All things considered, David thought of Brad as a friend. He knew the man well enough, or as well as anyone could claim to know him, and after all, Brad had been the one to get him that date with Linda. Wait no, she lives in Yorba Linda.
So when one day, David got a rather urgent call from Brad asking for his help, he was happy to oblige.
“This is only for a few days,” Brad had whispered down the line. “My family is coming to visit and they have my address and I told them I was going to be on a vacation but if they stop by and see me there I’m fucked.”
“Oh, of course!” David was elated. “I’ll buy some beers.”
“No… David. Just… can you please not make a big deal out of this? It’s not you doing a favor for me. I’m cashing in on what you owe me for getting you that date.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course. Oh! Do you think we should throw a moving in party?”
The call dropped.
“Hey, Ian!” David waved over the man, who didn’t seem to hear him. “Ian!”
Ian grumbled something unintelligible. David took this as an invitation to continue.
“How are things going after that hospital stay? Poppy said-”
“Poppy says a lot of things!” Ian snapped. “Whatever it was, it’s probably a lie.”
David chuckled. He understood that Ian was undoubtedly emotional, after what he’d just been through, and David, as the bigger man, was needed to smooth things out. “Nah, don’t worry, I’m just glad to hear you’re home safe. You know, speaking of homes…”
“Uh huh,” Ian nodded, tapping away at his phone.
David tried again. “Speaking of homes….?”
Ian groaned. “Fine, I’ll bite. What about homes, David? Did you and that desperate widow finally move in together?”
“Oh, no, this isn’t about her. After my wife-”
God, why did everyone keep doing that?
“Ex-wife,” David corrected, “moved into my condo, I found an apartment halfway between Yorba Linda and Mythic Quest. And luckily, as it turned out, Brad-”
“Well speak of the devil,” Ian sighed. “There he is.”
David turned, and sure enough, Brad was crossing the room, on the way to his office.
“Brad!” David exclaimed. Brad didn’t look all that happy to see him, but David knew Brad just expressed his feelings differently than others. He was sure Brad thought of him just as much as a friend as David himself thought of Brad. “We were just talking about you.”
Brad paused, and pointed at himself. “Me? You were talking about me? Shit this can’t be good.”
“Not willingly!” Ian shouted after him.
David beamed. “We were actually just talking about how the two of us are going to be moving-”
Before David knew it, Brad had crossed the room and was glaring, very threateningly, at him. “We are not doing anything together.”
Then he was gone, and so was Ian, and shit, David was late for the meeting.
It was 4pm on a Friday afternoon when Brad showed up at David’s doorstep with a single suitcase.
“Brad!” David moved forward to embrace him, but Brad held up a hand.
“Don’t touch me. That’s the first rule. Second, no one finds out that I’m here.”
David laughed. “Of course, of course. Come in, make yourself at home. No one will know a thing. Except for the guests, right?”
Brad froze. “Guests? What guests?”
“The party guests, obviously! Did you not get my text message? You were supposed to bring the pizza. Oh well, I can order it on short notice, it’ll be a little late but-”
“David. What guests. Who did you invite.”
If David wasn’t mistaken, Brad sounded excited about the prospect of a party. “Oh, I just sent an email around to the office, told them to stop by at around 6. A lot of them said they were gonna be out of town though, I wonder what that’s about….”
Now Brad was striding around the room, shutting all the blinds. “ The entire office. You have got to be kidding me. This is bad, even for you David. Who’s coming?” He peered out the window at the surprisingly quiet street below.
“Well, I actually only got one RSVP, from Jo.”
Brad let out a sound that could only be described as agony to David. “Jo? David are you insane?”
“Well,” David laughed, a little nervously, “this was all her idea, remember? Seems fitting, and I know it may be a bit awkward since she is technically both our ex-employees, but she’s nice enough…”
“Nice enough? Shit shit shit shit shit shit fucking shit.”
David had never seen Brad like this before. “Look, Brad, I’m sorry, I’m sure I can just tell her the party’s cancelled and-”
“No.” Brad was stood in the middle of the hallway, looking almost… sad? “It’s too late, she already knows. Fuck!” He spun on his heel and stalked off in the direction of the kitchen.
Just then, the doorbell rang.
“Oh!” David called after Brad, “I forgot to mention, she said she might be a little early.”
“Now this, I gotta see.”
Those were Jo’s first words as she stepped in the door.
“Hey Jo,” David beamed, “How are you?”
She peered around him. David figured she must be intimidated by his masculinity and hosting prowess, which is why she was acting like he was invisible.
Suddenly, a voice from behind them. “Jo.”
David spun around to see Brad leaning against the kitchen doorframe, calm and collected as ever, with no sign of his previous outburst showing on his face.
Jo smirked. “Aww, Brad, is this your little mousey housey?”
Now David was mildly offended.
“It’s not that small,” he said. “I’m a busy man, and my living space reflects that, no need to be rude Jo.” Both Jo and Brad ignored him, so he continued. “You know, I will not allow myself to be emasculated in my own - hold on, are you gonna start doing the dancing, trying to eat each other thing again?”
“Bold of you to show your face around here, Jo,” Brad said.
“Why, you think I’m scared?” Jo spat. “I’m not scared of you or of Zack. So what if he took advantage of me once? I’m a shark. It won’t happen again.”
Brad shook his head. He looked almost sad again. “A shark who has allowed herself to fall into a trap. No one knows what you did except for me and my brother. And David, if I let him.”
Brad nodded towards David, and David felt the sense of missing out on something profoundly important.
“I can deal with Zack,” Jo snarled. “I don’t need your help with that. And I know you wouldn’t dare report me. You said it yourself. The stocks would tank. And you don’t want anyone to kill your pig. ”
David felt it important that he intervene. “What pig? Look, guys, can we just calm down?” He was frustrated. “I rented a movie,” he said in a singsong voice, along with some cheerful finger guns.
“David, shut up. Jo, you and I both know you can’t deal with Zack alone. I think you had an ulterior motive coming here tonight. I think you need my help.” Brad leaned back, smiling.
“Like I ever would. The only way you would be able to help me is if you. Oh. Oh. ”
Once again, David was feeling left out. Jo was staring at Brad in horror.
Jo continued, realization growing on her face. “You want to take the fall for me. You’re so desperate, so weak , that you would give up everything to protect this game.”
Brad’s only response was to tilt his head, but Jo must have seen something that David didn’t, because she continued.
“It all makes sense now. But the question is, who are you actually doing it for? The game? Or for me.”