, was perhaps an inch taller than his son, but they looked very much alike. His medium brown hair had begun to recede a bit, and it had a sprinkling of gray in it. His build was heavier than his son's, but he must have had the same wide shoulders and narrow hips when he was Justin's age.
There was a third person standing quietly to the side. Apparently in her mid-seventies, she was obviously Moira's mother, for the two looked remarkably alike, given the difference in their ages. Mary Morrison, for that was her name, was, so far as Brody could tell, fashionably dressed. When she was introduced, she offered Brody her hand, but she didn't smile as she said she was happy to know him.
Once they were all sitting in the family room with glasses of hot spiced cider, Brody asked Mary if she lived in Higgins.
"No, I live in Toledo. I just come here to the boonies once in a while to make the children's lives miserable." She offered the faintest of smiles to go with what Brody took to be an attempt at humor.
As soon as he'd seen the Quinn's large house on its small tract lot, a variation on the plans of a quarter of the houses in that development, Brody wondered how two architects could have settled for such a cookie-cutter residence. He got his answer when Moira mentioned that they were looking for a suitable property on which to build the house she and Larry had been designing for years.
"When Justin's in college, we'll start the new place, most likely."
Justin gave his mother his typical cocky grin and asked, "Gee, mom, will I have a place to stay when I come home on vacations?"
Moira grinned back, and Brody saw immediately where Justin got it. "Don't be impertinent, boy, or perhaps you won't."
After some small talk, the women excused themselves to get dinner on the table. The men talked mostly about the game the Lions were playing that afternoon against the Packers. Then they moved on to discuss the likelihood of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl again that year.
After the obligatory grace, Moira and Mary served up a traditional Sunday dinner, with a rolled rump roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, a salad, and yeast rolls. This was more the sort of weekend fare he'd grown up with, the kind he got regularly on Sundays with Bob and Samantha, than the simple but elegant and quite satisfying meal Adrian had given him the evening before.
Talk flowed easily at the table. Justin's parents both went out of their way to keep Brody involved in the conversation without appearing to quiz him. Moira did mention that they felt they knew Brody already because he was all Justin ever talked about. When she said that, Brody thought he caught a look being exchanged between Larry and his mother-in-law.
The dessert, which Mary had made "from scratch," was apple pie with a lattice-work top. It was served warm with vanilla ice cream.
"Brody," Moira said, "I've made coffee. Justin will want a glass of milk with his pie. Which would you prefer?"
Brody smiled at his hostess. "Actually, Mrs. Quinn, I'd like to have some milk, too, if that wouldn't be too much trouble."
Moira smiled back at him. "Somehow I rather thought you might."
When everyone had finished eating, Justin helped the women clear the table. Larry took Brody into a formal living room which he hadn't seen up to that point, having been ushered into the family room upon his arrival.
"Brody, have a seat for a moment, please."
Brody sat, wondering what to expect.
"Moira doesn't want me to have this conversation with you, but Mary insists. And I'm reluctantly inclined to agree with her."
Brody looked inquiringly at his host but didn't say anything.
"Look, son, we've known Justin's gay since he was in middle school, and we're fine with that. I mean, we're not ashamed of it or anything. We just want him to be happy. We know that gay people face a lot of hatred and hostility, and we can't protect him from all of that. But we can protect him from some things."
He looked at Brody, who nodded back.
"Forgive me, but Justin has told us that you're gay." He looked inquiringly at Brody.
"Yes, sir, I am."
"Again, no problem with that."
"But there is a problem, Mr. Quinn?"
"Call me Larry, please."
"Here's the problem. Justin is clearly either infatuated with you or perhaps even in love with you. As his mother said a little while ago, you are all he talks about. And he's been very frank with us about your, uh, friendship. He even told us he'd come on to you."
"Did he tell you how I reacted to that, sir?"
"Larry. And, yes, he did. He told us you'd turned him down flat. Not unkindly, but in no uncertain terms. Is that right?"
"Yes, that's what I tried to do."
"He also said that you told him the only kind of relationship you two could have would be a brotherly one."
"Also correct, sir, uh, Larry."
Larry stood, so Brody did, too.
Larry had to reach up to put a hand on each of Brody's shoulders. "I just wanted to say that I'm grateful you did that, grateful you didn't take advantage of Justin. He's an attractive kid, and a different kind of person might have agreed to have sex with him. I admire you, Brody, and I'm glad you're Justin's friend. As you can understand, all of us in the family would really hate to see him hurt. Especially at his impressionable age. You understand?"
"I sure do. Justin's a great kid. I'm glad to be his honorary big brother, and I promise to look out for him as much as I can while he's still around here. But you know, when he gets to college, you won't be able to protect him and neither will I."
"Of course. I wish that weren't the case, but I understand. I'm just glad he's got you in the mean time. I can't help him much with the problems of being gay. I assume you'll let him come to you if he has questions or problems he doesn't feel comfortable discussing with me."
"Count on it, Larry."
Larry grinned. "Thanks, Brody. Justin's right. You're a pretty terrific young man. Now, come on. Let's go to the kitchen." He smiled. "If we've timed it right, they'll tell us we're too late and there's nothing left to do."
Larry was right. Moira, Mary and Justin had things pretty well cleaned up. So Justin claimed his guest.
"Come on, Brody, I guess I'd better show you my room."
They went upstairs.
It was a pleasant, sunny corner room with a queen size bed, a large chest of drawers, a computer desk, and a chair with a floor lamp next to it where Justin apparently read. In one corner was a baseball bat standing on end with a glove hanging from the top. There were a tv, a stereo, and a couple of book cases containing books, cd's, and dvd's. But there were no posters on the walls. No rock stars. No sports figures. Instead there were several framed photographs, all but one of which were portraits. Brody recognized Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jude Law, and Heath Ledger. But then there was a black and white photo of a man with dark hair, a mustache, and a beard. A very interesting face, but one Brody was sure he'd never seen before.
"Who's that dude?"
"That's my favorite novelist, D. H. Lawrence."
"Oh." Brody had never heard of him. Then he glanced at a picture in a gold-colored metal frame over the chest of drawers. It was a picture of him in his dress blues.
"Fuck, man. Where'd you get that? And why?"
Justin grinned. "I asked Bob if he had a picture of you in uniform that I could borrow and have copied. He found that one. Said it was Lil Bob's favorite picture of `Unca Brody.'"
"Okay. But why?"
"Because I love, uh, that is, because you're my only Big Bro."
Brody grabbed the teen into a tight hug.
"It's an honor, Lil Bro."
"Great. What do you say, let's get out of here for a while? Want to drive around?"
"Dude, I feel like I need to walk. Why don't we go into town and walk around the park for a while?"
As they were leaving, Mary asked to see Brody for a minute. She took him into the kitchen.
"Larry's told me about your conversation before dinner. I'm glad to hear that you aren't thinking of taking my grandson to bed. If you do before he's eighteen, I'll see that you go to jail. And if you ever do anything to hurt him, your balls will be in serious jeopardy. Do we understand each other?" Then she gave him the family grin.
"Yes, ma'am. You don't have anything to worry about."
"I'm glad to hear it. Can I assume you have somebody your own age to play with?"
Brody blushed. "Yes, ma'am. That is, well, I, uh . . ."
Mary laughed. "It's all right, young man. Relax. I just said that to see if you'd blush. You did, very satisfactorily. Now, you and Justin run along to wherever you were going."
In the park, the two young men walked along the paved paths, enjoying the afternoon warmth and sunshine, along with the color in the trees. When they came across a deserted picnic table, Justin sat on the top, putting his feet on the bench where you were supposed to sit.
"Let's stop here so we can talk, okay?"
"Sure. What's on your mind?" Brody sat beside him.
"Uh, first, I think I know what Dad and Grandma wanted to talk with you about. I'm sorry, dude. It's pretty embarrassing. I wish they hadn't put you through that."
"It's okay, Jus. They love you and they don't want you to get hurt. You should be glad they care so much about you."
"Yeah, I know, but still . . . ."
"Look, I promised both of them that you and I weren't going to have illegal sex, and that I was glad to be your friend, like a brother. Now, we don't need to say anything more about that, do we?"
"No." The grin. "So, tell me all about last night."
"You wish. A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."
"I'll bet kissin' ain't all you two did. I hear the Lynch dude is seriously gorgeous."
"He is that. And he's a first-rate cook, too."
"Aw, man, I don't want to hear about his cookin'," Justin whined.
Brody punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Tough shit. `Cause that's all you're gonna hear about from me."
"Do you guys have another date?"
"Gee, you're nosey."
"What ya gonna do?"
Brody rolled his eyes. "We're going to the fuckin' ballet."
"Cool. He's gonna civilize you, jarhead. So whatcha gonna do next weekend?"
"Pete's coming home, finally, so I'm saving Saturday for him."
"Oh, man!" The boy looked as if he were going to cry.
"Jus, what's wrong?"
When he looked up at Brody, there were tears in his eyes.
"Don't you get it, Brode? You're doing things with that Lynch dude and your buddy Pete that I want you to do with me. I just don't see what difference it makes that I won't be eighteen for another month."
"Look, guy. We've been through this before. You're a pain in the ass sometimes, but I love you, I really do. But not that way. There's too much difference between our ages. So even if you weren't jailbait, there wouldn't be anything sexual or romantic or whatever between us."
"How old is Lynch?"
Brody thought about that for a minute.
"When I first met him, I thought maybe he was about 28, but now that I've been with him a little more, I'd guess closer to 30."
"So split the difference. Say he's 29. And you're 22. That's seven years, right?"
"Yeah, even I can do that math, dipstick."
"Okay, Einstein, how come it's okay for you to be messing around with a guy seven years older than you, but you and I can't do it when we're only five years apart?"
Brody shrugged his shoulders. He was stumped for an answer.
* * *
One evening the following week Brody finished his reading assignments at 10:00. Since he wasn't sleepy, he decided to get some air and walk over to Gridley's for a beer.
As he waited at the bar for his draft, he spotted Dave Cromer sitting alone in a booth near the back. Cromer saw him and with a tip of his head silently invited him over.
He reached across the table to shake hands when Brody slid into the booth opposite him.
"Hey, Cox, slumming, I see?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, tonight you're hanging out with ordinary mortals instead of Junior."
"Oh, come on, he's okay."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, taking a swallow of their beer occasionally.
"Brody, I'm sorry for the crack about Adrian. Who your friends are is none of my business."
`Damn right,' Brody thought, but all he said was "It's okay."
"How are classes going?"
"It's none of my business, but how are your grades?"
"You're right, it's none of your business, but they're pretty good. Mostly A's."
"Yeah, I have trouble with all the bullshit terms in psych."
Cromer chuckled. "I can imagine. Psych 101 is mostly about learning new terms for obvious things, isn't it?"
"I'm relieved to hear you say that. I felt like I might be the only one who thought so."
There was a pause while they took swallows of their beer.
"Brody, I think it's time for me to offer another apology and an explanation."
"About the whole fuckin' thing between us. It was all my fault. I shouldn't have been so hard on you back in high school."
"Yeah? Well, I never understood why you were always harassing me. Never did, that is, until Pete explained it to me one day this summer."
Cromer finished his beer. "Clifford? What did he have to say?"
"He said you thought I was a goof-off and that it chapped your ass."
"Well, that's about it."
"How was that any of your business?" Brody finished his beer.
"Let me get us some more beer, and I'll tell you."
As Cromer walked toward the bar, Brody couldn't help watching how the man's muscular ass flexed and twisted under his jeans. In a flannel shirt and the clean but faded jeans, he looked powerful and sexy. Brody remembered his first day in the shop after coming home, the day Cromer had come in to order flowers for his wife. He remembered that his first reaction to the man who'd just entered the shop was to the man's good looks. Then, when he realized who it was, his long-standing antipathy had taken over. But the man really was a hunk. All man. Very macho.
When Cromer got back to the table, he had their beer plus a bowl of peanuts. After setting it in front of Brody, asked, "Where were we?"
"Suppose I was a fuck-up in high school, not admitting that I was, why was that your concern?"
"Fair question. But I never said you were a fuck-up. You were a talented ball player, at least. But you were a goof-off. You could have been so much more. You could have been the best player on the team. You damn near were anyway, but you could have been good enough to get a baseball scholarship, probably, if you'd just hustled a little more. And you know you could have made better grades back then if you had worked at it."
Brody thought for a moment. "I guess that's the way I was."
"Well, maybe I've overstated the case. Someone else might have said you were just a happy-go-lucky teen."
Brody grinned at him. "I like the sound of that better. But you still haven't answered my question."
"How was that your business?"
"Oh, that!" He took a handful of peanuts and chewed them slowly. Then he took a swallow of beer. "It wasn't, of course."
"But then why . . . ?"
"Because I was a shit, okay? Look, I've said I'm sorry."
"Hey, Dave, don't be pissed with me. I'm just trying to understand. Everybody thinks you're such a great guy. I just want to know why you and I were always at loggerheads."
Cromer sighed. "Okay, here's what I think it was. I never had any sibs. I thought if I did have a younger brother, I'd want him to have your talent, your looks, your easy-going personality. I knew you and Bob weren't close because he was so much older and away at school. But it did disappoint me to see you fucking around instead of applying yourself."
Brody started to say something. Cromer held up his hand.
"No, please, let me just finish this."
Brody nodded and waited.
"So I acted as if I was your big brother and tried to motivate you to get your butt in gear. And I had no right to do that. So instead of being friends, we've been civil at best and sometimes not even that. I'm sorry. You've proved yourself as a Marine. You played damn good ball this summer. You say you're making good grades. And from all I can tell, you're a decent guy. All the guys on the team this summer liked you."
He took another swallow.
"If you felt like I could have been your little brother back then, you might have let me know you didn't hate me."
"I've never found it easy to tell people I like them."
There was an awkward pause.
"Okay, Brody, I've said my piece." He grinned and held out his hand. "Can we be friends now, or have I fucked up any chance of that?"
Brody gripped the proffered hand firmly.
They sat silently but companionably for a few minutes, each apparently thinking about the discussion they'd just had.
"I don't want to pry . . ."
"Go ahead. I'll tell you if you're out of line."
"You know there aren't any secrets in Higgins."
Cromer chuckled. "Do I ever!"
"Well, word is that you and your wife have gotten a divorce."
"The word's right. And yes, everybody in town knows about it."
"Like I said, I don't want to butt into your business. I just wanted to say I know that must be a painful experience. And I'm sorry."
Cromer briefly put his hand on Brody's. "Thanks, Brody. I appreciate that. Maybe some day I'll tell you why we broke up." He looked nervous. "Right now, though, I've got to go."
"It's my turn to buy. Sure you don't want to stick around? What are you rushing off for? I promise not to ask any more questions about your marriage."
It was unusual for Cromer to seem unsure of himself, but he did at that moment. Then he smiled, leaned back, and said, "Okay, I'll have one more, since you're buying."
Brody took the bowl back and got more peanuts, along with a Coors for Cromer and another draft for himself.
As Brody was settling into the booth, Cromer said, "I guess it might actually help to talk about it. Things were really tense there for a while. But Beth's moved back to Springfield where her folks live. She trained to be a teacher, and she's landed a teaching job there. We sold the house here and she got the proceeds. Fortunately my dad owns the business and I just work for him, so she wasn't entitled to any of that. I'm living in a rented mobile home temporarily until I can scrape up enough money for a down payment on a house. So I guess you could say I'm trailer trash."
He gave Brody a wry smile.
"I'm sorry, Dave. It must be tough when you break up with someone you thought you loved."
"I do love Beth. Just not in the right way. Not enough."
"Well, that's even more of a shame, I guess. I don't know what happened, but I'm sorry."
"Thanks. You're a decent guy, Brody. I hope we can be friends."
"It's never too late."
"Yeah, I'm afraid it is."
"Maybe I'll explain that some day, but I'm not ready to yet."
Soon after that they called it a night.
My thanks to Mickey and Drew for encouragement and editorial advice.
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 name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam.