I hate moving, which I was doing. I hate it more when it's hot and humid outside, which it was. Add to that the fact that my buddy, Alec, copped out on me somewhere between the pizza place and my new house, and the fact that there was a wicked storm on the way, and I was at my absolute lowest point. I looked into the back of the truck and saw the piles of stuff I had to carry in. The moving company had already moved and unloaded most of my household, but here I stood, in my driveway, with a half-ton truck full of boxes and the last, precious items that I refused to trust to the movers, no matter how healthy they looked.
I glanced across the street toward the west. The clouds didn't look pleasant at all. They were dark and grey and I could see the sheets of rain falling out of them in the distance. I knew they'd be overhead soon and I'd be fucked.
Nothing for it, then. I dropped the tailgate of the truck and started hauling boxes. I could only hope that asshole friend of mine would show up and help me with the big stuff before the storm hit. I was pissed, to be sure. I couldn't get him on his cell phone and I had no idea where he was. I was not a happy camper!
By the time I got the boxes inside, I could hear thunder rumbling ominously. I flipped on the central air and tried to phone Alec one more time. I tried both his cell phone and his home phone to no avail. I was on my own. I hoofed it back outside and jumped up into the truck bed and pulled out all eight drawers from my Grandma's antique dresser and made two piles of them on the tailgate. I jumped down, grabbed up one of the piles, and headed into the house. I carried them into my bedroom and carefully set them on the floor against the wall and headed back to the living room.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Standing there inside the door, holding the other four drawers in his hands, was a young man. "Where do you want these?" he said. His voice was pleasant and his smile was friendly.
"Umm," I said, stupidly and approached him. "I'll take them."
"I've got ‘em. Just show me where to put them."
I swept my hand back. "Last door on the right. Thanks."
He walked past me and I watched him as he disappeared down the hallway. He was a bit shorter than me, but I had on a lot more clothes. All he wore were a pair of white sneakers and a pair of very tight, very short, cut-off jeans. The elastic band of his underwear poked above the denim. His back looked strong and his arms looked even stronger. His brown hair was neatly cut and trimmed, hanging long in the back and short and spikey on top. I couldn't remember what his face looked like except that it wasn't unpleasant to look at. I had been so stunned when I saw him that I forgot to pay attention.
He appeared in the hallway again, walking toward me. He was smiling a bright, welcoming smile. One of his upper front teeth was chipped. He had a young, unblemished face, and a slightly upturned nose. His chest looked just as powerful as his arms. A smattering of short hairs shadowed his muscular pecs and a small patch of hair centered itself between them. A widening trail spread down stomach, disappearing into the waistband of his jeans. It was the bulge in his jeans which caught my attention, though. Either he had a couple of rolled-up socks stuffed in his pants or he was a very lucky boy.
"Hi, I'm Brad," he said. I liked his voice. He held out his hand.
I looked up, embarrassed. I'm sure I was blushing. "Oh, um. Sorry," I stammered as I grasped his hand in a shake. "I, um. . . I'm Ted."
"Hey, don't sweat it, Ted," he said. "It takes everyone by surprise."
I released his hand.
"Come on," he said, "we better get the rest of your stuff inside before it rains. Gonna be quite a storm. Tornado warnings and all that."
I turned and followed him out the door. "Great," I joked. "I move into a new house and it ends up in Oz before I get settled in."
"Say ‘hi' to Dorothy for me." I could hear him chuckling.
I walked to the back of the truck and was just ready to climb onto the tailgate when Brad approached the side, placed his hand on the wall of the truck, and vaulted over it, landing on sure, steady feet on the truck bed.
"Dresser?" he asked, and I answered "Yeah." I grabbed the base of the dresser at my end and Brad grabbed the other end at the top. Together, we moved the dresser back. He set his end on the tailgate for a moment so he could grab the base, then lifted it and, with the skill of a gymnast, stepped off the truck onto the driveway.
I started to like Brad immediately. He was a powerhouse and a workhorse, and he treated all my stuff with delicate crystal care. He worked hard to help me get my things inside before the storm hit and, within minutes, my shirt was soaked with sweat as I tried to keep up with him. His own upper body was covered with a healthy sheen of perspiration. I had to admire his muscular youth, and I wish I still had some of my own at that moment. By the time we carried the last piece in, I was gasping for breath, my desk-job muscles were weakening quickly, and he was still smiling.
Thank goodness the central air was kicking in and the air inside was starting to feel fresher already. I quickly found a box in the bathroom, ripped it open, and grabbed a couple of towels. I returned to the living room, tossed one to Brad, and told him to have a seat on the sofa. "I'll be right back." I went back to the truck. The rain was just beginning to fall. The heavy clouds made the afternoon light look like dusk and lightning flashes shattered the dimness and heavy thunder rolled across the sky. I grabbed the pizzas and the 12-pack of beer, locked the truck doors, and headed back inside.
I dug out the coffee table from the corner, set it in front of the sofa, and placed the pizzas on it. Brad had spread the towel over the sofa and was sitting on it. "The least I can do is feed you," I said. "Are you old enough to drink?"
"I'm 19," he said. Then, with a smile, he added, "Sorry. I don't have my ID on me. My wallet makes my ass look lumpy."
I was tempted to ask how he could squeeze a wallet into that back pocket. Instead, I asked, "Beer?"
I ripped open the lid of the case of beer, grabbed two bottles, and handed him one. We twisted off the tops and took a long, refreshing swig. Outside, the storm began in earnest and the house became eerily dark.
"You saved my ass, man," I said as I set down the beer and began opening my shirt. It was sticking to me all over. I felt a little self-conscious when I pulled it off. At 32, I wasn't horribly out of shape yet, but after almost 10 years of sitting behind a desk, I certainly didn't look as good as the young man sitting on my sofa. "Do you mind if I leave this off for awhile?"
"Hell, no, man," he replied. "It's your house. You shouldn't have to ask."
"If I had a body like yours, I wouldn't have."
Brad actually blushed. "Thanks," he said shyly. "You're not so bad. Don't sweat it. Now, if you looked like my Dad, I might object. I don't know how I ended up like this when I see him. He's so skinny."
I finished toweling myself as I turned on a few lights, and dropped to the sofa in near exhaustion. I opened both pizzas. "Ham, pepperoni, cheese and pineapple," I pointed to one box, and then, as I pointed to the other, "everything except anchovies. Help yourself."
Brad eagerly grabbed a slice of ‘everything' pizza and set about devouring it hungrily.
"So, I take it you live around here?"
"Yeah," he nodded his head to one side. "Right next door. With the black shutters. I still live there with Mom and Dad. At least until I finish university."
"Oh? What are you studying?"
"Engineering at Ryerson."
"Yeah. My older brother graduated from there a few years ago."
"At least you're close enough," I said. "What do you do, take the Go train?"
"Yeah. It's cheaper than living in Toronto, and Mom does all the cooking and she washes my clothes. All I have to do is sit around the house looking pretty." Brad stopped chewing and said, "Aw, geez! Sorry, Ted. Mom's always saying that to everybody."
"Well, you are a handsome young man."
"Thanks." He stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles. Then he looked at me again. "I'm glad you bought this house. I like you. You're a lot nicer than Old Man Perkins. That guy gave me the creeps. All he did all day was sit around looking at me with this scowl on his face."
I nodded. "Good old Mr. Perkins. I met him only once. After that, I made my real estate agent deal with him. I couldn't stand him."
Brad leaned forward to grab another slice of pizza. "He didn't approve with the way I dressed."
I couldn't understand why. I wasn't even gay and I didn't find Brad difficult to look at. He was like a walking art exhibit. I pointed at his rounded crotch. "That probably had a lot to do with it, right?"
He glanced down at himself. "Probably," he said, "but it didn't matter what I wore. He just didn't like me and I didn't like him. I dressed like this just to piss him off."
I thought for a moment. Then, stupidly, I put my foot in it and asked, "Is that really you in there?"
He looked at me and I nodded toward his crotch. "Yeah," he said. "It's all me. Don't know where I got that, either. Not from Dad, that's for sure. I think I look a lot like my Uncle Andy. My Mom's brother. Maybe I got it from her side of the family."
"Doesn't it. . . like. . . get in the way?"
"Sometimes," He said. "Can I have another slice?"
"Sure, help yourself."
He snatched up another slice and settled back once more. "That's why I have to wear underwear. I flop around too much if I don't, and it hurts." With a wicked, almost evil smile, he added, "Mind you, sometimes I wouldn't wear any just to tease Old Man Perkins. He'd just look at me and call me a ‘prevert'."
"It's ‘pervert'," I corrected.
"I know, but Perkins always said ‘prevert'." He laughed. "Look who was calling the kettle black! He was the one who was always watching me. Hell, one night I caught him standing at my bedroom window watching me jerk off. He just called me a ‘prevert' and kept on watching me."
That surprised me. "You didn't stop?"
"Nope. I was in my own bedroom. He was trespassing. I think the old guy was just jealous."
"Whoa!" I exclaimed. "That's wild."
"Yeah, it was. The first time, I did it just to piss him off more. After that, it became a bit of a game."
"You did it more than once?"
"Sure," Brad said. "Every night as long as the weather was good. One night, he was standing out there in the rain with an umbrella over his head. Guess it was more fun for him than watching cable."
"Holy shit," I said as I shook my head. "Why didn't you call the police on him?"
"What for? He never did anything except look."
"But peeking in someone's window like that is a crime."
Brad shrugged. "Hell, I was probably the only entertainment the old guy had. Sometimes I'd see him out back for hours just waiting for me. At first, I did it just to piss him off, but after awhile, it was like he looked forward to it so much that he'd be disappointed if I closed the curtains."
"But you didn't even like the guy!"
Brad paused between bites of his pizza and looked at me. "No, I didn't, but that doesn't make him any less deserving of a little bit of happiness once in awhile."
Outside, the storm still raged. Rain pounded against the windows and roof and I could actually feel the house shaking in the wind. But the storm didn't concern me as much as what I was hearing. I shook my head again. "I'm sorry," I said. "I don't understand. You couldn't stand the guy and yet you entertained him every night?"
Brad pulled his knees up, planting his feet flat on the floor. He spread his legs, turned his whole body to face me, and rested his elbows on his legs. He stared at the floor for a bit, then looked at me and said, "I didn't like him. He gave me the creeps. But he never did anything to me. He never caused any trouble for me, not even when I broke his window with a soccer ball. His wife died of cancer when I was 10 years old, and she'd been sick for years. He had a tough life and there wasn't much happiness in it."
He paused again and turned reflective. "At first, it was just to annoy him, like I said. And then, one night a month or so later, after I'd finished. . . you know. . . I looked at him in the window. He had such a sad look in his eyes, but he was smiling. And then he said ‘thank you' and turned and walked back home. After that, I was doing it because it made him happy for a few minutes a day."
He wasn't bragging. I could see it in his face and I could hear it in his voice. No matter how he felt about Mr. Perkins, he was willing to do what he could to make Perkins' life a bit better.
"The world needs more people like you, Brad," I said seriously.
Brad hung his head, a large grin on his lips. He blushed again.
* * * * *
We sat talking after that. I told him all about my work in Toronto and why I preferred to live in a smaller town that the big city. I told him about my failed marriage and showed him pictures of my daughter, Lindsay. "She's 9 years old now."
"She looks like a ballerina," Brad mentioned.
"She takes dancing lessons, but she doesn't really like ballet. She just takes it because it helps her with her other dancing."
"I can't dance," Brad said. "I have two feet. Both of them are left."
I snickered. I was going to enjoy having Brad as a neighbour. The storm was fading away into the east. Only the distant rumble of thunder and a gentle rain remained.
"Looks like Dorothy is going to have to do without your company tonight."
I looked up at the ceiling. "Looks like you're right." Then I looked at him. "Can I ask you a favour?"
"Would you help me set up my bed before you go? I was just going to crash on the sofa tonight, but while you're here. . ."
"No problem," he said as he jumped to his feet. "Lead the way."
I tried to rise out of the sofa and suddenly realized how sore and tired I was. Like I said, I hate moving. I sank back into the sofa with a groan. Brad laughed, stepped in front of me, grabbed me under my arms, and pulled me up. "Come on, Old Man. On your feet." When I was standing, he added, "Do you need Uncle Bradley to carry you?"
I laughed. "I think I can walk, thank you."
As we were putting the bed frame together, Brad said, "I'll come over tomorrow and help you unpack and rearrange your furniture."
"You don't have to do that," I said hastily. "I can manage."
"I don't mind. Nothing better to do. How does 10 o'clock sound?"
"I'll be on my way to Toronto to take back the truck and get my car."
Brad stopped. "Oh, really? Where in Toronto?"
"Cool," he said. "Could I go with you and have you drop me off at Ryerson? I need to get some books from the library. I want to get a head start on the next semester."
"It's the least I can do after all you've done for me. I'll pick you up on the way back."
"I can take the Go."
"You could, but you're not. I'll pick you up on my way back."
Brad smiled his thanks and nodded. "What time tomorrow?"
"Is 9 o'clock too early?"
"That's fine with me. I'll be ready."
Before long, my bed was set up and Brad even helped me make it up with sheets and pillowcases. I offered him one more beer before he left, which he accepted, along with one more slice of pizza. That boy could eat!
Then it was time for him to go home. "See you tomorrow morning."
I held out my hand for him to shake. He took it, and I grabbed his forearm with my other hand. "Thanks for all your help, Brad. I really mean it. I would have been screwed if you didn't come over."
"Any time, Ted." For the first time, I noticed how green his eyes were and how bright his smile was. It was a warm, friendly face, and it all belonged to a warm, friendly young man. "I'm going to enjoy having you as a neighbour."
I smiled back at him. "I think I'm going to enjoy being it."
With a final shake, I released his hand and he left.
To Be Continued