by Tim Mead
Cedric dropped his bag in the bedroom and then used the bathroom. He was exhausted. Restless from being in the car for over four hours, but tired nevertheless. And hungry. He hadn't eaten since breakfast.
First, however, duty called. He knew he should deal with the voicemail.
The first message was from his office: "Mr. Jones, this is Martina Bott. Since I haven't heard from you to the contrary, I'm assuming you'll be at work at the usual time Monday morning." She paused. "I hope your friend is recovering." And that was all.
He was about to listen to the calls from Jay when there was a tap at his door. Thinking it might be Jay himself, Cedric was surprised to see that it was his neighbor from across the hall.
"Hi, Ced. Is everything okay with you?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, thanks. What's up?"
"It's Jay. He's been frantic since you didn't come home after work on Friday. It's been all Adam and I could do to keep him from going to the police."
"Oh, shit, man! I'm sorry! I know I should have called him." And then, recovering some presence of mind, he continued, "Come in if you have a minute and I'll explain."
"Man, you don't owe me any explanations."
"Well, let me tell you anyway in case anyone else is wondering." Cedric stepped back and gestured Blake inside. "One of my best friends was in an accident Thursday night and was seriously injured. I went to Cincinnati to be there for him and his partner."
Blake nodded. "That explains why you left without telling anyone. How's your friend doing?"
"He's alive. In bad shape, but alive. And they think he'll make it."
Blake put a hand on Cedric's shoulder. "I'm relieved to hear that. How's the partner doing?"
"He's an emotional wreck. But he has good people with him. And I'll probably go back next weekend."
"Okay. Now, speaking of wrecks, I think you'd better go see Jay."
"I'm sorry I forgot to call him. But I really did have Mark and Casey on my mind. And it's not like Jay and I are . . . well, he's a friend, not my spouse."
"He's been acting like a . . . spouse is a good word, actually"
Cedric sighed. "He really got upset, huh?"
"You could say that."
"Then I guess I'd better go apologize. Geez, you'd think we weren't both adults!"
"Ced, the guy obviously cares about you. And I have to admit, Adam and I were worried, too, when Jay told us you'd disappeared Friday and didn't show up yesterday."
"Thanks, Blake. I guess I fucked up. I was just so worried about Mark, and then I got caught up with Casey and our other friends who showed up."
"You'd better tell that to our friend downstairs."
"Yeah. You're right. Thanks. Say `hi' to Adam."
Only seconds after Cedric knocked on Jay's door, it was flung open.
Jay, barefoot, wearing only faded jeans and a black tee, looked tired. His usually perfectly groomed hair was tousled, as if he'd been running his fingers through it.
He looked at Cedric appraisingly and then stepped back.
After Cedric was inside the unit and the door closed, Jay hugged him.
"I'm so relieved. And so pissed at you, Cedric. Are you okay? Where the hell have you been? And why didn't you call me?"
Practically shaking from the accumulated tension of the weekend and the lack of anything to eat since breakfast, Cedric wanted nothing more than a drink, a meal, and sleep. But he pulled Jay to the sofa and nudged him to sit. Then he sat at the other end, facing Jay.
"I know you think I've been a shit for not calling you."
"You could say that."
"Well, here's what happened." He explained about receiving the call in the wee hours of Friday morning, of what had happened to Mark, of taking off for Cincinnati, of not wanting to wake up Jay knowing he had to be at work at 8:00. About the dead battery in his cell. About the close friends who gathered at the hospital. About one of those friends being a former lover whom he hadn't seen in years.
"You never told me about him."
"I don't think we've gotten to the stage of talking about our exes, have we?"
"Maybe the time has come to do that. Anyway, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Mark, did you say?"
"I can see why you'd drop everything and go after you got the call. But I wouldn't have minded if you'd woken me up."
"Yeah, well . . . ."
"But you were gone from Friday morning until just now and you never found a minute when you could call me? You've got OnStar in your car, for God's sake! You could have called on your way from one place to another in Cincinnati or while you were driving home this afternoon."
"Shit, Jay! I never thought of that."
"That tells me a lot, you know."
"Look, I had a lot on my mind. One of my best friends could have been dying. Hell, he's still not out of the woods. His partner was a basket case." Cedric was about to mention the tension that went with having to see Tim and Max together, but decided not to.
Jay stared out the large window at the end of the room. "Okay. I'm hurt. But your problem is bigger than mine. I'll bet you're tired. When did you last eat?"
"I had juice and cereal about 8:00 this morning."
"And you didn't stop for lunch?"
"No. I guess I just had too much on my mind."
"There's lamb stew on the stove. Will you have some with me?"
Ced essayed a small grin. "You're not too pissed to feed me?"
Jay shrugged his shoulders and heaved an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose not."
"I'll bet you'd like a drink."
"Oh, yeah. I can go to my place and get something."
"If red wine will do, I've been keeping a bottle of merlot in case you ever wanted it."
"Sounds great." Actually, he would have appreciated something stronger, but the last thing he wanted to do was further irritate his friend.
It was a mostly silent meal. Cedric didn't feel chatty, and Jay apparently didn't either.
The stew was good. Spicy. Cedric had never had lamb stew – or any stew – that had been seasoned with curry. Jay served it along with salad out of a bag and some sort of crusty bread.
"So," he said, in an effort to make conversation, "how did you spend the weekend?"
"I had to go to Kroger's and then gas up my car. As usual on weekends, I did laundry and dusted and vacuumed. And mostly just wondered where the fuck you were."
"Jay, I've apologized. I've been a thoughtless shit. I don't know what else to say."
"I can imagine how worried you were . . . still are . . . about Mark. And I'm glad you were there for Casey. But it sounds as if Casey had plenty of others there to support him. I just . . ." He smiled and put down his fork. "More stew?"
"Um, no, thanks. It's really good, but . . ."
"I don't have anything special for dessert, except for some bosc pears. Would you like some coffee?"
"Don't bother. I think I'm beyond the help of coffee at this point?"
"Uh oh! Does that mean you're beyond make-up sex?"
"We haven't had a fight, have we?"
"Not exactly, but that doesn't mean we can't have make-up sex."
Not terribly excited by Jay's clingy expectations, Cedric thought he'd better humor him at this juncture. He helped clear the table, put away the leftovers, and load the dishwasher.
And then they were in bed.
"Huh? Wha'? Wha' time is it?"
"It's midnight. We've both got to work tomorrow, so you'd better go upstairs and sleep in your own bed."
"God! Weren't we . . . ? Did I . . . ?"
"We were. And you did." Jay looked as if he wanted to pout, but he couldn't help grinning. "I don't know how anyone could go to sleep during 69, especially when I had two fingers in your ass."
"Jeez, Jay! I'm sorry. I guess I . . . ." Cedric sat up and began looking around for his clothes. He could taste both dick and curry.
Jay threw Cedric's briefs at him. They hit his face and dropped into his lap. "Don't even bother to apologize. You're out of it. I shouldn't have expected passionate sex after the weekend you've had."
Cedric pulled on his clothes. As he was leaving, he gave Jay a kiss. He didn't worry too much about his breath, knowing Jay tasted the same way.
"Be sure to set your alarm clock. Somehow I think you're not going to be too sparkly tomorrow."
Cedric realized just as his head hit the pillow that he should have called home to tell his parents about Mark's accident. Too late to call now. Angel's gonna be pissed.
A front stalled over northwestern Ohio that week, and a cold drizzle fell every day. At work Monday and Tuesday were somewhat busier than usual because Ms. Bott had had to reschedule Cedric's Friday appointments those days along with the clients already scheduled.
Monday during his lunch break he called his mother. As he'd anticipated, she wasn't happy that he hadn't called her sooner. She'd always called Trey, Chaz, Mark, and – later – Tim "her boys." But her concern for Mark overrode her irritation with Cedric. She wanted to know all about his condition and the prognosis. And then she wanted to know about Casey, Tim, Max, Stan and Doug. When he'd finally satisfied her concerns, she asked, "Jay is still planning to come with you for Thanksgiving, isn't he?"
"Yes, Angel. We're driving separately because he has to work Saturday and Sunday. But we'll both be there Thursday by 11:00, I think."
"Wonderful. I'll look forward to meeting him."
"Jay's a friend. But he's not Mr. Right. So please don't say anything about our future together."
"You are sleeping with him, aren't you, boy?"
"Yes, ma'am. But please don't treat him like he was my boyfriend."
He's my fuck buddy, but I can't say that to Angel.
"Thank you for telling me." She sounded a tad frosty.
Cedric laughed. "I'm sorry. I just thought you should know he's good company, but we aren't serious."
They ended their call soon afterward.
Each evening that week he called Cincinnati, each time talking with Doug, who was in Mark and Casey's apartment while Stan and Casey took turns sitting with Mark.
By Wednesday the word was that Mark, though still on heavy painkillers, was lucid and had been interviewed by the police about the collision. The doctors were talking now about physio and rehab rather than survival, Doug said.
He'd exchanged text messages each day with Jay, but they hadn't seen each other since Sunday night. So Wednesday afternoon Cedric called him.
"I'm not supposed to take personal calls at work, you know."
"I'll make it quick. If I stop on the way home and get Chinese take-out, will you share it with me?"
"I love Kung Pao chicken!"
"Have you ever had it from Dragon Wok?"
"Yeah, they do a good job with it."
"Okay. See you later. And I promise I'll stay awake this time."
Jay chuckled. "You mean during supper or after?"
Cedric called Jay when he got back to his place with the take-out.
"I'm here. But give me ten minutes. I'm going to call and check on Mark."
"Oh, okay. I hope you get a good report. Do I need to bring anything?"
"Nope. Just your sexy self."
"You really think I'm sexy?" Jay purred.
"I'll show you. Just give me a minute to make my call."
He was surprised when Casey answered the phone.
"Doug is at the hospital with Stan. I have a rehearsal tonight, and I missed one earlier this week. So Mark said I shouldn't miss any more."
"How's he doing?"
"He still sleeps a lot, and they're tapering off the painkillers, so he's hurting more now. And he's really depressed, Ced, thinking about all the work he'll miss and the rehab and all."
"And how are you doing?"
"I'm so not complaining. Mark's my life! And he's gonna be okay. They think."
"Still, you've got to be exhausted."
"Yeah. I am. I hope I can stay awake during tonight's rehearsal. But Stan and Doug have helped so much. I don't know what I'll do when they go back to Lake Polk. Stan's got a law practice to run, you know. But Doug says he can stay around for a while if I need him"
"I imagine he'd be a lot of help. And he's a great guy!"
"Oh, yes! I'm finding that out!"
"Well, look, Case. I don't want to make you late. I'd like to come down this weekend. I can stay with the Greeleys, so I won't be any bother to you."
"That's good! Mark will be really happy to see you. He knows you were here last weekend and that you've been calling. I think Tim will be here, too. Father Max has church Sunday morning, so Tim's coming alone. He didn't get to see Mark last weekend either, you know."
Cedric noted that his stomach didn't cramp nor did his heart lurch at the thought of being at the Greeley's overnight with Tim a guest there, too.
"Okay. I'll let you go now. And I'll be in touch with whoever's answering your phone again tomorrow night."
"Thanks for calling, Ced. You're such a sweetie. Ta!"
Jay had no trouble with chopsticks, but Cedric had never mastered the art. He tried, receiving tips and suggestions from Jay. Before long, however, he put down the infernal things and took a fork from the silverware drawer.
"I guess I'm not good at multi-tasking."
"What's multi-tasking got to do with it?"
"I want to talk with you, and I can't do that and concentrate on squeezing sauce-covered pieces of food between two skinny little sticks."
Jay giggled. "Well, when you put it like that . . . . So what did you want to talk about?"
"You know I'm going to Cincinnati this weekend, right?"
"Uh huh." Jay expertly conveyed a piece of chicken to his mouth. But then he licked his lips, giving Cedric a sultry look as he did so. "So what about it?"
"About what?" Cedric asked.
"About this weekend."
"Oh! I thought maybe you were trying to seduce me."
"I am! I am! But one thing at a time. I wouldn't want to confuse you."
"Bitch! I just want to be sure you understand I need to see Mark."
"Of course I do." Jay added a drop or two of sesame oil to his container of Kung Pao chicken. "Did I tell you I'm working this weekend?"
"Uh, not that I remember."
"Well, to get Thanksgiving and the next day off, I'm working this weekend and next, which is the weekend after Thanksgiving, in case you've forgotten."
"I'm glad you were able to get those days off. My folks are looking forward to having you with us."
"Besides, this weekend, it's not like you had a secret rendez-vous with Dr. Tim, now, is it?"
"How'd you know about his title?"
Jay smirked. "Adam and Tim are good friends, and Blake has met Tim and his lover, Father Max. He told me all about them."
Although he wondered just what "all" meant, Cedric was relieved. He was just as happy not to have to talk about Tim and Max with his current sex partner.
"Still," Jay said. "If you weren't going away, we could spend Saturday night together. It's like weekdays; I'm finished at 5:00."
"Jay, I haven't seen Mark since his accident. He's my brother. I have to be there."
"You've said that before. He's not even black. What do you mean he's a brother?"
"Maybe some time I'll explain. About Mark and Trey and Chaz."
Jay sighed and looked at the ceiling.
"Could we do it soon? Aren't we close enough to do that? Do your friends know about me, or am I something you're keeping a secret?"
"No, no! Of course not! It's just complicated, and I didn't want to bore you with all my past history."
"You've seemed evasive."
"There's nothing sinister about it. But it's not been easy for me to talk about. I think I'm getting a lot of unresolved feelings straightened out, though. Maybe I can tell you about it at home when we're there together."
"I'm not just being nosy, Ced. You need to trust me if we're really friends."
After the kitchen was tidied up, the two young men found themselves, not surprisingly, naked in bed.
A good deal of stroking, kissing, nibbling, and rubbing ensued. Jay discovered, much to their mutual delight, that Cedric's inner thighs were very sensitive.
To make some sort of amends for falling asleep the last time the two had been in bed together, Cedric made even more effort than usual to please Jay.
After a half hour or so of foreplay, they moved by tacit consent into 69 position. Things followed a predictable path for a while. Then Jay allowed Cedric's cock to slip out of his mouth and began sucking on his balls, which Cedric didn't mind in the least.
When Jay moved his attention to Cedric's perineum and subsequently to his crack, Cedric pulled off long enough to ask, "Do you want me to do that to you?"
"No, stud, just keep on with what you're doing."
So he returned his concentration to Jay's dark tool, mindful nevertheless of what Jay was doing to his ass.
Eventually, though, his need to come over-rode other considerations.
"Dammit, Jay, I need to get off."
"Okay, buster, tell you what I'm gonna do."
"What?" Cedric asked, trying not to sound either needy or exasperated.
"I'm gonna take your gorgeous thing back in my mouth. But don't come."
"I can't come? What is this, some sort of Dom/sub thing?"
"No. I just want you to pull out when you're about to come and squirt all over my face."
Cedric chuckled. "I didn't know you were so kinky. But if that's what you want . . . ."
He went back to sucking on Jay's cock, trying to give pleasure as well as receive it. But a finger to the anus reinforced what Jay was doing with his mouth, and Cedric knew he'd better warn Jay.
"Okay, dude. I'm about to blow." He'd been on the bottom, so Jay rolled over onto his back, allowing Cedric to kneel with his cock just above Jay's face. It had been days since he'd come, so he had a large load to spray over Jay's forehead, nose, cheeks, extended tongue, and chin.
"Man, it looks like vanilla icing on gingerbread!"
Jay closed his eyes and smiled. "Mmmmm!" When he opened them, he said, "Would it squick you out to lick it up and feed it to me?"
"Damn! You are a pervert, aren't you?" But the idea made his deflated cock twitch, so he did it. He'd of course tasted his own cum, but never so much of it. And it was Jay who swallowed the lion's share, though there was some passing back and forth. It was strangely intimate. Sexy.
Jay insisted turn about was only fair, so Cedric wound up sucking Jay, who'd never lost his erection, to orgasm. Which didn't take long. And then it was Cedric's face being coated. Although he'd never thought he had many hang-ups about sex, he somehow felt a shiver of something. Was it guilt? No. Maybe it was just the kinkiness of feeling first the warm goo splattered over his face and then the warm tongue licking it up and depositing it into his mouth. It tasted different from his own. He wondered how it might have tasted if they'd had a curry for supper.
As they lay there afterward, Jay propped up on one elbow, looked down at him and said, "I guess you're not grossed out."
"Nah. Surprised me a little, but it was kind of hot. I have to say, you often surprise me."
"I'll work at it. I wouldn't want you to get bored with me. I, uh, value what we've got, Cedric. I hope you know that."
"Yeah, dude. I guess I do."
The rest of the week was uneventful except that Jay insisted on having sex with Cedric on both Thursday and Friday evenings since they were going to be apart on the weekend. Cedric didn't really mind the sex, for Jay was always eager to give as well as receive pleasure, but he was a bit put off by Jay's general possessiveness.
Jay went home after their session Friday night because he had to be at work at 8:00 the next morning. His parting injunction to Cedric was to keep his cell phone charged up and turned on.
Cedric promised he would. He had made a point of telling Ms. Bott and his mother where he was going for the weekend. He assured Ms. Bott he'd be at work at the usual time on Monday and promised his mother he'd call her Sunday night when he got back to Colby.
He had also called and checked with Chaz's parents about staying the night with them. Marie, Mrs. Greeley, had said they'd be happy to see him and that he was to plan on having supper with them.
As he drove southward on I-75, his thoughts were mostly about Mark. He hadn't seen his friend the previous weekend, and he was eager to see him, to be able to assess visually his condition. Cedric and Mark had roomed together at Kent until Cedric and Tim had moved into what he still thought of as "their" townhouse.
Gotta stop thinking like that. It's Tim's and Max's place now.
He'd been equally close with Trey and Chaz, but Mark was the guy he'd said goodnight and good morning to for three years.
The brothers. A strange tale, when you thought about it. Cedric had admitted to his three friends from the get-go that he was gay, though they all kept it quiet because he didn't want his buddies on the baseball team to give him grief about his sexuality. But after Cedric and Tim were together, Trey and Chaz had discovered they were bisexual. Not only that: they were gay for each other.
But Mark was always the straight one. Even when he'd emailed Ced that he and Lori, his fiancée, had broken up, no one thought much about it. Mark had suggested that Lori had dumped him, probably because of pressure from her parents. Time went by. As soon as he passed his Ohio Bar Examination, Mark was hired by a prestigious Cincinnati law firm.
He'd mentioned on the phone and in his emails that he had begun seeing someone soon after the move to Ohio, but he'd not shared any details.
Then, some months later, Cedric got a phone call from a giddy Mark saying he'd met this guy and they'd gone to New England and gotten married. The Brotherhood were stunned. Mark was the one they just knew would always be straight. Or so it had seemed.
Perhaps even more surprising was that Mark, who like Cedric was on the varsity baseball team and was in no way effeminate, should have chosen a guy who was just . . . out there. Clearly gay. You could tell by the way he walked and by his vocal inflections. And a professional musician. Not that all professional musicians are gay, Cedric! But they had seemed happy, and that was what was important.
And then there had been the recent call from Mark. The one when he said that Casey's femme qualities were beginning to irritate him. Trouble in the relationship? One could hope it was just a temporary issue.
Cedric had seen for himself how distraught Casey was over Mark's injuries. Clearly he loved his partner.
Cedric could only hope that the accident, as terrible as it was, would bring them closer together. Casey wasn't the guy he would have chosen for Mark, but he was lovable in his puppy-dog way.
Cedric went directly to the hospital. He called the Greeley's to report in and to ask when they wanted him for supper.
"Come here whenever you want, Cedric. We'll plan to eat at 6:30 if that's all right with you."
"Any time's fine, Ma Greeley. I'll be there by then, if not sooner."
"Lovely. And, Cedric, please give our love to Mark and Casey."
He found Doug and Casey sitting with Mark.
They stood when Cedric entered the room but left the path clear so he could get to the bed.
Mark wore a huge cast on his left leg and other assorted bandages. There was an abrasion on the left side of his face which seemed to be healing.
"Cedric, good to see you, bro!" Mark said, his face breaking into a smile.
Cedric bent over and kissed Mark. Before Mark had stunned his brothers by announcing his marriage to Casey, Cedric had never done more than hug his heretofore straight friend. And this was only a peck on the lips. Mark seemed happy enough to get it.
After he'd asked how Mark was doing and was reassured that he was slowly mending, Cedric exchanged hugs with both Doug and Casey.
When the appropriate greetings and reassurances were given and received, Doug said, "I'll stretch my legs a little and let you guys catch up."
"Uh, I'll walk with you. Either of you guys want anything from the cafeteria?"
"It's almost happy hour," Mark said. "How about a glass of chardonnay?"
Everyone laughed. "Soon, baby, soon," Casey said.
"Sit down, Ced, sit down. Thanks for coming to see me. I heard you were here last weekend, too. Thanks for that. It meant a lot to Casey. It means a lot to me, too. So how are you?"
Cedric smiled. He'd never heard Mark babble before, but the rush of words must be a sign that his friend wasn't in too bad shape.
"Wow! Let's see. I came as soon as I got the call from Pops. Why wouldn't I come? You're part of me, Marky. I was scared shitless. You really had us all worried. Oh, and I'm fine."
Mark held out his right hand, which Cedric grasped. "I've enjoyed getting your emails about your new life in Colby. But how are you really doing?"
"Mark, I'm fine! Really. The question is, how are you? Are you in pain?"
"Yeah. I've got a lot of places that hurt. The incision from the splenectomy is healing up, but my left side, from my shoulder to my leg hurts like a son of a bitch a lot of the time."
"They're not giving you painkillers?"
"They took me off the nice stuff they were putting in my IV." He waved his right arm. "As you can see, I'm off the IV completely. They give me pills, but when they start to wear off, I get some serious pain. They're trying to wean me off of those, and they say I'll just have to tough it out."
"Doesn't sound like caring care, if you get what I mean."
"Well, they say I'll be in for a lot of pain when this damn cast's off. If I don't have to have a second operation on the leg, and that's not certain yet, I'll start rehab or physio or something. And they're not gonna be a picnic."
"You're tough, dude. I know you'll make it. Especially with Casey here to help."
A cloud crossed Mark's face briefly. "Yeah. I feel terrible I've put him through so much. And he's been a trooper. Doug, too. It's great he stayed. As support for Casey. I've gotten to know him better this past week. Pops is a lucky man."
"Yeah. But so's Doug. I know Pops wishes he could be here."
"I think he's coming back to Cincinnati next weekend. Then he and Doug will go back together."
"When will you be released, and what happens then?"
"Not sure yet. The date, that is. They've ordered a hospital bed and have arranged for a nurse to be there part of the time so Case can go to rehearsals and gigs. And have some time to himself."
"That sounds good."
"Yeah. I don't want him to hate me. I'm gonna be really dependent on him for a while."
"Mark, he's not gonna hate you. He really, really loves you. Believe me. I was with him last weekend, and he was beside himself."
"Yeah, he's pretty fragile emotionally. But he's told me how much it helped that you guys all showed up."
"Have you heard from Trey and Chaz?"
Mark smiled. "Of course. One or the other of them calls every day. And they're coming to the Greeley's for Thanksgiving weekend. Somehow they scored tickets from Richmond to Cincinnati for Wednesday night and returns for Sunday afternoon. Both of them have to work on Monday, of course."
"I'd love to see them. Especially old Chaz. You know Trey came up to see me this fall."
Mark nodded. And then winced. "Trey told me all about your visit."
"Trey's not the kind to break confidences. We talked about some very personal shit."
"Cedric, he wouldn't have told anyone but Chaz and me. You know that!"
"So how do things stand between you and Tim?"
"We had a good talk last weekend. He's understood all along that I might have felt betrayed. Says he and Max both have carried a load of guilt. I'd never thought of that, because I was so wrapped up in my own hurt. But Trey made me see that Tim and Max had been in love with each other since Kenyon. Which helped me get over the idea that Max was just standing there waiting to lure Tim into his bed as soon as I was out of the way."
"Brother, you disappoint me. You know Max better than that. He's the soul of integrity. He and Tim both."
"Well, I think I've come to terms with it all. I'll always love Tim."
"Of course you will."
"But I think I can move on now." Cedric looked carefully at his friend. "Am I making you tired?"
"God, no! It's great to have a chance to talk with you. So tell me, how are things with the guy you've told me about, Ray, is it?"
"You said he's Indian?"
"As Indian as you can be if you're born and raised in University Heights."
Mark chuckled and then winced again. "Ouch! That hurts!"
"I'll try to keep the conversation gloomy, then, so you won't laugh."
Mark grinned. "No need. It's just these damn ribs. Go on, tell me about Jay."
"Well, he's cute. And sexy. And very good-natured."
"I sensed a but was coming."
"You don't want to hear about all this. I don't want to make you tired."
"I'm okay, honestly. And after they run the visitors out, I've got a long night ahead of me. I can sleep then."
"Well, okay. What were we talking about?"
Mark grinned. "Huh uh. You can't get off that easy. You're being evasive, counselor. We were talking about Jay. He's sexy and good-natured, but . . . ."
"Oh, that. He's a great guy. Okay?"
"But he's, well, too clingy. Possessive. He's good company and we have fun sex. But we're not going anywhere."
"And he's not Tim?"
"No, not that. At least I don't think so. I've been working on letting Tim go ever since Trey was up here in September. And then last weekend we sort of made our peace."
"Jesus! If you weren't grievously injured, Mason, I'd smack you."
"Would it surprise you to know I'd had fantasies about something like that?"
"Yes. No. Shit, I don't know! Which Mark are we talking about? The straight Mark we all thought we knew, or the one who's married to Casey?"
"Fair question. But we're getting into an area I haven't talked about with anyone except Casey. Let's just say while I was engaged to Lori I kept having these fantasies."
"Mostly you. After all, we lived together until you moved in with Tim. You were and still are my best friend, Ced."
Cedric grinned. "Mostly me? Who else?"
"It scared the shit out of me. But I had `em about the Tall One and Tiger and even Tim. Now tell me you haven't had fantasies about some of us."
"Sure I did. Before Tim. And I never claimed to be straight."
"Okay, I think I'm gonna plead fatigue now. I promise I'll tell you all about it. Some day. When I'm better. Meanwhile, what are you going to do about Jay?"
"I dunno. He's good company. He's great in bed. But, like I said, we're just not going anywhere. And even if I'm over Tim, I still crave what Tim and I had."
"Did I hear someone mention Tim?" Doug asked as he and Casey came into the room.
"I've just been talking to Marie Greeley. She says Tim's there, and you'd better get your ass over there for supper."
"She didn't actually say ass, did she?"
Everyone chuckled. Mark then groaned and said, "Dammit, guys, don't make me laugh!"
"Sorry, Mark. No, Marie didn't say ass, but you get the picture. You're to get over there so you can have a drink before dinner. I understand Tim's coming here afterward."
"Oh, okay. Guess I'd better scoot. Mark, I'll let you and Tim visit this evening. But I'll be back in the morning to spend a while before I head back for Colby, if that's all right."
"That'll be great, Ced. Thanks for coming, man." Mark lifted his good arm, and they shook hands. Cedric also gave Mark a kiss on the forehead. He didn't want to upset Casey with anything more familiar.
There was an oldish, dark green Impala in the Greeley's driveway. It wasn't the ancient Camry Cedric remembered, but it had to be Tim's car.
The front door was opened by Chaz's father before Cedric had time to ring the doorbell.
As they shook hands, he said, "Cedric, good to see you again. Come in. Marie, Ced's here. She's in the kitchen, of course. And here's Tim"
From Tim he got a hug and a quick peck on the lips. By then Chaz's mother had bustled in. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Supper will be on the table in about a half an hour, boys." She looked at her husband. "Why don't you see what they'd like to drink?"
He smiled indulgently at her. "Yes, Mother." Turning to Tim and Cedric he said, "I'm having beer. But Marie remembered you both like wine. I've opened some cabernet, but there's chardonnay cold if you'd rather have it."
Tim and Cedric both said the cabernet would be fine. Their host excused himself and went to the kitchen after inviting both men to sit down.
"He's fine, and he sends his love. He's on duty tomorrow, or else he'd be here with us."
Cedric admired many things about Max, and God knew he was a sexy little bastard, but Cedric felt a bit hypocritical when he said, "Well, give him my love when you get home."
The Greeleys came in just then with wine, cubes of cheddar, and crackers.
"That should keep you boys from starving before dinner. I'd better get back to the kitchen."
"Marie, do you need any help in there?"
"You could pour the water, Tim, if you wouldn't mind."
Tim went to do that and Cedric chatted with his host.
"So, Ced, what's the latest on Mark and Casey?"
"It's good Doug was able to stay when Stan went home. I'm sure he's been a great support for Casey."
"No doubt. You know, Casey may be stronger than he seems. I hope so, anyway, because he's going to be tested during Mark's convalescence."
They were called to the table. Marie had put on a down-home feast of roast pork, whipped sweet potatoes, green beans cooked in bacon drippings, homemade cloverleaf rolls, and a tossed salad. For dessert there was a choice of apple or pecan pie.
"Wow, Ma Greeley," Cedric exclaimed, "it looks like you're practicing for Thanksgiving."
She laughed. "After all these years, I don't need much practice. This is just the kind of dinner I put on every Sunday when Chaz was at home."
After the blessing was said, Tim asked about Chaz and Trey.
"Oh, they're both fine. Busy, though. Chaz loves his job, but he works long hours. Seems like every time there's a problem on weekends, he's the one they call. But he complains that Trey spends a lot of his evenings and weekends reading student papers."
Tim chuckled. "I warned him that being a college professor wasn't just a matter of suede elbow patches and a pipe."
"Well, Chaz says Trey loves teaching. But he likes to gripe about the papers."
"Goes with the job," Tim said as he buttered a segment of roll.
While Trey and Chaz were still the topic of conversation, Marie volunteered that the two were coming to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. "And," she added, looking at Tim, "I think they're planning to drive up to see you and Max that weekend, too."
"Yes, they've been in touch." He looked across the table at Cedric. "They're arriving at our place Friday afternoon and will come back here to Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon."
"I can't help wishing they'd just stay here. We don't see much of them."
"Now, Mother, you know how much these boys mean to each other. And they haven't had a get-together in a while."
Again looking at Cedric, Tim said, "You must come down while they're at our place. We'll have a reunion. It'll be just like old times."
Except it won't, Cedric thought. I'll be the odd man out this time, when it used to be Max.
"Well, I don't know. Are you sure? I don't want to be a fifth wheel."
Tim gave him a look he was very familiar with. "Nonsense. We all want you there."
"In that case, thanks."
After supper Cedric told Tim to go ahead to the hospital, that he'd help Ma Greeley with the dishes. They had worked it out that Tim would stay with Mark until the end of visiting hours, less than two hours away by this point. The next day, Cedric would be there as soon as visiting hours began and stay awhile. Then he'd leave to go back to Colby. Tim would arrive, spend some time with Mark, and then he'd leave directly from the hospital to drive back to home and Max.
After helping put away food, stack the dishwasher, and generally making himself useful, Cedric was sent to the living room, where Chaz's dad was watching a football game. They watched together for a while, commenting occasionally on the action. When Marie joined them, they muted the TV so they could talk.
Cedric wanted to know all about Trey and Chaz. He also asked about the Greeley auto business and was told that car sales had slumped drastically a while back, but that things were now steady and holding their own.
"I had to lay off a couple of salesmen at each agency, but no mechanics. Cars need servicing, and if people are going to drive their cars longer before trading them, they have to bring `em in for maintenance and repairs."
"It was such a shame about those salesmen, though," Marie said.
"Yeah, but that's business, dear."
Cedric suspected the two Greeleys had had the same conversation before.
When Tim got back, the four of them sat in the family room, the muted TV showing a Pac-10 game. The Greeleys wanted an update on Mark, which Tim delivered. Ma Greeley offered pie and milk, but everyone declined.
At 10:00, the Greeley's excused themselves.
"You boys don't see much of each other. I expect you'll want to visit. So we'll go upstairs now. I'll have breakfast waiting whenever you want to get up."
Tim and Cedric thanked her, and she left.
"I'll lock the doors and set the security system. You boys sleep well."
Tim and Cedric thanked him, too, and he went upstairs after doing the chores he'd just mentioned.
Which left Tim and Cedric alone together, an hour before their usual bedtime.
Tim began by asking about Keesha and her family.
He remembered how it was Keesha's accident that had culminated in his having a relationship with Tim – Cedric was on the point of failing Tim's class because of his sister's accident, and the Brotherhood, thinking Tim was being unfair to Cedric, had taken their ire out on him. Cedric shuddered when he thought of the words they'd scrawled on Tim's body in indelible marker. But that was the first time they'd made love and – he made himself think of something else.
"Angel says they're coming home for Christmas. It'll be great to see them!"
Then he asked about Tim's sister. He was told she was still on the East Coast living with her partner and doing well.
Tim smiled. "She's still as feisty as ever."
"I know you love her. Do you ever get to see her?"
"They come to Ohio or Max and I go there each summer. But we Skype a lot. Don't know what we did before Skype."
Cedric chuckled. "Remember the telephone?"
"Oh, yeah. That!"
Tim asked about Adam and Blake.
"They're fine. Good neighbors. They live just across the hall, you know."
"So they told me. Do you get together with them often?"
"Not really. They've been very nice to me, but we keep our distance."
"They're worth getting to know, Ced. They're both interesting people. There's a lot more to Blake than meets the eye. And Adam's a dear."
"He's cute." Cedric raised an eyebrow. "For an older guy."
"Watch it, pup! Are you going to say something about his red hair, too?"
"It's not nearly as pretty as yours. And he's got some gray showing at the temples." He leaned forward. "Let's see, do you?"
Tim laughed. "I don't think so, but it's good I don't wear a beard, because I have a lot of gray there."
Cedric shook his head. "It's tough about you old folks. Now, tell me about your latest writing project. I assume you have another book in the works."
That set Tim off for a while, and the conversation just seemed to flow comfortably.
When Cedric yawned, Tim said, "It's midnight. I think it's time you got your beauty sleep. Let's see, Marie put me in Chaz's room and you're in the guest room."
They turned off the TV and the lights and went upstairs. Cedric, following Tim, admired the little ass in front of him on the stairway, remembering full well what it looked like bare. And even covered in denim, it looked as firm and tight as always. Tim had always run every morning. He suspected that now Tim and Max did daily runs together.
In the hallway outside their bedrooms, Tim turned, put a palm on each of Cedric's cheeks, stood on tiptoes, and kissed him. It wasn't a tongue-down-the-throat kiss, but it wasn't exactly prim, either.
"Goodnight, Ced. I'm glad we had this time together. See you in the morning."
"Yeah, Timmy. Um, me, too. `Nite."
The next morning went as planned. He'd had a good talk with Mark alone and then with Doug and Casey as well. When Tim showed up, there were hugs all around.
The last thing Tim said to him was, "You are coming to our house on the day after Thanksgiving, right?"
He thought Jay was planning to leave for Colby after lunch on Friday, but he'd have to check.
"Yes. Thanks. I'm looking forward to it. When do you want me?"
"Any time you want to come."
"I should be able to make it by around 2:00. If not, I'll call you."
"And plan to stay the night."
"Are you sure?"
Tim smiled. "I don't want you driving back to Shaker after an evening when the wine will no doubt flow."
Knowing that Trey and Chaz would have the spare bedroom, he wondered if there was still the pull-out in the computer room. But he didn't ask. If he was going to be too full of wine to drive, it wouldn't matter much where he slept.
"I'm looking forward to it. Have a safe trip back, Tim, and give my love to Max, okay?"
"Will do, Ced. Drive carefully. See you soon."
They hugged, kissed chastely, and parted.
On the way to the hospital, Cedric called Jay at work to tell him when he'd be home.
As he drove up the flat, dreary, November-gray interstate, he was relieved that Mark seemed to be doing so well. He couldn't help wondering, however, what sort of strain Mark's convalescence might place on his relationship with Casey. Especially in view of the irritation Mark had previously expressed to him about Casey's femme qualities. That was a topic they hadn't gotten around to discussing.
Actually, he thought, Casey's devoted to Mark. He'll do whatever Mark needs without complaining. Mark should consider himself lucky to have someone like that.
Later his thoughts turned to the coming holiday. It would be great to be home for Thanksgiving. He even found himself looking forward to the "reunion" with Trey, Chaz, Max, and Tim on Friday.
Oh, and he'd be more or less presenting Jay to his folks on Thanksgiving. And vice versa.
The thought of his folks reminded him that he'd promised to call Angel when he got home. Which was the first thing he did after using the bathroom. He knew his mother would worry if she didn't hear from him.
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at email@example.com . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim