Cedric Moves On

by Tim Mead



Chapter 14:

January Thaw

 




The mild weather in December was a false promise.  It began to snow on New Year's Eve.  

Cedric, who had lived in northern Ohio all his life and should have been used to the winters, could not get warm.  His feet were always cold, and he was prone to having chills at odd times.  Once even in a three-piece suit in his boss's office in Toledo.

When he arrived home from work each evening, he stripped off his suit, shirt, tie, and dress socks, donning sweats and heavy cotton athletic socks instead.  Sometimes he wore two pairs of socks.  He found that raising the thermostat didn't help.  Only under his thick duvet could he get comfortably warm.

But in bed he often had nightmares.  Two or three times a week he'd wake up clawing at the right side of his neck, at the spot where he could still feel the icy cold of the pistol Kevin Ferguson had pressed there.  At other times he woke up in a sweat, having dreamed of rats crawling over his body.

Life went on, however.  On the Monday morning after New Year's he had a brief client meeting first thing.  When that person had left, Ms. Bott informed him that Myron Pettis, the Assistant County Prosecutor, wanted to see him.

"You have another client coming in at 9:30.  After that you're free until lunch.  So I told him you'd be in his office about 10:30."

"Did he say what it's about?"

"No, but I'd assume it's about the Ferguson case."

"Most likely.  The assistant prosecutor, huh?  I'm not important enough to talk to the man himself."

Ms. Bott didn't respond.

"What do you know about Pettis?"

The hint of a grimace.  "I'd rather you came to your own conclusions.  I wouldn't want to poison the well."

Cedric grinned.  "Perhaps you already have."


Even though it was only a short distance to the county building, Cedric chose to drive.  It was a cold day with six inches of snow on the ground, and he wasn't about to walk it if he didn't have to.  As he had ever since his abduction, he carefully checked the inside of his car before unlocking the doors.

Pettis turned out to be a man of average height.  He wore jeans, a brown shirt, red tie, rusty tweed jacket, and ankle boots that probably came from L. L. Bean.  But he spent money on his hair, and his nails were perfectly manicured.

"Thanks for coming over, Ced."

Not Cedric, not Mr. Jones.  Ced.

"No problem, Myron.  I had a gap in my schedule this morning."

"Coffee?"

"Sounds good.  Black."

"Of course.  Have a seat."  He picked up his phone, said a few words, and replaced it.  "You've been in town about six months, right?"

"About that, yeah."

"I'm surprised we haven't met."  It sounded almost like a criticism.

"Well, we're a small, multi-purpose firm.  We don't do much criminal work.  And my boss handles most of what we do get."

"Your boss is a nasty litigator."

"Nasty?"

"I meant that as a compliment.  Maybe you'd prefer formidable."

"I can imagine formidable being appropriate."

Pettis's assistant, a good-looking young man, brought in their coffee.  Cedric suppressed a smile, thinking back to the day when Ms. B. told him she didn't "fetch coffee."  It would be nice, he thought, to have a young stud as a paralegal.  But then it might be distracting.  And prickly as she is, Ms. B. is really good at what she does.

"I've asked you to come here so I could update you on the Ferguson situation."

Cedric smiled inwardly.  He couldn't hear that word any more without thinking about abs.  Then he made himself focus on what Pettis was saying.  "That's good of you.  So where is he?  What's going on?"

"We don't actually know."

"Oh?"

"He was being held for psychiatric evaluation, as you probably know.  And then the feds showed up with all the proper paperwork and took him away.  They wanted to do their own evaluation, or so they said."

"Was it the FBI?"

"I'm not at liberty to tell you who it was, but they outranked the Feebs.  In fact, the FBI was never officially involved in your case."

"But . . . ."

Pettis held up his hand.  "I said officially.  Sergeant Stonesifer handled things for the Colby Police.  And they found you so quickly that neither his lieutenant nor the Chief got involved.  And any request for FBI assistance would have had to come from the Chief."

Cedric started to say something about Barton McNamee, but thought better of it.  He wouldn't want to do or say anything to get Ray or Bart in trouble.

"So how long are these mysterious feds going to keep Ferguson?"

"Forever, I hope."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Ced, it would be a bitch of a case to prosecute."

"Would you like to explain that?  After all, he abducted me, kept me chained up for three days, threatened me with a deadly weapon."

"Yeah, and mostly we just have your word on all that."

"Wait a minute!  The cops found me chained up.  There's forensic evidence in my car and in the barn.  And I understand he was making a ransom note when they picked him up."

"I'm sure a good defense attorney could explain all that away.  Tyrese James, for example, though he couldn't take the case because of conflict of interest, could do a lot of damage to any case we could present, I imagine."

"If I were the defense, that's not the way I'd go."

"Smart boy."  Cedric bristled at the term boy, but Pettis was still talking.  "The best approach would be to point out that this is a decorated ex-Marine who's suffering from PTSD or whatever you could get the shrinks to testify to.  And to stress that he opposed the divorce because of his belief that marriage is a lifetime commitment.  That would play better with the jurors."

Cedric gave Pettis a wry smile.  "And with the voting public?"

Pettis ignored the comment and continued, "We could probably empanel a jury that sympathized with his being furious that his wife had chosen a gay attorney, though of course that would have to be understood rather than stated."

"You know, I'm inclined to go along with the ex-Marine and PTSD  bit.  But you could also argue that what he did to me was a hate crime, within the legal definition."

"Only if he's compos mentis."

"So what's the status of the case?"

"The feds have removed it from our jurisdiction.  Frankly, I think somebody in Washington realized that they fucked up, that Ferguson fell through the cracks.  And even though it's pretty damned late, they're gonna look after their boy."

"You know, My," Cedric said with a glint in his eye, "I think that may be the best resolution.  But tell me something."

"Sure."

"Would you have played up the fact that I'm gay and Ferguson hates gays?"

"I'd have run that decision past my boss.  It's a sensitive issue.  And I think it's a facet of the case that might have been more useful to the defense.  Depending on the jury, of course."  Pettis stood.  "Thanks for coming over, counselor.  I wondered about having a lawyer as the victim and star witness in the trial.  But you'd have been all right, I think."

As Cedric stood, Pettis said, "You know this case is to all intents and purposes closed?  You wouldn't think about initiating a civil suit, I hope."

"No.  I'm not feeling vindictive.  I just hope he gets the help he needs."

"Big of you."

They shook hands, and Cedric left.


Back at the office, he briefed Ms. Bott on what Pettis had told him.  And then he added, "You didn't want to tell me about Pettis before I went to his office.  Would you care now to say anything?"

"I think not.  It would be unprofessional."  She paused.  "Besides, now you've seen him you can draw your own conclusions."

~~~~~

Gradually the bad dreams became less frequent, but the chills persisted.  Cedric wondered if he needed to see a doctor or a shrink.  But he wanted to put all that behind him, not dredge it up while lying on a couch.

~~~~~

About a week after his meeting with the Assistant Prosecutor, Cedric noted that there was no snow and the wind wasn't blowing.  Thus he decided to walk to The Cougar, a bar popular with the university crowd, for lunch.  Many of the undergraduates were too young to be served beer, but the excellent burgers attracted students of all ages.
And not a few faculty members.  

Cedric ordered coffee and was trying to decide which of the fat- and calorie-laden sandwiches to order when he heard, "Hello, counselor."  He looked up to see Harv Clay.

"Hello, professor.  Care to join me?"  He gestured to the chair opposite him.

"Sure, if you don't mind."

The elderly man had hardly settled in his seat when the waitperson, whose boobs Cedric gave an appreciative look, handed Harv a menu and asked what he wanted to drink.

"Coffee black, please."

"I'll be right back with your coffees."

"Cedric, I'm surprised to see you ogling that young woman's breasts," Harv said with a grin.

"Hey, I wasn't ogling.  Besides, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the look of a fine bod, whoever it belongs to."

When Tori (according to the name embroidered on her shirt) returned, Harv ordered a hamburger with pickles. Cedric ordered a mushroom and Swiss burger with fries.  Noticing the look on Harv's face, he asked, "What?"

"I didn't say a thing," Harv replied, his face the picture of innocence.  "I don't know you well enough to comment on your eating habits."

Cedric chuckled.  "You're right!  But I'll have a salad for supper.  And spend some extra time on the machines tomorrow morning.  But The Cougar has the best fries in town, and I don't get here often."

"It's absolutely none of my business, dear boy.  Perhaps the look on my face was merely envy.  At my age cholesterol is a serious concern."

"You look fit."

"Good genes.  The men in my family don't run to fat.  But my GP chides me about the cholesterol at every checkup."

They chatted on general topics until Tori brought their food.

After each had tasted his burger, Harv asked, "How is it?"

"Better than Nellie's, I think.  Wait, let me check."  Cedric had another bite.  When he'd finished chewing, he said, "Yes, definitely better."

"But Nellie's has all the pretty boys."

"True that." He looked around.  "There are some pretty boys here, too."

"Yes, but they don't play on your team, do they?"

"Alas."

His face more serious, Harv leaned forward and asked, "Cedric, how are you?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Harv."

"No, I mean how are you really?"

"As I said, I'm okay.  Really."

"Cedric, I'm not looking to provide grist for the Colby gossip mill.  It's just that I heard you were . . . that you might have been "

"Raped."

"Well, yes.  I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have brought it up."  Harv took a sip of his coffee.  "I was just worried about you."

"Do me a favor, please."

"Of course."

"When my name comes up, please tell them that you have it on the best authority that I wasn't raped."

"I'm relieved to hear it.  And I'll do as you ask, of course."

"Harv, you haven't been talking to Sam Gruen, have you?"

"As a matter of fact, I do think it was Dr. Sam who said something.  He's my urologist, but we see each other more often at our bi-weekly bridge nights.  And he is something of a gossip, I'm afraid.  Oh, never about his patients.  He's too professional for that.  But you and he live in the same building, don't you?"

"Yes, we do.  And when he asked, I told him Ferguson didn't rape me.  He reacted as if I were in denial.  So I suppose I'm gonna have to have a talk with my neighbor."

"It's a small town.  Stories inevitably make the rounds.  But I promise I'll do what I can to set people straight.  Now.  Let's change the subject.  I promise not to ask you about what must have been a dreadful experience."

Cedric thanked him and then asked about upcoming offerings by the Drama Department.  The two had talked of going to a concert or a play together during the fall term, but they had never gotten around to doing it.  Or, rather, Cedric waited for Harv to make a suggestion, and when he didn't, Cedric decided not to push it.  This time, however, Harv said there were several things coming up and that he'd be in touch with Cedric soon about them.

~~~~~

Back in the office after lunch he got a call from his boss.

"Cedric, I have some information for you."

"Okay."  Obviously Tyrese was in brusque mode.  But then he was a busy guy.

"Crystal Ferguson wants to go ahead with the divorce."

"Damn!"

"That's not the reaction I expected from you."

"Whatever's going on in that screwed-up brain of Kevin's there's one thing I'm pretty sure of.  And that's his belief that marriage is a lifetime commitment."

"This is the twenty-first century, Cedric."

"Okay, so he's old fashioned.  But I honestly think he believes it.  It's why he so adamantly refused to consider divorce in the first place.  So what do you think will happen when he hears that now he's incarcerated (wherever he is) his wife still wants to dump him?"

"On the other hand, from what you've told me, he's been abusing her, verbally at least, and now he's committed a major felony.  Why should she stick with him?  You don't have Stockholm syndrome, do you, boy?"

"Please don't call me boy.  And, no, I don't think Stockholm syndrome comes into play here.  I just think Kevin may be the victim of things that happened to him while he was on active duty.  At least I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until we hear from the headshrinkers.  If we ever do."

"Sorry about the boy.  To get back to business, Mrs. Ferguson asked if you could continue to represent her.  Ms. Bott told her that wouldn't be possible because of conflict of interest.  When she insisted, Ms. B. suggested she call me."

"And you told her . . . ?"

"Well, she asked if I could handle the divorce.  I told her that wouldn't be a good idea, but I recommended Hannah Stiller in Colby.  She does a lot of divorce work, she's relentless when she's going after unsatisfactory husbands, and she won't charge Mrs. Ferguson excessively."

"Oh."  Cedric almost felt sorry for Kevin.

"Now, business aside, can you come to dinner at Digby's on Sunday evening?  He has a gig Saturday night, but we'd like to see you.  Satisfy ourselves you're okay, that sort of thing."

It had been several weeks since the barn weekend.  Cedric couldn't help wondering what had prompted the sudden concern.  He had, after all, talked on the phone regularly with Tyrese since then.

"Sure, I'm free Sunday.  What time do you want me, and can I bring anything?"

"Come about six.  We won't make it a late night.  And Digs has all the food and such under control."

"Okay, thanks.  I'll look forward to it."  He didn't think it was his place to ask, but he wondered if anyone else would be there.  There were still a number of men he'd met at the fall CQ gathering that he'd like to know better.


That evening he was checking his email when Barton McNamee called.  Cedric was almost embarrassed by the eagerness in his voice when he asked, "SAC McNamee, what's up?  Do you have some news about Kevin Ferguson?"

"It's Bart, please.  As for Ferguson, I hear he's out of circulation for an extended period.  I'm pretty sure he's no longer a threat to you."

Then why are you calling? Cedric wondered.

McNamee, who, the few times Cedric had met him, came across as self-assured, seemed to hesitate.  "You're probably wondering why I called."

"It's nice to hear from you."

"First of all, how are you doing?  I've been meaning to call sooner, but I didn't want to intrude.  Are you okay?"

"Yeah, thanks.  I'm putting it behind me."

"I'm relieved to hear it.  I've been worried that you didn't see a counselor."

"Isn't that just for rape victims?"

"By no means.  You underwent a traumatic experience.  It might do you good to talk about it."

"Thanks for the advice.  But I'm fine."  Well, getting better every day, anyway.

"Okay then.  Now.  I understand that you've been invited to dinner at Professor Gautier's home.  I have been as well.  I wondered if I might pick you up.  Your boss, who actually issued the invitation, said something about parking being a problem in that neighborhood.  And you could show me the way."

The man's a Feeb.  Surely he has a gps unit.  "I'd be happy to.  I'll wait in the lobby and look for you about a quarter of six if that's okay with you."

"Sounds good.  I'll look forward to seeing you Sunday evening then."

"Me, too.  Thanks, uh, Bart."

~~~~~

Cedric was antsy.  Relax, Jones, don't get too excited.   He was eager to see Bart again.  He remembered the little zing he'd felt the day he'd noticed the man in the museum in Toledo.  He remembered even more how caringly Bart had brought him home and tended to him after the kidnapping episode.  Not only was he a stud, but he was also something of a daddy.  Not in the domineering sort of way, though Cedric suspected the SAC could be fearsome if necessary.  No, it was the nurturing aspect of the man's character that, along with the big, sexy body, turned Cedric on.  But he was wary of being hurt.  Again.

At 5:40 on Sunday evening he went down to the lobby, carrying the pot of daffodils he'd bought at Cox's that afternoon.  On the dot of 5:45 Bart pulled up in a silver Audi A6.

"Nice wheels," he said, after he'd gotten in and they'd driven away.

"Thanks.  A while back when I turned 35, the Bureau brought me in from the cold, as they say."

"Which means?

"I couldn't be a field agent any more.  So they `promoted' me to a desk job and upped my pay grade.  I bought myself this as a consolation prize."

"You don't like being the guy in charge?"

"I'm not in charge of much.  It's mostly paper work.  And in Toledo, of all places."

"You don't like Toledo?"

"Look around you, Cedric.  See all the gray, salty slush?  Did you get a glimpse of the sun today?  Or yesterday?  Or this week?"

"Where were you before you came here?"

"Cincinnati."

"And that's better?"

Bart chuckled.  "Well, it definitely isn't in the summer, where it's hot and incredibly humid."

"Hey, you can't have everything."

"If you're not worried about earthquakes, San Diego's nice."

"You've worked there?"

"Uh huh."

Bart drove directly to Digby's house, not once asking for directions.  Nor did he have his gps unit turned on.  

Hmmm.

It turned out that Cedric and Bart weren't the only guests at the dinner that evening.  Ray Stonesifer and his partner Jesse Crofts were also there.


As he looked back on it, Cedric thought certain topics of conversation had been tacitly avoided.  Politics, for example.  The success or lack thereof of the new President, the struggle over health care, would seem to be obvious subjects for six educated men to talk about.  But they weren't.

Also avoided was any mention of Cedric's weekend in captivity.  Although he'd talked with Tyrese regularly, this was the first time he'd actually seen his boss since before the abduction.  He assumed it was due to delicacy, the unwillingness to cause Cedric discomfort by bringing up painful memories at a social occasion.  For that he was grateful.

Cedric enjoyed the evening with the five other men.  He had been with Tyrese and Digby often enough to feel at ease with them.  And, as before, he relished Digby's food.  The menu his host had chosen for that Sunday evening was a white bean and chicken soup Digby called white chili. Though, as he pointed out, it contained neither cumin nor chili powder.  Instead, the dish got its tang from Cajun seasonings.  For dessert they had Creole bread pudding with bourbon sauce.  Heavenly!  

At some point during the meal Cedric wondered why the two partners always entertained at Digby's house.  He understood that Tyrese had a place in Toledo, but he'd never been invited there.  Logic suggested, he realized, that Digby had a house, perhaps a better spot for entertaining. And four of the six men present lived in Colby.  It was only Bart and Tyrese who lived in Toledo.  

He had enjoyed the conversation.  Jesse Crofts, whose face he had seen often enough in magazines, was fascinating.  Most of his fashion photographs had shown him with "designer stubble," but now he was clean-shaven.  Cedric couldn't help wondering if his cop partner preferred him that way.  Watching and listening to Jesse, Cedric found that his preconceptions about fashion models needed adjustment.  Jesse wasn't effeminate.  He wasn't snobbish, though he'd been known to the movers and shakers of the fashion world.  He was pleasant, sometimes funny. And yet his face suggested sensitivity, perhaps vulnerability a trait Cedric often found in the faces of male high-fashion models.

Beyond this, however, there seemed to be some tension between Jesse and Ray.  It wasn't as if they fought or were openly quarreling.  But Cedric's experience with a live-in partner made him aware of the subtle clues.  The looks Jesse gave Ray, the occasional edginess of his tone of voice, made Cedric wonder what was wrong.

The more he watched, the more he realized that Ray seemed concerned by his partner's behavior.  It was Jesse who wasn't comfortable and was trying not very successfully to cover it up with charm and humor.  When he thought no one was watching, however, he seemed to be watching Bart out of the corner of his eye.  

Strange.

Whatever the problem was, Jesse and Ray were both nice guys and Cedric hoped it wasn't a major one.

He also couldn't help studying Bart, whose deep voice and chocolate eyes he found fascinating.  The man listened a lot, but he kept up his share of the conversation.  He seemed relaxed.  Smiled often.  And Cedric occasionally caught him glancing in Cedric's direction, as if he were checking on him.  But that merely confirmed the nurturing impression Bart had given the day of Cedric's rescue.  

A little after nine, Bart caught his eye.  They'd been there the socially-accepted three hours.  And it was Sunday night.  They all had to work the next morning.  Well, he didn't know when Jesse or Digby had their first classes, but the rest of them had to show up at their offices.

As they drove home, Cedric realized that work or not, he wouldn't be going to bed for at least another two hours.

"Bart, would you like to come up for a drink or some coffee?"

"Sure.  Coffee would be great."

Cedric had Bart park in the guest slot next to his own assigned space in the basement garage.

Once upstairs and divested of their coats, Cedric asked, "Regular or decaf?"

"Whatever you're having."

"I asked you."

Bart smiled.  And Cedric felt flushed.

"Okay, then, I have to drive back to Toledo on snowy roads.  Better have leaded."

You could stay here, Cedric thought.  What he said was, "Coming right up."

When they were comfortably seated in the living room, Cedric asked, "Do you have the impression we were set up?"

"Mmm.  What do you mean?"  

"So far as I know, there's no parking problem near Digby's.  I'm not complaining, you understand, but asking you to pick me up may have been done with ulterior motives."

"Ya think?"  This time Bart grinned, as if he found the question fun.

"Okay.  I don't even know if you're gay.  I mean, I have my suspicions, but I really don't know anything about you.  So if I'm wrong, I apologize.  Please forget I said anything."

"You're not wrong, except for one thing."

"What's that?"

"Digby and Tyrese weren't playing matchmaker."

"Oh?"

"Nope.  I asked them to set this up.  I bump into Tyrese professionally from time to time.  And he's introduced me to Digby."

"And what about Ray and Jesse?"

"Well, Ray and I worked together that morning we found you in all your goosebumpy glory at the deserted barn."

"And you did all this because . . . ?"

"Because I wanted us to get to know each other better."

"Oh."  Oh! Cedric grinned.  "So you want to ask me my favorite color."

"Something like that, yeah."

"Okay, then.  Suppose you start by telling me how you know Ray.  He started to call you by another name, Spike maybe, the morning you guys found me."

Bart seemed to be considering his answer.  He took a sip of coffee and set his mug down.  "I'm going to answer two of your questions.  Before I got this job, when I worked out of the Cincinnati office, I was sent here to work under cover.  The details of the assignment don't matter.  But I met Ray while I was here the first time.  And I told him my name was Spike.  That along with everything else I told him was a . . . fabrication.  A while later I was back here on the same job, and we hooked up again."

"So you are gay, not that I really had many doubts.  And Jesse Crofts knows about your thing with Ray."

"He doesn't have anything to fear from me.  Ray and I had fun.  He's a great guy.  And that red hair and pale white skin were a real turn-on for me."

Yeah, I know about red hair and marble skin.

"But," Bart continued, "Ray was upset with me for lying to him when he found out who I really am.  His boss had warned him I wasn't who he thought I was and he should avoid me.  When we bumped into each other again, it was at a meeting in Toledo after I'd become SAC.  I managed to get him alone and apologize."

"Has he forgiven you?"

"I think so.

"But poor Jesse was anxious, being in the same room with you for the evening."

"Ray says he's made it clear to Jesse he has nothing to worry about.  And we thought maybe spending an evening at a dinner party together would show him that I don't have designs on his man."

"Let's hope."  Cedric looked intently at his guest.  Bart needed a shave even though he'd probably shaved just before leaving Toledo.  

"So, I want to get this straight.  You got my boss and Digby to set this up to get to know me better?"

"Sort of.  Actually, I know a lot about you.  I  know your birthday.  I know who your parents are.  I know about your sister Keesha and her husband and the rugrats.  I know you played baseball at the university, that you were out there, that you lived with one Professor Timothy Mead until the hit-and-run.  That you had a brilliant record at Michigan Law.  I know what kind of car you drive. . . ."

"Sheesh!  Talk about Big Brother!"

"But I don't know the important things.  And you don't know anything about me.  I've been hoping you'd want to know something about me."

"If some guys said that, it would sound insufferably vain.  But you know what, Special Agent?  I do want to know about you."  Cedric refilled their mugs.  "Get comfortable.  This could take a while."  

"Do you want to interrogate me?"

"The narrative method might be more efficient, but let's start with a question."

"Okay."

"I'm surprised that you can be gay in the FBI."

"That's not a question, counselor."

"Damn.  You sound like the lawyer."

"I am.  But more about that later.  The Bureau officially has a nondiscrimination policy.  Beyond that, we actually recruit at Gay Expos and similar events around the country.  They never asked if I was gay and I've never told.  But of course they know.  And they have never let on that they're bothered by it.  But I have the distinct impression that there are limits to what they'd tolerate."

Cedric chuckled.  "Yeah.  I'd have trouble thinking of a real flamer being a Feeb.  Okay, thanks for clearing that up.  Now you want to switch to narrative?"

As Bart talked, Cedric learned that he had been born and raised in Columbia, Missouri, where his father was on the faculty of the med school.  He had played football in high school, but put that aside when he went to Northwestern, where he took his BA and stayed on for his law degree.

"Northwestern's a fine law school," Cedric commented.

"But not as good as Michigan's?" Bart replied, grinning.

Cedric learned further that after getting his degree, Bart had gone directly into the Bureau.

"Any siblings?"

"Nope, there's just me."

"Where are your parents now?"

"My mother died a few years ago of cancer.  Dad's still at the med school.  He'll be retirement age in a few years, but since Mom passed he's thrown himself into his work.  Doesn't want to think of retiring."

"Does he have a circle of friends?"

"Oh, yeah.  He has a lot of colleagues.  But he's lived in Columbia all his life, and he knows all kinds of people.  He's a lifelong Cardinals fan.  He loves all the music and theater and good restaurants in St. Louis.  I know he misses Mom, but he's still out there, every day, making the world a better place and enjoying it."

"Sounds like quite a guy."

They exchanged information about their favorite leisure-time activities.

During a lull in the conversation, Cedric asked, "Do you enjoy Hemingway?"

"I think I read A Farewell to Arms in college.  Why?"

"You look so much like him."

"What?  He was an old, fat graybeard!"

"Not when he was your age.  He was a real hunk."

"Oh really?  Tell me, Cedric.  Does that mean you think I'm a hunk?"

Although he had trouble drawing his next breath, Cedric managed to say "Yes."

In a story at that moment Cedric thought they would fall into each other's arms.  But it didn't happen.

Instead, Bart grinned and said, "Good!  So my hopes for this evening have worked out."  He stood.  "Thanks for the coffee." He looked at his watch.  "It's twelve-thirty.  I'd better be getting home."

Cedric stood, puzzled.  He wasn't sure what to say.  Somehow, "Thanks for the ride" didn't seem adequate.  Instead he got Bart's coat from the closet and held it for him.

When they were facing each other again, he asked, "So where does this leave us?  You seem to have planned everything carefully."

Bart put both hands behind Cedric's head and pulled him forward.  He bent his head until their foreheads were touching.

"I'd like to kiss you, Cedric, but I want to do everything properly.  I don't want you to feel pressured.  This is only our first date.  But maybe on our next one, you'll let me kiss you good night."

"Um," Cedric managed.

Bart's eyes had gone from warm chocolate to almost black.  They sparkled as he released Cedric and slipped out the door.

"Drive Carefully."  But by the time he had croaked that out, Bart was gone.

Cedric felt warm, really warm for the first time since the Friday before Christmas.

TBC

If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at t.mead76@yahoo.com .  Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam.  Thanks.  --Tim