by Tim Mead
Cedric drove home to Shaker Heights on the night before Thanksgiving Day.
Jay arrived the next morning. He had no trouble finding the Jones' house because he had grown up not far away. He told them that after he left on Friday he was going to go to his family home and check to see that everything was okay. His folks had arranged for someone to keep an eye on the place in their absence, but he thought he would take a look around anyway. Besides, he said, there were some of his things that he wanted to take back to Colby.
Thanksgiving Day was pleasant. Cedric's folks seemed to take to Jay, and he was charming to them.
As he carved the turkey, Jake said, "We've read and heard a lot about your parents, Jay. In addition to their work in medicine, they're involved in several local charities."
"And his mother's on the Board of the Orchestra," Angel added.
"Yes," Jay said. "They're very active." A shadow seemed to pass over his face. "They've always found time for community activities."
Picking up on his reserve, Angel changed the subject by asking why he'd chosen to work at Walgreen's.
"I'd really like to work at a hospital, but the job in Colby came up. I didn't want to live with my parents. Or, to be honest, to live in the house where they get their mail but are never home. Colby's nice. I like living in a college town. But I'm still hoping to find a job with a hospital in the Toledo area."
All of this came as a surprise to Cedric. He and Jay had never really talked much about their parents or about their job aspirations.
After the meal, despite Angel's protests, the young men cleaned up the kitchen and stacked the dishwasher.
Since they all groaned about being full, Angel served dessert later in the living room as the four continued to converse.
Afternoon turned to evening, and at 5:30 drinks were served. Jay, as usual, asked for a soda.
"You boys don't need to sit around here all evening with us old folk," Angel said.
At first they protested, but then decided to take in a Swedish film showing at the Cedar Lee, the local art theater.
Since they'd all decided to skip supper, Cedric and Jay decided to share a large tub of popcorn, their hands touching occasionally as they helped themselves.
"So what did you think?" Cedric asked as they drove home from the theater.
"Well, I admire the director for trying something more serious than the typical Hollywood crap. It seems that all they turn out is chick flicks, mindless comedies, or action-adventure stuff. At least this one tried to explore some contemporary social issues."
Cedric agreed, but added, "Still, it was all a little bleak, don't you think?"
"True. And when I have to read subtitles, I always feel as if there's a kind of wall between me and what's going on in the film."
"There's always a wall, dufus. It's called the screen," Cedric said, chuckling.
"Okay, smartass. But you know what I mean."
Cedric allowed as how he did.
When they got back about ten o'clock, they found that Angel had spoken earlier with Keesha, so they were brought up to date on Cedric's sister and her family. Jake asked for their reaction to the film and commented afterward that it didn't sound like his cup of tea.
About eleven, Cedric noticed that his mother looked tired, so he stood. Both he and Jay thanked the senior Joneses and said goodnight.
"Cedric, I've stocked your refrigerator. You should be able to find anything you want for breakfast." Turning to Jay, she said, "We're both so happy you could share this holiday with us, Jay. It was a pleasure having you here."
"It was indeed," Jake echoed.
Angel hugged Jay. Jake shook his hand.
"Don't be a stranger. Come back any time."
Cedric frowned. What part of "just friends" don't they get? He smoothed the expression from his face before Jay caught his scowl.
And the young men went to Cedric's apartment above the large garage behind the house.
Jay was always attentive when they were having sex, but Cedric thought that night he seemed especially caring.
Before they went to sleep, he said "I'm glad you're here."
"Your folks are wonderful. Thanks for having me. It sure beat being alone."
It had been the plan that Jay would drive back to Colby on Friday since he had to work both days of the weekend.
They slept late. When Cedric awoke and reached for Jay, no one was there. He heard the shower running.
After Jay finished in the shower and while he was dressing, Cedric showered. He slipped on white cotton socks, an old Kent State sweatshirt, and gray sweat pants.
Cedric fixed pancakes and sausage for breakfast. He was in no rush for Jay to leave since he wasn't going to Kent until the next day. He'd thought they could spend the day together, or part of it at any rate, since Jay had the whole day off. Cedric was a little surprised when Jay gave him a kiss on the lips and said he had to get his things packed.
"What's your hurry?"
"Let me get my shit together, and then we need to talk, okay?"
As he cleaned up the kitchen he wondered what Jay wanted to talk about.
Just as he finished cleaning the griddle, Jay appeared from the bedroom carrying his bag.
"Let's sit on the sofa."
They sat, turned to face each other.
"So what's goin' on?"
Jay sighed, dropped his chin to his chest for a moment, and then raised it again so he could look into Cedric's eyes.
"You're a very sweet guy, Cedric."
Why the endearment? Why now?
"Thanks. So are you. However, I think I sense a but coming up."
Jay nodded. "Yeah, you do. I know the timing's terrible. Your parents are wonderful, and it was great to be with you guys instead of being alone on Thanksgiving."
"They wanted to meet you. And it was Angel who suggested you should spend the holiday with us. Not that I didn't want you to."
"I understand all that. I'm just apologizing for the timing. It seems crass or something to accept your hospitality and then break up with you."
"So that's what this is about? You're dumping me?"
"I hate that term. I care for you. Maybe too much."
Cedric waited, sure Jay would continue.
"We have a good time together."
"But as far as you're concerned, we're just good friends with the fringe benefit of sex whenever either of us wants it. Right?"
Cedric didn't need to have that pointed out to him. He'd felt that way from the beginning. At first he'd been sure Jay felt the same way, but lately . . .
"We're not really going anywhere, are we? I doubt that you can see us settling down to a long-term relationship. It's not like you're in love with me," Jay continued.
Again, he was right.
"Yeah, but "
Jay interrupted him. "I don't know whether you're over Tim or not. I hope you are. But what I see when I look into your eyes, what I feel when we're having sex, isn't what I want to see and feel when I'm with someone. I've been alone long enough, Cedric. I want to find someone to love, to make plans for the future with. I don't think that's you. If I'm wrong, if you honestly want us to be more to each other, I'm willing to give it a try. But I don't want to be hurt. I don't want to keep on with what we're doing if you're going to dump me someday."
"I know you'd do it gently. But it would still be more painful than if we do it now, before we have too much invested in the relationship."
Cedric sat, thinking. Finally, he said, "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. But you're right. I've been perfectly happy to have a fuck buddy who's good company and good in bed. I never thought of it becoming anything more."
Jay visibly relaxed. "So you aren't mad at me for what I've said?"
"How could I be? You're making me see the truth about us."
"Then can I have a hug?"
Cedric extended his arms, and Jay scooted into them.
Cedric kissed Jay's forehead. "We'll still be friends, right? If you need anything, you'll come to me."
Jay sniffled and nodded. "You're a good man, Ced. I hope you find what you're looking for."
As he drove the familiar route from Shaker to Kent, Cedric tried to sort out his feelings about Jay's breaking things off between them.
In retrospect he could see that he'd been taking Jay for granted. He liked having Jay around to take in the occasional movie, to go to Nellie's for a beer once in a while , and most of all to have regular sex. Jay was an even-tempered, pleasant companion, fun in bed.
Cedric had to acknowledge that, though he had been looking for someone to settle in with, for something long-term, he'd never considered Jay for the role. The chemistry just wasn't there.
He wondered if he'd missed signs that Jay wanted more from their friendship. Well, yes, looking back on it. There was his general possessiveness and especially his reaction over being neglected the weekend of Mark's accident. That should have been the tip-off that Jay wasn't getting everything he needed from Cedric. He accused himself of insensitivity, not being sufficiently aware of Jay's needs. When he got back to Colby he'd definitely have to apologize. He found himself feeling protective of Jay. He'd have to keep an eye on him to see how he was getting along.
He took the Ohio Turnpike exit off I-77 and, after getting a ticket from the toll booth, headed east.
Still, the breakup with Jay might spur him to look more actively for the man he could think of in terms of pipe and slippers.
He believed he'd finally gotten over feeling betrayed every time he thought of Tim and Max. But that didn't keep him from wanting the kind of relationship he'd had with Tim.
And speaking of Tim . . . .
A few minutes before noon he pulled up in front of the townhouse he'd once shared with Tim. He'd been told to come for lunch.
Before he even got to the stoop, the door was being held open by Max, who must have been watching for him.
"Great, you're here!" he said, pulling Cedric into a hug.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Max."
As he took Cedric's coat, Max grinned and said, "Tim's upstairs, primping probably. He'll be down in a minute." Then, lowering his voice, he continued, "Ced, we're really glad you came. It could be hard for you being here, in the house where you and Tim lived."
"It's sweet of you to care, Max, but I think I'm past that. It'll be good to see all you guys again. Have you heard from Cincinnati?"
"Trey called from their car a few minutes ago. They should be here in about fifteen minutes. They spent the afternoon with Mark yesterday and say he's okay. They'll give us the latest news about his condition when they get here."
"Cedric, welcome! Thanks for coming," Tim said as he came down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, he gave Cedric a hug and a quick peck on the lips.
Cedric was relieved to note that he felt comfortable with Tim's affection. It was as if they were two old friends. And that was good.
"We'll eat when Trey and Chaz get here," Tim said.
Cedric was so excited about seeing Trey and Chaz, not to mention nervous about being with Tim and Max despite what he'd just said that he wasn't particularly interested in food.
They sat in the living room. Tim asked about Cedric's parents and commented on how kind they had always been to him.
Cedric assured him that they were well and sent their regards. Then he mentioned that Adam and Blake also sent their hellos.
The three men jumped to their feet when the doorbell rang.
There were hugs and kisses all around, but it was Chaz who nearly squeezed the breath out of Cedric.
"Ced, man, it's been way too long. How the hell are you?"
"I'm good, Chaz. How are you?"
Chaz still wore a crew cut, and, though he was still lean, with a flat stomach and broad shoulders, his face had filled out a bit, making him look more mature.
"I'm good, man, but I've gotta piss." He looked around. "If you guys'll excuse me." He looked at Trey. "Tiger, you gotta go too, I think." When Trey nodded, Chaz said, "I'll use the upstairs bath then." And he set off, taking the stairs two at a time.
God, Cedric thought, this is like old times. And I love these guys!
Yes, even Max. It was never fair to hate him because Tim loves him. And to be honest he's everything I could wish for Tim. Good. Kind. Sweet. Smart. Sensitive. Aware.
So you're cool with being here? You're gonna enjoy the experience? No regrets?
Yes, I'm looking forward to the rest of the day. And no, no regrets.
It's about goddam time!
Once they were reassembled in the living room, the first question was about Mark's condition.
"He's feeling better, now that his ribs and the operation for the removal of his spleen are healing. But he's had a setback," Trey said.
"Yeah," Chaz chimed in. "They said from the beginning he might have to have another operation on his leg. And that's gonna happen."
"Poor Marky," Cedric exclaimed.
"Poor Casey," Max added.
"Well, Casey has Doug there. And Pops is gonna close his office and spend two weeks in Cincinnati at Christmas and New Year's."
"I suppose the Cincinnati Symphony has a big holiday concert at some point."
"They do," Trey replied, "but that's the middle of December, and then Casey's off until after the first of the year. Oh, he has a gig to play in a quartet at a wedding reception, but that won't keep him away from Mark much."
"Still, it looks as if Mark may spend Christmas in the hospital. When is the operation?" Max asked.
"They haven't set a date yet."
Cedric made a mental note to call Cincinnati when he got back to Colby. And to plan a time to go see the guys in Cincinnati sometime during the holidays.
Lunch was quiche and salad, which seemed to satisfy everyone except Chaz, who ate Trey's dessert (cherry tart) as well as his own.
Afterward, Tim insisted they take a walk. It was cold but sunny, a nice afternoon for a nostalgic wander around campus. Tim and Max pointed out a couple of buildings that had been built since the Brotherhood had graduated.
This was the first time Cedric had walked on the campus since he'd left there years before. He'd been in Kent, but he'd never been on foot, strolling the sidewalks, taking in the familiar scenes. The trees were bare now, though the grass was still green. Kent's lovely campus glowed in the golden light of the late autumn sun. He'd read Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel at Tim's suggestion. He'd always meant to read another of Wolfe's novels, You Can't Go Home Again, but had never gotten around to it. But that title seemed appropriate here. He was experiencing an unsettling feeling: he knew the place intimately, having lived there for four years, but this day had a dreamlike quality to it, as if he were an observer but not part of the scene. He felt no connection to the students passing singly and in chatty groups. The campus was more real in his memories than in the present moment.
He was brought out of his reverie by Tim's laughing at something Chaz, ever the clown, had said. He laughed, pretending he'd heard.
The five men passed the rest of the afternoon chatting while a basketball game played on the muted TV.
Cedric and Chaz spent a good while together, catching up. It had been nearly a year since they'd seen each other.
Although he'd heard Trey's take on the subject when he'd visited on Labor Day, Cedric wanted to hear from the horse's mouth.
"Chaz, how's the job going?"
Chaz turned his pale blue eyes on Cedric and smiled. Something about those eyes looked different. Then Cedric realized his friend was wearing contacts. And were those lines the beginnings of crow's feet? We're not boys any more.
"Oh, can't complain," Chaz said
"When people say that, it usually means they have something to complain about."
"Geez, Ced. You sound like Trey. And Tim."
"Is that bad? You know all three of us love you. What's wrong with the job?"
"Okay, suppose I say I shouldn't complain. It's not the job, really. It's me."
"And what's wrong with you?"
"I guess I haven't quite grown up yet."
"You're going to explain that, aren't you?"
Cedric glanced at Trey, who, though listening to something Max was saying, was watching Chaz carefully. He doesn't miss much. And he's even more sensitive to what's going on with other people than Tim is.
"Yeah," Chaz said, "what I wanted to do was work with kids. That's why I changed majors to recreation and got my MS in the field."
"You've done very well in `the field' haven't you? Deputy Director in Richmond?"
"Yeah. But I spend most of my time in an office pushing papers. I don't get to rub shoulders with citizens, except for city employees, much less kids. I get to hire and supervise the ones who work with the kids."
"Sounds a little like the Peter Principle."
"With one important difference," Trey, now joining their conversation, commented. "Chaz hasn't risen to his level of incompetence. His bosses seem to think he's doing a great job."
Tim and Max had now turned their attention to the topic.
"Chaz, have you talked with your boss about getting out of the office more, of actually visiting your parks and facilities? I'd think he'd be all for that. You might be able to get involved with kids under the guise of on-site inspections."
"I've thought about that, Tim. Maybe I'll run the idea past her."
Tim chuckled. "Sorry. Didn't mean to be sexist. What's she like?"
"She's okay. She has no problem with me being gay, and I think she has the hots for the professor over there."
Cedric was startled. For the professor? Oh, of course. The group now has two professors. Dr. Henry Lee Withers III. Cool!
"You're imagining it," Trey said, raising an eyebrow. "I assure you, she's never come on to me."
Chaz grinned. "Don't let her get you alone. She's dropped some comments . . . ."
"Well, word around town is she may not be your boss for much longer."
"Yeah. She's never said so to me, but I hear she's planning to run for the state legislature."
"And then will you get her job?" Cedric asked.
"God, I hope not!"
"Then, Tall One," Tim said, "it sounds as if you need to do some career reassessment."
Trey nodded. "Yeah, we're going to do some of that as soon as we get home, aren't we, babe?"
Chaz sighed. "I suppose."
Max then asked Cedric about his new job.
"It's a bit like Chaz's job. Mostly paper pushing."
"Are you disillusioned, too?" Tim asked.
"Not really. I still get to work with clients. But so far the closest I've gotten to a courtroom is representing the son of a client on a DUI charge."
"Do you want to be a trial lawyer?" Chaz asked. "Mark seems perfectly happy with corporate law."
"I'm okay with my job. Tyrese, my boss, is letting me run the Colby office, so I do whatever needs doing. Actually my paralegal, Ms. Bott, runs the office. But Tyrese is a good boss. He and his partner have been great to me. So, no complaints. At least about my job."
"You got complaints about something else?" Chaz wanted to know.
"I got dumped yesterday morning." He hadn't meant to mention that. It just more or less slipped out.
Trey seemed puzzled. "I didn't know you had anybody special."
"Apparently I didn't treat him as if he were special enough."
"You gonna explain that?" Chaz asked, echoing the question Cedric had put to him earlier.
"His name's Jay, and he's a pleasant guy. And, um, great in bed."
"But he wanted more?" It was Tim who got to the heart of the matter.
"Yeah. I've been coasting along, worried about Mark and Casey, thinking about work, you know . . . . And he's looking for Mr. Right. He figured out we weren't going down that road."
This was getting too close to what he'd thought he had with Tim.
"But enough about me. Jay was smart to cut it off. I wish him well. I just hope he doesn't think I was using him."
Trey looked at him and mouthed "Were you?" but the others didn't see. Cedric flinched and changed the subject.
Someone's stomach growled. Trey looked at Chaz and cocked his head. Chaz blushed, saying, "Sorry, guys."
"We have seven o'clock reservations at Stefan's," Max said. "But we can come up with something to tide you over. Anyone like a drink?"
Tim excused himself to go to the kitchen while Max took drink orders.
Cedric followed Max to the kitchen to help carry drinks or food.
Chaz had asked for a beer, but everyone else opted for cabernet. While Max was opening a wine bottle and pouring the drinks, Tim popped a container in the microwave for a minute or so, took it out, and put it on a tray, surrounding it with pita chips.
"Voila! Hot artichoke dip."
Then Tim unwrapped wedges of cheese. "These are all English cheeses. One of Max's parishioners sent them to us, and this seemed like a good chance to break them out."
When everyone had his drink, Cedric set his down. "Let me be the designated driver, since my car will probably hold everyone most comfortably."
"Bragging, Ced?" Trey asked.
Cedric knew Trey used to drive a Lexus SUV, but he also knew they'd have rented a car to come from Cincinnati to Kent. They were flying back to Richmond the next day and would no doubt leave the car at the airport.
"I hope not. Just tryin' to be helpful."
"Don't let Tiger rag on you Ced, babe. We're driving a two-seater BMW he insisted on at the rental place. No way can we take five of us to dinner."
"There's plenty of room for five in Tim's Impala," Max said. "I'll be designated driver, so you guys won't need to worry about it."
"That's good of you, Max," Trey said. "Sure you don't mind?"
Max grinned. "Not at all. Besides, I can drink when we get back here, so it's merely deferred pleasure."
"I like the way you think, Reverend," Chaz said. "But, Tim, you still driving that same old Impala?"
"Sure. It runs fine. And it really doesn't have much mileage on it. Why shouldn't I hang on to it?"
"Sometimes, Timmy, I wonder if you've always been an old man."
"Here, now!" Cedric blurted out, thinking of things about Tim that definitely didn't remind him of an old man. Then, realizing he no longer had any protective role with regard to Tim, he started to apologize. "I mean "
"Ced's right," Max said. "He's still the lion you guys knew in school, believe me!"
Everyone laughed at that.
"Guys," Trey said, "about Stefan's. That's pretty pricey. Why don't you let us all pay our own way?"
"Absolutely not," Tim said. "We could have cooked a meal for you, but we wanted to spend our time with you, not in the kitchen. Besides, each of us has his own memories of Stefan's, so it might be a kind of nostalgia trip. Max and I are happy to host you there tonight."
"That's all very true," Max added. "But it's also a celebration of sorts. Stanford's going to publish Tim's second book. Timmy's just learned that in honor of the forthcoming book and, I'm sure, excellent work in the classroom, the University is promoting him to full professor as of next year."
There was a round of applause followed by congratulatory comments from Cedric, Trey, and Chaz.
A blushing Tim thanked them.
A little after six the group broke up to dress for dinner. Trey and Chaz were using the guest room. Cedric was sleeping on the sofa downstairs, so he had to change in the cramped first-floor lavatory. He had long since learned never to travel anywhere without taking along if not a suit at least a pair of dress slacks, a jacket, and tie. Stefan's required jackets of men who dined there.
When they assembled in the living room (with Cedric's garment bag in the coat closet and his bag discretely behind the sofa), Chaz whistled and said, "We're gonna wow `em tonight at Stefan's. The chicks' tongues are gonna be hangin' out."
"And won't they be disappointed?" Trey replied, smiling at his partner.
Stefan's had hardly changed, except that the French maitre d' was no longer there. Silver, not stainless, still gleamed against the white tablecloths. Although the restaurant was nearly full, there was merely a low-pitched buzz of conversation. A pianist played softly on a small stage in the largest of the dining rooms. Black-and-white clad wait staff moved with apparent serenity among the tables.
Their party was shown to a table in one of the smaller dining rooms. They were next to a window which, Cedric remembered, had a nice view of a sloping lawn and a pond, but it was dark and he couldn't see anything in the glass but the reflection of the room he sat in. Through a glass, darkly?
It occurred to him that he should feel like a fifth wheel. It was a tribute to the deep bonds of friendship he shared with the others and to the kind of men they were that he and they were comfortable with his being there.
When their wine came, it was Trey who made a graceful toast to "Full Professor Tim."
Tim, blushing again, responded. "Thanks, Trey. I'm happier than you know that I can share this moment with you, my brothers. And here's to our missing brothers, Mark and his devoted Casey. Perhaps in the not too distant future we can all be together to celebrate Mark's complete recovery."
"Here, here!" the group responded.
Cedric noticed they attracted some attention from the other diners in the small room.
In less exalted establishments, the round table at which they were seated would have been called a six-top. Cedric found himself between an empty chair on his left and Max on his right.
When the food arrived, Trey asked Max to say grace, which he did. Cedric had the feeling they attracted some stares while the blessing was being asked, but he didn't care. He smiled inwardly: they might be even more surprised if they knew it was a gay group they were staring at.
As the meal progressed, sometimes all five present were engaged in a single conversation. At times, however, it broke into two.
While Tim was talking with Trey about something and Chaz listened in, Cedric asked, "Max, how are things going in your, uh, job?"
"I love my job, Ced." He put down his fork. "But I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep it."
"What's the problem? I'm sure there aren't any complaints about the way you do your work."
Max smiled. His gorgeous brown eyes, wavy chestnut hair, and ruddy complexion registered on Cedric's man-meter. Tim's guy was a hunk.
"Thanks for saying that. And so far as I know, you're right. I love working with the college students. Moreover, the rector says he's happy having me there. The problem is with the bishop, who thinks I'm long overdue for a parish of my own."
"What would be so bad about being a rector someplace?"
"One real problem and one potential one. I'd hate to give up my campus ministry. And I'm not interested in taking a job beyond commuting distance from Kent. Tim's not going to leave the University, nor would I want him to. I suspect after the new book appears some schools will try to recruit him, but he says he doesn't want to move."
"Is your bishop a homophobe?"
"I don't think so. The dean of the cathedral is a lesbian, and he appointed her. He just keeps saying that now I'm into my thirties I'm too old to be an assistant. He even suggested I might be too old to minister to college-age students."
"Damn! That's ridiculous!"
"In theory, yes. But some students might be more likely to open up to someone who was closer to their own age. Remember how college kids used to say never trust anyone over thirty?"
"Wasn't that back in the sixties? We weren't even around then."
Max chuckled and then ate a piece of dinner roll. He swallowed, washed it down with water, and said, "You're right, of course, but the attitude is still there."
"So have you and Tim decided what you're going to do?"
"Tim suggests that when the bishop becomes adamant, I tell him I'll move if the parish is in the area."
"How do you think he'll react?"
"He can't make me move anywhere, of course. And I think he'll do what he can. He's always been encouraging. He knows Tim and I live together and he's okay with that. Everyone knew I was gay when I came here, after all."
"How about your rector and the vestry? Can they let the bishop know they want to keep you?"
"I suppose they could. But I don't think we're ready to use them as a resource yet."
"Haven't you ever thought about having your own church?"
"Sure, I've thought about it. I'm just not terribly ambitious, I suppose. I'm perfectly happy where I am."
"What about prayer? After all, it's a calling, isn't it?"
Max's face became dead serious. "I haven't even told Tim this. Yes, I've prayed. I just feel as if I haven't gotten an answer . . . ."
Cedric put his hand on Max's arm. "That must be tough, Max. I'm sorry. I hope it all works out. I'm sure you and Tim'll find a way to stay together."
"You can count on that. And, Ced?"
"Come on, Charles! Move your gorgeous ass!" Trey had already put their cases in the trunk of the little BMW.
"Okay, okay!" Chaz hugged Cedric, Tim, and Max, planting discreet kisses on their cheeks. "We love you guys."
"Yeah, we do." Trey hugged and kissed them as well. "We must get together again soon."
"With Mark and Casey!" Cedric suggested.
"You know it!" Trey leaned close and whispered in Cedric's ear, "It will work out, brother. I promise you."
Cedric squeezed his arm.
Trey and Chaz piled into the car and left for the Akron-Canton airport, where they were getting a flight to Pittsburgh to catch a connecting flight to Richmond. Trey had never been one to flash the family money around, but Cedric was pretty sure they'd be flying first class.
"Well, Cedric, time for one last coffee?" Max asked.
"I'd like that. Thanks. But then I have to get going. I promised Angel I'd have lunch with them before I headed home."
They sat around the kitchen table, chatting, and before Cedric knew it, it was his turn to leave.
"Bye, guys. Thanks for including me."
"Idiot!" Tim grinned, hugged him, and gave him another peck on the lips.
"Don't let it be so long next time, Ced." Max hugged him, too, and gave him a kiss that was not a peck.
Tim smiled in agreement. He didn't seem to mind. "And tell Blake and Adam we said hi."
Feeling choked up, Cedric managed to get out, "I will, I promise." Whether he was talking about seeing them sooner or passing their hellos on to Blake and Adam he couldn't tell.
In what seemed like no time he was pulling into the space between his parents' house and his garage apartment.
Angel had a fantastic spread laid out for lunch. Although he complained good-naturedly that he'd done nothing but eat for the last four days, he enjoyed the chance to catch his breath and spend some quality time with his parents.
"How are you, baby?
"I'm good, Mama. I think I can safely say I'm over Tim. Max is a great guy, and he obviously makes Tim happy. I wish them both the best."
"I'm glad to hear that. We loved Tim." She put down her cup. "We like Jay, too." She fiddled with her napkin. "He left sooner than we expected, though."
"Uh, he broke up with me."
"No. It's for the best. He wanted more than I could give him. We're still friends, though."
It was Jake who changed the subject. "Did you make a mistake going to Colby? Do you like the place? How's your job going?"
Gratefully, Cedric began talking about Ms. Bott, about the office, and about Colby.
After lunch it was time for him to hit the road again.
"Bye, Angel. Bye, Dad."
"Bye, son. You keep us posted on how Mark does, you hear?"
"I hear." He got a hug from his father, a hug and a kiss from Angel.
As he drove west on the crowded Ohio Turnpike, he once again experienced the familiar let-down, the feeling of emptiness he often had when he left people he loved in order to go back to Colby.
His mood was brightened considerably once he was back in Colby. He called Trey and Chaz to see if there was any news about the impending nephew.
"Yes," Trey told him, "George Custis Lee arrived the day before Thanksgiving, weighing 7 lbs. 8 oz. He and his mother are both well, though Rob was a nervous wreck for a while."
Cedric chuckled. "But he's okay now, I hope."
"Yeah, he's fine. Strutting around here like the proud papa he is."
"Well, give Gwen and Rob my congratulations. And give the tall one my love."
"And ours back to you, Ced."
After unpacking, he put a load of dirty clothes in the washer, poured himself a glass of wine, and pulled some fingerling carrots from the fridge. He turned on the FM and found a station that was playing Diana Krall singing Cole Porter.
He thought of Jay and how different life would be without him. Well, they'd vowed to remain friends. Maybe they could have dinner together once in a while. He'd have to see how Jay felt about that, see what Jay's idea of just being friends meant.
And then he remembered the news about Gwen and Rob Withers' baby. George Custis. The Withers were related to the Lee family, as in Light Horse Harry and Robert E. Cedric wondered if they were related to George Washington. The name Custis would certainly suggest that.
Wonder what they'll wind up calling him? Georgie? Probably not. Though that Chaz will probably come up with something less imposing than George Custis, whatever the parents have in mind. Chaz. What a dude!
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