Authors: Christopher Koehler
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian
The dust cloud resolved into a pickup truck. Okay, that didn’t necessarily mean one of the construction crews. But then he caught sight of the sunburst logo of Sundstrom Homes, and his dad, Randall Sundstrom himself, got out of the truck.
Brad sat up, pulling his feet off his desk. He rubbed one hand across his cropped hair nervously. He watched his dad approach, practically strutting. His father was shorter than he was, but broader, if that were possible, and built like a fireplug where Brad was just big and heading for beefy. Despite the weathered appearance a career spent outdoors had given him, Randall’s hair was still just as blond as it had always been. Sometimes Brad wished he’d inherited his dad’s genes for hair, rather than the baldness from his mom’s father, but mostly he’d made peace with his thinning hair.
Randall walked in the door, a battered leathern portfolio tucked under one arm. “Bradley.” He crossed the room and went directly to the file cabinets where Brad had been told to store the files of pending and completed sales, as well as the design records on each inhabited house. “There’s nothing new here, Bradley.”
“Randall, this place blows,” Brad complained without stopping to think first. “You told me when I agreed to come work for you that I’d be in the custom end of things.”
Randall looked up from the file he was reading. “First of all, there was no ‘agreed to come work for me’. I hired you because with your qualifications, I’d be paying for your upkeep regardless, and this way I’m getting some work in return. Or I would be if you’d actually sell some homes.”
“How am I supposed to do that when no one ever comes out here?” Brad grumbled.
“You’re here to prove yourself,” Randall said, shrugging as if it weren’t really his problem.
“How can I, when this place is dead?” Brad grumbled. Even he could tell the conversation had already curved back around on itself.
“Bring it back. That’s one of the reasons you’re out here. Since you’re so smart, it shouldn’t be any problem for you,” Randall said.
And there it was. Sooner or later their every argument came down to that. Randall thought Brad was stupid, and never missed a chance to remind his younger son of that fact. Every time they had this conversation, Brad felt like a naughty six-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar or breaking a window. Or breaking a window with the cookie jar.
Brad knew he wasn’t the smartest guy around, but he also knew he wasn’t that dumb, either. He’d actually done all right in school, graduating with a respectable GPA, even if he’d been a physical education major. But Randall had decided that of his two sons, Brad was the dumb one, and no amount of evidence to the contrary would be entertained.
Brad took a deep breath and tried again. “You specifically told me that I would be working in the custom division, not here. This isn’t even the active part of the tract-home division. This place is going to fail, and you know it.”
“Prove yourself, then talk to me about a transfer,” Randall said, shrugging.
“How can I do that when this place is dying?”
Another parental shrug. “That’s why I’ve put you here. New blood, fresh ideas.”
“Well, gee, Dad, I’ll just rewrite the marketing plan, since this one’s not working so well. Oh wait, I never studied marketing!” Brad said, trying to sound like Drew, the wittiest person he knew. He slapped his forehead. “That’s right, you pay some company for that. You’re sure getting your money’s worth. You never even asked me. You just plunked me down out here after telling me—guaranteeing me—that I’d start in the custom division. If I’d known I was going to be stuck out here in Outermost Bumfuck, I’d have taken another job,” Brad said.
“What other jobs?” Randall asked pointedly. “Did you even apply for anything else, or did you just assume I’d carry your ass like I always do?”
Brad looked down. “I didn’t apply for anything else because you promised me a job.”
“You’ve got no experience,” Randall said with exaggerated patience, “and—”
“You mean besides every summer since I started high school? I’ve done everything on the homes you build but pick out carpet in the design center. I’ve even led crews,” Brad said.
“No experience that counts,” Randall snapped, “and you’re lucky to have this one. Grow up.”
“I am grown up,” Brad said.
“You can’t be a teenager forever, but that’s what you act like. Man up. It’s time,” Randall said, shaking his head. He opened the leather folder and pulled out a business card. “Here’s the number for that worthless advertising agency. Call our sales rep and see what you can come up with to turn this place around.”
“Oh yes, sir,” Brad muttered as Randall stomped back to his truck. He glared at the clock. Fifteen whole minutes later than the last time he’d looked. At this time just a few months before, he’d have been carrying oars down the dock to get ready for practice. The realization made the office around him look smaller and tackier than it already was.
He picked the business card off the desk and stared at it for long moments. How the hell was he supposed to come up with a marketing plan, advertising agency or not? He almost wished he’d studied something useful in college, but CalPac College didn’t offer building management, and the communications major was aimed at broadcast journalism rather than PR. But somehow he was supposed to convince real estate agents to bring their clients out to this godforsaken wasteland.
Wait a minute. Brad sat up a little straighter in his chair. Drew was a real estate agent. He grinned, the first time since he’d started working there, as an idea sprouted.
, you’re here,” Nick said when Drew walked in to check the progress of the Abernathy renovation early one morning. “The flooring finally arrived, and we’re behind here, but you also want me to oversee the start of the demolition at the McKinley Park property and then place that order at the hardware store before I deal with the other five things you’ve got on the list for today. Despite my reputation for awesome studliness, I can only do one thing at a time, and there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Pick one.”
“God, you’re up early. Don’t you ever sleep?” Drew said, squinting at Nick over his bladder-buster-sized coffee.
“It’s six and I’m a rower. I’ve been awake since four thirty. Besides, you’re the one who said sleep is for sissies,” Nick said, grinning at Drew’s obvious pain.
“And you said I’m a sissy, so it’s your fault,” Drew muttered.
Nick just laughed. “Seriously, I can’t be everywhere at once.”
“Yeah, I know,” Drew said, thinking. “Call the flooring contractor and beg. All that reclaimed teak doesn’t do a lick of good if it just sits in the garage. I just hope we haven’t lost the window of opportunity and have to go with someone else. She’s one of the best in town.”
“Will do,” Nick said, nodding. “Then?”
“The demolition, then the order, and then the list, which is exactly what you just told me. Why did you even need to bother me with this?” Drew asked.
“Because you’re the boss, and I’m not a contractor. Seriously? Wood floors in a kitchen? I don’t care how much marine varnish we put on this, water’ll get under it,” Nick said.
“I know, but we’re not the decorator. This is kind of an unusual case. When Emily Schoenwald called begging, I couldn’t tell her no. Her regular contractor flaked and is now her ex-contractor. But that left her without someone to oversee the reno, and this is a chance for me to build my renovations portfolio. We’re kind of in the middle between the decorator and Bob Miller, the tame contractor I keep on a string who checks off all my work before it’s inspected.”
Nick shrugged. “It’s not my kitchen, but I’ve seen what water does to the docks at boathouse. They’ll be yanking this out within five years, tops.”
“Speaking of crew and tops,” Drew said, drawing a sharp glance from Nick. “Can I please, please, please have Brad’s number?”
“I told you—” Nick began.
“Yes, you did,” Drew said, “and your integrity is one of the reasons I love you, but damn, man. Help me out.”
Nick leaned against the counter, regarding Drew. “What is it about him that gets to you?”
“He’s just… I don’t know. There’s just something about him that grabs hold of me and won’t let go.” Drew didn’t feel like getting into it right then with Nick. It made him feel defensive. He knew Nick didn’t mean it that way, but still.
“He’s been e-mailing Morgan a disturbing amount this summer. I’ll remind Morgan that he can give Brad your info if Brad asks for it, but honestly, that’s the best we can do,” Nick said.
“I know.” Drew sighed, wishing it was more.
Nick looked at his watch. “I’ve got my marching orders for today, but I’ve also got a time slot in the human performance lab at school. As much as I use all those erg tests in my research, I need more data points than I can wring out of my crews. I’ll call the flooring contractor on my way to school and get on the rest when I’m done.”
“Thanks, buddy, I appreciate it. I’ll check on the work crew myself. Keep me posted on the flooring situation,” Drew said as Nick headed out to his car.
As long as he was there, Drew decided he’d better inspect the rest of the job very thoroughly. Hopefully the snafu with the flooring wouldn’t push the job too far past the due date, but in case it did, he needed to be able to justify it to the designer and the homeowners. He grabbed the file and a pen and started prowling. He needed a contractor of his own, or better yet, he needed to be a contractor, but how was that going to happen? He couldn’t just quit real estate to work for his contractor’s license, even assuming his home reno experience would give him enough background in the necessary trades. He had bills to pay, and that meant selling houses.
He was stuck in a holding pattern. Real estate was slower than it had been and home reno was booming, but he couldn’t afford to jump into reno full-time because he financed his reno business through selling homes. Until he figured out a way out of this puzzle, he couldn’t really grow either aspect of his business.
As he went over each room from ceiling to floor, looking for flaws in the install or even just too much dust from the plaster, Drew’s mind moved to his usual favorite subject these days.
Drew couldn’t shake the guy from his mind and didn’t want to, when it came down to it. The attraction mystified him, but it was there and it was real. Brad wasn’t gay. He wasn’t beautiful in the usual sense. He wasn’t scathingly intelligent, although Drew had no data for that beyond Nick’s comments.
There was just something about him, something Drew found compelling beyond his “big lug” looks. Sure, the beefy build and shaved head hit all the right notes for him, but there was more than that. That shy smile Brad gave him when Drew helped after regattas. After the last one, the big win at the PCRCs, Drew was pretty sure Brad had been looking for him and didn’t relax until he spotted him. That shy smile went right to Drew’s heart… and groin.