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Authors: Christopher Koehler

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian

Tipping the Balance (5 page)

BOOK: Tipping the Balance
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Then Drew killed the call. For a moment, he just looked. Brad still caused a hitch in his breath. Unlike a lot of former college jocks, Brad hadn’t started packing on the pounds, even though without the intense demands of crew, his caloric demand had surely dropped. Drew very much appreciated Brad’s efforts to keep fit, even if he looked out of place in khakis, a dress shirt, and a tie. Some people just looked better in shorts or jeans and a T-shirt pulling tight across those muscled pecs.

 

Drew could see Brad had just the tiniest hint of bearish endomorphic belly, just the way he liked it. He hadn’t seen Brad since the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in May, but he still felt the old tingle deep in his belly as he responded to the sight of a man he thought was sex on legs. That Brad looked sweetly nervous, he thought, was just adorable.

 

“Brad, hi!” Drew said, getting out of his car.

 

Brad turned to face him and smiled shyly. “Hi, Drew,” he said, hands in his pockets. “Thanks for meeting me.”

 

“Any time,” Drew said. He extended his hand, and Brad shook it awkwardly, as if he weren’t quite sure what to do or how to act. “Let’s get a table; then you can tell me all about this development of yours. I had no idea you were going into real estate after you graduated.”

 

“Yeah, it just sort of happened,” Brad said.

 

“I hear that. I’m not sure many children dream of growing up to sell or flip houses, but it’s still kind of fun,” Drew replied.

 

Drew watched Brad surreptitiously as they entered the restaurant. He saw Brad wipe his palms on his pants several times and glance around repeatedly, far more than necessary to look where he was going. Oh yeah, this guy was nervous. Drew wondered what might be driving Brad, because he sure hadn’t struck Drew as the type to be nervous in his own skin like that.

 

“So… do you come here often?” Brad asked after they’d sat down, glancing around warily, as if he expected to be attacked before ordering or perhaps ambushed by the woman filling their water glasses.

 

Drew looked up from the menu. He smiled, trying to put Brad at ease. “From time to time. The food’s good, and they’re usually not so busy that they resent you if you linger over lunch.”

 

“Oh. That’s good.”

 

Drew’d had a date like this once. It hadn’t ended well.

 

With one last glance around, Brad picked up his menu. Drew hoped he didn’t get hung up on the prices. They were pretty reasonable for a Midtown restaurant, and besides, Drew was paying. He would’ve, even if it weren’t deductible, just for the privilege of having an excuse to stare at Brad Sundstrom. He wanted to pinch himself.

 

“So. I have to admit,” Drew said after they placed their orders, “I’ve been dying of curiosity since you called me yesterday. You said you had some questions for me?”

 

“Yeah. I really appreciate you meeting me like this. I know you must be busy and all,” Brad said. He picked up his knife, tapping the hilt on the table top.

 

“It’s my pleasure,” Drew said, and it really was.

 

But Brad didn’t reply, and Drew sat there, waiting. Expectantly. Waiting.

 

When the seconds threatened to lengthen into a minute, Drew kicked himself mentally. The guy was nervous. It was time to fill empty space. “After all, you were one of Nick’s favorites. He talked about you all the time.”

 

“Really? I didn’t know that,” Brad said, smiling his anxious smile again. Drew felt it in the pit of his stomach.

 

Yep, because I wouldn’t quit pestering him about you
, Drew thought. “So… your questions were about real estate, I’m guessing? Since we both know I can’t help you with rowing.”

 

“Oh,” Brad said, coloring. “Sorry. I guess I’m kind of nervous.”

 

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Drew said blandly.

 

Brad looked at him for a minute like he was trying to figure out if he was being made fun of, but Drew simply sat there expectantly. “Yeah, I got put in charge of Suburban Symphony when I started working for my dad after graduation.”

 

“Oh. I mean, wow, that’s great. Right out of school and already in charge of an entire development,” Drew said.

 

“It sucks ass,” Brad said bluntly.

 

The combination of Brad and sucking ass took Drew to a place he really didn’t want to go. Rather, he did, a lot, just not in public. He’d never been more grateful for a tablecloth in his life, because he’d gone from zero to painfully hard in seconds.

 

“Drew?” Brad said.

 

“Oh, sorry,” Drew said. “I guess I’m not seeing the problem.”

 

“Yeah, well, people aren’t seeing the houses, either, and the old man’s riding my ass to turn it around,” Brad grumbled.

 

Drew closed his eyes momentarily. His cock had just zoomed from painfully hard to crammed up against the fly of his pants in a second.

 

“Hey, man, are you okay? You kind of whimpered or something,” Brad said.

 

Drew shook his head to clear the visual. “Bit my tongue. I’m sorry, you were saying something about Suburban Symphony?”

 

“Yeah,” Brad said. “It’s dying, and it’s trying to take my career, such as it is, with it. It’s not like I’ve got any cred with my dad as it is, but if this goes under, I’m sunk.”

 

“I see,” Drew said.

 

They were silent as lunch was placed before them. When the waiter was out of earshot, Brad said, “So what do real estate agents look for in a subdivision? What makes you bring people who want to buy a house to one place instead of another? What makes you drive right on by a development?”

 

“Well,” Drew drawled, stalling like an American car with air in the fuel injectors, “that all depends on the needs of the client, of course.”

 

Shit
, Drew thought,
he wants my help to save that subdivision!

 

Brad bounced his foot up and down, the tapping muffled by the carpet. “No, I get that, but houses are pretty basic when you think about it—bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living, maybe a dining room. But this place is… I mean, almost no one comes to see it. No one wants to live there, but I’m supposed to turn it around,” he said bitterly. “Somehow I’m supposed to come up with something to save that place when the marketing people can’t come up with anything. You gotta help me, man.”

 

“There are intangibles too,” Drew said, shrugging, “like the vibe people get off it, or what they think of the way the rooms are arranged.” But that place—ugh, he didn’t want to tell Brad the truth. Those shy smiles Brad had flashed him at the regattas that spring… he didn’t want to be the one to kill them. “And of course, there’s always the famous ‘location, location, location’—”

 

“Stop playing me, dammit. I asked for your help because I need it, not because I want smoke blown up my ass,” Brad hissed.

 

Drew took a bite of his sandwich, chewing slowly and taking his time choosing his words. His appetite was gone. He took a deep breath. He had to do it. Even if he never saw Brad again, at least he’d be able to say he’d been honest with the younger man. “They say that there’s a house for every buyer, but there’s going to have to be a whole lot of desperate, clueless people to fill that place up and real estate agents who don’t care about their clients to bring them there.”

 

Brad slumped in his chair. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

 

“There are virtually no neighborhood amenities, because whatever county agency’s responsible for planning out in that former corn field apparently thinks driveways and streets count as ‘open space’,” Drew said, plowing on. “The floor plans could only have been designed to generate maximum misery for the people dumb enough to buy there. And the location? Please, Brad. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, the backside of beyond. Did you know I went out there a few months back?”

 

“No,” Brad said, suddenly surprised.

 

“Oh yeah,” Drew said, rolling his eyes. He took a swig of his water. “Every time a development opens, they invite any and every real estate agent from miles around to come see it, and so when I saw that Sundstrom Homes—and I had no idea you were
that
Sundstrom, by the way—had something out there, I went to look. I only found it because I got lost. When I got back to my office, I got online to locate the nearest grocery store to see just how bad it was. It’d take someone almost half an hour just to get there.”

 

“Shit,” Brad breathed. “I knew there was nothing around there for lunch, but I didn’t know it was that bad.”

 

“Look, Brad, these kinds of developments are meant as commuter communities, so I guess people could buy food on the way home from work, but what the fuck? Twenty-seven minutes to get from the Suburban Symphony to the parking lot of a back-country Safeway? Why did you guys saddle yourself with that place?”

 

“I don’t think it was ever our idea. My dad acquired it along with the company that originally developed it,” Brad said glumly. “Now you know why the original developer got into trouble and made himself vulnerable.”

 

“Only now it’ll take Sundstrom Homes down?” Drew suggested.

 

“I doubt it, but it’s not helping my career any,” Brad said. He picked at his pasta.

 

“I wish I had better news for you, but I’m not really sure how to help you with that place,” Drew said. He smiled at Brad, who seemed calmer now that he’d gotten what he wanted out of Drew. “You’ve only been out of school for a few months. Still learning the ropes, are you?”

 

“Not really. I’ve worked for the family business every summer since I started high school,” Brad said.

 

When he didn’t elaborate further, Drew didn’t push it. “So tell me what else you’re up to.”

 

“Now why would you be interested in that?” Brad said, smiling a real smile for the first time since they sat down. He started eating.

 

“I might have my reasons,” Drew said with an arched eyebrow.

 

Brad laughed, and it warmed Drew right down to his toes. It was a loud laugh, almost a guffaw from a man Drew was learning didn’t do things quietly. A few people turned their heads to glare, but he didn’t care. Drew was just glad that Brad had shaken off the glum demeanor that that horrendous subdivision inspired.

 

Afterward, conversation flowed like water, sometimes like a gentle stream, sometimes charging ahead like the varsity eight at the PCRCs. Drew still thought of that magnificent sight, the CalPac V-8 surging ahead of the other crews like eight thoroughbred stallions (and one tiny jockey) moving in perfect synch, backs bending, chests heaving, oars blades knifing into the water.

 

Drew had never witnessed the human body pushed to the brink like that before. That he’d been there for Nick, his best friend, was special. That he’d gotten to see Brad in his native element—that’d been something else.

 

For all that Brad set off his gaydar, Drew didn’t know for sure that Brad was… questioning, and straight men could get pretty freaked out by the obvious signs of gay interest.

 

“Brad, look… I’ll bring clients by Suburban Symphony. At the very least, it’ll leave records of increased traffic,” Drew said impulsively. He couldn’t help himself. There was just something about Brad that made him want to keep him smiling. “It’ll at least show your father that you’re earning your keep.”

 

But Brad shook his head. “No way, you were right. It’s a dump, a tacky little subdivision that’s too far from anything. Suburban Graveyard is doomed. How I’m supposed to bring it back is anyone’s guess.”

 

“It can’t be that bad. If someone wants something in that price point, I’ll keep it mind,” Drew said. Brad quirked a smile, and Drew felt all goofy.

 

The waiter left the check, and they both grabbed for it. “My treat,” Drew said, pulling it close to him. Brad had long arms. He wasn’t taking any chances.

 

Outside the restaurant, Brad shook Drew’s hand. “Here,” he said, handing Drew a card. “My contact info.”

BOOK: Tipping the Balance
13.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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