Teasers & Deleted ScenesWoodbridge, VA, November 2008
Danny Brady learned to cook from his Grandmother Gilmer, because she put him to work when he came and hid out with her in the kitchen. The times he wanted to hide mostly were when his Grandfather Gilmer was on one of his rampages, yelling at the radio or the television in the living room. Grandpa Gilmer thought All in the Family was the saga of a family tragedy; he thought those girls on Charlie's Angels were Jezebels who deserved whatever they got; he thought those uppity Negros on The Jeffersons ought to get back down on the farm where they belonged.
Grandpa Gilmer didn't come into the kitchen unless dinner was on the table or the garbage needed to go out. Anything with a linoleum floor was women's territory, where sensible men did not encroach. So he didn't hold with Pearl keeping a boy cooped up in there.
"Hank," she'd say, when he appeared in the doorway like a grumbling genie, "Danny's not underfoot at all. You just go watch the game and I'll have your supper done in an hour."
Grandpa Gilmer would grumble back into the living room, and Grandma Gilmer would pull over the rubber step stool so Danny could climb up on it. He'd wash and tear up the salad while she broiled the steaks and fried the potatoes, and he'd feel safe, like this was home base and nobody could touch him unless he left it.
She suffered an incapacitating stroke when he was twelve, and Grandpa Gilmer took over the cooking. He learned to make the food the doctors said was good for Pearl--braised fish and baked skinless chicken and steamed vegetables and rice. Rice, in Texas, in those days, was Uncle Ben's Converted or Carolina brand, and the way Grandpa Gilmer made it, it came out more like rice pudding.
In short, he wasn't any good as a cook, and he almost never ate what he cooked his own self--but he had a hot meal on the table for his invalid wife every day of the week, and he cut up the meat in bite sized pieces for her because her left hand didn't work anymore and she couldn't handle the knife.
By then, Brady didn't need the step stool, and Grandma Gilmer had declared him competent to handle the broiler, though not the hot oil. By the time he was sixteen, and he and his mom were hiding it from Grandpa Gilmer that he was in drama club, Grandma Gilmer had become the first adult in his immediate family to die.
Grandpa Gilmer started his last decline a few weeks later.
His mom, Rosemary, Pearl Gilmer's daughter, was a professional woman with a career, which his Grandpa Gilmer also disapproved of. And no matter how much her father raved that she and Pearl were turning that boy into a sissy, she loved it that her son cooked. She said his potato salad was just like her mother's, and told him being a good hand in the kitchen couldn't hurt when it came time to hook a nice girl and settle down.
"Women like a man who cooks," she said. "It makes them feel wanted when you feed them."
He thought of his grandfather, flaking tasteless poached whitefish into tiny bites and hand-feeding them to a woman Brady had never in his life heard him say he loved. He thought about the captain of the wrestling team, and the way the shirts stretched across his shoulders when he pulled books from his locker, and how that made him feel more male, more like a man, than any pretty girl. He was pretty sure it wasn't tearing up salad that had turned him into a sissy.
He let his mom teach him how to bake cupcakes.
When Brady runs the script in his head, it goes better than this. Gray doesn't show up half an hour early, while he's still in the kitchen fussing about stupidly with the tomatoes, tie untied because he hasn't managed to get his work clothes off yet, and with his stomach in a knot already.
When Brady runs the script in his head, he doesn't knock over an open bottle of Worcestershire sauce and spill half of it down the sink when the doorbell rings. He thinks, Oh God, he didn't stand me up after all and Godammit, he's early all at the same time, but then profiler brain kicks in and he realizes that to get here this early in DC traffic, Gray must have allowed himself an extra forty-five minutes at least. He didn't want to be late, which makes Brady feel wanted.
And here Brady had mostly been afraid that the phone was going to buzz any moment with a cancellation, and he'd be left with an extra steak and more torn up lettuce than anybody short of a beta could find a use for. And a distinct lack of plans for the evening.
Brady wipes his hands on a towel and lets Gray in, locking the door behind him because his job makes him paranoid. Gray's still dressed for the office, too, all six trim feet of him wrapped in a gold-pinstriped black suit that makes Brady want to look for the ribbons and To Danny From Santa sticker. A brown paper bag rests in the crook of his left arm, hiking his sleeve up so Brady can see the dark hair curling over his leather watch band. Silver hairs sparkle at his temples when he tilts his chin up a half-inch to stare Brady in the eye, and Brady thinks This is where I should kiss him.
God knows when it's been hotel rooms and stolen afternoons, they've barely been able to wait until the door was latched. Their relationship hasn't exactly been well-founded in conversation. But something stops Brady this time, one hand half-outreached, and before he can recover himself Gray shoves the paper bag into it and the moment is over.
"Sorry I'm early."
Brady shrugs dismissal. Forgiven. The bag is heavy. It clinks.
"Beer," Gray says, with a grin. "Real beer, not that stuff you drink. And an overpriced bottle of wine, if you'd rather have that with dinner." He steps past Brady and allows himself a slow, admiring turn. "This is a nice house. It looks like somebody lives here."
"You say that like it surprises you," Brady snipes cheerfully. He leads Gray into the kitchen. The air's warm and dry, filled with the nutty smell of roasting potatoes and the tang of the Worcestershire. Two seasoned steaks await their fate on the counter.
"Damn," Gray says. "That smells awesome. And you haven't even started the dead animal yet."
"I told you I cooked. You should have been more trusting."
Brady lifts a six of nut-brown ale and a bottle of wine labeled in a language he doesn't speak out of the bag and sets them on the counter. While Gray kicks his glossy Bruno Magli loafers unceremoniously into the corner and sheds his suit jacket over the back of a chair, Brady rummages for a churchkey.
Gray rolls up on his toes, stretching, and beelines for the fridge. "Beer?"
"Bring me a Coors," Brady says, turning around with the open ale when Gray arrives to trade it for a lager. Brady holds out the churchkey, but the top's off the Coors already.
"Twist-off," Gray reminds, and throws the bottlecap at him. "You expecting a riot?"
Brady takes a long slow swallow of icy Coors, and sighs. "Sorry?"
"You're armed." Gray points to the holster at Brady's hip.
"Just got home and started cooking. I usually wear it until I make it back to the gun safe."
"Oooo." Gray's eyes widen mockingly. He slings a leg over one of the stools at the breakfast bar and mounts up. His beer rests before him, hands caged loosely around it. "Hot cop."
"Come over here and say that," Brady answers, as mildly as if his stomach weren't still doing flip-rolls in his belly. He sprinkles garlic powder on meat. His Grandpa Gilmer never would have stood for it. Both steaks slide neatly onto the broiling pan.
"Hot tough cop. Be still my heart. Do you have handcuffs, too?"
What Gray's doing to the mouth of that bottle, as if absentmindedly, is illegal in sixteen states and the District. Brady pulls the drawer under the hot oven open and slides the pan in, then stands and turns to wash his hands. "I didn't know you had a cop fetish."
Gray crosses his forearms on the breakfast bar and leans forward confidingly over his beer. (If you could call anything that color beer. How the hell has Brady come to surround himself with people who think beer looks like that?) "I do have one regret."
"What's that?" Please let it be something I can handle.
"I missed seeing you in uniform."
Relief makes Brady cough. "Okay, I don't need to know all your kinks."
He glances back in time to see Gray's slow, slow smile, the one that can make Brady stammer like a high-school kid. "Yeah, you do."
It's not just the smile making him stammer. Jesus, Danny, stop thinking so fucking much, would you? He's hot for you. It is what it is.
While Brady's groping for a comeback, Gray reaches into his shirt pocket for his reading glasses and slides them up his nose. With his other hand, he pulls the wine bottle over. "Hang on, let me pretend I read French. Maybe I can tell you what the wine experts want to make us believe this tastes like. Plums? Dirt? Diesel fuel? I guess they can't just say it tastes like rotten grape juice--"
Gray's farsighted, which Brady finds endearing, though he'd rather die than admit it. The wire-frame glasses, though--Brady's developing a history with them. Or maybe he should say, a history with removing them.
As the steak starts to sizzle and pop, he reaches across and relieves Gray's nose of its burden. Gray looks up to protest. Brady guides the wine bottle to one side, leans over the breakfast bar, and kisses him square on the mouth.
It's ridiculous that every time should be as good as the first time. But there it is: Gray's firm mouth, rough end-of-the-day cheek, even the taste of that ass-bitter "beer" on his tongue. Gray slides bottle-chilled fingers over Brady's ear and pushes them through his hair, knotting a fist hard enough to sting sharply where it pulls the strands. He yanks their heads together until teeth click. The sound he voices, half moan and half mumble, goes right to Brady's groin.
When Gray lets him get half a breath, Brady says--against his mouth-- "I'm gonna burn the steak."
Brown eyes narrow with a grin he's too close to see all of. "Is that what they call it in Texas?"
Reluctantly, Brady disengages. Gray's glasses are still in his hand. He sets them off to the side. "In Texas, we have our priorities in order. Food first, then sex. Then more food. Saves on unfortunate accidents."
"And leftovers," Gray retorts, tipping his head back for a swig of beer.
"If you've got leftovers, it just means you haven't been working out enough." Brady crouches to flip the steaks, but the only way he could miss Gray's appraising stare is if he were dead.
"Oh," Gray drawls in his best barfly falsetto. "I don't think that's your problem."
It's a good thing Brady's not drinking, because he doesn't want a lager nasal lavage. As it is, he's laughing so hard he almost drops the potatoes.
Gray watches voraciously as Brady wrestles them onto plates, cuts crosses in the top and doctors them with salt and pepper and sour cream and butter. He decided that a set table was formal. Presumptuous. So he hands down stemmed glasses and the corkscrew and lets Gray deal with the wine while Brady dishes out salad. By then the steaks are ready for retrieval.
They eat sitting side by side at the counter, shoulders touching casually, and Brady's surprised by his appetite. The knot in his stomach has vanished. He floats on a little pleasant buzz.
Gray splits the last of the wine between their glasses and says, "I'd say you cook better than you fuck, but I'd be lying."
"Damn," Brady says, shaking his head, wondering just how much broke he should go for. Sure, they've been screwing for months, but that's not the same thing as inviting a guy home for dinner. He starts stacking plates. "I'm hoping that's a compliment."
Gray spins lazily on his stool and picks up his glass. "Leave the dishes. I want to see the rest of the house. Like the bedroom."
Gray smooths and hangs his clothes over the back of the bedroom chair when he undresses, and Brady can never decide if it's an intentional tease or Yankee fastidiousness. If it's a tease, it works: even after taking the time to put his sidearm away, Brady lies propped on pillows watching Gray hook his boxers down and step out of them, and if his fingers weren't locked behind his head his hands would be shaking. Gray folds the underwear, too, and tucks them neatly under his shirt, the cufflinks he left in the buttonholes rattling faintly. Brady wants to lick the dimples where the small of Gray's back runs into his ass, the ones that pull smooth when Gray bends over.
He figures he'll get around to it pretty soon now.
The bed dips under Gray's weight when he climbs up beside Brady. He straddles Brady's leg, slips his knee between Brady's thighs, and plants a hand on either side of his head. Brady frees up his hands to tug Gray a little closer. Warm skin and hard callus, as Gray slides a hand around the back of Brady's neck and pulls their foreheads together. Brady wonders what a desk-jockey in the State Department does to earn rough hands like that. It bothers him a little that he doesn't know.
Maybe he sandpapers them because he knows how fucking sexy it is.
"You know what I like about you?" Gray says. Brady can feel his breath moving on his cheek.
"I'm hung like a bull?" Brady says, with a grin, so Gray will grab his shoulders and shake him. Mostly, he shakes the bed: when he wants to be, Brady's a pretty big immovable object.
"You take your socks off in bed," Gray says, kissing him. "I like a man who commits."
When he pulls back, breathing hard, licking his lips, Brady pushes a foil-wrapped rectangle into his hand. "Here," he says. "Commit to this."
Fine, straight copper-brown hairs cover Gray's chest, abdomen, and thighs. They trap the sweat between bodies, and they tickle Brady's palms. They prickle his ear when he rests his head on Gray's belly, feeling in equal parts like he's risking everything and like he's just gotten away with the biggest heist of his career. He listens to his pulse racing, blood thumping in his ears loud enough that he can't pick out Gray's heartbeat, and doesn't realize he's holding his breath until the hand that falls on him strokes his hair into order rather than pushing him aside.
The air rattles out, his lungs stinging. He's light-headed when he draws another one.
"Stealth bear," Brady says, running his fingertips down Gray's thigh and into the hollow of his knee, to make him gasp. "You'd never know it with your clothes on."
"That's because I shave all the way to my collarbone," Gray says, petting Brady's hair again. "Just don't ask me to wax. I have a low pain tolerance."
"S'okay," Brady says, turning his head to nuzzle the crease of Gray's thigh. "I like fur."
Gray breathes in sharply again, ticklish-sexy, and squirms. "Have pity on an old man. Hiatus!"
"You weren't offering a lot of pity ten minutes ago."
"You weren't asking," Gray answers. This time his hands aren't brooking any disagreements as they pull Brady up beside him. Brady flops down on the pillows and rolls onto his back, staring at the ceiling. Speechless. Aching, and not sure how to ask for what he's aching for, or even how to put a name to it.
"This was good," Gray says, hesitating, twelve inches and a whole world of experience away. Brady turns to him, searching his face for something other than uncertainty, gets a smile, an uncomfortable, blinking stare. "Really good. Nobody ever made me dinner before."
"You can be dinner any time you want," Brady says.
Gray stares at him for a second and then laughs, hard, hand thrown back across his forehead. His furry stomach jiggles with it. When he stops, though, his mouth bends into a frown and his brow furrows. His mouth works. He looks away, looks back again.
"I'm for it," he says at last. And then he bites his lip. "You know, I'm not out at work."
Brady nods. "I figured that out. Somehow. With my spooky profiler voodoo."
"You're okay with it?"
"No," Brady says. "But I'm willing to compromise. You know I'm not out to my dad."
Gray turns his head and looks at him, studying his expression like nobody has in a long time. The stare seeds cool prickles across Brady's shoulders.
"Next summer," Gray says. "Do you want to go sailing?"
It's Brady's turn to stare and blink. Next summer is practically a lifetime commitment, in gay man minutes. "Sailing?" he says, to cover himself. "Like, on a boat?"
"No, like on a flying saucer. Doofus. Of course on a boat. We've got a twenty-four footer in Newport. I can manage her; I had a Suncat when I was a kid. We could take her out. I could teach you the ropes." Gray's eyebrow waggle makes learning the ropes sound distinctly un-nautical. "I mean, if you're too much of a sissy for a real boat, we could borrow the cabin cruiser instead--"
"Who is 'we'?" Brady asks, feeling as if he's just tripped down the rabbit hole.
"My family," Gray says, sounding profoundly bored. "The ones with the gobs of money and the searing hypocrisy. Or--shit." He sits up abruptly, lets his legs fall over the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry, Danny. I thought tonight--shit. I guess I thought you were making an offer."
Brady sits up, too. He starts to reach out and nearly stops himself, but in the end his hand only shakes a little as he pushes through the wall of space that's suddenly appeared between them and lays it on Gray's freckled shoulder.
"I was," he says. "I guess I'm just a little freaked out to realize I'm dating a Yankee."
Gray turns to look over his shoulder, eyebrows rising with a question.
Brady shakes his head. "Oh, god. I'm dating a Yankee. With an Audi."
"Don't knock that Audi. It's a good pony, cowboy. It knew what it was doing when it threw that shoe."
Brady would never admit to the rush of relief and affection he feels at this sidelong evidence of Gray's approval--Christ, he could have anyone. He's gorgeous. Smart. Funny. Loaded. Hung.--but he'd bet the rest of the six-pack of Coors that it shows on his face anyway. "Come on, old man. If you're calling a hiatus, get the fuck out of bed. There's cupcakes."
"Don't get so excited. They're out of a box."
"It's all good," Gray says, fighting a grin and losing. "As long as there's frosting."