“Thanks for the seats, counselor.” César nodded in Brett’s direction. “That one’s been excited about the game all week.”
Miles walked next to César, with Brett and Chipper a few steps ahead. “My pleasure. I’m enjoying spending time with the two of you.”
“What you grinning about?” Brett’s shoulder bump nearly toppled a distracted Chipper.
They stood outside the STAPLES Center admiring the bronze statues honoring Los Angeles athletes, but Chipper’s eyes were on the structure itself. “I’m gonna be performing in there soon. Fuck! This is sick!” He sounded giddy. “Adam’s from L.A., and he wanted the tour to start in his hometown.”
Adam Levine, lead singer for Maroon 5, was Chipper’s coach while competing on The Voice. The two had become close during the show’s run, and Adam signed on to produce Chipper’s first album. Later, after the other band members had listened to him, they agreed he would be perfect as the band’s opening act during their upcoming tour.
“I want you to know I’ll be here for it. When we signed the contracts, I told the partners it would be your first big show. Quite a few expressed interest in attending. You’ll have your own cheering section. Alanna and the boys are excited about seeing you. Those two are going out of their minds already. It’ll be their first concert.” Miles had invited Chipper to his home while dealing with Greg Nalbo’s attempt to coerce the young artist into signing with him. The two little Abramonovs had treated their guest like an older brother.
“Cap, you and Mr. A should fly out for it. I’m sure I can swing a couple of good seats for you. And I’ll try to get everyone backstage passes.” Chipper was in Los Angeles working on his debut album until the tour began.
“Since it looks like we’re going to own a home in town, that could work. Maybe we can convince Doc to come with us.” César’s comment made Chipper’s grin grow.
“That would be insane! I’ll call Matt tomorrow and invite him myself.”
Dr. Matthew Calhoun provided Chipper a place to live during his last two years of high school and had flown to Los Angeles twice the previous year to watch the competition. Chipper considered him a second father.
Inside the arena, the four men stopped at the Golden Road Brew House on the main concourse for beers and Ahi tuna poke nachos. Their seats behind the Lakers’ bench halfway up the lower bowl afforded an incredible, close view of the court. “That’s where they build the stage for concerts.” Miles pointed to their right before looking upwards across the hardwood and signaling in the new direction. “And our box’s up there.”
“You get to use them for any event you want?” Chipper placed his beer on the ground between his feet and attacked the food. “Damn, these are good.”
“Yeah, I get the same thing whenever I’m in here. And no, not for every event. We have the same box and seats for the Lakers and the Kings”—one of Los Angeles’ National Hockey League team—“but others have them for the other local teams.”
“So you may not get great seats like this one?”
“Hopefully better. The floor’s lined with chairs, and we should get some good ones. One of our partners knows the promoter. He got in touch when I mentioned your concert and asked to buy a couple dozen tickets.”
Chipper’s laughter elicited questioning looks. “You said my concert. Not sure Adam and the rest of the band would see it the same way.”
“Whatever.” Brett sat next to Chipper, while Miles and César occupied the seats behind them. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s you we’ll be here for.”
“I wish some of The Squad could come too, but everyone’s busy with their lives. I told Adam I’ll need a shitload of tickets in the front rows when we play D.C.”
“That’s what happens when you grow up, Chipper.” César leaned forward and spoke so only their group could hear. “Work, spouses, and children fuck up your life. Flying cross country to catch a concert isn’t as easy as when you’re single and in school.”
“Amen to that.” Miles nodding made the others laugh. “Love my wife and kids, but sometimes…”
At the end of the first quarter, the Lakers had a small lead they maintained and took into the locker room at halftime. Brett was the first to stand. “Anyone want to go to the store with me?”
César looked at him with suspicion. “What are you getting, Jarhead?”
“I don’t know.” Brett tried hard to sound casual. “Just gonna look around. Maybe buy something for Liebe. I think they have Lakers’ cheerleading outfits for little girls.”
“Ha! You buy one of those, and she’ll never wear it. CJ will donate it to a homeless shelter or something.” César tried to clear Miles’ obvious confusion. “They don’t want their daughter growing up limited by gender stereotypes. She rarely wears dresses. And the first time her grandmother tried to put a bow on her little head, CJ threw it into the fireplace.”
“You know, the way you guys talk about him, I get the feeling he has as strong a personality as his fathers.” Miles had briefly met CJ and Owen during a trip east to discuss A Home for Warriors, but they had not spent time socializing. “Come on. Let’s go shopping. Maybe I’ll get my boys something too.”
Brett and Miles carried their purchases back to their seats, with César needling Brett about buying himself a few things. Those were in addition to a miniature Nerf ball and hoop set in Lakers’ colors for their granddaughter. “You realize she won’t know what to do with it, right?”
“Who cares? There’ll be purple and gold in her room now. I’ll teach her how to play basketball as soon as she starts walking.”
They settled in with fresh beers to watch the second half. The opponents turned it into an interesting game by going ahead four minutes into the third quarter. From that point on, the two teams alternated leads.
“Listen, guys, I nearly forgot.” Miles reached into his pants and held up a key. “Nalbo had this couriered to my office today. He said the security system’s off, and he already canceled the service. I know the place’s empty right now, but you may want to sign on with whatever alarm company you guys prefer.”
Brett pointed at César over his shoulder. “Give it to him. I’ll lose it. Did you have any luck getting us a decorator?”
“Eddie Lang will be at your place at eleven tomorrow morning. He did a house for one of our partners, does a lot of celebrity homes, and he’s been featured in Architectural Digest several times.”
“Bah! That doesn’t matter to us. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re not flashy people.”
“Says the man who rented a Lamborghini in San Francisco and got a five-hundred dollar speeding ticket.” César was rewarded for the snarky remark by Brett raising a finger at him.
Chipper apparently had trouble swallowing his beer. He coughed and had to wipe spillage from his chin scruff. He had obviously not shaved in a day or two. “Cap! You rented a Lambo? Sick! How fast were you going?”
“Not that fast. A little over a hundred. Listen, not to change the subject but changing the subject. What are you doing with your time these days? Partying all night and sleeping late now that you’re a celebrity?”
“Fuck no! I don’t want to end up like Bieber. I want to have a long career, so I’m gonna limit my partying. The guys back home laughed at me when I mentioned it.”
César could imagine CJ in particular giving Chipper a hard time. “They’re just jealous. As Brett mentioned recently, our son’s become a goody-two-shoes since Liebe was born.” César took pity on Miles who looked lost. “Both our boys gave up pot a while back. Ritch because of the military, CJ because of the State Department. After our granddaughter was born, he rarely left the house. Hell, he even wanted to take her to a Black Lives Matter rally, so he wouldn’t be away from her for a few hours. I can’t wait ’til they find out Brett’s been stoned and whooping it up most of this trip.”
“Cap! You dog.” Chipper offered a fist to bump. “You been smoking it up?”
Brett reached into his pocket and showed his companions a mints tin. “Nope. Gummies are easier. Want some?”
“Hell, yeah!” Chipper took two and popped them in his mouth. “So, anyway, my days so far are slow. I hit the gym every morning, but spend most of my time composing at the keyboards, and arranging songs on my own. It’s gonna get hectic soon, though. Between recording and rehearsing for the tour, I’ll have little free time.”
“Where you staying?”
“The record company put me up at one of those extended stay hotels for a month. I need to find a place to rent soon.”
Brett gave a slight nod when César nudged his back with a knee. “What you up to tomorrow?”
“Hanging out with my friends, Bryce and Zion. They said they’d take me to their gym as a guest. We were talking about hitting the beach after.”
“Perfect! Why don’t the three of you come by the house, and we’ll take you guys out to lunch. You can lay out by the pool or on the beach.”
César’s legs created swirls on the pool surface as he moved them in lazy circles. “Gas, electric, alarm, cable, internet, phone—”
“Phone? Like in a land line?” Brett looked surprised.
“You don’t think we need one?”
“I’m not sure. I know we still have one in D.C., but how often do we use it?” Brett kept trying to kick his husband’s legs out of the water, and César continuously lifted the legal pad he was writing on.
“Stop it, Jarhead. I don’t need to go buy a new pad because you drowned this one. I think we should get a house number. At least until we figure out what we’re going to do with this place. You know it’ll be vacant most of the time. Even if we open it up to all my relatives, our close friends, and the boys’ buddies.”
On the way to Malibu, they had stopped at the Staples store on South Figueroa Street to buy a few supplies. César wanted paper and pencils in case they needed to sketch anything out. Whatever they wrote or drew, they could share through a picture if necessary. Brett wanted a measuring tape.
They assumed the designer would arrive prepared, but knew they needed to take care of a few things on their own. Moreover, if the meeting did not pan out, they did not want to wait until they found someone else to help them. They could measure rooms to figure out what would fit.
“This is gonna be a pain, isn’t it?” Brett leaned backwards on his elbows and stared at the sky. “We really have no business owning anything like this out here. If we wanted a place in California, a condo would be the reasonable way to go.”
“Not the same, Jarhead.” Even after the boys had expressed their enthusiasm for the family having a beach house in California, César had been uncertain about the wisdom in doing so. Brett breaking down prior to meeting with Nalbo, and the subsequent bouts of nostalgia, erased his doubts. He was fully on board with owning the place.
“It wouldn’t be your home. Yeah, it’ll be a pain until we get everything set, and it’s going to cost us money. Who gives a crap? We’ve been to my hometown a gazillion times since we met, and we’re due a few trips to yours. Knowing we’ll be staying where you grew up will make them that much more special.”
When Brett turned and lifted his mirrored Oakleys, his eyes sparkled in the sunshine. “You know something? I abso-fucking-lutely married the right man. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The warmth César felt made him smile. “Okay, back to work. We need a pool service.”
César’s smile became laughter, “Yeah, not Freddy. We’ll ask around. We took a picture of the landscaping company’s truck. We can call them after we close.”
“The closing’s on Tuesday. Guess we’re sticking around a bit after.”
“So what’s our priority with furniture?”
“I say we get one room ready. Together or individually, we’ll be coming back here several times in the next few months. If we go skiing with Ritchie over President’s Day Weekend in February, we could fly to L.A. afterwards.”
“It’s Ritch. So, bare minimum that wouldn’t require long wait times: a bed, some linens, and a coffeemaker.”
“And a TV!”
“Okay, what about—” The doorbell interrupted César.
“I’ll get it.” Brett dried his feet with one of the towels they had swiped from the Ritz-Carlton and jogged to the front door. Easy to do with an empty room. “Coming!” he shouted when the chimes sounded again. They did not stop.
“You’re fucking dead.” He yanked the door open to find a chuckling Chipper flanked by two other men. “You’re an asshole, you know? Welcome to Casita Davenport!”
“Casita Davenport?” Chipper hugged the Marine as César joined them at the door.
“His mom used to call the whole thing La Casita, even though that’s usually what a guesthouse’s called. I mean, I never met her, but that’s what Brett told me. Come on in, guys. I’m César. I’m Mr. Foulmouth’s husband.”
Chipper pointed over his shoulder. “The blond’s Bryce Canyon. The other one’s Zion Arches.”
Greetings dispensed with, Brett led the way back to the pool. There was no place to sit except on the ground. César dead-bolted the door open so they would not have to rush when the decorator arrived.
“Wow! This place looks so different empty.” Bryce dropped his backpack on the lanai’s floor and turned to Brett. “Is it alright if I take off my shirt?”
Chipper and his two friends were dressed alike. Flip flops, shorts, and unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts. César tried to hide his grin; they were close to naked already but he wanted to strip off even more? “Go for it, guys. Sorry we have no place to sit, but that’s something we’ll hopefully take care of today.”
“Well East Coast boys are hip I really dig those styles they wear.”
Brett’s impromptu rendition of a Beach Boys classic as the guys dropped their shirts on the ground made César groan.
“And the Southern boys with the way they talk They knock me out when I'm down there.”
The groan became laughter when Brett wiggled his tongue at the three now shirtless young men.
“The Mid-West farmer's sons really make you feel alright And the Northern guys with the way they kiss They keep their boyfriends warm at night.”
Chipper stepped away from Bryce and Zion and shoved Brett until he stood between them. He joined in the singing during the chorus.
“I wish they all could be California boys I wish they all could be California I wish they all could be California boys.”
“ENOUGH! Dammit, Jarhead. Stop flirting with the boys. They look younger than CJ!” César could not get rid of his smile. Brett’s antics sometimes blew his mind but always entertained.
“Actually, Mr. A, Bryce’s the same age as CJ and me. Zion’s a year older than us.” Chipper moved closer to César and nudged him with an elbow. “Did Cap hit the gummies again this morning? He’s in awfully good spirits.”
“Hellooo… Anybody home?”
“Hey!” César moved to welcome the new arrival. “You must be Eddie. I’m César.”
The man swept a tendril of graying blond hair from his face and tucked it behind an ear. He licked his lower lip while staring at the half-naked guys by the pool. “Pleasure to meet you, I’m certain. Darling, if you have eye candy like that around all the time, I’m gonna looove this job. Which one’s yours?”
César’s internal grumbling went unheard, but he was already unimpressed. He did not mind the cadaverous thin man being flamboyant, but assuming he and Brett were messing with the kids was a bit much. He pointed at his husband. “I’m married to the Marine. The hairy-chested kid’s our nephew, and the other two are his friends. We just met them.”
“Ooopsie. They just look so yummy I thought you’d hired them to break in the house.”
“I think you may have the wrong impression about us, Mr. Lang.” Strike one against the man. “Just because we’re gay doesn’t mean we’re promiscuous.”
“I know, darling. I know we must not assume. However, you have to admit seeing two hot men with three just as hot younger ones… Let’s just say it’s not unheard of in this town.”
“Do you guys have towels in that backpack?” Brett asked Bryce as he stopped at the glass doors. “If so, feel free to hit the beach or jump in the pool. César and I need to spend a little time with Eddie. We’ll do lunch when we’re done.”
No sooner had Brett finished, Bryce and Chipper stripped their shorts to reveal tiny bathing suits underneath. Both dove in the pool while Zion followed Brett inside.
“Chipper mentioned you guys were meeting an interior designer. Do you mind if I tag along while you show him around?”
“Sure thing, kid.” With an arm around Zion’s shoulders, Brett extended a hand to their newest visitor. “Brett Davenport.”
Lang’s eyes flittered between Brett and César. “I was told one of you grew up in this house?”
Brett raised his hand. “That would be me. But I haven’t lived here since high school.”
“So you’re moving back?”
“Nope. We live on the East Coast. This is gonna be a vacation home for the family.”
“Wonderful, darling. And what is it you gentlemen are looking for?” The tone was slightly condescending.
“In addition to the pool slash guest house”—Brett pointed at the two-story structure at the edge of the property—“we have three bedrooms and three and a half baths. The master suite’s upstairs. The two bedrooms down here are closest to the pool, and the kitchen and library are the other two large rooms on either side.”
“What I don’t understand is what the architect was thinking.” Eddie looked in each direction Brett indicated and frowned. “It’s just plain silly not to have views of the ocean.”
César thought that was the man’s second strike.
Frosty would be the best way to describe Brett’s tone. “The architect followed my parents’ directions. The house was custom built.”
“Ohhh… Well, people had different ideas about design back then.” The man put a hand on his hip and with a finger from the other, tapped his lower lip. “The place does look, I don’t know, dated? For sure the terrazzo floors have to go. A grand beach home screeeams for marble. And we need to see the ocean! Did you say that’s a library blocking the view?”
“It was my dad’s study. Come on, I’ll show you.” Brett opened the door and held it for the others to enter. “Dad had a desk centered in the room with his back to the glass panes, facing the shelves.” He pointed in the direction opposite the windows. “Those were filled with books. There was a credenza against the short wall”—he indicated the one closest to the main entrance—“and by the one backing to my bathroom there was a round table with four chairs on casters. Dad used to play poker with friends at least once a month.”
“Well, considering nobody reads actual books anymore, the bookcases won’t be missed when we knock down that wall. We’ll want to do the same with the one separating the kitchen from the main living area. Open concept’s the way to go.”
Brett did not look pleased, and César decided to intervene. “Mr. Lang, I need to talk to Brett privately for a moment. Why don’t you head upstairs, take a look around, and we’ll join you in a few minutes.” He raised a hand, silently asking Zion to stay, when the young man made to follow the designer out of the room.
With Eddie gone, he shook his head. “That went well. Not. You want to get rid of him, or you want me to do it?” he asked Brett.
“I’m stoned. You do it. If I do, I’m liable to call him a flaming faggot. Jesus Christ! Eyeliner, mascara, and rouge on a Saturday morning? To meet with potential clients?”
“Not everyone can be butch, Jarhead.” A laughing César climbed the spiral staircase and went in search of the designer. Brett was not in the habit of making homophobic comments, but Eddie managed to bring out the worst in him. After a few comments about the layout of the master suite, Eddie inquired about a budget.
“Actually, Mr. Lang, I don’t think we’re going to need your services. We’re looking to furnish the place, not do major renovations. Thank you for coming out, though.” He handed the designer a business card. “Please feel free to send us an invoice for your time.”
Brett and Zion watched the designer stomp down the stairs and storm out the front door. Both cracked up when César shrugged. “I don’t think he was happy when I told them we wouldn’t need his assistance.”
“Maybe I can help you out.” Zion sounded hesitant. “I don’t know how much Chipper’s told you about me and Bryce—”
Brett interrupted before the man could finish. “We’ve seen pictures of the three of you naked inside the pool house bathroom. Nice willies.”
Zion covered his face with both hands. “Shit! I can’t believe he shared that. Hell, I still can’t believe that slimeball had the bathroom rigged with cameras.”
“We’re having someone sweep the place for bugs.” César placed a hand on Zion’s shoulder. “Relax, buddy. We don’t judge. Brett and I aren’t at the old-fart stage yet. You said you could help us. What did you mean?”
“Bryce and I both do a little modeling. Combined with what we make through Instagram collaborations, we do okay. But we know long term we can’t rely just on looks. I’ve always been interested in design, and Bryce wants to do hair and make-up for films and TV. Since we couldn’t afford both of us being students at the same time, I went back to school first. I’m a Certified Interior Designer in California.”
“What about Bryce?”
“He’s going to cosmetology school this fall. So, anyway, if you guys can figure out what furnishings you want, I can get you into the to-the-trade-only showrooms.”
César liked the young man more each minute. He knew he was pretty and was willing to capitalize on his looks, but he and his boyfriend were thinking ahead. “Okay, you heard Brett describe how his parents had the library set up, and you heard us say we’re not glitzy.” What the hell, let me see what the kid can do, César thought. “How would you deal with the main living area?”
Zion looked excited. “I like the tunnel-like effect of a wall on each side directing your view towards the pool. I wouldn’t want to block it, but I’d suggest you break it up.”
“And how would you do that?”
Zion moved towards the front door and stood with it to his back. He pointed to a spot on the floor some six feet in front of him. “I’d want to create a small entry space here. A large ceramic planter would give us separation without blocking the view.”
“Remember there won’t be anyone living here full time. Those plants would die.”
“You don’t need live ones. How about driftwood? I’ve seen it done before. It would tie in to the beach and when you’re in town, you can put flowers in between.”
Brett nodded while scratching his face; neither he nor César had shaved since arriving in Los Angeles. “That’s not too far off what Mom did. She had a rectangular table there. I remember a huge flower arrangement on it most of the time. What about the rest of the space?”
Zion took two steps and stood where his imaginary planter would be. “A square dining room table with seating for eight. Not sure about style right now but maybe a glass top to keep it light. Then it all depends on what you guys like. I could see a comfy sectional half-facing the pool, and the other half facing whichever wall you want a TV on. Or two couches facing each other. Maybe something with a Scandinavian feel to it.”
“Back in Washington, we had a TV cabinet custom built. The unit’s hidden inside when not in use and it rises whenever we want it to.” César liked what the kid was saying. He particularly liked Zion offering suggestions instead of issuing edicts about what would happen as Eddie had.
“That would work! But I’d suggest blackout curtains that can be closed if watching TV in daytime. As far as artwork for the other walls, it depends on your taste.”
Brett appeared as impressed with Zion’s approach as César felt. Both nodded repeatedly while the young man spoke. Following simultaneous shrugs, they wordlessly reached a decision.
“Don’t worry about artwork right now. I think we have that covered.” Brett’s nod confirmed to César they were of like mind. “Let’s go to lunch. But I want to talk some more about your ideas.”
All five rode together in the rental and on the way back César decided it was time to begin serious planning. “Okay, Zion, we want to hire you.”
Chipper spoke one word at a time. “Mr. A said… they… want… to… hire… you.”
“You’re such a dick, Chipper.” Brett gave their young friend a wink in the rearview mirror. “But he’s right, Zion. You interested?”
“Hell, yeah! How long are you in town for? I’ll start putting together a design plan right away. When will you be back in L.A.? I can set up showroom visits for whenever. Do you have any idea how much you want to spend? I mean, I can find—”
“ZION!” Chipper laughed so hard he had trouble speaking. “Damn, you remind me of our friend, Harley. Non-stop motor mouth.”
“Hush, Chipper.” César turned to stare at the men in the back seat. “I don’t have all the answers right now, Zion. When we get back to the house, let’s work on a list of what we want to do.”
“Fuck! Not another list.”
“Shut up, Jarhead.”
While Chipper and Bryce splashed around in the pool, the other three men walked around the house discussing possible furniture shapes, colors, and placement. They were in the kitchen, Zion showing Brett and César inspiration photos on his phone when the doorbell rang. Cesar was the closest one to the entrance.
“Hi, I’m Brock Burnett. I live next door.” The man’s smile was an expanse of teeth so white they reflected the California sunshine.
César held the door, momentarily stunned. He felt like an idiot. “Hey! César Abelló. Ummm, Come on in.”
“Thanks. I spoke to Greg when I saw the moving company here earlier this week. He said he was selling the house to a couple from back east. Are you and your wife the buyers?”
César laughed. Who would have guessed their neighbor would be one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood? “I’m one of the buyers, but there’s no wife.”
“I heard that!” Brett and Zion had approached without César noticing. “Stop flirting. Just ’cause you’re talking to a hot, gay actor you’re not allowed to forget about me.” A grinning Brett extended his hand. “Hi. Brett Davenport. I’m the wife.”
“What a fucking day. It felt like something out of CJ’s life.”
César was still trying to catch his breath after the rigorous pounding he had given Brett. “What do you mean?”
“We spent most of the day with three hot millennials. We met with a douche canoe who tried to tell us what to do and got pissed when we told him we weren’t interested. And we met a movie star who invited us to his place for birthday cocktails tomorrow. Tell me that’s not the kind of thing our boy goes through all the time.”
César had to agree. “Actually, he’s slowed down lately. He hasn’t introduced us to anyone famous in a few months.”
“Ha! Wait until we send him a selfie tomorrow. I think one with Brock, Bryce, and Zion will have him calling us real quick.”