Brad’s Search : Part 55


I meet up with Gary and Harry after work Friday. I catch them up on what’s been going on at work and with James and Paul in Michigan.

Harry gasps. “Wow, a trip to Vegas? I’m jealous.”

“I’ll be working just about the whole time, but hopefully I won’t be so worn out that I can’t gamble a few dollars away.”

Gary turns to me. “Have you ever gambled before?”

“No, I haven’t. I don’t think I’d even have the slightest idea what to do.”

Harry chuckles. “Yeah, half the fun is learning how to play.”

I raise my eyebrows. “And the other half?”

“Winning.”

There’s silence for a bit until Gary speaks up. “So, Harry has a new girlfriend.”

I’m caught by surprise. “What?!”

Harry whispers to Gary, “Shh, she’s not my girlfriend.”

Gary retorts, “Yet…”

I regain my composure. “Who’s this new girl?”

Harry starts blushing and can’t even bring himself to speak, so Gary begins to fill me in. “Her name is Veronica. Harry went out on a date with her this past Sunday, and if I’m not mistaken, they’ve seen each other every day since.” He turns to Harry. “Isn’t that right?”

Harry sighs. “Yeah.”

I smile at Harry. “What’s wrong? That’s awesome that you found someone who likes spending so much time with you!”

“I’ve just been on so many dates and nothing really works out. I’m hoping Veronica will be different.”

I reach across the table and squeeze Harry’s shoulder. “We’ve gotta work on your confidence. Girls dig that.”

Harry gives me a half-smile and nods in agreement.

Gary looks at me. “You’re not the only one going on a trip, you know.”

I cock an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Yep. I finally got the tickets for Gina and me for our Toronto trip.”

I giggle with excitement. “Is this the trip when you’re planning to propose to her?”

Gary takes a quick, but deep breath. “Yeah. I’m super nervous, but I think I’m finally ready to do this.”

Harry turns to Gary. “Come on. You know she’ll say ‘yes’.”

Gary nods. “Yeah, I know that. I’m not worried about her answer; I’m worried how I’m going to ask the question. I just want it to be the perfect moment, you know?”

After a few seconds, I speak up. “I get that. Well, you’ll have to video the whole thing and send it to us as soon as it happens.”

“I sure will!”

We chat for a bit longer, then say our goodbyes.

* * * * *

I take it easy the rest of the night and wake up leisurely the next morning. I had taken up Eric’s offer to join him and Lorna for dinner. Since I have several hours to kill until then, I take care of some laundry and other cleaning that I’ve been desperately needing to get done. I have been so tired most nights staying up working that I went to bed without cleaning up the kitchen. James would probably kill me if he had come home and seen the mess.

When I am about halfway done with the cleaning, I take a break and call Mom.

“Baby boy! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from you!”

“I know, I’m sorry, Mom. Things have been really crazy at work with this project.”

“That’s OK, honey. How is your project going?”

“We’re actually almost finished. We met with the client last week, and it went really well.”

“Super! That’s good to hear.”

“Yeah, and we’re just putting the finishing touches on it now. They want us to fly to Las Vegas to train their employees, and then we’ll be done!”

“Oh, Brad, you’re such a hard worker and so dedicated. When all that’s done, you need to take some time off and come see me for a visit. Bring James, too!”

“Well, that’s the thing. James is in Michigan right now with his brother. And I don’t really know when he’s coming back.”

“Uh oh. You didn’t piss him off, now, did you?”

I chuckle. “No, of course not. His brother, Paul, has a wife and two kids, but really hasn’t been getting along with his wife.”

“You don’t say.”

“He didn’t really get along with James, either. In fact, they hadn’t talked for quite some time, but he called one day and actually came out as gay to us.”

I hear a long “Oh…” from the other end. “How did his wife take it?”

“Well, to make a long story short, she took the kids and disappeared without a trace. Paul hired this private investigator to try to find them.”

“Oh my word.”

“Yeah. Paul flew up here to visit, and while he was here, his wife was finally caught trying to cross into Canada with them. As soon as they got the news, Paul flew back to Michigan to be with the kids, and James went with him.”

I hear Mom sigh. “Well, at least Paul didn’t have to fly back by himself. I’m sure everything had him pretty distraught.”

“For sure. Anyway, James has been pretty busy, understandably, being with Paul and helping him out with everything. I was able to talk to him last week, and it sounds like things are going OK at least.”

“That’s good. It could always be worse.”

Words of wisdom.

“Anyway, Mom, as soon as I get back from Vegas and James gets back from Michigan, I’m sure we’ll find some time to come visit you. I know James really can’t wait to meet you.”

“I can’t wait to meet him, either! I get giddy whenever I think of the two of you.”

I chuckle. “Well, Mom, I need to take care of a few things around the house, so I should get going.”

“All right, baby boy. Don’t wait so long before you call me again!”

“I’ll try not to.”

“I know you will. I love you, baby boy.”

“I love you too, Mom. Take care.”

“You too.”

And with that, we hang up.

* * * * *

Eric lives out on Mercer Island, so it’s a bit of a drive to get to his house, but traffic shouldn’t be too bad on a Saturday. I had texted him earlier and asked if I could bring anything, and he just told me to bring myself. That’s something I should be able to handle. I hop in the car and start driving to his house.

Just as I expected, the traffic is pretty light, and the sun has just begun to set. It has turned out to be a very pretty day. I get to the right exit off the freeway and make a few turns until I come up to his house. I park on the street, get out, and walk up to the front door.

Before I can ring the doorbell, the front door opens, and I’m greeted by this gorgeous woman who I can only assume is Lorna.

“Hello! You must be Brad.”

“That would be me!”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Brad. My name is Lorna. Would you like some wine, dear?”

She gestures a very full glass of wine towards me.

“Yes, thank you!” I take the glass of wine that is offered to me.

“No problem, dear! Come on in.”

I step inside and take a sip of my wine as Lorna watches. “Oh my, that’s delicious!”

“Thank you, dear. Eric is in the kitchen with the kids. It’s right this way.”

I follow her to the kitchen where I see Eric playing a card game with his two kids. Whatever’s cooking also smells really nice. The three of them look up at me.

Eric stands up and gives me a hug. “Hey, Brad! I’m glad you could make it. These are our kids, Eva, and Gavin.” He then lowers his voice. “Would you prefer the kids call you ‘Brad’ or ‘Mr Palovich’?”

I shrug. “It doesn’t really matter. ‘Brad’ is fine.”

He turns to the kids. “Eva, Gavin, this is Brad. He’s a guest, so remember to be polite and hospitable. If he asks you where something is, you help him out, OK?”

“Yes, Daddy,” both of them say.

I reach out to shake their hands. “It’s great to meet you both!” They timidly shake my hand. I remember Eric telling me Eva is fourteen years old, and Gavin is nine.

I turn to Lorna. “What are you making? This smells delicious.”

“Eric told me that you liked salmon.”

I nod. “Yeah, I can’t get enough of the stuff.”

“Well, you are going to absolutely love the way I make it. It goes great with the wine, too.”

I smile. “Everything goes great with wine.”

Lorna chuckles. “I like the way you think, Brad!”

With that, Lorna and I clink our glasses together and take sips of our wine.

Eric and the kids have gone back to their game. I walk over to check it out. “What’s this?”

Eric rolls the dice, “Kids, do you want to explain to Brad how it works?”

Eva is the first to explain. “It looks really complicated, but it’s not. You basically start with a few cards, and we all take turns rolling the dice. Depending on the roll, we get money and can buy other cards.”

Gavin continues the explanation. “We keep going around and around, and then whoever buys all of these four buildings first wins the game!”

“Eva, you’re right, this does look complicated.” I take some more sips of wine as I watch play go around the table a few times, and eventually I begin catching on.

Lorna speaks up. “Dinner will be ready in a few minutes, guys.”

Eric interrupts his dice roll. “All right, kids, let’s set the table.”

Eric and the kids get glasses and silverware and set the table while Lorna begins serving dinner portions on five plates, one for each of us. Eric goes to the fridge, grabs a dark beer, and pours it into a glass, which he brings to the table.

I turn to him. “No wine for you?”

“Nah, I was never a big fan of the stuff. I know this may sound weird, but I love a really dark, strong stout, even with fish. Maybe it’s the fact that it tastes like coffee and I drink so much of the damned stuff anyway.”

Lorna finishes serving dinner on the five plates, and we each take one to the table and sit down. As we eat, I make small talk with the kids, asking them about their favorite subjects in school and what they like to do for fun. I hardly ever talk to kids as it is, and I’ll likely be meeting Paul’s soon, so I may as well get some practice.

“This dinner is absolutely delicious, Lorna. Thank you so much for having me over and cooking.”

Lorna places her hand on mine. “It’s my pleasure, dear. I’m so happy you could join us. Eric’s told me how stressful work has been for everyone lately, so if there’s anything I can do to help you unwind, you just let me know.” She gives my hand a squeeze.

We keep eating and chatting until we all finish up. The kids help put the dishes in the dishwasher and run up to their rooms, undoubtedly to play on their smartphones or video game consoles or whatever it is kids do with their free time nowadays.

Lorna pours herself and me some more wine, and Eric pops open another stout. We make our way to the living room and sit on a sectional sofa, Eric in the middle and Lorna and I on either side.

“So, Brad, Eric tells me that you two might be flying to Las Vegas to visit your client. Are you excited?”

“I am! It should be fun, but I’ve also never done anything like that for work before.”

Eric chimes in. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous, myself. The client really loves the work we’ve done so far, and they’re very happy with us, which would make you think things are guaranteed to go smoothly. But, their expectations of us are probably already very high, so we will need to keep working hard to impress them and make sure nothing goes wrong while we’re there.”

Lorna continues, “Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if word spreads, and you end up getting a lot more business from that area.”

Eric takes a sip of his beer. “That’s what Rick is hoping for. He’s been trying for a while to get business to grow. He’s felt things have been stagnating lately, and this latest project has kind of breathed new life into him.”

I look at Eric. “Wow, I didn’t know that at all about Rick.”

Eric looks back at me. “Well, now that you’re a project manager, you’ll find out there’s more to it than just managing projects. Especially for a firm as small as ours. One thing I like about working at a company like Rick’s is that he doesn’t forget everyone who works for him is still a human being, complete with feelings. I think too many of the bigger companies lose sight of that.”

I nod.

Eric places his hand on my knee. “And this doesn’t leave this house, but after talking with him as this project has gone on, he’s really impressed with the work you’ve been doing, and if everything goes well in Vegas, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a permanent project manager position.”

I take another sip of wine and make a very audible gulping sound when I swallow. If I was nervous before, I’m terrified now. Things in Vegas could probably determine whether I keep my job at all. I’ve really got to make sure everything goes right.

Lorna notices my nervousness and breaks the silence. “OK, we don’t have to discuss work the rest of the night. Brad, Eric tells me you have a boyfriend?”

I regain my composure. “Yes. His name is James.”

“How long have you two been together?”

I think quickly about it. “It’s been a little over a month.”

Lorna looks surprised. “Wow, that’s recent. And things have been good so far?”

I take another sip of my wine. “Yeah, so far, so good. It’s hard to believe; I’ve been in a lot of relationships, and none of them have even come close to how effortless being around James has been. It’s almost too good to be true.”

Eric pats me on the shoulder. “Brad, James certainly sounds like a keeper. It’s really nice when you find someone and things just flow. It won’t be perfect all the time,” he says as he takes Lorna’s hand, gives it a squeeze, and looks at her, “but it’s definitely worth hanging on to someone like that when you find them.”

Eric and Lorna look so much in love with each other. Though Eric has only talked about Lorna a few times here and there, I can’t think of even one negative thing he’s said about her. They seem meant for each other. I have spent most of my adult life expecting relationships would always be a ton of work—that’s certainly been most of my history with them, in any case. Just being in the presence of these two people has given me hope that I can have the same happiness they do, and that it will last a while.

My attention is brought back to reality when Lorna stands up and reaches for my wine glass. “Looks like you’re empty, Brad. Can I get you a refill?”

I hand her my glass. “Yes, thanks, that would be great.”

She turns to Eric. “Another stout for you, dear?”

“Yes, honey, thanks.”

She heads to the kitchen and begins opening another bottle of wine.

I turn to Eric. “You and Lorna seem so happy together.”

He nods and chuckles. “Yeah, what can I say? I love her to death. I don’t really believe in the whole soulmates thing, but she and I just belong with each other, you know? It’s hard to explain, but when you feel in your heart that you’re with the right person, you just know.”

“I think I understand. I just hope James is the real deal. I’ve gone through so many duds, and I’m kind of tired of trying.”

“He certainly sounds like the real deal. I know it’s only been a month, which isn’t very long, but from everything you’ve said, he seems to me like a very understanding guy, and sounds like he has his life pretty sorted out. I really can’t wait to meet him. Perhaps once he gets back in town and settled in, we can arrange something.”

“I’d like that. I have no idea when he’s coming back, though.”

“How are things going in Michigan with his brother?”

“I talked to him last week. They’re doing pretty good, but I’m sure they have their hands full with the kids now. James is trying to convince them to move to Seattle so that they’re at least close to him and Willie. He said his brother is a bit reluctant about the move, but I think it would be the right decision.”

“How old are his kids?”

“Eight and five, I think.”

“Wow, that’s young. Yeah, at that age it might not be as bad to make a transition to a new place. I imagine a teenager would have a tougher time leaving their friends behind. But kids that young? I think they would have an easier time adjusting.”

“Well, you have kids, too, so I think that would make you the expert.”

“Expert?” Eric chuckles. “I don’t think I’d describe myself that way. Even though our oldest is fourteen, Lorna and I are still learning something new every day about them.”

Lorna returns with another stout for Eric and a full glass of wine for me. We both thank her as she hands us our drinks.

“What were you two talking about, dear?”

“Our wonderful, beautiful children and how much joy they bring to our lives.”

Lorna laughs very quietly under her breath. “Most of the time. Brad, if you ever have kids, make sure to keep plenty of this around.” She taps her wine glass with her fingernails, and then chuckles. “I’m just joking. They are a great bunch of kids. I could not ask for a more perfect pair.”

Lorna and Eric look at each other and smile. Lorna then looks at me. “Would you like to try the game the kids were playing before dinner?”

I nod my head in excitement. “Sure! It looks like a pretty fun game. I’m up for learning something new tonight.”

We move to the dining room table. Eric and Lorna both shuffle the cards while Lorna begins explaining the rules to me. We roll a die to see who goes first, and it ends up being me. Great, the pressure’s on. They both do a great job helping me along and teaching me different bits of strategy. Play goes around the table several times, all while Lorna makes sure the three of us never have an empty glass.

It’s almost midnight until we finally finish the game. Eventually, I roll and hit my lucky number, gaining enough coins to buy my last card and win. They both high-five me and congratulate me on winning the game. I play it off like it was nothing. “Beginner’s luck.”

Eric chuckles. “Eh, I don’t know about luck. I could see the wheels turning in your head. You even taught Lorna and me a new strategy or two about the game. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re a pretty good player and a quick learner!”

I help Eric and Lorna put the game away. “Thanks! I loved the game.”

Lorna gets up to put the game on a shelf with a lot of other games. “Maybe when James gets back in town, he’d be interested in coming over and playing a game or two?”

I nod in agreement. “Yeah, I think he’d really like that.”

I begin to stand up, then quickly become aware of how much wine I had to drink tonight. I place my weight on the chair in front of me and slightly lean into it. Eric moves around the table and puts one hand on my torso and the other on my back to help stabilize me. “Whoa, you all right, Brad?”

“I’m fine, it’s just the wine was good. Really good.”

Lorna laughs quietly, but has a genuine look of concern on her face. “You certainly look in no condition to drive. We have a guest room, and you’re more than welcome to stay the night.”

She was right; it was late, and I had drunk a lot. “As long as you and Eric don’t mind. I’d hate to impose.”

She comes over to me and places her hand on my cheek. “It’s no imposition at all. We’d both rather you be safe here than get a DUI or, worse, into a wreck.”

I nod. “Yeah.”

“OK, dear. Eric, can you show him where the guest room is? I’ll get some extra blankets just in case.”

“Sure, honey. Brad, it’s right this way.”

Eric leads me to the guest room and flips on the light. It has a decently-sized bed; a couple could comfortably spend the night here. He shows me to the bathroom, and points to where the towels, shampoo, and soap are. “I know you probably don’t have a change of clothes for tomorrow, but just in case you want to shower before you leave, everything should be in here.” He rummages around one of the drawers. “Oh, and here’s a toothbrush and toothpaste.”

Lorna comes into the room and places the blankets onto the bed. “If you need some extra warmth, these should do the trick.”

“Thanks guys. I really appreciate it.”

Eric smiles. “No problem. Is there anything else we can get you? Something to drink perhaps? We have water, tea—”

I perk up. “Tea sounds great!”

Lorna yawns. “Dear, would you mind getting that for Brad? I should turn in; I’m getting really tired.”

“Of course, honey. You worked so hard making that delicious meal for all of us; you definitely deserve some downtime. I’ll make Brad’s tea and then come to bed.”

I walk over to Lorna and give her a hug. “Yes, the salmon was fantastic! Thank you again so much for cooking and for letting me spend the night.”

We break the hug. “Anytime, dear. And bring James when he gets back in town. We would love to have him over.”

“I sure will. Good night, Lorna.”

“Night, boys.”

Lorna leaves the room and heads to their bedroom.

I turn to Eric. “I can come to the kitchen with you while you make the tea.”

“You sure you have enough coordination?”

“Yeah, I should be fine. I think it was because I stood up so suddenly.”

“OK. I don’t want you to fall down and become incapacitated before our training meeting.”

“Don’t worry; I’ll wait until after the training meeting to do that.”

Eric narrows his eyes and cracks a smile. “Smartass.”

We both walk to the kitchen. I sit in one of their very comfortable barstools while Eric takes two teacups from the top of a small and very shiny metal appliance sitting on the counter. He places one cup underneath some kind of water spout, and pulls a lever and fills it up with hot water. The noise from the machine is quite loud as lots of steam emanates from it, so I wait until he’s finished filling one of the cups before asking, “What in the hell is that thing?”

He turns around and places the now-full cup of water on the counter. “It’s an espresso machine.”

“Espresso machine? I wanted tea, not coffee.”

“It also has an instant hot water spout—perfect for tea.”

“Oh.”

He turns back around and fills up the other mug, and then grabs two teabags, handing one to me. “This is bedtime tea; it’s supposed to make you feel really sleepy and knock your ass out.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Eric sits in the barstool next to mine. We mindlessly bob our teabags in and out of the water to get them steeping.

“Eric…”

There are a few seconds of silence.

“Yeah, Brad?”

I roll my eyes. “This is probably going to sound really sappy, but I really, really do want to tell you how happy I am that you and Lorna invited me over.”

“Oh, Brad, it’s our pleasure!”

“I mean, I really miss James. He’s been out of town for almost two weeks now.”

“Yeah, I can imagine how hard that must be for you.”

“It is. And on top of that, one of my best friends is getting engaged soon, and the other has a new girlfriend. I haven’t been seeing them much lately, and I know I’ll probably see them less now that they’re all involved with their women.”

He smiles. “Uh huh, that tends to happen when relationships go to the next level.”

“But I had such a great time here tonight, with Lorna cooking dinner and all of us playing games. Just having someone to be around means so much to me, especially with how lonely I’ve been feeling lately, you know?”

“Yeah, I understand.”

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, when we started working together a couple months ago, I thought that’s all we would do—work together. I never expected something like what happened tonight to ever be in the picture. I mean, meet your wife and kids and have dinner and play games?”

“Well, I’m glad you had a good time here tonight.”

“I did. And you were there for me when I met James. Hell, you’re probably the reason he and I are together. I was worried about work and a relationship being too much to handle at the same time, but you helped me believe I could do it. I don’t think I’d be with him if it weren’t for you. You helped me be with the man of my dreams. And you act so cool about it even though I’m gay and it’s a man I’m in love with!”

“Brad, it doesn’t matter if you wanted to be with a woman or a man. It makes no difference to me. You’re perfect just the way you are.”

I feel myself beginning to tear up. “See? That’s what makes you so fucking cool. You have no idea how many people ridiculed me when I was younger for being gay and treated me as if I was somehow lesser of a person. It means so much to me, more than you can imagine, for you to say what you just said.”

A tear rolls down my cheek. I wipe it away.

Eric stands up and wraps me in a tight embrace. “Aww, Brad…”

Several seconds later, we break the hug, and he sits back down. The tea has cooled down enough for us to take a few sips. There is silence for a few seconds, and then Eric speaks up.

“Brad, since I’ve met you, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. You’re an amazing person to work with; you’re very dedicated to your craft and you strive so hard for perfection—and attain it. I know before you and James got together, you were worried about how you were going to balance him with work, but I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. From an outside perspective, you seem to be handling things way better than I did when I was your age. Hell, you see an opportunity, go for it, and make it happen. Lots of new things are thrown at you, and you seem to be handling them just fine. It’s refreshing looking at you and seeing how well you take it all in.” He puts a hand on my shoulder. “And those other people when you were younger? Fuck what they think. There is nothing wrong with you. Not then, not now. I like you just the way you are; there is no need to change or feel bad about what makes you you.”

I feel myself tearing up again, but I’m able to hold them back this time.

He takes another sip of his tea. “You really did have a lot of wine tonight, didn’t you?”

I laugh. We both glance toward the sink and see three empty wine bottles. He’s right—I did have a lot.

After a few seconds, I look up at him. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, what?”

“How much did that espresso machine cost?”

He answers my question as I’m taking a sip of my tea. “Three thousand dollars.”

I almost spit out my tea. “Three thousand dollars?!”

“Yeah, we kind of went overboard with it. But it’s a really nice machine. As you know, it has the hot water spout, but it can froth milk and pull espresso shots and do it fast. And fast counts, especially when that first cup is an absolute necessity before I head out the door in the morning before work.”

“I wonder how it compares to Starbucks.”

“Lorna swears this machine makes much better-tasting coffee. I’d tend to agree with her, but it really depends on your tastes. You wanna try a cup tomorrow?”

“Are you kidding? Morning and coffee always go together as far as I’m concerned.”

“Great; I can show you how it works in the morning.”

“That sounds awesome.” I finish what’s left in my teacup and yawn. “Well, you were right; this tea is starting to kick in. I think I should head to bed now.”

“Me too. Hopefully Lorna didn’t want up for me. I ended up staying out here longer than I thought I would.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, we had a great talk! Plus, she’s used to me sometimes coming to bed really late.”

“Yeah, James, too.

He gets up, rinses the teacups, and turns off the kitchen lights, and then we both head toward the bedrooms. We stop in front of the guest bedroom, and he pulls me into a hug.

“Brad, I’m so glad you had a great time tonight. You’re a really great friend, and I’m happy you came into our lives.”

“Of course. You and Lorna and the kids are so welcoming and accepting. It’s nice being around people like you.”

We break the hug. “All right, we should get some shut eye. Lorna and I are just down the hall. Knock if there’s anything you need.”

“OK, Eric. Have a good night.”

“You too, Brad. See you in the morning.”

Eric turns around and heads into his bedroom, quietly closing the door.

I close the door to the guest bedroom, and start getting ready for bed. I brush my teeth and plug my phone into the charger on the nightstand. I take off all my clothes, except for my underwear, and neatly fold them and place them on top of a dresser. I crawl under the sheets, and it’s not long before the bedtime tea works its magic and puts me to sleep.