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Authors: Christopher Koehler

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian

Tipping the Balance (4 page)

BOOK: Tipping the Balance
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But was Brad gay—that was the question. Sure, there was that smile. But what else, besides the vague feeling that where there was smoke, there’d be fire? Drew liked to think his gaydar was highly developed, but where Brad was concerned, he wasn’t sure. Brad pinged on his screen, but Drew knew very well that wishful thinking overrode gaydar every time, and where Brad was concerned, Drew wished pretty hard.

 

But then Drew remembered the last time he’d spotted a closeted jock about whom he just hadn’t been 100 percent sure. He’d studied the guy and then made his move, luring the guy out of the closet and into his life, and now Morgan Estrada reaped the rewards for Drew’s perseverance all those years before.

 

Nick had been a challenge, but Drew had always thrived on those, even as a child, defiantly and, at times, flamboyantly himself in the face of his family’s horror at the bird of paradise amidst the sparrows. Once they’d come around, he’d used their love as a shield behind which he’d stared down high-school bullies and tackled other perils of adolescence and adulthood.

 

Now Drew had found a new challenge. Sure, Brad was a little rough around the edges, but that was part of his charm and attraction. Drew’d dated plenty of suave and polished men, and none of those relationships had lasted. No, Drew had the desire and the drive to coax Brad out of the closet, and as soon as he had the means to do so, like a phone number and address….

 

Address. Shit. He looked at his watch. He also had a meeting with his broker and then an appointment to show clients a handful of houses. It was going to be a long day.

 
 
 

Morgan
came through! Good ol’ Morgan
, Brad thought. He was a stand-up guy, and when Brad had checked his private e-mail upon getting to work that morning, a message from Morgan had greeted him. With bated breath—and really, when had Brad ever done anything with bated breath?—he’d opened the e-mail, and pay dirt! There it was, contact information for one Mr. Drew St. Charles, e-mail, cell phone, even the land line. How cool was that?

 

Suddenly Brad was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as his grandmother used to say. Pits and palms started to sweat, and his chest was tight. What if Drew didn’t remember him? What if he’d just been acting nice at those regattas? Just humoring one of his friend’s jocks and not interested at all? He’d probably laugh at Brad just as soon as he hung up the phone, maybe call some of his gay friends to howl with laughter at the bumbling straight guy.

 

Why was a straight guy like him calling someone so… so…
out there
as Drew, anyway? Why was he spending so much time thinking about Drew? That couldn’t be good. He needed to find something else to do, something to distract him from this unhealthy obsession. What else could it be but an obsession? Why else would he be so hung up on some other dude?

 

Yeah, something to take my mind off Drew
, Brad thought.
That’s what I need
. He bounced up from his chair like he had a spring in his ass, pacing restlessly around the sales office. He spotted the folders containing the floor plans and design options. One was turned the wrong way!

 

He pounced, disassembling the stack entirely before carefully re-stacking them, one atop the next, Sundstrom Homes’ sunburst logo proudly displayed. He’d seen that logo as long as he could remember, but it was still kind of a trip to see his name in print like that, all official and everything.

 

Just like it had been a trip the first time Drew had tried to carry the oars up after the disaster of a race. What had that guy been thinking, trying to pick up all those oars? Sure, Brad could carry all eight at once if someone stacked them in his arms, but Drew? That had been funny. Drew’d looked at him with such gratitude, such a warm smile that went right to Brad’s groin, never mind how tired he’d been. Drew’d smiled at him and Brad had lit right up, even throwing a little wood. For a guy.

 

That was so wrong.

 

Damn, he was turning into a girl, Brad thought. Was this what chicks did if they called a guy? Had any of his girlfriends gone through this? If so, he promised to track down and apologize to each and every one of them.

 

Had he always been like this and just never noticed?
Pick up the damn phone
, he told himself.
Call him
. Yeah, sure, call him and sound like a doofus. What if he said the wrong thing? What if he couldn’t say anything at all? That’d be just like him.

 

He picked up one of the yellow pads of paper on his desk. He’d better write down everything he planned to say, from hello on down to goodbye.

 

“Hi, Drew,” Brad mumbled as he wrote the words down. Then what? That was always the problem with “Hi.” You had to follow it up with something.

 

He glanced around the office. Drumming on his desk with the pencil. Exhaling noisily. Hoping for inspiration.

 

He looked down at the pad. At last he figured out why he was going to call Drew. Drew was a real estate agent, and Brad needed some input from a pro, from one of the people Sundstrom Homes hoped would be bringing their clients in but weren’t. That was the easy part.

 

That done, he still had an entire conversation to script. He needed an outline. He had an entire notepad. Hell, when it came down to it, he had a stack of notepads he wasn’t using for anything else.

 

So. A conversation. He had the meat of the conversation. Now for the skin and bones. Cool. He could do this.

 

He flipped to another page and jotted down observations about the weather. That was child’s play. It was summer in Sacramento, so the weather came in two varieties, hot and hotter.

 

Another page, terrifying in its blankness. What had he been up to since he graduated?
Nothing, that’s what
. Wait. Duh. That’s what he’d been up to. He’d graduated and started this job for the family firm. No more rowing.

 

Brad brightened. Crew was another topic. So was Coach Bedford. Or should that be a separate topic? He agonized over that for a few moments before jotting his former coach’s name halfway down the page for crew.

 

He puzzled over the pages more, trying to elaborate on each one. It felt like writing an essay. He’d thought he was done with that, but no. Actually, he felt proud of himself for his hard work. That communications professor who said he’d never amount to anything should see him now. Brad. Making an outline. To call Drew.

 

Right
, Brad thought,
get to the point
. He brightened. That was gold, that was what that was.
Let… me… get… right… to… the… point
, he wrote in big block letters on another page.

 

Hmm, Brad thought, small talk. You don’t dive right in, not when you want something. You have to mosey up to it, make it look like you weren’t a user. It was just good manners. Those gay guys always had good manners, and business always seemed to involve the kind of pointless conversation that froze him to the floor.

 

So what did they have in common? Brad thought. And thought. And thought.
Well, we’ve both got cocks.
Brad started to write that down, then scratched it out, shaking his head. He was so not going there, because what they did with them? No.

 

With a sinking feeling, Brad figured he was screwed. He was noisy, obnoxious, and wasn’t above belching in public. Loudly. His car smelled like a locker room, and most of the time, his clothes, even when they were clean, looked like he’d wadded them up in a gym bag for a few days before wearing them. But Drew? Brad sighed, staring out the window, a soft look on his face. Drew was always so… so… suave. That was the word. Put together. He seemed like the kind of guy who always knew what to say, what to wear, and how to act. No wonder chicks liked the gays.

 

No wonder they didn’t like him. Brad knew he could hold it together for a date or two, but sooner or later he was bound to burp at the wrong moment, and from what he’d gathered from his dating history, there was never a right moment. Maybe it’d be different, being with a guy.

 

Who was he kidding? Brad was just a big, dumb oaf like his father said he was. He was screwed.

 

Then he flinched. “Screwed” was so not the word to use, not when he was….

 

Brad groaned, leaning back in his chair. He covered his face with his hands. Not when he was thinking about calling another guy, not when he wanted to ask that other guy out but didn’t know how, not when he thought about that other guy touching—

 

“No!” Brad bellowed, standing up. “I’m not thinking about guys touching anything. I’m not!”

 

He looked at the clock. It was almost noon. He couldn’t believe he’d spent three hours on this, but he had. Close enough. He was going to lunch.

 

He wasn’t gay. He couldn’t be.

 

The restless, thudding anxiety robbed him of his appetite, so instead of eating, he just drove around. Driving was good. Driving cleared his mind. Driving gave him a break from thinking about gay men and conversations and other things he didn’t want to think about it.

 

But when his lunch hour ended, he was back to calling Drew. He had to. His original idea might’ve been a ruse, but it also had merit. He needed some ideas from a Realtor about how he could make Suburban Symphony attractive to house hunters, since the marketing firm apparently had none.

 
Chapter Three

Drew
arrived a few minutes early for lunch with Brad. The restaurant was a good one, located on a busy corner of the part of Midtown called Lavender Heights, but just on the far side of trendy, so tables were relatively easy to get and the waiters didn’t glare if you lingered too long over lunch.

When Brad had called him yesterday, he’d almost lost the power of speech. When Brad had asked to meet him for lunch, he’d started babbling. Drew just hoped it didn’t run Brad off. He wasn’t sure what to make of Brad’s request for advice on that frankly dire housing development, but he’d do what he could if it meant staring at Brad across a table even for an hour.

Drew could’ve gone inside, but he had work to do, so he sat in his car, resisting the impulse to bang his head into the steering wheel. His new clients wanted a house that had been on the market for a while, so Drew knew the homeowners should be willing to bargain,
should
being the operant term, but first someone had to explain the facts of life to their agent, and Drew figured he’d drawn the winning ticket.

“Yeah, I get that they’re home, but do they get that they’re selling their house? It’s been on the market for six months. I’ve got clients who want to see it, but the last time I brought people by, they tried to take over the tour…. Yes, I know it’s their house, but if they scare people… well, scared people don’t buy houses. And one other thing—Get. The. Taxidermy. Out. Of. There.”
Do your job, asswipe, so I can do mine
, he screamed silently. “Haven’t they ever heard of staging? Haven’t you? They’re going to move anyway, so they need to get a jump on the packing.”

Drew half listened to the listing agent for a few more moments. The agent swore up and down his clients wouldn’t spoil this, but Drew paid more attention to cars pulling into the restaurant’s parking lot. Excuses were like assholes: everyone had one. “Look, we’ll be by at 6:00 p.m.” A battered Lexus had parked while Drew was laying down the law. It wasn’t until a man got out of it that Drew paid attention. It was Brad. “Look, make sure those freaks are out of there and that they take the dead petting zoo with them.”

BOOK: Tipping the Balance
7.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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