by Tim Mead
Cox Floral. What did he know about Cox Floral?
Grant was looking at a report of an attempted break in on Saturday night at that establishment. He knew the business. Knew they also had a store out in Higgins. But something was tickling the edges of his brain.
Whoever had tried to burgle the place had been pretty amateurish. Used a crowbar on the back door, but when the alarm went off hightailed it out of there. His CSI people didn't really have anything to work on. No fingerprints. No tire tracks or footprints. If they could find the crowbar, they might match it to the scrapes on the door frame. Otherwise, there was a dearth of evidence. The good thing was that, except for a minor repair to the door, which the insurance would probably take care of, depending on the firm's deductible, no harm was done, nothing taken.
Cox! As in Brody Cox! Yeah, that was it. The younger Cox boy was living with Bart Cromer's boy, what was his name? Doug. No. Dave. Yeah, that was it! Dave. Grant had heard young Cromer was now running the family landscaping business. He figured he'd have to call them when the grass started to grow in the spring. He knew he couldn't cut the grass with the walk-behind mower, and he doubted he could even handle a rider. Besides, he could afford to hire it done, and he'd heard that Cromer's crews were the best.
He wondered how Bart felt about having a gay son living openly with a partner. And then he felt a stab of envy of Dave Cromer and Brody Cox.
He gave himself a mental slap. Back to the problem at the flower shop. Bradovich, a solid if unimaginative investigator, was handling it. Grant made a note to check with him in a day or so and see how things were going.
As he put aside the report, his thoughts unaccountably turned to private matters. To Jake Handley. He couldn't very well put off having the professor to dinner or else he'd give the impression he wasn't interested in pursuing their budding friendship. And he was interested.
Only . . . .
* * *
Archie needed a bath, but Grant wasn't going to do it. Not again. He'd always bathed the dog in the bathtub, but after his accident he couldn't kneel -- beside the tub or anywhere else. So when bath time came, he'd put the beagle in the stationary tub in the utility room. But even that was a mess. At one point Archie, who'd always hated baths, put his head back and howled.
"Okay, pooch," Grant had said, "if that's the way you want it, we'll let the pros do it!"
He called and made an appointment to drop Archie off at the pet groomers'.
On weekdays, he'd decided in the morning not to drive the dog to a place with sidewalks. Rather, he just walked the dog up and down their long driveway. The first time he'd tried that, after about three trips, Archie had sat down and looked up at his owner with a puzzled expression.
"On weekends, pup, you'll get your usual morning walk. But when I have to go to work, I'm not going to get up early enough to drive you somewhere for a walk and then bring you back home, eat, get cleaned up, and then drive back to work."
Archie wagged his tail as if he knew what Grant was saying and agreed.
Of course, what Archie didn't understand was that here was one more change in Grant's life because of the injury to his leg.
* * *
"Jake? Dr. Handley?"
"Yes, this is Jake Handley."
"It's Jim Grant. How've you been?"
"I'm fine, Jim, thanks. How about you?"
"Can't complain." He paused. "I'm sorry to be so long about this, but I've been caught up in learning my new job. I'm calling because I was hoping you'd be free this Saturday evening to come to my place for supper. That is, if you'll trust yourself to my cooking. And I know it's short notice, so if you're doing something else . . ."
Jake chuckled. "I'm free, Jim, and I'd love to come. When do you want me, and how do I get there?"
Ruth, his cleaning woman, had made a special visit that Friday to make sure the place was "presentable."
Grant was nervous. He chided himself. Told himself that this was just a guy he'd met a couple of times, that it was no big deal. But he wanted everything to go well. And yet he didn't. No point in getting involved with anybody. He didn't want to get into a clandestine affair, and that's what it would have to be. He knew he was a coward. He knew he was lonely and he dreaded the thought of being alone the rest of his life. But Jake was such a sexy man, and such good company!
On Wednesday of that week he'd called Adrian's Restaurant and asked to speak to Albert, the head chef. The person who'd answered the phone didn't want to interrupt what Albert was doing until Grant mentioned his name and title.
"Capitaine Grant, mon cher ami! Congratulations on your promotion. How are you? What can I do for you?" the ever-effusive Albert asked.
"Thanks, Albert. How are you, mon vieux?"
"Ca marche, Jimmy, ca marche."
Grant chuckled. "Wonderful. I'm ashamed it's been so long since we've talked and I'm calling to ask you a favor."
"I'm having a friend for dinner, and I was wondering if you'd let me have some of your amazing alfredo sauce Saturday."
"For you, anything, bien sur. But you know I don't call it `alfredo.' We French are the only ones who know how to make fine sauces. Cependant. You wish to serve this on pasta, je suppose?"
"When would you like to pick it up?"
"How would 4:00 be?"
"It will be ready. Can you come to the rear entrance? I'll have someone watching for you, Capitaine."
Grant chuckled. "Albert, I'm still Jimmy to you. Always Jimmy to you."
"Ohh, I know, but I have so much pride of your new rank."
"It's the result of stupidity on my part and embarrassment on the part of the department, old friend. Nothing to carry on about."
"Hmm. We shall have to disagree about that. But your sauce shall be ready. And one of these days you and I must share a meal, n'est-ce pas?"
"Absolument! And, Albert, thanks, my friend."
"De rien, cheri!"
His brief affair with Albert eight years ago was one of the reasons Grant hesitated to become involved with Jake Handley. Back then Albert had been the new sous-chef at The Faculty Club. Grant had met him in the course of an investigation he'd been conducting. There had been instant vibes between the two, and they entered into a discreet affair. Albert (who insisted on his full name, no nicknames such as Al or Bert, and wanted it pronounced the French way, without the "t") was a charming and ardent lover. Grant had soon realized he loved the handsome Frenchman and was happier than he'd ever been. But Albert had chafed under the restrictions Grant's job had put on their relationship. He was openly gay, and he didn't like having to meet only in private. So, reluctantly, they had split up. But they shared happy memories of their time together and retained a bond of affection as Grant moved up the ladder in his job and Albert became sous-chef and then head chef at Adrian's.
There wasn't much point in getting closer to Jake Handley if the same thing was going to happen with them.
When the doorbell rang, Grant wondered what he should do to greet his guest. The question was solved when Jake hugged him as soon as he was inside and the door was closed. Then Grant took Jake's leather jacket and put it on the hall tree. Jake handed him a bottle of cabernet sauvignon with a label Grant had thought about trying but had never gotten around to, largely because of the cost.
"I don't know what we're having, but I'll bet you have already got something ready. This wouldn't have time to breathe, either, so I'd suggest you put it away and have it another time."
"It's very nice, Jake. Thanks. Maybe we can have it together some day."
He was rewarded with a smile that made his cock twitch. "That'd be great, Jim. I'll look forward to it."
Then Jake had to be introduced to Archie, who'd been sitting there wagging his tail and looking expectantly at the stranger. Jake knelt and allowed his fist to be licked. Then he scratched the happy canine behind the ear.
"You're a love, I can just tell."
Those amenities having been taken care of, Grant showed Jake to the living room, where Archie stretched out in front of the fire.
"We're having pasta for supper, and I've got pinot grigio chilling. Would you like to have some with toasted pita pieces and warm artichoke dip?"
"Mmm! Sounds wonderful on a chilly November evening! I didn't know you were such a cook."
"Actually, I'm not. I cheat. I just know where to buy good stuff."
After they were seated with wine, bread, and dip, Grant studied his guest. This time he was wearing a blue oxford shirt with a darker blue V-neck sweater over it, and khakis. `Yes,' Grant thought, `the blue brings out the color of his eyes.'
They chatted for a while, taking time to enjoy the wine and appetizer. Finally, Grant said, "If you'll excuse me for a minute, I'll go put on the pasta, and when it's done we can eat."
"Okay by me."
The light flashed briefly on Jake's glasses, and then Grant could see his eyes. `What an amazing blue,' Grant said to himself.
Grant had cooked bay scallops, peas and diced red bell pepper in butter and white wine. These he added to Albert's "not-alfredo" sauce. And the whole thing he served over farfalle pasta. He served a salad along with the main course.
"Mmmm, Jim," Jake said of the pasta, "this is incredible! You must give me your recipe for the sauce!"
Grant grinned. "Sorry, professor, I can't do that."
Jake raised an eyebrow. "You don't seem like the kind of guy who would be proprietary about a recipe."
"Oh, I'm not. But I didn't make the sauce. It's from Albert, the chef at Adrian's."
"No wonder it's so special! But you added the peas, peppers, and scallops, right?"
"Well, A+ for imagination and for preparation. I don't think the chef at Adrian's could have put together a better combination."
"Never tell him that, or I'll have lost a friend forever."
"What kind of pull do you have to have to get him to make sauce for you?"
Grant wondered how much he could tell the professor and opted for a certain amount of candor. "Let's just say that he and I used to be very good friends, and that we're still on cordial terms."
Jake grinned. "Oh, I see. Well, I'm glad the parting was so amicable. This is a fantastic meal! I can't get over it. A cop who can cook."
Grant had a momentary qualm thinking that he should have checked to see if Jake was allergic to shellfish, but since he obviously wasn't, he relaxed. Then he reacted to what Jake had just said.
"What do you mean? Do you think cops are stupid?" He smiled to show he wasn't serious.
"No, not stupid. But I think of your profession as very macho, and somehow fine cuisine doesn't seem to be part of the package. Aren't cops supposed to fill up on donuts every chance they get?"
Grant lifted his wine glass, gestured toward Jake, and said, "Shows how much you know, Professor. Our guys are required to stay in good shape, and loitering in Starbucks or the Colby Diner is discouraged. I admit, though, I don't know of anyone on the Force male or female who pretends to be a gourmet cook. Yours truly included. But haven't you read any Rex Stout?"
"No, `fraid not. Who's he?"
"He's the creator of Nero Wolfe."
"Oh, Wolfe was a private eye, wasn't he? I remember at television series about him."
"Yeah, the series wasn't very good, but the novels are great fun. Wolfe lives in a New York brownstone. He has the best chef in the city on his household staff, and they spend hours in consultation about the menus and more hours arguing about recipes."
"As a result, Wolfe is so huge that he never goes out. He has an assistant, Archie Goodwin, who does his leg work for him. Archie is the narrator of the stories."
Jake nodded toward the sleeping beagle and asked, "Isn't his name Archie?"
"Which must make you Nero."
"Wolfe's a pretty crabby character. I hope I'm not like that."
"Not that I've noticed." Jake said as he buttered a piece of bread.
The evening went by quickly. His nervousness long gone, Grant felt comfortable with his guest, as if they were old friends, not new acquaintances.
Back in front of the fireplace after supper, the two had coffee. Grant had offered brandy, but Jake had refused, saying that he'd fall asleep if he accepted.
On this, only their third meeting, Grant found himself increasingly attracted to his guest. `Is it only because I'm lonely and horny?' he asked himself. That could be part of it, he decided, but there was no denying Jake's appeal. He was easy to be with. When Grant finally made himself quit worrying about making a good impression and just relaxed, he found he could chat with Jake easily. But the professor was sexy, too. Handsome and lean, he'd given Grant some fantasies. And, Grant was horrified to note, the beginnings of a tent in his trousers at that very moment.
"Hmm? I'm really sorry, Jake. I must have zoned out there for a minute. What did you say?"
"I was just asking if you had plans for Thanksgiving. I assume you'll have the day off."
"I'll be off Thursday, yes, but I have to work on Friday. Then, of course I'll be free for the weekend. Unless some sort of emergency happens."
"Don't you have people to handle emergencies?"
Grant nodded. "Sure. It would have to be pretty big before I got called in."
"But you've never answered my question."
"Oh! Do I have plans? Yes, my next door neighbors have invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with them."
"Next door? I don't remember seeing a house close by."
"Well, Ricki and Bobbi live in the next house, even if it is a little distance away."
"Ricki? That wouldn't be Ricki van Hoorn the quilter, would it?"
"The very same."
"I love her work."
"She told me you came into the shop from time to time."
Jake nodded. "I have a couple of Rachel Galperin's watercolors, and I stop by the shop occasionally to see her newest things. I'd like to have one of Ricki's quilts, but they're too much works of art to put on your bed, and I don't have a wall space big enough to hang one." He paused. "I understand she has a partner."
Grant didn't want to gossip about his friends, so he merely said, "Yeah, she does." Then, after a pause, he asked, "What about you, Jake? You going to see your family?"
Jake shook his head. "No. I have a sister in Atlanta, but we're not close. I haven't talked with him yet, but I'll probably get together with my friend Digby and we'll either go out or cook up something. I'm glad you mentioned that. I'll have to call him."
`His friend Digby?' Grant felt a wave of jealousy sweep over him. And then he was embarrassed. He had no claim on Jake. Why should he be jealous?
"Digby? That wouldn't be Digby Gautier, would it?"
Jake beamed. "Yeah. Do you know him?"
"Not really. But I've heard him play. He's fantastic! So you and he are friends?"
"Yeah. Digs and I go way back. I met him fifteen years ago when he came here. We served on a faculty committee together his first year and became buddies. Actually, we were lovers for a while. Though that didn't work out, we've been best friends ever since."
`Best friends? Gautier's one big hunk of hot man, if you don't mind that he minces once in a while. Jake says they're only friends now. That's a relief. But, Grant, you're acting as if you and Jake were more than casual friends. If you want to be better friends, you'd better get busy!'
When, shortly after midnight, Jake took his leave, he surprised Grant by giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks, Jim. It's been a great evening. Let's get together again, soon. And Happy Thanksgiving."
That night he dreamed of Jake Handley. Grant and Jake were both naked, tied to St. Andrew's crosses that faced each other. Both men were weepingly erect, straining to get to each other. Between them, standing at parade rest, was a faceless row of uniformed Colby policemen.
"Jesus!" Grant swore, as he woke up. His cock was throbbing. As he grabbed it to relieve himself, he wondered if Jake really was interested in him or was just being friendly.
The next morning at breakfast he thought back to the evening and the dream afterward.
`There are options. You can just play it safe and not pursue the friendship. You can proceed cautiously, getting together once in a while and see what happens. Or you can just tell the guy how you feel and damn the consequences. But how do you feel? Are you actually infatuated with the guy? Or are you just horny and lusting after the most convenient object?'
That afternoon as he was watching a Lions game with Archie curled up at his feet, the phone rang. He muted the TV and stepped over the dog before going to the phone.
"Jim, it's Ricki."
"Hi, dear, how are you?"
"We're fine, thanks. How did your dinner with the sexy professor go?"
"Very well, thanks. We had a pleasant evening."
"Did he stay the night?"
"Ricki! Of course not! He left around, oh, I suppose midnight."
"That gave you plenty of time to fool around, huh?"
"Indeed we did not fool around!"
"Whyever not? He's cute. So are you. You're lonely. What's to keep you from having some fun?"
"My dear young woman," Grant said, attempting to sound like a character from a Victorian novel, "my sense of propriety and decorum would have kept me from doing it. Even if I'd been so inclined."
"Aww, come on, hon. You know you were inclined."
He chuckled. "I take the fifth."
"Okay, okay. So. Besides wanting to know about your evening, I want to talk about Thanksgiving."
"Would you like to bring the sweet potatoes?"
"Sure, I think I can manage that. What else can I bring?"
"Bobbi and I hope you'll bring Dr. Handsome."
Grant was at a loss for words.
After a pause, Ricki said, "Are you still there?"
"Do you know what he's doing for Thanksgiving?"
"He said he'd probably spend it with a friend, but I had the impression that was for want of anything better to do."
"Great! So call him and ask him to come with you. Tell him that Bobbi and I insist."
"Wouldn't the invitation be better coming from you?"
"Well, Bobbi suggested that. But why don't you just tell him we asked you to bring a guest if you wanted, and you are inviting him?"
"You sure you want to do this?"
"Well, I don't know. I like Jake a lot, but . . ."
Ricki heaved an exasperated sigh. "But what, for Christ's sake?"
"But this is all going pretty fast, and I haven't really figured out whether I want to get too involved with this guy."
"Because you don't think you like him enough?"
"No, that's not it."
"Puck, puck, puck, puck." She was making chicken noises.
"Really, Ricki, this isn't funny!"
"No, Jim. You're right. It's not funny. It's pathetic. You have a chance to grab some happiness with this guy, and you're too fucking chicken to go for it, too afraid of what your police buddies will say."
"But . . ."
"But nothing!" She sighed. "Okay. It's up to you. We'll have plenty of food for four. You bring the sweet potatoes and Jake if you can screw up the courage to ask him. Either way we'll expect you at about 1:30. Oh, and you can bring whatever wine you think goes with turkey if you want."
She hung up.
Grant went back to his recliner, and Archie once more settled at his feet. But he didn't turn up the sound on the television. In fact, he ignored the game. He was too much caught up in his thoughts about the phone call. Never one for self pity, he was surprised to find he was feeling sorry for himself. He liked Jake Handley, he really did. And last night's dream suggested his feelings were more than just a liking for the professor. But he'd grown very fond of Ricki and Bobbi, and it hurt to have Ricki angry with him. Well, not angry, maybe, but she was clearly unhappy with him.
On the other hand, it was his life, his career, and she had no right to try to manipulate him. Why couldn't she just mind her own goddamned business? Was she right? Was he being a coward? Was his career more important than finding a guy he could love? Did he in fact love Jake? No, of course he didn't. But there was a chance, wasn't there, that he might come to love him?
He was jerked out of his contemplation by the doorbell.
He opened the front door to see Bobbi standing there, cheeks ruddy from the cold, wearing a red plaid wool shirt, jeans, and work boots.
"Hi, Bobbi, come in."
"Not disturbing anything am I, Grant?"
"No, not at all. Can I make some coffee or would you like a drink?"
"No, I'm good thanks. I go on duty at 4:00. Can we talk a minute?"
"Sure." Grant led the way to the living room and they sat.
"Well, first, I want to apologize for Ricki. I heard her end of the phone conversation, and I think she was out of line. We don't want to meddle in your life, Grant. But she cares about you, and she worries about you living alone." She seemed uncomfortable. "Sleeping alone. Not having a partner at your stage in life."
"Christ! My stage in life!"
"Chill, man. We don't think of you as old. But you have to admit the longer you wait to find someone, the harder that's gonna be."
"But . . ."
"Yeah, you're gonna talk about your job."
"Look, you and I both work for the county. Let me tell you, I was pretty nervous when I first took my job with Emergency Services. I expected it to be a bastion of bigotry."
"And it wasn't?"
She grinned. "I won't say it was easy at first, but I never hid from them that I'm a lesbian. And when they found out that I could do the job as well as any man there, they quit making snide comments. And now, after being there for ten years, I'm pretty well accepted. The men and the other women, all of them straight, are able to work with me without problems." She grinned again. "Oh, there was one guy. I had to threaten to yank his balls off and feed `em to him, but he came around."
"So you agree with Ricki that I'm being a coward?"
"I wouldn't say you're a coward. But I think you're being overly cautious. Do you really like this prof? Ricki says he's perfect for you." She rolled her eyes. "Whatever that means."
Grant was silent for a moment. "Yeah. I don't really know how Jake feels about me, but I like him. A lot, in fact."
"Okay then. I get that you don't want to tack a rainbow flag on your door. But what the fuck's wrong with seeing Handley now and then until you both figure out how you feel? If you don't think he's worth the risk, you can back off later. But if he's the guy, I'd think you'd have the guts to take whatever your fellow cops want to throw at you. You're the cap'n, after all. And legally they can't touch you. You do know that, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know that. It's more the lack of respect I've been worrying about. I think I'm something of a laughing stock anyway because of my stupid fall down that hole. And I know my boss is a homophobe."
Bobbi stood up. "Look, I've got to go get ready for my shift. But I think you're worrying too much. You're feeling like you're less than a man because of your gimpy leg. That's going to get better, at least some. You're gonna learn to live with it, adapt, you know? And you shouldn't let all that keep you from finding your Mr. Right. If it's Handley, great. If it isn't, at least have the cojones to keep looking – and deal with it!"
She gave him a firm handshake and left.
That evening, Grant picked up the phone and punched in a number.
"Hey, Jake, this is Jim."
"Hi, Jim. Say, thanks for last night. That was a great meal, a great evening. I really enjoyed it. I had planned to call and thank you, but you beat me to it. What's up?"
"It's about Thanksgiving. Ricki and Bobbi have asked me to bring a guest for Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered if you'd like to go with me."
"Um, that sounds great, Jim."
`Yesss!' Grant thought.
"But I can't. You see, I've promised Digs I'd have Thanksgiving dinner with him, and I don't want to leave him alone. His family are all in Louisiana, and he isn't planning to fly down there at the busiest travel time of the year."
"Oh, well, yeah. I understand. Let's get together soon, though, huh?"
"Indeed. Let's do that!"
"Well, then, Happy Thanksgiving, Jim."
There! He'd tried. He hoped Bobbi and Ricki would be satisfied with his effort. But he realized that, down deep, he was disappointed.
To Be Continued
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