by Tim Mead
The Dating Game
In part, perhaps, because of the coffee, Cedric had trouble going to sleep that night.
But the next morning as he ate an English muffin slathered with orange marmalade he realized he'd been kept awake by thoughts of Barton McNamee.
There'd been a spark, at least for Cedric, the moment their eyes had met in the Toledo Museum. And the memorable day of his rescue from captivity and humiliation, cold and danger, McNamee had been solicitous to an unusual degree, his concern for Cedric's welfare going well beyond what he guessed was normal in such situations.
And then there was McNamee's suggestion the night before that the dinner party at Digby's was a date, which was to be followed by a second date. On which the two might kiss.
Cedric wasn't sure how to feel about all this. Yes, he found the hunk extremely attractive. But just how calculated was his behavior? Did he treat all his "dates" that way? Was Cedric just another conquest? Was McNamee a dom, or just extremely . . . organized? Something he'd said made Cedric aware that he'd used his FBI resources to check up on Cedric's past life. That was pretty nosy. Why would he do that?
Unless . . . ?
None of Cedric's lovers had ever been the daddy type. Correct that: none of the men he'd ever had sex with were daddy types. There had been only two lovers. Francis, in high school. And Tim. Francis was indeed bigger than Cedric. But they'd been teens, fumbling their way along, sharing the joys of discovering man sex, equals.
And with Tim, too, it had been an equal sort of thing. Tim was older, of course. And there was something of the professor ingrained in Tim. But he treated Cedric with respect and humor, happy to trade roles, depending on their needs.
Cedric wasn't sure he needed a "daddy." But he'd felt safe with Bart the day of the rescue, almost coddled. And that was nice.
But last night Cedric thought he'd seen a manipulative side of the big man. Perhaps he was making too much of it. Perhaps he was imagining it.
A day or two later he had a morning session with a regular client. Melody Payne, a 70-year-old widow, had already changed her will twice since Cedric had become her attorney. Her estate was worth about a million dollars and she used it like a club to keep her heirs in line. Now she was back.
"It's about my granddaughter, Susan, Cedric. It's all right if I call you Cedric, isn't it?"
Cedric barely had time to nod before she continued.
"Now I don't care if the child wants to shack up. I mean, what does marriage mean these days anyway? But that young man she's living with just won't do. He wears a full beard and his hair, which he doesn't wash as often as he should, is down to his shoulders! And he's majoring in philosophy, of all ridiculous things! What's he supposed to do with that, I ask you? Susan's always been a sensible girl. She's majoring in accounting. And getting good grades."
She paused. To breathe, apparently.
"Are they talking of getting married?"
"Not that I know of. But if something happens to me, as it's increasingly likely to do, I imagine that hippie will find some way to pry her inheritance away from her."
"Have you spoken with Susan about your concerns?"
"Yes, of course. But she just said, `Nana, Jason's a good man and I think I love him. If you don't want to leave me anything, go ahead. I'll manage.'"
Although he was inclined to sympathize with Susan, Cedric explored options with Mrs. Payne. Eventually she settled on setting up a trust which Susan couldn't touch until she was twenty-five.
"Hopefully," he said, "you'll still be with us by that time. If not, she and Jason may have split up."
"Let us hope! By that time the boy may have joined a commune or something!"
When she stood to leave, she gave him an appraising look. "And how are you doing, young man? I read about what happened to you."
"I'm doing well, thanks."
She rolled her eyes. "I just can't imagine how awful it must have been for you, poor boy. All alone in that cold barn all weekend." She hugged herself and shivered. "And naked! Terrible!"
Cedric had the impression she really meant "Delicious!"
"And rumor has it . . . I mean . . . did he . . . ?"
Sheesh! "No, ma'am, he did not rape me."
"Oh! Well. I'm glad to hear that."
"Let's check with Ms. Bott and see when she can have the revised will ready for you to sign."
After she left, he shuddered. She's a piece of work! He exchanged raised eyebrows with Ms. Bott and returned to his desk. There he turned to his computer and typed up the changes for Mrs. Payne's will so the paralegal wouldn't have to decipher his hurriedly-jotted notes. Then he sent them to her via email.
Ms. Bott informed him a moment later that his next appointment had called to postpone because of the flu and that she had rescheduled for a week later.
Left with some unexpected free time, he knew he should get back to the pile of paperwork on his desk. But his mind wandered off, as it had often done lately, to Barton McNamee.
There was no denying their mutual attraction. But the man was something of an enigma. Was he the caring teddy bear he'd seemed the day he brought Cedric home from the barn, or was he the take-charge and perhaps manipulative guy he had seemed the evening of the dinner party at Digby's?
There was one way to find out, but he probably shouldn't use it. He debated with himself for a few minutes. He disliked what he had in mind. But then, remembering that Bart had pretty thoroughly researched Cedric's background, he shrugged and picked up the phone. He called the Colby Police, identified himself, and asked for Sergeant Stonesifer. The woman who answered the phone put him through right away, apparently thinking he was calling about the Ferguson case. He felt a little guilty about calling Ray on "company" time. But it was too late now.
"Hello, counselor. How are you?"
"I'm good, thank you. How are you?"
"I really enjoyed getting to know you and Jesse a little better at Digby's the other night. How is Jesse, by the way?"
Ray didn't answer immediately. Finally, he said, "Jess's fine, thanks." He waited, apparently expecting Cedric to explain why he was calling.
"Um, Ray, would you be free for lunch?"
"Yeah, if that's possible. If not, another day perhaps?"
"As it happens, I am free."
"Would you like to meet me at Adrian's? My treat."
"That's a pricey lunch. I usually settle for a burger."
"You know a meal there is always worth the price. Besides, we can count on being able to talk without being distracted by noise . . . or being overheard."
"You're sounding a bit mysterious."
"Well, let's say the topic is, um, sensitive."
Ray chuckled. "Now you've piqued my curiosity for sure. How's noon straight up?"
"Great! Thanks, Ray. See ya."
He called Adrian's and booked a table, preferably one with some privacy. He was assured that wouldn't be a problem.
That taken care of, Cedric dug into the papers in his in-box. By 11:45 he was finished. He removed his overcoat from its hanger, shrugged into it, and stepped into the outer office.
"I'll be at Adrian's if something urgent comes up."
Ms. B. nodded and raised an eyebrow slightly. She knew he didn't often have lunch at the town's most expensive restaurant, but she wouldn't ask what he was up to. On the other hand, she'd probably know whom he lunched with before the day was over.
By the time he'd gotten close to the restaurant, he was regretting his decision to walk. His shoes were covered with gray, salty slush. He'd have to put trees in them and give them some special treatment when they were dry.
When he looked up, he saw Ray striding toward him from the direction of the City/County building. The sergeant was dressed more sensibly in jeans, Timberland ankle-high boots, a dark shirt, dark tie, and an unzipped leather jacket.
"Ray, thanks for being willing to do this on short notice."
The two shook hands.
Ray grinned. "Oh, I'm easy. You might say I'm a slut when it comes to a free meal at Adrian's."
Winking at the sexy cop, Cedric replied, "I'll have to keep that in mind."
Inside, though the place was doing its usual bustling noontime business, they were seated at a table in a small alcove where they would have as much privacy as one is likely to find in a public restaurant.
The hostess, a handsome woman Cedric hadn't seen there before, gave them menus and said, "Casey will be here in a moment to take your drink orders."
Cedric recognized Casey, though it took him a minute to place him. He'd been working for Adrian and Tom at the fall CQ gathering. He was a pleasant-looking young man of average height or slightly less, with brown eyes and medium-brown hair. He was younger than Mark's Casey and more muscular. Cedric hadn't noticed at the CQ party that this Casey had a cauliflower ear. He puzzled over the slight deformity because he knew collegiate wrestlers and boxers wore protective headgear. Could one of Adrian's well-trained and very smooth wait staff be a professional fighter? Well, whatever, Cedric thought, he's seriously cute.
"Hi, Sergeant Stonesifer," the young guy said. "How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks Casey. I don't remember seeing you here before, though I heard you'd been working here for a while."
"Yeah, but I usually work the dinner shift. I have classes during the day. But one of the regulars called in sick. Adrian and Tom are on Mykonos. When Adrian's gone, Albert's in charge. So he called me. And when he's in a bind, I'll do just about anything to help him out."
"I've met Albert. He can be a little . . . excitable at times, right?"
"Shh! Don't let him hear you say that."
Ray laughed and then said, "Cedric, this is Casey Shaw. As you've probably figured out, he's a student here at CSU. I first met him a while back when his computer was stolen from his dorm room."
Casey grinned. "Yeah, and you never got it back for me, did you?"
"No, man. Sorry about that. Anyway, this is Cedric Jones, who's running the Colby office of Tyrese Jones's law firm."
"Oh, welcome to Adrian's, Mr. Jones."
"It's Cedric, please."
"Yes, sir. Now, gentlemen, what can I get you to drink?"
They both asked for water, both being more or less "on duty."
Casey left to get their water and to give them time to study the menu.
Both opted for the quiche of the day, which featured some sort of exotic mushrooms, and was accompanied by a small garden salad.
When Casey had left the second time, Cedric grinned at Ray. "Don't say a word about the quiche!"
Ray chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it. But I can't help asking what this is all about. I mean, it's great to see you again and all . . ." He let the rest of his question hang there unasked.
"Okay. I understand your curiosity. I hope you won't be pissed at me."
"We don't know each other very well yet, Ced, but I doubt if I'll be pissed. What can I do for you?"
"First of all, this isn't just idle curiosity. Nor is it about gossip."
Ray looked puzzled. "Okay."
Cedric considered several approaches. Then he shrugged and said, "It's about Bart McNamee."
"Yeah. The thing is, I'm pretty attracted to him."
"He's an attractive man."
"Yeah, and he seems really nice, but . . . ."
"You're asking me to tell you about Bart?"
"He has already told me you and he were together a couple of times. He said he'd misled you and he was sorry. Also that he'd apologized."
"All of that is true."
"Is that why Jesse was so uncomfortable the other night at Digby's?"
"Oh, you noticed that. Yeah. But when we got home I made a point of reminding him he's my man and he has nothing to worry about so far as Spike, I mean Bart, is concerned."
"I'm sorry Jesse was worried. I hope you were able to reassure him."
Ray's fair skin turned a rosy hue. "Oh, yeah. I think that issue is put to rest."
Just then Casey showed up with their food.
When he was gone, Ray said, "Surely you don't want to quiz me about Bart."
"Well, I did. Uh, I do."
"I dunno, Cedric."
"Unless you want me to call you Raymond, I wish you'd call me Ced."
"Here's the thing. He and I saw each other at a museum in Toledo last fall. I felt something unmistakable that day, just looking at him. We exchanged some comments about the exhibit, and separated. I didn't know who he was. I didn't expect ever to see him again. But I never forgot how looking at him made me feel."
There was a pause while Ray buttered a roll and Cedric had a bite of salad.
"When he showed up the morning you guys found me in the barn, I was damned glad to be rescued, to get warm, to get to go home and know I'd survived all that. But I was also really happy to see my mystery man again."
Ray, chewing on a bit of bread, nodded.
"You know he took me home while you and Officer Fiske did whatever it is you did at the scene. What you probably don't know is that he really took care of me. Saw that I got a warm bath. Fixed me soup. Seemed to be more than just professionally concerned about my welfare. I mean, how often do FBI agents do things like that?"
"Sounds good to me."
"At first I didn't think anything about it. I was still caught up in what had happened to me. But then as I thought about it I was puzzled. He is such a hunk and he was so kind, I began to have strong feelings, even though I was afraid they were inappropriate."
"Then what happened?"
"I didn't hear from him for a while. I assumed he was following up on Ferguson at first. Then I learned that Big Brother had reached down and snatched up their ex-Marine. The next time I saw Bart was when he picked me up and drove me to the dinner party."
"Okay." Ray didn't say so, but his expression asked, "What's the problem?"
Taking a deep breath and expelling it, Cedric said, "I suspect he engineered the whole dinner party. He and Tyrese are apparently buddies. And he insisted on picking me up and driving me on the excuse that parking in Digby's neighborhood was a problem—which it wasn't. And that evening after we got back to my place he told me things about myself he couldn't have known unless he'd been really doing a background check on me. So, given what he told me about his relationship with you, I can't help wondering if he has a manipulative streak hidden behind that caring manner."
"Did he make any unwanted sexual advances?"
Thinking back on it, Cedric had to chuckle. "No, he told me he wouldn't kiss me until our second date."
Ray put down his fork and leaned forward. "First of all, Ced, Bart and I . . . I still can't help thinking of him as Spike, since that's what he told me his name was. Bart and I had casual sex a couple of times. I'm guessing by now you know him better than I do. But I have to say, from what you've told me, the guy's just very much into you. So he checks you out. He wants to be with you and gets some friends to help set it up. Is that so bad?"
"No, not when you put it like that."
"Keep in mind, too, that when he and I had our thing, he was under cover. He told me the same story about himself, none of it true, that he had to tell everyone else he ran into in this area. And he made sure I understood that he wasn't going to stick around for long. I was surprised when I found out who he really is. But I don't fault him. We had some good sex. If things had been different, it might have turned into more. But it didn't. And I've got Jesse."
"So you think I should have that `second date'?"
"I don't feel comfortable telling you what to do. But if you keep your eyes open, what could it hurt to see him again?"
Cedric wasn't about to tell Ray he'd been sure once before that he'd found the man to spend the rest of his life with, that he couldn't endure that kind of hurt again.
Casey was back to see if they wanted dessert. Ray looked at his watch and said, "I'm sorry, I have to get back to the office." Once more he flashed his infectious grin. "Besides, muffin tops are discouraged in the CPD. Thanks for lunch, Cedric. Let's do it again somewhere less expensive."
"Yeah, we should. Thanks for talking with me. And say `hi' to Jesse."
"Good luck with Bart . . . whatever that means."
Cedric, too, declined dessert. He left a nice tip for Casey. He's cute. Suppose he's gay. Most of the staff here probably are. Wonder what his story is.
Back at his desk, he groaned to see that his in-tray had once more accumulated a stack of paperwork. As he worked he wished he could have asked Ray how Bart was in bed, but he knew that would have been really pushing things. He felt reassured by their conversation and was eager to see Bart again. The question was, should he call? Or wait for Bart to call him.
God, you're acting like a teenager!
The cold, clear weather disappeared and winter once more cast its gray pall over Northern Ohio.
Cedric went through the motions of doing his job, but his mind was on Bart. He had realized to his exasperation that he didn't have the man's home phone or address. He was damned sure he wasn't going to call the special agent at work, nor was he going to ask Tyrese for the information. So it was up to Bart. If he wanted Cedric, he knew where to find him. Despite some niggling reservations, Cedric hoped it would be quickly.
One evening as he pulled into the underground garage he noticed there was a different car in Jay's parking slot. It was, in fact, a metallic cranberry-colored Traverse. A beautiful color, but covered with salt. Back in the fall when they had gone to Findlay together, Jay had seemed impressed with Cedric's car. Impressed enough to buy one, apparently.
He hadn't seen Jay in weeks. Their schedules must have been out of synch. And after being dumped, Cedric didn't know how he'd act around his former sex partner. Still, he didn't have any ill will, and Jay had made a point of checking to see that he was all right after the kidnapping.
So he went to Jay's floor instead of his own and knocked on the door.
There was a delay. Cedric was about to leave when the door opened. Jay stood there with a towel wrapped around his thin hips. His hair was wet. He'd obviously just gotten out of the shower. He looked good. Brown, hairy, damp, and good.
"Oh, Cedric. How are you? Can I do something for you? Do you want to come in?"
"No, it's okay. I just saw your new car and wanted to congratulate you, that's all. Sorry I caught you at a bad time."
"We must get together and catch up. But I have a date tonight. We're going to dinner and then to a film."
Jay's eyes sparkled. "I hope so. This is our first date."
"How did you meet?"
"He came into the pharmacy with a question about a medication his doctor had prescribed. We connected over the counter, so to speak."
"Do you know anything about him?"
"He's a graduate student. And a photographer. We've talked on the phone. Seems to want to know all about me."
"Well, I hope you have a great evening. And if you like the guy after tonight, I hope it works out for you."
Jay bristled. "Are you suggesting that tonight won't go well?"
"No, not at all. You're a good guy, Jay. I hope you get what you're looking for."
Seeming less tense, Jay said, "Thanks. Now, I really gotta get ready."
"Okay, man. Have a great evening."
As he went to his own apartment, Cedric thought he should fix supper for Jay sometime. They were never destined to be lovers, but as he had just said, Jay was a good guy. No reason why they couldn't remain friends. Maybe Jay would be lucky with his photographer friend.
Cedric was hanging up his suit, wearing only his boxer briefs when the phone rang.
The caller ID didn't show the number.
A deep voice rumbled, "Cedric, how are you?"
"Oh, I'd know those sexy tones anywhere! And I was just thinking about you. How are you?"
Bart chuckled. "Tsk! So many prompts. I'm fine thanks. I'm glad you were thinking of me. And you think my voice is sexy?"
"I thought you might have called me."
"Should I have called the office? I could look that up in the phone book. But I don't have your home or cell numbers, and I'm guessing they're unlisted."
"I didn't give you those?"
"I think I would remember that."
There was an awkward pause. Then Bart continued, "As I recall, when I was leaving your place the other night something was said about a second date."
"Are you free Saturday night? I know it's short notice."
"I'm surprised you haven't checked my calendar. I'm sure you know I'm not seeing anyone else these days."
"You sound a little testy. Have I done something wrong?"
"Nothing we can't talk about. What did you have in mind for Saturday?"
"I'd like to cook for you. Not that I'm such a great cook."
"I'll bet you're just being modest. When and where?"
"Come about six."
He gave Cedric his phone number and address on Washington St. in Toledo. "It's easy to get to from 75. But you'll use your GPS, so I won't make you write down directions."
"Can I bring anything?"
"You can pick up something for dessert if you want to. Otherwise we'll probably just have ice cream."
"I'll take care of it."
"Thanks. I'm really looking forward to our second date. Maybe I'll get that kiss you promised."
Again, the low rumble on the other end: "Play your cards right and maybe you will."
After hanging up Cedric pulled on sweats and thick cotton socks and poured himself a glass of merlot. Since it had been in the fridge, it was cold and didn't taste right. So he let the glass sit beside him while he called his mother.
"Cedric! How are you, baby?"
"I'm fine, Mama. And how are you?"
"I'm good, too."
"Am I interrupting anything? You fixin' supper?"
"No. I'm waiting for your father to get out of the shower. We're going to the Playhouse tonight."
"Oh, what're you gonna see?"
"Voltaire or Bernstein?"
"Bernstein. I've never read or seen
"I know the overture, but I've never seen the musical."
"They did it at the Playhouse about fifteen years ago. It'll be good to see it again."
"Be sure to email me your review."
"Okay. Now, are you calling for a special reason?"
"I was going to ask you to tell me your recipe for key lime cheesecake. But I won't hold you up this evening. Maybe you could email it to me tomorrow."
"Yes, your father just got out of the shower. I'll send it to you in the morning. Oh, and in case I forget, you probably won't be able to find fresh key limes at your market this time of the year. It's okay to use the bottled juice, but don't use quite as much as the recipe calls for. It's a little stronger than the juice of fresh limes."
"And the next time you call or email, I'll expect you to tell me why you're making my cheesecake."
Cedric chuckled. "Okay. Deal. Enjoy the show!"
"Thanks, baby. I'll tell your father you send your love."
"Of course. Bye."
He warmed up some chili he had made earlier in the week, breaking corn chips into it as if they were crackers. Afterward he had an apple.
Although the friends kept in touch with one another by email, Cedric felt the need to chat with some of them. He tried Trey and Chaz's number first but got their voice mail. Apparently they were out for the evening. He left a message saying his call wasn't important, that he just wanted to see how they were doing. If he had been able to talk to Trey, he might have told him about Bart and about his ambivalence toward his new . . . friend?
He called Cincinnati. Casey answered.
"Oh, Cedric! How are you, sweetie?"
"I'm good, man. How are you? How's our guy?"
"I'm just great, thanks. Markie's soaking in a tub of hot water. It's good for what ails him."
"How's he doing?"
"Better than expected, praise the Lord! He hates his physio, but he's a good boy and does what they want him to do. And he's progressed from the walker to a cane. He just can't wait until he can get rid of that."
"When does he go back to work?"
"Monday! I think that's too soon, but what do I know? He says he's sick of being house-bound and he's afraid they'll fire him if he doesn't get back to the office and start pulling his weight. And, as he points out, his job is 90% desk work, so he doesn't have to be on his feet much." Casey paused, apparently to catch his breath. "So, Ced, how are you? How are things in the frozen north?"
"Frozen. But I'm fine, thanks."
"How's your social life?"
"Looking up, maybe. I'm having a second date this Saturday."
"Ooh, tell me all!"
"Well, he's an FBI agent. Or, I suppose I should say, special agent. He was one of the people who rescued me from the barn that day."
Cedric heard Mark's voice in the background.
"Sweetie, that sounds fascinating. I want to hear all about him, but my Mark needs me, so I gotta run. Why don't you call Sunday and tell us everything?"
"I'll do that. Now you go see to Mark, okay?"
"Yeah, I'd better take care of my man. Kisses."
After work on Friday evening Cedric braved the crowds and went to Target. He needed a spring-form pan for the cheesecake. While there he picked up a plastic cake carrier as well.
The recipe said all the ingredients needed to be at room temperature, so he got them out before he had breakfasted or showered.
It took a good part of the morning to prepare and bake the rich dessert.
He nervously cleaned his apartment that afternoon, the basketball game on TV largely ignored. He was both eager and anxious about the upcoming evening. He had been strongly attracted to Bart starting with their brief encounter at the museum. But he felt overwhelmed as well. Tim was a mentor in many ways, but he never dominated. Even though Cedric and Bart didn't actually have a "relationship," it was Bart who seemed to be calling the shots. And that fact both stimulated and intimidated him.
He dithered over what to wear. Should he put on jeans or something dressier? What would Bart wear for an evening at home? An evening when he was fixing dinner for a new friend? After trying several combinations, Cedric settled on a pair of dress slacks, a striped, long-sleeve button-up shirt, and loafers. As he was about to leave however, he noticed that it had been snowing and had accumulated several inches. He changed from the loafers into some serviceable and rather butch leather shoes with cleats instead of grommets for the laces.
It continued to snow as he drove to Toledo, but 95 had been salted, as had the main streets in the city.
The building to which OnStar directed him was a warehouse that had been converted into lofts. The ground floor of the building had parking and an elevator lobby. Bart's place was on the fourth floor of seven.
When Cedric stepped off the elevator, a freshly-shaven Bart relieved him of the cake, set it down, and hugged him. He was wearing a maroon button-up shirt, jeans, and highly polished loafers. A tantalizing swirl of chest hair showed at the collar of his shirt.
"Mmm. You smell good. And you look positively edible."
Bart smiled. "But you've brought dessert."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to presume anything."
Tactfully, Bart asked, picking up the cake carrier, "What is this?"
"Angel's key lime cheesecake."
"Oh, god, I'm a total junkie when it comes to cheesecake. That's why I never buy it. Who's Angel?"
"Did you go home to Cleveland since we talked?"
"No. I made it. But it's her recipe."
"And you call your mother Angel?"
"I do." He raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you didn't know that."
Bart grinned. "Somebody slipped up. Should we put this in the fridge?"
"Yeah, to let it firm up a bit."
"Take a look around while I stow the cheesecake and pour some wine. You do like wine, don't you?"
"I've had some red breathing. It'll do for starters and last us right through supper."
Predictably, Bart's loft had very high ceilings and huge windows. It was on a corner, so there were great views to the north and west from the main room, which included the kitchen, eating area, and living room. There was a spacious master bedroom, a smaller bedroom used as an office, and two baths, one off the master.
Bart's taste in furniture was eclectic. The sofa and a big chair were covered in cordovan-colored leather. There was a large and obviously old oriental rug to center the conversation area. A large flat-screen sat atop a low oriental-looking cabinet against the only long wall in the room. Other pieces didn't seem to match anything, but each piece was lovely. It didn't look as if Bart had furnished his place with stuff from his parents' or grandparents' houses: rather, it looked as if he'd collected the pieces individually. But it made for a pleasant total effect.
He noticed the table was set with dishes which might have come from Crate & Barrel, stainless flatware, and inexpensive but matching glassware.
He glanced out the window. He could barely see the lights of nearby buildings. What had been gently falling flakes of snow as he drove from Colby had turned into a veritable whiteout.
"It's lookin' nasty out there. Glad you got here safely." Bart set a bowl and a basket on the coffee table. "I'm not a gourmet cook. This is clam dip from Kroger's I warmed in the microwave, but it tastes okay with these pita chips. Try it."
Cedric did and murmured his approval.
"Did you have any trouble getting here?"
"No, the roads weren't bad. And my GPS delivered me to the door. I wasn't looking around much, but this seems to be an interesting area."
"Yeah, it is." Bart told him about the large number of night spots and restaurants nearby. He pointed out that it was close to the home of the Toledo Symphony and said you could see the lights of the Mudhens' ballpark when there was a game.
Cedric asked him about the Mudhens' prospects for the coming season, and they talked about that for a while. One topic led to another, and Cedric found himself comfortable chatting with his sexy host.
When, an hour later, Bart stood and said he needed to see to the food, Cedric appreciated once again just what a hunk the man was. Six and a half feet. Big shoulders, long legs, narrow hips, flat belly. Impressive bulge in the jeans.
"Come sit on one of these stools and we can talk while I'm dishing up the food. As I said, I'm not a fancy cook. I can appreciate gourmet food. I just don't have any talent for fixing it."
"Something sure as hell smells good."
"Pot roast. With onions and carrots and potatoes."
"Hey, that sounds as great as it smells."
Bart sliced a loaf of French bread and put it in a napkin-lined basket.
"There's a Brita pitcher in the fridge. You want to pour water in the glasses on the table? And bring the wine glasses, too, please."
While Cedric was doing that, Bart took the meat and veggies out. He poured the pot liquor into a gravy boat, put the meat on a platter, and the vegetables into a large bowl.
"There's butter on the table. What else do we need?"
"Not a thing, man. This looks great."
And it was great. Comfort food at its best. As he ate, Cedric found himself thinking about working together in this kitchen or his own with the big man.
After the dishwasher was loaded and the leftovers put away, they were once more sitting in the living area. The storm outside hadn't abated, and Cedric was beginning to worry about the trip home. His Terrain would get him through snowdrifts, but the visibility was practically zero.
"Uh, Bart, maybe we should try the cheesecake. I'd better get on the road soon."
"You're not going anywhere in this."
"Hang on." Bart got up and went to the bar between the kitchen and the dining table, picked up his cell phone, and pressed a button. He listened for a minute or so, and then set it down. "This storm caught everyone by surprise. The roads are nearly impassible in some spots, and the OHP's are asking everyone to stay off the roads. Besides, I plied you with too much wine for you to be driving."
"You mean you intended all along for me to stay over?"
Bart grinned. "Well, I didn't see any reason why we had to be abstemious."
"So you really had in mind more than a kiss?"
"Oh, I've had more than a kiss in mind ever since I saw you at the museum last fall. I just don't want to pressure you into anything. There's a pull-out bed in the computer room, so we won't be accelerating the schedule."
"Will you sit down, please? It hurts my neck to look up at you."
"I've been puzzled about you ever since that day at the barn."
"You seemed so caring that day. Taking me home and seeing I got warm and feeding me. None of that comes within your professional duties, does it?"
"I might have gone a bit beyond what I would normally have done."
"A bit! You could have had Officer Fiske take me home. You're much too important to be doing what you did for me that day."
"Can you think of a reason why I'd do that?"
"Maybe. Either you care about me or you want me to think you do."
"Ouch! Said like a lawyer! Don't I get the benefit of the doubt?"
"Well, you did. When I saw you that day at the museum, I felt the same kind of spark you apparently did. And when you showed up at the barn with Ray Stonesifer, I was so glad to see you I almost forgot about freezing my ass in that barn and worrying about what Ferguson was going to do to me."
"What changed your mind?"
"I didn't totally change my mind. But I did wonder. You engineered the evening at Digby's. I don't know whether you actually asked them to set us up, but I suspect you did. And there was no reason for you to pick me up and take me there. That could seem pretty manipulative."
"Can I speak in my own defense, counselor?" Bart's grin helped reduce the building tension.
"I told Tyrese one day that I liked you and would be glad of an excuse to get to know you better. A couple of days later he called with the dinner invitation. He's the one who suggested I might offer to pick you up. So I plead not guilty to being a manipulative bastard." He paused. "Though I admit to being protective of people I care about."
"So you really like me?" God, that was pathetic!
"I do indeed. Now, let's have some of that cheesecake. I can't wait to taste it. Coffee?"
"Since I'm not driving anywhere, do you have decaf?"
Bart raved over the cheesecake, and Cedric had to admit it had turned out almost as good as his mother's. They'd cut very narrow slices, but each had another small piece.
"What am I going to do with all of this? We haven't made much of a dent in it. You'll have to take some of it home with you."
"You can freeze it. I checked online this afternoon."
"Oh. So I can get fat gradually instead of all at once. I hate to think how many calories each slice of this contains."
"You can just do some extra work at the gym."
"Do you have any idea how long you have to walk on a treadmill to work off 100 calories?"
Cedric nodded. "Yeah, I know."
When they both began to yawn, Cedric found himself hoping Bart hadn't been serious about their sleeping in separate bedrooms. When it became apparent he was serious, Cedric, trying not to show his disappointment, insisted on Bart's not giving up his own bed.
Bart showed him the guest bath, gave him a new toothbrush, opened up the pull-out bed in the computer room, and put out an extra blanket.
They stood in the short hallway.
"This has been a great evening, Bart. Supper was delicious."
"Speaking of delicious . . . it's time for that kiss we talked about." He grinned. "If that's okay with you. I wouldn't want to come across as controlling."
Cedric sighed. "I guess I'll have to settle for a kiss." He put his hands behind Bart's head, stood on tiptoe, and gave the big man a kiss that left no doubt about his feelings.
"Good night, Bart."
"Sleep well, Ced."
As it turned out, Cedric did not sleep well. He lay in bed thinking about the sexy beast in the next bedroom. A hunk who had admitted that he had feelings for Cedric, who wanted to protect and take care of him. Cedric burned to go in there and explore that big body. He guessed Bart was a real bear, and the thought turned him on even more. Big, hairy daddy! Oh, god!
He finally drifted off to sleep, having resisted the urge to masturbate in his host's spare bed. He was awakened sometime before daylight when he heard one of northern Ohio's ubiquitous salt trucks with a snow blade on the front rattle past.
When he awoke for the second time, the room was bright with sunlight reflected off the windows of another converted warehouse across the street. It was Sunday morning and the quiet city lay under a blanket of snow.
Cedric snuggled down under the covers and thought about Bart. He lay there for nearly an hour before he heard the water running in Bart's shower. When the water shut off, he pulled on his underpants, went to the guest bath, and took his own shower. He hadn't brought his razor, so he didn't shave. It bothered him when he had to wear the previous day's socks and underwear, but there was no helping it. Maybe he could leave some extras here the next time he came.
Next time? Careful, Jones. Don't count your chickens.
Bart fixed him grapefruit, oatmeal, and leaded coffee. When it was time for Cedric to leave, Bart hugged and kissed him. "According to the highway patrol, I-75 is clear. But call or text me when you get home."
The streets and highways had been indeed been plowed. The sun shone brilliantly on the fresh snow cover. Even though the temperature was 15 degrees, Cedric's world was brighter than it had been in years. He couldn't wait to get back to Colby and call the man he'd just left.
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim