The following fictional narrative involves sexually-explicit erotic events between men. If you shouldn't be reading this, don't.
In the world of this story, the characters don't always use condoms. In the real world, you should care enough about yourself and others to always practice safe sex.
The author retains all rights. No reproductions or links to other sites are allowed without the author's consent.
If you like the looks of this chapter, thank jvoyager, who gently nagged me into finally learning how to do html, and Ash for getting me set up to do it.
Thanks as always to Tom W., who edits all this for me, and to the rest of my Nifty Six colleagues.
Chapter 45: Revelations
At breakfast the next morning, Tim was complaining that he wanted good weather to come so he and Max could resume running outdoors. "Using the indoor track three times a week just isn't the same."
"Tim, you know you can't count on good weather yet for a while, not in this climate."
"Yeah, I know, but we could run if all this ugly grey snow would melt."
"Maybe you just need a change of pace. Were you for real last night when you suggested going to Chicago?"
"We've talked about going to spend an afternoon in the Art Institute. And maybe we could see Rick while we were there."
"Tim, that's pretty devious, isn't it, hon?"
Tim set the fork of scrambled eggs he was about to put In his mouth back on the plate. "Well, we HAVE talked about going to Chicago sometime. And we could invite Rick to meet us somewhere for dinner. Would that be so devious?"
Ced thought a minute. "Yeah, if the point of the whole trip is really to confront Rick about Doug."
Tim ate the bite of eggs and followed it with a sip of his coffee. "I see what you mean. But, dammit, Ced, it seems to me we have to do something. I just hate the thought that Rick may be the sort of bastard Doug claims he is, but I don't have any reason to doubt Doug, either. How can we just let all this hang?"
Cedric grinned. "You're the one who's always telling me to be patient. This isn't like you! And you know, Tim, there's something I don't understand."
"I sense this isn't all about Doug. I mean, you've only been with him for the two days we were in Lake Polk. Granted, you love Stan, and Doug is important to Stan, but it seems to me there's something more. Otherwise, lover, I think you are over-reacting."
"You know, that's one of the things I was thinking about last night when I couldn't sleep. And you're right. It's only partly about Doug." He paused. "How shall I put this? I had hoped that Rick would be a colleague in the true sense, a fellow scholar, someone who shared a commitment to truth, decency, honor. Does that sound silly?"
Cedric thought about it. "It sounds like a wonderful ideal, Tim, but you and I both know there are a lot of your colleagues who don't have that commitment."
"Yes, I understand that. There are some hacks on any faculty and the occasional sleaze like Carter Frost. But I can't help thinking that most of us do share a dedication to making things better, not just making a living."
"I get it," Cedric exclaimed. "So your reaction to Rick when he was here was positive, that he was someone you could happily accept into the group."
"Yes, babe. It's sometimes called `the community of scholars.'"
"And," Cedric continued, "if what Stan says is correct, you feel sort of betrayed?"
"Yup. And I'm also having some doubts about my ability to read character. Could we have been that wrong about Rick? I've never felt in quite such a bind before. Be honest, how do you feel about the whole thing?"
Cedric chewed on a piece of sausage while he chewed on the problem. "I admit I'd like to hear what Rick has to say. I suppose if we were treating him to supper and Doug's name just came up . . . nah, Tim, that's still pretty sneaky."
Tim wiped his mouth, wadded up his paper napkin, and put it on the table. "Does that mean you won't come with me? The Chicago Art Institute has some fantastic collections, including one of the best Impressionist galleries on this side of the Atlantic."
Cedric stood and took his dishes to the sink. "Fuck yeah, I'm coming with you. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this, but I think I had better come along to keep you out of trouble. Besides," he said, "I hear they have a great decorative arts and furniture exhibit at the Institute."
"My lover the decorator! How gay is that!"
They loaded the dishwasher and went back upstairs to brush their teeth.
Ced was going to drop Tim at his office and then go on to the gym for an early workout. "When we get home, let's pick a weekend, get our reservations, and then we'll call Rick, OK?"
Tim leaned over and gave Cedric a kiss. "Don't strain anything at the gym, studly. See you this afternoon!"
* * *
Cedric was sitting alone in the steam room after his workout when Emerson Cates came in.
"Hey, Ced, relax, man, I'm not gonna put any moves on you, brother. I just wanted to apologize for what I did the last time we were in here together. I'm sorry."
"It's cool, Emerson. Just so you understand."
"Yeah. You and your little professor are a committed couple. I got that, for sure."
"So, how are you doing?" Cedric didn't specifically ask how Emerson was doing in his search for a man, but both of them understood his question.
"Hey, man, I took your suggestion and went to the last meeting of the SGA. Didn't see you there, though."
Cedric smiled ruefully, "No, we keep meaning to go, but we just don't seem to make it. So, how was it? Did you meet anyone interesting?"
"Well, I met a bunch of folks, and I saw a couple I already knew. That Philip guy, the prez, is something else."
"Yeah, Philip is pretty much into that organization. He can be really intense sometimes, too."
"Uh, do you know Geoff Benton? Was a diver here until last year?"
"Yeah, I know Geoff. He's working on his master's now. I think he and Halifax are pretty much a couple these days."
"Every time I see a guy that turns me on, he's taken. I had the hots for Benton all last year, but I assumed he was straight. I nearly shit when I saw him at the meeting. He is some pretty white boy. And he's with Halifax? Dayum!"
Cedric chuckled. "From what I hear, Halifax practically stalked him last year. Went to all your swim meets, went to hear Benton's trio play on campus last spring, and then started going into the city to hear them play at Nighttown."
"Pale stuff has a trio? He doesn't look like a rocker."
"He's not. They play jazz."
"Fuck! Guess I'd better find out about Nighttown. I wanna hear them play. And enjoy the eye candy while I'm at it."
"You thinkin' about putting the moves on him?"
"Yeah, I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking about fucking that tight little white ass of his. But I guess if he and Halifax are, like you say, together, then I guess all I can do is THINK about it."
"Well, brother, from what I hear about the SGA prez, those two may not be together long. He has a rep for being a player."
"I think he's got a real fan."
"Yeah. There's this kid, plays tennis, I think. At least I see him around the jock dorm a lot. Don't know what his real name is, but everybody just calls him Hook."
"I'm not sure I know him," Cedric replied.
"Well, he's a pretty fine hunk of white meat. But he's always there early, hanging around Halifax, helping set up the chairs and that kind of thing. And then he sticks around afterward and helps put things back, you know."
"And you think this Hook kid has a thing for Halifax?"
"Looks that way."
"Well, Philip is a kind of a sexy dude. And he's got balls, for sure."
After they chatted a few minutes longer, Ced excused himself and left.
* * *
Back home that afternoon, Tim and Cedric picked a weekend two weeks hence and made reservations to fly to Chicago on Saturday morning. They would get to the Art Institute just before noon. They planned to have lunch in one of the restaurants there in the museum and stay until the whole place closed at 5:00. They made reservations at Hotel 71, a "gay friendly" hotel not too far away.
"OK," Tim said, flopping on the sofa. "Now, if I had Rick's phone number, I'd call him. I will have to wait until I get to the office tomorrow, I suppose."
"Hey, didn't you two exchange email addresses when he was here?"
"Yeah. In fact, I emailed him to tell him I was glad he had agreed to take the job here, and he responded."
"So, professor, you could email him now. That's better than waiting until tomorrow to get his phone number."
"Yeah, babe, good idea. But I think I'll just email him and ask him to either give me his phone number or else call us, so we can talk about getting together with him on the phone."
"I know what you mean. Email is great, but it's better, a lot of the time, to be able to actually talk with someone."
Tim went upstairs and dispatched an email to Rick. An hour later, as they were sipping their wine and dunking celery sticks in dip, the phone rang.
Tim answered it, mouthed "Rick" to Ced, and chatted with the caller for about ten minutes. Then he came back and sat beside Cedric.
"Well, what did he say?"
"He seems really pleased that we're coming. He insisted that we stay with him. I told him that we already had reservations at Hotel 71. He wanted us to cancel them."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, Ced, look. I don't want to impose. I don't want him to think that he has to do this because I'm a colleague and he's the newbie here. And besides, we're going to ask him about something that may be a pretty sore spot with him. Do you think we should stay with him?"
"I hadn't thought about it like that. I see what you mean."
"Then Rick wanted to take us to the Symphony. He says they're playing that night, and he and his dad always have four tickets for each concert."
Cedric's eyes lit up. "Oh, man, I'd like that. I'd love to hear that orchestra play at the Symphony Center. The practically never come to Cleveland, you know. And would Rick's dad be going, too?"
"Whoa, babe. He didn't say anything about his father. If we want to talk with him about Doug, I don't want to do it after (or before) he's treated us to a night at the symphony. Do you see what I mean?"
"Tim, I still don't feel right about all this, you know."
"Well, I've been thinking about that a lot. Stan told me Rick had tried to contact Doug through Cranmer and had been unsuccessful. What if Rick is truly sorry for what happened? What if we could help build a bridge between Doug and Rick, perhaps bring about some sort of reconciliation? Would that justify what we're doing?"
Ced thought about that for a while. Tim put his hand on the back of his lover's neck and stroked it. "Oooh, that's nice, hon. You know, I'll do this with you because you want me to. I confess the Chicago trip sounds like a nice getaway for us, and I really like Rick, whatever he's supposed to have done to Doug. But do me a favor?"
"Talk with Max about the ethics of all this."
Tim pulled Cedric toward him to hug him, but they both fell sideways with Ced landing on top. When they quit kissing, Tim said, "That's such a good idea. I don't know why I didn't think of it. I always used to go to Max when something like this was bothering me. You want to come?"
"No, baby. You talk to your best friend. And then be sure to tell me what he said, OK?"
"You got it!"
They went back to sipping and munching.
* * *
Philip was driving Geoff back to the university after the trio's regular Saturday night gig.
"Tired, G-Man?" Philip asked.
"Not really. As usual, I'm still up from the rush of performing."
"You coulda fooled me. You've been pretty quiet since we got in the car."
"I'm sorry, Philip. Did you want to talk about something?"
"No, not particularly. It's just that you're usually kind of bubbly on the way home, and tonight you've seemed down. Something's on your mind. Why don't you just tell me?"
"No, it's OK. Sorry I've been a wet blanket."
Geoff made an effort to keep the conversation going on the rest of the drive back to campus.
Their custom was that Philip spent the night at Geoff's on Saturday nights. Their sex helped calm Geoff down. They slept late on Sunday mornings and then went out for brunch.
When Philip came out of the bathroom that early Sunday morning, he found Geoff sitting naked on the side of the bed, looking forlorn.
"Geoffie," Philip said, sitting next to him and putting his arm around his shoulder, "something's definitely wrong, babe. Now why don't you just get it over with and tell me?"
Geoff pulled away and turned to face Philip. He took a deep breath. "OK. Who was the guy you were kissing in the parking lot behind your building earlier this week?"
"Oh, shit, G.!"
"Yeah, shit! That's what I felt like when I heard about it."
"You heard about that, huh?"
Philip tried to put his arm back around Geoff's shoulders, but Geoff pulled away. Philip took a deep breath. "OK, angel, that was Hook."
"Hook? Who's he? And WHY?"
"Geoff, I'm sorry. I don't know if it would help, but he kind of seduced me."
"Yeah, like you never heard the word `no'!"
Philip held up his hands, palms toward Geoff. "OK, OK, babe. I'm scum. It's just the kid was so eager."
"Hook? Is that the kid that comes early to help you set up at meetings?"
"And he sticks around to help you straighten up afterward?"
"God! He's beautiful. I should have known he had a case for you. And he came on to you?"
"Geoff, it sounds really egotistical, angel, but yeah, he did. Trey and I were sitting in Noplace having a beer one night when Hook came over and sat with us. Before I knew what happened, with Trey right across the table from us, he had his hand on my cock and was stroking it through my jeans."
"Well, Trey obviously figured out what was happening and left. He asked me to say hello to you. I got the message that he was reminding me about you."
"Trey, at least, is a decent guy."
"Ow, that's cold, babe."
"And you couldn't just tell Hook to stop what he was doing?"
"Geoffie, when a great looking guy has his hand on your package, it's hard to tell him to stop."
Despite himself, Geoff grinned. "You ARE a slut, you know that, Halifax?"
Then Geoff saw something he thought he'd never see. Philip blushed.
"Well, I did tell him I was in a relationship."
"When? The morning after you slept with him? After you kissed him in the parking lot?"
Still looking sheepish, Philip said, "Yeah."
"So, let me get this right. You took the kid home with you, fucked his brains out, let him stay the night, kissed him goodbye the next morning, and then said, `Oh, by the way, I'm in a relationship.'"
Philip thought about that for a minute. Two minutes. Then he said, "Yeah, babe, I guess that's about what happened."
"And you've got the balls to sit there on my bed and tell me all that?"
"G., I'm sorry. Really, man."
"Talk is cheap, Phil."
Both men knew that was the first time Geoff had called Halifax Phil instead of Philip since the day they first talked in the union cafeteria.
"Look, I've always been a player. Easy come, easy go. You're the first guy I've ever tried to have an ongoing relationship with that was anything more than just sex. And I think you knew that when you hooked up with me, didn't you?"
"Well, you never actually told me that, but I'll admit I pretty much assumed it."
"Geoff, I've been used to being ruled by my dick for as long as I can remember. This commitment thing has scared me from the beginning. You're not like anyone else I've ever known, and I want it to work. I'm like a recovering alcoholic. Hook was a relapse."
"Good analogy. I guess I can see that. So you still want to be monogamous with me?"
Philip grinned. "Right now, I want to get it on with you. But, yeah, babe, if you haven't just totally had it with me, I want to keep working on it."
Geoff stood up. "Keep in mind, Halifax, that, by your own admission, you practically stalked me for a year. Now that you've got me, maybe I'm not what you thought I'd be. Too vanilla? Not exciting enough? Are you sure you want to keep this thing going? I'm not just a convenient fuck when you can't find someone else?"
Philip rose and tried to put his arms around Geoff, but Geoff backed up two steps. "G-Man, despite what you think, I've never felt about anybody the way I feel about you. Fuck, yes, I want to keep this thing going."
"Well, I haven't heard anything yet that sounds like an apology."
Philip grabbed Geoff, sat down on the bed, and pulled Geoff so that he was sitting on his lap. He began to nuzzle Geoff's neck. "Stud, I am SO sorry. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I know that. I don't deserve you."
Philip thought he'd better give up on the clichés or Geoff might laugh.
"Seriously, G., I really am sorry." He slurped his partner's neck. "Please give me another chance!"
Geoff put his hands on either side of Philip's face and looked into his eyes. "I don't know. Should I?"
Geoff smiled and then kissed Philip.
"Now, Halifax, I'm going to fuck you. But before I do, you need to get one thing through that philandering head of yours."
Philip, not allowing himself to smile, looked back at Geoff and said, "What's that, babe?"
"No more relapses. If I hear that you've been with that Hook twinkie or anybody else, we're through. Kaput! Got it, stud?"
Philip put his arms around Geoff, and they fell over onto the bed. He managed to mutter "Got it" before they were locked into a long, passionate kiss.
* * *
I don't usually eat at the Union, but that day I had a 1:30 appointment with one of my professors and decided I didn't have time to go back to the apartment or anyplace else, for that matter, so I stayed on campus.
Just as I was standing there with my tray, looking for an empty spot, Steve Metz waved at me and motioned for me to come sit with him.
"Chaz, good to see you man! It's been a while."
"Yeah, Steve. Good to see you. How's it goin'?"
I unloaded my tray and sat.
"Hey, I'm sorry to hear about Stankiwiecz's injury. You guys are missing him, aren't you?"
"There's an understatement. We've lost the last four games, all since he busted up his knee."
"Any chance left of going to the playoffs?"
"Yeah, but our chances aren't as good as they were a week ago, for sure."
"How's he doing?"
"He comes to all our practices. He has to have another operation on the knee. So he's out for the season and the post season. And he might have had a shot at the NBA, but that will depend on how the second surgery goes."
"Poor guy. You dudes really put yourselves at risk, don't you? I never realized that basketball was such a contact sport."
"Oh, he wasn't hit by anybody. He just went up for a shot and came down on his knee the wrong way. Could have happened at practice or in a pickup game."
"Sheesh. Well, I'm sorry anyway."
We munched our lunches for a while, and then I asked, "So, have you heard from the kid since he celebrated his birthday?"
"Jared?" Steve grinned. "Yeah, I got the lowdown on his birthday party."
"So his friend popped his cherry, I guess."
"Oh, yeah. I heard about that in more detail than I wanted."
I remembered then that Steve is straight. "Yeah, dude, I suppose you did."
"Jared's so enthusiastic, I didn't have the heart to say to him he was telling me too much. And he's so happy with Dante, his guy."
"You seem to like the little twerp."
Steve ate the last of his corned beef hash. "Yeah, Chaz, I do. He's really a decent kid. He needed to pay for what he and those two hoodlums did to me, and he has. But he's bright, thoughtful, good-hearted, and fun. I sort of feel like he's my little brother."
I had to chuckle.
"I was just remembering him pissing his pants that night in the parking lot."
Steve chuckled, too. "You know he had to walk all the way home with his jeans soaked?"
"No shit, really?"
"Yeah, the Bauer kid wouldn't let him in his car. Jared said he went by way of the back streets and it took him forever. And, he said he did have to pass several people on his way. He still blushes when he talks about it."
"Well, serves him right for hanging with those two little shits, what were their names?"
"Richie Bauer and Jeremy Passinger."
"Yeah. They're still locked up, aren't they?"
"Uh huh. They'll be there a while longer, I guess."
"What about Jared? Is he still working at the hospital?"
"He finished his sentence when he turned 18, but he offered to stay on there as a volunteer until he starts to college next fall."
"Hey, he does sound like a decent kid. Or was it just so he could be with his new buddy?"
"Oh, I think Danny had something to do with it. But the hospital said they couldn't let volunteers be nurse's aids, for some reason. So they offered to pay him. Not much, but it gets around some technicality. So he and Dante are working identical shifts from now until September."
"How about that!"
I was ready to eat my cherry pie and decided I wanted some coffee to go with it. I asked Steve if he wanted coffee.
"No, Chaz, thanks. But I'll stay and chat while you're having your pie, if that's OK."
"Sure, Steve. Glad to have the company."
After I had had a taste of the pie, which was no way like Mom's, I asked him, "So, how are things with you and Rebecca?"
"Well, I don't know what Mark's told you . . . "
"Shit man, I haven't seen Marky in weeks. With basketball and all, we don't see near enough of each other. Besides, he's spending all his spare time with Lori these days."
"Those two are really close. It's great to see them so happy together. They are a lot of fun to be with."
"You and Becky still doing a lot of stuff with Lori and Mark?"
"Yeah, but not as much as we were."
"What happened? You all are still cool, right?"
"Oh, yeah, but Becca and I are spending more time alone together since the beginning of the year."
I didn't let on that I knew what he was talking about.
"Oh?" (As soon as I said that, I remembered Tiger teasing Tim about saying "oh" as a question all the time.) Steve blushed. I waited to see what he'd say.
"Chaz, Becca more or less kept me at arm's length all fall. She was friendly, if you know what I mean, but didn't go beyond some kissing and a little groping. She said she wanted to see how things worked out with us. I sort of felt like I was on probation."
"Yeah, she kept me pretty well horned up, and I was beginning to wonder if she was just a tease."
"So what happened?"
"She called me from Erie, where she lives, and invited me to come and stay at her folks' house and take her to a big New Year's Eve party some friends of hers were having."
I took a bite of my pie and waited.
"I got there the day before New Year's Eve. That night, after everyone had gone to bed and I was asleep, I woke up to find her crawling into bed with me."
We high fived. "Excellent!"
"And we've been doing it pretty regularly ever since, mostly at my place."
"Looks like she's accepted you, dude."
"Yeah, we're talking about the future."
"Wow. Sounds serious."
Steve grinned a bit self-consciously. "You know, my ex, Leah, was a sexy chick. We were getting it on regularly. And I liked her. That is, we were comfortable together. But looking back, I think we just fell into a routine where we were using each other for sex."
"Uh, Chaz, can I ask a question?"
"You used to do women, right?"
The words "used to" hit me kind of strange. "Yeah, Steve every chance I got, just about."
"And you don't like that any more?"
"Whoa! That's not the way it is"
Steve waited for me to explain.
"I don't think I'd ever quit loving it. There's nothing like a woman's body. I'm getting horned up a little right now just thinking about it."
"But you're with Trey."
"I understand what you're asking, I think. I can't tell you what got me started thinking about and then having sex with guys, `cause that's confidential. But last summer David showed me just how hot guy sex could be, and then I realized that I'd not only loved Trey for a long time but that I was in love with him. So, after both of us realized we felt that way about each other, we've not had sex with anybody else."
"David? David Taylor? You got it on with David Taylor?"
"Yeah. It was a quick fling. He lives in Cincinnati, too. When he and I met it was instant lust. But afterwards I realized that what I really wanted was to be doing that with Trey."
"Thanks, Chaz. I didn't mean to be nosy. I guess I just have a lot to learn. So you are bisexual. I know Trey used to date women, so he is, too?"
"Yeah, Ced and Max are the only ones in our group that are 100% gay."
"Getting back to your relationship with Trey. You two are, would you say, committed to each other?"
"Yeah. I don't know what's going to happen after we graduate next January, but I don't really want to think about us being apart. He's gotten to be a necessary part of my life. And it isn't just the sex, as great as that is."
"Tell me about it. With Leah it was just someone to bum around with, to have sex with when we were in the mood. But with Becca, it's different. She's so smart. Way smarter than me. And she keeps me on my toes. Don't get me wrong. She's not bossy. But she doesn't mind calling me when she thinks I'm out of line. And she's fun. When we're together we just talk and talk. I've had serious discussions with her about all kinds of things, better conversations than I've ever had with anyone else before, man or woman. It's like she's a really fascinating friend."
"And . . . ?"
"And the sex is fantastic."
I laughed and reached across the table to high five again. "Steve, it sounds to me like you're in LUV, dude."
He got quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me and said, "You know, Chaz, I'm afraid I am."
* * *
One evening when Tim knew David was out of town, he called and asked if he could come over.
"Of course. I've got a sinful chocolate-raspberry cheesecake from Fein's. Want to have a piece of that and some coffee?"
"Well, you don't need to feed me, but it does sound good."
"How about Ced? He's welcome, too."
"Cedric has something else he wants to do this evening, so it'll just be me. When do you want me?"
"Right. See you then, Max."
I knew he had something on his mind, something he wanted to talk about. We'd listened for each other in college and had fallen back into the habit since I'd moved to the university. I talked with Tim, for example, when I had read Chaz's journal and then felt guilty about it. So it was apparently my turn to listen and, if asked, give advice.
He got there just at 8:00. After all, he only lived three doors up the street, and Tim was always punctual.
We hugged and then gave each other our customary peck on the lips.
"You want to talk, Timmy?"
"You would know that, of course."
"Eat first or talk first?"
He grinned and slipped his arm around my waist as he sort of walked me toward the kitchen. "Let's keep our priorities straight, Hewitt. Eat first!"
As we ate, I studied him. Whatever it was couldn't be earthshaking. He didn't seem particularly nervous or uneasy.
When we finished the cheesecake, I put the dishes in the dishwasher and poured refills of our coffee. Then we went into the living room.
"How's David?" he asked after we had gotten settled, put our mugs on coasters, and taken off our shoes.
"David's his usual lovable, sexy self, but, alas, he's in Denver. He'll be home for the weekend, though. How's Ced?"
Tim grinned. "He's his usual lovable, sexy self, and he's been invited for dessert to Mark and Lori's. Actually, I was invited, too, but I begged off."
"So we could talk."
"Yeah." He swallowed some coffee.
"So talk. What's bothering you?"
"Max, I'm about to do something, and I've persuaded Ced to be involved. He has agreed to go along with me, but only if you give it your blessing." He set down his coffee and smiled at me. "So to speak, Father."
"I know that was a little joke, but my calling has nothing to do with us, Tim. You know that. You don't want a priest's advice. You just want to get your old friend Max's take on this scheme you're hatching, right?"
"It's scary how well you know me, Max. You and Trey. You know me from years of friendship and endless hours of bull sessions. Trey's different. I've only known him just over a year, but, as I've explained to you, it's uncanny how well he reads me."
"Uh huh, I have sensed that about Trey. He is amazingly perceptive in general, but where you are concerned, he is exceptionally tuned in."
"Yeah, well, Trey knows me. But you're the one I come to for advice, babe."
"As I do to you, Tim."
"Well, Max, not to get mushy, I don't know what I'd do without you."
"So, not to get mushy, what is this plan that has Cedric feeling uneasy?"
He took another drink of his coffee, so I did, too. It was cooling off. I held up my mug as a way of offering refills. He shook his head.
"A few weeks ago, we had some candidates on campus. Gwen asked Ced and me to take one of them to Stefan's for dinner. Then we brought him back to our place for dessert."
"Yeah, I knew you did that. Isn't this the guy who's the son of the senator?"
"Yep. Now, how much do you know about him? No point in rehashing what you already know."
"That's about it. So, go on."
"OK. His name is Richard Modarelli, and he is indeed the son of the senator from Illinois. PhD from Brown. Did his undergrad work at Cranmer."
I grinned. "So, what does he look like?"
"I don't think that's relevant."
"Shit, Tim, he's a young guy. I want to know all about him."
"Well, he's about our size, built more like you than me. Played soccer at Cranmer when they had that long winning streak a few years back. He's got what I'd call Italian good looks. Dark hair and eyes, great face, a neat little mustache."
"So, apart from looks . . . ?"
"Ced and I liked him. I was impressed with his credentials, and I was sure I'd enjoy having him for a colleague."
"You say you WERE sure . . . ?"
"Yeah, that's the problem."
I waited for him to go on.
`You know that Doug used to teach at Cranmer, don't you?"
"Well, Doug left Cranmer and left teaching because of Rick, according to Stan."
"I can't believe the guy Ced and I spent the evening with is the guy that Stan calls Rick the Prick, the guy who did what he apparently did to Doug."
"Go on." This was getting interesting.
"In a nutshell, Rick is supposed to have had an affair with Doug during his senior year. They became very intimate. Doug really fell for his student, and he thought Rick felt the same way about him. Doug thought they were being very discreet."
"I'd think that would be pretty dangerous in a little school like Cranmer. It must be about the size of Kenyon, right?"
"Yeah. Ced and I can get away with it here because this is such a big place. At a small college in a rural area, what they were doing was a bit riskier, I suppose."
Again, I waited for Tim to continue.
"Now, here's the part that I find hard to believe. Stan says that soon some of the members of Rick's fraternity started a whispering campaign. Very intimate details of their sex were being talked about. Doug often rimmed Rick, apparently, for soon he was being called "Brownie Curtis" all over campus. Jocks in Doug's classes would stop by his desk and ask him if he'd packed any fudge lately, or eaten any."
"Damn! Poor Doug! And the only way the others could have gotten the information was through Rick?"
"Looks that way."
"But you liked him?"
"Yes, and I recommended to Gwen that we hire him. See where that puts me?"
I thought a while. "Yeah, Timmy, I understand what you're feeling. If this Rick is really the bastard he seems to be, you're at least partly responsible for his being hired here."
I thought a little longer. "And you're thinking that you've not only done the university a disservice, but that you've somehow been disloyal to Doug."
"I can understand your feelings on both scores. But you need to keep in mind that you did what you did based on your judgment after that one day. What did Ced think of Modarelli?"
"He was as impressed as I was. The guy is really likable."
"Not just sexy?"
Tim bristled. "No, how could you suggest that? I admit he's hot, but you know that wouldn't affect my decision about whether to recommend him or not."
"Sorry, babe. I just had to ask. What I wanted to suggest is that two men whose ability to read peoples' character is, I think, impeccable, were both impressed with Modarelli. If you and Cedric both liked him, then he's either a consummate actor . . . and villain . . . or there's more to this story than you've unearthed yet."
Obviously mollified, Tim grinned. "Yeah. And it's the unearthing that has Ced nervous."
"And this is the part where you want my blessing?"
"How about a glass of port before we go on?"
"If it will make you mellower, I'm all for it."
"Hey, I haven't given you a hard time over any of this, have I? What do you mean, mellower?"
"The part where I want you mellow is coming up. So, let's have the port."
I went to the kitchen and poured Cockburn's into two solera glasses, gave one to Tim, and settled back into my chair.
He swirled the dark wine around in the glass, held it up to the light, and then sniffed it.
I chuckled. "It's OK, Mead, it's not poisoned. You can drink it."
He laughed at that. "It's beautiful, Max. I just wanted to appreciate it a little before I tasted it."
"Just so long as you're not stalling, Timmy."
He took a sip of the wine, closed his eyes, and smiled. "Nice."
"OK, then. We can sit here and drink port all evening, but you've got me curious. What's this nefarious plan?"
"Well, as Cedric rightly points out, now matter how much we love Stan and, because of him, Doug, Rick is entitled to the benefit of the doubt until we get his side of the story."
I took a sip. It was good! "And how do you propose to get his side of the story?"
"By going to Chicago and asking him."
"Sheesh! Just like that?"
"Cedric and I have often said we'd like to spend some time at the Art Institute. And I'm really ready to get away from campus for a weekend. So, we're going to fly to Chicago on Saturday morning two weeks from now. We'll go from O'Hare to the museum. Then we're going to ask Rick to meet us somewhere for supper. We can go back to our hotel afterward and talk. That's when I want to just come out and tell Rick that we know Doug and ask him to tell us what really happened."
"So you're going to Chicago under false pretenses."
"Ouch! Do you have to put it like that?"
"Is there any other way to put it, Tim? You're going to call Rick and set up the dinner and tell him you were going to be in Chicago anyway so why not get together for dinner?"
"Well, uh, yeah."
"And that's not true, is it?"
"No, but . . . "
"And you will in Rick's eyes be, however unofficially, representing the university. And he's the new hire. How do you suppose he'll feel when he realizes you've conned him into dinner so you can ask him to justify what he did to Doug?"
"You're certainly putting my idea in the worst possible light."
"Isn't that why you're here, Tim? Isn't that just what you wanted me to do?"
He looked sheepish again. "Yeah, I suppose so. I was just hoping you'd see my side of it."
"And that would be . . . ?"
"Dammit, Max, if Modarelli DID do what Doug claims, he's a scum bag! He's ruined the career of a brilliant teacher who is also one of the sweetest, most gentle men I've ever met. And he conned Ced and me into thinking he's a decent human being."
"I hear what you're saying on both points. But don't forget Ced's advice. You have to give him the benefit of the doubt until you at least hear his side of things."
"And how will I ever do that if I don't confront him?"
"First of all, you don't have to resolve this immediately. Modarelli is already hired, right?"
"Yeah, thanks in part to me."
"Let's forget that for the moment. I take it he probably would have been hired anyway, since you wouldn't have used hearsay against him even if you had known about it in time."
"OK. So what's the rush?"
"You make a perfectly valid point, Max, but I'm just so pissed that the guy was able to fool me, I've got to find out. And, in a way, I'm hoping he'll tell me something that will let me keep on liking him. Does that make any sense?"
"Now, that's the second thing you said that sounds like my Tim. I realize you are worried that he fooled you. But wanting to keep on liking him sounds more like you."
"Thanks for that, at least."
"Do you think you could bring up this topic without losing your temper? I've seldom seen you quite as intense over anything as you are about this."
"Yeah, you know me. I'm not the kind to be unpleasant to people. In your profession and mine, we have to have our emotions pretty tightly under control. I can let down with you, but I will behave myself with Rick, especially if Ced's there to kick my shins if I start to misbehave."
He grinned at me.
We both sipped our port in silence for a few minutes.
"The jury is deliberating, I take it?"
I grinned. "Yeah. Question: nothing you learn is going to keep Rick from coming here to teach, right?"
"Right, unless he confesses to something criminal, which, I think, is highly unlikely."
I took another sip of port, set the glass down, and interlaced my fingers behind my head.
"Oh, boy, here it comes. I know that body language."
He was smiling as he said it, and I realized that I often did take that position when I was about to pontificate. I quickly put my hands in my lap.
"First of all, Modarelli will have to come here to look for a place to live eventually. You could wait until then. You know, you could ask him to stay with you and Ced while he looked. And then, if it could come up casually, you could mention that you have a friend who taught at Cranmer when he was there and see where things go."
"Yeah, but dammit, Max, I . . . ."
I held up my hand. "Let me finish, please, Tim. You want it resolved now. You're normally a very patient guy. If this whole thing is bugging you that much, I understand that you want to get to the bottom of it. So, even though I agree with Ced that what you're planning is a little devious, DO it. But with an important proviso."
"Tim, you must promise me that you will truly believe there may be something exculpatory in Rick's story. Believe him to be a decent human being unless or until he shows himself not to be. Remember how much you liked him. I don't suppose there's any possibility of mistaken identity. Surely Stan wouldn't have gotten the name wrong. But there may in fact be something in the story that even Doug isn't aware of. Please promise me you'll wait until you have heard Rick's story before you jump all over him."
"I can promise that easily. I want to like Rick. I'm hoping very much that he tells us something which allows me to keep liking him. At this moment I'm afraid he can't, but that's rushing to judgment, and I assure you I won't do that."
"So, Tim, I share some of Ced's reservations. He's really good for you, you know. But, if he's still willing to go with you, make the trip to Chicago. And be sure to let me know what you find out. It's none of my business, of course, but I'm human enough to see the drama in this story."
Tim took the last swallow of his port. He put the glass down, stuck his feet out in front of him, lay back in his chair and smiled.
"Whew! I learned a long time ago that a session with you can be like a visit to the dentist's."
"But I serve good port, and not just mouthwash."
He laughed. "Max, you're the best, my friend. I really need you, you know."
"Yeah, Tim, but that works both ways."
We changed the subject and chatted a bit longer before he put his shoes on and rose to go.
After I had helped him into his coat, he turned and hugged me. He rested his head on my shoulder for a while.
"I love you, Max."
"I love you, Tim."
We had a quick kiss, and he was gone.
To be continued.