One night that week Brody had the dream about seeing two of his buddies and the lieutenant being blown up, waking in a cold sweat, his heart pounding. He'd known both of the enlisted men since he'd arrived in Iraq, and he liked Lieutenant Bonner. Bonner wasn't much older than he was, having graduated from Annapolis the previous spring. He was all Marine, but he was also a decent guy, not all chickenshit like some of the younger officers.
The dream was worse when he was alone, but at least, he realized, he wasn't scaring Pete or someone else by his behavior.
His classes at the university were enjoyable, especially English and botany. There was a girl who kept coming on to him in botany. Vangie was hot, and she knew it. She was not doing well in the class, and she knew that, too. There was a lot of memory work, learning all the phyla, families, genera, etc. That sort of thing was easy for Brody, but Vangie kept lamenting that she just couldn't remember it all. "Besides," she'd pout, "why do we have to learn all that dumb stuff anyway?"
By the second week in the term she'd asked Brody if they could get together to "study." Brody was pretty sure it wasn't botany she wanted to study. And while Vangie was a sexy brunette with big brown eyes and a nice rack, Brody wasn't interested. He told her he lived in Higgins, that he worked when he wasn't in class, and that he didn't have time to drive back to Colby in the evenings for study sessions with other students.
Vangie pouted some more. And she kept suggesting they get together. Finally, Brody told her that he was gay. Vangie didn't ask for any more study dates after that.
The week following Brody's night with Adrian, the botany class had a field trip. They went to a small nearby river that flowed north into Lake Erie. Doctor Schwartz and the TA who conducted their labs both went along. They spent hours rooting around among rotting fallen trees, brush, and tall grass studying inter-related systems. Brody was fascinated by the insights he got into the biology of the area. Vangie was clearly out of her element. Everyone was getting muddy. Though they'd been told to wear old jeans and their oldest sneaks, Vangie worried about dirtying her clothes. She complained about messing up her fingernails. And, finally, she fell into the river. It wasn't deep where she slipped in, but she screamed, flailing her arms. One of the other guys in the class waded in, picked her up, and carried her safely to the shore. The rest of the class was openly amused, but Vangie latched on to her rescuer for the remainder of the afternoon. Brody heard later that she and Gus, her new hero, were dating.
* * *
On Thursday Brody received an email from Peter saying his plans for the weekend had changed slightly and he was bringing his roommate or more precisely the man he shared an apartment with. Pete suggested that the three of them go see Colby State play at home against Miami of Ohio if Brody could get tickets. Afterwards, he said, they were to have dinner at the Cliffords'. Pete suggested going to a movie and perhaps Gridley's later.
Since the Colby State Cougars weren't having a particularly good year, Brody had no trouble getting tickets.
Pete had mentioned Bob Spessard, whom he called Spes, several times during the summer. Brody knew that the two had met as pre-vet majors and when both were accepted into the School of Veterinary Medicine at OSU had decided to share an apartment while they pursued their graduate studies. But Pete had never told him much about his friend. Consequently, Brody had no idea what to expect when Pete came home with Spes in tow. Pete had never even said whether his roomie was gay or not, and Brody had never asked because he didn't want to seem to be prying. He assumed that if Pete wanted him to know, he'd tell him.
The plan was that the two guys would drive up from Columbus on Saturday morning, have an early lunch with Pete's parents and then pick Brody up at 12:30. The game was at 1:30, and they wanted to allow plenty of time for the 30-minute drive to Colby plus parking and finding their seats.
That weekend saw the first cold snap of the fall. Saturday was sunny but there had been a freeze overnight, and the temperatures weren't supposed to rise above the upper forties by mid-afternoon. Brody opened the shop in Higgins that morning, but he'd arranged with Missy to leave at 11:00. When he got home he changed out of his blue Petal Pushers shirt and put on a red sweatshirt with the Marine insignia on it in gold. With it he wore jeans and a pair of sneaks. But until things warmed up, he thought he'd need extra warmth, so he dug out a navy windbreaker he'd bought earlier but hadn't worn yet.
Figuring they'd have snacks at the game, he ate an apple for lunch. After brushing his teeth and taking a careful look at himself in the bathroom mirror, he made sure he had his wallet and keys, slipped into the windbreaker, and went downstairs to wait for Pete and his friend.
Promptly at 12:30 a late-model silver SUV pulled up to the curb in front of the house. Pete hopped out and gave Brody a hug. Then, for only the second time in their long friendship, he kissed Brody. There was no tongue involvement, but it was a warm kiss, certainly more than a peck on the lips.
He grinned. "You've gone all Marine on us today, huh? I'd think since you're going to Colby State now you'd be sporting their colors."
"Black and gold? Nah, not my colors." He grinned back at Pete. "Besides, I've been too busy to pay much attention to what's going on with the Cougars this year."
"Well, let's remedy that. Jump in, and I'll introduce you to Spes."
Pete got into the front seat beside the driver, and Brody got in back. The driver had turned and was grinning at him over the back of the driver's seat. He had a squarish face, light brown curly hair, and hazel eyes. And dimples. And lots of very white teeth. In short, from what Brody could see, he was one handsome guy. He stuck his hand between the bucket seats. As the two shook, he said, "Brody, it's good to finally meet you. Petey here has talked about you as long as I've known him."
`Petey,' Brody thought. `That's my name for Pete. I wonder how close those two are. And if Pete's been telling Spes about me, why hasn't he ever said much to me about Spes?'
"Hi, Spes, it's good to meet you, too." He looked around the interior of the SUV, which was upholstered in black leather. "Nice wheels. What kind of a car is this?"
Pete answered. "It's a GMC Yukon. It was a graduation present from Spes's folks."
"I've kind of lost track of what's going on in the auto world. This is pretty cool. Nice gift."
"Thanks. Now, let's head for Colby. Pete, you'll have to give me directions once we get to the campus."
They found their seats in time to see most of the pregame show put on by the two bands. The stadium was full. Across the field was a sizable contingent of Miami fans all wearing red. Many of the fans on the home side of the field were wearing gold or black or a combination of the two colors, even those who, like Brody and his friends, were not sitting in the student section.
It had warmed up so that he had left his windbreaker in Spes's car. They sat or, since it was a close game, stood most of the time with Pete between his two friends. Spes, when he climbed out of the car, had turned out to be about Brody's height and size. He was wearing an OSU sweatshirt and faded jeans that didn't hide either a magnificent butt or a substantial package. Pete, too, looked great in a camel-colored sweater and brown corduroy jeans. Like Brody, Pete was wearing sneakers, but Spes had on ankle-high boots of rough leather. Brody thought they looked very butch.
Miami had come to town a three-touchdown favorite, but the Cougars were scrappy. Brody enjoyed the whole affair -- the beautiful day with its intense blue sky, the color of the fans and the bands, the tighter-than expected struggle on the field, and the banter being exchanged by the three young men. Spes seemed like a nice guy.
`But then, why wouldn't he be?' Brody mused. `Pete's smart. He's a good judge of character. You wouldn't expect him to be living with some jerk.' Then Brody felt a pang. Pete was living with this guy. What did that mean, exactly? Was Spessard gay? If he wasn't he must at least have known that Pete and Brody were gay. Pete had been out since he started to college. And Spessard had said Pete had talked a lot about him. Brody knew that Pete had his share of sexual experiences in college. More, certainly, than Brody had as a Marine.
He forced himself to focus on the game, which the team from southern Ohio eventually won by a field goal. The Colby fans were happy, considering they'd won a sort of moral victory. Everyone was in a good mood as fans streamed out of the stadium and across the parking lot. Pete and Spes seemed in high spirits, teasing each other and Brody, who noticed Spes giving Pete a hip bump at one point. It appeared those two were more than just room mates. Good friends, for sure. Maybe more?
Spes put on the radio as they drove back to Higgins. He said he was hoping to hear the Ohio State score.
"Well, dufus, they're playing Southern Cal out there, so there won't be any score yet."
Spes flashed his dimples and said, "Well duh! I'd forgotten that." He turned off the radio.
When they got to the Clifford's, all three of them had to pet and stroke Molly, who was ecstatic with the attention. Brody got a hug from Pete's mother. She'd seen her son and his room mate earlier that day, but she hadn't seen Brody for over a month.
"Boys, it's good to have you all here. Dinner will be ready in a while. Go on into the family room. Phil's in there watching tv."
"No, I'm not! I'm right here!" He shook hands with Brody. "How'd the game go, guys?"
They told him it had been a good game and that Miami had barely eked out a win.
"Good for the home team! Now, I'll bet you men would like to have a beer while Marie's fixing supper."
They all agreed that a beer would be welcome. Pete went to help his father, leaving Brody and Spes alone in the family room. Phil had been watching WVU versus Louisville, and Spes zeroed in on the game.
He pumped his hand and said "All right!" when it was announced that West Virginia was leading late in the game.
"Are you a Mountaineer fan, Spes?"
"Oh, I'm from Charleston, and everybody in the state roots for the Mountaineers unless they went to Marshall. And even they root for the Mountaineers unless they're playing Marshall."
"Funny, you don't sound like you come from West Virginia."
Spes gave him a strange look. "We don't all sound like hillbillies, you know."
"Fuck, I'm sorry, Spes. I just shot my mouth off without thinking."
Spes grinned, put his arm around Brody's shoulder, and said, "Hey, no problem. You just pushed one of my buttons without knowing it."
Just then Phil and Pete came back with beer and snacks.
"Marie says not to fill up too much and spoil your supper."
Pete looked a little embarrassed. "Once a mom, always a mom, I guess."
"Well, Pete," Brody said, "she's right, you know. Whatever she's fixing, I sure want to make sure I have room for it."
Pete grinned. "You always seem to have room for Mom's cooking, jarhead."
Marie asked Pete and Spes to sit on one side of the table with Brody on the other side, facing them. The parents sat at either end. Brody was thus able to study Spes and to see how he and Pete interacted.
Marie had made beef stew, which she served with salad and corn bread. There was apple butter to go on the corn bread, one of Brody's favorites.
"Oh, my!" Spes said. "My mom makes me cornbread and serves apple butter with it. This is so great!"
Marie laughed. "Yes, a little bird told me about that."
Spes grinned, elbowed Pete in the ribs, and said, "Yeah I know who the little bird was. Some bird."
The senior Cliffords asked first about the game the young men had attended. When that topic was exhausted, they asked Pete and Spes how they were reacting to their graduate classes.
Pete looked at Spes, who said, "Well, I think ole Pete here and I are both really getting into them. The work is even harder than before, though."
Pete looked at Brody and said, "You know, Brode, pre-veterinary is pretty much like pre-med. We had lots of our classes with pre-med students. And that was tough. The competition was a killer."
"Yeah, I can imagine."
"But the thing is," Spes said, glancing at Pete, "now that we're in grad school, we're able to concentrate on the stuff that really interests us, things that relate directly to what we want to do."
The talk continued about Spes and Pete's classes for a while. Then it was Spes who looked at Brody and asked, "So, Brody, how do you like being in college? It must be a lot different from the Marines, huh?"
"I like my classes. Well, two out of three. And, yeah, it's a lot different from the Marines. But I think some of the self-discipline I learned in the Corps is helping me now. The big difference, though, apart from the fact that civilian and military life are totally different, is that I'm older than most of the others in my classes. They all seem so young to me. And I don't just mean physically young. They act pretty immature."
Pete chuckled. "I can hear `em now complaining that old man Cox is a curve breaker."
Brody blushed. "Well, I'm doing okay, but I'm not that good."
The conversation moved on, and Brody was grateful not to be in the spotlight. That way he could observe the interactions between Spes and Pete. The two were obviously good friends and not mere roommates. The body language, the side glances, the way they teased made it clear that they knew each other well and liked each other. What Brody was unable to figure out was just how well they liked each other. Spes didn't act gay, but then neither did Pete.
When everyone had finished the main course, Brody jumped up to help Marie clear off the plates and centers. Pete and Spes offered to help, but Brody told them to stay put.
In the kitchen, Marie said, "I've fixed your favorite dessert tonight, Brody. I hope Spes will like it."
She smiled. "And I've whipped cream to put on it."
"The guy will be completely lacking in taste if he doesn't love it!" He walked up behind Marie and put his arms around her waist. "You're the best, Mom."
Marie turned to face him, brushing away a tear. "Brody, dear, you've never called me that before."
"I know. It just slipped out. But you've always been so good to me. . . ."
"Well, you practically grew up in this house. You're just like Peter's brother. And you always will be. I hope you'll remember that."
Brody grinned. "Thanks. I think I knew that. Now, we'd better get that pie out there or they'll be in here wondering what we're doing."
So the two of them took the pie and dessert plates to the dining room. Marie put the bowl of whipped cream on the table. While she was cutting and serving the pie, Brody went back, got the coffee maker and poured coffee for everyone.
All three of the young men helped clear the table and load the dishwasher. Then Marie insisted she could finish up and urged them to go on to whatever they had planned for the evening. All three of them hugged her before they left.
They had decided to go to see a film that both Pete and Spes had seen before which was showing at a second-run theater. They wanted to see it again, and Brody hadn't seen it at all since he was out of the country when it ran the first time.
After the movie Pete said, "Now, anybody want a beer? Things might be getting lively at Gridley's."
So, off to Gridley's they went. It was still a little early for a Saturday night, so they were able to snag a booth. There were some guys playing pool in the back, and two mixed couples were playing darts, the girls giggling and exclaiming when they missed whatever they were aiming at.
The guys got a pitcher of draft and three mugs. Spes got a big bowl of popcorn.
"You pig!" Pete said. "How can you eat after the dinner we just had? Isn't he gross, Brody?"
Brody grinned. "Oh, I dunno. I think some popcorn might go good with the beer. I'm just a growing boy."
"My man!" Spes said. They high fived.
"Yeah, growing pot bellies and love handles, both of you, if you aren't careful."
As at dinner, Pete and Spes sat together with Brody facing them. Brody hadn't been terribly impressed with the movie, but Pete and his friend wanted to analyze and rehash everything about it. They even quoted lines of dialogue, laughing and occasionally nudging each other as they talked.
Brody watched them intently, sipping on his beer occasionally, eating some popcorn once in a while. The two roomies grinned almost constantly. Sometimes when one would turn slightly to say something to the other, Brody could tell a hand was placed on a thigh or a shoulder. They were doing, in short, exactly what he and Pete had always done in similar situations.
Brody had to admit that Spes was attractive. He had what appeared to be a sunny disposition, he was unquestionably smart, and he was sexy. Brody could see why Pete liked him. And he admitted to himself, he wouldn't mind seeing what the guy had under his OSU sweatshirt and those jeans. As the two across the table chatted, occasionally addressing a comment or question to him, he found himself picturing in his mind the two of them naked, in bed, sixty-nining or fucking.
His reverie was interrupted when Pete said, "Oh, there's Dave Cromer, and he's by himself. Hang on, I'll go bring him over."
Spes looked questioningly at Brody.
"Oh, Cromer's a guy we went to high school with. He graduated two years ahead of us. This summer he, Pete, and I played on the same baseball team."
"Oh, yeah," Spes said, grinning, "I remember Pete talking about him. Didn't he sprain an ankle in a game? And some kid batted in his spot and won the game?"
"Yeah," Brody said. "Something like that." He wasn't going to tell Spes that it was he, not Justin, who'd hit the game-winning home run.
When Pete returned to the table with Dave, he was carrying a fresh pitcher of beer and Dave had a mug. Since Pete resumed his place next to Spes, Dave slid in beside Brody. Pete introduced Spes and Dave, who shook hands across the table.
Then Dave nudged Brody with his elbow and said "How's it goin', Cox?"
"Okay, Dave. How's yourself?"
Cromer was wearing a leather jacket over a plaid flannel shirt and jeans. When their shoulders touched, Brody was surprised to feel a tingling in his groin.
`God!" Brody thought. "All three of these guys are turning me on." He remembered it would be a whole week before his date with Adrian. He tried to adjust his hard dick without anyone noticing.
Brody listened while the others talked. Spes wanted to know what Dave did for a living, so Dave talked about his work as a landscape designer for a few minutes. Then he asked them some questions about grad school and OSU. Later talk turned to the game they'd seen that afternoon. It was increasingly obvious to Brody that Pete and Spes were about as close as he and Pete had ever been. They exchanged glances, they picked up on signals, they knew each other. The only thing Brody wasn't sure of was whether they were lovers. Or fuck buddies. Whatever.
Finally Pete said, "Well, guys, Spes and I need to get an early start back to Columbus tomorrow morning `cause we've got a shitload of studying to do, and it's midnight. I guess we'd better get going. Brode, do you want us to drop you off?"
"No, that's okay, Pete. I can walk from here."
They all stood up. Pete hugged Brody. Then Brody was surprised when Spes hugged him, too. Both guys shook hands with Cromer. They thanked Brody for getting the game tickets, and Brody asked Pete to thank his parents again for dinner. Spes and Brody assured each other they were glad to have met. And then he was standing there with Cromer.
"You have any reason to rush home, Brody?"
"Not really. I'm not sleepy and there's nothing back at the apartment to make me want to be there."
Dave gave him a wry smile. "Tell me about it. So, hang with me for a while. I can drop you off later."
"Okay, why not?"
This time Dave sat facing him.
"What, me? Jealous of who? Why do you say that?" Brody sounded indignant.
Dave grinned. "Well, first of all, methinks thou dost protest too much. Second . . . ." He looked at the pile of paper shreds, what had once been a bar napkin, in front of Brody. "Third, I could feel the tension when I was sitting next to you. Admit it. You're jealous of Spessard. You sat there and hardly said anything while the rest of us were talking. And I saw how you were studying the two of them."
Brody took a swallow of beer and then leaned back in the booth. He frowned at Dave.
"Man, you never give up, do you? Is that your idea of being a big brother?"
Dave looked steadily back. "Maybe. And you are avoiding my question."
"And how does this have anything to do with me living up to my potential?"
"And I should do that because . . . ?"
"Jesus, Cox, you're exasperating sometimes. Would you just answer the fuckin' question?"
"Question? I don't remember any question. You just told me I was jealous of Spes."
"You haven't considered pre-law, have you?"
"Maybe you should."
"We're out of popcorn. Wait. I'll go get more."
"I don't want any fuckin' popcorn. You sit there and talk to me."
Brody grinned again and held up both hands, palms out. "Okay, okay." He took a swallow of beer. "I wouldn't say I'm jealous, exactly."
"Then what would you call it?"
"Pete never told me much about Spes, though he did mention him occasionally. But it's obvious that those two are really good friends. I think they're as close as Pete and I are."
"And that bothers you? `Cause if it does, then you're jealous."
"I think what bothers me is that Pete never let on that he had a friend he was that close with. Somehow I thought this Spessard was just a guy he knew at OSU and they were sharing an apartment out of convenience."
"So now you know better. Why can't you just be happy your old buddy has another friend?"
"I am, I am."
"But . . . ?"
"You're such a bastard. I haven't had a chance to think this through, and you're making me sort it out right here, aren't you?"
Cromer grinned. "Yup."
Brody sighed, took another swallow of beer, and scratched an armpit.
"When you're ready, I'm waiting."
"Oh, go piss up a rope! I think it's like this. And I can't believe I'm talking about this with you, of all people. I am a little disappointed that Pete never gave me any indication that he and Spes were such good friends. And, well, look, maybe you have to be gay to understand this."
"Pretend I am."
"Okay, but don't get all straight and squeamish on me."
"Pete is my best friend in the whole world. And I don't expect anything to change that. Or I didn't. He and I fooled around while we were in high school. Did you know that?"
"I didn't know for sure, but I figured . . . ."
"And he came out the summer after we graduated, right after I joined the Corps. Now I know he had other sex partners while he was in college. We kept in touch by email, and he never hid anything he was doing. He didn't brag about it or anything, and he didn't give me details, but he matter-of-factly told me about sleeping with guys."
"Did you reciprocate?"
"Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I didn't have nearly as many opportunities as he did, but those few times when I got it on with a guy, I usually told him. The difference was, for me it was always a quickie, a one-evening stand. Pete didn't fool around with a bunch of guys at the same time, but he had several guys he slept with in succession, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I understand. Go on."
"Like I said, I can't believe I'm talking about this with you. You gotta promise never to tell Pete."
"I promise. Now, you're disappointed that Pete didn't tell you more about Spessard while he was home so much this summer, right?"
"But there's something else, isn't there?"
"And that is?"
"It's all mixed up together. One, I can't figure out whether those two are just good friends or whether Spes is gay and they're getting it on."
"Spes could be gay and they're not getting it on."
"I just mention it as a possibility. What's number two?"
Brody blushed, a fact not unnoticed by Dave.
"I think Spes is really hot."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, I guess, unless he and Pete are a couple."
"Supposing they are. Do you want to get into Spessard's pants enough to make your old buddy unhappy?"
"Well, no, of course not."
"Good. Now, there's another matter you need to think about."
Dave gave Brody that steady look that made him want to wiggle. "You'll accuse me of prying."
Brody rolled his eyes. "Go ahead."
"I assume you and Junior have had sex by now."
"Jesus, Dave! Come on!"
"Bear with me. Just answer the question."
"Yeah, we have. He's amazing."
"By that I assume you aren't talking about his skills at restaurant management."
"Okay, since you asked. He's fuckin' gorgeous. He's interesting to be with. He's a great cook. And he's amazing in bed. There, you satisfied?"
Cromer had a look on his face that Brody couldn't interpret.
"'Gorgeous' is so gay!"
"I am gay, so get over it!"
"You can be gay without having to talk like a woman, Cox."
"Okay, okay. Now, to get back to the point, let's just say you have a new sex partner, and you seem pretty enthusiastic about him. Why should you begrudge Pete the same thing?"
"Wow! You do know how to cut through the crap, don't you?"
Dave smiled. "Yeah, I've always thought I was good at that."
"I suppose you're right. When Pete's ready, he'll tell me."
"And when you're ready, you'll tell him what's going on with you and Lynch?"
"Do you suppose Pete might be jealous of you and Junior? Could that be why he brought his buddy home?"
"I don't think Pete feels that way about me. Besides, I don't think he'd be that . . ."
"Yeah, that's the word, I guess."
"If it's petty of Pete to be jealous enough of you and Lynch to bring home his roomie and flaunt their friendship, then isn't it petty of you to be jealous of their friendship since you and Junior are messing around?"
Brody yawned, finished his beer, and said, "Cromer, I hate to admit this, but you're right. About everything. You've talked me through my problem. And you've done a damned good job of it. Maybe you should have been a shrink."
"Bite your tongue!" Dave grinned, finished his beer and slid out of the booth
Outside the bar, Dave asked, "You want a ride home?"
"Nah, thanks. I need to walk."
"Okay. See ya around."
"Yeah. And, Dave?"
"You're welcome." He turned to go to his car, stopped and turned back toward Brody. "Oh, there's just one more thing."
The stars shone in the clear sky. It had gotten cold. Brody zipped up his jacket, shoved his hands in his pockets and walked rapidly toward his apartment, wondering just what Cromer's advice meant.
My thanks to Drew and Mickey for encouragement and editorial advice.
If you'd like to write me about this story, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim