Jan’s Romantic Dilemma—Broccoli and Brad
Chapter 1. Mr. August
The door to my restaurant, Jan’s Café, burst open, and Tiny Tucker marched in. Tiny is my best friend, who has had careers as a cosmetologist, a waitress (at Jan’s), and now a real-estate-lady-in-training. Tiny likes to “dress the part” for whatever job she has, so today she was all gussied up in her new real-estate-lady suit with a Paisley challis shawl and four-inch platform heels. Given that Tiny was five-foot-five and around 175 pounds with wide hips and a size 40 double-D bosom, she made quite an imposing figure. Her recently purchased used Cadillac with plenty of room for house-hunting customers was parked at the curb. It was a more expensive car than she could afford, I guessed, but she “needed” it to impress clients with how successful she was (or soon would be).
In her arms Tiny had a stack of calendars that she plunked down on the counter next to the cash register. She called out to Hank Rogers, my chief cook, who was Tiny’s boyfriend. “Hi, sweetie! Come and look at this.” Turning back to me, she said, “These sell for fifteen dollars, which is a good price for a great calendar like this one. The proceeds go to United Way and the Firefighters’ Fund.”
It was the annual (for the last couple of years anyhow) Beach Haven Fire Department beefcake calendar. In addition to the full-page semi-pornographic shots twelve of the better-endowed firefighters had posed for—“Mr. January,” “Mr. February,” etc.—there were prominent ads for Hobby Farnsworth, Realtor, who was Tiny’s new employer. Hobby was co-sponsoring the BHFD calendar and had dispatched Tiny to place them with businesses around town.
It was quiet at the café following the lunch rush, so Hank was able to abandon the grill for a couple of minutes to come out and look at the calendar. The assistant cook, Ray Hernandez, a former army buddy of Hank’s, came along. Tiny gave them each a calendar to look at. I had already started flipping through the pages. Mr. January … OK. Mr. February … OK. They all looked good and pretty sexy.
And then I came to Mr. August.
I read the caption:
Mr. August is Brad Goode, who recently joined BHFD, coming to us from the Providence, Rhode Island, Fire Department, bringing eight years of experience as a firefighter and paramedic. We proudly welcome Brad Goode to Beach Haven.
Tiny was looking over my shoulder. “Oh, yeah,” she said. We all welcome Brad Goode to Beach Haven.”
Brad Goode looked like a Greek god. No … he looked better than a Greek god. He was bigger, and more muscular. He was wearing well filled-out black briefs. That’s all. Legs planted apart, hands on hips, coarse dark-blonde hair combed straight back, brown eyes sparkling with mischief, a come-and-get-it-ladies smirk on his face as he stared straight into the camera. Tiny was practically drooling. So was I.
Hank was unimpressed with the whole twelve-month line-up. However, Ray, who was gay, was stuck on Mr. September, a guy with dark hair and green eyes, turned away from the camera, showing off a truly wonderful half-bare backside, and looking sexily over his shoulder at us.
“Who’s that?” Ray asked.
Hank read the caption aloud.
Mr. September is Bill Mortimer. A five-year veteran of BHFD, hazardous materials expert, truck and ladder operator, Bill is a man you can lean on in any emergency.
“I’d like to lean on him,” Ray said.
Ray had broken up with his former partner a few months earlier. He was lonely and available. I had told my Aunt Dorothy about Ray’s situation. I smiled as I thought about that conversation. Aunt Dorothy had a way of mixing up words that could be pretty funny. She thought Ray was really cute, though not for herself—Dorothy was newly married to Jimmy Doyle, the Beach Haven Town Animal “Guardian” as he liked to call himself—but she thought Ray might be someone for one of her friends.
“Ray is gay,” I told Dorothy. She looked disappointed, but then—still trying to work Ray into her match-making scheme—she said, “Does he like women, too? Or just men?”
I said, “Just men.”
She said, “Too bad. I thought he might be bipolar.”
Now Ray was ogling Mr. September. “This guy is gay,” Ray said.
“How do you know?” I asked him.
“I just know.”
The others were now looking at Bill Mortimer, Mr. September, trying to discern what made Ray see “gay.”
Summer Knight, our young new waitress, wandered over—dressed, as usual, in all black with magenta streaks in her glossy black hair, her eyebrow post and her ear studs and her upper-arm bat tattoo—a Goth/wiccan/vampire style that, on her, was absolutely adorable. Trailing behind her was my cousin Donny, our bus boy, Aunt Dorothy’s son. Donny looked like a rare species of small crested bird, with his slight physique and spikey red hair. Donny and Summer were a study in contrasts. He was deep into a crush on her that he had yet to find words for.
Summer picked up one of the calendars and paged through it. “Ew,” she said.
“Ew?” inquired Tiny.
“Naked middle-aged white guys,” said Summer. “Ew.”
“They’re not exactly naked, and two of them are black,” I pointed out. Summer just shrugged and wandered away with Donny in her wake. I turned to Tiny. “Middle-aged? They look like guys in their late twenties and thirties.”
Tiny said, “I guess to an eighteen-year-old, that’s middle-aged.”
OK, I was in a hot dating relationship with Andy Hudson, who had his law office across the street from the café, but I was having some misgivings about Andy and me, and I suspected he was, too.
I had always thought Andy was the best-looking man on Long Island, but it struck me that Brad Goode was a challenger for that title. Andy was wonderful, but did that mean I couldn’t look at anyone else? I flipped again to the eighth month of the beefcake calendar. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mr. August.
Brad Goode, I whispered to myself. Whoooo-eeeee!
Chapter 2. Health and Fitness
While I was busy gazing at Brad Goode on the BHFD beefcake calendar, I heard Hank say to Tiny, “The meeting starts at seven. You want to meet me there or should I pick you up?”
“I’ll meet you there,” Tiny replied.
I looked up. “What meeting?” I asked.
“Hank is going to go with me to Weight Watchers. They have a Wednesday meeting at seven in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. You wanna go? Ho, ho. You don’t need Weight Watchers, you lucky thing,” she said, eyeing my fairly good figure.
I was truly surprised. Tiny has been my best friend since first grade, and she’d always been somewhere beyond the OK range on the weight charts. However, I had never heard her say word one about dieting. Aunt Dorothy once said she’d been so busy she forgot to eat lunch, and Tiny said, “I’ve forgotten to pay my taxes. I’ve forgotten a dental appointment. I’ve forgotten my mother’s birthday. I have never once forgotten to eat!”
Tiny had always said she was happy with her body. I guess my raised eyebrows conveyed my surprise that she was now going to go to Weight Watchers.
“It’s Hank’s idea,” she said.
Hank chimed in. “Tiny’s great just the way she is. She’s got a great figure, and just that much more to squeeze, as far as I’m concerned. I just want her to be healthy. So I thought we could get some tips at Weight Watchers.”
Translation: I love Tiny and I want her to live forever. I smiled at him.
A few days later, something awful happened. There’s a narrow parking lot across the street from the café next to the building that houses Tony Keyes’s locksmith business and Andy’s law office. As Donny and I were looking out the window of the café that afternoon, a guy wearing jeans and a cap pulled low to hide his face followed a woman into the parking lot and smacked her in the head with a piece of pipe. (We saw him do it but didn’t know what he hit her with till we read about it later in the paper.) She collapsed to the ground as the guy grabbed her purse and ran off down the street.
I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and punched in 9-1-1, even while Donny and I were running out our door and across the street. We knelt by the woman, who was bleeding from the head, and wondering what to do for her, when the BHFD ambulance arrived simultaneously with the police.
I didn’t get much of a look at the ambulance crew. The police herded Donny and me to one side and began to question us about what we’d seen while the medics tended to the woman and loaded her into the ambulance. It was much too serious a situation for me to give any thought to the ambulance crew. Donny and I were concentrating on giving the police the best information we could. Only later did it occur to me that the tall paramedic who had seemed to be in charge might have been Brad Goode.
So Mr. August works in this area — if that’s who it was, I thought, wondering idly if I might actually meet him sometime. But that was just a stray notion. What I was mainly feeling was fright. The mugging had happened in broad daylight almost right in front of me. I had always considered Brookside to be a safe little village, but now I realized that crime could happen anywhere, including here.
As soon as the police finished questioning Donny and me, I turned to see Andy standing just beyond the crime-scene tape. I went to him, and he put an arm around me as I stepped over the tape.
“Look,” he said, “I had something I was going to do this evening, but I can cancel it. I’ll come over to the café and make sure you’re all right and safe to get into your car. We can go get something to eat somewhere and talk about it.”
Of course I wanted to say yes. I wanted Andy to pick me up and take me out and then take me home and comfort me. He was great at listening to me, comforting me, calming me down, soothing me. And then he had other ways of making me totally forget whatever else was going on in the world. I wanted to just lean heavily against him, run my fingers through his lovely dark hair, look up into his stunning dark blue eyes, and say, “Oh, yes, please do that.”
Instead I stiffened my spine and took a half step back. I was hung up on his “I was going to do something this evening.” I thought I knew what he was doing. It was something connected with Mary Rice, I was sure.
Mary was the completely pretty, smart, and nice English teacher at Sayville High School. Shining long blonde hair, eyes a softer blue than Andy’s, Mary was the woman I secretly thought was the perfect match for Andy—not ditzy, imperfect me. So theoretically, I shouldn’t have been jealous when I thought of Andy going out with Mary. But the fact was, the Andy-Mary thing had the power to drive me into bouts of insane jealousy.
Along with teaching English, Mary served as the speech and drama coach at Sayville High. The way Andy had put it to me—the one time he discussed Mary with me—was that he and she were friends and he enjoyed attending her school events.
Pah! I thought.
I happened to know that the Sayville High debate team was hosting a rival school’s team tonight. So I was quite sure this was Andy’s “something I was going to do this evening”—the something he said he’d be willing to cancel to take me out instead—and something ornery in me made me say, “No thanks. I’m fine.” And I said it in such a snippety way that he didn’t argue with me.
“Well, OK, then,” he said. But he looked hurt, and I could have kicked myself. But I didn’t have time to repair the damage and didn’t know how to do it anyhow. He gave me an adorable-but-sad crooked smile and walked back to his office.