The House on Cherry Street

Chapter 9

Tad and I showered and slept together for the first time in his Mother’s house. He said as we got between the sheets, “What a way to come out.”

“Wild, absolutely wild. In the morning I have to call my boss and tell him I needed to come in the afternoon. I told him I had a family emergency.”

Tad said, “Mr. Smith told me I needed to give my notice in Bloomington. I’ll drive back after I take mother to the airport. Are you going to come over next weekend?”

“I’ll know tomorrow after I work on finding Brad’s parents.” Tad turned off the light. I couldn’t believe we were sleeping together in his house and he only came out to his mother at lunch. We spooned until I heard him softly breathing. I knew he was asleep. I didn’t go to sleep immediately and when I did I slept fitfully.

My cell phone buzz woke me at 7:30. I was shocked that I slept so late. The read out told me it was Ryan. I answered and told him about Brad and Mr. Cole. He said he had no idea the location of Brad’s parents but gave me the phone number of a guy named Ty who he identified as Brad’s old boyfriend/gardener. I got out of bed as Tad raised his head off of the pillow. “Any luck?”

“No, but Ryan gave me a lead.” I tried the number Ryan gave me but I only got a voice mail recording. I asked the person to call me back as soon as he could. I got dressed in the same clothes I arrived in. Tad gave me a new toothbrush. When we arrived in the kitchen we were met not only by Mrs. Braun but her man friend, Carl. Tad was polite but reserved as he introduced me to Carl. Mrs. Braun announced, “Carl’s going with me to New Zealand. Tad, call American Airlines and get him a seat with me if you can.” Tad left the room to call. I told Mrs. Braun and Carl the problem I was having reaching Brad’s parents. They listened and said they would do what needed to be done when they got to New Zealand. I gave them the name and contact information of Mr. Thune at the US Embassy. Mrs. Braun knew New Zealand had strict requirements about entry requirements because of COVID. I said, “Perhaps, Mr. Thune can help you find a place to stay during your quarantine.

I had not received a call back from the fellow named Ty by nine o’clock. I was ready to leave for work even though I had told Mr. Effinger I was going to be later. My cell buzzed showing a number I didn’t recognize so I answered. The fellow introduced himself as Fred, Ty’s husband, and said Ty was sick with the COVID virus and asked that I call you. I explained the situation and the fellow said, “Let me ask Ty.” The phone was silent for a few moments. He came back on and said, “All he knows is that Brad’s parents live in Southern California but he doesn’t know where. He suggested going into the house in Traverse City and looking in a desk drawer in the corner of the living room. He suspects the information may be there. I thanked him and the fellow added, “Ty said there is a key to the basement door hidden in the plant starter shed. He didn’t say where. He wants to know if there is going to be a funeral.” I couldn’t give him an answer and we ended our call.

I wasn’t driving to Traverse City. I called the Traverse City police department to see if they could help. When I explained the situation to the dispatcher she patched me to the Community Services Liaison officer. The officer was pleasant and asked logical questions about my relationship to Mr. Bellamy. She asked for the address of the house and the name of the owner. She quietly went on line to confirm that Brad was the owner of the house. She told me she had to get permission from the police chief to go into the house without a warrant. She said she would try.

When I got to work I couldn’t concentrate but went through the motions. Tad texted that his mother and Carl were at the airport and was leaving for Bloomington. I suddenly said, “Tad poor Sonny is in the house in Poseyville. Can you go by and let him out?”

His irritated voice told me he wasn’t happy, “Isn’t there a neighbor you can call?”

Thinking I said “Yes.” I remembered that the landscaper was due and called him. He said he was pulling up to the house and would let Sonny out if there was a key hidden outside. I told him where to find the key. He texted back that Sonny was fine. He called back and told me he fed him and would take him out before he left.

I didn’t hear back from the liaison officer in Traverse City until late afternoon. She texted me and asked me to call her. She told me they had entered the house, searched the desk and was unsuccessful in finding anything with a California address. She had found a letter on the desk with a return address from a Sherrill Bellamy in Oakwood, Michigan. I had no idea who that might be but thanked her.

An internet search led me to the address but not a phone number for Sherrill Bellamy in Oakwood. I purchased a subscription to get the phone number. I placed the call and a mature, male voice answered. I introduced myself as a friend of Brad’s. I told the person of my need to be in touch with Brad’s parents. There was an uncomfortable pause before he said, “I’m Brad’s father. What has happened?”

Not expecting that response I stammered before telling him about Brad’s a death. I told him the US Embassy in Auckland had called requesting instruction on disposal of Brad’s remains since the body could not be shipped back to the USA. I suggested that Mr. Bellamy call the embassy. He wasn’t interested and asked if they need written authorization from a relative for a cremation to let him know. He didn’t explain why he was in Michigan or where Mrs. Bellamy might be. I figured those answers would have to come later. When I hung up it was too late to call Mr. Thune in New Zealand. I doubted that Mr. Bellamy would call to give the embassy or me instructions.

I was behind at work and with my school work so I decided to work on Saturday since Tad was in Bloomington. I was hoping he would call with news from his mother who should have arrived on Saturday night. He did text me that he heard from her. She told him that she and Carl were in mandatory quarantine for two weeks. Her text said Doug was alive but badly injured. She added that they would not be permitted to visit him until the quarantine was over. Tad asked if I was coming to Bloomington. I told him that I had too much school work to do. He understood and said we would talk on Sunday.

I remembered that I had Mr. Smith’s card. Even though it was Saturday night I called him. He sounded sleepy when he answered. I said, “This is Randall Clayton, Tad Braun’s friend. We heard from Mrs. Braun, who has arrived in Auckland, that Mr. Cole is alive but badly injured. That’s all I know.”

He asked, “Randall, do you know if Dorothy let anyone know at Cole corporate offices about Mr. Cole’s accident.”

“Sir, I don’t know. I doubt she had time before she left. I have been so busy dealing with details relating to Brad who was killed. I haven’t contacted anyone.”

“Do you know if Tad has information on where Dorothy is staying?”

“I don’t but I’ll find out. Who should I call at the corporate office?”

“I’ll call. I know they will want to contact Dorothy directly. Call me or better have Tad call me.”

He hesitated, “Randall, I’m not a nosy cousin but could you tell me if Brad and Doug were more than companions.”

“Yes, Sir. They were partners.”

“Does anyone in the family know?”

“I really don’t know. I do know Doug had recently been asked to serve on several Cole boards. Will his relationship with Brad affect that?”

“With this fucking conservative Catholic family who knows. I am happy for Doug. He is such a good guy. I know his friend, Brice, as well.” The conversation made me wonder if Mr. Smith was more than a cousin to Doug. Our conversation ended with him again asking that Tad call him. On Sunday when I talked to Tad I told him about the conversation. He assured me he would call immediately but he knew no more than the original message he received from his mother.

On Sunday early morning I sent Mrs. Braun an email telling her that I had been able to speak to Mr. Bellamy, Brad’s father, who had authorized the cremation. If the New Zealand authorities needed the authorization in writing to let me know. I suggested that the remains be shipped to Poseyville because I had not received any information about what the family was going to do about a funeral and burial. The return email came from Carl telling me that no authorization was needed and the remains would be sent by DHL to Poseyville. Carl’s email mentioned that Doug was slowly improving but they had not been permitted to fly to Queenstown to see him. He suggested that he and Mrs. Braun would probably stay in New Zealand until Doug was able to fly home commercially. He told me that the current plans were to transfer Doug to a rehab facility near Auckland when he was stronger.

I was at my desk on Monday morning when my phone rang. The voice introduced himself as Kevin Cole. His name told me I was speaking to the chairman of the parent corporation. I panicked but was able to get my name out. He said, “Mr. Clayton, I understand you are in touch with Doug Cole’s family. I was informed this morning that he was in an airplane accident in New Zealand. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir, his sister called Tad Cole recently to tell us Doug was alive but badly injured. His companion and the pilot of a small plane died. She has not been able to personally see him because they are quarantined.”

“Do you have contact information for Mrs. Braun?”

“Yes, I have an email address and telephone number where Mr. Cole’s sister and her companion are staying in Auckland.” I gave him the information and he thanked me. I was happy to be off the call but knew I was on the big boss’s radar.

I was busy with work and school for the next week and only talked to Tad twice. He said he was coming to Poseyville. I was caught up with my school project and anxious for Tad to arrive Saturday night. He was relaxed for the first time since the day he came out to his mother. He told me he had heard from Carl that the ashes had been shipped. Their quarantine was finally over so they were in Queenstown. Doug’s move to the rehab facility was to occur the following week. It was a cool almost cold evening so we snuggled together on the sofa in front of the fire.

I said, “I haven’t told you but Doug has big plans for us.”

“What plans?”

“He wants us to have the biggest, splashy wedding Evansville has ever seen. He talked about a hundred guests at a banquet to rub our marriage in the face of the conservative Cole clan.”

“That’s bold, for sure. Are you asking me if I will marry you? If so the answer is I will when the time is right.”

“Yes, I would be happy to marry you. I think it’s too early in our relationship, don’t you.”

“I know I’m happy when we sleep together two nights in a row. I don’t know about seven nights? We’re going to find out because I start work in Evansville in two weeks. I’ve told the boys in the house. Danny and James said they wanted to move upstairs and have two more friends move into their room. I told them they would have to wait until Doug was well enough to approve their move.”

“Let’s go to bed and get to know each other better.” We did and the sex was really special with him topping me and then me topping him. We didn’t bother to shower and spooned awake for what seemed like hours.

Sunday I received an email for Mr. Bellamy inquiring if I knew any details on Brad. I responded that Brad’s ashes were being shipped and I would transfer them to him. In a return email he asked that I keep the ashes because he and Brad’s mother decided they didn’t want a funeral and wanted to have Brad’s ashes spread in his grandmother’s garden in Traverse City.

For both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays Tad and I were in Poseyville. There was no Thanksgiving celebration but we were joined for Christmas Eve dinner by Brice who had called asking if he could bring a friend. When he showed up with Mr. Smith I wasn’t surprised but Tad was. Nothing was said about why Mr. Smith came but the four of us had a wonderful dinner of medium rare chateaubriand, twice baked potatoes with crab meat, asparagus and a red velvet cake Tad bought from a German bakery. The wine was flowing. When it was time for them to leave we opened the front door and there was a half inch of snow on everything. Tad said, “Forget driving. Stay here. There’s plenty of room. You can have whatever room you want except Doug’s and ours.” He was obviously suggesting they sleep together which I suspected they had done before. They went into one of the bedrooms together.

The next morning in the kitchen Mr. Smith said, “I guess my secret is out.”

“Don’t worry Sir. Tad and I had guessed before last night. I assume you know Doug is gay as well.”

“Thank you. Yes, Doug was part of our group until Brad entered the picture. It’s so sad what happened. Have you heard from Dorothy about when they might be returning?”

“We haven’t but apparently she and Carl have rented a villa and are enjoying summertime in New Zealand. They don’t seem to be in a big hurry to return. We get the impression that Doug is significantly improved.”

By early February they had not returned but we had indications that their return was coming soon. About the same time Mr. Bellamy called and asked if I knew if Brad had a will. I did not know but knew that Brad had a plastic file box that he kept in Doug’s room. Neither Tad nor I had opened it. I informed him that Brad’s ashes had arrived. He seemed unconcerned. I told him we would check to see if Brad had a will which I doubted. Tad and I opened the file box and began going through the papers most of which involved his employment with Herman Miller. That reminded me that after I informed the company of Brad’s death I had never received a response back from human resources.

We found a will which appeared to be properly notarized. It stated that the proceeds of the sale of his grandmother’s property would be given to the community charitable trust in Traverse City. His desire was that the proceeds be used sustain and promote the farmer’s market and sustainable agriculture. His will specified that the proceeds of a one hundred thousand life insurance policy and a travel accident policy from Herman Miller for the same amount be the corpus for the scholarship at Western Michigan he wanted established. Tad and I found Wells Fargo bank statements, statement for one Visa credit card and a statement from TD Waterhouse listing Brad’s considerable investments. We couldn’t get access to the money until Doug returned because he was the only person, other than Brad, listed on the accounts. The will specified that Ty should receive fifty thousand and ten thousand each to Kahli, Ryan and me with the remainder to be transferred to the Doug Cole Charitable Trust.

When I called Mr. Bellamy I told him that the will would be sent to probate in Traverse City as soon as the death certificate arrived in the USA. He specifically asked if he or his former wife were to receive any of the proceeds I told him that they weren’t mentioned. He angrily said, “Well, fuck, you do whatever with his ashes that you want to. His mother and I are done with our selfish son.” He angrily said, “Goodbye.”

I was determined that we had to carry out Brad’s parents wishes to have his ashes spread in his grandmother’s garden. Since it was winter there was no need to do anything further until Doug returned. Doug, Dorothy and Carl returned in late March. We met them at the Evansville airport. In addition to Tad and me, Mr. Smith and Kevin Cole were there to greet them. We rolled Doug in a wheelchair through the terminal mainly because he was tired from the long trip. Tad hugged his mother and Carl. They seemed happy to see him and me.

Since we didn’t know what Doug would need we hired a private duty male nurse. We knew that Doug would continue physical therapy. We weren’t sure if he was able to drive himself. That turned out to be a good decision because while Doug was getting stronger his right leg which had been broken in two places near his right hip caused him substantial pain when he walked. The fellow we hired was not only a nurse but was able to do some of the household chores that Tad and I had been doing. The nurse was needed for only two weeks.

One Sunday evening in early April when Tad and I were home we found Doug crying holding Brad’s picture. We sat on each side of him and did a group hug. Doug said, “He didn’t want to fly and I insisted.” Neither Tad nor I said anything. “It’s my fault. You know they didn’t tell me he died for more than a week.”

After a long silence I said, “You know we need to celebrate Brad’s life. You know he is right here with us.” I pointed to a box on the floor behind a high back chair.

Doug said, “I thought his parents took the ashes.”

“I’m sorry to tell you his parents weren’t happy to be left out of the will. They said they were finished with their son.”

‘Bastards, he was the most wonderful person. We must do something to celebrate his life.”

I said, “The one instruction I received from his father was that his parents didn’t want a funeral but wanted Brad’s ashes spread in his grandmother’s garden.

Doug said, “To tell you the truth there isn’t much garden left.”

Didn’t you and Brad replace the major back garden with fruit trees?”

Doug continued, “Yes, he planted apple, cherry and apricot trees. They should all be blooming by mid-May. I suggest we plan the celebration in mid-May. We should let his parents know even if they don’t come.”

Doug’s mood lightened up as we sat around thinking of who should be invited. The original list included Ty and Fred, Kahli, Ryan and Georgia, Darren and Darsh, Tad and me, and Doug. Doug wanted to include Brice and Charles Smith. Because Ty had been Brad’s first lover I called him to make sure the dates worked for him. When I reached him he thanked me for calling about Brad’s death. He apologized that he was sick with COVID 19 when I called. He told me his case wasn’t too severe. I told him that Brad’s parents wanted his ashes spread in the garden. He whimsically said, “I think, Brad would want his funeral to be a clothing optional event.”

“I will contact his priest, Joshua, to officiate a clothing optional remembrance. The fellow was more than a priest to Brad. He dumped Brad for a wife.”

Ty suggested, “You should let Miss Minnie and Miss Judy know. They live next door. Clothing optional won’t surprise them.”

When I mentioned the clothing optional idea to Doug he said, “Brad would like that. But what about the women?”

“If you mean Georgia she’s seen us naked plenty of times. We’ll let everyone know that the spreading of the ashes and the celebration lunch will be au natural. When I called to invite Brad’s next door neighbors, Miss Minnie, she laughed, “Lovely young naked boys once again in the garden. I know how Brad liked to garden naked.”

I asked Miss Minnie if she knew Brad’s priest full name. She didn’t but told me he was an associate at Grace Episcopal Church. After a few missed calls I reached him and I told him about the planned celebration. He was surprised to hear that Brad had been killed since it hadn’t been reported in the Traverse City newspaper. He said he would be more than happy to officiate. When I told him it was clothing optional event. He laughed, “Knowing Brad, I’m not surprised.”

The list of invitees grew to include Danny, James and their two housemates. Doug wanted to invite several men who had attended his last party at the lodge. We added their names. When the invitations went out by Evite the first ‘no’ was from Mr. Bellamy. When the ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’s were counted there would be about twenty people coming. I took four days vacation before the celebration. Doug, Tad and I claimed the bedrooms in the house. Doug insisted that we put on the Evite that he would pay for accommodations for those traveling to Traverse City.

Doug and I arrived two day early because I didn’t know the condition of the house. Tad arrived the following day. I wanted to make sure the house was clean and opened up. Doug and I met with a realtor to prepare the listing. The weekend we selected in mid-May was predicted to be clear and warm enough for a clothing optional celebration.