Brad’s Search : Part 20

James and I hop into his car and head towards downtown. I call Gary to let him know we’re on the way. He, Harry, Gina, and Julia pile in his car and leave. The plan is to meet at the International Fountain and watch the fireworks from there.

I hang up with Gary, lean back in the passenger seat, and let out a loud grunt.

James looks over. “What’s wrong?”

“I just feel like I’ve been hit by a big emotional truck.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I’m driving, then.”

“Did you happen to bring any ingredients for a lemon drop with you?”

James cackles and slaps my knee. “You’re funny.”

We park, get out, and start walking toward the fountain.

James wraps his arm around me. “Brad, I just want you to know that I think you’re all right. No matter what you did with Stan or Kelly, you’ve owned up to it and were completely honest with me. I appreciate that. And I know, deep down inside, you have a good heart.”

“Thanks, James. That means a lot to me.”

“Now come on, we have some fireworks to catch.”

We get to the fountain with about 20 minutes until midnight. We see Gary, Harry, Gina, and Julia walking our direction and we wave them down. They see us and make their way towards us.

Gary gives James a look from head to toe. “So this is the James you’ve been seeing, Brad? Nice catch!”

“Hush, Gary. Everyone, this is James. James, this is Gary; Gary’s girlfriend, Gina; Harry; and Harry’s girlfriend, Julia.”

Everyone except Julia seems enthused to meet James.

James turns to Gary. “So, how long have you two been dating?”

Gary turns to Gina. “How long has it been, babe? A little over two years?” Gina nods.

James nods back. “Cool. What about you, Harry?”

Harry humorously says, “A little over two weeks.”

Everyone chuckles. Harry says to James, “How about you guys? Are you an item yet?”

James answers, “Not yet, but midnight is only fifteen minutes away.” He turns to me and gives me a wink.

Julia crosses her arms and looks disgusted. My curiosity gets the better of me. “Is something wrong, Julia?”

She looks at me with daggers in her eyes. “I just don’t know how you can live with yourself.”

Harry turns to her. “Julia, please.”

I, never being one to stand down, push further. “What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. How could you crush that girl’s hopes and dreams and just move on to this guy?” She turns to James. “Yeah, I bet he never told you he was dating a girl before he started talking to you.” She turns back to me. “You’re just a big, heartless asshole who doesn’t care about anyone else. You just trick people into getting what you want.”

All of us stand there, stunned. All of us except James, that is. “Well, Julia, for your information, he has told me about Kelly. And I have no reason to believe he had any malicious intent. From what he’s told me, he genuinely cared for Kelly. Still does, in fact. He even sounded like he was seriously considering a relationship with her.”

“And you believe him?”

He continues, “Brad is the most open and honest person I’ve met in a very long time. He has given me no reason not to trust him. Yes, he’s made mistakes. Who here hasn’t? But he has owned up to them and has shown me that he is committed to making better choices in the future. I hope I can say the same about you someday.”

Julia is so beside herself at this point. She tries to speak, but James cuts her off. “And for you to try to use Kelly to turn me against Brad? As if I’m even that shallow to care about if a potential boyfriend of mine had dated a girl in the past? The fact that he has the capacity to love and care for anyone, regardless of gender, speaks so positively about him. And that’s a lot more than I can say for you.”

Julia throws her arms up in disgust. “I’m not taking any more of this bullshit. Come on, Harry.” She turns around, starts walking away, then turns and faces us. “Harry, are you coming?”

Harry begins walking toward Julia, then stops and just stands there, motionless - which is what we all expect him to do, since he’s always been the shy one out of all of us. But he surprises us. He comes back and wraps his arm around me.

“James is right.”

Julia is astounded. “Are you kidding?”

Harry continues. “I’ve known Brad for a long time. He would have never gone out with Kelly if it weren’t for me and Gary. We’re the ones that put that idea in his head.”

Julia fires back. “But Brad had no intention, no right, to go out with a girl! His feelings weren’t genuine!”

Gary butts in. “How the hell would you know whether or not his feelings were genuine?”

Julia just stands there with her mouth agape.

Gary continues. “That’s right. You don’t.”

Julia regains her composure. “I just know that gay guys shouldn’t be trying to fool women into thinking they’re interested.”

James rebukes, “And I just know that people like you shouldn’t be trying to fit other people into little boxes. Especially people you don’t give a flying fuck about.”

Julia just keeps standing in place, totally dumbstruck, for what seems like an eternity, until James delivers the icing on the cake. “But I forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Julia throws her arms up, screams, then turns around and walks away.

We all stand there in silence for a few seconds, and everyone around us must have been looking at us. But Gary and Harry didn’t care. Neither did James.

Harry wraps his arms me and gives me a tight hug. “I love you, Brad. Not once have you ever had a problem with me. You’ve been the most supportive person I’ve ever known. I just want you to know that I would never stop being friends with you because of someone else.”

I am in tears by this point. “Thank you, Harry. That means so much.”

Gary gives me a tight hug, too.

I turn to James. “Thanks so much for standing up for me.”

“It wasn’t so much you I was standing up for, but the truth.”

“Well, thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome.”

All of a sudden, everyone starts counting down. We join in. And the first few fireworks start going off.

“10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 - HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Gary pulls Gina into a kiss. James turns to me. “Have you had anyone to kiss for New Year’s?”

“It’s hard to believe, but no. How about you?”

“Not until now.”

James then leans toward me and presses his lips against mine. We break contact, then kiss again a few times. We then wrap our arms tightly around one another and embrace for what seems like forever.

We break the hug, then I feel Gary pulling me toward him. “All right, share the love, boys.” Gary then pulls me into a tight hug. “I love you, Brad. Don’t ever stop being you.”

Everyone else then hugs everyone else. Gina even gives Harry a kiss, since Julia is now out of the picture. Gary tells James, “Looks like Brad finally found a guy with some sense.”

James says back, “Hey, I’m just giving him his second chance.”

Harry points to James, then says to me, “This guy is all right. I think we’ll let you keep him.”

I laugh. “I didn’t know that decision was up to you.”

Harry says back, “It’s not, but you have our blessings anyway.”

We spend the next few minutes watching the fireworks. I could not have asked for a better night. Well, perhaps if Julia weren’t a part of it, I could call it perfect. But considering where I was a couple of weeks ago, this was much better than anything I could have expected.

The fireworks eventually come to a close, and everyone applauds.

After the applause dies down, Gary says, “So Harry, Gina and I were thinking of grabbing a bite to eat somewhere. Care to join us?”

I look at James, and he nods. “Count us in.”

We head to a 24-hour diner, order food, and converse about various things. Harry eventually brings up the topic of New Year’s Resolutions. Gary eventually says to me, “What’s yours, Brad?”

“I resolve to never date any more women.”

Everyone laughs.

I turn to James. “Your turn.”

“Gosh, I’m horrible at these.” After a few seconds, he says, “I resolve to be a more loving and accepting person.”

I say back, “I think you’re doing a damn good job of that already.”

James just smiles. “There’s always room for improvement.”

We finish up our food and get up to leave. James says to Gary and Harry, “It was so great to meet you guys. Brad truly has some great friends.”

Gary gives James a hug. “Well, I’m glad you came into his life, too.”

Harry then hugs James. “Thanks for standing up for him tonight.”

“No problem.”

We part ways. James and I start walking to his car.

He turns to me. “So I guess you found your answer.”

“Answer to what?”

“If Gary and Harry were your true friends.”

I smile and nod.

“I can tell they care for you - really, truly care for you. And you care about them.”

“We do.”

“You’re very lucky to have each other in your lives. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve lost by just being myself. Even family members. It’s special to have people totally and fully accept you for who you are. Don’t take them for granted.”

“Sometimes I find that I do. But tonight really showed me that I have a lot to be thankful for. And you’re part of all that.”

James laughs. “Oh, shucks, me?”

I grab his hand and we hold hands until we reach his car. We get inside and he drives me home.

“Would you like to come in?”

“Oh, Brad, I’d really love to, but I can’t. I’m taking care of a friend’s puppy while they’re out of town. How about a late lunch tomorrow?”

I take a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Brad. It’s the best I can do.”

“All right. I think I can survive until then.”

He gives me a smirk. “Sure you can, cutie. I’ll be here tomor- well, later today, technically. Sound good?”

I tilt my head to the side. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

James smiles, leans in, and gives me a kiss. He squeezes my knee.

I look at James. “I’m glad I found someone to kiss for New Year’s.”

“I’m good for the other 364 days of the year, too, you know.”

I chuckle. “See you later, James.”

“Take care.”

I get out and enter my apartment. All the thoughts start flooding into my mind. Am I falling in love? Does James feel the same? And if so, am I ready for a relationship? My work is about to get a lot more busy. Will I have the time for one? Will James understand if I’m not able to spend as much time with him?

Damn. I should not have watched all those romantic comedies earlier.

One thing is for sure, though. James is a hell of a great kisser. And I’m not going to be giving that up easily.