by Brian Clarey
Frank Brooks grabbed Brad Newton around the waist and pulled him close. Newton’s fingers walked across his buddy’s shoulders and came to rest in a loose embrace. Together they released the tension that had built up since Monday, when the US Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in support of states’ marriage amendments, indirectly nullifying the bigotry enshrined in our own state’s constitution since 2012.
Up there, in Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen’s office suite — where they’ve spent way too much time lately — they were about to make history.
I wasn’t supposed to be there. Or maybe I was.
I generally avoid the big media scrums, and the first gay wedding in the county certainly qualified as one. The News & Record had been flooding the zone for days on this one, zeroing in on Frank and Brad. I think they had five reporters in the building last night. The TV crews had taken up all the free parking spots both inside and outside the building. Even John Hammer was there, in a vintage Rhinoceros Times denim shirt tucked smartly into his khakis.
I had planned to spend the day enmeshed in the more mundane tasks of the newspaper business, which is why I had paint on my hands when I stepped into the room.
I was on my way home. But I was looking at Facebook on the drive — at a red light, I’m pretty sure — and saw that Frank and Brad had been called back to Thigpen’s office after a federal judge in Asheville made the call.
And though as a reporter I planned to sit this one out, I definitely wanted to be there to see my friends get hitched.
I met them more than a decade ago, through the restaurant business — which in this town is one of the strongest networks there is. I had taken a job at Drew and Mary Lacklen’s Mosaic restaurant, which at the time was a major upgrade to my career.
Frank, an old-school Bert’s Seafood Grille employee, had come back to waiting tables after his bakery succumbed to the economy’s post-9/11 uncertainties.
It was a tough time for him, but man: Frank was a great goddam waiter.
Brad came in every night towards the end of the shift to wait for his man and take him home.
I was always struck by the tenderness of that seemingly mundane act. It’s the kind of thing you do only for the people you truly love.
That was a long time ago, more than a decade; the guys are still together and, judging by their Facebook posts and Nicole Crews’ column, having a pretty good run. They are one of the city’s most fabulous couples, sometimes operating under the name Frankenbrad because they are rarely seen apart.
Frank is selling real estate now. Killing it. Brad’s overcome some career hurdles of his own, no doubt aided by the constant and unwavering support of his partner.
You can tell they love each other by the way they just stand there together in moments like that one, arm in arm as they signed the marriage certificate at the county clerk’s office, a great event for the 10 p.m. news, but also a moment for the state to recognize that these guys are together, and in it for the long haul.
They turned triumphantly for the cameras to applause and shutter-clicks, then hustled into a larger space in the office suite, where Chesley Kennedy awaited to perform the ceremony as, back at the counter, another thin roar accompanied the union of Ryan and Chris. The floodgates are open.
The stood together in matching deep-salmon rose boutonnieres, in the windowpane behind them the reflection of a dozen camera lenses. Frank welled up immediately — he’s the more sensitive one. Brad, always a rock against the current, held strong.
As the time for vows came, Brad finally broke down. It was during the forever promise, the part that goes, “until death parts us,” that his voice began to crack. Frank held Brad’s hands and guided him through the heavy stuff with a long, lingering look.
That’s what partners do.
After the rings came out and the deal was sealed, Ryan and Chris commenced their union in another corner of the room. Frankenbrad came over to watch, their first wedding as a married couple, Frank with his arm around Brad’s waist, Brad with his draped across his buddy’s shoulders.