by Tim Mead
Hearing voices in the outer office, Cedric went to greet his two o'clock clients.
Ms. Bott was standing beside her desk. She'd obviously been planning to usher in the two men, and she gave him a look before saying, "These are Dr. Handley and Professor Grant."
"I'm Cedric Jones, gentlemen." They shook hands and he gestured them into his office.
Grant, he noticed, walked with a slight limp.
"Would either of you like coffee?"
"No, thanks," Handley said. "Ms. Bott offered, but we're fine."
"In that case, please sit down."
Once all were seated, Cedric continued. "I hope you'll forgive the questions, but I'm new in town. You're a CSU faculty member, Professor Grant?"
The man, about six feet tall, with a salt and pepper crew cut and green eyes, chuckled. "Yes, though I still can't get used to thinking of myself as a professor."
Handley grinned. "Jim used to be a cop. Now he teaches criminal justice."
"I see. And are you a physician, Dr. Handley?"
"No, Ms. Bott was giving me my academic title. I'm a professor as well. In the History Department."
Handley, Cedric noticed, wore a small gold stud in his right ear. Nice. These men were in their fifties, he guessed, but they were still in good shape, both handsome men. And, given their reason for being there together, he assumed they were partners.
Cedric cleared his throat. "May I ask why you gentlemen have come to the new guy on the block?"
"Because Tyrese told us we could trust you," Handley said, smiling.
"Oh, you know Tyrese?" Fool, obviously they do or he wouldn't have said that. Get your act together.
"Yeah," Grant said. "We see a lot of Tyrese and Digby socially." He shot Handley a look, and Handley grinned back.
"I believe Ms. Bott said you were here about wills?"
"Yes. Tyrese has been after us to have wills drawn up. And he's recommended that we give each other power of attorney as well."
Sounds as if they expect their relationship to last.
The powers of attorney were fairly straightforward, so it didn't take long to get them taken care of. But the wills were more complex. Grant had nephews to whom he wanted to make bequests. Then there was the matter of the house they shared. They had questions about the ramifications of various possibilities, and the discussion took the better part of an hour. Finally, both men were satisfied.
Cedric leaned back in his chair, relaxed now that the business was concluded. "If anything occurs to you, give us a call. We'll check with Ms. Bott about when you can come back in to sign the documents and pick up your copies. Do you have any questions?"
As they stood, Handley said, "I hope you're going to be happy here in Colby. This is a good town. Lots going on."
"Maybe Mr. Jones would like to come out to our place for supper some evening, Jake," Grant said.
"Thanks, gentlemen, that's very generous."
After they'd made their appointment and left, Ms. Bott brought him the day's mail. Among other things there was a tan envelope with Harv Clay's return address on it. It contained brochures from the Departments of Art, Theatre, and Music about their offerings for the fall term.
Things were looking up.
Just before she left, Ms. Bott came to his door.
"Crystal Ferguson called while the two professors were here."
"Her paperwork's ready, isn't it?"
"Yes. But she doesn't want us to go forward with it. She says she's giving her husband another chance."
Cedric sighed. "Well, I wish them luck. But from what she says, there's not much likelihood they'll work things out. He seems pretty unreasonable."
"Perhaps we shouldn't judge, Mr. Jones. As you said, we know only what she's told us."
Casa Lynch-Nielsen, as Cedric liked to think of the building he lived in, wasn't occupied exclusively by gay men.
There was, for example a lesbian couple. He had seen them several times in the lobby or the elevator, but he hadn't learned their names yet. They seemed a bit standoffish, and, though he felt the urge occasionally, he hadn't so far walked up to them with his hand out to introduce himself. Whatever their story was, they were . . . reserved, and he could honor that.
Rose Bever was something else.
He met her after work one afternoon in the parking garage. She was struggling with a bag of groceries and her purse while trying to use the key card to get into the elevator.
"Here, ma'am, let me help you with that." He took the groceries.
"Oh, you're very kind. I have one of those little two-wheeled carts for my Kroger bags, but I didn't think I'd need it today." She smiled at him. "Obviously I was wrong."
They got onto the car. When the door closed, she said, "You're the new young man on the third floor, aren't you?
"Yes, ma'am. I'm Cedric Jones."
"Sorry we can't shake hands. I'm Rose Bever."
"Glad to know you." To make conversation, he asked, "Have you lived here long, Ms. Bever?"
"It's Mrs. Bever, though I've been a widow for some time. And I've lived here since shortly after my husband died."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Mrs. Bever was about 5'9" with perfectly coifed gray hair. She was also perfectly made up. She wore a rust blazer over a gold sweater that appeared to be cashmere. Her narrow skirt was a muted rust and gold plaid. She wore brown low-heeled pumps which looked expensive, shoes his mother might wear. He thought, in fact, that his mother would approve of Mrs. Bever's entire outfit, though because of her size she'd never wear a plaid skirt.
When the elevator stopped at the third floor, Cedric realized he was still holding the bag of groceries. There was an awkward moment while he pondered what to do.
"You must live further up," he said, then felt ridiculous for having said something so obvious.
She smiled. "Yes, I'm on four. But if you'll give me my groceries, I can manage from here."
"You'll have the same problem when you get to your unit. Why don't I just come along?"
She raised an eyebrow. "You know, normally I'd be suspicious of an offer like that. But you fit the descriptions I've heard of the new tenant. So, yes, I'd be grateful for the help."
Yeah, I'm probably the only black tenant.
When they got to her door, she opened it and set her purse on a table just inside.
"If you're not in a hurry, Cedric, why don't you come in for a drink?"
Cedric imagined them sipping cream sherry and almost refused. But she was a neighbor, and, though he'd vowed to get to know his neighbors, thus far hadn't made much progress.
He decided to swallow his aversion to sweet sherry, so to speak, and said, "That's very kind, Mrs. Bever."
"Call me Rose, please."
She excused herself to put away her groceries. While she was in the kitchen Cedric looked around. The unit was identical to his. He was ashamed when he realized the place surprised him. He'd assumed the widow Bever would have accumulated a lifetime of mementos. If she had, however, they were hidden away somewhere. The décor here was almost as modern as his, except that there was no leather present. She'd done the whole place in off-white: walls, carpet, upholstered furniture. But there was an abstract with strong burgundies, blues, and greens over the sofa which had throw pillows in those same colors. He approved.
"Your place looks great, Rose. The color scheme really pops."
She smiled. "Why, thank you, Cedric. Richard wouldn't have liked it. He was more of a traditionalist. But I'm sure he wouldn't have begrudged me a new décor. Now, shall we have that drink? I have some lovely fumé blanc chilling if you'd like that. But I'm going to have bourbon. Oh, and there's Dos Equis in the fridge, too."
Actually, Cedric would have liked some of the fumé blanc, but he couldn't quite see himself sipping wine while Rose drank her bourbon.
"I'll have bourbon, too, thank you. Rocks, please."
"Yes. I sometimes like scotch neat, but that's no way to drink bourbon."
A moment later they were seated.
"I don't want to sound like a nosy old lady, Cedric, but I would like to know more about you. I promise I'm not a gossip." She smiled. "There are some gossips in the building, though, so be prepared."
"Are you suggesting they're male?"
She smiled, took a sip of her bourbon, and . . . waited.
Oh! She wants you to talk about yourself.
"I'm a lawyer. I grew up in Cleveland. Well, Shaker Heights. Went to Kent State. Law school at Michigan. Worked for my dad for a while, and now I'm here."
"You're working with Tyrese James, aren't you?"
"It might be more accurate to say I'm working for him."
"Mr. James is much admired in the community."
"I'm not surprised to hear that. Do you know him? Or just his reputation?"
"We've met. But we don't exactly run in the same social circles."
"And what about you, um, Rose? You said you'd been in this building a while?"
"Yes. My husband was the dean of the School of Journalism. After he passed away, my daughter invited me to come to San Antonio, but I didn't want to leave Colby. The house was too big to take care of, however. Construction on this building had just begun. Tommy and Adrian were kind enough to offer to let me lease this unit. They warned me that I'd have mostly gay neighbors, but that wasn't a deterrent. So here I am. I miss Richard, but I have a good life. I'm on the vestry at my church, I usher at the concerts and plays on campus, and I play poker twice a month with friends."
Trying not to look startled, Cedric asked, "With female friends?"
"You aren't a sexist, are you, Cedric?"
"I certainly hope not!"
"Well, to answer your question, yes, I play poker with female friends. And it's pretty cut-throat. Oh, there aren't large sums of money involved. We're all widowed or divorced. But we're a competitive group."
"Good for you! Since I'm new, would you tell me about the other people living here? I haven't met many folks yet. But I'm happy that this place is quiet. And the people I've seen around the building smile, though they don't seem the type to introduce themselves. Except for Adam and Blake, across the hall. They've been really nice."
"I think Adrian and Tom have chosen us all carefully. They know that many in the gay and lesbian community value their privacy. And they've only allowed in a few straight people who they were assured had no problem with living in a predominantly-gay condominium. So we all try to be friendly and mind our own business."
Cedric wondered if she'd been putting him in his place, thinking he'd invited her to gossip about their neighbors.
They chatted a while longer. When he finished his drink he rose and thanked her.
As she walked the brief distance to the door with him, she said, "You know, I think you'll soon be introduced to a surprising number of gay men."
Cedric turned to her, eyebrows raised.
"Yes," she continued, "our landlords have parties, very elegant and subdued affairs, I'm told, about four times a year. From what I hear the group is comprised of adult gay men, mostly professionals in the community. They tell me no college students are invited."
One evening when he got home Cedric debated going to Applebee's or perhaps even Nellie's for supper. But he decided he'd stay in. He'd had some difficult clients, and he was tired.
After changing from his suit into sweatpants and a tee shirt, he padded around the apartment in his bare feet. He broiled a New York strip and had that, medium rare, with a salad.
It's getting so that restaurants won't serve you meat that isn't cooked beyond recognition, he grumbled to himself.
When he finished, he put his dishes in the dishwasher and scrubbed the broiler pan. Pouring himself another glass of merlot, he went to the computer and checked his emails.
There was one from his mother. And a briefer one from Mark, who said, "Hey, man, we've only talked once since you moved to Colby. Give me a call when you have a minute. Or a half hour."
Cedric reached for the phone, but then it occurred to him that Mark and his partner might still be having supper. So he topped up the wine, put a Bill Mays CD in the player, and sank into his Eames chair.
When he awoke, he decided he could probably call Mark.
"Hi, Casey, this is Cedric. How are you?"
"Oh, hi there, Cedric. I'd be better if my man were at home."
"At his office. I thought lawyers worked bankers' hours. But apparently the whole gaggle of them are sweating out some sort of big merger, so he had to stay late."
"That doesn't happen often, does it?"
"No, thank God! I'm the one who's supposed to work the crazy hours."
"How are things going with the Symphony?"
"Well, money's a little tight, as it is with all arts organizations these days, but we're playing well with Maestro Järvi. We do 125 concerts a year, you know, and next February we're going back to New York City."
"How's your new job? Have you met lots of adorable college boys?"
Cedric chuckled. "I see them around town, but I haven't met any yet. Well, there is one across the hall, but he's in a committed relationship."
"Oh, honey, you need to get out more!"
"Yeah, you're right. Well, look, Casey, tell Mark I called. I'll try again in a few days."
"I'll give him your message. Meanwhile, sweetie, you get out there and get yourself a man!"
Chuckling, Cedric replied, "Yessir!"
The new flat-screen television took pride of place in the middle of the wall. Trailing down from it, wires led to the black cable box, which sat on the floor. Stacked chest high on either side of it were boxes of books.
His law books, of course. Many of his undergraduate texts, especially the books he'd bought for Tim's courses. And his small but growing collection of crime fiction. He'd told himself now that he was out of school, he could read what he wanted to, and not always what he should read. Oh, under Tim's tutelage he'd enjoyed Hemingway, Faulkner, dos Passos, Fitzgerald . . . but now he was discovering the delights of crime writers as diverse as Dorothy Sayers and Robert Parker. He'd often imagined himself to be the urbane but sensitive Lord Peter Wimsey. At other times he'd vicariously lived as Spenser's scary black friend, Hawk.
Gotta get those boxes unpacked. Gotta get some shelving. Hmmm. Must ask Adam or Blake who did their shelves.
He reached for the phone and dialed. It rang a couple of times, and then Adam picked up.
"How'd you know . . . Oh, Caller ID."
"Yeah." There was amusement in Adam's voice. "So what can I do for you?"
"Can you give me the name of the man who did your shelves?"
"Sure thing. Just give me a second. Blake, where's Micah's card?" A pause. "Thanks, babe."
Cedric felt a stab of loneliness. He missed . . . . Resolutely he pushed that thought out of his mind. The past was over and done, and as Trey had counseled him, he had to start looking toward the future.
"Got a pencil?" Adam gave him a phone number. "Micah's work is expensive, but I promise you it's worth every penny. But don't count on getting them anytime soon. He has a day job, so he works on the made-to-order stuff evenings and weekends."
"I guess if it's good work it's worth waiting for. Thanks, Adam. Say `hi' to Blake."
Cedric entered the lobby of his building just in time to see the elevator doors begin to close.
"Hey, wait, please!"
A brown hand extended, was hit by the rubber-clad edge of the door. The door retreated, but the hand continued to grasp the rubber strip.
Though the need to rush was past, Cedric walked rapidly to the elevator, inside of which was a beautiful man.
Once Cedric was inside the car, the young guy released the door. After a brief pause, they began their ascent.
"You're the new guy on the third floor, right?" He had a nice smile.
"Yeah, I'm Ced Jones."
Extending his hand, the other man said, "I'm Jay Banerjee. Glad to know you. Until you came I was the newbie in the building."
"How long have you been here?"
"Why haven't I seen you before? I get here just about the same time every day."
"I've been working nights until this week. Now I'm eight to five." He smiled. "It's much more civilized."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a pharmacist at Walgreen's."
Banerjee was short, perhaps 5'7" or 5'8", and slender. As one might expect from his name, he had brown skin and brown eyes. His black hair was trimmed close on the sides and back, but was full on top, parted on the right. It appeared to be lustrous without being greasy. He was wearing dark blue slacks, a medium blue shirt, and a blue and white striped tie.
The car stopped at the second floor.
The smaller man said, "Here's where I get off. Nice to meet you, Cedric."
"Uh huh. I'm sure I'll see you around, Jay."
He realized that Banerjee had no Indian accent. Must be second generation.
Whatever, he hoped he would get to know the man better.
Later that evening Mark called.
"Hey, Ced, how are things in Colby?"
"I'm settling in, Markie. It takes a while in a strange place, but I'm getting to know people. Gradually."
"You sound a little off, babe. What's wrong?"
"Oh, I can't complain. I'm just feeling the need of somebody special in my life. It's been a long time."
"Yeah. Trey is very discreet, as you know, but he told me you were still hung up on Tim."
"Maybe not so much since Trey was here. He helped me see things from Tim's point of view. Not to deal in clichés, he helped me move on."
Mark chuckled. "I think that might be called dealing in clichés, counselor."
"You're right, of course. Counselor. But the point is, Tim and Max are together and, according to Trey, very happy. So I wish them the best." He paused. "Now, what's going on with you? Are you and your adorable partner both okay?"
"Um, well, yes."
"Why the hesitation? Oh, can you talk?"
"Uh huh. He's at a fund raising do of some kind for the Symphony tonight."
"So talk. Tell me what's wrong."
"Who said anything was wrong?"
"Mark, you can't fool me. You asked me to call you, remember. And, though I know you love me, I don't think you were primarily interested in asking how things were going in Colby."
"You wound me, Cedric! I do love you, and I wanted to know you were integrating yourself into the community. But so far there's no hunky guy you're seeing?"
"Nope. And don't try to change the subject. What's bothering you?"
He could hear Mark sigh over the phone.
"I love Casey, I really do."
"I'd assumed so. I thought we could take that as a given. But . . . ?"
"He's sweet. He's kind. I know he loves me."
"But he's driving me crazy."
Again Cedric waited, knowing his friend would tell his story at his own pace.
"You have to remember that Case is a musician."
"The circles he moves in, even the straight guys act queer."
"Mark. Bite your tongue!" Cedric chuckled to show he was joking. In part.
"Okay, but you know what I mean."
"Are you saying that Casey's a bit of a flamer?"
"There's no doubt he's gay. But what's wrong with that?"
"It's like, well, he has to rub people's noses in it."
"So to speak." Cedric laughed.
"When he's with his musician friends, he can get away with that, as I was saying. My friends are different. They know I'm gay, and so far as I can tell, they're all pretty accepting. But except for living openly with Case, I don't flaunt it."
"Have any of your colleagues said anything?"
"No, but we went to a party recently. It was a cocktail party at the senior partner's house. It wasn't a casual affair. Expected dress was suits or, at least, blazers with ties."
"Sounds like a bunch of stuffy lawyers."
"You're a lawyer. Don't you understand what I'm talking about?"
"You're forgettin' I grew up in a lawyer's family. I know what you're talkin' about. But some of those affairs can be stuffy. I sure as shit hope I'm not like some of my dad's colleagues who seem to always have a poker up their asses." He paused. "So what did Casey do?"
"He said he performed in formal wear over a hundred times a year. This was supposed to be a party. And he'd be damned if he was going to wear a suit."
Good for Casey! Cedric thought. He understood the dress code of his profession, even at social events, but he couldn't help admiring Casey's iconoclasm.
"And . . . ?"
"He wore black leather pants, patent leather pumps, and a red silk shirt!"
Unable to avoid laughing, Cedric asked, "And how did that go over with your colleagues?"
Sounding exasperated, Mark replied, "With some of the wives and girlfriends, he was the freaking belle of the ball. But I got a lot of strange looks on Monday morning at the office."
"And you are telling me all of this . . . why?''
"I know what Trey and Chaz would say. But you're in the profession. You know how buttoned up most lawyers are."
"Markie, relax. See if you can extract the poker. As a matter of fact, my boss lives with a guy who teaches music here and has a jazz ensemble. I've seen Tyrese in court, where he's all professional in his expensive three-piece suit. But he and Digby took me to a ball game, and then they were pretty loose."
He paused briefly to see if Mark had a comment. Apparently not.
"You haven't exactly asked for my advice, but here it is anyway. My take is that Casey's a great guy. He's uninhibited. There's nothing wrong with that. If you love him and he loves you, then fuck your colleagues. And it may be that they're not as hidebound as you think they are. But if they are, then, as I said, don't worry about them."
"You've obviously got a good boss, Ced. But in corporate law, there's always a concern about appearances."
"Hey, bro! Have you talked with your dad about this? He got out of the corporate rat race. He might have some good advice for you."
"Are you suggesting that I should choose between my job and my partner?"
"I suppose it could come to that. But, again, talk to Stan. I'd trust him on just about any topic."
It was quiet on the other end of the line for a while.
"Mark? You still there?"
"Yeah. I was just thinking about what you said. Maybe I will call Pops. You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks."
"Anytime, brother. Give my love to Casey. And I don't need to say that I love you, do I?"
"No, but it's always good to hear. Thanks for calling. `Night, Ced."
The phone on his desk rang
"Mr. Jones." It was Ms. Bott. "Mr. James is on line 1. He wants to speak with you."
"Thanks, I've got it."
He hit 1 and said, "Hello."
"Cedric, how are you?"
"I'm fine, boss, thanks. How are you?"
"Good, good. I'm sure you're busy, so I won't take long. I suppose a stud like you has a heavy date this Saturday evening."
Cedric chuckled. "Not really."
"So you're free?"
"Then I'll pick you up about seven."
"Um, okay. And where might we be going?"
"To a jazz club. My partner has a gig, and I'm going. Thought you might like to hear his band play."
"I'd love that! Thanks for thinking of me. What's the dress?"
"Anything goes. Jeans and a fancy shirt, some bling if you want. We're just groupies at this event."
Tyrese picked Cedric up in a new-looking silver Camry. Cedric wondered why his boss didn't drive something a bit more luxe. Perhaps because he didn't want his clients to think he was living high on their money. That would go along with the way the Colby offices of the firm were furnished.
Tyrese asked about Cedric's parents. When he'd been assured they were both fine, he commented. "Jake and I go way back. We were never in school together, and we've never been adversaries, but we seem to keep bumping into each other at professional meetings. We've raised a glass or two over the years."
Cedric knew his father liked a drink when he got home in the evening, but he also knew the senior Jones seldom took a second. He couldn't quite imagine Jacob and Tyrese tying one on at some legal conference. But then Tyrese hadn't actually said that.
"You know, if she weren't married and I weren't gay, I could easily fall in love with your mother."
Cedric grinned. "Yeah. Angel has that effect on just about everybody. She's something else."
Tyrese chuckled. "She is a wonderful woman."
The club was in one of the upscale suburbs of Detroit. And it wasn't the dive Cedric had imagined when he learned they were going to a blues joint. There was valet parking, and Tyrese paid a hefty cover charge when they entered the night spot.
They were seated and when Tyrese ordered a Jack Daniels on the rocks, Cedric asked for the same, though he reminded himself that he'd be shit-faced if he had too many refills.
There were about an even number of black and white patrons, mostly straight couples.
"What's Digby's group called?"
"Tonight they're `Dig's Dudes.' But the name varies. The makeup of the band varies. They all play with other groups. It's pretty fluid."
"I'm assuming because of the place we're in, this will be an evening of blues."
"Uh huh. But Digby and most of these guys are versatile. You know Digs teaches clarinet and sax in the Music Department, so he's into the classics. But he plays a lot of jazz. Even some Dixieland sometimes."
"Is there anything he won't do?"
Tyrese grinned. "You mean as a musician."
"He doesn't have to take all the gigs he's offered. He's good enough that he can pick and choose. So you'll seldom find him playing rock music of any sort."
"Lord knows there are enough middle-aged rockers with gray hair, receding hairlines, and pony tails as it is."
Tyrese raised an eyebrow. "Digs has all his hair, and it's not gray. And whutchu mean, `middle aged'?"
Cedric chuckled, raised his hands, palms outward. "No offense, boss."
He was saved when the band came onstage for their first set.
Cedric learned a lot that evening. He discovered, for example, that the rubric "blues" covered a lot of territory. Some pieces were slow, others up-tempo. Many were sad, as one would expect, but others seemed more facetious or even humorous.
The audience loved it all, often clapping in time to the music, sometimes singing along.
Cedric knew that Digby played reed instruments, but he was surprised when the man took many of the vocals that evening, pleasing the crowd with his smooth bass voice.
Tyrese's face showed his pride in his lover's abilities.
Tyrese and Cedric were there to the end, since Digby was riding back to Colby with them. The evening passed surprisingly quickly. Cedric was disappointed when Digby said, "Thanks, y'all, for comin' out and bein' such a great audience this evenin'."
This was greeted with applause, whistles, whoops, and some foot-stamping.
"To close things out, we'd like to do a tune that will make some of you think of Bob Wills. Others will remember Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. Here's `Bring It on Down to My House Mama, `Cause They Ain't Nobody Here But Me'."
This received more vociferous approval from the crowd, which quieted down when the band began to play.
Soon, everyone was clapping and singing along.
It sounded rather country to Cedric, and it was hardly what he would have thought of as blues, but he loved it. And the crowd loved it.
He sneaked a look at his boss, who was singing and clapping along with everyone else, his eyes glued on Digby, who was again doing the vocal.
When they dropped him off at his building, he said, "Guys, thanks for including me. That's the most fun I've had in . . . well, I don't know how long. Digby, you and your friends are great."
Digby nudged Tyrese. "Listen a' him. You never know he a black dude."
"Uh huh," Tyrese said. "He brainwashed."
Cedric often remembered the end of his dreams, but almost never the beginning.
This was good. He was gently, dreamily fucking a tight little ass. Tim's.
"You can fuck me harder than that, can't you Cedric? I need more!"
The ass wiggled around and then pushed back. It was tight. But brown. And the voice wasn't Tim's
"Come on, stud, let me have it!"
Cedric woke up aroused, in a sweat. He realized he'd been humping the bed, almost to the point of ejaculation. The man he'd been screwing in the dream had been Jay Banerjee, whom he'd only seen the one time . . . in the elevator.
As he thought about it Cedric assumed Jay was probably gay, since he lived in this building.
That doesn't necessarily follow, counselor.
And of course it didn't. He knew not all the residents of Casa Lynch-Nielsen were gay. But he'd been pretty certain the young Indian was "family."
Wonder if he really is an enthusiastic bottom?
His morning wood demanding attention, Cedric threw back the covers and padded into the bathroom.
If you want to email me about this chapter, please do so at email@example.com . Be sure to put the name of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim