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.
Brad couldn't remember a Christmas Day without his family, but there he was anyway, all by himself, sitting in a roadside diner south of Santa Fe, on his way to Albuquerque. The place was crowded with people just like himgoing from somewhere to somewhere else.
People in ski jackets in a hurry to get to the ski slopes, tourists heading anywhere warm, families with cranky and sleepy-eyed kids on the way to grandma's house, a couple long-haul truckers who hadn't made it home for the holiday. One of them kept playing a Merle Haggard song on the juke box. In one corner there were two young cowboys, laughing at each other's jokes.
He had no real reason to be going to Albuquerque except that it was some place to gosome place that wasn't the bomb site he was leaving behind in Santa Fe. Hitting the open highway that morning, he'd felt totally free for the first time in years.
His problems weren't over. They'd be there waiting for him when he got back. But for a few days he was taking a vacation from them.
Leaving his wife Coretta had been a cross between grand opera and the Three Stooges. Weeping and wailing had been a scene she'd practiced whenever things had gone bad between them in their twenty years together. She would panic, believing they were about to break up.
Marriage, he'd once hoped, would change all that, when she learned they could have their differences without his walking out on her for good. But whatever reassurance a big wedding had given her hadn't lasted more than 12 hours into their honeymoon.
He'd said or done something that didn't fit the wedding night scenario she'd had in mind, and the anxious wailing had started all over again. He'd been walking on eggshells ever since.
If they'd differed over how to decorate their first apartment and how to spend his modest income as a college teacher, how had he expected things would be any different about having kids? She'd wanted a houseful of them, as if they already had the house, and before he got promoted from assistant to associate professor, there were already three of them and a fourth on the way.
It was the fourth that finally broke him. The mortgage on the four-bedroom house he found himself buying made sense as long as they didn't buy another stick of furniture, a new car, or take another family vacation. He thought there'd been an agreement with Coretta about this, but no such luck. Before he knew it, the unpaid bills were piling up, and they were in debt over their heads.
They sold the houseafter more weeping and wailing. This time they moved in with her sister, Marietta, who'd married a real estate developer and was living well on commissions from high-end sales to wealthy couples with hearts set on owning a second home there in Santa Fe. Marietta and her husband Brewster had only one kidso there was plenty of room in their rambling mansion with a pool, guest house, and three-car garage.
It was Brewster, in fact, who had persuaded them into that four-bedroom with its "ideal location" and "excellent re-sale value." The plan he'd sold them on was to sell it again in five years and buy a place more like Brewster's. Santa Fe real estate was going to go through the roof, he said, and windbag though he was, it was hard to resist his wide-eyed vision of pots of gold at the ends of rainbows. He had similar plans for his own house.
"What the fuck happened to you?" Brewster said when it all turned into a nightmare instead.
"Coretta," Brad had told him. "She won't stop buying stuff we can't afford."
"You gotta put your foot down. Like I did. Marietta thinks credit is just money you haven't spent yet. I sure as hell put a stop to that from day one."
Brad and Brewster never had much to say to each other, and even less after that, except Brewster quickly found them a foreclosure they could fit themselves and the kids into. It wasn't in the best part of town, but it was a roof over their heads. And it was supposed to be temporary.
Supposed to be. They were still there after twelve years.
The kids, meanwhileoh, the kids, he would sigh when he thought of them. The oldest had stopped speaking to any of them, let his hair grow like a hippie, and disappeared most nights whether he was grounded or not. His two daughters, the youngest, could fight endlessly. Only his second son, a sweet-tempered boy with a ready smile, came close to being a model childlike a kid from somebody else's family, switched at birth. He did his chores around the house, said please and thank you, and brought home straight-A report cards.
Somewhere during all those yearshe couldn't remember whenhe'd met Craig at a conference. There had been a mix-up on the program, and they'd wound up on the same panel delivering papers on different subjectsBrad's on nursery rhymes in James Joyce and Craig's on Sioux Indian lullabies. They'd hung out for a while afterwards, sensing what turned out to be a more personal interest they had in commonthe desire after several drinks to get each other alone and naked.
Craig had nearly consumed him that first night with an appetite that seemed bottomless, while Brad had let it all happen like it was a dream he was having. Sex with Coretta had become a job like everything else in their marriageone more chore he was expected to take care of.
But Craig's touch, as he loosened Brad's tie and unbuttoned his shirt that first time, sent waves of tender feelings through him, and Craig's hand between his legs had discovered an erection so hard Brad nearly cried out with surprise.
After that, hey had met once or twice every year at conferences from Seattle to Miami, and whenever the going got rough, which was often, he had always those times with Craig to look forward to. And so the months passed for him, one by one.
Until he came to believe he couldn't make it any more from each conference to the next. He'd made up his mind to get out of his albatross of a marriage and persuade Craig to do the same. He'd begged the man to leave his wife and let the two of them spend the rest of their rapidly passing lives together.
Which hadn't happened. Craig, who had started it all, was now backing out on him. He declared that he wanted to stick it out with his wife and family. It looked like the two friends might never be together again. But Brad had gone ahead anyway and told his wife he was leavingand why.
After more weeping, wild accusations, and broken dishes, she had tried to throw almost everything he'd ever considered his ownclothes, golf clubs, a typewriter and desk lamp from his college daysonto the front yard. The kids had scattered to their friends' houses, while neighbors watched from behind the branches of Christmas trees in their picture windows.
He had fled in his second-hand Chevy Nova, spending the first night in his office at the college, sleeping on the floor. His world had ended, and after he'd turned the lights off, the future had become a vast black hole into which his miserable life was plummeting.
Returning to his house the following day, to retrieve what Coretta had flung onto the front yard, he found his brother-in-law's Chrysler parked in the driveway. Inside, Marietta was in the kitchen putting breakfast on the table for three of his kids, who were still in their pajamas. They gave him baleful looks and said nothing, while Marietta stood at the stove and berated him, threatening to take a swing at him with a hot frying pan she gripped in one hand.
"Where's Coretta?" he wanted to know, refusing to be intimidated in his own kitchen.
"She's in her bedroom, and she's not coming out."
Already it was "her" bedroom. Not his anymore.
With that, Brewster had come in from the garage, where he'd probably been snooping around for god knows what. He was a nosy bastard.
"Come outside," he said to Brad. "I'm gonna bust you one in the nose."
"No need for that," Marietta had said grimly, turning back to the stove to scoop up a pancake and flip it over into the hot grease. She wanted to let it be known that she'd be the one to deal with Brad, and she wasn't done yet.
It had gone on like that, from bad to worse. Coretta wasn't just wounded by his betrayal of her trust. She'd sprained her back trying to heave boxes of his books out of the housethere'd never been book shelves to put them on. The doctor prescribed a combination of pain killers and sedatives that had her as good as comatose.
Meanwhile, his dog, a Labrador named Wellington, had got out of the back yard and disappeared, and Brad would spend a fruitless day trying to find him.
"I hope he gets run over by a truck," Marietta said, not caring that his children could hear her every syllable. And what hurt him, he realized, was that they hadn't raised a word of objection. How quickly, it seemed, he had become a villain in his own house.
Brewster had followed him to the car that first morning, and Brad fully expected the punch he'd been promised. But his brother-in-law had only a few words for him, something he probably couldn't bring himself to say in front of Marietta.
"So you're saying you're queer?" he wanted to know. "That's the goddamnedest excuse I ever heard for gettin' out of being married." He said it like maybe he'd considered all the options himself. God knows, Marietta was no bargain.
Brad had no intention of discussing this with Brewster. He was already sitting in the car and starting the engine.
"Go to hell," he said. And it felt good knowing that a divorce would mean getting rid of the in-laws he never liked.
"You gonna leave your shit all over your front yard?" Brewster said.
Brad didn't answer and just drove away.
Brewster was yelling after him something that sounded like, "You're gonna need a lawyer. You got a lawyer?"
He had spent a second night in his office, staring at the phone and wishing he could call his old friend Craig in Nebraska, but there was slim chance of reaching him, and anyway Craig had promised his wife not to talk to him again. The loneliness of the cold, silent office building finally got to him, and Brad went for a walk around campus.
Which was how he ran into one of his students, a tall, lanky kid called Del, who emerged from the backdoor of the college cafeteria. With the fur-lined hood of his parka pulled close around his face, he wasn't easy to recognize at first.
"Hey, doc, what you up to?" he called out.
Grateful for the sound of a friendly voice, Brad stopped and waited for the boy under a dimly glowing street lamp.
"How come you aren't home for the holidays?" he said.
"They got me helping them put in a new kitchen," Del told him. "Extra bucks. Can't hurt."
"Working this late?"
Del was from back East somewhere, New York Brad thought. He had the worldly mannerisms of a twenty-one-year-old familiar with big cities. Not like the kids from the suburbs of California, who considered New Mexico almost a foreign country. Del understood Holden Caulfield in ways the other students never would.
Something else about Del was that he always talked to Brad like they were equalsnot in learning, but in their take on life. Independent and apparently unattached, he seemed to drift easily and without worry through his young years. It would be like him to stay around campus instead of going home for Christmas.
"Don't you have family somewhere?" Brad asked as they walked along.
"Mom's in San Francisco. Asked if I wanted, she'd fly me there for Christmas," he said, but shrugged like he didn't care much for the idea. "Dad's in South America. Got some big project with an oil company. Probably a girlfriend, too."
"Your folks not married?" Brad asked, interested.
"You kidding? Who stays married anymore?"
"Some do," Brad said, thinking of Craig. But he didn't want to burden Del with any of his own troubles. Instead, he let himself feel single again, like Del, and found that he enjoyed the sudden sense of freedom.
"Where you headed?" Del asked him.
"Wanna come by my place?" Del lived off-campus in a house he rented with some other students. "Got the whole place to myself."
"See if there's anything to eat. Have a couple cold ones."
They walked off campus along streets with patches of frozen snowmelt, and up the sidewalk to the house. Inside, the rooms were darkened, but a light shone in the kitchen, and they stood together with their coats on eating cold pizza they found in the refrigerator and drinking beer.
If Del had any curiosity about why Brad wasn't at home with his own family at this hour, he didn't mention it. There was just the idle talk of two men passing the time together. Del had sat in his class onceLiterature of the Western World, one of the college's general education requirementsand raised his hand often to comment on something they'd read.
But then, like now, he was playing like nothing really mattered outside this moment they were in. Troubles, concerns, anxieties were of no consequence. If he had them, they were not a burden to him.
"It's warmer in my room," he said when they'd finished the pizza, and he left, not waiting for Brad to follow him.
They went down a carpeted hallway and entered a room lit by the glow of a lava lamp, the faint smell of incense in the air. There was hardly space to turn around, with a big chair, desk, and a TV. A rack against one wall was stacked with stereo components and huge speakers. There were piles of record albums on the floor, psychedelic posters on the walls and a red flag with a hammer and sickle in one corner. A double bed filled the rest of the room.
"Back in the U.S.S.R.," Del laughed, when he saw Brad studying the flag. "Buddy brought it for me from Moscow last year."
The room was warm. Del was already taking off his parka and hanging it from a hook on the door. As Brad got out of his own coat, Del reached for it and hung the two of them together.
"You like Fleetwood Mac?" he asked.
Del put an LP on the stereo turntable. The room filled with a song Brad had never heard before.
The magic of a blackened night
Can go so far, but not seem right
Brad sat down in Del's big chair, and Del reached for something in a desk drawer before sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Smoke?" he said, looking up, and began shaking little shreds of tobacco into a cigarette paper. Then Brad realized it wasn't tobacco.
He shook his head no. The only time he'd tried to smoke pot was at a party with a few faculty friends, and he'd got sick, throwing up with his head hanging over the toilet bowl.
One of his friends, with more experience, kept telling him to get outside and breathe in the night air for a while, study the stars, get a good vibe going, which was not going to happen there in the bathroom. But even outside, his stomach wouldn't stop roiling. He hadn't tried the stuff again.
Del lit the joint, got it started, and handed it to Brad anyway. "Go ahead. I won't tell anyone," he said. "Your secret's safe with me."
"It's not that. It makes me sick."
"This is the best. It won't make you sick."
Brad took it, still hesitant, and gingerly took a puff.
"Hold it in," Del said, watching him, and waited until he'd taken another before reaching for it again.
Brad settled back in the chair, fighting the urge to cough as his lungs burned. Then he slowly exhaled.
"See what I said?" Del said. "It's good stuff. Goes down real smooth."
Then for a while, they just listened to the music, and after taking another puff Brad could feel himself begin to lighten gently, like the music itself was soothing his tired body, and he closed his eyes.
Moments later, when he opened them once more, he saw Del holding the joint out to him again. Only he'd got up from the bed, seeming to steady himself by putting his hand on Brad's shoulder.
"A little more?" he said, leaning down now until he was only inches away.
Brad shook his head. "I got enough. You finish it."
"I was just getting started," Del said, laughing, and he touched his lips to Brad's cheek.
When Brad did not pull awaytoo frozen with surprise to moveDel opened his lips to kiss the spot he had just touched. Then he leaned back a bit to look with cool blue eyes into Brad's. "You OK with that?" he said softly.
Brad nodded a little, though he wasn't sure what in him had decided to say yes.
"Come," Del said, pulling him by the elbow. "Let's get where we both can be comfortable." And Brad felt himself being drawn to the bed, his body lifting from the chair like he was a balloon on a string.
Once on his feet, he felt a twinge of resistance, another voice from somewhere saying he'd never been like this with a student before. It wasn't right.
"Maybe this isn't a good idea," he heard himself saying and stopped where he stood.
Del said nothing. Just put his arms lightly around him and kissed him full on the mouth. "Don't worry, doc," he said. "We're gonna be just fine."
That did it. He sank onto the bed with Del, rolling over onto him with the years of practice he'd had with Craig and kissing him again, letting one hand roam over his sweatshirt, then fumbling to reach under it and stroke his warm, smooth skin.
Time slowed, then seemed to stop. Now he was pushing up the sweatshirt and kissing Del's hairless chest, touching first one nipple and then the other with his tongue. There was a rushing sound in his ears, like white noise, as Del stirred under him sighing.
"Go for it, doc," he said after a while, pushing Brad's hand down to his belt buckle.
Afterward, he had no memory of opening the boy's jeanswere there buttons or a zipper? He'd somehow got himself off the bed and between his legs and was tugging them down, a flash of white jockey shorts coming along with them, all the way to his sneakers.
Which felt strangely familiar, and he realized it was like pulling off one of a hundred wet Pampers from each of his kids before they were toilet trained. The unexpected connection broke his momentum for a moment, and he heard himself start to laugh, though a part of him somewhere knew it wasn't all that funny. Then Del was laughing, too.
"What are we laughing about?" he said.
"Is there something wrong with my dick?"
"God, no. It's beautiful," Brad said. And taking a good look, he saw that it was. Long and full and straight, rosy pink against his pale skin.
The white noise in his ears had subsided, and he was taken by a little wave of clarity. He stopped laughing and saw that Del was hardly more than a boy himselfand half Brad's agehis ribs and bony knees showing under his skin, his belly sucked in, peach fuzz still on his testicles.
"I can't do this," Brad said.
"Can't do what?" Del wanted to know.
"Why not? You were on a roll there for a minute."
Now Brad was trying to pull up the boy's jeans over his calves.
"Leave the jeans where they are," Del said, sitting up to face him.
"I'm your teacher," Brad tried to explain. "Hell, I'm old enough to be your father."
"My dad is a bald man with a beer gut, bifocals, and bad snake tattoos on both arms. Don't go comparing yourself to him." He took hold of Brad's hands to stop him.
"I wasn't," Brad stammered.
Del leaned back and kicked off his sneakers and his jeans. They flew over Brad's head and fell somewhere behind him. Then he reached behind his shoulders and pulled the sweatshirt over his head, pitching it across the room.
"I used to sit in your class with a hard-on and just want you to like me," he said. "As much as I liked you." What had started out sounding like anger had become a kind of pleading.
"Are you serious?"
"Not often," Del said, like it was a confession. "But right here and right now, yes."
Brad had not moved from where he'd been all this time, kneeling beside the bed between Del's knees.
"If you don't get out of your clothes and get in bed with me, doc, you're gonna break this boy's heart."
For a moment, it sounded too much like a line Del had used before. He couldn't believe it was meant just for him.
Del held him with those blue eyes, waiting. Then Brad got to his feet, a little unsteady, and began unbuttoning his shirt. Every reason to put on his coat and just leave had then melted, like the goop that rose and fell in the warn glow of the lava lamp.
Naked, hopping off the bed to pull back the quilt and sheet, Del turned to him and reached for his belt, giving the end of it a tug to free the buckle. Then, he was pulling Brad's shirt from his pants.
While Brad took off his shoes and got out of his pants, Del went to the stereo and flipped over the LP. Bent forward, with his back to Brad, his body was a soft, slender stroke of milky half-light in the dimness of the room. Poised there, Brad thought, like a snow leopard.
"Does your dad really have snake tattoos?" he said.
"Forget him," Del said without turning, and from the stereo speakers there was the click of the needle finding its groove and the music began again.
And Brad did what he was told. He let himself forget everything.
Del waited until Brad got into the bed, then slipped in next to him. Under the sheet, the touch of naked skin against his was electric. They lay together, arms around each other stroking backs and backsides, their faces nuzzling on the pillow, until the kissing started again.
While the rest of it happened, Brad wanted to remember every second, but he found with the buzz in his head that each second erased the one before it. Sitting now in a café along the highway that would take him to Albuquerque, there were only fragments of memories that he'd been able to cling to.
There'd been the moment Del had finally reached between them and found his erection, marveling at whatever he found to marvel about it, "Son of a gun, doc," he kept saying. "Son of a gun."
After a while, he remembered, Del had climbed astride him and with a lot of spit and precum had worked Brad's cock into him. Then Brad had lain there, slipping his hands along Del's thighs and between his legs to caress all of him he could reach, with a depth of affection he hadn't expected to ever feel again.
When they both came, the taste of Del's cum on his lips, he wondered if he could love this boy and if this boy could love him back. He hoped so.
Continued . . .
© 2010 Rock Lane Cooper