Kellan wasn't sure if the tiny bike had sputtered to death on this back street or if this was where Nate was taking them, but when Nate took off his helmet, Kellan eased himself off the back of the seat where he'd been trying to keep himself. He swore that when they zipped up Broadway, weaving in and out of traffic Nate was trying to dump him off.
Still without saying anything to him, Nate dragged the scooter up over the sidewalk and unlocked a green painted door. The street was only one car length wide, the buildings all squat squares of painted bricks with different color doors. Nate hauled the scooter through the door and put it next to a stairway that needed a fresh coat of baby blue paint.
"Is this your house?"
Nate reached back out toward one of the three mailboxes next to the door. "It's my apartment."
Without a this way or c'mon, he started up the stairs. Without options, Kellan followed. Nate's apartment was bigger than Kellan expected from the outside. A good-sized living room held a couch and a desk. One wall made up the kitchen, with a counter separating it from the rest of the room.
Nate put his keys on a hook near the door and walked over to drop his mail on the desk. Kellan hesitated next to the door, but when Nate took two beers out of the fridge and put them on the counter, the ache in Kellan's shoulders relaxed a little and he took the beer Nate held out.
There weren't any chairs, so they leaned, facing each other across the counter.
Nate took a long drink, though Kellan could feel Nate watch him around the neck of the bottle. Kellan drank a little of his, but the nerves multiplying like bunnies in his stomach weren't exactly interested in any liquid being dumped on them.
"So explain." Nate put his half-empty bottle on the counter.
Life should really have a fast-forward button so Kellan could get to the part where Nate was on his side without having to rehash all this shit in a way that didn't end up with Kellan wandering around Baltimore with seventy-five cents in his pocket and the clothes on his back.
A last minute stay of execution arrived in a ball of gray fur leaping onto the counter. The cat sauntered between them, licked the lip of Nate's bottle and sat down to aim an appraising stare at Kellan.
"Quan Yin." Nate said, and Kellan assumed he was naming the cat and not starting a random discussion.
Kellan loved animals; Nate had too. There'd always been a few cats or a baby squirrel in need of nursing at the Grays' house. Kellan was more partial to dogs, but after Keegan didn’t come home from Kuwait, their setter T-rex died of grief and they never got another dog. Slicking his fingers with the condensation on his bottle, Kellan held them out toward the cat.
She sniffed then licked once or twice with a rough tickling tongue. Kellan rubbed her chin and cheeks and she purred enthusiastically, bumping his hand in encouragement.
"Animals like me," Kellan said in apology.
"That baby skunk you insisted we take to the vet? Remember?"
"You were the only one who could carry it without it spraying us."
"Yeah. Still had to take tomato soup baths. Made my hair orange."
Nate's laugh turned into a quick sharp cough.
Quan Yin managed to twine herself around his forearm, and Kellan kept rubbing and stroking. Her purr rivaled the engine on the scooter, and probably had more power. Between the cat on his side and Nate's almost laugh, Kellan thought he might not end up in a homeless shelter.
"My father had some kind of meltdown after Delia and I broke up. I don't know what caused it." That wasn't completely true. His father had been apoplectic about the pictures that popped up in some online rag of Kellan with his face in between the tits of some waitress in Miami.
Delia had been nice and sweet, so Kellan couldn't exactly tell her that the thought of marrying her kept waking him up with cold sweats—once he'd even thrown up. He'd even been saying that he wanted to make their wedding night special to explain away the fact that he hadn't been able to get his dick hard enough to fuck her for the last month. So when she started picking out dresses, he'd brought some of his douchiest friends down to Miami, hit the skankiest clubs, downed Jager mixed with Blast until he couldn't think, and let nature take its course. This way Delia could tell herself she was lucky she found out now, be mad instead of crying. And hey, at least his dad should have been happy that he'd been out proving the fine qualities of Blast brand energy drinks, ensuring the family fortune.
Kellan would be a little more freaked about his dick's performance than about why he didn’t want to marry a sweet girl who loved him, except he hadn't had any trouble getting off between the lips of that waitress—or between those huge tits.
“So dad starts going on about the cost of the ring—”
Nate’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief.
“—well, I couldn’t ask for it back. And it was fifty grand. But then with her dad being a senator and the national bottle deposit shit happening—’
“Yeah, that’s a crisis, all right. Actually expecting companies to stop fighting recycling so we don't end up on Planet Garbage.”
Talking about his dad’s company wasn’t the best way to get Nate on his side.
"So this morning, he made me come over to the office in Dundalk to see him.”
Nate couldn’t get it. Would never get Kellan’s dad. Nobody said no to Geoffrey Brooks. Not till today. And even then Kellan hadn’t managed to spit it in the old man’s face.
“Told me, whatever. When I got there, he started in on me about wasting my life and not accepting responsibility, and how I never had to work for anything in my life.”
“Shit, now you’ve made me agree with your father. Just when I thought I couldn’t hate you more.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t even think you would say you wished I’d never been born because I’ll never live up to Keegan.”
Nate bit his lip and looked away. “No, I wouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s not like I didn’t know he was always thinking it. He just finally said it.” Kellan managed a shrug even though the words were still churning through him, stirring a rage he never knew he could feel. Even worse than what his father had said, was the idea he'd put there, that Kellan had done anything to dishonor Keegan.
Kellan remembered a lot about his brother Keegan. How tall he’d been. The way he could throw Kellan in the air, like he did when he got home from school every day. The Keegan in his head didn’t look anything like the somber picture of him in his uniform next to the boxed American flag that was always on the display wherever his mom was living.
Nate came along after the Brooks family moved away from the house with “too many memories.” Nate had only ever met Keegan next to the stone in the cemetery.
Catching Kellan's eye, Nate asked, "Then what? Your dad threw you out? He’s done that before.”
“Not like this. None of my credit cards work. He told me the house is off limits, that he’d changed the codes and would have me arrested for trespassing. He said the same thing about any of my cars. They’re all in his name because—”
“You still don’t have a license?”
“It got suspended again. But I wasn’t drunk this time, man. This was for speeding.”
If Nate had really been sorry for what Dad had said about wishing Kellan had never been born, it was all over now. Nate probably never even got a parking ticket.
"Again, why are you here?”
“The old man said he’d give me one last chance before he washed his hands of me. If I could show some responsibility—like prove that I could do something without fucking it up—“
“He said a lot of shit. Stuff like 'get a steady job’ and ‘stop whoring around.' " Then he said the something that had Kellan determined to throw it all back in his face. “Oh, and he says, ‘Maybe some woman will take pity on you and try to make you a man. God knows I couldn’t.’ Fuck him.” Quan Yin jerked her head away at the growl in Kellan’s voice and then licked his wrist as if to tell him to calm down.
“So what the hell does that have to do with me?”
“Geoffrey thinks he wins.” Kellan rubbed around the cat’s ears as he dug in his back pocket for the piece of paper his father’s secretary had handed him this morning.”That I’m going to follow his little action plan like one of his cubicle slaves. He’s in for a shock. What would make shit his drawers more than anything?” He looked steadily at Nate. “What kind of organizations can always count on Brooks Blast Energy Drinks for a donation?”
Nate’s eyes widened. He’d never been slow to figure stuff out. “That’s why you wanted a boyfriend?”
“Uh-huh. I’m going to find someone to make a man make a man out of me. A gay man. Geoffrey Brooks, CEO of the most homophobic corporation in America, and his gay son.”