By Tim Mead
Shit! He'd managed to give Handley the impression he was homophobic. Ironic, that. Actually he'd found the prof pretty sexy. His hesitancy on the phone had been due to his reluctance to become involved with any man at this stage in his life, no matter how attractive. Handley had misinterpreted that. So, in order to show that he wasn't a homophobe, Grant agreed to have dinner with him. After all, it was only dinner. And Handley was appealing.
Still, the professor was obviously out. Not a flamer or anything of the sort. But if he and Grant were seen having dinner together at The Faculty Club, people might talk. Though he'd managed to keep his own homosexuality hidden from his police colleagues, even after the affair with Albert, he refused to allow their homophobia to keep him from having an innocent meal with a friend. Or at least he suspected he and Handley might become friends.
So he'd agreed to the date. "Date?" No, he couldn't think of it in those terms. He didn't date.
Wait a minute! Had Handley figured out he, Grant, was gay? He hadn't said anything like that on the phone, but why had he called?
Get a grip, Grant! You've been able to hide your sexuality from everyone except for your sister, her husband, and the women next door. No reason to think Handley figured you out . . . . Unless he has exceptionally good gaydar. But why are you so shaken up by a simple invitation to dinner? Perhaps because you liked this guy more than you want to admit?
Stay calm. It's just a dinner.
The next morning Archie woke him up, wanting his walk. Grant decided that would have to be a two-part process. He struggled into some jeans, a sweatshirt, socks, and sneakers, put the dog on his leash and took him outside to do his business.
For what seemed like the thousandth time he thought how nice it would be if he could just let the animal out into the yard, trusting that he'd come back to the door when he'd had his morning dump. But the damned beagle took off whenever he was outside without his leash. And that was not only dangerous for the dog, it also wasn't popular with some of his neighbors. The women next door didn't mind, but some of the others were pretty militant about the local leash law, and Grant as a member of the constabulary was expected to set a good example.
So, he took Archie outside first thing, allowing himself to be pulled down the long drive to the road. When the job was done, they went back inside. Grant had his morning shower, fixed himself breakfast and fed the dog. Then they both got in the car so they could drive to an area of Colby that had sidewalks.
Grant's parents had left Janet most of their stocks and mutual funds, him the farm. He'd sold all of it but a couple of acres and used some of the proceeds to renovate the old farmhouse. And he loved it. But it was on a road with no sidewalks, not a safe place to be walking a dog, especially when one was partially crippled. Hence the necessity for a drive in order to walk the dog.
"Stupid pooch," he said. "I wonder if you're worth it."
Archie stopped, turned, and looked at him with those soulful beagle eyes.
"Okay, okay, hound, you're worth it. Now get a move on. It's cold out here."
When they were both back inside, Archie invigorated and Grant with a throbbing leg, the phone rang.
"Grant. I called earlier and no one answered. You okay?"
"Yeah, Bobbi, thanks. Archie and I were out for our walk."
"Damn. I was calling to offer to take him for his walk. I don't suppose your gimpy leg is ready for that yet."
"I appreciate the offer, but I'm fine. Don't worry about me."
"Yeah, iron man. Ricki told me you'd say that. But look, let me walk him this evening."
Remembering that he was going out, he said, "I've got a 7:00 dinner date. It would help a lot if you'd deal with the beast. But it wouldn't be the end of the world if he didn't get his walk tonight."
"We can't have him getting fat and lazy, can we? I'll be there at 5:30, and we'll be back about 6:30. That should give you plenty of time to primp for your date."
Grant chuckled. "You're a life saver, Bobbi. Arch will be in pooch heaven! See you this evening. And love to Ricki."
The two women had bought an acre of the farm when he was selling it off seven years ago and built themselves a house on it. Ricki made quilts that sold for obscene amounts at a craft shop in downtown Colby called "Three Women." In addition to Ricki's work it featured the jewelry of one artist and the watercolors of another.
Bobbi was an EMT in Colby.
The two of them seemed devoted to each other, and Grant was fond of them both. He couldn't have asked for better neighbors. They knew when to mind their own business and when to be solicitous. Most of the time, at least.
Grant decided to wear his navy blazer that evening. The Faculty Club was a jacket and tie kind of place in his estimation, though he knew some of the men there would be dressed more casually. But it was Saturday night, after all, and if you weren't going to put on a tie for dinner at a nice restaurant, when would you do it?
He knew the answer he'd get to that question from some men: they had to wear suits and ties to work every day, and they hated to wear them on weekends, too. Well, tough shit! What's so bad about a tie? If you buy your shirts the right size, a tie is no hardship.
What he would have admitted had he been challenged, however, was that he also wanted to look his best for Jake Handley. He flushed a little at the realization. `It's just dinner with a guy you barely know,' he told himself. `Yeah,' a voice inside him replied, `but you might get to know him better. He seems pleasant, and he's good to look at.'
Jake was waiting for him when he arrived at the restaurant. Although the place was busy, they were seated promptly. When the waiter asked for their drink preferences, Grant ordered JD on the rocks, and Jake requested Simi cabernet. The professor was wearing brown slacks, a lighter brown tweed jacket, and a dark green turtleneck. Grant had always thought turtle necks were a little gay, but he had to admit that the man across from him looked good. `But he should wear blue to compliment his eyes,' Grant thought.
When their drinks came, they touched glasses and sipped.
"Tell me, Jake. Are you related to Vernon Handley, the British conductor?"
Jake shook his head. "Not so far as I know. I asked my dad about him once, and he said we're a big family and he didn't know of a connection." He smiled. "I have several of his recordings on lp, though."
"Oh, you still have a record player?"
Soon they were engrossed in a discussion of lp's versus cd's, favorite conductors, performances, recordings, and composers, a discussion that was still going strong when Mark, their server, came back for their food orders. They had to admit they hadn't even looked at the menus yet. He urged them to take their time. As he walked away, Jake and Grant both watched his behind.
"Colby State student, you think?" Grant asked.
"Probably. Nice, huh?"
"Oh, yeah." `Nice?' Grant thought. Uh oh! "Jake, tell me, how'd you know I was gay?"
Jake grinned and leaned forward as if he were going to reveal a great secret. "I didn't until I saw you watching his ass."
Grant laughed. "I've got to be more careful. But now at least you know I'm not a homophobe, as you practically accused me of being when you called last night."
"Then why did you seem reluctant to accept my invitation?"
"Nothing to do with you. I'm just something of a loner, don't go out much. I guess I'm used to refusing social invitations."
Jake raised his glass. "Then I'm honored you chose to come."
Grant grinned. "I'm not sure you should be. If you hadn't suggested I was anti-gay, I probably would have found a way to refuse."
"Are you sorry you came?"
"No, professor, I'm not. Now, we'd better figure out what we're having for supper so that hot kid won't hover."
"Aw, he's not hovering. He's clear across the room."
"Well, okay, then he's over there pretending not to watch us."
"Isn't that what he's supposed to do?"
Chuckling, Grant replied, "Yeah, I suppose it is."
After the boy had taken their orders, Grant said, "You teach history, right?"
Pausing from putting butter on a roll, Jake said "That's right."
"Where you from originally?"
"Born and grew up in Tampa."
"How'd you wind up here in Yankee land?"
"I wanted to get out of Florida for college. Hated the heat. So I got myself admitted to Northwestern. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I got my BA and stayed right there for the PhD. Then I landed this job and here I am."
"I'm guessing that's nearly 30 years."
"You're a good guesser."
"Strange we've never crossed paths. I've been here almost as long."
"I thought you said you were born and grew up here."
"Did I tell you that on the plane?"
"I was at Oberlin for four years. Then I got drafted. Was supposed to go to Nam, but was assigned to an intelligence unit. Liked the work, so after four years in the Army, I went to the police academy and then started as a rookie for the Colby P.D. I've been here ever since."
"Well, CSU is a big school, and we don't exactly move in the same circles." Jake looked as if he'd just thought of something. "But I'll bet we've attended a lot of the same concerts on campus."
Just then Mark brought their food. Grant watched as Jake practically flirted with the boy – who seemed to have no qualms about flirting back. He felt a strong sense of envy. The man across the table from him was his own age. He was openly, unapologetically gay. He seemed happy, well adjusted. And he was damned attractive. Jake obviously kept himself in good shape. Were it not for the mixture of gray in his curly, blond hair he could have passed for a man ten years younger. He had a ready smile. And though there were the inevitable crows' feet, his Caribbean blue eyes were captivating. He was bright. He must know how good he looked. And he seemed eager to please. But, Grant kept telling himself, Jake was not a person he could afford to be seen with often so long as he worked for the Colby P. D.
He was startled out of his reverie when his host said, "So, Jim, your card had your phone number on it, but not your address." Jake grinned. "Would you think I was a stalker if I asked where you live?"
Grant grinned back. "I think I can handle the likes of you."
Which brought another twinkling smile. "So?"
"I live on Ontario Road."
"Oh, out in the country, huh?"
"Well, less and less so, but yeah."
"Aren't there some new subdivisions out that way?"
Grant put down his fork. "Uh huh. One of them is built on my family's land."
Jake took a sip of water and said, "Tell me more."
"Okay. I was living in an apartment in Colby. But when my folks retired, they moved to Florida and asked me to live in the family home. When they died within six months of each other, I inherited the place. Since then it's been my main hobby. Except for music, of course. I've spent all my spare time for years fixing it up. It's about done, now. My nest."
"And no one to share it with?" Jake looked embarrassed. "Sorry. I had no right to ask that question."
Grant smiled. "Relax, Jake. If I had anyone to share it with, would I be here?"
It was Jake's turn to smile. "Does that mean you are looking for someone to share it with?"
Grant couldn't remember how long it had been since he felt himself blush, but blush he did. And he had to figure out how to answer Jake's question. He must have taken too long.
"Jim, I'm sorry. I didn't have any business asking that question. I don't know you well enough. Forgive me?"
At that point Grant felt drawn to Jake. The man was sensitive. `Or else a real manipulator,' Grant thought. `Damn! What am I going to say to him?' Remembering Franklin's dictum, he opted for honesty.
"No problem, Jake. You know I'm gay, but few, and I mean very few others in Colby, know that. Though we live in the same town, we live in different worlds. The University has a liberal attitude toward gay people. And, as a matter of fact, quite a few openly gay men live in the community." Grant thought of the owner of the city's most prestigious restaurant, of the owner of the county's most successful landscaping business, of a Toledo lawyer who lived in Colby. "But I'm just a cop. And however enlightened police forces are in some other parts of the country, the one I work for is still pretty old fashioned. Homophobic, even. I was reminded of that by my boss, the new Chief of Police, just the other day."
Jake had put down his utensils and was listening carefully.
"As I explained on the plane, I've decided to stay on the Force rather than take a disability retirement. And that means that I've chosen to stay in the closet. If my colleagues had any inkling that I'm gay, I'd become a pariah."
Jake's face showed his concern. "Christ, Jim. That means you're taking a certain risk just being seen here with me."
Grant sighed. "Well, I don't think there's a problem with us getting together this once. But, to answer your question, I've lived a solitary life because of my profession. And if I want to stay in it, I can't be looking for someone to share my big house with."
"That, sir, as the kids say, sucks!"
"Yeah, but that's life."
"Gentlemen, could I tell you what we have for dessert?"
"Jim," Jake said, "I baked an apple pie this afternoon. Would you like to come to my place and have a piece?"
`A piece,' Grant thought. `Interesting ambiguity.' He smiled at his host. "You bake pies?"
Jake smiled back. "Yeah, Marie Callender makes `em and I bake `em. What do you say?"
Grant shook his head. "Jake, the pie sounds good, but I think I'd better pass on dessert. Since I messed up my leg, I haven't been getting much exercise, so I have to watch the calories."
"How about you, sir?" Mark asked Jake.
"No, but I'd like a cup of coffee. Jim?"
"Yes, thanks. Coffee sounds good."
When they finished their coffee, Grant said, "Jake, this has been the best evening I've had in a long time. Thanks . I hope you aren't sorry you asked me."
"Don't be silly. Of course not! As I told you, I wanted to get to know you better, and I think I have. I'd like to do it again, but given what you've told me, perhaps we'd better not be seen together in public."
"I'd like to reciprocate. I've enjoyed the evening very much. Maybe sometime you'll risk your health and let me fix dinner at my place."
"Yeah, that would be nice."
When they got to the restaurant parking lot, the two men shook hands, Grant thanked Jake once again, and they got into their respective cars.
As he drove home, Grant, who had received during his career two commendations for valor in the line of duty, wondered why he was so reluctant to come out to his police colleagues.
He arrived home to be greeted by a happy Archie, who, after being left with the neighbors for two weeks, may have thought Grant had deserted him once more.
"Relax, hound. I'm not gonna leave you again. Did you have a good walk with Bobbi?"
The light on the answering machine was flashing, so Grant checked it. There was one message: Ricki was calling to say that Bobbi was on duty the next day, but that she would fix him Sunday dinner. He was to show up at 2:00.
His neighbors were evidence of the saying that opposites attract. Bobbi was a stocky, compact 5'6" woman who wore her dark hair very short and, when not in her EMT's uniform, seemed to live in jeans. Ricki, on the other hand, was the earth mother type, as tall as Grant, big boned with dishwater blond hair to her shoulders. Almost always in a cotton dress that made her look like a farmer's wife. Quilting wasn't her only talent, as she also cooked with skill and enthusiasm. As different as they were, however, the two seemed to adore each other.
Although he was sure they'd never told anyone else, they'd figured out he was gay soon after they moved into their house.
"Oh, Ricki," Grant said as he mopped up the last of the gravy with a piece of cloverleaf roll, "I can't afford to have another meal like this for months. I'm not getting enough exercise, and I'm going to put on weight. Especially after eating like I did last night."
She smiled at him and stood, taking his plate to the sink.
"I've been waiting for you to tell me how your date went. Let me cut us each a piece of this German chocolate cake. You want ice cream with it?"
Grant groaned. "Devil woman! You're determined to kill me. Yes, just a little ice cream would be nice. But make it a small piece of cake, please."
After she had poured coffee for both of them, Ricki set down two plates laden with cake and ice cream. Grant had made his request. He wasn't going to complain that she'd ignored it.
"Now, I want to know all about your dinner with the professor. What's his name again?"
"He's Dr. Jacob Handley, professor of history. He goes by Jake."
"Oh! I know him! He comes into the shop once in a while. He loves Rachel's watercolors. I think he owns a couple of them. He always spends a lot of time looking at my quilts, too, but I think the prices are too much for him. A lot of people who'd spend a thousand dollars on a watercolor think seven hundred is outrageous for a quilt."
"Not if they've ever visited the Amish country over around New Philadelphia and priced the quilts there."
"Exactly. So, Dr. Jake seems to be a really nice guy. Did you have a good time with him?"
"He's cute, too, isn't he?"
Grant looked steadily at her. "You know, I'm not comfortable talking about which men are cute and which aren't with you. In fact, I don't think I've ever done it with anyone."
Ricki heaved a big sigh. "Jeez, Jim. You're so repressed! You had a good time. I think Jake's a great looking guy, and I'll bet you do, too. Are you going to see him again?"
Grant grinned. "Aw, mom! Give me a break!"
She laughed. "Yeah, yeah. Tell me it's none of my business. But you know Bobbi and I care about you. And we hate to see you all alone in that big house." She raised an eyebrow. "I don't suppose you let Archie sleep on your bed do you?"
"I didn't think so. Which means that your bed is cold and empty. And that's no way to live, Cap'n."
"Come on, Ricki! I merely had dinner with Handley. It's not as if I was interviewing for a life partner."
"Well, it wouldn't hurt you to start looking. There's nothing wrong with a little nooky once in a while, either."
Grant took a sip of coffee and set down the cup. "Okay. You're right. It would be nice. But think of this. If I'm seen around town much with Jake, I'll be outing myself."
"And that is bad because . . . ?"
"Because of my job, because of the people I work with."
She was quiet for a moment. Then, "You know, I never took you for a coward."
* * *
Grant was engrossed in his new job for the next several weeks. He had every intention of inviting Jake Handley to have a meal with him, but he kept putting it off. At work he often studied his colleagues, the men of Colby's detective force, wondering what they'd think if they knew their boss was queer.
One morning his phone rang. Stonesifer, the uniformed cop who answered his phone, told him it was Boros on the line.
"Hi, Chief. What can I do for you?"
"I hope you're dressed pretty."
Boros chuckled. "Can you come to my office for a few minutes? You're gonna get your picture taken."
"Sure, I'll be right there."
When Grant arrived, the Chief had two men in his office. He recognized one of them, though he thought they'd never actually met. He was tall, blond, striking, in his early thirties. The other, short, thin, non-descript, was holding a camera.
"Captain Grant," the Chief said, "you know Ben Moss, the County's Deputy Public Information Officer, don't you?"
Grant extended his hand. "Of course I know who you are, Mr. Moss, but I don't think we've ever been formally introduced."
Moss smiled and shook Grant's hand. "Well, we have now, Captain Grant. It's good to meet you." He turned to his associate. "This is Phil Barton, who, as you can see, is our photographer."
Grant smiled and shook hands with Barton.
"So, gentlemen, what's up?"
Boros cleared his throat. "Actually, we've never officially announced your promotion." He picked up a small box from his desk and looked at the photographer. "How do you want us?"
"Could you step over this way a little so that window won't be behind you, please?"
Grant and the Chief side stepped a few paces. "How's this?" Boros asked.
"Okay, then. Captain Grant, it is my pleasure to confirm your appointment as supervisor of detectives in the Colby Police Department and to award you your bars on your promotion to the rank of captain."
They had to pose with Boros handing Grant the captain's bars while Barton took several shots.
Afterward, Barton left and the Chief returned to his desk.
"Captain Grant," Moss said, "if you have a moment, could I come to your office? I`d like to ask you a few questions."
"Sure, no problem."
When they were seated, Grant asked, "Would you like some coffee?"
Moss smiled when he said, "No thanks. I'm fine. I've gone through your publicity file in our office, but it hasn't been updated recently except for a newspaper clipping about your, uh, accident. I was just wondering if I could chat with you for a few minutes, get to know James Grant the man, not just Captain Grant."
Captain Grant thought Moss's smile was dazzling. He remembered Boros saying that Moss was gay and had a partner. He envied the partner. And he wondered how much flack Moss had had to take from the people in the Information Section for being gay. Then he remembered that Kris Anders, the PIO, was gay as well.
"Let's not stand on ceremony. We're both county employees. Most of my police colleagues call me Grant, but I'm Jim to everyone else."
"Okay, Jim, if you'll call me Ben."
"Good enough, so what can I tell you?"
They chatted for a while about his hobbies, interests, things of that sort. Then Moss asked about the accident.
"I'd rather you not dredge that up. It's pretty embarrassing."
"All we told the media at the time was that you were injured pursuing a fleeing felon. What's embarrassing about that?"
"Come on, Ben, you must have heard through the grapevine that I was in a dark, empty warehouse and fell through a hole in the floor."
Moss smiled. "Well, yes, there were rumors to that effect. But I don't know why you're embarrassed. It seems to me it would take a lot of guts to do that."
"According to my superiors, the word is `foolhardy.' I shouldn't have been there alone." He paused. "I hope you won't put that in the press release."
"That's no one's business outside the Department. It still seems to me that you're an underappreciated hero. And I'll be sure the text that goes out with the photo makes that point."
"Look, Ben, the truth is that I shouldn't have been there alone. What I did was stupid. And it ended my career."
Moss looked puzzled. "It did?"
"Well, in a way, yes. I'm no longer a real detective. My leg was so badly damaged that I am stuck with this desk job. But I'd rather you not say anything about that, either." He stared out the window for a moment. "I guess it's just vanity on my part, but I don't want people laughing at me behind my back."
Moss stood. "I can understand that. I'll send you a copy of the release by email. I won't put out anything you don't approve of, okay?"
Grant stood and shook hands with the younger man. "That's great, Ben. Thanks!"
As Moss walked through the outer office, Grant noticed that Stonesifer was gazing steadily and, he would have bet a week's pay, longingly at the handsome blond.
`Hmmm,' Grant thought. `Maybe I'm not the only one in the department after all.'
To Be Continued
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