by Tim Mead
Cedric was troubled by the dream.
First, he'd only spoken to Jay Banerjee the one time. He wasn't accustomed to dreaming about men he knew so slightly.
More important, though, was that he'd been dreaming yet again about Tim. He'd thought after his long talks with Trey a few weeks ago he'd made his peace with Tim, at least mentally, and was in the process of moving on.
Mentally. Mmm. Hmmm. He wanted the best for Tim. But seeing him would be something else. Closure was a much abused term, but Cedric knew he'd only get closure when he'd been able to tell Tim to his face that he truly wished him well. And it wouldn't hurt if there were a new man in the picture.
But Jay Banerjee? Come on!
Not that there was anything really wrong with Jay's appearance. He was handsome enough, and his build was very much like Tim's.
There hadn't been all that many men in Cedric's life. After some exploratory jacking off with the boy down the block, he had met Francis when they were classmates in ninth grade. They soon became best of friends and, by tenth grade, lovers. Francis, a big guy with dreads, just kept growing taller and more muscular. He might have been scary if he hadn't been such a sweetie. And sexy? Oh my Lord!
They'd been very discreet in high school. Both boys were out to their parents and close friends, but they didn't flaunt their relationship. When it was time to go to college, they'd chosen different schools and decided to remain friends.
For his first couple of years in college he'd resisted the temptation of one night stands. He'd become close with Trey, Mark, and Chaz, and their friendship was all he needed, except for his daily hand job. That they were all straight, or claimed to be, didn't deter him from coming out to them. They were totally accepting. And that was that.
And then he took a class with Tim, promptly fell in love with him. And the rest was . . . history.
Their two years together had been idyllic. They'd moved in together and become very domestic. Cedric just couldn't imagine being happier with anyone.
Then there were the accident, Cedric's amnesia, and Max. Well, Max had been there, had supposedly been wrapped up in a hunk named David. But David had gone back to California, for reasons Cedric hadn't understood at the time. Trey had told him during his recent visit that David realized he couldn't compete with Max's love for Tim and had decided to end it with Max. Which left Max having to confront his true feelings for Tim. And . . .
While Cedric was still coping with his memory loss, Rick, another English professor, had been very friendly and supportive. Cedric hadn't been able to remember him, either, but Rick was persistent about persuading Cedric to get out and do things. Their relationship never became a sexual one, though Rick had left no doubt about his willingness.
In Law School he'd been too busy for a relationship, even if a suitable candidate had appeared. He hadn't even made any lasting friendships. True, there had been a few one- night stands with guys whose names he could hardly remember now. Similarly, back home and working for his father, he'd had casual sex with a couple of guys he'd met socially, but nothing to light up his night.
So here he was in Colby. And judging by his recent dream, ready to fuck the first available candidate.
Jay's apparently single. And friendly. And kind of cute. No harm in asking him for a drink. It wouldn't have to be a date.
Ah, he said to himself, here it is. Micah's directions were perfect.
Cedric had asked his neighbors who had made their entertainment cabinet and bookcases. They had given him Micah Sutton's name and phone number and urged him to call.
"You'll love his work," Adam said. "It's worth every penny. Just be prepared for it to take months."
"Turn right now," the voice from his OnStar told him.
As he'd been told, he was 4.6 miles south of the Colby city limits on a road he had never been on before. He turned into the driveway.
Micah lived in an older ranch-style brick house on a good-sized lot. The grass was neatly cut, there were beautifully-tended shrubs along the foundation, and though the leaves from the big maples had obviously been recently raked off, there were a few dotting the green with red, yellow, and orange, probably fallen that afternoon. The whole scene glimmered in the light of the setting sun.
Behind the house and to one side was a building about the size of a three-car garage. It was of cement block painted white. It, too, had beautiful foundation plantings, which included chrysanthemums of several autumnal shades among the yew and juniper bushes.
After parking to the side of the drive, Cedric made his way to the front door, where he rang the bell.
The door was opened by a stunning man who might have been the visual inspiration for either Superman or L'il Abner. Over six feet tall, he had lustrous black hair, blue eyes, a strikingly-handsome face, broad shoulders, a proportionately tiny waist. He was wearing a tee shirt that said "Cromer Landscaping," and worn, faded jeans. Though he had no idea where, Cedric was pretty sure he'd seen the guy before.
"No, man, I'm Joe Hill. You must be Cedric."
"That would be me."
They shook hands.
"Micah's out in his shop. It'll be easier if we go around the house." Joe stepped outside and pulled the door closed.
As they walked around the house toward the white building, Cedric heard the whine of some sort of electrical tool.
"Sounds like he's using the router," Joe said.
When they stepped inside there was the pervasive tang of sawdust, which Cedric found appealing. He saw a smaller man, 5'8' perhaps, wearing goggles and a white mask over his nose and mouth. As Joe had predicted he was using a router on what looked as if it was going to be a cabinet door.
"Best not to startle him while he's doing that," Joe said.
They waited a moment or so until the man, obviously Micah, turned off the machine and removed his safety goggles and mask.
"You must be Cedric," he said.
Cedric chuckled. "That's what Joe tells me."
Micah wiped his hands on a rag and then shook hands with Cedric.
"You said you were interested in bookcases?"
"Well, maybe more than that. As I said on the phone, I need lots of shelving. And when I saw the great work you'd done for Adam and Blake, I wanted something similar. Now that I've thought it over, I'd also like to have a storage cabinet to put under the flat-screen."
"Okay. We need to decide on the wood, the color, and the style, especially of the cabinet. Why don't I show you some pictures?"
"I've got some brownies in the oven, guys," Joe said. "When you're done here, come have `em while they're still warm."
Micah had pieces in various stages of completion sitting around the shop, so Cedric was able to inspect his handiwork. But then Micah showed him color pictures of other things he'd done.
"You're stuff's all gorgeous, Micah. So many decisions."
"Take your time. I'll just clean up here." He got out a shop vac and began cleaning up the sawdust from the job he'd just been working on.
Eventually Cedric decided on oak rather than the cherry Blake and Adam had selected. He chose a severely plain modern style for the cabinet. His neighbors' cabinet was in what Cedric thought of as a Shaker style. It, too, was simple, unadorned, but it still had a 19th-century look to it. For his apartment, Cedric wanted a more contemporary look.
Then they discussed the cost which, though hefty, was about what Cedric expected.
When asked how long the job would take, Micah grinned sheepishly.
"I imagine your neighbors have told you I'm slow. I have a day job, so I can only work on this stuff evenings and weekends."
Cedric tilted his head slightly and waited.
"I can't promise, but I may be able to have these things done in the late spring."
Ouch! He'd been warned, but the thought of living with all those boxes of books and CD's and DVD's made him cringe. Still, Micah's pieces would be worth it. He'd have them the rest of his life, most likely.
When they'd finished their arrangements, Cedric wrote Micah a check for half the total, the rest due upon completion.
"Now, let's go see what Joe's come up with."
They went through the back door of the house into the kitchen, where the smell of brownies made Cedric's mouth water.
Micah stood just inside the door and took off his ankle-high work boots, leaving them on a small rug.
"Cedric, I need to get a quick shower to wash off the sawdust before this guy [he nodded toward Joe] will let me have the run of the house. You guys visit and I'll be right back."
There was a round oak table with four chairs in the breakfast area of the large kitchen.
"Grab a chair, Cedric. He takes quick showers. And the brownies are still just a little hot."
"I'm Ced, please."
"God, those brownies smell wonderful. I'll bet they didn't come from a mix."
"No. My boss's partner gave me this recipe. And I kind of think he may have gotten it from Albert, the chef at Adrian's."
"You work for a landscaper?"
"Yeah, Dave Cromer. His partner is Brody Cox. You've probably seen the Cox florist shop in Colby.
"Yeah. I've driven by Cromer's Landscaping a couple of times, too."
So Joe's boss is gay and has a partner who's a florist? Colby is turning out to be an interesting town.
"How did you meet Micah?"
"Dave introduced us. He and Micah go to church together. I'm not much of a church-goer myself. Neither is Brody. So on Sunday mornings I work in the shop. Then we often have Sunday dinner together, the four of us. Sometimes we do it here, sometimes at their place, and sometimes we eat out."
"Sounds like you guys are great friends," Cedric said, hoping to keep the envy out of his voice.
"Joe, I have this idea nagging at me that I've seen you somewhere before. Have we met?"
"Sorry, dude. I don't think so. I'd have remembered."
Micah came back, wearing a white tee shirt that showed off his lean but muscular torso, a pair of loose gray sweatpants, and white socks.
"Now, let's get at those goodies while they're still warm," Joe said. "Ced, would you like ice cream with yours?"
"That'd be fine. But you know what? If you have some, I'd be just as happy with a glass of milk."
Joe grinned. "We can do that."
As they ate – and the brownies, which Joe had made with black walnuts, were heavenly – they chatted. His hosts wanted to know where he was from, what he did, how he was acclimating to Colby.
When he said he worked for Tyrese James, they both grinned and nodded.
"Oh, you know Tyrese?"
"Yes," Micah said. "And Digby, too."
He was about to ask how they knew Tyrese and Digby when Micah grinned, pointed his finger at Joe, and said "Got it!"
Joe bopped his lover on the shoulder and said, "Don't you know it's not polite to point? Got what?"
"Ever since you walked into the shop, Cedric, I've been sure I've seen you before."
"Me, too. Um, about you guys. And it's Ced."
"Well, now I know where it was. You were in the paint department at Lowe's last summer when Joe and I were there."
"That's it! I remember now. I remember getting a warm and fuzzy feeling when I saw how much you two cared about each other. But why would you have noticed me?" Pause. "Because I'm black?"
"Black people aren't rare around here, Ced."
Joe put his hand over Micah's and leaned forward. "I know what he's gonna say."
Micah grinned at Joe. "So tell us, smarty, what was I gonna say?"
"He remembered you because you're such a stud." He turned toward Micah. "Right babe?"
"You got it, big boy."
Cedric felt the tingle of a blush, even though he knew it didn't show.
"So, Ced, do you have a boyfriend?"
Ced shook his head. "'Fraid not."
"Well, that's a damn shame," Joe commiserated. "A guy like you goin' to waste."
"Somebody needs to remind Pinkie and Adrian to invite Ced to their upcoming CQ get-together."
"Great idea," Joe said. "I'll get Dave to talk to one or the other of them."
"CQ's? I've heard them mentioned, I think."
"Yeah, it's a bunch of gay guys who dress up and have drinks together several times a year."
"You guys go?"
"Sometimes. Neither one of us likes to put on a suit, but there are a lot of really great guys who come. Besides, the food's always incredible. Albert supervises the catering, though he's a member of the group. Adrian never treats him like an employee."
"And," Micah said, "the eye candy is amazing."
Cedric thought the eye candy Micah lived with was amazing, but of course he didn't say anything.
As he drove home Cedric couldn't help thinking about the comfortable domesticity of Micah and Joe.
Joe was a real hunk. Micah's looks were pretty ordinary, though he did have a nice ass. But Cedric guessed that it was Micah who called the shots. Whatever their relationship, they seemed happy together.
Cedric sighed audibly.
On Friday evening that week Cedric was waiting for the elevator in his building. When it arrived, with a discreet chime, the door opened noiselessly.
Rose Bever and Harv Clay came out of the car. He hadn't known they were even acquainted.
"Cedric, dear, hello," Rose said.
"Hi, Cedric," Harv responded at the same time.
"You folks steppin' out this evening?"
"Yes," Rose replied, "this kind gentleman is taking me to dinner at The Faculty Club."
"I take it that's somewhere on campus?"
"No," Harv said, "it has nothing to do with the University. It's just a restaurant."
"And a very nice one, too." She lowered her voice. "Though one doesn't say that when Adrian is around."
"Oh," Harv commented, "if you catch him in the right frame of mind, he'll even admit that The Faculty Club's chef is second only to Albert in Colby."
"Well, have a pleasant meal."
"Oh, we shall, thank you. And we're going to hear a student string quartet play at Randall Hall later."
As he stepped into the elevator, he thought, String quartet! No thanks. But Tim would probably like that. And then he envied the older couple. Going out to dinner and then to a concert, even if it was a student string quartet, sounded a lot better than the evening he was facing. There might be a college football game on. Or perhaps he'd visit his favorite erotic story site online. And there was always the standup comics on Comedy Central.
That's pathetic! Come on, Cedric! You're young yet. You don't need a life partner right now. You just need to find somebody cute to fuck.
He snapped out of his reverie when someone called out, "Hold the car, please."
He grabbed the edge of the door. When he saw it was Jay Banerjee, he chuckled.
"Oh, hi, Cedric. Thanks." Jay paused a moment. "Isn't this how we met?"
When the car stopped at the second floor, Jay said, "Um, Cedric, do you have any plans for the evening?"
"No, not really."
"Want to change into something more casual and then go find something to eat?"
"Sure, Jay. That sounds good." Yeah, that sounds real good!
They agreed that Cedric would stop by Jay's place in twenty minutes.
He quickly got out of his suit and pulled on jeans and a button-up shirt. He changed out of his thin socks and shiny shoes into thicker socks and sneakers. He felt his face for stubble. Even though it wasn't a date or anything, he took time to run the electric razor over his face. Grabbing a hoodie, he made sure his door was locked and went to the elevator.
He knocked on Jay's door with five minutes to spare.
Jay, too, had opted for jeans and sneakers, but he was wearing a gray Ohio State sweatshirt.
Cedric cocked an eyebrow. "J'ou go to OSU?"
"Pharmacy School, yeah."
"I don't know whether I want to be seen with you or not," he said, grinning at Jay.
"Oh, don't tell me. You went to `that place up North'."
"Yep. But I reckon we can still be friends."
"Well, I didn't do my undergrad work in Columbus. Besides, I thought everybody from Ohio rooted for the Buckeyes."
"I didn't do my undergrad work at Michigan, either. And I always did root for Ohio State until I went to Ann Arbor for grad school."
By then the elevator had landed in the basement parking garage. Jay offered to take his car, which was a sporty black Eclipse.
"I'd better put the top up, though. It'll be a lot cooler by the time we come out of the restaurant."
"Nice ride," Cedric commented as he helped.
"Thanks. But it isn't very practical for this climate. What do you drive?"
Cedric pointed to his silver Terrain, which was parked a few cars down the row.
"Yeah," Jay said. "That's much more practical. GM just came out with that, didn't they?"
"Uh huh. I used to have a Rav-4, but it had a lot of miles on it, so I decided it was time to trade."
"I'll be interested in how you like it. If it works out, I may look at one."
"If you want to drive mine sometime, that's cool."
"Thanks, man. I appreciate the offer. You'd trust me with your wheels?"
Ced grinned at his new friend. "If I was riding shotgun, sure. So where did you have in mind eating?"
"How about Applebee's?"
The drive didn't take long, but they were told they'd have to wait awhile to be seated. They debated trying another restaurant but decided since it was, after all, Friday evening, they might as well stay at Applebee's. They stood in the small waiting area, since all the banquette seats were taken.
Eventually, however, they were seated. When their server asked for their drink orders, Cedric ordered merlot. Jay ordered unsweetened iced tea.
"You don't drink?"
"Alcohol's poison, Cedric."
"Damn! I guess I don't have any hope of getting you drunk and having my wicked way with you." As soon as he'd said that he wished he hadn't. It was too soon. He'd probably come across as some jerk on the make.
Jay chuckled. "You don't beat around the bush, do you?"
"I'm sorry. Was that too straightforward?"
"Let's see how we feel later. Getting me drunk is out of the question." He smiled. "The other part may not be. But let's get to know each other. For example, where are you from?"
"Greater Cleveland. Shaker Heights, more specifically."
"Oh my God! I live in University Heights. Or I suppose I live here now, but my parents still live in University Heights."
"We're about the same age, I think. It's a wonder we didn't run into each other at sports events or something. Did you play any sports?"
"No. I'm not very athletic. But I'm really good at sex."
It was at that moment their male server returned with their drinks. He turned bright red, put their drinks down, said, "I'll be back to take your dinner orders after you've had a chance to look at the menu," and fled.
Both Cedric and Jay were trying not to laugh out loud.
"Aren't you the one who just pissed on my suggestion that we fool around later?"
"Well, yeah. But just because I'm good at it doesn't mean I'm a slut."
"What about you? Did you play a sport?"
"Uh huh. I was an infielder in high school and at Kent State."
"I'm impressed. Can I feel your muscles?"
Cedric allowed his eyelids to droop. "Later, maybe."
Jay heaved a theatrical sigh and then grinned. "Okay, so tell me about your family."
"My dad has a law firm. Angel, my mother, doesn't work. For money, that is. She's very active in charitable stuff. And my sister Keesha's married with two rugrats. What about your folks?"
"I have an older sister, Indi, who's a design consultant."
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes. An interior decorator. She has her own business. She's been dating an architect in Pittsburgh for a couple of years, but they seem content not to get married."
"What about your parents?"
"They're both doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, but they're on leave of absence this year. They're in Africa with Doctors Without Borders."
"Good for them! That's a great organization."
"Have you gentlemen had a chance to look at the menu?"
"Um, no, we haven't. Sorry. Can you give us a few minutes?"
"Of course." He moved to a nearby table.
"Geez," Jay said. "You're polite!"
"He's just like the rest of us. Doing what he has to do to get along. But it's a busy night and I know they're anxious to turn their tables. Still, I'll bet he knows if he pushes us too much he won't get much of a tip."
"Well, since he's cute, let's see what's on the menu."
"I know it pretty well. I eat here a lot when I don't feel like messing around in the kitchen."
When their wait person came back, they both ordered steaks. Cedric's was supposed to come with a cheese sauce, but he asked for it plain.
"His tag says `Hank.' I wonder if his name's Henry. Who gets named Henry these days?"
"Or," Ced suggested, "who was naming their kids Henry twenty years ago?"
"Maybe his grandfather was named Henry, or an uncle."
When the person in question returned with their meals, he asked, "Is there anything else I can get you?"
"No," Jay said. "But can I ask you a question?"
"Is your name Henry?"
He looked puzzled. "No. Why . . . Oh, I see. No. My last name's Hankerson, so my friends call me Hank."
They thanked him and he went to look after other customers.
"Just goes to show we shouldn't jump to conclusions."
"You sound like the lawyer you are."
"How did you know I'm a lawyer?"
"Oh, everybody in the building was talking about the cute black lawyer who was moving in."
"I wonder if it was Blake and Adam who passed the word."
"Oh, aren't they a great pair? Blake's gorgeous and Adam's cute, especially for an older guy. But it wasn't them. The word got around not long after you'd signed your lease. Like I said, before you moved in."
"Strange. Tom Nielsen doesn't seem like the type who'd gossip, and he's the only one who knew. Except for the other guy, who has the restaurant."
"Yeah. I met him the day I came here for my job interview and haven't seen him since."
"Well, it probably wasn't him who passed the word. Maybe the real estate guy?"
"Yeah. I suppose it could have been him."
"Well, I'm told there aren't any secrets in Colby's gay community. Maybe you're finding that out."
They dug into their meals, so conversation slowed for a while.
When Hank came back to ask if they wanted dessert, Jay said, "I have half an apple pie in my fridge. You want to help me finish it up?"
Not wanting the evening to end so early, Cedric said, "Sounds good."
They settled their bill, agreeing to split it, and drove back to their building.
Jay's apartment was a bit of a surprise. Cedric felt as if he'd stepped onto a verandah or into a Florida room. The carpet was apple green. All of the furniture was white, most of it white wicker. The cushions on the sofa and the pair of chairs were a cotton fabric with a darker green background and yellow and white paisleys. The occasional tables were all white wicker with glass tops. The cabinet under the flat-screen was wood, but it, too, was painted white. Even the walls were white. And there was a white ceiling fan.
"Damn, man! Did you choose all this?"
"No, but before you say anything else, I like it. My sister – I told you about her – did it for me. Who knew wicker was so expensive? She said it was cloudy in Northern Ohio so much of the year she thought I'd appreciate something light and bright."
"Well, it is . . . cheerful!"
Jay slipped off his sneakers, so Cedric did the same.
"I'll show you the rest of the place later, if you want. The master bedroom's just Ikea, and I use the smaller bedroom for a computer room and study. That's where I have my recliner. And a really comfortable office chair."
"Are you a gamer?"
"No, I've outgrown that. Or I should say pharm school kept me so busy I never had time for it. But I spend a lot of time on the `puter. I've got friends all over the world that I email. There's even a pharmacist in Yorkshire that I Skype with a lot. Hence the need for a comfy desk chair."
"Yeah. With cell phones, email, and Skype, it's easy to keep in touch with folks."
"Ready for some pie?"
"Want some ice cream with it?"
"Should I make some coffee?"
"No, thanks. Some water would be good."
"You're not a coffee drinker?"
"Not after about 3:00 in the afternoon. Not the real stuff, anyway. I'll have decaf in the evening occasionally."
"Is there a story there?" Jay asked as he set out plates, forks, glasses, and napkins.
"Not really. I didn't sleep much in law school, lived on coffee. After I moved back home, it took me a couple of months to calm down. And I've used it pretty sparingly since. You know, just to get a jump start in the morning or for a pickup in the afternoon."
Jay opened his fridge and removed the half pie. He transferred it from its foil plate to a kitchen plate and put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
"Just enough to take the chill off," he said. When he set the pie on the table he cut it into two pieces and put one on each of the plates.
"Wow, man. That's a lot of pie!"
"You don't have to be a plate-cleaner. We're grown up now. I'll just put what's left down the disposal."
He took a carton of vanilla ice cream from the freezer and scooped some onto each portion of pie.
There was silence as they took their first bites.
"Oh," Cedric moaned. "That's good!"
"Kroger's and I thank you!"
For a few minutes there was only the sound of silverware on plates.
Then to restart the conversation, Cedric looked at Jay and said, "Tell me something about yourself that no one else in Colby knows."
Jay was quiet for a moment, obviously searching his memory.
"Nothing risqué or anything like that. I was always the model son. Well, except for being gay, but my parents have always been amazingly cool about that." He took another bite of pie, chewed it, and swallowed. "Oh, I know something. When I was a teen, I wanted to be a design consultant. Indi always loved furniture and colors and fabric samples, and I thought that was all fascinating. We'd pore over Architectural Digest and House and Garden together.
"But when I said I wanted to study that in college, the parents said absolutely not. Not for a man. Even a gay man. Besides, they wanted me to go to med school. But I get squicked at the sight of blood, and I can't imagine having to examine a woman. So we compromised. I was good at chemistry. So they proposed pharmacy. After doing some research and talking with my guidance counselor at school, I decided that was a good alternative."
"Have you ever been sorry you didn't go into design?" Cedric had harbored similar ambitions himself at one point, though he'd never told his parents.
"Not really. Indi's making good money in her job, but she's always complaining about what divas her clients are. Me, I work behind the counter and let the pharm techs deal with the public."
"You obviously like it."
"Yeah, and it pays good money, too."
"In this economic climate that's good, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Now. Tell me something about yourself that no one in Colby knows. Did you ever do anything even slightly criminal? Shoplifting. Smoking pot?"
"No to shoplifting. Yes to pot, though not much and not lately. But I did have a continuing problem with a cop for a while."
Jay propped his elbow on the table and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. "Sounds interesting. Tell me."
"Well, in middle school, I was a skater. I had a `fro, and I wouldn't wear a helmet because it messed up the `do. But we were required by local law to wear a helmet when skating. And there was this cop who got on my case. He warned me once and told me he'd not let me off again if he caught me without the helmet. Well, you can figure out what happened. He caught me."
"So what did he do?"
"He took me home, marched up to our front door, rang the bell, and told my mama the whole story. She, of course, was unhappy with me and made me promise that I'd always wear the helmet."
"And was that the end of it?"
Cedric grinned. "Nope. I got caught again by the same officer. He took me home and wrote my parents a ticket, since I was a juvenile. I had to pay for the ticket, which was ridiculously expensive, out of my allowance. And I was grounded until it was paid off."
"Did anything happen after that?"
"Well, I got rid of the `fro. And wore the damned helmet. And Officer Samuels kept an eye on me. I ran into him one day not long after I finished law school. He's a lieutenant in the Shaker police now. I took him to lunch and thanked him."
"I think you must be a good guy, Cedric, despite your criminal past."
They had managed to polish off the pie, huge slices or not.
Jay put the plates, forks, and glasses in the dishwasher and then turned to Cedric.
"Now," he said, giving Cedric a come-hither grin, "Didn't you say something about having your wicked way with me?"
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