The House on Cherry Street

Chapter 8

The red RAV4 does reside at our house. Tad continues to be a frequent guest. Since we were close to the end of the semester Ryan didn’t move out. He and Georgia slept in our bed because it was more private than at Georgia’s apartment. Since Tad only had a room in an older couple’s home I wasn’t invited over. Whatever he and I did together was at our house in the little room we reserved for Doug and Brad.

Since there were still COVID 19 restrictions on large gatherings graduation was by school not a massive convocation. At my suggestion we decided to have a graduation party at our house but limited the invitation list to Darsh’s family which included his grandparents and two siblings. Darren’s mother and father came and, to no one’s surprise, they were as artsy as Darren was. I was surprised when my mother and little brother accepted the invitation. Even though the twins weren’t graduating they attended with several of their wrestler friends.

Tad was shocked when he arrived to find Doug, Brad and I sitting on the front porch. He almost screamed, “Uncle Doug, what are you doing here?”

Doug responded similarly, “Tad, my gawd, I didn’t expect to see you here. Who do you know in this house?”

“Randy, the fantastic. I sold him his red RAV4.”

“And that’s all?” Doug said smiling.

“No, if you must know he and I have been dating?”

“And that’s all?”

“Well, yes, we’ve become pretty close.”

I said, “I told you Ryan and I aren’t together but I didn’t tell you I was trying out a new model.”

At that moment Darren opened the front door, “Doug, I’ve see you met my latest model.”

Doug smiled, “I want to see the pictures.” Doug and Brad followed Darren into the house as Ryan and Georgia walked up the sidewalk. I could see that Ryan was uneasy but I introduced Tad to him and Georgia. His greeting was stiff but Georgia’s was unusually warm as she hugged both of us.

Tad said smiling, “I guess I’m out to the family now. How do you know Uncle Doug?”

I said, “It’s a long story but not for today. He is as gay as they come. Do you know his friend, Brice?”

“Yes, they were business partners?”

“Friends with benefits, I would say, before Doug met our friend, Brad.”

“They’re together?”

“Yes, and that is another story. Doug owns this house. Let’s go join the others.” We went inside to find Danny setting out the buns, condiments and chips as James walked out to the back porch to grill the burgers and hot dogs. I walked toward my mother with Tad. She didn’t speak since Ryan was standing with Georgia a few feet away. I said, “Mom, this is Tad. I bought my RAV4 from him.”

She smiled but looked confused, “Mom, Ryan and I aren’t partners any longer.”

Young man reclining

Tad Modeling for Darren

Doug and Brad walked over to our group and Doug said to Tad, “Nice photos. You look like you were having a good time. You look so relaxed.”

“Darren is a hoot. It was fun. I’d do it again” The house was full until about four. Darsh and Darren’s families went out together for dinner. My mother and little brother left to drive home. She was pleased that I was starting my new job. Doug, Brad, Tad and I had returned to the front porch as things quieted down inside. I assumed that Danny and James and the other wrestlers were cleaning up. Tad said, “Uncle Doug, I have to admit I don’t understand.” He paused.

Doug said, “You know I’m a big IU sports fan. I was attending a gymnastics meet. That’s where my acquaintance with Ryan and Randall actually started.”

“And now you own the house they live in?”

“Yes, Randall lived with me in Poseyville last summer when he did an internship at Cole.”

“Tad, believe me I didn’t know Doug was related to the Cole family.”

“Related, he’s my mother’s older brother.” Looking toward Doug he said, “Does mother know you’re gay?”

Doug looked serious, “She has never asked but she knows Brice. I saw no need to tell her. We may have a reason now.”

At that moment James came out and addressed Doug, “Mr. Cole could we speak to you inside?”

Doug got up and went inside. I said to Brad, “How are things with you and Doug?”

“He’s a great guy. I will stay with him as long as he’ll have me. Did you hear that we are going to Asia for a month in the fall? Part of time we’ll be cruising in the South Pacific. He is so much fun to be with.”

Tad said, “Excuse me for being nosy but what happened to Brice.”

“Nothing. He comes over occasionally and the three of us get it on together. That’s all. Brice wants to remain single which is fine with me.”

There was quiet until Doug returned and said, “Randall, how responsible are the twins?”

“Fine, why?”

“They want to continue to rent in the fall and have their wrestler friends become roommates. My impression of wrestlers is they’re a bunch of animals. I don’t want the house torn up.”

I said, “They’ve been relatively tidy. They’re jocks so you have to give them some leeway. I find an occasional jock strap on the furniture in the living room.”

“They don’t seem gay. Am I correct?”

“They’re not gay but don’t seem to have much interest in girls even though girls follow them around wherever they go.” He paused as if he was thinking, “Tad, why don’t you move in upstairs. I’d feel better about renting to the boys.”

“So you think I want to be that far from my lover?”

Doug looked serious, “I have been thinking. Randall, you have your job offer at Cole correct?” I nodded. “Well, what if you start and tell your new boss you want to work on your Master’s in Mechanical part-time here in Bloomington. I don’t think University of Evansville offers a Masters in Mechanical Engineering. I’ll talk to some people to see if what I’m proposing can happen. You can be with Tad when you have classes in Bloomington.”

“I hadn’t thought about a Masters but I’d like to see where my relationship with Tad goes.”

Tad said, “Me, too. But I’m not ready to move back to Evansville.”

“Randall, why don’t you delay getting your own place in Evansville and live in Poseyville, at least, for the summer. Brad wants to plant a small garden. He also wants us to move up to Traverse City and live in his house. I don’t want to leave my house empty all summer. You can look after the garden.”

I said, “You think Cole will go along with your plan for me to get a Masters?”

“I think so, but I have to talk to some people.”

The sunset was late as we sat in the dim light. We could hear the television noise so presumed that the four wrestlers were watching TV. We went inside and found four, underwear clad boys sitting on their legs watching Extreme Challenge. James said, “Reruns, we know who wins.”

I knew Doug and Brad were attending our celebration so I had changed the sheets in the big bedroom upstairs. I offered it to them and they graciously accepted. They told us that our using the bathroom was fine with them. It wasn’t that late but the four of us got ready for bed. Tad and I squeezed onto the double bed in the small room. We spooned and hugged. I could feel Tad smiling, “What a day?”

The twins told Doug that they were not renting for the summer since they had jobs at a boys summer camp. Doug decided not to rent the main floor and encouraged Tad to move in as quickly as he could. Doug decided to have the outside trim and the downstairs rooms repainted. Tad agreed to mow the small amount of lawn. Darsh and Darren left for New York, I moved my clothes to Poseyville and I helped Tad bring his things over. I started my job on May 8. Doug, Sonny and Brad were planning to leave Poseyville for Michigan the following week. My orientation started and the third day my supervisor, Clark Effinger, called me into his office. He said, “Randall, I understand that you want to work on your Masters in Mechanical. You didn’t mention that last year.”

I said, “I think I would be more valuable to the brake division with a Masters. I know I can’t get it here in Evansville.”

He said, “I agree it would help your career. I presume you would do it on-line or part-time.”

“Before I left Bloomington I talked to the graduate office to see if doing it some part-time and some on-line would be possible. They said there were only a few courses that could be on-line but they told me I could concentrate the course work and labs on Friday and Saturday. That way I wouldn’t be away from work too much.”

“This wouldn’t start until fall, correct?”

“I could start this summer and finish by next summer or I can take two academic years.” As it turned out Mr. Effinger allowed me to start in the summer with one course in hydraulics which was perfect because my school project was what I was doing on my job.

Tad was able to get his day off scheduled for Monday. The Toyota shop was closed on Sunday. He could come to Poseyville Saturday night and leave Monday night. When I made trips to Bloomington for class on Friday and Saturday I stayed with him through Sunday afternoon when he wasn’t coming to Poseyville.

Even though Tad’s body wasn’t perfect like Ryan’s I liked him better. He was positive and encouraging. When he was at his Uncle Doug’s he loved to be naked like I did. Because we spent a lot of time by the pool we both got rich, full tans. The last weekend before the start of the fall semester the twins joined Tad and I in Poseyville. Danny and James brought their two wrestlers with them. The four of them had bulked up over the summer. They pranced around in their underwear or with nothing on the entire weekend. I wondered how Tad would like living with them.

We didn’t see Doug and Brad until September. Brad’s work in Sheboygan, Wisconsin was completed so they closed up Brad’s house. Brad had several requests to rent the house but declined. When they arrived in Poseyville Brad told me he had been assigned a new project so he’d be traveling back and forth to Atlanta. Fortunately Delta Airlines flew non-stops flights from Evansville to Atlanta.

One night when Doug and I were having an egg plant casserole he made he said, “Randy, I have a tough time calling you Randall. Do you mind if I call you Randy?”

I smiled, “I’ve given up trying to be Randall except on paper. Call me Randy if you like to because Tad does.”

“Anyway, Randy, at work have you been asked where you live?” I shook my head. “I suggest you be vague because I have been asked to be on two of Cole’s boards. I’m not worried someone will find out we’re gay. I don’t want to damage your career by one of your colleagues suggesting you’re ‘brown nosing’ the boss. I’m going to be traveling more when Brad and I return from Asia. You know we’re scheduled to leave for three weeks mid-October.” I nodded. As we continued eating the delicious casserole he said, “How are you and Tad doing?”

“Fine, I’m busy with school and work. It seems like he works all the time. Our time together is limited.”

“Are the wrestlers behaving themselves?”

“I don’t think Tad sees them very much. You know they eat in the athlete’s dining room so Tad tells me the only food in the house is frozen pizza and fruit. When I’ve been there the house is usually quiet but neater than you would expect from a bunch of jocks. Tad tells me that when they aren’t studying they’re working out.”

“How do you like your job?”

“Gawd, I’m learning so much. My projects for school are coming straight from the work I’m doing. Taking courses and working is challenging. I look forward to getting the degree finished.”

“Has Tad thought anymore about telling his mother about the two of you?”

“We haven’t even discussed the subject.”

Doug said, “Well, I think you should talk to Tad. I was with his mother recently at a Cole charity event. I told her I was happy that Tad was living in the house I own in Bloomington. She told me how disappointed she was that Tad was a car salesman. She then said a friend’s daughter, who was old girlfriend of Tad’s, told her mother that Tad has a boyfriend. Do you guys go out together when you’re in Bloomington? I said,’Once in a while but not often’.”

“I wonder where the girl saw us. What do you think I should do?”

“Actually, it’s none of my business but I think it’s time that Tad said something to his mother. I really don’t think she is going to care because she has always worshiped whatever he did except being a car salesman. You don’t want her to be embarrassed. Evansville is a small town.”

“I’m going to Bloomington on Friday. I’ll talk to him. He is such a cool guy..”

Doug sheepishly said, “You want to know what I hope?” He paused when I didn’t respond, “I hope you and Tad get married in Evansville in the biggest, splashiest wedding the town has even seen. Brad and I would be your best men. I’m tired of trying to hide who we are. I love Brad and, I think, he loves me. I want the family to know him and know you. Maybe I could help Brad buy a car dealership in Evansville. Or, at least, he could come back and work for his cousin who owns the GM shop and the Toyota/Lexus dealership. Please don’t tell him my dream. We can discuss when you are here for Thanksgiving.”

“Whoa, that’s a far out plan.”

Doug and Brad flew to New Zealand shortly after we had our conversation. I did see Tad the following weekend and reported on the conversation Doug had with his mother. His measured response was, “I’ll tell her over Thanksgiving. When do Doug and Brad get back?”

“They get back November 10 in time for Thanksgiving. I assume we will celebrate the holiday at Doug’s. Will you be able to join us or do you have to do Thanksgiving with your mother?”

“I can do both but, for all I know, Mother and her boyfriend may be in Palm Beach. She has a condo down there.”

“If she’s gone how are going to tell her?”

“I’ll get it done,” he said as if brushing off my question. He smiled, “I have been so busy I didn’t tell you that Uncle Doug had his cousin who owns the Evansville Lexus dealership call me. He asked me to consider a job with his dealership. I was polite and told him that the next time I get a day off I’d come to Evansville and visit with him.”

“When you come to Poseyville next weekend are you going to call him?”

“I’ll stop by after I talk to my mother.”

Tad arrived the following week on Sunday but hadn’t arranged to see his mother until Monday at the country club for lunch. On Monday he dressed more stylishly than usual as he prepared. He was nervous but seemed determined to tell his mother before I left for work. I told him to text me to tell me how the conversation went. Starting at one o’clock I kept looking at my phone. There was no message. I was afraid his meeting with his mother had not gone well. At three o’clock I got a text, ‘Come join me at the Lexus dealer. Mother wants to meet you for cocktails.’ I was nervous feeling I wasn’t dressed properly to meet my boyfriend’s mother.

As I parked the red RAV4 into the customer parking area Tad came out and gave me a short hug. “Come meet my new boss.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Mother was more positive than I expected. I came over to the dealership and told Uncle Doug’s cousin I’d move back to Evansville and work at his shop if he would hire me. He said he wasn’t doing it because I was family. He said he had researched my sales record and knew I could sell cars. He’s a good guy. Come in and meet him.”

“Does he know you’re gay?”

“I didn’t exactly tell him but said I wanted him to meet my really good friend who works in the Cole brake division. He didn’t mention that he had talked to Uncle Doug but I could tell he had.” Tad and I walked into the showroom. A tall man in his early sixties came out from one of the offices. He extended his right elbow and said, “Hello, I’m Henry Smith, Tad’s distant cousin. He tells me you work for Cole Enterprises.”

“Yes, in the brake division.” He motioned for us to follow him into his office. Once we were seated he said, “Tad tells me you know Doug Cole.”

“Yes, I rent from him in Poseyville as I did last summer when I was an intern at Cole.”

“Doug’s a good friend. I understand he’s in New Zealand traveling with a friend.”

“Yes, they are due back in a couple of weeks.” Just then my phone buzzed and I looked at the message, ‘Call me, urgent, Brice.’ I said to Tad and Mr. Smith, “Excuse me I have an urgent message to call someone. I’ll be right back.” They both looked puzzled as I stepped out into the showroom.

I called Brice and he answered immediately, “Randall, I got a call from the US Embassy in Auckland that there has been an accident involving Doug and Brad. I don’t know anymore. Doug must have given my number for an emergency contact. Let me give you the number in Auckland. The embassy person told me to call but I can’t. I’m too frightened. Will you do it?”

“I’m in Evansville with Tad. I’m sure I can’t reach anyone because it’s three in the morning over there. I’ll let you know what I find out.” I returned to Mr. Smith’s office and said, “Sorry, but I got some disturbing news. Apparently, Doug and our friend, Brad, have been involved in an accident in New Zealand. I have to call the US Embassy as soon as they open to find out more. Both Mr. Smith and Tad were noticeably upset as I was. Tad indicated that it was time to meet his mother. I drove over to his house and left my car at the dealership. Mr. Smith admonished me to call him as soon as I knew something. He gave me his card.

When we arrived at his house his mother came outside to greet us. She seemed pleasant and socially welcoming as wealthy persons usually are. She invited us inside. Tad said, “Mother, Randall just got some disturbing news. Apparently Uncle Doug and our friend, Brad, were involved in an accident in New Zealand. Randall has to call as soon as the embassy opens to find out more.”

She said, “Why don’t you stay here tonight? I want to know as soon as you find out anything. Tad, you and Randall take the big guest room, you know the one.” She didn’t say any more. She got up to get us each a drink. The three of us sat around exchanging insignificant small talk. She wanted to know about me and what I did. She wanted to know how I knew her brother well enough to be inquiring about him in New Zealand. She asked Tad how we met. She left us to prepare dinner which turned out to be pasta and smothered in store bought sauce. She did fix a small salad but all three of us were too nervous to eat much.

At 7:30 pm I tried the US Embassy number but got a voice message that stated that the switch board wouldn’t open until 8:30. Tad turned on the television but I couldn’t concentrate. Since I was staying overnight and was sleeping with Tad I didn’t have my tooth brush or clean underwear. I’d have to go to work in the same clothes I had on. I suggested to Tad that we go get my car so I had it to go to work. We did.

By the time we got back it was time to call Auckland. When the operator answered I told her about the message we had received. She put me through to a liaison who dealt with information regarding Americans who were traveling in New Zealand. The young woman didn’t seem to know what I was calling about until I said the name of ‘Douglas Cole.” Then she seemed to know.

She said, “You need to speak to the Deputy Ambassador Mr. Thune.”

After Mr. Thune answered I introduced myself. He said, “I’m sorry to have to inform you that Mr. Cole and Mr. Bellamy were in an accident in a small plane. Apparently, they were returning from Milford Sound over the mountains and the plane made a crash landing. The pilot and Mr. Bellamy were killed and Mr. Cole was severely injured. I have not heard that he passed away but if you can hold for a minute I will contact the hospital in Queenstown to check on his condition.” I heard a click as I looked toward Mrs. Braun and Tad. I said, “There was a small plane crash and Brad was killed. The fellow is calling the hospital in Queenstown because Doug survived.” I heard Mr. Thune’s voice in my ear, “Mr. Cole is alive but in critical condition. He is expected to live. Can I have your US number so I can call you with updates? I can give you the hospital’s number so you can check yourself.” That he did and I thanked him and disconnected my cell phone.

After I hung up Mrs. Braun said, “I’m going to be with Doug. Tad, call our travel agent and get me first class reservations on the next available plane. She got up and left us to make the travel arrangements. Since the travel agent was not open Tab called American Airlines. He reserved a flight for his mother to fly out of Los Angeles International the following night. The agent reserved a Business Class seat from LAX to Auckland. She had to fly through Cincinnati before flying to Los Angeles.

Mrs. Braun was gone for thirty minutes as we worked out the travel arrangements with American. She returned, “Tad, when do I leave?”

Tad said, “Eleven-thirty tomorrow morning to Los Angeles. You don’t arrive in New Zealand until two days later because of the time change. You know you are going to have to quarantine for two weeks after you arrive?”

“Fine, will you take me to the airport. I tried to reach Carl and didn’t get him.” She left the room as Tad and I sat quietly. My cell phone buzzed and I could see it was a New Zealand call so I answered. It was Mr. Thune who said, “Hello, Mr. Clayton, we have been unable to find any contact information regarding Mr. Bellamy?”

I paused, “I know his parents live in California but I will have to make a few calls to find out for you.”

“If you reach his parents tell them we have a problem in that during this COVID 19 period we cannot ship a body to the USA. It must be cremated. The ashes can be sent by an international air freight carrier like DHL.” I thanked him and told Tad what the fellow said.

“What are you going to do?”

“First, I’m going to call Ryan. He needs to know about Brad. Hopefully, he will know something.” I called Ryan’s number and got his voice mail because it was almost midnight.