A Writer's Romance

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.

 

Chapter 7




Ben saw Toby briefly the following Monday.

"How was the weekend in Kent?"

"Oh, it was great, thanks."

"Did you see that cute minister?"

"Yeah, he had the service Sunday.  His partner was there, too."

"You mean the guy Bruce knows about?"

"Yeah, the English prof."

"Is he as hot as the preacher?"

"Episcopalians call their ministers priests.  And no, he's cute, but not as hot as Father Max.  They're both about my size.  A little shorter, actually."  Toby grinned.

"How old are they?"

"Almost as ancient as you.  I'd say they're getting close to the big three oh.  Now, I'd better get on with my run.  See ya later, Ben."

Ben wondered whether Toby and his friend Ed had gotten up to anything, but he didn't ask.  It was none of his business after all.  Toby was always so sunny, so "up."  Ben knew nothing about the younger guy's sex life, but he couldn't help hoping he'd gotten his ashes hauled while he was in Kent.



*          *          *



At work applications for Sharon's job trickled in.  She had chosen not to involve herself with previewing and sorting the applications, so Ben, being the Deputy PIO, routinely went through all of them.  He was expected to coordinate with HR in setting up the screening and eventually the interview process.  The more letters and cv's he saw, the more he wished Sharon weren't leaving. Then one came in that looked more promising.



*          *          *



He'd begun to brood about his life.  Granted, he could work at the county office and then come home and work on those tacky damn commercial romances that made him a writing slut by bringing in so much money, and then work on the second "real" novel that would probably never be published.  Ironic: he was good at something he despised, probably not good enough at something he recognized as important, at something he felt compelled to do, at a labor he respected.  But work was anodyne, not life. . . .

Someone to love.  That's what he needed.  Life was about loving and being loved.  That he didn't have.  Apparently had never had.  Might never have.



*          *          *



Thanksgiving came and went, November passing into December.  Life continued as usual, creeping in its petty pace from day to day.  Since Toby raised the subject, Ben had thought often of his attitude toward Trent Williams.  He came to realize that Toby was right.  Trent was undoubtedly sorry for what he'd done, or he wouldn't continue to bombard Ben with apologies.  Ben had loved Trent at one time.  They'd been, he'd thought, two halves of a whole.  But Ben was wise enough to know you can't bathe twice in the same river.  There was no way he and Trent could ever recapture what they'd once had.  Wouldn't it be good, though, if they could be friends?  Perhaps not close friends.  Too much water under the bridge for that.  But at least former lovers who could wish each other well?  Why not?

Ben decided to invite Trent to meet him for lunch.  He felt guilty that he'd been so unforgiving for so long.  Perhaps it wasn't too late to apologize.  The question was where and when.  He didn't have a long lunch break at work, so it would need to be on a weekend.  And then of course, there was Trent's schedule at the hospital.  He'd also have to be careful in selecting the place.  They couldn't very well talk openly about their gay lives at your typical chain restaurant.  After thinking it over he decided to invite Trent to have lunch with him at Adrian's.  It wasn't a gay restaurant, but the proprietor was a prominent member of the Colby gay community.

The problem, as he discovered, was that Adrian's was open for lunch on weekdays but open only for dinner on Saturdays.  The solution seemed to be to invite Trent to meet him at Adrian's for a mid-day meal on a Sunday.  It would be expensive, but nothing Ben couldn't afford.

"Hello?"

That voice.  Ben's stomach knotted at the sound of it, a voice that for over five years had made him hard, caused him to take deep breaths.  A voice he hadn't heard in nearly two years, not since the day he'd told Trent not to call him anymore.

"Trent."

"Ben, is that you, babe?  I can't believe it!  After all this time.  Oh, this is so great!  You called me!"  Pause.  "But why?  Is something wrong?  Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Trent, I'm okay.  I'm calling, uh, well, oh, shit."

Trent chuckled.  "Why would you be calling me?  Did you get the novel published?"

Trent knew that Ben didn't think of the romances as novels.  They were just books.

"You sound so happy to hear from me, Trent.  I can't believe you haven't slammed the phone down already."

"If you'd read your mail and your email, big guy, you'd know I wouldn't do that.  But I am curious about why after all this time you've called me.  Are you sure everything's okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine.  I was just calling to apologize for being such a shit."

"I'm the shit!  I know how much I hurt you."

"Yeah, but two years is a long time to hold a grudge.  I thought maybe we could have lunch when it's convenient with you.  I'd like to tell you in person how sorry I am that I've ignored you for so long."

He heard sniffling on the other end of the line.

"Trent, you okay?"

"Yeah.  I'm just so happy.  I thought you were gonna hate me forever."

"I don't hate you.  But look, let's not talk about all that.  I've been thinking about our schedules.  Could you come to Colby for lunch this Sunday?"

"You're gonna cook?" Trent asked, incredulously.

Ben chuckled.  "No.  I wouldn't do that to you.  I'd like to take you to Sunday dinner at Adrian's if you're free."

"I'm off this weekend, believe it or not.  I'd love to come.  Do you want me to pick you up, or would you like to meet me there?"

"Let's meet there.  How about if I make a 2:00 reservation?"

"Adrian's is pretty expensive, Ben.  Sure that's what you want to do? "

"Yeah, I'll make sure we have a private table so we can catch up on our lives without having to worry about who might be listening."

"Good idea!  I hadn't thought of that.  And if the proprietor is there we can both ogle him."

"Adrian makes sure there's lots of eye candy on staff.  I'll call you if there's a change of plan, okay?"

"For sure!  Babe, it's so good to hear from you.  I can't wait until Sunday to see you!"

"Yeah, it's been too long.  I'm sorry."

"No, no, I'm the bad guy here.  I'm just so glad you're talking to me again."

Ben laughed.  "Okay, Trent.  See ya Sunday."

"Wonderful!  You know I've always loved you!  Bye."



*          *          *



Candidates for Sharon's job as PIO for Colby County were interviewed by the county administrator and by the appropriate persons in Human Resources.  But it was Ben's job to interview them from the perspective of the Public Information Office.  Phil Massini's application didn't even earn him an interview.  He blustered and said it was discrimination and that it was all Ben's fault.  Sharon took him into her office for a half an hour, and an apparently chastened Massini came out.  By mid-December two of the applicants had credentials impressive enough to bring them in for a first-hand look.  Both were women, and both adequately qualified.  Ben wasn't very enthusiastic about either, especially when he compared their personalities with Sharon.  This particular morning he sighed and wished, as he had before, that there were some way to persuade Sharon to stay on.  But the person to be interviewed that day, he admitted, did look promising.

The candidate du jour was male, 32, currently Deputy PIO in Shawnee County, southwest of Colby about 90 miles.  He'd been a journalism major at Miami University of Ohio and had gotten a master's in public relations at Ohio State.  He looked good on paper and he had excellent supporting letters.  

By the time Ben saw him, Kristian Anders had been interviewed all morning and over lunch.  Paul Rader, the county administrator himself, brought Anders to Ben's cubicle, made introductions, and quickly excused himself, saying he needed to get back to his office.

About Ben's height of 6'2" or an inch shorter, Anders had wavy reddish blond hair and green eyes.  His face was cleanly shaven.  He had a strong, slightly sharp nose and a cleft in his chin.  Ben's first thought was "Viking."  He was so good looking Ben didn't say anything for a moment.  Then, remembering his manners, he said, "I'll bet you're feeling wrung out from all the questions."

Anders' smile was brilliant.  "Yeah, I am, a little.  But answering questions is what this job's all about, so the trick is not to let `em get to you."

"More power to you.  What I was thinking is that you might like to get out of here and go somewhere we can kick back and talk.  A more casual setting.  Do you have more appointments after this one?"

"No, you're the last.  But I have a bunch of questions for you."

"Would you mind a short walk?"

"I'd love it.  Where are we going?"

"Where's your topcoat?"  Anders was wearing a dark grey suit that Ben guessed was from Brooks Brothers.  Quite a stretch if his Shawnee County counterpart made about the same amount he did.  But he'd need that kind of wardrobe if he got Sharon's job.

"I left it in the car, which is in one of the visitors' spots behind this building."

"Great, we'll pick it up."

After Anders had retrieved his coat, he asked, "Where are we going?"

"The Alumni Lounge at the Colby Union should be deserted at this time on a weekday.  We can be comfortable there and shouldn't be overheard or disturbed."

The Alumni Lounge looked like a London Gentlemen's club.  Shelves full of books that no one read lined the walls, several oriental rugs covered part of the hardwood floor, and there were leather wingback chairs and comfortable sofas in conversation clusters around the room.  Ben used his key card to get them in.  After they had taken off their coats and were sitting facing each other, a young man, obviously a Colby student, came in and asked if they wanted anything to drink.  Ben looked questioningly at his guest.

"No, thanks," Anders said.  "I just had lunch.  And I have to drive back home this afternoon."

"Nothing for me, thanks," Ben said.  The young man said he'd check back later just in case and left them alone in the big room.

"Mr. Anders, you said you had questions for me.  Would you like to begin?"

"First of all, please call me Kris, okay?"  He flashed the sexy smile again.

`Christ,' Ben thought, `with those looks he'll charm the pants off the media.  That's a big point in his favor.'

"Okay, Kris.  Fire away."  Ben expected to be asked about the workings of the office.  He was surprised by the first question.

"What's it like being a gay man and working here?"

"They told you I was gay?"

Grinning, Anders said, "Well, one of the women in HR `warned' me that you're gay."

Ben scratched his head, smiled, and said "Jesus.  Everybody in the county building knows I'm gay.  I've never made any bones about it."

Anders chuckled.  "No bones, huh?  Must be difficult."

"Methinks the candidate is a smartass," Ben said, grinning.  "Shall we say that I'm out to everyone around here?  And I'm not a predator.  I don't shit where I work.  I was in a relationship until two years ago, and I've been celibate since my ex and I broke up."

"Relax, Ben.  It is all right to call you Ben, I hope?"

"Of course."

"Although there's nothing in my CV or the supporting documents to say so, and I didn't mention it in any of the other interviews today, I'm gay, too.  So my question was innocent.  I really did want to know what it's like for a gay guy to work here."

"It's not bad.  There are a couple of people who hate my guts and the feeling's mutual.  But I don't know whether that's because I'm gay and they're assholes, or just personal antipathy.  But most of the time it's live and let live.  And the rest of the people I have to deal with are a decent group."

"So if I were offered the job, you think it would be okay to come out to the powers that be?"

"I think you'd have to.  As I'm sure you know, the chief of this department is in the spotlight much of the time.  Somebody's bound to find out.  If you haven't told them, it will stir up a furor in the local media, as if you had a guilty secret.  If you just tell everyone up front, there may not be any problem."

"You say `may' not be.  Why?"

"There are no guarantees.  Colby's a fairly sophisticated little city, mostly because of the University and partly because we're not that far from Toledo, Detroit, and Cleveland.  But the homophobes are everywhere, especially in rural Ohio."

Anders thought about that for a few minutes.

"Okay, thanks for your advice.  Next question, if I may."

Ben nodded.

"I've done some checking about you.  You're as well qualified for the PIO job here as I am, and you'd have the inside track.  You're well liked, well respected.  Why aren't you going for it?"

"Ouch, Kris.  Now you've put me on the spot.  One of the reasons I gave Sharon you've met Sharon, my boss, I expect?"

"Briefly.  She seems to be a great person."

"She is.  So, I told Sharon that it might be awkward for Colby County if the PIO were gay."

"But "

Ben held up his hand, palm outward.  "Yeah, I know what I just told you.  But that was mostly an excuse.  I was sincere with you when I said an obviously well-qualified person with the right personality could carry it off.  And don't get me wrong, I'm not promising anything you seem to be that kind of guy."

Anders smiled and nodded, waiting for Ben to continue.

"One of my real reasons is that I like the job I have.  And I would hate having to deal with the public.  Since she announced her resignation, Sharon's made me do it just to give me some experience.  If the position isn't filled by the end of the year, I'll be acting PIO.  Believe me, I don't want that job.  If you get it, you won't find me breathing down your neck."

"Thanks for your honesty."

"But there's something else, too." Ben continued.  "I write fiction.  I've finished one novel and I'm working on another."

"Is the first one published?"

"Not yet."

"What are they about?"

"They're about gay men."

"But not like on Nifty, I shouldn't imagine."

"No, they aren't porn.  They aren't even erotic.  They're about life in the 21st century as seen from the perspective of gay guys."

"You're an interesting guy, Ben.  So you use your county job to support yourself while you work on your writing?"

"Yeah," Ben said, "more or less."  He wasn't about to tell Anders about the income from the commercial books.

"Now," Kris continued, "tell me something else.  Have you seen enough of me to have any sort of vibe?  Do you think we could work closely together?"

That was a problem.  Ben had been strongly attracted to Anders from the moment he laid eyes on him.  As they talked, he'd come to like the man.  So his first reaction was that Anders would be a pleasant guy to have around the office.  It was too soon to tell for sure, but Ben suspected they could work well together.  Except for one thing.  Ben feared he would have a constant erection when he was working anywhere around Kris Anders.  As he did at that moment.  The pants of his suit were fairly loose, but he was keeping his legs crossed to hide the woodie he was sporting.

"I'd like to think I could work with anyone we ultimately chose, Kris."

Anders' green eyes bored into Ben's.  "Come on, Ben, that's no answer."

Ben sighed, started to uncross his legs then changed his mind and left them crossed.  "Honestly?"

"If we're going to work together, Mr. Moss, I'd expect you to always be honest with me."

"Interesting.  Most of the people who climb to that point on the ladder expect a certain amount of ass kissing."

Anders' laugh was genuine.  "No doubt you're right. But I meant what I said.  If I were PIO and you were my deputy, I'd want to be able to trust you.  Really trust you.  Not to tell me what you think I want to hear, but what you really believe."

"That's the kind of relationship I have with Sharon . . . one of many reasons I wish she weren't leaving."

After a pause, Anders said, "Ben, are you so loyal to Sharon that you'd resent her replacement, whoever it was?"

"A fair question, but the answer is no.  I could have put my name in for the job and chose not to.  Whoever winds up in that office, I'll try to give the county value for its dollar."

"And my question's still hanging there."

"Sorry, which question was that?"  Ben had been distracted by looking at Anders' green eyes.

"Do you think we could work together?"

Ben had a momentary vision of the two of them sweaty and entwined on a king-sized bed.

He cleared his throat.  "I've said I'd do my best to work with anybody.  You seem like a great guy, but we've only been together for 45 minutes or so.  But since you ask, I do have a concern."

"And that would be?"

"Two out gay men in the same department of county government could conceivably create negative publicity.  And you know there would be rumors about us from the get-go.  We're the same age, we're both, uh, presentable."

Anders chuckled.  "Come off it, Ben.  You're gorgeous.  You remind me of some movie star, though I can't come up with his name."

Ben knew who he meant, but he wasn't going to say so.

"So you see the problem."

"I understand what you're saying, but I don't see it as much of a problem.  We run this office the best we can, using our combined experience, training, and talents, and let the detractors be damned."

"Wow!"

Anders grinned again.  "Does that mean I've got your vote?"

"You know I can't tell you that."

"Well, tell me this.  Are you considering voting against me because I'm gay?"

"Give me credit for some integrity!  Of course I'd never do that."

Anders seemed to relax into his chair.  

"Suppose we could have a drink now?  I'm sure there are questions you want to ask me."

The young waiter was summoned and both men requested chardonnay.  Neither man said much while they waited.  Then, sweating stem glasses in hand, they looked back at each other.

Anders had questions about the operating procedures of the department, but most of their give and take was personal, two guys getting to know each other.  Anders wanted to know about gay life in Colby.  Ben told him about Nelly's, the town's surprisingly popular gay bar.  "For clubs and a more swinging scene, you'd have to go to Cleveland or Detroit.  But they're not that far away."

"I'm not too much into that, really.  I'd like to think there was a place where I could relax and talk to other gay guys."

"Kris, if I may I take it there's no one in your life right now."

Anders, who was taking a sip of wine, shook his head.  "Nope.  I had a good friend and roommate in grad school at OSU, but he's in Oregon now.  We still email, but I haven't seen him in several years.  It would be nice to think there was a chance of finding a mate if I were to come here.  The pickins are kind of slim in Shawnee County."

They chatted a while longer.  Then Ben walked Anders back to his car, where they shook hands.  

"It's been good to meet you, Kris.  Have a safe trip home."

"Thanks, Ben.  I've enjoyed our time together.  I really hope I'll be hearing from you folks soon."

Ben had mixed feelings about that as he went back to his cubicle.  Kris Anders was far and away his pick of the people he'd interviewed so far.  But how much of that was based on the kinship of their both being gay?  How much on the man's sheer physical attractiveness?  And what would it be like to have to work with him five days a week?  Seeing that face, those buns, that bulge?  Having to concentrate on work-related problems when Anders flashed his killer smile?  

`It wouldn't be fair to the man to write a negative evaluation because his being your boss would make problems for you, asshole,' he told himself.  `True enough, but if we choose him, I'm going to have to start wearing a jock strap to work every day.  And there is the problem of the public reaction to the news that the number one and two people in the county information office were gay men.  God knows what the Bible thumpers would make of that!'


A couple of days later Sharon called Ben into her office.  After telling him to sit and offering him coffee (which he refused), she opened a folder on her desk.

"Ben, I want to talk with you about your evaluation of Kristian Anders."

Ben raised an eyebrow.  "What about it?"

"What's wrong with him?"

"Who said there was anything wrong with him?  As I recall, I said his university records, his experience, and his performance at the interview all made him the best of the candidates we've seen so far."

"Yeah, but I know you and the way you write.  You're holding something back.  Come on, tell me."

"What did you expect, Sharon?  That because he's gay I'd jump up and down with excitement?"

"He's gay?"

"Didn't he tell everyone that?"

"Well, as you know, I'm not officially involved in the selection process, but I don't think so."

"Oh fuck!"

"Watch it, buster.  There's a lady present."

"Sorry.  But I've outed the man.  You've got to promise not to tell anyone, Sharon.  I feel terrible."

"Okay, mum's the word.  But are you going by your gaydar, or did he tell you?"

"He told me, and we had a long discussion about it.  I urged him to tell the powers that be up front."

"I was looking out the window at the parking lot when you said goodbye to him at his car.  When would he have told anybody?  You were the last person on staff to see him."

"God!  I hadn't thought of that."

"So your reserve is about his being gay?"

"I still don't think my evaluation could be described as reserved."

"We're both wordsmiths here, Ben.  Why don't you just fess up?"

Ben heaved a sigh like a petulant teen.  "Oh, okay.  I wouldn't want my knowing he's gay to keep him from getting the job.  He's obviously the best candidate we have.  In fact we'd look for a long time before we found anybody as good."

"Then why didn't you put that in your evaluation, Mr. Moss?"

"Because I want to throw him down and fuck his brains out, that's why!"

She sat there looking thoughtful for a while.  

"Yeah, I understand what you're saying.  But you know, straight people who are strongly attracted to each other manage to work together in offices all the time.  It just takes maturity and restraint.  You're not some horny teen, after all."

Ben felt as if he'd stepped into a cold shower.  He bowed his head for a moment.  "You're right, of course.  Do you want me to submit an amended evaluation on Anders?"

"I think the one you've written will do very well.  But it didn't fool me.  I knew there was something you weren't saying."

"Well, you can't tell anyone he's gay.  If he gets the job, it will be up to him to decide when or whether to come out.  And we're all in trouble if he thinks I've broken his confidence."

"Relax, Ben.  It's all good.  I won't say anything.  Remember, too, that you've got the last interview coming up Thursday.  Maybe he'll be so good he'll blow Anders out of the water."

Ben smiled.  "He'd have to walk on water to do that."


As it turned out, the candidate on Thursday was a fifty-something from downstate somewhere who had been a publicist for a local politician. He had very little administrative experience.  Ben wondered why he'd been selected to come for an interview.  Besides, the guy was small and mousy looking, hesitant in his speech.  He would have been a disaster in front of television cameras.  So it looked pretty sure that Ben was going to have a hunky gay boss.  

`Despite the potential problems,' Ben thought, `I suppose worse things could happen.'



*          *          *



Ben was surprised at the warmth of Trent's response when he'd called.  After having been rebuffed so often, most people would have been pretty cool.  Thinking back, though, Trent had always been a warm, sweet guy.  

Ben felt a little guilty that he hadn't invited Trent to come to the house for their reconciliation, where they would have had more privacy.  But this was going to be an emotional meeting for both of them, and he didn't think he could handle seeing his ex for the first time in two years in the house they'd shared.  Better to do it on neutral ground and in public.  He had, however, requested a table as private as possible when he made the reservations.  

He was nervous as he dressed.  Adrian's was a suit and tie place, the only restaurant in Colby where such attire was de rigueur.  His agent, Clark, had said dismissively one time that Adrian's, compared to a good New York restaurant, was merely a "wannabee."  That was no doubt true, but it was the best restaurant around.  Besides, it afforded privacy, and on top of that the owner and most of the staff were gay.  He chose a maroon tie with small geometrics to go with his medium gray suit.  (There was no point in wearing one of the darker ones.  It was daytime, after all.)  

`Am I doing this because we're eating at Adrian's or because I want to impress Trent?'  He didn't have an answer to that question.

Not for the first time, he was embarrassed when he pulled his old Taurus up in front of the restaurant's marquee.  As he handed his keys to the cute valet he thought, `Maybe I should get a new car.  Nothing flashy.  But the Ford is showing the effects of all the salt.'

Raul, the regular maitre d', wasn't on duty when Ben got to the desk.  Instead it was a good looking young blond stud.  He reminded Ben of that Brody something or other he was introduced to at Gridley's when he was there with Bruce and Toby.  Ben couldn't help admiring the rear view as he was shown to his table.

The young guy took him to an alcove near the back of the restaurant.  "You and your guest will have complete privacy here, Mr. Moss.  And Simon, your waitperson, is very discreet.  Could I bring you something to drink while you're waiting?"

Ben remembered Trent's favorite, so he ordered a bottle of very good Riesling.  "Excellent, sir.  Simon will be right back with that."

He'd hardly had time to discover that he couldn't see any other diners, which meant that he and Trent would have the kind of privacy promised, when he saw the maitre d' coming back, followed by Trent, who looked great in a medium brown suit with a dark green silk shirt open at the collar.  Ben stood up to greet Trent, who barely gave the maitre d' a nod before he brushed off Ben's handshake and hugged him.  When they sat, Trent reached across the table for Ben's hands.  There were tears in his eyes.

"I still can't believe this.  I was so surprised when you called.  Have you really forgiven me?"

Ben was embarrassed.  "Yeah.  I won't deny how hurt I was.  It's taken all this time.  And some prodding by a friend.  But I can't hate you, Trent.  Toby made me realize that I want you to be happy."

"Who's Toby?"

"He's a grad student who lives in the house across the street."

Trent grinned.  "Are you fucking him?"

"There's the Trent I remember!  Right to the point.  And no, I'm not fucking him.  We're just friends."

Simon showed up with the wine and two glasses.

"Aww, Ben, that's so sweet.  You remembered."

Simon and Ben went through the cork-pulling, sniffing, tasting ritual and then, when given the nod, Simon poured wine for both of them.

"I'll leave these menus and check back with you later," he said with an elegant English accent.

"So you and, uh, Toby is it, are just friends?"

"Uh huh.  Both of the guys over there are grad students, and we get together once in a while."

"Both gay?"

"No, Bruce is straight."

"Tell me about Toby."

"He's in computers."

Trent gave him a look and said, "That's not what I meant!"

Ben grinned, surprised at how easily he and Trent had fallen back into familiar patterns.

"He's from Indianapolis, but his folks are Hawaiian as you can tell by looking at him.  He's short with the typical coloring.  And built like a gymnast."

"Hot, huh?"

"Yeah, he's cute."

"Don't be mad, but why is it you tall guys call us shorter guys `cute'?  Can't you admit that a short man is sexy?"

Ben swirled the wine around in his glass and set it down.

"I'd never thought about that.  I never meant it to be demeaning.  So, let's say that Toby's a hot stud who happens to be closer to your height than mine."  He grinned.  "Is that okay?"

"Yep, that'll do."

Trent wanted to know all about Ben's job.  After Ben had explained about Sharon's leaving and the interviewing they'd been doing, Trent wanted to know why Ben hadn't applied.

"Think about it.  You know why I work there.  I don't have to bring anything home with me.  It's good cover.  And it gives me evenings and weekends to write.  Everything would change if I took over Sharon's job."

"I hadn't thought about that.  I'd just like to see your talent get the recognition it deserves.  Are you sure you don't want to let the world know who Witherspoon is?"

Ben took a sip of the wine, which was sweeter than he liked.  "Yep.  Things are going just fine.  I keep cranking out the stuff, and so far people keep buying them."  He grinned.  "I found out the other day that Bruce, who's working on a doctorate in English lit., is a Witherspoon fan."

"But of course you didn't tell him."

"Nope."

Trent took a swallow of the Riesling, smiled, and held up his glass.  "Thanks again, babe, for getting my favorite.  This is good stuff, too."

"Well, you wouldn't expect plonk at Adrian's."

"So, back to you.  Are you still working on what you used to call "real" fiction?"

"Yeah, even though the first book never went anywhere, I'm working on another.  I hope it will be better."  

"I thought the first one was powerful.  Too bad some publisher doesn't see it that way.  Are you sure that nelly agent of yours really worked for you on that one?"

"He never seemed too enthusiastic about it."

Simon looked discreetly into the alcove and moved on.

"Maybe we'd better look at the menu."

Trent smiled and nodded.  The ever-vigilant Simon returned as soon as they'd put their menus on the table.  The two ordered and then went back to talking.

"How about you, Trent?  What's going on in your life?"

"It's not bad, actually.  I'm next in line to be head surgical nurse."

"That's great!  You'll get it, of course?"

Trent smiled.  "I might, if my boss would ever leave.  But I don't see any chance of that happening."

"Well, I hope they recognize what they've got in you."

"Ben, you just like my ass.  You don't know anything about what kind of nurse I am."

Leaning forward, Ben said, "I know you, Williams.  You're so smart you used to scare me sometimes, you care about people, you're not afraid of long hours and hard work, you're well organized.  Why wouldn't you make the perfect head surgical nurse?  Oh, and you're right about your ass."

They talked for a few minutes longer and Simon reappeared with their entrees.  They'd both chosen a lobster pasta dish with a side salad.  Trent had said he'd have to run later, and Ben swore he'd hit the gym soon.

After they'd exclaimed over how good the food was, Ben asked, "How about your love life?  Do you have somebody special?"

Looking at his plate, Trent replied, "That's the question I was hoping you wouldn't ask."

"I didn't mean to pry."

"No, you weren't prying.  It's a reasonable question."

Ben took a sip of the Riesling, which really didn't go well with the lobster dish, he decided, though Trent seemed to be enjoying it.

"The thing is," Trent continued, "I've been seeing this guy for some time now.  The sex is great.  He wants us to become more than fuck buddies.  He's looking for a commitment."

"And you're not sure?"

"He's great looking, like I said, he's great in bed, and he swears he loves me.  I just don't know whether I feel that way or not."

"If you're not sure, then you shouldn't get into anything long-term.  When you find the right guy you won't have any doubts."

"Ben, that sounds like something out of one of your Witherspoon books.  In real life it isn't that easy.  We're over thirty now.  If I let this kid get away, who knows whether I'll find someone else?"

"He's younger than you then?"

"Yeah."

They busied themselves with their food for a few minutes.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Welcome to Adrian's."

Both men looked up to see Adrian Lynch, the proprietor.  They'd both met him on previous trips together to the restaurant, but Ben never failed to be impressed by the guy's looks.

"Hey, Adrian, good to see you," Trent said, starting to stand.

"Please don't get up.  I don't want to interrupt your meal.  I just wanted to say hello.  It's been a while since we've seen either of you here."

They chatted for a moment or two.  Then Lynch asked if everything was satisfactory.

"Oh, more than that.  Up to your usual standards, definitely," Trent said.

"Please let me know if it isn't."  Lynch smiled, nodded, and moved on.

Simon appeared immediately to top up their wine glasses.

When the waiter had moved on, Trent grinned at Ben.  "Damn!  Lynch is hot, isn't he?"

"Very cool, I'd say.  But, yeah, he's pretty sexy, in a supercilious sort of way."

"Supercilious?  Ya think?"

"He acts like some kind of fucking aristocrat.  And the last I heard Colby doesn't have an aristocracy.  Oh, and they say he has a new `boy' about every six months."

"Ben, you were never one to gossip!  But, yeah, I remember hearing talk about that, too."

They exchanged trivialities as they ate.  

Then Ben asked "Trent?"

"Mmmm?" He had food in his mouth.

"Why were you worried that I'd ask about somebody in your life?"

Trent swallowed.  "Oh, I thought we'd gotten past that."

"As I said, it's none of my business.  I was just hoping you're happy."

"I'm a lot happier now that you and I have cleared the air."  He smiled sweetly.  "It's so good to be here with you.  It reminds me, as if I needed reminding, of how much I threw away that afternoon two years ago."

Ben reached his hand across the table and Trent took it.  "We're friends again, aren't we, bud?"

"Oh, fuck, I hope so!"  He paused.  "But, sweetie, I've got to tell you what I was worried about."

"Only if you're sure you want to."

"I have to.  The friend, uh, fuck buddy, whatever, that I was telling you about is Breck."

Breck?  Ben couldn't remember any Breck.

"Am I supposed to know who Breck is?"

Trent looked acutely embarrassed as he said, "He's the guy who was doing me when you caught us that day."

TBC

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