"... 13... 14... 15."
I steadied the bar as Conrad settled it back into the bench supports. That was his last rep, so we picked up our towels and headed to the locker room. As we changed, I kept my back to him, but he ignored me until we were out on the sidewalk.
"Why don't you come back-" he began, but I didn't need to hear the rest.
"No way am I going some place private with you. Forget it. There's a deli a couple doors down. I'll buy you dinner."
He studied my face briefly, probably checking to see if it was worth the effort to try and wear me down, but then he gave me a quirky smile and said, "Don't know what you're missing, but ok."
I shook my head as I followed him the thirty feet to the deli, passing in front of him when he surprisingly held the door for me, but I should have known he had ulterior motives because he patted my ass as I walked by. Finally, safe in a booth with a table between us, I met his eyes with what I hoped was a serious look.
"Look -- I've been done with... the stuff you're into since the day I drove away from Chicago."
He looked at me for a moment longer, and then dropped his gaze to the menu. "Is the meatloaf good here?"
"Yes," I said with a sigh. This was going to be a long evening if he kept ignoring everything I said. After the waitress took our orders and brought our drinks, I stepped outside to call Evan.
"Hey... I, uh, ran into Conrad at the gym, so we're gonna grab something at the deli while I tell him about us."
"Ok." He was quiet for a moment before adding, "Look - I'm still at the office. You want me to come down there?"
I glanced back into the deli, watching Conrad talk into his own cell phone. "Nah, that's ok. We're gonna eat, I'm gonna tell him what's what, then I'm coming home."
"All right." He didn't sound real convinced. "See you there." Another, longer, pause. "I love you."
I smiled and gave the words back to him. "I love you, too, Evan. See you at the house."
Back inside the deli, I slid into the booth and tried again, this time from a different angle.
"So do you live here now? In Patterson?"
He glanced at me with a smile. "As I was starting to say, I have an apartment. Change your mind?"
"Fat chance. No. I'm just surprised you'd move to someplace like this. It's pretty podunk after Chicago."
"It has its charms," he replied, watching a teenaged busboy bend over a table across the aisle from us, one foot lifted for balance, his jeans tight across his butt.
"For god's sake, you're old enough to be his father."
"Yeah... but I'm not." He grinned and I opened my mouth to call him a dirty old fuck, but he cut me off in a low, hard voice. "Jesus, Jeff -- get over yourself. What are you -- the morals police for this one-horse burg? Like you never looked at an underage piece of ass. Gimme a break," he added in disgust. The hour I'd spent undressing the high school athletes at the awards ceremony came uncomfortably to mind and I looked away from his stare. "Yeah," he snorted, "I thought so."
Our food showed up just then, so I was spared the necessity of a reply. I don't know why the hell being around this guy strung me out so badly, but it did. It seemed like everything he said rubbed me the wrong way, and I probably wouldn't have agreed with him if he stated that the sun would come up tomorrow morning.
By the time I was halfway through my bowl of soup, I'd decided to just lay it all out there and hope for the best. Conrad was a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one of them, and I had an inkling he was actually a hell of a lot smarter than me. I had no idea what he did for a living, despite the fact that I'd spent several months of my life almost exclusively in his company, but we'd never done the getting-to-know-you thing; our relationship had been purely physical. I swallowed hard and started to talk.
"I'm in a relationship now, for almost a year. I don't fuck around anymore, and I especially don't do the shit you get your rocks off doing."
He chewed a bite of meatloaf thoughtfully and took a sip of water before answering me. "A whole year, huh? Sounds like true love." Another sip of water. "That `shit,' as you refer to it, used to light you up like a Roman candle. I've never seen anybody shoot so far as that night when I-"
"Shut up! Shut the fuck up," I hissed in a harsh whisper. I could feel the heat in my face because he was right. Some of the things he'd done to me had resulted in spectacular orgasms, the likes of which I'd never experienced before or since. But again -- they were physical releases only, nothing remotely emotional about them. In fact, it wasn't until Evan came along that I really began to enjoy sex again, odd as that sounds. All those guys I'd fucked between Conrad and Evan, including the one I thought I was in love with, but who walked out on me, had been fun or nasty or hot, but they had never done anything more than drain my balls.
"So you're saying you don't wanna get together anymore, is that it?" Conrad asked. I rolled my eyes in response and he chuckled. "Ok, I can respect that." My surprise must have shown on my face, because he laughed this time. "But at least admit that you liked it."
I didn't even want to do that. It felt... disloyal, somehow, even though it had been almost fifteen years ago, long, long before Evan walked into the garage that first time. Conrad looked at me carefully over the brim of his water glass.
"Come on," he urged. "Is it gonna kill you to say we had a good time together?" He paused for a moment as he studied my face. "What's the problem? Are you ashamed you enjoyed it? You shouldn't be.... aberrant situational behavior is very common."
`Aberrant situational behavior'? What the fuck?
Conrad was watching me with an intent look, as though he wanted something from me, a particular reply, but I was confused by his change of demeanor, and covered with a question of my own. "You didn't answer me. Did you move here?"
He looked at me a moment longer before replying. "No, I'm here temporarily. The course I'm teaching finishes up at the end of May, then we'll be going back to Chicago."
"We?" For one wild moment I thought he meant him and me.
He gave me another smile, a softer one this time. "My partner and I. We met a few years after you split."
"Then what the hell were you doin' coming after me in the locker room?" I asked.
"I wasn't coming after you. Jesus. You got a pretty high opinion of yourself, don't you?" He shook his head at me in amusement. "I was surprised to see you, you looked good, and I was checking you out. Period. And I'm partnered -- not dead."
I just blinked at him for a few moments. He had a partner. If they met a few years after I left, then they'd been together for at least ten years. I wondered what kind of guy would want to hook up permanently with someone like Conrad. I was sitting there trying to take it all in when a guy walked up to our table and slid in across from me.
Average was the word for him. Salt and pepper hair cut fairly short put him at Conrad's age, if not a little older. He was dressed like an English teacher in chinos and a short sleeved button down shirt, and he looked like your almost-nerdy neighbor from across the street, the guy who always had his lawn mowed just so and handed out full-size candy bars at Halloween. Nice, but average. Not the kind of trophy boyfriend I'd've expected from Conrad.
Then he met my gaze and I got a look at his eyes. He had those beautiful deep blue eyes that people always looked twice at to make sure what they're seeing. After checking me out for a few seconds, he turned to speak to Conrad.
"How's it going?"
"David, this is Jeff. David is my better half."
David turned his attention back to me. His smile was pretty nice, too, and combined with those eyes, I moved him a few rungs up from average on the looks ladder. I found myself smiling back at him. "Hi," I said with a nod.
"Hi, Jeff. Conrad said you declined his invitation to come back to the apartment." He talked like an English teacher, too. "Too bad, I had supper almost ready. Pot roast."
I slid my eyes over to Conrad, who was grinning at me. "Not everything's about you, kiddo," he said. "I was just inviting you to dinner."
And here I thought I was gonna be dinner. I looked back to David. "I, uh... Well, I didn't know about you at that point, and I..."
"He didn't want to be alone with me," Conrad threw in, and David's smile widened.
"Conrad told me who you were after he ran into you the first time at the gym. I can understand why you wouldn't go home with him."
This whole thing was just too weird. "So you're going back to Chicago in a couple weeks?" I asked David. Maybe I could get some straight answers out of him, instead.
"Yes. It was nice to be out of town for the worst of a Chicago winter, but we both miss the city, especially in the spring."
"Happy?" Conrad asked.
Ecstatic, but I didn't change expression. Instead, I whipped out my cell and poked a couple buttons. Two could play this game. "You still at work? Good. Come on down here."
Conrad raised an eyebrow at me while David ordered tea.
I was watching the door when Evan pushed through it, and saw the moment when he spotted me. His expression went from grimly determined, like he was headed for a root canal, to relief, to total confusion when he saw the three of us in the booth. He stopped at the end of the table and looked from Conrad to me and back again.
"Dr. Phillips?" he said to Conrad.
My turn to stare from Evan to Conrad and back. "Doctor Phillips? You know him?"
Evan shook his head slowly, his eyes on Conrad as he spoke to me. "He's a psychiatrist. He taught one of the seminars I attended in New York last year. His latest book is on my desk. How do you..." His eyes came back to me and his voice trailed off as he realized that his Dr. Phillips and my Conrad were one and the same. "Conrad Phillips. Jesus H. Christ!"
He sat down abruptly on the bench next to me with his mouth hanging open, trying without much apparent success to reconcile the eminent doctor whose lectures he'd enjoyed with the sadistic pervert I'd told him about. But Evan's manners were much better than mine, even in a state of shock, and he stuck out his hand to shake with both of them. "How are you, sir? It's, uh... nice to see you again."
"Tanner, isn't it? I was impressed by your questions in the seminar. How's your practice coming along?"
"Evan Tanner, yes, sir. It's going very well. I'm definitely learning on the job, but I love it."
"I'm glad it's going w ell. This is my partner, David."
While they shook, I watched Conrad take in Evan's handsome face, his well-cut suit, his obvious polish, and then turn to me with a smirk. I'm sure he thought I'd caught myself a rich pretty boy well above my social station. Let him think whatever he wanted, I thought. I knew the truth.
"So..." Evan struggled to keep the conversational ball up in the air.
"Yes, so..." Conrad echoed. "Jeff wasn't very happy to see me when we ran into each other at the gym. I think he's uncomfortable because of the nature of our previous relationship."
"Don't pull your armchair analyzing bullshit on me," I told him, leaning across the table to get in his face. "I'm not the one with the basement full of handcuffs and nipple clamps."
"No, but you are the one who enjoyed them, and until you admit it, that time in your life is going to muddy your relationship with this extremely attractive young man you've managed to snag."
"Nothing's muddy and he hasn't snagged anything." Evan's manners were put to the test. "And with all due respect, our relationship is none of your damn business."
"He's a shrink, Evan" I said wearily. "Everyone's relationship is his business."
"Not ours," Evan said firmly, sliding out of the booth and standing aside to give me room to get out. "Let's go."
"Don't have to be a shrink to see who wears the pants in your house," Conrad commented to me with a knowing smile.
That was it for me. Instead of sliding after Evan, I lunged across the table and landed one good punch before Evan pulled me off and dragged me out the door. On the sidewalk, I rubbed my knuckles while Evan yanked his suit jacket straight as he hauled me along by the arm.
"I can't believe you used to fuck around with him," he said angrily. "He's got a goddamn PhD in abnormal psych!"
"Well, who would a fuckin' guessed that, huh? And anyway, he didn't fifteen years ago. He was just some nutjob who looked good in the bar one night."
We stalked silently down the sidewalk until we got to my car. Evan stopped next to me, but stared straight ahead as he spoke.
"I'll see you at the house."
I was pissed that he was pissed. "Maybe."
He turned slowly to look at me with an expression I'd never seen from him. "Maybe?"
"Yeah, maybe. What the fuck're you pissed at me for? You oughta be angry at that dickhead back there in the deli. Abnormal psych - he probably wrote the how-to manual."
Evan dropped his head to stare at the sidewalk. "You shouldn't have punched him."
"He shouldn't have insulted me. You don't wear the goddamn pants and you know it."
That sounded ridiculous the minute it was out of my mouth, and it only took about three seconds for Evan to snort out a chuckle. "Ah, god. Just go home, will ya? I promise neither one of us'll be wearing pants for long."
"I have to pick up Chew."
He nodded and disappeared between the buildings to the back lot as I started my car and headed to Kenny's. I was gonna have to steer clear of the gym for a couple weeks until I was sure Doctor Phillips and his English teacher boyfriend with the amazing blue eyes had gone back to Chicago. I shook my head; trying to think of the Conrad I'd been sucked and fucked and tormented by as a fancypants shrink who'd written books and lectured to intelligent people like Evan was almost impossible.
Almost, but not quite because I'd heard it in his speech there at the table in the deli. A PhD. He was exactly the kind of guy who made me feel really self-conscious about my lack of education, especially when he trotted out terms like `aberrant situational behavior.' I'd never heard the phrase before, but I knew what the words meant, so I had a pretty good idea what he was talking about. By the time I pulled into Kenny's driveway, I had just about convinced myself that he was full of shit, but the uneasy feeling I got whenever I thought about my former relationship with Conrad, told me he was right.
Chewy was happy to see me when Raf let him out the front door, leaping into the car with a bark and a slurp up my cheek. All the way home I thought about what Conrad had said, that not admitting that I had enjoyed the time with him would come back to haunt me. Maybe so, I finally decided, but too damn bad. I just wasn't ready to accept it yet.
Evan was just getting out of his suit when I walked into the bedroom. I toed off my sneakers and got my jeans unzipped just as he got down to his boxers. When he turned to grab a hanger, I took his trousers from his hand, flung them toward a chair, and pushed him backward onto the bed, following him down so that he was pinned beneath me. I don't know if it was anger driving me, or some deeper emotion, but all I could think about was getting my hands -- and my dick -- on Evan.
As we kissed -- actually that's way too mild a word for it. As I devoured his mouth with mine, I put my weight on one elbow and kicked my jeans the rest of the way off before tugging Evan's boxers off one leg. We both still had our shirts and socks on, but the crucial parts of us were naked, and when he wrapped his legs around me, I began to thrust against him with the sole purpose of getting us off as quickly as possible. Luckily, Evan seemed to have been bitten by the same bug and was right there with me, eyes shut, teeth clenched, head arched back till the tendons in his neck stood out in sharp relief, gripping my ass in both hands, holding me tightly to him.
Less than a minute later, we rolled apart, sucking wind like we'd just run a mile uphill. I lay there breathing in the smell of cum and my own dirty socks, staring at the six o'clock shadows on the ceiling and thinking that I hadn't gone from zero to sixty that fast in years.
"Wow," Evan said in mild surprise. "That was... quick."
I chuckled. "Not too quick, apparently."
"No... no." I could hear the smile in his voice.
A few minutes later, he slid off the bed and a few seconds after that, I heard the shower start, so I pulled off my t-shirt and socks and walked in to join him. I figured he was probably pissed at me for punching out Dr. Big Fucking Deal Phillips, but as far as I was concerned, the asshole had asked for it. Still, I didn't like having Evan mad at me, so I stood there behind him scrubbing my hair and trying to think of a way to bring it up without having to actually apologize.
Before I could come up with anything resembling a plan, Evan said, "I wish you hadn't socked him, but his remark was uncalled for."
Since it sounded like I was off the hook, I decided to give a little. "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have, but that fucker just rubs me the wrong way every time he opens his mouth. I can't hardly believe he's a famous shrink."
"Well, I wouldn't say he's famous, exactly, but he's certainly at the top of his field professionally."
"And what is his field?"
"Dysfunctional relationships and how they affect the families they're in."
"Well, if anyone would know a dysfunctional relationship when he saw one, it'd be him," I growled.
"Maybe that's why he's so good," Evan said, as he climbed out of the shower. The bathroom door clunked shut a little harder than necessary, and then he was gone.
Ok, so maybe he was still a little angry.
I pulled on sweats, and as I walked slowly down the hall, I shook my arms and blew out a breath, like a fighter getting ready to go into the ring. Evan had his back to me as he dumped a can of soup into a bowl at the counter. I walked up behind him and rested my forehead against the soft skin on the back of his neck.
"Sorry," I muttered into his shirt.
"Oh... it's all right," he said with a sigh, reaching back to pat my hip with one hand. "He really didn't need to say that. Hopefully, he won't press charges."
No shit. That hadn't even occurred to me. Evan stuck the bowl in the microwave and punched a couple buttons, then turned and pulled me between his feet so that we were crotch to crotch and face to face.
"So, do you think you wear the pants around here?" he asked me.
I eyed him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was kidding around, or if he was really asking me if I thought I held the balance of power in our relationship. He looked serious enough, so I replied that way.
"Well... it doesn't really feel to me like either of us does. I mean, I don't feel like I make all the decisions, and I don't feel like you try to tell me what to do. So far, we've pretty much discussed the stuff that needed discussing, like buying the Farm and which fucking toothpaste to buy. Don't you think?"
Evan had been nodding slowly as I talked and gave me a little smirk when I said `toothpaste.' "Yeah, I agree. I expect as we're together longer, it'll become obvious who's good at what, or which of us is willing to shoulder the responsibility for a particular thing." He smiled at me and shrugged. "I've never been in a long relationship, but that seems to me how it'd work out over the years."
I smiled back, thinking of the two of us a decade or two from now, settled into roles and routines we'd created during our time together. The thought widened my smile and made a warm spot in my chest. The microwave dinged just then, but before Evan stepped away, he reached up and took my face in both hands.
"Years," he said, giving me a little shake. Then he kissed me and got his soup.
Later, in my office, I checked email and grinned when I saw one from Brendan.
I got a job like you said. Stocking the shelves at the A&P. You wouldnt believe how much toilet paper and dog food people buy. Seriously. A lot. When I get my first check Im gonna buy Crysis. My friend has it and it's the shit. Dont tell Mom I said that ok. Do you play that one? Maybe we can meet up online. Then Im gonna start saving for a car. Later, Bren
I smiled at his shitty grammar and wandering topics, and then hit `reply.'
Yeah, I play Crysis and I'll kick yer skinny butt in Power Struggle. Let me know when you get it installed and I'll tell you where I play. Stocking shelves, huh? Well, everybody shits and a lot of people have a dog, so that doesn't surprise me. Let me know before you buy a car so you don't buy a piece of crap. And maybe I can help you out a little.
I read it over once, then poked the `send' button. Evan stuck his head in the door just then. "You ready for bed?"
"Sure." I closed the program, shut down the puter, and followed Evan into our bedroom.
When I woke up the morning of the eighteen, the first thing that registered was Evan's hand moving slowly up my chest. I was on my back; he was snuggled up next to me, one leg over mine, his plump cock pressed into my hip. I could feel his breath on my arm as his fingertips trailed lightly over my skin, almost tickling. When he reached the little tuft of hair that grew in the hollow of my throat, he twirled it gently in his fingers for a moment, and then moved on up my collarbone until he was holding my shoulder.
I tried to keep my breathing even so he'd keep playing, but Evan knew me too well and kissed my arm before saying, "Morning."
I rolled toward him, sliding my leg up between his until his nuts squished forward from the pressure. As I hugged him to me, he humped my leg in a slow, lazy rhythm. On the third or fourth stroke, the tip of his now-hard dick touched my belly; on the eight or ninth, it left a cool, wet spot.
"Morning," I growled, my voice gravelly with sleep. "It's today."
"I know." Evan nuzzled under my chin to kiss my neck. "A year." A kiss on my chest. "The first of many." Another kiss, this one with some tongue in it, directly on top of my right nipple, making me flinch slightly as it tightened. "Happy Anniversary." This was slightly muffled because he had disappeared beneath the covers and was speaking from the vicinity of my navel.
"Happy Ann-" I only got that much of it out because just then Evan licked the head of my cock, which jerked hard in response and hitched my breath.
I flipped the covers back so I could watch him and then there wasn't any more talking for a while cause Evan's mouth was full of cock and mine was hanging open going, `unnnh,' `unnnh,' `unnnh.' He worked me over quickly but thoroughly, with a finger in my ass toward the end, pulling off to watch me shoot as he finished me by hand. While the cum cooled on my belly, he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and sat up to look at me. His hair stuck up on one side, and looking at him, I flashed back on that day in the woods when I came around the corner and there he was. I remember thinking that he wasn't real, that he couldn't possibly be standing there, practically waiting for me, in a park off the side of one of the hundreds of roads I could have ridden that day.
Fate... Karma... I don't know that I believe in either one, but do I know that when he turned and smiled at me over his shoulder that day, almost exactly like I had him painted on the Pan's tank, I was a goner. I was already in love with the memory of him, the idea of him, and when he finally appeared in person, the relief had been almost overwhelming.
And here he was, a year later, kneeling between my spread legs and grinning at me as he gently kneaded my balls in one hand.
"Ready for a shower?" he asked as he climbed off the bed. His hard cock stuck straight out in front of him, the slit glistening with pre-cum in the early morning light.
"After I do you," I replied, reaching for him, but he headed off to the bathroom, dick swaying along in front.
"I'll catch up tonight. Come on."
So we showered together and got ready for the day, stopping often to kiss or just smile at each other when our eyes happened to meet. In the driveway, I followed Evan to his car, taking his briefcase and tossing it in the door as I turned him toward me and pinned him to the fender with my hips. He leaned back a little, smiling at me as he rested his hands on my chest.
"I'll be thinking about tonight all day," he said. "About coming home, and gettin' naked, and..." His voice trailed away as his cock stiffened in his trousers, pushing against my belly. "God, let me go, or we'll have to go back inside."
"No need to go back inside," I whispered against his neck as I reached for his zipper, but he pushed my hand away and wriggled out from under me. I let him go, laughing as he shoved his dick to one side in order to get into the car comfortably.
"Goodbye," he said firmly, then dropped the car into gear and drove off down the lane.
I called Chewy from where he'd been snuffling under a bush and we headed to Kenny's for a day of programming. Raf's car was still in the drive when I got there, and he opened the door just as I was going up the steps. After I got inside, he grabbed me in a big hug, which surprised the crap out of me because he rarely initiated physical contact with me. I hugged him back, enjoying the different feel of his hard, compact body compared to Evan's lanky frame.
"Happy anniversary," he said.
"How'd you know?"
"I keep track of those things," he replied in a self-satisfied tone.
I raised an eyebrow at Kenny, who nodded his head resignedly. "It's true. He remembers all that shit."
Raf leaned over and planted a warm kiss on Kenny's mouth. "Bye, baby. See you tonight." On the way out the door, he threw a punch at my belly, pulling it at the last second and laughing when I swatted at him. "Bye."
I closed the door behind him and followed Kenny down the hall to our office. When we broke for lunch around one, I glanced out the window as I pushed back from the desk and stretched. The piece of sky I could see above the tree line was dark and angry, and as we entered the kitchen, it began to rain big fat drops that splattered against the glass.
"Well, shit," I griped. "I was gonna have dinner outside this evening, the whole candles-on-the-picnic-table thing."
"Guess again," Kenny said, as he pulled sandwich makings out of the fridge. "It's getting colder, too."
I ate lunch, watching the chilly rain turn from a shower to a downpour, wondering what this would do to Evan's mood. Of all days for it to rain -- our anniversary. Good thing we hadn't gone on that bike ride we'd been thinking about. Slowly another plan began to form in my mind, and by the time I left Kenny's at four, dashing to the car with a newspaper over my head, I was looking forward to being house-bound with Evan tonight, just the two of us, shut off from the rest of the world by the first big storm of the year.
* * *
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