By Tim Mead
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
Ben got a call at work about 11:30 on Monday from Toby, who was phoning to tell him he and Bruce had made it back to Colby safely.
"Don't plan to fix supper this evening, Ben. I'll order in pizza and we can talk about our weekends, okay?"
Although he wasn't eager to face Toby he could only agree.
The two ate their pizza side by side at the bar in the kitchen, legs touching companionably.
Toby at the last bite, finished his Pepsi, and used his napkin.
"Okay, big guy. Wanna tell me what's wrong?"
"Who said there was anything wrong?"
"Don't play games with me, Ben. I know you've got something on your mind, and you're obviously not happy with it."
Ben sighed and gave Toby a weak smile. "Okay, let's throw out the trash and put these plates in the machine. You want some ice cream or something?"
When they were sitting on either end of the sofa, turned to face each other, Mr. Tibbs jumped up and nestled against Toby, who began to stroke him.
"Now," he said, "take a deep breath and tell me."
Ben took the deep breath. "It's not that easy, Tobe."
"Then I'll just sit here and wait. You obviously need to spill it. I've never said it in so many words, but I think you know I love you. I haven't spent all this time here just for the sex, though it's been sweet. You can spill it when you're ready."
`He doesn't have any idea how much that hurts,' Ben thought.
"Okay, this isn't the best time to say this, either, but you just told me you loved me. You have to believe I love you, too."
"No buts about it. I realize now how much you've come to mean to me in the last few months."
"I should be pretty fuckin' happy to hear you say that, but somehow I'm worried."
"You've seen pictures of Kris Anders. You know he's gay."
Toby bit his lower lip and nodded.
"He's a nice guy, a good boss. And I can't help it that I've always found him hot."
Toby was looking him steadily in the eye.
"Oh, shit, Toby. Here's what happened."
He told Toby the whole story, about the erections during the working lunches, about Anders' invitation for the previous afternoon, and in a somewhat edited version what happened at Anders' condo.
"And we never kissed, Toby. There was nothing romantic. It was just sex."
Toby was quiet when Ben finished his narrative, idly stroking the cat.
Finally, he looked at Ben once more and said, "So let me get this straight. You two had hot sex in bed and then blew each other in the shower. And then you agreed it didn't mean anything and you'd never do it again?"
"Yeah. I know it sounds strange, but that's what happened."
"You really think you and Anders aren't gonna do it again?"
"That's what you need to understand, babe. I was blindsided when he came on to me yesterday. I won't deny it was pretty good as sex goes. But since then, thinking back over it, I've realized that I have no desire to do that again. With Kris or with anybody else. Except you. Here I've had this great guy in my life, a guy who's not only beautiful but is sweet and wise as well. And I've taken him for granted. I promise you I won't do that any more. I do love you, Tobe. And I hope you'll forgive me. I should have knocked Kris on his ass."
Toby's mouth turned up just a little at the corners. "Well, he is your boss. But you could have just said no."
"I know that, honestly. I wish to God I had!"
Toby picked up Tibbs and hugged him against his chest, an action which apparently offended the cat's dignity, for he yeowled and jumped off the sofa.
"I have to tell you, Ben, this hurts. It'll be a while before I quit having visions of you and that other hot stud all tangled up together."
"Just remember the person I want to be tangled up with is you."
"Yeah, from day to day." He raised an eyebrow. "But how do I know you and Anders won't need to remind yourselves of how little you care about each other once in a while?"
"You don't know, of course. But I hope you'll give me a chance to show you that you're the man. The only man I want."
"Easier said than done."
"Toby, I wasn't going to bring this up. But not long after we met you urged me to forgive Trent. The situations were different in that Trent and I were pretty formally committed to each other. Five years of living together attested to that. You and I were new together and hadn't said anything about the long haul. But you were right. It was mean of me to hold a grudge against him for so long. Now I realize how a momentary lapse can hurt a person you really love. So I guess I'm asking you to forgive me."
"You and Trent did have a kind of understanding that you and I don't have, I guess. We've never talked about commitment, though I'd hoped we were moving in that direction. So I suppose I have less reason to be angry than you did with Trent. But it still hurts."
"I'm so sorry."
"Well, you're right to remind me of what I told you about forgiveness. I guess I just need some time to think about everything."
Ben scooted across the sofa and put a hand on each of Toby's shoulders. "Take all the time you need. Just try to forgive me. Just don't say I've ruined everything between us."
Toby hugged Ben. It was a long one. Ben loved the smell of the younger man's hair and felt a pang that he might not experience that smell again for a while – or ever.
"So where do we go from here?" he asked.
"I think I just need to stay across the street for a while and sort things out. I need to be away from you for a while. Do you understand?"
"If that's what you need, of course."
Soon after that Toby left to go back across the street.
By Wednesday Mr. Tibbs seemed restless and Ben missed Toby more than he could have imagined. That evening he called Trent's number, but he got the answering machine. He left a message asking Trent to call him when he could. He knew Trent had the house phone number, but he left his cell phone and work numbers on Trent's machine.
The next afternoon Trent called Ben at work.
"Hey, what's up, Benjy? Your message sounded pretty urgent."
"Trent, thanks for calling. Could you get away for supper any time soon? I don't have much of a lunch period, and I need to say something to you – and maybe to ask your advice."
"Whoa, that sounds heavy. I'll be between shifts and would be free tomorrow evening. Wanna come here? I could throw something together. It wouldn't be as good as that lunch at Adrian's, for sure."
"I don't want you to go to that trouble."
"Come on, Ben. You haven't seen where I live, and `what's his name' won't be here."
Ben chuckled. "How are things going between you and the twink?"
"He's applied to three grad schools, all out of state. And we've begun the process of disengaging. I think he may be as relieved as I am."
"I'm glad that's working out for you. But if you'll give me directions and tell me when to be there, I'll be happy to have another of your meals."
Trent suggested that 7:00 would give Ben time to get home, change into something casual, and then make the drive to Sylvania.
"Can I bring something?"
"Yeah, bring a red. I think it'll have to be spaghetti `cause all I have in the freezer is ground round. Now, my break is almost over. Gotta run. See you tomorrow, Ben."
"Thanks, Trent. Later."
As Ben got in the Taurus to set out for Trent's apartment, he decided he'd better run it through a car wash that weekend, for it had a lot of salt on it from the last snowstorm.
`Or,' he thought, `it would be nice to have a new one.'
He was glad he didn't live in suburban Toledo as he fought the evening traffic in Sylvania. Trent's directions had been clear enough, however, and, though progress was slow, he had no trouble finding Trent's place.
It was in a 1980's vintage building, not elegant and expensive like the building where Kris lived, but pleasant enough.
Trent hugged him enthusiastically and gave him a peck on the lips.
"I'm glad you came, Benjy."
"Thanks, Trent. It's good of you to have me, especially on such short notice." He handed his host the two bottles of wine he'd brought. "Here's one to drink tonight and one for your wine rack."
"We could drink them both tonight and you could stay over. Breck won't be around."
"You forget that I need to be at work, in my work duds, at 9:00 tomorrow in Colby."
"Yeah, I know. Just wishful thinking. My bad!"
When Trent actually looked at the wine Ben had brought, he exclaimed, "Oh, my bolognaise sauce doesn't deserve a wine this good!"
"Well, bud, maybe you do."
Trent set down the bottle he was holding and hugged Ben again.
"It's so great to have you here."
"Thanks for having me."
Ben didn't have to fix the salad this time. Trent had everything ready.
"You want to have a glass of wine and something to nibble on before we eat?"
"Your table looks great, the sauce smells heavenly, and I'm starved. I vote we eat now."
"Good. And whatever is on your mind we can talk about afterwards."
For dessert Trent had actually made tiramisu, and it was better than any Ben had ever had in a restaurant or brought home from a store. Despite having full plates of spaghetti, they both had second helpings of the dessert, along with espresso from a fancy little machine on Trent's kitchen counter.
Afterwards they sat in the living room.
"Trent, I think you're an even better cook now than you used to be."
"Well, you're sweet to say so. Breck just wants meat and potatoes, so I haven't had anyone around who appreciates my efforts. But I still do take Gourmet and Bon Appetit. He set down his cup and saucer. "Now, why are you really here? I'm sure it wasn't just to get another of my meals."
"I'm here primarily to apologize."
"You've already done that. At Adrian's."
"Yeah, but this is a lot more heartfelt. I am really sorry I held a grudge against you for so long. What we had was good, and if I hadn't been such a self-righteous prick, we might still have it."
Tears came to Trent's eyes. "I'm sorry, but I have to agree with you. But, Benjy, something's happened since our lunch at Nelly's, hasn't it?"
"Yeah. You met Toby that day?"
"How could I forget? He's adorable. And you two are more than just, as you put it, "good friends."
"Uh huh. Or we were."
"So there's trouble. And, let me guess, it's your doing."
"Okay, tell me about it"
So Ben did. All the details. More explicitly than he'd told Toby. Trent listened without interrupting.
When Ben had finished, he wiggled his eyebrows and said, "What a hot story! But what you and your boss did was really a one-time thing?"
"And you think he believes that, too?"
"And you think you and he won't be tempted to dance that dance again?"
"I don't know about him, but I know for sure I won't. At least if Toby forgives me."
"So now the shoe's on the other foot. You've done a bad, and you're sorry, and your lover's hurt and staying away from you."
Ben looked at the floor. "Yes, Trent, that's the situation." Then he looked up. "And that's why I wanted to come here and apologize as sincerely as I know how for acting the way I did that day – and ever since. You slipped up. But so did I. I was as responsible as you for throwing away what we had."
"And you're hoping desperately that Toby sees that?"
"When did you get to be so wise?"
"Bitter experience, babe." He hesitated. "Ben, I've got to ask this. Are you, uh, did you come here just to apologize?"
"That primarily, and I just needed a sympathetic ear and maybe some advice."
Trent looked disappointed. "Oh. Okay."
"No, wait, did I say something wrong?"
Trent's smile was a faint one. "I guess I'd hoped for a minute after your apology that maybe you wanted us to get back together."
"Jeez, Trent. I can't imagine why you'd want me back."
"You know, Moss, sometimes you can be pretty thick!"
"I'm sorry. Obviously I'm insensitive." He took a deep breath and blew it out between pursed lips. "Trent. You don't know how glad I am to have my friend again. But I'm not looking to go back to the way things were. We're not the same people we were. And I know that I love Toby now . . . that I want to make a life with him if he'll have me."
"I thought that's the way things were. But you can't blame a guy for hoping."
Ben went to the sofa where Trent was sitting, sat beside him, and put his arm around him. "No, I can't. And I hope you and I will always be good friends, Trent. I've really missed you. I'm so glad you're back in my life."
Trent put his arms around Ben and kissed his cheek. "Okay, Benjy, best friends, but not lovers. I'll take that if it's all I can get."
"I shouldn't have dumped all this on you. I really did come because I felt this great urge to tell you I was sorry about being so rigid and unforgiving."
"Apology made and accepted already. Now, about Toby . . ."
"Didn't you tell me he is the one who urged you to get back in touch with me, to forgive me for ruining what we had?"
"Well, he must be a pretty intelligent guy."
Ben smiled. "I never would have thought a computer geek, however hunky, would be as insightful and sensitive as Toby is."
"Oh, I love that smile. You really do care for him, don't you?"
"I'm just beginning to realize how much. Anyway, what were you going to say about him?"
"Oh, just that I'll bet if you're patient and don't push, he'll come around. He'll see that what he told you about being forgiving applies to him as much as it did to you. Don't you think?"
Ben nodded. After a pause, he said, "I hope to hell you're right, babe."
"Ooohh, you called me `babe'."
"That's best friend babe, not lover babe, okay?"
Trent smiled. "Yes, that's great."
"Want more coffee?"
"No, it'll keep me awake all night, and I don't need that. I'm having enough trouble sleeping already."
"It's the empty bed."
Ben blushed. "I suppose you're right. Now, I've got to get back." He stood. "Trent, I'm so glad I called you. Thanks for dinner, man, and for all the good advice. And thanks for being a friend."
Trent hugged Ben and put his head on Ben's shoulder for a minute. "Best friends, Ben. Always. Not lovers. I accept that. But best friends."
Ben kissed the top of his head.
"And, like I said, I'll bet Toby comes around. He seems like he's pretty wise. And he'd be foolish to lose you over what happened between you and your boss." He looked up at Ben, his eyes boring into Ben's. "So long as you and the boss man are smart enough to keep your hands off each other."
Ben smiled. "I guarantee that won't be a problem. If he comes on to me again, I'll deck him. And if I feel myself throwing wood when I'm in his office, I'll just remember what all this has done to my relationship with Tobe."
"Atta boy! Now, call me! I want to know how all this plays out."
"You got it." They had a friendly kiss, and Ben left.
As he drove back to Colby, he felt better than he had in days.
The next day Kris asked Ben to come into his office.
"What's up, Kris?"
"I just wanted to tell you that Phil Massini has left us."
"That was pretty sudden, wasn't it?"
"Not as sudden as you think."
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"This is highly confidential, of course, but as second in charge of this department, I'm making the decision that you should know."
"You know, I hope, that I'll be discreet."
"Of course. So here's what happened. When Sharon and I got together just after I arrived here and before she left, she gave me a folder on Massini. It seems that he'd been coming on to two of the women in the office and they'd complained, wanted to file sexual harassment charges against him."
"Pity they didn't."
"Well, he was very apologetic, said it wouldn't happen again, and pleaded with Sharon to try to quash it. Pointed out that he had a family and two kids, and all that stuff. So Sharon extracted from him a promise to walk the straight and narrow. And if there was ever a hint that he'd stepped out of line again, he'd be expected to resign on the spot."
"Sharon got the women to agree to that?"
"Apparently. But earlier this week, one of those same gals came to me and said it had been happening again. She said if Massini wasn't out of here at once, she and the other woman would file charges against him. I confronted him, and rather than face charges, he's gone."
"Oh, I agree. He had a few choice words to say about queers before he left. I really feel sorry for that guy's wife and kids."
"So, Mr. Moss, will you set in motion the search for Massini's replacement?
"Oh, yeah, Mr. Anders, gladly!"
Ben realized as he walked back to his cubicle that he'd not thrown wood during any of his meetings with Kris that week.
Ben had made his confession to Toby on Monday night. Ben's dinner at Trent's had been on Thursday of that week. The silence from across the street seemed increasingly ominous as each day passed. Ben thought that Toby was undoubtedly busy and that perhaps he'd come over on Saturday. But there was no Toby.
On Sunday afternoon as he was working at the computer the phone rang.
"Ben, it's Toby. Are you busy? Can I come over?"
"Since when did you need to call first? You won't need your key. The door's unlocked."
Toby said, "I might have bad news, you know."
"Toby, whatever you want to say to me, you have got to know you're a part of this household. So come, please."
In less than two minutes they met in the hall. Toby looked very serious.
"Sit down, please. Want a beer or a glass of wine? Have you had lunch? Can I get you anything?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Ben, quit twittering and sit down."
Ben sat. Mr. Tibbs had already made himself comfortable in Toby's lap.
"I got an interesting phone call yesterday," Toby said, still looking very serious.
"Yes, from your ex, of all people."
`Oh, god! What if Trent pissed Toby off?' Ben wondered.
"Yep. He reamed me a new one."
"Oh, Toby, I'm so sorry, I didn't. . ."
Toby held up his hand, palm outward, signaling Ben to stop.
He grinned. "I got the reaming out I deserved. I guess you must have told Trent what I said to you last fall about forgiveness and how carrying a grudge can eat away at you, and not spoiling a good thing by being too rigid."
"Yes, I'm afraid I did. I went over there to tell him how really sorry I am that I did that."
"Yeah, so he told me. He said that you were a pretty special person and that if I didn't get over my sulk pretty quickly, he was gonna come over here and kick my ass."
Ben couldn't help grinning at the thought of the two little guys scrapping.
"He said that, did he?"
"Yes, and a lot more. And when he finally shut up, I explained to him that he was right on all counts, that I just hadn't had a chance to get over here and tell you about it."
"You did? He was? I mean. . ."
Toby lifted Mr. Tibbs off his lap and set him on the floor. The cat sat there as if to see what was going to happen next.
Toby came to Ben, sat on his lap, and put his arms around him.
Ben looked into those dark eyes and, as usual, practically melted.
Mr. Tibbs left the room.
"Trent's name for you was `Benjy,' wasn't it?"
"Well, it's cute. But if that's his special name, I won't use it. So anyway, Ben, I had a really busy week, including a special all-day workshop I had to attend yesterday, so I just haven't had a chance to get over here and tell you that I love you and that I trust you and that I'm not mad at you for what happened between you and your boss."
Ben wasn't the weepy sort. He couldn't remember how long it had been since he'd cried. But he found himself eagerly kissing the man on his lap as tears streamed down his cheeks.
That night after they had gotten into bed and turned off the bedside lamp, Toby said, "Ben there is just one thing."
"What's that, tiger?"
"I hope you'll understand. I'm not doing this to punish you or anything."
"Well, I'm not sure why, but the lock on the back door is still in place. I just need a little more time, okay?"
"As much as you need, lover."
To be concluded.
If you'd like to write me about this story, please do c/o firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim