by Tim Mead
The Chapter One you've read didn't start out that way. Tim kept handing earlier versions back to me and urging me to write "real English," not what he called "educationese." I think he may have made some sort of derogatory comment about my dissertation and things "of that ilk." Something to do with pretentious polysyllables. Finally he said "Look, Bax, take a deep breath and start writing. Let it all flow out. Just be you. We can clean it all up later. And remember that your job is to be clear, not to impress people with how well you've written or how many words you know."
So I took the deep breath and let it flow. He winced when he read the first part of the new Chapter One. I don't know whether it was because I mentioned him in it or because I was upfront about not knowing anything about writing narrative. But he kept reading and he didn't make me rewrite it, so I'm assuming he's just going to let me flow along.
So, let's see . . . where was I? Oh, yeah, Russ and I had just moved into our new town house and the holidays, our first together, were approaching.
We stayed put for Thanksgiving, not wanting to travel on the busiest weekend of the year. When I explained things to my dad in Fort Wayne, he understood. He said he and Lisa, his second wife, would miss me, but that at least my sister Ellen and her family would be there.
"We just hope you'll make it home for Christmas," he said. I reminded him that I might have Russ with me, and he responded, "The more the merrier," and then added he was glad I'd finally found myself a mate and was eager to meet him. After we'd hung up I remembered that Russ might expect me to go home to Cincinnati to meet his family over the holidays. We'd have to see what we could work out. Unlike faculty members, university administrators don't get lots of time off. It's more like working for any corporation. You have to schedule your vacation time, and in my case my time off had to be chosen after my boss, the dean, had chosen hers.
One evening early in December as we were stacking the dishwasher, I mentioned to Russ that there was a letter for him from his family, but that it had been forwarded from his old West Side address.
"Haven't you told them we've bought this place?"
"Why, for God's sake?"
He mumbled something about doing that soon, and I let the matter drop. I was more intent on getting him onto the sofa where I could have him for dessert.
Later, after some high-intensity making out, we were listening to a local country music station, shoes off, legs stretched out. Yes, I said country music. That's how much I love my man!
"We've got to get a hassock or a coffee table." We'd moved some of his furniture, some of mine into the new place and given the rest to the Goodwill. And we'd bought a new dining room suite. But we needed a place to prop our feet.
"Sounds good. After Christmas, maybe."
"Speaking of Christmas, let's talk about what we're going to do. I'd love for you to meet Dad and Lisa and Ellen and her family."
"You don't want to just have Christmas together here? Our first Christmas in our new place?"
"That could be nice. But what about your family? Don't you want to see them?"
"Not really. But they will expect me to come home sometime during the holidays."
"Well, maybe we could go to our families the weekend before Christmas and the weekend after and manage to be here for Christmas itself."
"It's a pretty long drive to Cincinnati for a weekend, but I suppose I could."
"I? You're going home by yourself? Don't I get to come along and meet your family?" He was quiet so long I had to nudge him. "I asked you a question, gorgeous."
"Yeah, I know. But the thing is, see, I haven't told them about you."
"Not at all? Not since September?" I wanted to ask him how the hell he could say and do the things he had to me and with me and not want to tell his family that he had a lover. For once in my life, though, I kept my first reaction to myself. One learns discretion being a dean.
He shook his head.
"Logan, they do know you're gay, don't they?"
"Sure. They've known that since I was 14."
"Then what is it about me you don't want them to know?" I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer to that question, but it was too late to take it back. So much for discretion.
He turned to face me, pulling one long leg under him. "Babe, I'm proud of you, proud to be with you. I want the whole world to know."
"But not your family?"
"Well, that's about it, yeah."
"They've been informed that I'm gay. I've introduced them to boyfriends before. They just choose not to believe it. They seem to think at 30 I'm still going through a phase and that I'll outgrow it. So when I talk with them I don't talk about anything having to do with my sex life. It's just not worth the hassle."
I was relieved. A little. "So you're not ashamed of me?"
He leaned over, put a hand behind my head, and planted a long, sloppy kiss on me. "No, never. You're a university dean, for chrissake! The kind of guy anybody would be proud to take home to meet his family. Just not my family. I don't want to subject you to them."
"It will probably go something like this. Dad will do his `bluff and hearty' act, talking about Ohio State and the Bengals and golf and the stock market. He'll drive you crazy with all that shit. And mother will pretend that you're a friend that I've brought home for reasons unknown, perhaps as if you were a stray I picked up. My brother will probably ignore you just like he's always ignored me. His wife will look at her feet or the floor or her plate and not say anything. And their kids will look you straight in the eye and ask which of us fucks the other!"
I laughed. "You've got to be exaggerating."
"No shit, Bax. I'm not kidding here."
"So what are we gonna do? Will you at least come home and meet my folks?"
"That will depend on how much time off I can get over the holidays. Do you really want to spend Christmas here, or would you like us to go to Fort Wayne?"
"I don't really care, sweets, so long as we can be together."
The discussion was sidetracked for a while as we went back to snogging. In the background some guy was singing about how sad he was because his woman had run away with another man and had taken his coon hound, too. I think I heard him say he missed the dog, but I admit I was distracted.
* * *
It was a strange holiday season. Russ left the Saturday morning before Christmas and got back Monday evening, which meant he'd spent Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night with his family. He said that was more than enough.
I worried that he'd have snowy highways to drive on, taking some comfort in the fact that he had a late-model Land Rover, but the weather smiled on him and other travelers that weekend. I bought and decorated a tree, since there would hardly be time to do all that on Christmas Eve, which was the day after he returned from Cincinnati.
When he came through the door with his backpack and garment bag (they'd all gone to church on Sunday he said), I was stunned once again at how great he looked. In jeans, workboots, and a gold Wooster sweatshirt, he was definitely edible.
After we'd greeted each other appropriately, I asked, "Have I seen that sweatshirt before? It looks great with your eyes."
He grinned. "I'd left it home the last time I was there. I've gotta confess I bought it because it goes with my eyes."
"Dog! You know how gorgeous you are, don't you?"
He had the decency to blush. And that was so cute!
After I'd poured him a Sam Adams and we were cuddled together on the sofa, I picked up the remote and started the fire.
"That's so cool! A remote for the fireplace!" Of course he'd seen it before, but we hadn't had a fire in the gas logs yet. We hadn't actually had much time to just sit since we'd moved in.
I laughed. "You sure you're not straight? Remotes indeed!"
"Well, we can't all be fairies, your deanship."
"So how was the visit with the family?"
He groaned. "You don't want to know."
"Yes, I do. Was it terrible?"
"Uh huh. I told them about you, about this place." He took a big swallow of the beer, which looked particularly red as it reflected the light from the fire and from the Christmas tree. He must have noticed that, too, for he looked at the tree and said, "You got a tree! That's so sweet. But I would have helped decorate it if you'd waited."
"Are you pissed because I didn't wait? I thought we'd be too busy tomorrow to do that."
He rubbed my knee, and I got even harder than I'd been before.
"No, babe. You're right. I've got a shitload of stuff to do tomorrow. There's an office party tomorrow morning, and I still have some shopping to do."
"You do?" I raised both eyebrows.
"Oh, relax, you're taken care of," he said, grinning.
"I want to take something for your family."
"No need. I've got presents from both of us for Dad, Lisa, and Ellen and her family. But you can help me wrap them tomorrow if you want to. I'll make some wassail and we can wrap presents by the tree in front of the fire."
He stuck his finger in his mouth and made gagging motions.
"That's the tritest thing I ever heard of."
He grabbed me and began to nuzzle that ticklish spot on the side of my neck . . . and I began to giggle.
"If your colleagues could see you now, Dean Crouse," he said into my ear.
"Yeah, well, if you want dinner, you'd better quit that, oh, say in an hour or so."
Over dinner I asked him again about his family's reaction to learning about me and about our buying the house.
He rolled his eyes, a gesture I'd never seen him make before. "I've told you what they're like, and they reacted true to form. My fucking brother Bud got up and stalked out muttering about fags. Kimberly told the kids to run along and play, but they didn't want to. They must have sensed what was coming. Finally she insisted, and they went to play video games or poke at the presents under the tree or something. After that Kim just sat there and listened. She was fucking knitting and she tried to pretend she was engrossed in that, but I know she wasn't missing a word.
"Dad bitched about me buying a house without checking with him first. Reminding him that I wasn't using any of his money didn't stop him. He said something about his experience in business, wanted to know about our mortgage, things like that. He never actually said I was a damn fool for buying a place with some queer I didn't really know, but that was clearly the message he was sending."
I took his hand and squeezed it, but I didn't say anything since I didn't want to interrupt his story.
"When he finally subsided a bit, Mother very quietly began to ask me questions about you. How come I hadn't brought you home? What did I really know about you? What kind of family did you come from? Were you really a dean? Wasn't it unwise to buy a piece of real estate with someone I hardly knew? Finally, she actually asked if you were `that way'."
I didn't know what to say. It sounded as if he had the family from hell, but I couldn't very well say so because I think, nasty as they sounded, he loved them.
"Ready for dessert?" I asked.
* * *
After a quiet and romantic Christmas in our new place, we set off for my home the next day. In good weather the drive from Zenith to Ft. Wayne takes about three hours, allowing for a pee stop. It took Russ and me four hours to get there even in the Rover because it was snowing heavily. Despite the state of the roads, though, I was happier that day, I think, than I could ever remember being. I was taking my special man home to meet my family. The only thing that could have made it better was if Mom had still been there.
She'd died of breast cancer ten years earlier, however, and after mourning for five years, Dad had met Lisa at church. Ellen and I were relieved because we didn't want him to spend his life grieving. Besides, we both soon came to love Lisa. She was fifteen years younger than dad, which put her in her forties, and she'd retained her youthful figure. She was an inch or so shorter than his 5'9" (yes, my lack of stature comes from the Crouse side of the family), with black hair and wonderful dark eyes. So she certainly wasn't the wicked stepmother type.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, Russ and I went to Ft. Wayne.
He let me drive the Land Rover because I knew the way like the back of my hand. (Tim insists that I tell you he wanted me to remove the cliché.) After we'd been on the road for a while Russ reclined the seatback and put his sock feet on the dashboard.
"You think they'll like me, babe?"
"Relax, gorgeous, `cause they're gonna love ya!"
And they did. The assembled Crouse family took to him from the get-go, treating him like another son/brother. I couldn't help feeling guilty in a way because my folks accepted him so well, and from what he'd told me, his family would have made me feel like an intruder.
Russ seemed more relaxed while we were there than I'd ever seen him.
One evening I came into the living room to find him having an animated discussion with Lisa. Not knowing what the subject was, I simply plopped down on the couch next to him and listened. They were discussing country music. Or, more specifically, they were talking about Kenny Chesney, who was, I assumed, a singer.
After talking about which of his CD's they preferred, they switched to his looks. Russ and Lisa agreed that he was hot. I grinned, realizing that my lover and my stepmother were waxing enthusiastic about the sexiness of the same celebrity.
Then Russ said, "But you know, underneath that hat, he's bald."
"No way!" Lisa said, practically gasping.
"Oh, yeah. I saw a bio about him on CMT one day and he was swimming. Great bod, but not much hair on top."
Lisa shook her head. "How about that? Well, he's a hot puppy anyway."
Since I'd never known that Lisa was interested in country music, I felt a bit ashamed. Perhaps I'd taken her for granted, being grateful that she made Dad happy and failing to get to know more about her as a person. Of course we lived a half day's drive apart, but still, I probably should have . . . .
* * *
After the holidays life was good. Russ wasn't eager to go home anytime soon, and from what he'd told me, I wasn't exactly eager to meet his family. So we settled into comfortable domesticity. Neither of us was a spectacular cook at the outset, but we enjoyed cooking together. We bought cookbooks and tried new things. And we became proficient, if not expert.
I found spending my evenings – and my nights – with this sweet, sexy man better than I'd ever imagined. We had the occasional disagreement, to be sure, but Russ was even-tempered and, as I said, sweet.
We didn't spend all of our evenings holed up in the new house. We went out to various places on weekends and once in a while to a play or concert on a weeknight.
We even began to entertain our friends.
The first person we invited to dinner was Russ' old buddy Bernie Pedersen. They'd played football together at Wooster and after getting MBA's at different universities, had found themselves in Zenith. Bernie was an executive with a sporting goods retailer based in Zenith. He had a brief marriage after college, but he said he wasn't going to make that mistake again. So, Russ says, he had acquired the reputation of being something of a player.
Russ had always been out in college, and Bernie, like most of the other guys on the team, had been cool with that. When they found themselves transplanted to Zenith, they'd gotten in the habit of having drinks and dinner together on Friday evenings. That left them both free to have dates with members of their preferred sex on the weekends. As he told me later, Russ had had to cancel his usual arrangement with Bernie in order to have dinner at the Goodman's the night he and I met.
I'd met Bernie not long after Russ and I became lovers, so it seemed natural to ask him to dinner once we'd moved into the condo together.
Since we'd invited him for a Friday evening, there wasn't time to do the standing rib I wanted to. Russ suggested broiling steaks in the range. They would have been better grilled outside, but this was January in Winnemac after all, and we didn't even have a grill yet.
Bernie, who is a tad over six feet, wears his medium brown hair in a Princeton cut, which means it's about as short as you can cut it and leave it long enough to part. He has brown eyes and almost perpetually wears an expression of amusement on his face, as if he finds life delightful. I always think it's a shame he hasn't found a great woman. Or that he's not gay.
He arrived that evening, not with the usual bottle of wine, but with a big pot of yellow tulips. (This was January, remember.) But there were snowflakes on the petals and leaves. It had begun to snow about a half hour before he arrived, and he'd gotten a dusting of snow on top of his head and on his shoulders – and on the tulips – just getting into the house.
Once Russ had gotten him a drink, he perched on a stool in the kitchen and the three of us chatted as Russ and I fixed dinner. I swear, the boy should have been gay: he fit right in. The three of us talked and talked.
After we'd gabbed our way through the second after-dinner brandy, I got up and went to the front window. It looked as if there was a lot of snow out there.
"Bernie, I don't think you should be driving home tonight." He'd had two or three glasses of wine and a couple of brandies, but I was worried about the condition of the streets as well.
"I'm not drunk yet, Bax," he said, grinning at me.
"It's not just that, Bernie," I said. "It's practically a blizzard out there."
"Bax is right," Russ said. "You've had too much to drink and drive. And if the roads are snowy and visibility is like zero, that's all the more reason why you should stay here. You can inaugurate our guest room."
Bernie agreed to stay, so we all had another drink and continued our conversation. I have no idea what we talked about, but Bernie and Russ did a lot of reminiscing, though they seemed to make a point of keeping me included in the conversation.
After we'd all gone to bed and Russ was holding me with my face pressed between his pecs, I said "What a shame Bernie doesn't have someone. He'd be a great catch."
"Here, now! Baxter, do you have the hots for my buddy?"
I denied vehemently that I had any feelings of that sort for Bernie. I denied it right into the little bit of hair above his sternum. And then I distracted him by paying a lot of lingual attention to his right nipple.
The next morning Bernie and I were having coffee to tide us over until Russ finished in the shower and I could serve up breakfast.
"Bax, Russ seems really happy."
"God, I hope so!"
"You guys are good together. I'm glad for him."
"Thanks. I know I don't deserve a gorgeous, sweet guy like him, but I'm grateful. And I'm gonna do my damndest to keep him contented."
Bernie had obviously used some of Russ's aftershave, for a hint of it wafted across the table.
"Has he ever mentioned how he feels about his job?"
"Not that I can remember. I mean, I've always assumed he likes it. He's doing well, that much I know. His bosses like him and he's making good money."
Bernie took a sip of coffee and looked thoughtful. Then he said, "He's never said anything about wanting to be a singer?"
"A singer? Not really. He told me he'd sung in a rock band back in high school, but then we all wanted to do that at one point, didn't we?"
Bernie grinned and nodded.
"But you're telling me he still had ambitions to do that when you guys were in college?"
"Imagine. My lover, a rock star," I said, chuckling.
"No, he wanted to be a country singer."
Just then Russ came in, looking great. I hate people who can look their best first thing in the morning. Not that my guy didn't always look great.
Anyway, in the process of serving and eating breakfast and then saying goodbye to Bernie, I forgot about what he had told me.
As we did our Saturday morning errands, I remembered, but I didn't want to bring up the subject there in the canned goods aisle. But I couldn't help remembering that discussion he'd had with Lisa about Kenny Chesney. (I'd looked him up online when we got home. He really is cute.)
That evening after the dishwasher was whirring away in the kitchen and we were together on the sofa, I asked him if he liked his job.
"Yeah, I suppose. What's not to like? I make good money. I'm good at it. The people I work with are pleasant. I mean it's not cutthroat or anything."
"No buts. It's okay."
"Yeah. Why are you asking?"
"You're my mate, babe. I want you to be happy. I need to know if you aren't."
He grabbed me and pulled my head against his chest. "That's sweet. What you need to remember is that I'm happy with you. Happier than I've ever been. Now, can we just forget my job? Please."
I began to nuzzle a nipple through his shirt and undershirt. We both forgot his job.
* * *
Two weeks later on a Saturday night we entertained my friends Mitch Keller and Corey Brompton.
I'd met Mitch when I first came to the University. He'd been new in the English Department, so we went to some new faculty/staff orientation meetings and a cocktail party at the Provost's home. At the latter affair we managed to stand in a corner with mediocre chardonnay and talk about D. H. Lawrence.
I should tell you first about his background and education, I suppose, but what the hell, first things first. You know I'm not very tall, just a shade under 5'9", right? Well, Mitch is shorter still, about 5'6". He's skinny, but he's tough and wiry, too. And when you see him sideways, it's obvious he's got a great ass and a nice package. He has blond hair, paler than mine, and blue eyes, also paler than mine.
Oh, and did I say he's gay? He and I had a two-month affair right after we met. Mitch is an aggressive, no-nonsense top. We didn't last long as lovers, but we'd remained good friends ever since.
Just for the record, he was from Colorado, where he'd gotten all of his degrees, finishing with his PhD from U of C in Boulder. And he'd done his dissertation on Lawrence, which is how we'd come to be talking about him at the Provost's party.
Sometime late in our first year here, he'd met Corey Brompton, who was a firefighter. Since Corey was over six feet, with brown hair and beautiful almost-black eyes, they made a mismatched pair. Corey was a big pussycat who doted on Mitch, and, I was pretty sure, the bottom in the relationship. They'd been together for several years, and from what I could tell were very much in love. About a year ago they'd bought a 1920's brick house in Floral Heights, which is just south of Fair Hills, and were having fun renovating it together as their work schedules permitted.
At the time I met Russ, Mitch and Corey were my closest friends in Zenith. We got together every other week or so to do something. At first I felt like a fifth wheel, but we went to films together or just hung out at local bars. And once in a while I'd fix supper for them or they'd have me over.
They'd met Russ, of course, soon after he and I became a couple, and the four of us had gone out to eat a couple of times. But they hadn't seen the new town house, and Russ happily agreed when I suggested inviting them for dinner.
I never understood Corey's work schedule. Sometimes he was working Saturday nights. On this occasion we lucked out and both guys were free.
Mitch was a stickler for punctuality and, sure enough, they arrived at 7:00 promptly, faces ruddy from the cold, since they'd had to park a way down the block. There was a bit of a shuffle as we got them out of their coats, hugged, and received the gifts they were carrying. Mitch had a bottle of very nice burgundy in a fancy bag, and Corey handed Russ a fairly large, flat box that was gift wrapped.
"These are from the two of us," Mitch said.
"What's in the box?" I asked.
"Just a little house-warming present," Corey rumbled in his deep voice.
"Can we open it now?"
"Bax," Russ said, "let's get the guys something to drink and heat the artichoke dip. Then, when we're all comfortable in the living room we can open their gift."
I've always loved presents, especially surprises, but he was right, of course.
To sort of make it look like I wasn't dying to know what was in the box, after we were all ensconced in the living room I handed it to Russ and said, "Why don't you do the honors, hon?"
He gave me a look, but he took the box and opened it. Inside were a gorgeous linen table cloth and eight matching napkins.
"Mitch, you sly bastard!" I exclaimed. "I should have known what you were doing when you asked me that day about our new dining room table." I got up and squatted down beside Mitch's chair and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then I did the same for Corey, who chuckled when I followed the kiss up with a little lick on the ear.
"Here now!" Mitch said, laughing. "Let my man alone."
Russ chuckled. "Baxter, behave yourself! But, guys, that's very thoughtful of you both. Thanks. We'll have to have a dinner party so we can show off the cloth. And, of course, you'll both be invited."
We chatted easily, catching up on one another's lives, and I was surprised to note that the dip was gone. I think Corey ate most of it. Russ must have seen me looking at the empty bowl, for he said, "Bax, why don't you give these gentlemen the nickel tour while I see to things in the kitchen?"
We'd picked up a loaf of crusty Italian bread at our favorite deli earlier that day. I'd made a salad, which was staying cool in the fridge. Russ had slipped out to the kitchen earlier to start the pasta. And it only took a few minutes to sauté the combination of baby shrimp, bay scallops, bell peppers, and mushrooms in white wine, garlic, and olive oil. By the time we'd done the tour and I'd poured wine in the glasses on the table, he had everything ready.
The rest of the evening passed quickly. Although Floral Heights and Fair Hills were incorporated communities and had their own police and fire services, Corey worked for the Zenith Fire Department where the pay was better. And life was more exciting, obviously. We kept asking him for more anecdotes about the fires he'd worked recently. Of course Mitch and I talked a little shop, too, about University stuff, but I tried not to do too much of that since Russ had gently complained that, once started, Mitch and I tended to go on and on about school issues.
At one point in the evening I remember Corey asking Russ something about how things were going at work. Russ smiled and said, "Oh, you know, same old, same old."
Later, as our guests were getting into their coats, Corey asked, "Have you guys ever been to Bud's Place?"
Mitch frowned, and his big lover nudged him with his elbow.
"Not since Bax and I got together," Russ said.
"What's Bud's Place?" I asked.
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, 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