By Tim Mead
The next morning after I got back from doing the food shopping, stopping by the dry cleaner's to drop off some things, and doing the usual Saturday morning errands, I was putting away groceries when the phone rang. It was Corey.
"Hey, hunk! How are you and what's his name?"
"We're both great, Bax. You and Russ are okay, I hope?"
"Yup. Thanks for asking."
"Would you guys be free to come over this evening? I'm making lasagna, and my recipe feeds the multitudes."
"So you're inviting multitudes?"
His chuckle rumbled over the phone. "No, it would just be the four of us. But we'd like to see you guys. It's been too long."
"Well, we don't have anything planned. I should check with my better half, but you need an answer, so yeah, we'd love to come. Can we bring anything?"
"Nope. Everything's under control."
Just after Corey and I hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was Russ.
"Hey, yourself. I assume Crocker was happy you'd agreed to take the job."
"Yeah, he seemed pleased."
"As well he should be. He must know what a prize he's getting."
I could hear the smile in his voice as he said, "Well, he doesn't love me like you do."
"Still . . . So why are you calling me instead of being here for lunch?"
"That's why I'm calling. They've invited me to stay for lunch and meet some more of the kids."
"Is that a problem?"
"Of course not, but there's something I have to ask you."
"Corey just called and invited us to have lasagna with him and Mitch this evening. You'll be home in time for that, won't you?"
"I'll be home by two, probably. That way we can get some Saturday afternoon nooky in before we have to go to their place."
He chuckled. "You sure don't sound like a dean sometimes."
"I'm only a dean from nine to five weekdays. The rest of the time I'm all yours! I'll want to hear all about lunch and the kids when you get back."
"You got it! Love you! Later!"
I fixed myself a sandwich for lunch. I had dusted the surfaces, had a load of whites in the washer, and was running the Hoover when Russ finally got home.
After we'd kissed, I started to ask him about what had happened at the Shelter, but he interrupted.
"I'm ready for that nooky now."
"Man, you know it," he said, grinning and pulling off his shirt.
I never got a chance to ask him how things had gone at the Shelter.
At Mitch and Corey's after we got there and were handed drinks, Mitch was holding forth on one of his favorite topics.
"I just don't understand it. All of my students use word processors. But they manage to ignore the spelling and grammar checkers and give me papers that are full of mistakes. Even worse, of course, is that you can't trust the spell checkers to spot it when you've used the wrong homonym."
"Yeah, yeah," I said, "so you've told us many a time."
"Well, you'd think the little bastards would want to get it right. I keep telling them if they can't be bothered to read their writing carefully, why should anyone else care?"
"Okay, Mitch," Corey said, smiling at his partner, "we sympathize. But let's change the subject for now, huh?"
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry, gentlemen. So. Change of subject . . . . What's up with you guys?"
"Russ has some news," I said.
Mitch and Corey looked at him expectantly.
He nodded and said, "Yeah, I've taken a part-time job."
"Really," Mitch said, arching an eyebrow. "Tell us about it."
So, Russ told them, stressing that it would probably only be a temporary thing.
"Russ, I can tell by your intensity that you think you're really going to like working at the Shelter," Mitch said.
My boy grinned. "Yeah, I think I will. I mean, they're doing such great work! It'll be good to be helping out."
Later, as we were leaving, Corey gave Russ a crushing hug. "Man, I respect you so much for what you're doing!"
Mitch gave Russ a peck on the lips and said, "Corey's right. Keep us up to date on how it's going, please."
Russ agreed, and we went home.
We watched the end of a "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast on the television and then climbed the stairs. Once in bed we weren't up for a replay of the afternoon's romp in the hay. Instead, we just snuggled.
"I think what you're doing's great, too. Once you've gotten settled in and all, I'd like to come over there and have you show me around."
He squeezed me and licked my ear. "Anytime, sweetie."
* * *
I didn't get Carol's job. It was the Provost who told me.
(At U of Z, the President was out of town most of the time, talking to alumni groups, generally trying to raise money, or attending meetings of other university presidents. It was Steven Gould, the Provost, who was in charge of the day-to-day running of the school.)
After we were seated and his PA had brought us coffee (much better than the coffee in our office), he leaned forward with his hands clasped together on his desk.
"I want you to know that you almost got the job."
I didn't know how to take that, but it wasn't a great blow since I hadn't expected to get it anyway. So I nodded and waited for him to go on.
"Everybody on the search committee was high on you personally and on the way you carry out your duties."
I couldn't resist. "But . . . ?"
"But when we had a chance to get Lois Hammond we jumped at it."
I knew of Lois Hammond. She was nationally recognized in academic administrative circles. She was often the featured speaker at conferences, and she'd published several influential books. I had no idea why she wanted to leave Chicago, but I had discounted her as a serious candidate because of her age. She had to be over sixty.
"I, um, that is, she'll bring a lot of prestige to the University. It's quite a coup getting her," I said. "I'll look forward to working with her."
Dr. Gould (I was never comfortable calling him Steve as he'd asked me to.) leaned back and smiled.
"She'll be counting on you to show her how we do things here."
"I imagine she'll want to institute some changes."
"She may well. I hope you and the rest of the Student Life staff won't be resistant to that."
"Of course not."
He seemed to be looking at the wall behind me. Then he focused on my face.
"Baxter, I'm going to tell you two things. One you can pass on to anyone you like, and the other is strictly between us. Understood?"
"The decision had nothing whatever to do with your being gay. Nothing. That's a non-issue."
He paused and continued to look at me, so I nodded.
"I hope you'll be sure to tell your feisty friend in the English Department that." He allowed himself a slight smile.
I smiled too, realizing that he knew how vocal Mitch could be about the gay issue.
"I'll do that."
"Now, here's the confidential part. I assume you'll tell your partner, but it must go no further without embarrassing both of us. And I may have to deny it if it comes to that."
Bewildered, I merely said, "Okay."
"Dean Hammond will be retiring in five years or perhaps fewer. Normally we wouldn't have been interested in someone of that age. But she was simply too well qualified to pass up."
She was, I agreed.
"But the President and I, though we can't promise anything or even speak about it publicly, have you in mind to succeed her. You can learn a lot from her, as she will depend on you. I hope we can count on your loyalty."
Whatever I'd come in there expecting, it wasn't that. I was being told that in five years or less, I'd probably be the next Dean.
"You would have had my loyalty under any circumstances, um, Steve. I'm very happy here at U of Z. But I'm grateful to you for telling me all of this."
He stood up, smiled, and offered me his hand. After we shook, he put his arm around my shoulders and walked me to the door of his office.
"But remember, not a word to anyone except . . ." he paused. "Rusty Logan about our plans for the future."
"Oh, and please don't say anything to anyone about Dr. Hammond until we've made the announcement publicly."
"And quit calling me `sir'!"
"Okay . . . Steve. And thanks."
Back at my own desk, I took a moment to ponder the meeting with the Provost, asking the receptionist to hold my calls for a while.
I suppose I should have been disappointed, but then I'd put my name in partly because of Mitchell's urgings, to show the rainbow flag, so to speak. And as I've said, I figured out that Carol's successor would have to be a woman because of the lack of balance in the upper administrative echelons. Thus I was actually relieved in a way. And yet flattered by what Steven had said about my being slated to replace the new Dean when she retired.
I was also a bit surprised to learn that he knew of my friendship with Mitch. He'd met Russ at an office Christmas party, though I was startled when he referred to Russ's stage name. Obviously he was tuned in to what was going on amongst "the troops."
That night I told Russ about everything that had transpired earlier. He was disappointed at first that I hadn't gotten the job, but he seemed pleased by the implied promise that the job would be mine in a few years.
"Score one for the pink team!" he'd said, just before kissing me.
"Well, gorgeous, I'm not going to count my chickens, to switch metaphors."
* * *
Russ and I were invited to dinner at Mitch and Corey's place for the Saturday night after the University had announced the hiring of Lois Hammond as Vice President for Student Affairs. I protested that it was their turn to come to our place. He replied that they'd already invited two other guests, but he was rather mysterious about who they were.
"Do Russ and I know them?" I was assuming it was a couple.
"Ask me no questions . . . ," he'd responded, rather smugly.
The two other guests turned out to be Eric Fane and our physician, Sam Reynolds. Russ and I had been held up because of a traffic accident on Cuyahoga Avenue, the main artery between our place and Floral Heights, where our hosts lived. Sam and Eric were already there by the time we arrived. I raised an eyebrow at Mitch as he greeted us, and he merely smirked. The matchmaking was going forward, obviously.
Russ and I hugged Mitch and shook hands with Sam and Eric. I told Mitch to stay with the others and I'd check in the kitchen to see if Corey needed help.
I was confronted by his khaki-covered butt. He was peering at something in the oven.
"Yum!" I said.
"Oh, hi, Bax. The roast is looking good. But I'll bet you smelled it, didn't you?""
"I wasn't talking about the roast, stud."
He put down the big fork and the potholder and gave me a huge hug. I could have stayed there awhile.
(Maybe I should explain. I was in love with Russ. I loved Mitch in the way one can love an ex-partner who's still a good friend. But I had a special feeling for Corey. He was just one of the sweetest men I'd ever met, besides being a major hunk as well. I couldn't help fantasizing about him sometimes. So sue me!)
When I finally let him go, I asked, "What can I do to help?"
He smiled and said, "Pour yourself and Russ some wine. I've got Piesporter for Russ. The rest of us are drinking red, since that's what we're having for dinner."
I knew where they kept their glassware, of course, but I didn't have to open the cabinet. Two wine glasses were sitting on the counter. I found the Piesporter in the fridge and poured a glass for Russ. The red was next to the glasses, so I helped myself to some of that.
"Go on back and visit with the guys. I'll be right behind you."
In the living room Russ was telling the others something about life on the road with Apex. When I handed him his wine, he smiled his thanks and kept on talking. I grabbed the last mini-quiche from a plate on the coffee table and listened to a story I'd already heard about their drummer tossing a stick in the air and failing to catch it.
Corey came out in a minute or so and joined us, bringing another plate of hot mini-quiches lorraines. They came from an upscale grocery store in Fair Hills. Russ and I had served them on occasion.
After that, Russ asked Eric something about what was going on at Pierce-Thompson. Mitch took the opportunity to ask Dr. Sam something. So I asked Corey if anything exciting had happened with his work recently.
"Depends on what you mean by exciting, Bax. In my job it's 90% boring and the rest all the excitement you could want."
"Yeah, I suppose that's true. Dumb question. I'm sorry."
Mitch had overheard us. "It's the 10% that keeps me worried."
Corey blew a kiss at Mitch, being too far away to give him a reassuring touch.
"So, Russ," I heard Eric ask, "what are you doing these days, now that you're not with Apex any more?"
Was that a way of suggesting that Russ was out of work? I studied Eric's face and came to the conclusion that it was a sincere question. He just wanted to know what his former co-worker was doing with himself.
Mitch and Corey were aware that Russ had a new job, but he hadn't really known much about it the last time we were together. So everyone listened carefully when Russ answered Eric's question.
"I've just started working part time at the downtown Teen Shelter."
"Doing what?" Eric asked.
"Well, I'm taking care of their bookkeeping, but I'm also working with the director writing grant proposals."
"Part time, you say?"
"Yeah. I don't plan to make a career of this, but they need the help, and God knows, they're doing important work."
As Russ talked, I looked around at the others. Eric and Sam were paying close attention, obviously interested in what my man was telling them. Mitch had one eyebrow cocked, looking slightly skeptical. Corey was listening to Russ, but he was watching Mitch.
When Russ finished describing his new duties, there was a chorus of acclaim. From all except Mitch.
Typically, Russ downplayed what he was doing, saying he was glad to be able to help out at the Shelter until they found a permanent replacement.
It was Mitch who asked the penetrating question.
"Russ, I understand that the Shelter is doing good work in the city. But surely you're overqualified for that job. Aren't you squandering your talents? Shouldn't you be doing something more, ah, important?"
I saw a flicker of indignation in Russ's eyes, a look that I'd only seen when he talked about his family.
"How can you say this isn't important? Do you have any idea what those kids at the Shelter have been through? They don't have homes. Some of them have been kicked out because they're gay. Others don't have any parents or relatives. Or they've been in foster homes somewhere else, places that were so bad they felt they had to run away. You have to see these kids, talk with them, to see what a shitty time they've had. I can't think of anything more important than doing what I can to help them. Or at least to help the organization that gives them a safe place to live, that gives them food, that tries to find decent homes for them. Or, in some cases, resolve misunderstandings so they can be reunited with their families."
Mitch nodded. "I'm sorry, Russ. I hadn't thought of it that way."
The others jumped in to turn the direction of the conversation, for which I was relieved. But I felt guilty. I knew the Shelter was doing important work. And I admired Russ for helping out, working part time for far less than he was worth, given his qualifications and experience. But down deep I couldn't help thinking that Mitch had a point, that Russ was somehow wasting his life. He'd had three jobs in the two years or so we'd been together. Was he ever going to . . . what? "Settle down" were the words that came to mind.
I craved stability. I had a secure job with some prospect of promotion before I was 40. I loved Russ with all my heart. But somehow I wanted him to be in a stable position, too. Was that selfish? I told myself I'd have to think about that. And then I refocused on the conversation, which had turned to the prospects of the Zenith Rockets for the upcoming season. There was some debate over whether the Rockets could beat out the Indians, the Tigers, and the White Sox for the Central Division championship that summer.
Later, in a lull in the conversation at the dinner table, Mitch said, "Well, there's no point in ignoring the elephant in the room any longer."
I had no idea what he was talking about, unless it was the fact that two unattached and pretty attractive gay men were there along with two established couples. But that wasn't what Mitch had in mind, as he made clear.
He looked at me.
"Bax, I think it's outrageous that you didn't get Carol's job. I was afraid homophobia would hold sway in that decision."
"You think that's why they chose Lois?"
"Well, you were everybody's choice for the job. At least most of the faculty and students were expecting you to get it."
"I happen to know that wasn't the case."
"Oh? Why? Or should I ask how?"
Woops. I couldn't really tell them what the Provost had said to me. "I'm not in a position to tell you that."
"Guys," Sam interrupted, providentially, "I'm not sure I know what's going on here."
"Me neither," Eric added.
Corey said, "The University recently chose a new Dean of Student Affairs. Bax was up for it. But they chose some woman from Chicago."
"Oh. Sorry about that, Bax," Eric said.
I noticed that Russ wasn't saying anything, though he was following the conversation closely. He knew what the Provost had told me.
"Look, guys," I said, "I figured out some time ago that I probably wouldn't get the job. And I wouldn't have gotten it even if I were straight. The upper administrative jobs at the University are predominately male. With Carol leaving, that would make one less female. So they almost had to find another woman for the job."
"That's just ridiculously PC," Mitch muttered, shaking his head.
"Not if we got the best possible candidate."
They all looked at me.
"If I were on the search committee, I would have offered the job to Dr. Hammond. She's by far the best qualified. She's nationally known, something of a star in our field. As I see it, they would have been crazy not to hire her."
The others seemed to understand that, but my loyal if irascible ex wasn't ready to concede the point.
"We didn't have to have a national search when we had someone as good as you right there, already doing the job."
"Thanks, Mitchell. I love you, too. But, trust me, Dr. Hammond will be good for the University."
Corey stepped in at that point to change the subject, and the rest of the evening passed pleasantly.
On the way home, Russ commented that Sam and Eric found things to chat about.
"Yeah, they didn't seem to mind being paired up. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of Corey and Mitch's matchmaking."
"It was because somebody was matchmaking that we met, babe," Russ reminded me.
"Let's hope Eric and Sam are as lucky."
I realized that the main reason I hoped Sam and Eric liked each other wasn't that they were two nice single guys who deserved to find a good mate, though that, of course, was involved. More than that, however, was the fact that Eric had made his feelings about me very plain. And I realized that I'd feel a lot less guilty if he found someone else.
And speaking of guilt. I'd been turned on by every guy in the room that evening. I'd never had sexual thoughts about Sam Reynolds, well, not often anyway. But I had thought about having sex with each of the others. And I still got stirred up thinking about that three-way with Corey and Mitch that never happened. Were all gay men like that, I wondered. Wasn't I too old, now that I was in my mid-thirties, to be that turned on by four of my friends when my lover was sitting right there? But then he turned me on more than any of them. Damn, I was horny by the time we got home!
Russ wanted to watch the 11:00 news and I did so impatiently. Finally we went upstairs.
Once we were cuddling in bed, I said as I was running my hand over his butt, "I want you to understand that I think Mitch was out of line in his comments about your work at the Shelter. All that's important is that you find it fulfilling. God knows it's a worthwhile organization. And I . . . oh, shit, that feels so good!"
He was nibbling my ear, a truly erogenous zone for me. I lay there making satisfied and, I hoped, encouraging noises as he worked down to the place where my neck joins my shoulder. By the time he'd moved further south, I knew I'd have a hickey there the next morning.
He'd just begun to nibble and suck one of my nipples when he stopped and raised his head.
"I'll bet you wanted to tell Mitch what the Provost said about the job being yours next time around."
"Yeah, I did. Mitch is almost instinctively anti-administration, so of course he'd suspect the worst when I didn't get the job. I wish I could have told him what really went down. And thank you for not saying anything."
He nuzzled the nip. "I promised I wouldn't say anything. You know you can trust me."
"Yeah, gorgeous, I do. And now, why don't you get back to what you were doing?" I gently pushed his head back down toward my pec.
* * *
The following week I had lunch with Russ at the Shelter, which was at one time a hotel on the south edge of downtown, almost in the warehouse district. Les Crocker was there, as were several other staffers. More interesting, however, were the kids. It was called the Teen Shelter, and there were indeed young people, mostly though not entirely male, ranging from puberty to the age of eighteen. Some of them were very quiet, with blank looks on their faces. Others were more vivacious, eager to talk. Or at least to ask questions. I'd been warned not to ask any of them to tell me his/her story, but to listen if they volunteered.
What was most impressive to me was that they all seemed fond of Russ. I mean, who wouldn't love him? But there was a group that was eager to sit with us. Well, with him.
* * *
So the spring term rolled along. Because I was in effect doing both my job and that of my superior, I often had to work late or sometimes bring work home. Russ, whose working hours were supposed to be one to five each weekday, frequently stayed late. When I asked him if Les was finding extra things for him to do, he said it wasn't that, but that one or another of the kids would ask him to hang around, to have supper with them. They apparently found him a good listener, and he found it difficult to say no when they coaxed him.
So we were sleeping together and we had our weekends together, but weekday evenings when we could relax together from supper until bedtime were rare.
It wasn't an ideal situation, but I took heart because my work load was supposed to return to normal when Lois Hammond came on board, and Russ's work with the Shelter was only temporary.
To Be Continued
Thanks to Drew, Mickey, Tinn and Bill for invaluable help with "Lonely."
This story is my intellectual property. Do not post it to another site without my express permission.
If you'd like to email me, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org, being sure to put "Lonely" in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks! --Tim