by shukyou (主教)
Britt was so absorbed in the wording for the obituary that he didn’t hear the doorbell ring. He did hear it shut, though, as well as the few lines of muffled conversation that preceded it. A few seconds later, Kendra walked back into the living room, heading toward the kitchen with a covered dish in her hands.
“Kendra, sweetie, who was at the door?” asked Marsha.
“One of Uncle Britt’s co-workers,” Kendra told her mom. She nudged aside some of the Pyrex armada that had flocked there, finding just enough space to set down the new arrival safely. She had just reached that disaffected teenage stage, which meant that either she was handling the situation the best of all of them, or she had the necessary resources to pretend she was.
Britt looked up, leaving the question of beloved father and grandfather of versus cherished father and grandfather of for the time being. “Who was it?” he asked with a frown.
Kendra shrugged, a gesture that nudged her shoulders against her enormous earrings. “Didn’t say,” she said, smacking her gum as she spoke.
Marsha sighed with well-strained patience. “Kendra, honey, you have to do a better job at listening.”
“No, seriously,” Kendra said, though she was looking at Britt now. “Guy didn’t say his name. Just that he worked with you and he wanted to bring something by. Tall guy. Kind of a little ponytail thing going on.”
Despite three days of carefully composing his emotional responses to everything, Britt found he couldn’t quite keep his eyebrows from lifting in surprise at that one. “Little gold earring?” he asked.
Kendra nodded. “Yeah, I think.”
“Yeah, he’s my—” How did one explain Jay, anyway? Mostly Britt was quietly grateful that Kendra wasn’t giving her mother the rest of Jay’s description, which included a few more telling characteristics that a simple ponytail. Maybe Kendra was still too young to know what they meant, or maybe she simply had learned that it was better to know more and say less. With teenagers, who knew how to tell the difference? “We started around the same time. We’re both managers, just in different departments.”
“Well, that was very thoughtful of him,” Marsha declared as she flipped through yet another photo album. She was his sister-in-law, and had been ever since he’d been around Kendra’s age, but she still had little enough baggage that she could make her way down those various visual memory lanes with relative ease as she prepared the memorial collage for the next day’s service. Britt would rather have put out his own eyes with tuning forks than sift through page after page of forced smiles captured on Kodak paper.
Maybe devoted husband, father, and grandfather of instead. If he was going to lie, why not lie big?
He didn’t trust phone books as a general rule, and he was halfway ready to give up on the cause as lost from the moment he rang the doorbell. But only a few seconds later, there was Jay, standing at the condo door and smiling. “Hey,” he said, his voice kind.
“Hey,” Britt answered. He held out the Pyrex dish, emptied, washed, and dried. “Thought I’d run this back by.”
“Thanks, man,” said Jay, reaching out to retrieve his cookware.
“I know, it didn’t—” Britt shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and balled them into little fists. “I mean, I know I could have probably waited a couple days and brought it back to you at the office. But I sort of had to…. It was a great excuse to just….”
“Get the hell out of there?” Jay offered.
It was such a relief to hear someone else say it that Britt nearly toppled over on the doorstep. “Yeah.” He nodded. “Yeah, that.”
Jay stepped back from the door a little, opening up the path from the outside to the inside. “Listen, I know you probably have a thousand things to do and a billion people still at your house, but… you want to come in for a bit?”
Common courtesy, or at least common courtesy as his family had always understood it, demanded that he treat any kindness with polite gratitude but definitive refusal. If tradition had not demanded giving food as a response to neighboring grief, Britt was sure that every dish, Jay’s included, would have been turned away at the door as a crime against the enduring myth of Bromfield Family Self-Sufficiency.
“Yes,” Britt said, quiet but firm in his resolve.
Jay’s smile widened as he opened the door fully, admitting Britt to his humble abode. Snug as it was, Britt could see it had been decorated with a modern eye, with curved metal-framed furniture and walls hung with trendy minimalist art. Glass shelves held various knick-knacks and books in an arch around the television, which had a state-of-the-art VCR perched atop it. All told, it was like Jay, in a way: neat and eccentric, but also inviting.
Britt tried to pretend that he was cool even with the giant framed black-and-white print of three naked, writhing men that hung over the couch. If he failed, or if his eye wandered back to it enough times to be noticeable, Jay gave no indication.
“So,” asked Jay, “how was the thing?”
“It was… a thing,” Britt said as he looked at his feet. Then he took a deep breath and let it out through pursed lips. “God, no. It was excruciating.”
Jay pointed over to the couch. “Are you a beer man?”
“If a beer man is defined as a man that will drink a beer, then yes, I am a beer man.”
That made Jay laugh, which in turn won a smile from Britt. How long had it been since he’d done more than force the corners of his lips to rise for appearances’ sake? A week, minimum. Maybe longer. “Then you go sit down,” Jay said, indicating the couch again, “and I will get beers, and we will be beer men together. How’s that sound?”
Heavenly. Sublime. Exquisite. Divine. “Sounds good,” Britt said, taking his place on the couch. At least this way, the naked-man art was behind him. He tried not to scan the room to see if there was anything else scandalous to be distracted by. “Hey, did you make that casserole all by yourself?”
“Sure did,” said Jay, who had ducked into the small kitchen and was thus heard but not seen at the moment. “It’s a family recipe. Funeral potatoes.”
Britt played back the last two words in his head a few times, trying to make sure he’d heard them right. “Funeral potatoes?”
Jay nodded as he walked back in with a bottle of Shiner in each hand. “Funeral potatoes,” he repeated. “Can’t have a funeral without funeral potatoes.”
Britt, who had never before gone to a funeral with funeral potatoes, took one of the bottles from Jay as Jay sat down on the other side of the couch, just near enough to be friendly, just far enough away to be only friendly. “Are they really just for funerals?” he asked.
“Not just, but usually,” Jay said. “They’re basically a fat and carbohydrate bomb. It’s got all your major Mormon food groups: potatoes, cheese, cream of mushroom soup, Corn Flakes. It’s everything a grieving body needs to keep going just a little bit longer.”
“Huh,” said Britt over the lip of his beer bottle. He’d had two servings himself after the service, and had been planning on a third when he’d returned to the hot dish lineup and found Jay’s white Pyrex empty. It had been the only moment of the entire day he’d felt sincere regret.
Draping his arm over the back of the couch, Jay give Britt an obvious once-over. “I’d say I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m getting the sense that’s complicated.”
“Yeah.” Britt picked at the label of the beer bottle, which had been loosened by condensation. Despite the hum from the central air vents, it was a hot, humid, miserable night out there, and there was only so much being inside could do about it. “It’s just all kind of… complicated.” He took a deep swallow from his beer bottle and pointedly changed the subject. “I like your place,” he told Jay.
“Thanks,” Jay said. “I liked yours too. Or was that your parents’ place?”
“Both.” And just like that, the subject was back. You could never run fast enough to escape your shadow, after all. Mrs. Bromfield had died two days after Jay’s thirteenth birthday, by which time all her other children had been old enough to move out. But Britt the Baby had fallen into orbit around the center of the universe that was his father, unable to get close, unable to escape. Until, of course, the universe collapsed. “Mine now, I suppose. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it. It seems pretty big for just one of me.”
“That’s why I moved into one of these.” Jay gestured around the condo, which Britt estimated lived somewhere in the real-estate limbo between ‘small’ and ‘cozy’. “When I saw it I thought, there, that’s something small enough that I’ll never find extra space and worry about what I might be missing.”
Britt looked at Jay. “Do you anyway?”
“All the damn time.” Jay laughed again, though it was a kind sound, not mean or pointed at either of them. “I made about thirty little test batches before I figured out how to do the potatoes. Right now, the top shelf of my fridge is about two dozen little ramekins covered in Saran Wrap, which means I know what I’m eating for lunch and dinner for the next couple of weeks. If I die of potatoes, just bury me where I fall!” He brought the back of his hand to his forehead in a way that made Britt think of the death scene from his high school’s senior production of Romeo and Juliet. “Even the final version wasn’t quite right, but I told myself it was good enough for government work, and whipped up and shipped out the big batch.”
“I thought you said it was a family recipe,” said Britt, puzzled.
“It is a family recipe. I’m just saying no one ever taught it to me.” With a grin, Jay shook his head. “I come from the great land of Boys-Don’t-Help-In-The-Kitchenistan. And I’m not going to call my mother and say that I’m sorry I’ve missed our last two weekly phone calls, but would she kindly read me a recipe over the phone so I can impress the cute guy at work whose dad just died?”
The end of that sentence caught Britt mid-drink, and he paused, willing himself to swallow gracefully. He managed to cough only a little. “Um,” he managed, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks.
“Sorry,” Jay said, and he sounded like he meant it. “Was that too much? You can tell me if it was too much.”
“No, it—” Britt had no idea how to respond to this. He tried looking at his feet even harder to see if it would help. It didn’t. “It was much, but… not too much?”
“Good.” Jay moved a little closer on the couch, until their knees were within touching distance. “Because I thought I was right about you, but I wasn’t quite sure. We all work in the closet, sure, but I never even saw your door crack open. I kept an eye out for you at the bars.”
Britt shook his head. “I was just so afraid I’d be walking back in and he’d catch me and ask why I was out so late, and I’d have no good reason. And then they raided Mary’s and….” He didn’t have to finish that sentence. The oil and gas company they both worked for was remarkably good about looking the other way most of the time, but there was only so far that willful blindness went, and a Vice Squad arrest that made the papers was not on the ‘ignore’ list. Britt laughed at himself as he raked a hand through his dark hair. “And I know, I know, that was four years ago, but it gets to you. Or at least it does to me.”
Jay put his bottle down hard on the coffee table and stood, then extended his hand to Britt. “Then that’s where we’re going,” he announced.
Britt’s eyes felt so wide he was afraid they’d pop out of his head. “No, no, no,” he stammered.
“Yes, yes, yes.” Jay reached down and grabbed Britt’s free hand, pulling him to his feet. “Come on. Pride was two weeks ago. It’s a Wednesday night. The Vice Squad is interested in entirely different vices at the moment. And it’s Steak Night at the BRB.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Britt said, wobbling like a newborn foal on unsteady legs.
“You don’t have to.” Jay winked. “Come on.”
Fifteen minutes later, he still wasn’t entirely sure what that had meant, except that he was surrounded by men in tight jeans, leather boots, Stetson hats, and not much else, and he did, in fact, have a steak right in front of him, complete with all the trimmings. A live band was playing country-western standards in the corner of the patio, and a group of men near the stage was hooting at the fiddle player, who had the dynamite combination of being reasonably talented and exceptionally good-looking.
“I have to say,” Britt said, just loud enough that he could be heard over the twangy melodies from the band, “this is not where I was expecting to end up when I left the house.”
“Good!” Jay clapped him on the back in what would have been a perfectly congenial manner, except that his hand lingered there for several seconds after contact. “You’re looking a lot better.”
He was feeling a lot better, even if all his good sense told him it should be the opposite. He hated loud music, he felt uneasy doing anything that might lead others to infer his sexual preferences, and he wasn’t even the biggest fan of red meat. Yet here he was, feeling like for the first time in as long as he could remember, he could take a full, deep breath. He did just that, even if he did wind up coughing a little on the cigarette smoke from a nearby table. Jay just smiled at him, though, so Britt smiled back. Smiling, right. He remembered that too.
And the steak was good. It would never grace the menu of a fancy steakhouse, but it was juicy and the barbecue sauce that came with it was good. Britt had no idea how he was still hungry, given how much he’d grazed at the reception after the funeral, two servings of funeral potatoes included. But he was, and every bite he ate made him realize he wanted another, until at last he’d cleaned his plate. He guessed Jay was right about the things a grieving body needed.
Had he even eaten over the last month, today notwithstanding? Surely so, but he couldn’t actually remember doing it. Between the hospital and work and the empty house, he might well have starved himself to bones, for all he could recall. The whole death watch had taken place in a dream-like state of automation and deprivation that had left Britt no room for himself.
But it was over. So now what?
Britt opened his mouth to say something about the band, some small-talk-worthy observation, but instead let out a fantastic belch so impressive that group of men sitting nearby actually applauded. He covered his face, but he was laughing too. “Hell,” Britt said as he got himself back under control, “this has been the longest day of my entire life. I feel like I woke up a year ago, not—” Britt checked his watch, squinted at it, frowned, then turned the face toward Jay. “What time is it?”
Jay took his hand and put it across Britt’s wrist, then lowered his arm to the table. Once it was there, he left his hand covering it. He had surprisingly chilly fingers for what a hot, swampy night it was out. “It’s time to forget about what time it is,” Jay said, his voice as soft as it could be to still carry over the racket of the club. “Do you dance?”
“Absolutely not,” said Britt, just as he realized the band was striking up a slow, swing-y number he almost knew any of the words to.
“Good. Me neither.” Jay winked and stood, then took Britt’s hand the same way he had gotten Britt up from the couch. As he was drawn to his feet, Britt had a moment of panic — Jay couldn’t just touch him like this! What if someone were to see?
But there was no one there to see who didn’t already understand, and even a few who smiled knowingly as the tall, suave Jay led the obviously underdressed Britt into something approaching a two-step. Britt supposed this was not the time to point out that he had never two-stepped in his life, largely because he was sure there wasn’t a person watching him who couldn’t tell. Jay, though, didn’t seem to care, not as he smiled and put a hand on the small of Britt’s back.
As they more swayed than danced in time to the music, Britt was struck by a thought: “Does this mean you’ve been flirting with me at work?”
Jay tipped his head back and laughed. “Is it worse if I say ‘no’ and pretend this hasn’t been building for a while, or if I say ‘yes’ and we admit I’m not good at it?”
Britt shook his head, feeling his hand start to sweat where Jay held it. Jay’s was cool and steady, though, which was good, because at least something in the universe needed to be. “No, it’s not you,” Britt said. “I mean, I figured out some of it. And I sort of suspected, about you.” He glanced over as a white-haired couple spun by them with some elaborate footwork, clearly old pros at this. “Okay, I didn’t suspect the kicker bar fetish.”
“It’s not a fetish,” Jay said, rolling his eyes. “I won’t say no to a nice pair of jeans, but I’m not part of the actual Levi’s scene. It’s just a nice place. I come here a lot after work, just to unwind. The beer is cheap and the band’s pretty good. And it’s better than going home alone.”
It occurred to Britt then that that was something he knew everything and nothing about at once. His house had never been empty, not so long as he’d lived in it, but that hadn’t meant he wasn’t alone. He sighed as he leaned closer, pressing his chest against Jay’s and letting Jay’s strength bear them both up. Jay smelled good, he realized, as he brought his cheek to rest against the curve of Jay’s shoulder. He’d never been close enough before to notice.
“You know what’s funny?” Britt said at last.
“What?” asked Jay, his lips ruffling Britt’s hair as he spoke.
“My dad would actually have wanted me at a place like this over his dead body.”
Jay cackled at that and pressed a kiss against Britt’s temple. “Nothing like good timing, is there?”
No, Britt supposed, there wasn’t.
As the song wound down, the dancers all parted enough to applaud, Jay and Britt included. When the band fired up again, though, it was a much rowdier number, so Britt was relieved as Jay took his hand and led him away from the dance area. They didn’t head back to their table, though, and they didn’t go back the way they’d come in, which left Britt following blind back into the bar proper, then down an ill-lit corridor near the back.
It was quieter there, though not empty; patrons and staff alike wandered through, though in smaller numbers than they had outside. The bar had gotten busier than it had been since they’d first arrived, making Britt feel a bit exposed and uneasy. But then Jay squeezed his hand and Britt all but forgot what it was he’d been worried about.
“So there are things,” Jay said, putting his arms around Britt’s waist, “that a grieving body needs.”
“I know,” Britt said, letting himself be drawn close. Jay was now sandwiched between Britt and the wall, held so they were half-standing, half-leaning by a stack of liquor boxes near the kitchen door. “Carbohydrates, right? That’s what you said.”
“That’s one of the things I said.” Jay leaned down and nuzzled his nose against Britt’s. “The second is a change of scenery.”
Britt laughed as he rested his palms against Jay’s chest. This certainly counted as a change, and a fairly radical one at that. “Is the third steak?” asked Britt. “No, let me guess. Beer? Or dancing?”
“The third,” said Jay, leaning down to brush his lips against Britt’s mouth, “is as many good orgasms as that body can stand.”
Britt’s breath caught in his throat as he realized both how hard he’d already been before Jay said that, and how much harder Jay’s saying it had made him. He exhaled heavily as Jay drew him even closer, then curled his fingers beneath Britt’s chin. Britt barely had time to think how long it had been since his last kiss before Jay had their lips together, pressed against one another with undisguised need. As Britt leaned further into Jay’s body, he could feel the hard outline of Jay’s cock pressing up against his own belly. So this wasn’t some strange charity or gay community service. Jay wanted Britt as much as Britt wanted him. The thought was electric.
Britt parted his lips against Jay’s and let Jay explore Britt’s mouth with his tongue. He was clearly the less experienced partner here, so as with the dancing, he let Jay lead and was greatly rewarded. Jay’s hands reached down to grope Britt’s ass through his jeans, and here Britt was, making out during his first time in a gay bar on the night of the day that was his father’s funeral. The world was impressively weird sometimes.
A few shirtless urban cowboys passed by them, and Britt was sure at any moment that someone was going to make them stop, tell them that this behavior was inappropriate here, or at least tease them about getting a room. But none did. In fact, though his back was largely to the corridor, Britt was sure he caught a few approving sounds and comments from passers-by. Now that was a heady feeling, knowing that no only were his vices being tolerated, but people around them were appreciating the show. He whimpered deep in his throat as Jay caught his lower lip between his teeth, sucking hard before letting the wet, swollen skin free with a loud pop.
For a while, they just made out there in the back of the bar, letting their mouths move against one another and their hands roam over clothes. It felt decadent — practically teenaged, in fact, just touching as the muffled thud of the honky-tonk drum set thudded around them like a heartbeat. For as impulsive as he had seemed about clubbing and dancing, Jay was unhurried now, by all indication content to taste at his leisure.
Thus, it was Britt who soon became the needy one, panting as he pressed his body up against Jay’s. He wrapped his arms around Jay’s neck and leaned his hips, trying to find some friction for his aching cock. He was past the point of caring that they were technically in public, even. That seemed like the sort of thing someone else would worry about, and he was content to let that someone have it. This was like going back for the third helping of the potatoes — about comfort, and need, and satisfaction.
At last, Jay broke from the kiss and began to nibble at Britt’s ear. “You taste good,” he said, squeezing hard at Britt’s ass.
Britt had to catch his breath before he could respond. “So do you,” he panted as he pressed his hips against Jay’s thigh. “And you smell good.” Jay smelled the way comfort food tasted, that same sort of warmth and familiarity that could put someone’s mind at ease. In Britt’s case, that was comfort and acceptance and sex, all things he’d been missing for far too long.
Jay grinned as he took Britt’s earlobe between his teeth and gave it a playful tug. “I want to suck you off,” Jay said through those clenched teeth. “Can I?”
What kind of stupid question was that? “Yes!” gasped Britt, perhaps a little more loudly than he had intended. It was worth it, though, to make sure his intentions weren’t misunderstood. If this was going to be the only chance he ever got at this, then he sure as hell was taking it.
With a quick kiss on the lips, Jay sank down to his knees in one smooth motion, leaving Britt bracing himself against the wall with both hands. He had time for one last quick wonder about the appropriateness of the setting, and then Jay’s hands were on the front of his pants, and Britt wasn’t thinking about much of anything that wasn’t that. He braced himself as best he could, making a sheltering frame of sorts over Jay’s body as Jay reached in and pulled out his cock.
Britt swallowed hard as Jay opened his mouth and dragged the tip of his tongue across the slit, lapping up the precome beaded there. The lighting in the hallway was poor and strands of Jay’s hair had begun to fall across his face, but Britt still had a very good angle on what was going on there. Jay teased at the erection in front of him, rolling it around his lips and kissing the sensitive skin there. Then he opened his mouth wide and took it all in, pushing straight ahead until his nose met the top button of Britt’s jeans.
“Oh, shit,” Britt gasped as his cock was suddenly engulfed by the warm wetness of Jay’s mouth. From somewhere else in the hall came a wolf whistle and some leering noises of approval, but Jay only paused a moment to grin before going full bore at the task ahead of him. He swirled his tongue up and down the full length of Britt’s erection, pressing up against the sensitive underside before bobbing his head back and forth vigorously.
Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the exhaustion, or maybe it was just because Jay was astonishingly good at giving head, but Britt’s entire brain felt like it was swimming. The tension that had been building in his body over the last month, knotting his muscles and turning his stomach to stone, seemed to be drawn to Jay’s mouth. Britt even had the wild thought that Jay was sucking it out of him, like cowboys in old-west TV shows sucked poison out of snakebites. It was one hell of a trick.
For his own part, kneeling there on the bar floor, Jay looked the picture of debauched contentment. He licked and sucked up and down Britt’s shaft with no attempt to disguise what he was doing, including making little pleased sounds as he ate up what was given to him.
Perhaps they should rename Steak Night to Sausage Night. No, Britt admitted, around here probably every night was Sausage Night.
Still, not every night had him here against the wall, biting his lower lip to keep from crying out. He couldn’t swear to how often Jay was in his current location, maybe, but this was their first time together, and that was what mattered. After all, to think of it as ‘first’ implied a second, didn’t it?
No, no, he was getting ahead of himself. That was so often his problem, trying to think ten steps ahead, having to moderate his present so as not to overextend his future. But to hell with that. What was wrong with indulgences? Not all the time, of course, just as he didn’t like to think about the condition of his arteries if he ate funeral potatoes every day (and on that note, maybe he should offer to help Jay with the leftovers, one set of arteries to another). Sometimes, though, maybe a mess of all the good bad things was what a grieving body needed to go on just a little longer, until grief broke like a fever and normal took over again.
Britt cried out as he came, gasping for air as he spilled hot and wet into Jay’s mouth without warning. Jay swallowed him down like a pro, though, so that his cheeks didn’t so much as bulge as he took everything Britt had to offer him right down his throat. A few whoops and hollers sounded around them, deepening Britt’s blush, but when Jay stood up again he looked so pleased that Britt couldn’t feel the least bit ashamed.
“You do good work,” Britt managed to murmur as he wrapped his arms around Jay’s chest.
“Glad to be of service,” Jay said, managing to make it sound sweet and smug at the same time, so much so that Britt had no choice but to kiss him.
“So, did you, like, buy a mix for those potatoes you brought over?” asked Kendra.
“Nope,” said Jay, wiping sweat from his brow as he added another box of clothes to the Goodwill stack. The family had finally decided that Britt would keep the house, at least for now, but Britt had put his foot down about being able to actually use as much of it as possible. Thus, all rooms once occupied by the late Mr. Stephen Bromfield were getting a good cleaning-out, with their contents headed for one of four piles: Keep, Family, Goodwill, and Trash. “It’s an old family recipe.”
“Really?” Kendra’s eyebrows broke free of their frozen prison of teenage disdain and lifted in surprise. “They were really good.”
“I could teach you sometime,” Jay offered. “In fact, I wouldn’t mind your input. Just because it’s an old family recipe doesn’t mean we can’t make it better.”
“Well, there’s a pretty big kitchen downstairs, and I’m sure as heck not using it,” said Britt. Carefully, he placed his grandfather’s army medals in a Family box; surely one of his more patriotic older brothers would cherish them appropriately. “That is,” he added, “if your mom doesn’t mind expanding your grounding privileges to include that, too.”
Kendra let out the most mournful, disgusted snort Britt had ever heard. “It was one cigarette. She acts like I’m snorting coke off stolen gold bars, or something.” To punctuate her distaste with her mother, Kendra cleared out an entire drawer with one swoop of her arms, sending a small snowstorm of balled-up crew socks cascading into a box below.
Britt glanced over at Jay, who was very pointedly not laughing. “Maybe we can make her forgive you with another round of funeral potatoes,” Britt said.
Kendra made a face like she’d just touched something gross. “Funeral potatoes?” she asked. “That’s what they’re called?”
“That’s one name for them, yeah,” said Jay. “You’ve got a better idea?”
“How about…” Kendra screwed up her face, the effort of brainstorming visible on her face. She looked from Jay to Britt and back to Jay again, and there was something in her eyes, some wisdom that Britt wished he’d had at her age. It gave him hope, and hope kept him going forward. “How about Uncle Jay’s Potatoes?”
Britt couldn’t find a reason in the world to argue with that.