That morning I could hear the music clear across the meadow as I started over to meet Brett: Sonny Stitt playing “Bebop in Pastel.”
He was kicked back on the verandah, wearing side-split denim short-shorts and a pink polo. The guy didn’t have an ugly bone in his body: elbows, knees, ankles—every inch of him was brown and smooth and polished.
“Adam drove into town, so we won’t be interrupted.” He poured juice out of a jug and shoved a basket of croissants my way.
I took a sip of juice and felt my eyebrows shoot up. “What is this?”
“Mimosa.” He rolled his eyes at my ignorance. “Orange juice and champagne.”
“Three parts champagne. I have to work today.”
“Oh, lighten up. You sound like Adam. Look.” He set one bare brown foot on the tabletop, clattering the gleaming porcelain dishes.
There were ugly purple bruises around his ankle.
“Someone did try to drown you last night.”
“No shit, Sherlock. Did you think I was making it up? I’m not talking about the damn bruises. Notice anything else?”
He was wearing an anklet, gold links intertwined with pink-gold grape leaves. It was pretty and unusual, but hardly worth getting together over breakfast. “The ankle bracelet?” I asked doubtfully.
Brett stared at me with eyes as hard and green as jade. He seemed intent on my reaction.
“Sure you don’t recognize it?”
I shrugged. “No. Did Adam give it to you?”
“Adam?” He snickered. “You think Adam’s an ankle bracelet kind of guy?” He swung his leg off the table and leaned back in his chair. He lit a cigarette. “So…since you don’t want to get it on with me, how about a three-way? You, me and Adam? Adam digs that.”
I tore open a croissant, and slathered it with the butter melting in the sun. “No, thanks.”
“‘No thanks!’” Brett mocked. “Talk about Virgin in Pastel. No wonder you never got anywhere with Adam. I was thirteen my first time. One of my dear old foster dads obliged.” He laughed at my face. “Sorry. Ancient history.”
I made an effort and swallowed the wad of dough and butter.
He propped his chin on his hand and said slyly, “I bet you would have offered your ass up without a murmur if it had been Adam last night. Wouldn’t you?”
“You’ve got a one-track mind.”
“You’re only kidding yourself, Kyle.” He poured me more spiked OJ, ignoring my feeble protests.
“Sit tight. I want to show you something else.”
He was back in a moment carrying a book. He opened the book and a folded square of thin drawing paper glided to a stop on the table. I picked up the yellowed paper, unfolded it. Two pieces of paper, actually. I studied them, my throat knotting.
The first showed a boy of sixteen sleeping in the grass; a graceful sprawl of long limbs, angular features, tumbled hair. There was a good deal of tenderness in the portrayal of a too-thin, too-sensitive face relaxed and dreaming.
The second sketch was a head study. Same youth: wide eyes and childish mouth; the hollows and delicate bone structure of a child who had been ill a long time and was still fragile. Moreover, it was the face of someone in love as only an adolescent can be, intensely and vulnerably.
Brett chuckled at whatever he read in my face. I refolded the sketches and tucked them back in the book, which I handed to Brett. He tossed it aside onto one of the faded flowered cushions.
“You were a cute kid,” he remarked.
“That was the summer I got sick. Rheumatic fever.”
“Which left you with a weak heart.”
“It was the summer my father disappeared.”
“What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” quipped Brett. “So how come they didn’t stick you in some juvey facility?”
“No one realized Cosmo was gone for good till about eighteen months had passed. By then I was packing for college, so no one bothered. It’s different in a small community. I had plenty of surrogate parents: Micky, Joel—my grandfather, if I’d needed him, I suppose.”
“I’d prefer juvey.”
I believed him. “You really hate this place, don’t you?”
“The scenery’s nice. It’s the people I loathe.” He granted me one of those blinding smiles. “Present company excepted.”
“Still, the place has its amusements.”
“Such as pulling the wings off Vince Berkowitz?”
“Do you care about Adam at all?” I really needed to know.
He shrugged. “More than I’ve ever cared for anyone else.”
What did that mean? In the bright sunlight he looked haggard. A foreshadowing of what he’d look like in ten years when the drinking, the one-night stands and the rest of it caught up.
“Don’t worry about Adam,” he advised. “He knows exactly who I am. Adam needs to be needed. It’s his frustrated maternal instinct.”
Jack Cobb’s sky-blue antique pickup pulled into the yard and Jack got out wearing tight jeans and no shirt.
“Boy howdy,” murmured Brett. “Enter the handyman. What’s his name? Seth? Jude?”
“Jack Cobb,” I answered. “He’s the mayor’s nephew, and he’s straight—as a yardstick.”
Brett laughed. “Why that metaphor?”
I played dumb. “You mean analogy?”
“Whatever.” He stood up, waved to Jack who was tussling with the ladder in the truck bed. “Yeah, I’d say things are looking up.”
“Brett—” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to tell him. Vaguely, I remembered Jack from high school; very macho and not too bright. I knew he was well able to take care of himself, so maybe it was Brett I was thinking of—or maybe Adam.
As I spoke, Brett paused, his expression tightening. “Back off, Kyle,” he said. “You blew your chance. Get in my way and you won’t know what hit you.”
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