The front door was unlocked when I came home from work Thursday afternoon. I'd given Brad a key and he was waiting inside for me. "Follow me," he said, a wide grin on his face. I followed him down the hall and he stopped suddenly, holding out his hand. "Take my hand and close your eyes," he said as he placed his left hand over my eyes.
I took his hand and he held it tightly as he guided me carefully the rest of the way down the hall. He turned me to the left, led me through the doorway, and put me into position where he wanted me. He released my hand and removed his hand from my eyes. I opened them.
I was agog. I had to be agog to use a word like that. My jaw dropped down and my eyes sprang open. All I could do was to spin around in a slow circle and look at everything and say "Oh, my God!" over and over again. I'm sure Bernice had a hand in this. The room was completely done and arranged and dressed. The unicorn and faerie paper looked incredible, and Brad had attached and painted the dado rail white. Molding encircled the ceiling and the space between the two was done. . . I'm not sure how. From the Sunset pink at the bottom, it faded somehow to almost white near the top. All of Lindsay's favourite pictures were hanging in the most perfect places, and Brad had even hooked up her computer on her homework desk. Everything was there and ready for her to move in, and it was amazing.
I just turned around and around, and I could feel the tears filling my eyes. Professional painters couldn't have done the job Brad did for me. I finally turned and found him standing there, his face full of smiles and his eyes full of sparkles. He looked like a boy who had just brought home a report card full of A's. Fuck this, I thought, and I reached my arms around him and pulled him into a long, strong hug. "Thank you, Brad," I whispered in his ear. "Thank you." I might have felt Brad's body pressing against mine. I might have felt the muscles in his back. I might have felt his crotch pushing against my own. I might have felt his heat. I might have felt all those things, but I didn't even notice. I felt only the happiness.
When I finally pulled away, I kept my hands on his arms as I looked around again. "Mom helped me arrange the furniture and she unpacked Lindsay's clothes for her. The fade effect was her idea. Just took a little glaze. So, I did okay?" he said. He was grinning again.
"Oh, Brad, you did better than okay! Lindsay is going to love this room. I love this room!" I wiped tears from my eyes. "Gee-sus, Murphy, it's beautiful!" I looked at Brad. His eyes were watery, too. "Wanna do my room next?"
He shrugged. "Sure. I like painting."
I gave him another hug of appreciation. "I'm taking you out to dinner," I said.
"I'll have to phone Mom."
"Bring her along. I owe her big time, too. And your Dad. Tell her I won't take ‘no' for an answer. Better yet, I'll tell her myself. Come on."
Brad had no choice but to follow me out of my house and to his front door.
* * * * *
John insisted on paying for half the dinner, but I talked him down to a quarter of it. His wife and his son were my treat. He finally agreed, even though he had measured all the dado and molding for Brad. "It was the neighbourly thing to do," he said.
Both Brad and Bernice were waiting for me Friday night when I arrived with Lindsay. Bernice was carrying her gift-wrapped unicorn. Lindsay went ballistic when she saw her room, ricocheting around, looking at everything, and ‘ooing' and ‘ahing' all over the place. She jumped on her bed and then jumped into my arms and gave me the biggest kiss she could. "Thank you, Daddy!" she said. "It's the bestest bedroom in the whole world!" She kissed me again. I didn't mind at all.
"I'm glad, Sweetheart, but you have to thank Brad and Mrs. Hayes," I told her. "They did it all."
Brad squatted down to get his hug and kiss and Bernice bent down and picked her up to get her own. "I've got something for you, Lindsay," she said. "Brad?"
Brad picked up the package and set it on Lindsay's desk. Lindsay scrambled down and rushed to open her gift. "Careful, Sweetheart. You might break it." She was very careful after that and, with my help, was soon looking at the unicorn. Her fingers ran gently over it, tracing the shape and form. She caressed the head and the golden horn and she turned it around and did it all over again. Bernice dabbed at her eyes with a tissue she had pulled from somewhere. She got a bigger hug and kiss than I did.
* * * * *
Lindsay spent most of the night in her bedroom, coming out occasionally for a snack or to use the bathroom or to just give me another ‘thank you' kiss. I sat with Brad in the living room, discussing the painting he was going to do. From the sounds of it, the whole interior was going to get a facelift. Somewhere in between all that, he would do the front yard landscaping.
He fell in love with Lindsay immediately, and Lindsay took to him as well. By the time Brad went home, they were already good friends.
Brad left us alone on Saturday. Lindsay and I went shopping for other things she wanted for her new room, including a shelf for her unicorn. "Get a strong one, Daddy," she said. "Unicorns can't fly."
Sunday afternoon, Brad came over, ready for our trip to Mississauga. Lindsay was ecstatic to be going to see her Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill. She didn't know her birthday presents were in the trunk, waiting for her. Brad would carry them in for us when we got there. He insisted on sitting in the back seat. Lindsay rode up front with me.
Warren was suitably impressed with Brad, of course, putting one hand on Brad's shoulder and giving him the once-over with his eyes. They stopped right where I expected them to stop. "And where did you find this cutie?" he asked. Brad blushed. "Boys ‘R Us?" Brad blushed even more.
"Warren," I said with a grin, "you're engaged!"
"But not married yet," Warren winked. His grin was wider than mine. "I've still got a few days left."
"Put him down, Uncle Warren," Lindsay said. (Hey. What can I say? She picked it up from me.) "I'm here, too, you know."
"Uncle Warren can't pick you up today, Sweetheart," I said to her. I picked her up from behind and held her out so Warren could give her a hug and kiss, then I passed her to Bill, who took her in his arms and held her.
"Is Uncle Warren sick?" she asked Bill.
"Yes," he replied, "but he's going to get better."
Warren sucked in a ragged breath. I could see him fighting his emotions. To take his mind of them, he whispered to me, "Did you bring them?" I nodded to the box on the floor beside Brad. Warren whispered to Brad, but I heard him. "Would you be a sweetie and take them in there (he pointed to an open doorway) and set them out on the coffee table?" Then he pinched Brad's cheek and said, "You are just too damned cute!"
Bill could only roll his eyes and Brad could only hurry to get away.
"Incorrigible," I said. Bill nodded.
"Where did you find that cutie?" Warren whispered loudly when Brad had left the room. "Et quel panier! It would cost a fortune to send that package by UPS!"
"He's my new neighbour."
"That's life for you," Warren sighed. "You get Brad and I get Abner Kravitz."
"But you get Tom Cruise when you move in with me."
Warren shuddered. "I'd rather have Abner Kravitz."
* * * * *
Once Brad got used to Warren, he fit in well. Warren, for his part, realized very quickly that Brad's white shorts were a touchy subject with him and stopped all the flirting. I have to hand it to Warren. He may be overboard at times, but he knows when enough is enough. Dinner was wonderful, and Mrs. Craig had set a wonderful table and cooked a delicious meal. Lindsay was wearing the new pant-suit outfit Warren had given her for her birthday, and was wearing her new bracelet as well. The new computer games he had given her were set on the table where she could see them. Warren had cried as he watched her open them. I suspect he felt it might be his last time seeing it. No-one said anything, though.
We talked about the wedding, of course, and got the times and everything set up and arranged. When we were ready to leave, he gave Lindsay a huge hug and kiss and, in typical ‘Warren' fashion, kissed both Brad and I on the cheek. But Brad got a pat on the bum. I didn't.
Lindsay sat in the back seat on the way home and was sound asleep before we hit the Four- Twenty-Seven. Brad sat up front.
"You just keep giving me good days, Ted," he said casually. "I really liked Warren, you know. I was a bit nervous at first, and he came at me like a bulldozer, but then he just became a really nice guy. I like Bill, too. I'm looking forward to their wedding next weekend."
"Warren knew you were nervous and shy," I explained. "That's why he stopped. He goes a bit queenie when he sees a guy like you. You're just his type."
"Bill doesn't look anything like me. He's a lot older, for one thing."
"When a guy is Warren's type, Warren isn't usually the guy's type."
Brad chuckled. Then he became serious.
"I hope he makes it through the surgery."
"So do I, Brad," I said. "So do I."
* * * * *
"Want a beer?" I asked.
"Grab a couple, then. I'll just get Lindsay in bed." As Brad unlocked the front door, carrying Lindsay's games with him, I unbuckled Lindsay and lifted her from the back seat.
She roused enough to say, "Are we home, Daddy?"
"Yes, we are, Sweetheart. Do you need to go to the bathroom?" She nodded. I carried her into the bathroom and, as she sat on the toilet, I took off her new top and pulled her new slacks off her legs, along with her shoes and socks. When she was done, I cleaned her up, pulled up her panties, grabbed her new clothes in one hand, and carried her to her bed. "What colour, Sweetheart?"
"White," she said sleepily. "Like my unicorn."
I grabbed a crisp, white nightgown out of her dresser and pulled it over her head. Soon I was tucking her under her blankets as I sat on her bedside. I smoothed her hair with my fingers, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. "Goodnight, Sweetheart," I said. "I love you." I kissed her forehead.
"Nite, Daddy," she said, but I think she was already asleep.
Brad was sitting on the wall, beer opened and waiting. I sat down beside him and took the beer from him. I pulled the cigarettes and lighter from my pocket.
"We're the luckiest people in the world," Brad said.
"Who?" I asked. "You and me?"
"No. Me and Lindsay."
"We both have the best fathers in the world."
"Well, your father and I are lucky, too. We have the best kids in the world. It's just too bad Lindsay has the worst mother."
"Don't worry, Ted," Brad said. "By tomorrow night, my Mom will have Lindsay calling her Grandma. Mark my words."
I believed him.
He looked at me. Stared at me, really. And then he suddenly grabbed his bottle of beer from the wall and slid away from me.
"Hey, what's this?" I asked. "Have I got BO or something?"
He smiled at me and shook his head. "No," he said. "You smell nice. I almost went back on my word, that's all."
I think I understood. I almost made him go back on it myself.
"Do I need to rent a tux or anything?" he said after he'd taken a healthy swig of his beer.
"Got a suit?"
"Black and grey."
"I'll be wearing dark blue. Either will be fine.
"What about the gift."
"They're asking for donations to the Heart Association instead. I'll handle that."
"I'd really like put in my share, Ted."
"Okay," I said with a small nod. "I'll pay it and I'll deduct a bit out of your wages. How's that sound?"
"Sounds like a plan."
* * * * *
Mrs. Grange, Lindsay's babysitter, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside when I got home from work Monday night. She was a short, rather roundish woman with a bump on the side of her chin and a chest the size of Manitoba. Her face reminded me of Elvira Gulch when she was on her way to pick up Toto. All that was missing was the big nose. Oh, how I hated that woman! Her voice was hushed, but still loud. "Mr. de Villiers. If you don't keep that young man out of this house while I'm taking care of Lindsay, I'm afraid I'll have to resign my post."
"He's a disgusting, wicked, evil young man. He should not be parading around and putting himself on display like that."
I didn't like the woman, but she took good care of Lindsay. It didn't matter. I flipped. "He can't help what he has in his pants any more than you can help what you've got in your bra," I said. Oh, did I tell you I didn't like the woman? "No, I take that back. You can help it. If you'd lay off the Twinkies and ice cream, you wouldn't be carrying around a couple of Goodyear blimps in your blouse! Brad is far-too-much the gentleman to say that, Mrs. Grange, but I'm not. Now get your big, fat ass in your car and haul it off my property! You'll have your severance pay in the mail by the end of the week!"
And I walked into the house and closed the door on her.
Brad and Lindsay were sitting on the sofa playing Nintendo. I walked over to them and sat beside Lindsay. "Can you pause that, Brad?" He did. I lifted Lindsay onto my lap, took the paddle from her hand, and held it out to Brad. He took it from me.
"Lindsay, Sweetheart?" I said quietly. "I need to take you back to stay with your Mother for awhile."
Her eyes filled quickly with tears. Her lip quivered. "Why, Daddy?" she asked, her voice on the edge of crying.
"Mrs. Grange is gone," I explained. "I fired her. I need you to stay with your Mother until I can find another sitter for you."
Lindsay collapsed against my chest, tears flowing and body jerking in sad sobs. "No, Daddy. Please." I hugged her and rubbed her back and kissed her hair.
"I'm sorry, Sweetheart." I hated it when Lindsay cried. Kids are supposed to laugh, not cry.
"I'll watch her until you find someone else, Ted," Brad said.
"I can't ask you to do that, Brad." Lindsay sat up, listening intently. Her crying had stopped.
"Why not? We spent most of the day together anyway. Mrs. Grinch was too busy watching her soaps to look after her anyway. The only time she paid Lindsay any attention was during commercials."
"It's ‘Grange'," I said.
"Could have fooled me," Brad said. "Besides, it's just until you find someone else, right?"
"And Grandma's right next door, Daddy," Lindsay said excitedly. I looked at Brad. He had an ‘I told you so' look on his face. "I like Brad. He smells good. Not like Mrs. Grange. She smells like your Ben Gay and baby powder, and I'm not a baby anymore."
"Call my Mom," Brad told me. "She'll tell you I've been babysitting since I was fourteen."
"I don't doubt your abilities, Brad. Lindsay can be a handful at times."
"Name one kid who isn't."
He had me there. "Please, Daddy? Please let me stay with Brad? I don't want to go home. I want to stay here with you. I'll be good. I promise."
"I know you will, Sweetheart."
"Then I can stay?"
I looked at Brad. He didn't change his expression. He just sat there and looked back at me. I smiled at Lindsay. "Okay, Sweetheart. But only until I can find someone else, okay?"
"Okay, Daddy," she said, and she hugged me.
"So, kiddo, where did you get the Nintendo?"
"It's mine," Brad said. "I hardly play it anymore anyway. You don't mind, do you?"
"No," I said. "Why would I mind? Okay, Sweetheart, you and Brad get back to Mario and I'll make supper for you. What would you like?"
"Hamburger Helper and rice," she said. "The beef one so I can put soy sauce on it."
"Coming right up, Sweetheart," I said. "Just as soon as I change. Brad? Will you be joining us?"
"Uh. . ."
"Stay, Brad," Lindsay said. "Daddy's makes good Hamburger Helper." She leaned in closer to him and whispered. "He makes soggy rice, though. It's better if you put soy sauce on it."
Brad laughed. "Sounds delicious," he said. "Need some help?"
"Nah," I said. "I can change my clothes all by myself, thanks."
I was halfway down the hall before I realized he was talking about the Hamburger Helper.
* * * * *
I needn't have worried. Brad was as good at taking care of Lindsay as he was with everything else he did. Bernice came over each day and made them lunch. Thursday night was ‘interview night', and Lindsay sat in my lap as I talked to the four women and two men who had applied for the job. I could tell by the way Lindsay kicked at my legs with her feet and squirmed in my lap whether or not she liked them. Three women and one of the men were mentally scratched off the list immediately. One woman barely made it through "Good evening, Mr. de Villiers" before Lindsay was expressing her displeasure.
It came down to the three, and, between Lindsay and me, we finally settled on a young lady who insisted we call her Terry. She was pleasant, competent, and she liked unicorns and faeries. That nailed it for Lindsay. I called her back for a second interview Friday night. Brad was with us this time and I explained that he was hired help and would be working around the house on a regular basis. She didn't have a problem with that, especially since Lindsay was sitting in Brad's lap this time.
She was hired and would start the next week I had custody. Brad went with us when I took Lindsay to her Mother's place Friday evening, more for company than anything else. He waited in the car as I took Lindsay up to her apartment. I was ready for a confrontation, but I needn't have worried. The Bitch was out for the night and the babysitter was waiting for us.
I squatted down, gave Lindsay a big hug and lots of kisses, and said, "Now you be good, Sweetheart. I'll see you next Friday."
"I love you, Daddy."
"I love you too, Sweetheart. Be a good girl for me?"
"I will, Daddy." She hugged and kissed me again, and then she went inside.
* * * * *
Brad enjoyed the wedding, and he even shed a tear or two, right along with me. He looked amazing in his grey suit, and I felt rather proud when I got all the envious stares from everyone. If Brad noticed, he didn't mention it.
Warren and Bill looked so handsome and happy together, and the ceremony was rather emotional. I was happy for them, too. Warren was always the wild one. Bill was his stabilizer. Together, they made a wonderful couple, and I was delighted that they finally had the right to legalize their love for each other and become a real family.
The reception took place in the ballroom of an hotel in Mississauga. I'd made a reservation as soon as I had discovered which one. I knew I wouldn't be driving home afterwards. At first, I reserved two single rooms for myself and Brad but, at his insistence and, with his common sense, I changed it to one room with two beds.
The music was nice and the disc jockey was accommodating and energetic and he kept the party rocking. Brad had money of his own and insisted on sharing the cost of the drinks. Most of the party-goers were men, and most of them were gay. Brad felt comfortable with that, although he got more than his share of compliments, pecks on the cheek, and casual gropes. He didn't say anything about it. He didn't make a fuss. But I could see that it made him uncomfortable.
It became serious when someone I didn't even know got a little rambunctious. He was obviously drunk. He'd been groping Brad openly and I could see Brad trying to push him away while I tried to convince him to back off. The guy yanked opened Brad's zipper and shoved his hand inside the suit pants. Brad pulled his hips back, but couldn't escape. I could see from the painful look on his face that the guy had latched onto him and wasn't about to let go until he got a good feel of the goods. I grabbed the guy's arm and tried to pull him away, but his arm jerked and twisted instead. Brad's eyes suddenly opened wide and his jaw dropped. His face contorted in agony and I could see him doubling over. A horrifying sound came out of his throat. I let go of the arm, got behind the guy, wrapped my arms around him from the back, and yanked him away. It surprised me that I actually lifted him off his feet. With a grunt of anger, I twisted my body and threw the man into the crowd. He hit the floor, stumbled, and would have fallen flat on his face if he hadn't run into one of the other guests.
Bill showed up immediately, bless him, and grabbed the guy by the neck. With the help of one other guest, the man was escorted out of the ballroom and, probably, out of the hotel entirely. When I looked back, Brad was on his knees on the floor, bent over so his forehead was touching the floor. His hands were in his groin and I could see his body shaking. I knew he was crying. A young man was on the floor beside him, tenderly rubbing his back and whispering things into Brad's ear. I dropped to me knees on the other side and the young man leaned back, letting me take over for him, but he remained where he was.
"Brad? Are you okay?"
"Oh, God, Ted," he cried. "It hurts!" He spoke to the floor.
I soothed him for awhile, consoling him, comforting him, asking if he wanted to go to the hospital. Finally, when he had stopped crying and lifted himself up, I asked, "Can you stand?" He nodded. I grabbed his arm with my left hand and wrapped my other arm around his waist. The young man beside him grabbed his other arm and, between the two of us, we got Brad to his feet. His zipper was still open. I reached down and pulled it back up for him.
"Over here," someone said. It was Warren, and he was making a path through the crowd so we could walk Brad to some soft, cushioned chairs against the wall. We settled Brad into one of them. Warren sat on one side. I sat on the other. The youth remained standing. Brad leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes closed and his hands resting protectively over his crotch.
"I'm sorry," the youth said. "That was my date. I guess he had too much to drink." He was almost in tears. He looked at me. "Really, I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do. . ."
I smiled my thanks to him. "What's your name?"
"If you wouldn't mind, could you get our beers for us?" I pointed to our table where our drinks sat, along with our suit jackets which we'd hung over the chairs. Randy grabbed everything and brought it all back with him.
I took the beers from him and Randy set our jackets over the arm of the chair to my left. Bill arrived then.
"He won't be back," he said.
Randy looked at him. "Can I at least stay until I make sure he's okay?" He pointed to Brad.
"Why?" Bill asked. "You didn't do anything except help Brad, here."
"I came with Tony. I didn't think you'd want me here, either."
"Do you want to go?" Warren asked. Randy shook his head ‘no'. "Then you're welcome to stay."
"You can join us for the rest of the evening." I grabbed our jackets and moved them to the arm of my chair.
Randy pulled the chair away from the wall and sat facing us. "Is he okay?"
Brad sat up and opened his eyes. I put my hand on his back. He looked a lot better. He took a deep breath and let it out through a small ‘O' in his mouth, then sucked in another through his nose and let it out slowly. He looked at Randy. "I'm okay," he said and smiled. "Thanks for helping me." He held out his hand in greeting. "I'm Brad."
The youth took his hand and shook it. "Randy. I'm really sorry he hurt you like that."
"Booze does that to some people. It's not your fault."
Randy smiled and nodded once. "At least let me buy you another beer."
"Okay," Brad said. "Thanks."
Randy disappeared toward the bar and returned with two bottles of Blue in his hands. He handed one to Brad and the other to me. "Didn't you get something for yourself?" I asked.
"I didn't have enough money," he replied. "Tony was paying for me."
I pulled my wallet out of my pocket, pulled out a tenner, and handed it to him. It took some persuasion, but Randy finally accepted the money and went to get himself a drink. When he came back, he handed me the change.
* * * * *
"Don't you guys dance?" Randy asked us. We were sitting at the table together now.
"I don't know. Can you dance, Brad?" I joked.
"Not very well," he replied. "Besides, which one of us is supposed to lead?"
Randy looked confused. "Aren't you guys. . . you know. . . a couple?" he asked.
"No," I answered. "We're neighbours. Brad just came to keep me company."
"I'm sorry," Randy said. "I thought I saw. . ."
"Saw ‘what'?" I asked.
"Well, I saw more than just a little neighbourly concern when Brad was hurt."
Randy looked from my face to Brad's. "Sorry," he said. "I just misread the two of you. That's all."
I looked at Brad and he looked at me. What was Randy seeing that we weren't seeing? I avoided the question by asking Brad if he wanted to dance.
He shrugged. "Sure. First time for everything, eh?"
We made it to the dance floor and started our gyrations and jerks, probably looking every bit the idiots we felt we were. But I was having fun and I didn't care. That song ended and another began. We danced to that one, too. Brad was grinning broadly now, as was I, and then we started to laugh. We were in hysterics when The Chicken Dance followed and I had tears rolling down my face by the time we got through it. I can't remember when I'd had so much fun.
And then Unchained Melody began, and the Righteous Brothers themselves were singing it. My favourite version. Brad looked around as couples fell into each other's arms and began to sway to the tune. I was having fun. I didn't want it to stop. But, more than anything, I didn't want to miss this dance. Brad looked at me. I loved this song, and I loved dancing to it. And now, I wanted to dance to it with Brad.
I held out my hands to him. He hesitated a moment, looked around again, then stepped forward into my arms. I wrapped them around his back and he put his hands on my waist. He kept his distance, though. Our bodies didn't touch, but I could feel the heat from his. We began to move. We began to dance. I looked into Brad's eyes and he looked into mine. Our gaze locked and he didn't look away. I could feel the breath from his nostrils stroking my chin. I tried to imagine what he was seeing in my brown eyes and I tried to figure out what I was seeing in his green eyes.
He swallowed hard and he blinked, and then his hands slid around my back and his body moved into mine. He turned his head and rested it against my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my neck and his scent wafted up to my nostrils. There was nothing sexual about the dance. Erotic, yes, but not sexual. I could feel Brad's crotch pressing against me, but he didn't get excited and neither did I. It was just a few short minutes of sharing.
Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea,
to the open arms of the sea.
Lonely rivers sigh, wait for me, wait for me.
I'll be coming home, wait for me.
Oh, my love, my darling,
I've hungered for your touch a long lonely time.
And time goes by so slowly and time can do so much,
Are you still mine?
Oh, I need your love.
I need your love.
God speed your love, to me.
Brad pulled his head back and looked at me. There was something else in his eyes and I could see him fighting against it. Finally, he spoke. "I've never broken a promise in my life, Ted, but you made me make a promise I can't keep. I'm sorry."
He leaned up slowly and his lips met mine. His kiss was just as intense and passionate as mine was, and I didn't want it to stop.
It didn't - for a long, long time.
To Be Continued