Mike and Danny: Brad's Story
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
The afternoon light was already waning as they went back in the house, where Max got them each a beer and they stood in the kitchen, watching football on a little portable TV.
"You still hungry?" Max asked.
Brad shook his head.
"I always got room for a piece of something." Max laughed, like he didn't mean just the slice of pie he was cutting for himself. Then, with a flourish and a low, gasping sigh, he covered it with shots of whip cream from a spray can.
He hadn't changed a bit, Brad thought. There was still that one-track mind at work.
"So what's this we couldn't talk about over dinner?" he wanted to know, glancing at the TV. "Was I right? You and your wife split up?"
Brad took a deep breath. He was going to have to tell his story again.
And this time wasn't any easier. As he talked, Max leaned against the countertop, eating his pie and now and then taking a drink from his can of beer.
"So, she found out you been hosin' somebody else?" he interrupted.
Brad hadn't heard the expression since the old days with Max at the golf course.
"It was just one guy I knew. In Nebraska."
"Long way to go for a fuck."
And Brad explained how they'd meet up once or twice a year at conferences in different cities.
"Long time to wait for one, too." He was licking away whip cream from his mustache.
Brad tried to explain that for many years it had been enough. That what he felt for Craig had been able to keep him going. But he couldn't expect Max to understand any of this. Unless he'd changed a lot, any talk of feelings would go right over his head. Max didn't have time for a long story anyway.
So he summed it all up in as few words as possible. When you left out all the feelings, there wasn't much left to say anyway.
"Nothing lasts forever," Max said, shaking his head. It was a slender gesture at sympathy.
"I want to know about you and Elmer," Brad said, wanting to change the subject.
"What's there to know? He was sucking my dick way back when me and you was caddies. Out in one of them storage sheds. Guess you didn't know about that." He laughed and let his eyes drift back to the TV.
"The way you talked, you were always chasing girls."
"I did plenty of that, too. But Elmer was always sort of a daddy to me. I kinda liked that. Plus he had a place for me to move in if I wanted. Not this one," he waved with his fork toward the rest of the house. "He used to have a nice apartment. Big one. After I got outta school, I lived with him as much as I lived anywhere else."
"You've been together all this time?"
Max shrugged. "Off and on."
"Nobody's ever wondered about the two of you?"
"Why should anybody wonder? Anyway, people leave Elmer alone."
It seemed Elmer had friends everywhere around town. He knew men in city hall and on the police force.
"He could tell you stories," Max said laughing, getting another beer from the refrigerator. "You get to thinking you know the only other queer guy in town, and you find out they're all over. And a lot of 'em are just like you. Married with kids. And grandchildren, some of 'em."
Brad heard the old cynicism in Max's voice. He'd always said you couldn't turn around without tripping over all the liars, cheats, and hypocrites. And believing that gave him all he needed to feel superior.
"What do you do for a living?" Brad said.
He worked for a beverage distributor, he said, driving a truck. "I'm the guy every other guy likes to see coming. Soon as they take a look at what I got, they have this big smile on their face and something friendly to say to me. I like that, if you know what I mean."
It could have been more of his leering sex talk, but for the moment he sounded sincere.
"Beats hell outta some of the other jobs I had." He paused, still watching the game. "Worked on oil rigs for a while. Fuckin' twelve-hour shifts about killed me. That and," his voice trailed off. "Well, how do I put this? Some of those guys are lunatics when they don't get laid regular. Don't matter who or what they get their hands on."
And he talked about taking a job one summer herding sheep up into the mountains and back. "That's something you do once. It's as bad one way as working oil rigs is the other." He laughed then. "Though I never got fucked by a sheepor even fucked one. Though I came damn close."
Brad wondered whether to believe any of this. Max's stories had always seemed far-fetched.
"Anyway, what's it like bein' a college professor?" Max asked, like it was Brad's turn to talk now.
Brad wondered how to answer the question. He enjoyed what he did, but next to almost any other hard working man, his life always seemed well ordered, low-risk, and boring.
"There should be plenty young ass there for the taking," Max was saying. "You ever help yourself to any of that?"
Brad thought of Del, the memory of him still warm somewhere inside him. But what he felt for the boy didn't belong in the kind of conversation he was having with Max.
"No, I haven't," he said.
"C'mon, professor, your secrets are safe with me."
There was that promise again from somebody he hardly knew, and it brought back even more vividly the image of Del in the dim light of his room, his blue eyes, and the music playing on the stereo.
"The college has rules about stuff like that," he said.
"Rules are meant to be broken."
"Not all of them."
"Bullshit. The only rules that matter are the ones you make for yourself."
"You have any rules?"
"Yeah, not to pass up an opportunity to have some fun." He put down his beer. "I'll tell you what I've learned from life. You can knock yourself out doing everything by the book, or you can make it easy on yourself and just go with the flow. Take your pick."
"Sounds like a philosophy for hippies," Brad said.
"That's one bunch it don't work for," Max said. "I got hooked up with this girl once who got me into one of them communes, whatever you call it, in California. It was great for a while. Plenty of free love. Go around naked. Didn't matter who sleeps with who, but boy it sure didn't last long."
"Basic economics. It was all outgo and no income."
"So you do have some rules."
"Stop playin' Perry Mason. All I'm sayin' is, nothin's free. You gotta pay to play."
"I don't disagree with you."
"You mean we actually agree on something?" Max laughed. "Shit, I was starting to think we never would."
He got more beers from the refrigerator, put them in a cooler, and said, "I'm all for continuing this enlightening conversation out in the hot tub."
And Brad followed him through the house and onto the back deck, stopping on the way to take a leak in the bathroom. As he unzipped and stood at the toilet, his eye fell on the drawing that hung on the wall.
The man in the drawing faced away so all you saw was the back of him, but he had turned his head slightly, like he was listening, aware of your presence. Brad wondered what Max saw when he looked at it. A pure image; grace frozen in time. Or a nice ass waiting to be fucked.
Being here in this house far from what he thought of as home, with two men who hardly knew him, Brad realized he felt lost and alone. Was this how it was going to be from now on?
He flushed the toilet and looked again at the man in the drawing. There was no way to tell what he was thinking or feeling. He was just another stranger. Would he want to know Brad? Come to love him? Or just fuck him and stay a stranger? Or even just turn away not interested at all?
When Brad got out to the deck, Max had put the cooler down by the Jacuzzi and was getting out of his clothes. The cover was off the hot tub, the water churning and steaming in the cold air. Brad wondered why they needed a cooler for the beer. Outside it was not much above freezing.
Max had his jeans down to his knees and was hopping on one bare foot while he pulled a boot off the other. His hairy butt stuck out from under his shirttail as he bent over.
Before Brad starting undressing himself, Max was already naked and stepping into the water. He tried to remember if he'd ever seen Max with his clothes off before. His body was thick with dark hair. Soon he had sunk in the bubbling water up to where his nipples would be if you could see them.
Brad felt the shock of cold air on his skin as he took off his shirt and then quickly got out of the rest of his clothes to get into the tub. The hot water stung his skin for a moment, and he settled slowly into it, finding a seat in a corner across from Max, who was now up to his chin, drops of wateror beerin his mustache.
"Fuck," he said. "I was gonna bring the TV." And he jumped out with a rush of falling water, some of it splashing onto the deck as he hurried into the house. Brad sat there, leaning back to gaze into the cloudless winter sky. The warmth of the water was comforting, blissful. There were jets of bubbles flowing along his sides and around his legs. He hoped Max would take his time. He wanted the moment to last for a while.
But he was soon back, the TV in one hand and holding the power cord in the other. He bent over, his wet body steaming, to plug the cord into an outlet. Brad closed his eyes, uninterested in getting a glimpse of Max's asshole.
Soon he could hear the sound of the football game again and Max jumping back into the tub.
There was a long moment while he kept his eyes shut, and then he was hearing Max's voice, right beside him. "You look like you could use some cheering up."
He opened his eyes and found Max sitting there right beside him, studying him.
"I'm OK," Brad said. "Just a little shell shocked."
Max raised his arm to lay it along behind Brad's shoulders and with his other hand began slowly massaging his thigh. Though he'd been wishing Max had stayed on his side of the tub, it felt good to be touched like this. He let his head fall back on Max's arm and closed his eyes again, chuckling.
"What's so funny?" Max wanted to know. Under water, his hand was slipping further into Brad's crotch.
"Feels like being two high school kids in the back row of the balcony."
"Maybe for you," Max said. "I had something else in mind."
"Not until we go steady," Brad said and chuckled again.
Max's hand stopped and came out of the water to turn Brad's face toward his.
"You weren't this good lookin' when we was kids back then," he said. And he opened his mouth to give Brad a kiss. The brush of his wet mustache on Brad's face surprised him, but Max's warm lips and his tongue felt good. And there was Max's hand again between his legs, this time rubbing his cock, which was now getting hard.
"You're not worried what Elmer would think if he saw us right now?" Brad said.
"He wouldn't care."
"How could he not care?"
"I'm not his slave boy, if that's what you're thinking."
Slave boy? Brad wondered.
"What I'm thinking is, if I were you I'd respect Elmer enough not to be fooling around behind his back." And he pried Max's hand from his cock.
Max laughed. "Boy, you sure got a lot to learn."
"Maybe I do."
Max had been a handsome, friendly guy walking in the door two hours before, and it pleased Brad to see him and Elmer together, believing they loved and trusted each other.
But he'd discovered that things weren't what they seemed. Max was still a horny teenager who'd never really grown up. He wondered how Elmer had put up with him like this all these years. And Brad knew he could never feel at home here in this house where two men lived in a world so unlike the one he'd known.
Max pulled away and slipped head and all under the churning surface of the water, emerging again a few feet away. His long wet hair was wrapped around his face now, his mustache dripping. He was blinking his eyes and frowning at Brad.
"What don't you like about me?" Max wanted to know. "That I'm not educated like you? That I'm some low-life? Just a dumb truck driver?"
"I never said I didn't like you."
"I thought we was gettin' something started there. Are you sure you're queer?"
Brad took a look at him, trying to tell if he was really as pissed off as he sounded.
"Hell, I always liked you," Max said.
"No, you didn't. We argued all the time."
"I wanted you for a buddy. I never had a best friend."
"You're making this up. There was a whole bunch of your pals at school you hung around with."
"Those guys were jerk-offs. Every last one of 'em."
Brad couldn't disagree. In their ducktails and turned-up shirt collars, with their jeans pulled low on their hips, they were all trying too hard to look like delinquents.
"Rebels without a cause," he said. That was how Brad had always thought of them.
Max's face brightened a little. "You see that movie? I saw it five times. I wanted to be Sal Mineo, but that girl kept taking James Dean away from him."
Sal Mineo? Brad tried to remember the young actor with his baby face and soulful eyes. Nothing like Max with all his tough talk. And this, he realized, was the Max who slept with teddy bears, the fragile man, still a boy inside his hard-as-nails exterior.
"That's when I knew I was queer," Max said, and laughed. "Jesus, I wanted to cry when James Dean got killed in that car wreck. And I'll break your neck if you tell anybody."
"Who would I tell?"
"You might think of somebody."
Max ducked his head in the water again and then smoothed back his wet hair. There he was, looking like he did when Brad last knew him, a wannabe biker or a hood. All he needed was the leather jacket. And all that time in school with a secret passion for James Dean and a stash of teddy bears somewhere.
"I bet you and your pals laughed your asses off about me plenty of times," Brad said.
"Not while I was around."
"What are you saying? You actually defended me?"
"No. I'm saying don't flatter yourself. You never came up as a subject of discussion."
"What did you all talk about anyway?"
"Are you kidding? Girls. Always girls, girls. And me right along with 'em."
"Too bad you didn't mention anything to me. I had a crush on James Dean, too."
"Mighta made a difference if I did. Who knows? Coulda been buddies after all."
Brad doubted this, but let himself entertain the idea. How would his life have turned out if he'd had a friend like Max? He might never have married. He might have found himself with another man instead. And how would that have turned out? It was too complicated to imagine.
"Just think," Max said, musing. "I could've ended up like you, a college professor," Then he shook his head. "Course, I'd have needed a brain transplant first."
Max went to the side of the pool and looked over the side at the TV.
"You got money on that game or something?" Brad said.
"Yeah, and I'm losin' my shirt."
"Fifty bucks and a blowjob."
"I'm not joking." Max came over beside him again, slipping down until the back of his neck was against the edge of the tub. His leg came to a rest against Brad's.
"We gonna be friends again?" Max said.
"Does that mean we can have some fun now?"
"No, it doesn't."
Max closed his eyes and put his hands behind his head. "I didn't think so."
And it was fine, just having Max stretched out there beside him. Like this, it wasn't all that hard imagining them as boyhood buddies. It would have felt good knowing there was somebody who liked him enough to let him be just who he was.
Over the rumble of the hot tub, there was the faint sound of "Silent Night" chiming from inside the house. "I think I hear the doorbell," Brad said.
Max sat up, listening. "I think you're right." He got out of the water, bent to lift the lid off a plastic bin, pulled out a folded towel to put around him, and went inside.
Brad settled further into the water, letting it splash against his chin. His thoughts drifted from Max to Elmer, then to Del and finally to Craig, who would be with his family on this Christmas Day, and he wondered if Craig was thinking of him.
How happy he'd be if Craig were here with him. They'd had a hot tub to themselves late one night at a hotel in Houston. Tired out from lovemaking most of the afternoon, they'd simply held hands underwater. He'd been nearly delirious with delight.
Then he remembered how when he got home that time, there had been this household crisis. The plumbing had sprung a leak and flooded the bathroom.
Not only that. Some other driver had backed into the family car where his wife had parked it in the grocery store parking lot, and they'd driven off leaving a scraped fender and smashed taillight.
She was in tears when he walked through the door. "Where have you been?" she wanted to know. "You were supposed to be back hours ago."
Where he'd been was sitting in a bar at the Houston airport, grabbing what time there was left to be together with Craig. They'd each waited to take the last planes home. Now, the heavenly floating feeling of being with the one he loved quickly evaporated, and he was back to being the responsible family man.
He shook himself free of that memory and wondered how the wife and kids who'd depended on him for all these years and couldn't seem to get along without him would manage now that he wouldn't be living every day and night with them under the same roof. He hadn't a clue.
He realized now that he was hearing Max's voice. He was talking to someone, and as the door to the house opened, he saw Max coming out onto the deck with another man. It was a young guy, in a long winter coat, a worn baseball cap on his head.
"Grab yourself a beer," Max was saying, "and shuck yourself outta them duds. The water's good'n warm, so hop on in."
The guy looked doubtful and hesitated as he saw Brad.
"It's OK," Max said, pulling off his towel and stepping back into the tub. "We're all friends here." And he introduced the new guy. "This is Clayton. Met him at the soup kitchen this morning. Had a little chat and we kinda hit it off. I told him to come by."
Clayton was getting out of his coat. It must have been something from Goodwill, and before that spent two or three decades in the back of somebody's closet. It was the kind of dark wool topcoat Brad's grandfather would have worn. An insurance adjuster who bought his clothes at Brooks Brothers, he'd been the best dressed man at his own funeral.
The young man stepped out of his sneakers and hurried out of his shirt and pants, stopping for a moment to stand there, uncertain, in his undershorts. Then he pushed them down, and out flopped a long, fat dick that swung between his legs as he put one leg over the side of the tub and eased himself in.
So far, he had said nothing. Just nodded when Max handed him a beer. He glanced at Brad before sucking in the foam from the top, then stared into the churning water.
Is this how Max picked up guys, Brad wondered. Find them when they're broke and looking for a handout? And he wondered how much they'd be willing to swap in return.
"That your dog in the garage?" the guy said, looking up at Brad.
"He's a good'n."
Wellington had been barking when he heard the door chime, Max explained, and they had stepped into the garage to have a look at him.
"Used to have one of them hunting dogs," Clayton said. "He's back home now. Sure do miss him." He had some more of his beer.
"Where's your home?" Brad asked.
"Colorado. I come down here to be with my brother, but he's living with his girlfriend, and me and her don't get along." He'd been working at odd jobs around town, he said, and sleeping at a shelter.
Max, meanwhile, had moved over closer to him. "You look like you could use some cheering up," he said.
Brad wanted to laugh. It was the same cheap line he'd used before. And he didn't seem to care that Brad knew it.
"I dunno. Guess you could say I've been a little homesick," Clayton said.
Brad watched the two of them, not sure how well Clayton understood Max's intentions. The guy kept glancing over at Brad as he talked, as if he wished Brad was the one taking an interest in him.
Max was next to him now, and if Brad could see under water, he was sure he'd find one of Max's hands on Clayton's leg. When Clayton didn't move away or seem to object, Brad figured the guy knew what he was doing. Whatever the deal was that he was making with Max, he was willing to trade what he had for what Max was able to deliver.
Brad hoped he was wrong, but when something Max whispered in his ear made Clayton's face break into a shy smile, he was pretty sure where this was all going. And he hated Max for it.
Well, maybe not hated. Brad was no paragon of virtue himself. He'd done his own kind of fooling around, playing outside the sandbox, as he'd once thought of it. But he was no kid anymore. All his playing had become dead serious.
Still, he'd never preyed on someone weaker and needy. And while he'd been unfaithful to his wife, he'd never been unfaithful to Craig. He'd found the one man he loved, and until last night with Del he'd honored the affection they felt for each other.
That was not the way of someone like Max, who seemed to think there were no rulesexcept to have himself all the fun there was to be had. It didn't matter who the other guy was. And it didn't matter what Elmer thought either.
When Max bent forward to kiss Clayton, Brad got out of the tub and grabbed a towel to quickly dry off before he could feel the cold air on his skin. Then he picked up his clothes and walked into the house.
Glancing over his shoulder as he went, he saw that the two men were still kissing.
Continued . . .
© 2010 Rock Lane Cooper