A Writer's Romance

By Tim Mead

Chapter 1

This story is the second in my "Colby Trilogy."  It is set in Colby, the town where much of "Brody Comes Home" takes place.  Readers of that story will recognize some place names and a couple of the characters.  It is not necessary, however, to have read "Brody" in order to follow this story.  

The usual disclaimers apply.  Don't read this if for some legal reason you shouldn't.  Remember the work is under copyright and thus belongs to me.  No reposting without permission.

I must thank Drew Hunt and Mickey S. for all sorts of help, from inspired suggestions to the drudge work of editing.  And Ash Bradley has supplied lots of helpful background information about what it's like to work in county government.  Thanks, guys.  I couldn't have done it without your help. Love ya!  --Tim

`Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,' Ben thought, "creeps in this petty pace from day to day."

Wearily he threw his keys on the kitchen counter and went to his bedroom, where he changed from the clothes he'd been wearing at his day job in the county office building.  He put on an old sweatshirt and a pair of faded, worn jeans.

"Dammit, Tibbs, of all the places where you could flop around here, why do you always have to be in my computer chair?"  As usual, he planned to write a while before nuking something for his dinner.  He gently pushed the black feline off the chair in question.  Twitching the tip of his tail, Mr. Tibbs stalked a few paces away and turned to watch.

Ben sat down, switched on the pc, and brought up his current project, tentatively entitled Captivated on Captiva.  Just as he was putting his fingers to the keyboard, Mr. Tibbs jumped into his lap, made a complete circle and lay down.  "Sure you're comfortable?" Ben asked, stroking the cat's head.  Tibbs shut his eyes and began to purr.  "Okay, your majesty, now that you're happy, can I just get some work done?"  The cat saying nothing, Ben started once more to add to the chapter on the screen in front of him.  

The phone rang.

"Benjamin, it's Clark.  I've just had another phone call from Gavin Brooks at Romance Ink."

"What, Clark, no `hello'?  No `how are you'?"

He heard a small chuckle from the other end.  "I never thought the niceties meant much to you, Ben.  But let's do it your way. `Hello!'  `How are you?'"

"About the same as always.  Now what did Brooks want?"

"Two things, actually.  He says sales of Sanibel Sensations are, shall we say, sensational.  As you have reason to know from the nice checks you've been getting."

"That's number one.  I'm waiting."

"Actually that was just information. Number one is he wanted me to ask you yet again if you'd consider doing a personal appearance tour to plug the book.  Now, before you say anything, I know, I know.  You guard your privacy jealously, you don't want anyone to know that hit author D. K. Witherspoon is actually a quiet-living guy who works in a publicity office in some unknown place in the Middle West.  Though god knows why you insist on burying yourself in, where is it, Iowa?"

"You know very well it's Ohio.  And the answer is still no.  No way.  Emphatically not!  Got that?"

Clark's sigh was expressive even over the phone.

"Now, I'm sitting here with my fingers poised over the keyboard, so make item number 2 fast."

"Okay.  Gavin wanted to know how the sequel is coming.  And do you have a working title?  When will it be finished?"

"It would be coming along a lot faster if you'd get the hell off the phone and let me work.  I can't say when I'll have it ready for Brooks to see.  Depends on how many interruptions like this one I get.  And I'm not telling anyone the working title yet. Next thing I know, Romance Ink will be putting ads for it in all the usual places, and I'll be stuck with a title I may not want. Assuming I finish it, that is."

"Wash your mouth out with soap, boy!  Don't even think about not finishing it.  Just think of all the money it will make."

"Yeah, money for Romance Ink.  And for you, you bloodsucker."

Clark's chuckle was almost merry.  "I know you don't mean that.  You know I only take the standard agent's share.  And don't forget that you're being well remunerated for your talent."

"It's fucking hard work.  So hard you gave up writing and sold out to become a professional leech."

"That's agent!" Clark said with some heat.

"Yeah, yeah.  So, how's your life?"

"Oh, I've met the sweetest guy.  I think this may be the real thing."

"Seems to me I've heard that before."

"Oh, but this one's different.  He's adorable.  He's got the cutest big brown eyes.  And he knows just how to make me scream."

"All that takes is getting you on your back with your legs in the air."

"Oh, that's cruel.  I'm not a total slut."

"'Total' being the operative word."

"Ha bloody ha, as the Brits say.  Well, I suppose I shouldn't interrupt the genius at work any longer.  So I'm to tell Gavin the book is going along beautifully, you aren't sure about the title yet but should be soon, and regretfully the answer to the tour is still no?"

"Amazing.  You got it right.  Maybe you earn your cut some days after all.  Isn't it time for you to scoot off to your over furnished flat and play tonsil hockey with your new cutie?"

"That's just what I'm about to do.  One last question before I go.  A personal one.  What about you, Ben?  Anybody new in your life?"


"You need to get out more.  Find somebody.  Although if I had Trent wanting to get back together with me, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"Goodbye, Clark."

"Think about it.  You need a playmate.  Bye, genius."

When Ben put down the phone, Mr. Tibbs opened his eyes and blinked.

"Am I disturbing you, sire?  Sure you're comfortable?"

He had typed only a sentence or two when the phone rang again.  He tried, not too successfully, to stifle his annoyance when he answered it.

"Hey Shakespeare, what's griping your ass?"

"Hey yourself, brother.  I just got off the phone with my agent.  I thought maybe he'd called back to hassle me some more.  How are things with you guys?"

"We're okay, thanks.  Look, I can tell you're in composing mode or whatever, so I'll make this short.  Besides, we can visit later.  I've got three tickets for the game there this weekend.  Marcia is going to Dayton to see her mother, so I thought Hal and I would bunk in with you.  You can use the third ticket.  We'll show up there in time for lunch Saturday and leave after breakfast Sunday.  Don't plan anything special for Saturday night. We'll just kick back, maybe watch a flick, get caught up. You know, just us guys.  I assume all that's okay with you?  Or did you have something planned?"

`As if that would have mattered,' Ben thought.  "No, Chris, come ahead.  I'll be happy to see you and Hal, though I may not go to the game with you guys."

"Of course you will.  You need to get out more.  You're becoming a hermit since you dumped Trent."

"I don't think dumped is exactly the word I'd choose."

"Well, whatever, you kicked him out.  And you've been miserable since.  What's it been, two years now?  So, we can continue our visit on Saturday, right?"

"You mean this Saturday, like day after tomorrow?"

"This is Thursday, bro, so day after tomorrow is Saturday."

Ben had heard Chris and Marcia complain about what a picky eater Hal was.  He was about to ask what sort of food to have on hand when Chris abruptly said goodbye and hung up.

And there went the weekend, the only time of the week when he could put together long, uninterrupted hours for writing. Evenings after work he could crank out the modern-day romance novels that brought in surprisingly good money.  But he'd been using his weekends to write a second "serious" novel.  Perhaps he was foolish to work on number two when he hadn't been able to find a publisher for the first one.  Certainly more and more gay fiction was being published these days, and Clark had said it was just a matter of finding the right matchup between book and publisher.  Of course Clark had gone on to say that maybe the reason why no one had snatched it up was because it was so depressing, a story about a gay guy in a series of unsatisfactory relationships.  Ben argued that was the reality of life for many, maybe most, gay men these days, but Clark had countered that maybe gay men didn't want to see themselves in the books they paid twenty bucks for.  

"But that's what fiction, good fiction's always done, hold the mirror up to reality and all that."

"Sweetie, don't kid yourself.  You're a really good romance writer.  The gay Faulkner you're not."

Mr. Tibbs got up, stretched, arched his back, turned and looked at Ben.  "Yeow."

"Yeah, I guess it is that time."

Anticipating his move, the cat jumped to the floor and headed for the kitchen just before Ben stood up and followed him.

A while later, once Tibbs had been fed, Ben sat in his living room with a glass of good shiraz, one of the perks of being a successful novelist, and decided he was going to press on with This Petty Pace, his second "serious" novel, his second "gay" novel.  It was the great irony of his life that he could write straight romances, highly popular ones at that, when he'd had sex with a woman precisely twice, the result of getting drunk at a party when he was an undergraduate.  They'd both been hammered when they did it the first time, and they did it a second time to see what they'd missed by being drunk the first time.  They both decided they hadn't missed much.

When he'd finished the wine he pulled a Stouffer's stuffed pepper from the freezer and zapped it.  He made a cup of instant coffee and had a brownie from the supermarket's bakery section for dessert.  There was a time when he would have sneered at instant coffee, preferring as Trent had taught him, to grind the beans and use his Krups coffee maker.  Now Folger's in a bag like a teabag was more convenient and it provided the necessary caffeine.

He worked at the computer on the Captiva story until nearly eleven.  Mr. Tibbs, stomach full, opted to snooze under the coffee table in the living room.  Ben saved what he'd written and checked his email.  There was another of Trent Williams' communications, a mixture of chitchat about his life and expressions of contrition.  `Too late for that, buddy,' he thought as he deleted the message.

Saturday morning he and Mr. Tibbs were up early.  He fed the cat and allowed himself the luxury of brewed coffee, which he had with an English muffin and orange marmalade.  He was at the supermarket when it opened at 8:00.  He had to get something for lunch that day and breakfast the next.  

`You should have asked Chris what he and Hal eat for breakfast.  For that matter, you should have asked what Hal might want for lunch.'

As he pushed his cart around the store, he passed a teenager stocking shelves.  He startled the young man by asking brusquely, "What do you kids eat?"


"What are you gonna have for lunch?"

"Oh, uh, I dunno.  I'll probably go across the street to McDonald's."

"What do you like for breakfast?"

The kid looked at him as if he were crazy.

"Uh, different things.  Honey Nut Cheerios, bagels, Pop Tarts.  Oh, yeah, and lots of o.j."

"Oh!  Okay, thanks."  

Looking mystified, the teen watched as Ben pushed his cart down the aisle.  

He went back to the juice department and got a half-gallon of orange juice.  Then he went to the breakfast aisle and picked up cereal and Pop Tarts.  He was perplexed by the variety available, so he blindly chose a couple of packages.  In the bread aisle he got bagels and marmalade.  He knew there was butter in the fridge.

After he checked out, he realized he'd gotten nothing for his brother's breakfast.  `Oh, he can damn well eat eggs and bacon with me, unless he wants Cheerios and Pop Tarts or a bagel.'

Driving down the block where he lived, Ben saw one of the grad students who lived across the street from him doing stretches. Ben couldn't help admiring the looks of the short, well-built guy, obviously of Asian or Polynesian ancestry.  In his early to mid twenties, wearing a tee, shorts, and some sort of no-doubt expensive running shoes, the young man smiled and waved as Ben turned into the driveway.  Ben nodded and pulled into his garage.

When he got out of the car and walked back to the trunk to get his groceries, the guy called "Good morning, Ben."

"Morning," Ben said, loud enough to be heard.  He couldn't remember whether this was Toby or his roommate Bruce. Whichever it was, he set off for his morning run.  Ben watched the buns twisting inside the shiny running shorts until they disappeared from sight before he carried the groceries into the house.

They were standing waist deep in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Suddenly Lance disappeared under the water.  Sophie gasped when the bottom of her bikini was yanked down around her thighs.  Lance popped up, facing her, a devilish look in his eyes.  Sophie gasped again as she felt his fingers stroking her under the water.  Not to be outdone, she cupped her hand under the huge bulge in his speedos.  He was erect, so erect that the skimpy bathing outfit was pushed away from his body.  She put her hand around the turgid member and nearly gasped again.  She could barely close her fingers around it.

"I think I've had enough swimming.  This water's too warm to be refreshing.  Let's go to my room.  Perhaps we could order up cocktails?"

Lance stroked her again, then pulled up her bikini, taking a lot of time to make sure it was properly positioned, rubbing her in front and behind, smoothing it out.  

"The bar in my room is well stocked.  I'm sure I could supply whatever you want."

"Whatever?"  Her expression was part smile, part pout.  "Perhaps," she said.

Ben was annoyed when the doorbell rang on Saturday morning.  A look at the clock on his computer showed that it was 11:30. After the call from his agent on Thursday he'd decided that, much as he'd like to work on This Petty Pace, he'd be smarter to work on Captiva, which took less concentration.  He'd been so engrossed in what he was writing that the morning had passed quickly.

It was, of course, Chris and Hal at the door.

He was surprised how much Hal had grown since the previous summer.  The fourteen-year old was now around 5'9" and would no doubt be taller than his father when he had all his growth.  He was thin, all arms and legs, coltish.  His voice was much deeper than Ben remembered, too.  Hal reminded Ben of someone, but he couldn't think who.  

Although Chris had grabbed his younger brother into a hug, Hal merely offered to shake hands.  Then he dropped to the floor to greet Mr. Tibbs who had come from the study to see what the commotion was all about.  When Tibbs saw Hal sitting cross-legged he promptly climbed into his lap.  Soon afterward, Hal and the cat disappeared into the guest bedroom.  Ben was surprised Mr. Tibbs had taken up so promptly with the teen.  Hal had only been there once before, and that had been over a year ago when Chris and his son had used Ben's place when they were in the area to see a Tigers home game.

After a lunch of canned beef soup and French bread (Hal had peanut butter on the bread), they went to the game.  It was a beautiful northern Ohio October day, crisp enough for a sweater or sweatshirt, but sunny.  They decided to walk the half mile to the stadium instead of braving the gameday traffic.  

As they were walking across the stadium parking lot, a voice behind them said, "Hey, Ben."  They stopped and turned to see who it was.  Approaching them were the guys from across the street.

"It's good to see you at a game.  You stay at home a lot, don't you?"  This was said by the same one he'd seen that morning, the great-looking Asian boy with the fine ass. His companion, about 5'10", an inch taller than his friend, was thinner, with brown hair, brown eyes, glasses.  Ben thought he looked sensitive, perhaps artistic.  But for the life of him though he knew their names he couldn't remember which was which.

"Uh, hi guys.  Chris, these fellows are Bruce and Toby.  They live across the street.  Guys, my brother Chris Moss and his son, Hal."

"I'm Toby," the runner said, "and this is my roomie, Bruce."

`Oh, okay,' Ben thought.  `I won't forget again.'

They all shook hands.

Since the crowd was swirling around them, they weren't able to stand there and talk.

"Nice to meet you," Toby said as he and Bruce headed off for their seats.

Ben was surprised to find that he enjoyed the game.  His brother and nephew seemed to be having a great time.  It was a typical Saturday college game, with colorful bands and cheerleaders and a friendly though partisan crowd in the stands.  Hal put away a couple of chilidogs and a huge root beer less than an hour after he'd had lunch.

Chris noticed Ben looking at his son and grinned.  "The doc says so long as he takes his vitamins, we shouldn't worry too much at this stage about what he eats.  And he's obviously thriving on it.  It won't be long before he's bigger than I am."  Ben took note of the pride in his brother's voice and wondered how much he was missing by being gay.
Not that he'd had any choice.  Nevertheless, although he was doing just fine on his own, thank you, at times he wished he had a partner to come home to.  For the first time, moreover, he found himself thinking about having no progeny.  Hal was going through a difficult phase, but there was no doubt that he loved his dad.  Ben knew he'd never experience that kind of love.  Or any kind of love if his life kept going on the way it was, the way he'd made it since that day two years earlier when he'd discovered Trent in bed with the jock from the university.

After the game, which Colby State lost by a field goal, they went back to Ben's place where they used the facilities and relaxed for a while.  Hal asked if he could be excused to go into the guest room (where he and his dad would use the two single beds) and connect his X-Box to the TV.  

Later they got into Chris's Lexus and drove to the edge of town to Applebee's where they had to wait twenty minutes before being seated.  Hal ordered a steak with a baked potato.  It came with either veggies or a salad, but he refused either.  He ate the potatoes and picked at the steak.  Ben was about to ask if there was something wrong with the meat, but he decided not to.  

They all had warm apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and whipped cream.  Even Hal ate all of his dessert.  

At Ben's place once more, the men put a football game on television.  Michigan was playing Iowa at home.  Hal took his dad's laptop into the bedroom.  (It was understood that, while Hal and his parents knew that Ben was gay and didn't seem to have any problems with it, he would not be allowed to use Ben's computer.)

U of M had a big lead.  Chris used the remote to mute the television.

"So, little brother, how are things with you really?"

"Chris, you always ask me that and I always tell you the same thing.  I'm fine.  The books are selling well.  That is, the crappy ones, the romances.  Still no luck trying to find a publisher for my one decent novel."

"And yet you're working on another gay story?"


"Well, good luck with all that.  Now, you want to explain to me why you keep that job with the county and live like this when you're really packing in the dough from your best-sellers?"

"I wouldn't call them best sellers."

"You're quibbling, Shakespeare.  They're doing damn well.  Marcia was looking at the New York Times the other day and saw just how well your latest one is doing."

"Okay, okay!  Sanibel's selling even better than the earlier ones.  But the reading public is fickle.  They'll find another writer whose books they like better, and then mine will be as popular as a used Kleenex.  Or I'll hit a dry spot.  That happens to writers.  Sometimes we just can't get an idea that drives us to write.  So I'm living on what I make from the county job.  The rest I'm putting away.  You never know when you'll need to have something in reserve."

"Can't fault that thinking, I guess," Chris said.  "But what I really wanted to ask about is your lifestyle."

Ben bristled.  "What about it?"

"Relax, little brother.  You know I love you.  And you have to admit that I've not been the kind to tell you how to live your life."

"Until now?"  Ben asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Dammit, Ben.  Marcia and I care about you.  We hate to see you living like a hermit here, the way you have been doing since you dumped Trent."

"Why do you insist that I dumped him?  That makes it sound as if I were being capricious.  Or had found someone else."

"No, I didn't mean it that way."

"You better not have.  You know very well I found the bastard getting fucked by a baseball player from Colby State.  In our bed."

"Uh, Ben, you don't need to be so graphic, bro."

"You raised the topic, Chris.  You can't back down. Visualize it.  My lover, the guy I thought I was set with for life, with his ass in the air for a muscular twink ten years younger.  God knows how many times he'd done that when he thought he had the house to himself and I wouldn't be coming home until later."

"Do you know whether it had happened before?"

"No.  You think I was going to listen to Trent's pathetic explanations?  How could I believe anything he said?  He'd betrayed all the trust and faith I'd placed in him.  I really thought he and I were good for the long haul."

Chris raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.  "Okay, okay, Benny.  So you and Trent weren't meant to be.  But two years have passed, and you're shutting out the world.  That can't be good, bro.  You're practically a hermit.  Even that kid from across the street alluded to it."

"You know I hate it when you call me Benny."

"Jesus!  You'll do anything to change the subject, won't you?"

"Spoken like the shyster you are.  Are you accusing me of the fallacy of the red herring, counselor?"

Chris grinned.  "Yep.  How'd you learn about that from majoring in English?"

"We had to study logic, believe it or not.  And I loved it."

"I always said you should have gone to law school, like your brilliant big brother."

"And being constantly compared with my brilliant big brother was one of the reasons I didn't.  Now, about my life.  It's not really any of your business--"

"Wait a minute!  As cantankerous and exasperating as you are, I love you.  I actually think you may have something to offer the right partner.  So I don't like the idea that you're holing up here with Mr. Tibbs and your computer.  That's no life for a young guy of, uh, 32 is it?  You'd better find someone before you lose your looks."

"Bullshit.  Chris you are so full of it!  You're the one that got the looks and the charm.  I've been in your shadow forever. And if I had anything going for me, why would Trent have thrown away our five years together for some sack time with that twinky?"

"Maybe Trent is more of a bastard than I thought.  I admit I always liked him.  He wasn't good enough for my baby brother, but he was okay.  Or so I thought.  But seriously Chris, you can't pine away here forever.  You're a very successful author.  You should cash in on your celebrity and get out in the world.  That could be the perfect way for you to meet your Mr. Right."

Ben scowled.  "You haven't been talking with my agent, have you?"

"Clark?  No.  I've heard you mention him, but I've never talked with him."

"How about my publisher, Gavin Brooks?"

"I don't think I've ever even heard that name.  Why would I be talking with either of them?"

"Because they're both relentless.  They want D. K. Witherspoon to emerge from his reclusive lifestyle and go on a national tour to plug the upcoming book.  I thought for a minute one of them had called you and put you up to this visit."

Chris looked hurt.  "How could you think that?"  He paused.  "But worse things could happen, you know.  Than that national tour, I mean."

"Not so far as I'm concerned.  Sitting in bookstores and making nice-nice with people who want to gush over the crap I write. Being on television, answering inane questions from small town talk show hosts?  I'd rather pack it in, quit writing that damned schlock."

"It's a great cash cow, Ben.  You may as well milk it while you can."

Ben almost smiled.  "Yeah, I'll milk the cow, but I'm not going to be fucked by the bull."

Grinning in appreciation of Ben's attempt at humor, Chris asked, "Don't bite my head off for asking, but do you ever hear from Trent?"


"Not very forthcoming."

"Look, counselor, I'm not being cross examined, am I?"

"Of course not.  Where is Trent and what's he doing?"

"He's still a surgical nurse.  He must work somewhere around Sylvania, because that's where he lives now."

"Marcia and I always liked Trent, you know.  We thought you two were, uh, really good together."

"Fuck, Chris, you think I didn't?  I'm gonna have a drink.  You want something?"

"Whatever you're having."

Ben returned from the kitchen and handed his brother an old-fashioned glass with scotch on the rocks.

"Mmmmm.  Single malt.  I'm glad to see you aren't totally depriving yourself."

Ben sipped his scotch, which he took neat.  "Yeah.  So long as I'm prostituting myself I may as well enjoy some of the perks."

Hal, wearing flannel boxers and a tee from Cedar Point, wandered in.  "Uncle Ben, got anything to eat?"

"Well, bud, that depends on what you have in mind.  There are brownies from the supermarket in the can on top the fridge, and there's plenty of milk."

"Cool!"  He went into the kitchen,

A moment later Mr. Tibbs walked into the living room, looked around, and headed for the kitchen.

"Uncle Ben, can I give Tibbs some milk?"

"No, Hal, he's not supposed to have milk.  Is there water in his dish?"


"Well, he's had his dinner, so he's good for the night.  He doesn't get any exercise, and the vet says I have to watch that he doesn't get fat."

"Oh, okay."

Then they heard Hal commiserating with Tibbs in a low voice.

"Chris, would it be breaking any of your rules for Hal if I asked him just to call me Ben?  When he calls me Uncle Ben I feel like a box of rice."

Chris chuckled.  "I always think of that, too.  I can understand how you feel."  He took a sip of his scotch, shut his eyes and smiled.  "Nice."

Noticing that the game was over and talking heads were mouthing at each other on the muted television, Ben grabbed the remote and shut it off.

"You're not pissed with me, I hope," Chris said.

"Of course not.  I understand that you love me and worry about me.  But you've got to let me live my own life.  I know Trent says he's sorry, but talk is cheap.  And once burned, twice shy.  I'm not about to let him back into my life, and I still don't feel ready to even look for somebody new."

"How long's it been since you saw him?"

"Not since the day he moved out."

"You've never even let him explain?"

"Oh, he tried to explain at the time, said it was a momentary lapse, that the guy was drop dead gorgeous and came on to him."

"Was he?"

"Was who what?"

"Was the kid, the jock, uh, good looking?"

"Well, you have to remember that my first look at him was from behind.  So I can say he had muscles and a little ass.  But he grabbed his clothes, got dressed, and left while I was yelling at Trent.  I can't tell you what his face or his dick was like."

"I don't need quite that much detail, thanks.  Let's say he was gorgeous.  Weren't you ever tempted when you and Trent were together?

"Depends on what you mean by tempted.  A particularly sexy guy still gives me a hardon.  Like those guys from across the street you met this afternoon.  The little Asian is a real stud, and the other one's not bad.  But while I was with Trent I never seriously considered having sex with anybody else.  Now, if you don't mind, this is bringing back memories I'd sooner forget."

Hal, followed by Mr. Tibbs, came out of the kitchen.  "I'm going to bed now."  He looked at Chris.  "What time we getting up in the morning?"

"Oh, about 9:00, I suppose."

"Man, that early?"  His tone sounded as if he'd been told they were leaving at 5:00 AM.

"Yeah, `dood,' `fraid so," Chris said, grinning at him and standing up.  "Gimme a hug."

Hal and Chris exchanged hugs.  Then Hal turned toward Ben.  Happy to be included, Ben stood up and hugged his nephew. "It's good to have you here, bud."

"Thanks, Uncle Ben.  The game was great."



"Let's drop the Uncle stuff, okay?  I'd like it better if you'd just call me Ben."

"Uh, okay.  Goodnight guys."

Hal and his shadow went off toward the guest room.

"I wonder if Mr. Tibbs will sleep on Hal's bed."

"Tibbs sleeps wherever he wants to, I'm afraid.  Would that bother Hal?"

Chris grinned.  "What do you think?  The boy loves that cat, obviously."

"Well, it looks like Tibbs has adopted Hal.  Do you have any problem with the cat in the room?"


"I can grab him and put him in my room if you want.  Then if you keep your door closed, he can't get in."

"No, I think Hal would enjoy the company."

"Okay, then, no problem."  Ben continued to be surprised at Tibbs' sudden devotion to Hal.

The two men finished their whisky in companionable silence.

"After that drive, the game, and everything, this old guy's bushed.  I think I'll turn in."

"Yell if you need anything."

"We'll be fine."

The two brothers hugged.

"Ben, you know I love you, don't you?"

"Yeah, big brother, I know that.  You shouldn't worry about me.  My life is pretty quiet, but I think my writing's improved since Trent left.  Maybe a writer has to be something of a hermit.  At least now I don't have to explain to anyone why I spend an evening or a weekend at the computer.  Besides, this way I'm not leaving myself open for a repeat of the kind of hurt Trent caused me."

"You're not leaving yourself open for the kind of love you need, either.  Good night, Ben."

"'Night, Chris"

Sunday morning Ben was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and reading the paper with Mr. Tibbs draped over his feet when Hal padded in.  Hal wore his hair in that long 70's style that was beginning to be popular again, and he had a case of bed head. He still had on the flannel boxers, though the tee shirt had been shed at some point.

"Morning, Hal."

"Morning, Unc, that is, Ben."

"Want some coffee?"

"Yeah, but I can get it.  And is it all right if I get some o.j. first?"

"Sure, help yourself."

Ben put down the paper.  "You're up early."

The boy looked directly at him.  "Yeah, I couldn't sleep.  It's good, though, `cause Dad's in the shower.  He wants to start home after breakfast."

Ben realized what it was about Hal that had looked familiar to him yesterday.  It was like looking at a picture of himself when he was 14.  Same hair, eyes, build.  It was uncanny.  Chris was a tad shorter than his younger brother but much more muscular.  It wasn't just that he'd taken more trouble with his body, he'd inherited his build from their mother's side of the family.  Ben and Hal, however, had inherited the Moss genes.  Like Chris, they both had dirty blond hair and blue eyes, but they were both wirier, like Ben's dad, Hal's grandfather.

"I'd better start breakfast, then," Ben said.  "There's cereal and Pop Tarts in the pantry."

"What are you and Dad having?"

"I'm gonna make eggs and sausage and toast some English muffins."

"That sounds cool.  Can I have some, too?"

After breakfast Chris and Hal put their bags in their car.  There were hugs all around.  And then they left.

Back inside, Ben put the breakfast things in the dishwasher.

`I was put out when Chris called and more or less invited himself and Hal for the weekend, but it was good having them here. The house really seems empty now.'

He brushed his teeth and sat in front of his computer.  He flipped it on and let it boot up.  Then he brought up the chapter of This Petty Pace he'd been working on.

"Back to normal, huh, Mr. Tibbs?" he asked.

Then he realized that Tibbs wasn't there.  He couldn't remember seeing Tibbs since Hal and Chris left.  It was surprising how the cat had taken to Hal, practically ignoring Ben.  `So much for owning a cat,' he thought.  

"Tibbs, where are you?"  He got up and went into the living room to see if the feline had ensconced himself there.  No Tibbs. He checked the guest room, thinking that Tibbs had practically adopted Hal while he and his father were there.  No cat there.

Puzzled, Ben looked in every room.  Tibbs was gone!