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Authors: Christopher Koehler

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian

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BOOK: Tipping the Balance
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Nick eyed Drew askance as he bent over. “Bend from the hips, not your lower back.”


“Yes, Coach,” Drew sighed.


“Did you enjoy throwing your back out last fall?”


Drew smirked. “Oh hell yes, I had a fabulous time throwing my back out.”


Nick didn’t reply. He just glared at Drew, warm brown eyes to merry blue ones. “Did you enjoy the aftermath? No? Then do it my way. I do know something about bodies in motion, thank you very much.”


“Yeah, that’s what Morgan tells me,” Drew said.


“Hands on,” Nick said, loftily ignoring his friend. He squatted down and put one hand under the cabinet and used the other on top to steady it. “In three. One, two, and


“Now I know,” Drew grunted out, “where that coxswain of yours gets his abrasive tone from.”


“No, that’s totally Stuart’s,” Nick said. “Besides, we’re crew. We’re not real bright, but we can lift heavy objects. Now, put those muscles to some use, Muscle Mary, and hold this steady while I drill it.”


“I’m sure you’re very good at drilling, seeing how much practice you’ve been getting,” Drew said, muscles of his arms and back straining to hold the cabinet in place as Nick hurried to secure it to the wall. Then he noticed something. “Why is the taller of the two of us the one who’s not holding this up?”


Nick grinned at him. “Because I’m the drilling expert, remember? There,” he said as he put the last bolt in. “That’ll hold it while I finish up. You can let go.”


Drew lowered his arms. “Seriously, how’s it going with you and Morgan?”


He pretended to listen as Nick rattled off a list of his boyfriend’s virtues, but Nick’s syrupy smile actually answered the question well enough. “I’m sorry, what’d you just say?”


“I asked if you were going to be around this weekend,” Nick said. “I’m meeting his parents for the first time, and I’m scared shitless. I’m hoping you’ll be around so I can send panicked text messages from the bathroom.”


“Meeting the parents? It must be serious,” Drew said, smiling.


“You know it. He’s it, the only one I’ll ever want,” Nick said.


“Some of us might like the chance to find that for ourselves, you know,” Drew said, pretending to be very interested in a small pile of loose screws.


“Aww, jeez, not Brad Sundstrom again. I keep telling you he’s straight,” Nick said.


“Just his phone—”


Nick put the drill down. “Look, Drew. You know I can’t give out his information without his permission. It’s a confidentiality issue, among other things. I was his coach, technically a college official. I can’t just hand out phone numbers like that.”


Drew knew all about Nick’s scruples, having listened to him endlessly gnaw his guts out about his interest in Morgan. He supposed he ought to be grateful to Morgan for taking matters into his own hands, if not because Morgan made Nick happy, then because it shut Nick up. “Then will you at least give him my number if he asks for it?”




“C’mon, Nick. It’s a fair question. Don’t I at least deserve the chance to get shot down?”


“I just don’t want to see you hurt,” Nick said quietly.


“I’m a big boy, babydoll. I can take care of myself.”


“I know, and yeah, if he asks, I’ll pass your number on,” Nick said.


Drew looked at his watch. “Shit, it can’t be that late, can it?”


“It can be, yes. Late for the showings?” Nick asked.


“Just about. Everything looks great so far, but keep in touch, and let me know if you hear from the counter fabricators, will you?” Drew said, already heading for his car.


“Of course,” Nick said, picking up his drill.


Drew tried to mop the sweat off his brow as he rushed for his car but only succeeded in pushing it up into his brown locks. He had just enough time to run home and shower before he showed the first of the homes to his clients. Yeah, rummaging around in the dirt and sawdust probably wasn’t the best idea, but he couldn’t give up fixing up homes, he just couldn’t. What he hadn’t told Nick was that some days, he felt like he’d made a huge mistake in getting a real estate license instead of going directly into repair and improvement. Working his way through the building trades might’ve seemed strange after getting his bachelor’s degree in business, but it would’ve been handy when he got a contractor’s license. While he’d never wanted to be a designer, there was something almost magical about watching a dump of a home rise from the depths to become a showplace, limited only by budget and imagination. The cabinets with their reeded glass inserts, the soapstone counters that were supposed to have arrived last week, the reclaimed Indonesian teak floors covered with marine varnish to repel water, the lighting, all of the pieces fitted together like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that only he could solve—that was why he couldn’t keep out of it.


But how—oh how—was he going to replace Nick?


Brad Sundstrom
looked at the clock.
My, how time flies. Those five minutes just raced by
, he thought.


He sat at his desk in the sales office of a subdivision no one wanted to live in. Shitty little houses on tiny lots out in the middle of nowhere. As far as Brad could tell, Randall Sundstrom didn’t own the land between here and civilization, so this place wouldn’t serve as an anchor to further development. When he’d asked about this, his dad had just snapped, “You create the demand, son. You should know that. Build the houses and the rest will come.”


Come? They weren’t even breathing hard.


Brad glanced around the office, anything to relieve the tedium. There weren’t even games on the computer. He’d checked. There were two other empty desks for non-existent salespeople and a display of the entire subdivision with little plastic Monopoly houses on the few lots that had sold and the few more that had been built on but languished, unsold and unloved. The people who lived there were sure going to be pissed when this place went belly-up, which Brad figured would be sometime early the middle of next year, at the rate this place wasn’t selling. His dad would probably find a way to blame him for it too.


The view out the picture windows depressed him. Inexpensive landscaping had been slapped down to gussy up the parking area in front of the sales office, but beyond that was nothing but the seared brown fields of the Sacramento Valley in the middle of summer. Heat mirages shimmered in the air over the blacktop, making Brad’s battered Lexus waver and flicker in the midday heat, magnifying the scratches and dents the two Sundstrom boys had put in their mother’s old car since her death.


He flicked a bit of onion, fallen from the sandwich he’d picked up on the way in, off his desk. He’d learned the second day he’d worked out here in this godforsaken pit not to eat the burritos from the local stop-and-rob attached to the one gas station on the feeder road to the subdivision.


Brad put his long legs up on his desk. He couldn’t believe this was what his life had become. He’d graduated from CalPac over a month ago, and the contrast was just killing him. He’d only dimly realized it at the time, but those five years at CalPac College had been the best years of his life. More or less out from under his father’s thumb, he’d been one of the big men on campus, literally and figuratively. Sure, there’d been classes to contend with, and Coach Bedford could be a real asshole when he wanted to be, but that had been part of the fun too.


He smiled for the first time in days. Crew really had been fun, maybe even what made the rest of school worth it. Despite the blood, sweat, and occasional tears, he’d never felt more alive. Even his rivalry with Morgan Estrada, which had led him to do the one thing he regretted in life, even that had been part of the experience. He’d lost. Morgan was stronger, maybe even the better oarsman, but even losing to Morgan had been as important to his experience as anything else. It meant something, he was sure. He just couldn’t figure out what. He and Morgan and the others had shared the big win at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships, so even though his unofficial rivalry had come to nothing, his rowing experience had still meant something.


That race. Brad dwelt on it quite a bit on those long afternoons, when it was too hot even for hungry real estate agents to drag wary clients out to this “entry-level” subdivision. Sure, the race itself had been one for the CalPac record books, but it was the aftermath that he returned to again and again. Coach Bedford had stepped down after dropping an atomic bomb on the crew: he’d been dating one of them! Brad hadn’t been surprised—after all, there’d been that day in the boathouse—but he acted like it. Morgan had gone off after their coach, and on a whim, Brad followed.


What he saw had stopped him in his tracks, and every time he thought it about, it still had the power to freeze him in place. Morgan Estrada and Nick Bedford locked in an embrace, kissing like they were the only two in the world. The sight of it had puzzled his brain at the time, but the more that Brad thought about it, the more he understood it. That kiss had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with love, a love he’d never experienced. He’d thought he had, but that day after the race, watching those two men, Brad knew he’d only been fooling himself with all those chicks he’d banged in high school and beyond. Nothing with his last girlfriend, the one who’d talk about marriage, had ever felt like that kiss between Morgan and Nick looked, like for that moment, they were all that mattered. Each was the air the other breathed, the sunlight that warmed them, and the ground beneath their feet.


Brad, a little wistfully, wondered what that might’ve been like. Then, like the caboose on a runaway freight train, came the thoughts of Drew, Coach Bedford’s fairy friend. Brad was uncomfortably aware that once upon a time he might’ve called a man like Drew St. Charles a homo, not that he’d have meant anything by it. It was just a word.


But that was… before. Before the kiss. When he thought about it, and lately it seemed like it was all he thought about, maybe his attitude toward gays had started to change before the kiss. He’d never been homophobic; gays just weren’t on his radar. But at some point, Brad noticed Drew. He tended to show up at the local regattas, and Brad just figured it had been because he was Coach Bedford’s friend. Had he and Coach…?


Brad shook the image out of his head. It was nowhere he wanted to go. Drew. Brad had noticed him everywhere that spring, and now he seemed to be a permanent resident of Brad’s imagination. He couldn’t figure that out. He just kind of enjoyed the fluttery feeling in his stomach that came with the thoughts.


Brad spun in his chair and flicked his computer back awake. Damn thing was as bored as he was. He opened up the web browser and his mail account, his private e-mail, not the company account. He wasn’t that stupid.


He started typing a note to Morgan. He wrote to him more and more lately, sometimes just to say howdy, sometimes to talk about crew, sometimes… sometimes to beat around the bush for awhile before asking Morgan to ask his boyfriend for Drew’s e-mail. Brad had already looked Drew up on Facebook. Actually, Drew seemed to have two accounts, a personal one and a professional one. The personal one was locked down tight, and Brad didn’t have the balls to friend him out of the blue. Instead, he chewed his guts out and perused the professional one for glimpses of Drew. They were there, obviously. Drew showing houses. Drew renovating, including one tantalizing pic of Drew in a tight, sweaty shirt.


Morgan had yet to come through, but he was weakening, Brad was sure of it. Brad could be a pretty charming guy when he wanted to be, and right now, he really wanted Drew’s e-mail.


Brad wasn’t much of a letter-writer, and the e-mail, including beating around the bush, was soon sent, and reality once again intruded. He was still stuck where he didn’t want to be, living at home, earning money at a job he hated, and a boss… he wasn’t fond of his boss, either. He missed his old life, and if he’d known what the new one held, he might’ve gone for that sixth year. He went back to staring out the window.


It felt like hours later, but someone drove up the feeder road. Brad watched with unseeing eyes. Then he jumped as the dust cloud registered. That meant traffic. That meant something to do. That meant human contact.

BOOK: Tipping the Balance
9.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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