The House on Cherry Street

Chapter 5

We didn’t see Brad the following afternoon when we got back from work later than usual. We hear his car engine stop when we were watching television. He didn’t come down so we didn’t disturb him. Ryan and I wondered how he was feeling. We didn’t have a chance to ask. When we got home two days later we found Brad and a young fellow naked in the garden. The guy was really cute and appeared Arabic or Asian. We stood at the backdoor wondering what to do. Ryan said, “Let’s get undressed and meet Brad’s new friend.

Brad was leaning on his rake as the young fellow was pointing to the house next door. When he saw us he said, “Hi guys, I’m Kahli. I used to live in that house with my family.”

Brad said, “I told you Kahli lived with us to finish high school and his two years in the culinary program at our community college. He and his partner are working in…”

Kahli interrupted, “Didn’t I tell you Jason and I broke up. He didn’t want to give up the drugs. They were causing problems for me so we decided to go our own way. I initially moved in with Ty and Fred but now I have my own place. I have a job cooking at the country club and helping the head chef with his catering business. I knew you were going to visit Ty but I was with my parents that weekend.”

I said, “Nice to meet you, Kahli. Aren’t you the guy who spied on the naked gardeners?”

He laughed, “And they corrupted me. It feels uncomfortable not being naked in this garden.”

“Kahli’ll be here for a couple of weeks because he’s helping cater a birthday bash for some mogul at his lodge somewhere around here. He told his boss he needed a break.”

Ryan looked at me before he said, “This bash you mentioned won’t be on Saturday, August 1, would it?”

“I think that’s the day. Why do you know the guy?”

“We know him and his partner very well?”

Kahli continued, “So the guy is a gay guy?”

“Yes, have you been to the lodge?”

“No, I haven’t. Have you?”

I said, “No, but we’re invited to the party and Brad’s invited, too. I suggest we drive out this weekend and find the place. I’ll text Doug Cole to get directions and see if there’s a hidden key so we can check the place out.”

Brad said, “I can’t go Sunday. I’m meeting Joshua for lunch down at the harbor.”

“Saturday it is.” I went inside to send the text as the others returned to lawn mowing and vegetable picking since beans and herbs were part of Kahli’s dinner plans. I asked Doug to call. I heard from him after dinner. He was happy to hear from me and asked how Ryan was which I knew was his main interest. I explained that one of the chefs for his party was staying with us. I told him that Kahli wanted to see how the kitchen was supplied. He was pleased and asked me to check the propane tanks and start up the well pump. He suggested that we not turn on the hot water heater if we weren’t going to staying overnight.

I asked, “Would you mind if we stayed overnight?

“Not at all. Make yourself at home. I want you to call me when you get there. I have a few other things I want you to check since I haven’t been up this year.”

“Do you keep a key outside?”

“Yes, it over the door leading into the boat house. I’ll call the security company and tell them you’ll be there. Otherwise, they’ll be calling me.”

Saturday morning the four of us loaded into Kahli’s car for the thirty mile drive to Torch Lake. We asked the couple next door to take Sonny for several walks which they were happy to do. Brad was unusually quiet until Ryan said, “What time are you meeting Joshua tomorrow if we decide to stay overnight?”

“I’m supposed to meet him after his last mass. I imagine he will be at the restaurant at one or one fifteen... I don’t know why we’re going to a restaurant but I suspect he is going to tell me he doesn’t want to continue with our relationship.”

I said, “What makes you think that?”

“The way he’s been acting the last few weeks since we had that dinner with you. He seems to have pulled back. He has come over a couple of times but our physical relationship seems to be physical only. I’m OK with that. If he wants to marry a woman and have kids that’s fine with me.” I wondered if it really was fine with him. Brad continued, “Anyway I have Kahli in my bed now. He’s all I can handle.”

Kahli laughed, “I forgot what a wonderful ass Brad has.”

We drove north along Michigan Route 31 through small towns and dense forests before we reached the Village of Torch Lake. We had been following the shore line of Torch Lake for most of our journey. We reached the lodge after we pasted through the village. We found the entry marked by a numbered fire sign. There was a chain across the entry but security must have unlocked it. We drove in through dense cedar forest for a quarter of a mile. We passed several regular sized houses before reaching Doug’s massive wooden lodge. Before going into the house we walked to the boat house to admire the magnificent view across the lake. The opposite shore looked like it was two or three miles away. To my left and right I could see neither end of the lake. There were no houses in view which was perfect for taking a nude swim which I suggested. The key was over the boathouse door as Doug had said.

Kahli said, “Let’s take a look at the kitchen. There’s plenty of time for recreation after I see what my boss needs to bring from South Bend.”

Ryan sounded puzzled, “How does a guy from Evansville contact a caterer in South Bend to cater a party in Northern Michigan?”

Kahli smiled, “Apparently my boss knows your friend, Doug. He used to work for a restaurant or country club in Southern Indiana.”

Ryan, with a puzzled, said, “How does a chef get to know a mogul?”

Kahli continued to smile, “That part of the story you’ll have to ask him.”

When Kahli entered the kitchen he immediately went to the six burner gas range and turned a knob. Nothing happened. I remembered I had to turn on the gas. I went outside to a small shed next to a massive gas tank and open the gas valve. While I was outside I also turned on the well pump. When I returned all burners were going but Kahli was the only one in the kitchen. I watched as he checked the pantry for dishes and pans. He had a paper and pencil and was taking a quick inventory.

Ryan and Brad returned. Brad said, “This place is massive come take a look at the living room and front porch.” I followed him as Ryan stayed in the kitchen to keep Kahli company. The living room had a massive stone fireplace on one wall. The vaulted ceiling was held up by rough hewn logs. The furniture was made of the same type of wood. I walked toward the front porch which was accessed by double doors that were disguised behind to full length drapes. Pulling the drapes aside let the late morning light flood into the room. Even though the lodge had been empty for months the air didn’t seem stale. I opened the door and the cool breeze came in from the lake. When I stepped outside Brad disappeared down the hall to the bedrooms. When he returned all he said was, “Eight bedrooms.”

I said, “Are you OK if we stay overnight and leave by ten. That’ll give you plenty of time to make your appointment.”

“That’s fine with me. Did you bring towels and sheets?”

“As a matter of fact I did because I thought we should be prepared.

“There are bedrooms with queen size and twin beds. You and Ryan can pick the room you want. I know the room Kahli and I will sleep in. He is noisy so you probably don’t want to sleep next door to us.”

“He is a sexy guy. Is he partner material?”

“Sex partner, yes. He will have sex whenever and with whoever wants to. No, he’s too young to know what he wants in a long term partner. I like him but more as a friend with benefits. I think he sees me as a mentor.”

“Are you sure Joshua is going to end your encounters?”

“Pretty sure. Don’t get me wrong I am not looking forward to hearing his decision. But I am in a much better state of mind this year than I was last year when Ty left me for Fred. I look at it this way I’m still young and not bad looking. I may have to move out of Traverse City to find the right guy. That would disappoint me.”

“Have you signed up for any of those dating apps like Grindr?”

“Yes, I have Grindr but haven’t used it much. I may start but not until I know what Joshua is going to do. I have decided one thing. If he doesn’t think he wants to be my partner then the physical sexual activities will end. It’s not punishment. It’s necessary for me to move on. I don’t want to think Joshua might change his mind. I suspect he will find male physical release even if he marries and has kids.”

I said, “Well, if you want to talk Ryan and I are here for a couple more weeks.”

“Thanks. Having you guys here is really great for me. I dread you leaving.”

“Plan this fall to come visit us in Bloomington. It’s a long drive so plan to stay three or four days. We would love to see Sonny.”

“I will definitely do that. With my new work project I will be traveling some after the company ends the ‘working from home’ order. I suspect that they will be back in the office in September. My boss wants me to travel to our plants in Tennessee and Alabama and supervise installation of new logistics software.”

“If you drive to Tennessee you can stop in Bloomington. You can leave Sonny with us.” We walked back into the kitchen where Ryan and Kahli were chatting. Ryan said, “Let’s drive back to that greasy spoon in Torch Lake for lunch. Kahli wants to buy groceries to fix dinner. We are staying overnight, aren’t we?” Brad and I nodded our heads. “Does everyone have a mask?” Again heads nodded.

Man standing on boathouse deck looking across lake

Ryan Looking Across Torch Lake

A couple of hours later we returned to a cloudy, but warm afternoon. We stripped off our clothes and walked toward the lake. I opened the boat house door as Ryan walked out to admire the magnificent vista. Ryan called, “Get your ass out here and look at this view.

I called back, “Get your ass in here and look at something magnificent.” In the dim light a massive motor speedboat was hanging from the rafters. ‘Chris Craft’ was right before my eyes.

Ryan said, “I bet she’s fifty years old. I wonder if she works.”

“We’ll see in a couple of weeks when Doug and Brice get here.” We walked outside and Kahli ran to the end of the pier and jumped in. He came up sputtering, “Water’s cold.” Without any words each one of us plunged into the brisk, clear lake. After a few moments the water didn’t seem quite so cold. We didn’t stay long and got out to sit in the old style wooden lawn chairs that were stacked underneath the porch. About three Kahli left us to start his dinner preparation.

Brad asked Ryan what he planned to do when he graduated. He said that he was going with me wherever I got a job. That made me feel good. I was really beginning to feel Ryan and I were going to be together a long time. Ryan said, “I haven’t told Randall that I plan to take some education courses so I can qualify to coach gymnastics either in a school or at a private gym.”

I said to Brad, “We’ll be in Bloomington for another year and a half, at least.

Brad said, “Do you think you’ll do landscaping up here next summer?” Both Ryan and I were quiet since I don’t think either of us had thought that far ahead.

Ryan said, “It Depends on where Randall gets an internship.”

I said, “I can’t imagine there are internships up in this part of Michigan. I’ll look when I get back to the Engineering School.” We returned to enjoying the solitude as the late afternoon sun slipped behind the gently rustling cedar trees. Kahli came out carrying a tray of drinks and chips. He said the drinks were Tequila Sunsets which seemed appropriate for the afternoon. He sat with us sipping his before he announced that we would eat about six thirty.

Kahli’s dinner was simple because he had only limited supplies but delicious none the less. The herb rubbed chicken was roasted perfectly as were the roasted potatoes. We had corn on the cob but no green vegetables since he hadn’t brought any from our garden. We finished two bottles of red wine. After the kitchen was cleaned up and everything was put away we decided to shower and get into a bed. It turned out that we started in Brad and Kahli’s bed which was fun. That worked when we were playing but not when we were ready to sleep. Ryan and I went to the bedroom we selected.

We left early Sunday morning so Brad would be back on time for his lunch with Joshua. Sunday afternoon Brad returned. He came out to the gazebo where Ryan and I were lounging. He asked where Kahli was and I said, “He said he was going to visit a friend from high school. He didn’t say when he’d be back. How’d your lunch go?”

“As expected but it was much more emotional for him than it was for me. I think he is really conflicted. I told him I wanted to continue to be friends but not bedroom friends. He didn’t seem to understand so I had to repeat myself. He agreed he wanted to continue to be friends. Honestly, I would have loved to be with him. I think he will take a long time resolving his sexuality issues. I wished him well and told him I’d see him in church.”

Ryan got up and pulled Brad into a hug. I joined in and we stood together for a long time. We were still in that position when Kahli came outside. He smiled, “I want a hug, too.”

For the two weeks before Doug’s birthday bash Kahli spent hours in Brad’s garden and kitchen, we were working and Brad was in his office on the computer. Kahli told us he was cooking our meals with only ingredients from Brad’s garden and grass fed meat items he bought at the farmer’s market. We ate one delicious meal after the next. Fortunately, our hard work kept us from getting fat. Ryan said several times he had to remember he had an athletic scholarship and he had to his gymnastics body in shape. He started doing hundreds of pushups and sit-ups to tighten up his abs. Instead of real weights he lifted bricks of different weights that were around Brad’s garden.

Kahli left on Wednesday before Doug’s birthday party to meet his boss at the lodge. His SUV was loaded with large plastic containers of Mexican corn salad, cucumber and red onion salad, and two large flats of brownies some with marijuana and some without. He had bags of fresh lettuce, scallions, tomatoes and fresh green beans. He had packed multiple bags of herbs. He told us he and his boss had plans to smoke meat on the Friday before the event. He spoke of a brunch on Saturday and Sunday and a fancy dinner on Saturday night. He called Brad on Thursday and asked that we bring one of his favorite knives that he had left in Brad’s kitchen.

When Ryan, Brad and I arrived on Friday Kahli and his boss were standing over a big smoker. Kahli waved but didn’t come toward us. When we walked over Kahli introduced his boss, Chet, who waved tongs rather than shake hands. I suspected he wanted to avoid the possibility of getting the virus. It was a warm afternoon but the forecast for the weekend was not promising. We decided to swim and lounge Friday afternoon if the forecast was correct. About five o’clock Doug and Brice arrived and we could see two other persons in the back seat of his massive Lincoln Expedition. We hurriedly pulled on pants and tee shirts to meet them.

Doug generously hugged Ryan first then me. We introduced Brad. Doug introduced his two friends, Harold and Addison, who like Doug and Brice were men about sixty. All four of them were pleasant and well dressed. Ryan led them up the front stairs rather than through the kitchen. When we got into the house Kahli and Chet dressed in white met Doug and the others. Kahli said, “Cocktails in thirty minutes on the front porch.” He proceeded to take drink orders as Chet returned to the kitchen.

As the men were carrying their bags in Doug said, “Have you boys staked out rooms?”

Ryan said, “Yes, but we can move if you want us to.”

“Show me what rooms.” The men followed Ryan down the hall to the two rooms we had selected.

I said, “Kahli, the assistant chef, stays with Brad. He used to live with Brad in Traverse City before he moved south. He and Brad selected this room and Ryan and I selected the room next door. Is that OK?”

Doug said, “Sure, Brice and I will be at the end of the hall. Addison, what room do you and Harold want?”

“We’ll take one of the rooms with twin beds. Harold twists and turns so much I can’t sleep.”

Doug said, “There’ll be plenty of room for the others. We’ll let them decide. They will be here after noon tomorrow. There will be eight men coming from the Indianapolis area. Carson decided that rather than drive they would hire a limousine bus. We will have to put the driver in the cook’s quarters with the other chef.”

As announced the limo bus arrived shortly after noon on Saturday. The eight men stepped off the bus. There was one young couple. Ryan whispered to me, “The guy in the purple shirt is a gymnast from Purdue. I don’t know his name.” The fellow and his friend, or partner, were our age but the other six men were closer to Doug’s age. Kahli announced that lunch was ready. On the massive buffet in the dining room Chet and Kahli placed hot pulled pork and cold barbeque chicken, Kahli’s Mexican corn salad, potato salad, and sliced tomatoes and onions. There were freshly baked buns for the meat. Kahli set out his two trays of brownies with appropriate signs – With and Without. Wine, beer, soft drinks and water were set up on the bar across the room. The food was outstanding.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It had rained off and on during the morning. Saturday afternoon was sunny but cool. Doug lowered the Chris Craft into the water and began to ferry guest around the lake. He could take six at a time so Ryan, Brad and I didn’t get to go. Doug assured us that we would get our ride on Sunday if the weather cooperated. Doug insisted we stay until Monday which required a call to our supervisor asking if we could come to work at noon. According to Ryan Carlos seemed irritated but didn’t object too much.

Even though the weather was cool we stayed outside as Doug took trips in the Chris Craft around the lake. The young couple, Darsh and Darren, were cheerful and friendly. Darsh was the gymnast Ryan had seen at meets last year. He was a handsome, well built Indian fellow. During the last boat ride of the afternoon most of the men had gone inside to play cards or board games except Darsh and Darren. They joined us in the lawn chairs in the yard. Darsh said, “Ryan, aren’t you on the gymnastic team at IU?”

Ryan said in return, “You’re on the Purdue team, correct?”

Darsh said, “Yes, Purdue. I remember you’re parallel bar routine at the conference championships last spring. You won first didn’t you?”

Ryan said, “I did win and I’m sorry to say I don’t remember your events. I just remember your face.”

“You mean because I was the only brown face on the team.” He laughed in a comfortable way making Ryan’s comment not too offensive.

Darsh continued, “Darren and I are transferring to IU because I have decided engineering isn’t for me. I want to go to the business school. Darren’s an artist and a model.”

I said, “Do you guys have a place to live?” They shook their heads. “Well, we live in a house off-campus and our roommates graduated. I can call our landlady to see if she has found someone to rent the other bedroom. It’s not luxurious but clean and close to campus.”

Darren said, “That’d be great. I wasn’t looking forward to going back to a dorm room.”

Looking toward Brad Darsh asked, “Are you at IU, also?”

“No, I graduated from Western Michigan University several years ago. These two guys are my summer renters and my naked gardeners.”

“Really?” Darren said suggesting he didn’t believe Brad.

“It’s true. And the young chef, Kahli, used to live with Brad in Traverse City.”

Darren said, “That answers a question Darsh and I had about why he acts so friendly which is not usual for hired help.”

Brad spoke again, “Kahli has been a friend since he was in high school. He’s an assistant chef in South Bend.” At that point the Chris Craft came back in and unloaded the last passengers. Ryan and Darren helped Doug and Brice position the boat in the boat house cradle and lift it out of the water. Inside the house Kahli started taking drink orders.

Log cabin set amoung trees

Doug's Lodge on Torch Lake

The birthday dinner was a grand affair to celebrate Doug’s sixtieth birthday. Neither Ryan nor I were told it was a coat and tie affair and neither had Darren and Darsh. The young guys were more informally dressed than the older men. When cocktails were served there was a variety of canopies on the buffet. Kahli announced that dinner would be served plated in about thirty minutes and stated that the main course was rib eye steaks so he needed to know how people liked their steaks cooked. He got medium or medium rare from almost everyone except Darsh who requested no meat and two, single older men asked for well-done but not dry. The main course was preceded by a small tossed green salad with tomatoes sprinkled with gorgonzola cheese. Every plate was served with the rib eye on a turnip puree, creamy green bean casserole, roasted potatoes and grilled egg plant. The herbs Kahli bought were generously used in every dish. Before dessert Kahli and Chet came out of the kitchen at Doug’s request to receive recognition. Kahli said to Doug, “Mr. Cole, I want your guests to know that everything you ate this evening except the meat came from Brad’s garden.”

Doug looked at Brad and gave him a thumbs up. Brad nodded and added, “I couldn’t have done it without my gardeners, Randall and Ryan.”

Kahli quipped, “You mean your naked gardeners.”

Doug said looking at Ryan, “Would someone mind explaining?”

Ryan boldly said, “Mr. Cole, I mean Doug, Randall and I are renters in Brad’s basement for the summer. We’re landscapers. When I first met Brad last year I found he liked to garden naked so I joined him and this year Randall joined us.”

Doug said, “I had hoped for some skinny dipping this weekend but the weather hasn’t cooperated. Perhaps tomorrow?”

Instead of a cake Chet walked in carrying a pie with a candle on it. Kahli said, “At Mr. Cole’s request we have strawberry rhubarb birthday pie with homemade vanilla ice cream. Chet returned twice more with pies as the group enjoyed the conclusion of a fantastic meal. Decaf coffee and tea were available.

Sunday morning was bright and sunny but still cool. After a big champagne brunch of baked egg casserole, piles of fresh fruit and fresh oatmeal muffins the men loaded the limo bus. Unknown to Ryan and me, Harold and Addison were replacing Darren and Darsh on the bus. The Purdue guys were going to ride with Doug and Brice who we knew weren’t planning to leave until Monday. The six of us plus Kahli were staying until Monday morning.

By Sunday afternoon the sun was bright and the temperature reached the eighties. Doug insisted we skinny dip even though we knew the water was cold. The only person around who wasn’t naked was Chet who was inside to straightening up.

Neither Darsh nor Darren were reticent to get naked. I knew the rest of the group didn’t mind. In fact, Darren asked if he could take pictures of us with his cell phone. He said he wanted to use the images for his sketching class. I had never seen Brice naked but assumed he agreed with Doug. As I expected the skinny dip was short. After we got out we sat in the sun on the lounge chairs and on blankets in the grass. Quiet talk and naps were the order of the afternoon until Doug said, “If you want a boat ride let’s do it now. I think we all can fit.” We lowered the boat into the water and he eased up to the dock where we boarded for our leisurely cruise into the sunset. Darkness was almost complete as we raised the boat into its cradle.

Inside we didn’t see Chet who must have driven off. Doug said, “Chet, needed to leave so I settled up with him this afternoon.” We stood around the work space in the kitchen as Kahli got out food that was left over. There was plenty for everyone. I was surprised that Doug didn’t approach Ryan but he didn’t. Monday turned out completely different than I expected.