"You wanna go again?"
A sleepy Jake opened one eye to see Grant smiling at him. "Didn't we just . . . ."
"That was six hours ago. But if you're too tired, old man . . . ."
"Hand me the lube and we'll see who's tired!"
And so it went. Jake had no complaints about their love life. Grant, who was gentle, versatile, and, it seemed, insatiable, kept him well content in bed. And in other places around the house. No, no complaints. In fact, Jake tingled like a teen when he looked at Grant, sometimes when he merely thought of him.
Nor was there any problem with compatibility. They were perfectly comfortable together. Grant usually read in the evenings when Jake was doing his preparations. They often read the same books and then talked about them. Sometimes it was Grant who called a particular book to Jake's attention, as in the case of Gavin Menzies' 1421: The Year China Discovered America. Grant read the work and found it fascinating. He wondered how reliable Menzies' work was. So Jake read it. When he was finished he assured Grant that Menzies' research and documentation seemed solid.
"But if you want to check it out further, you'll have to read the reviews. The man's a former submarine captain, not a professor. If you think he may be doing special pleading, see what specialists in the period say. If he's slipped up, someone will have been quick to point it out."
Much of Jake's reading was work-related, books and articles about twentieth-century Britain. And, since he was working on an article which he hoped to be able to read at a conference coming up in the spring, he was focusing primarily on that topic. Yet he was grateful that Grant read widely and over breakfast often gave him a précis of something he'd just read.
Grant was pretty much just what Jake had been looking for. Except for one thing. By the end of January they had gone out once. That was to a concert at the University, and Grant had insisted they not sit together there. Otherwise they'd stayed holed up, occasionally at Jake's place in town, most of the time at Grant's in the country.
Jake spent a couple of nights a week at home. Lately he'd taken to having supper those evenings with Digby. Sometimes one of them cooked, sometimes they ate out. And, occasionally he'd drop by Nelly's, the local gay bar, about 10:00, sometimes with Digby, sometimes alone. Jake had been out of the closet ever since he was in college. Though he'd had to put up with occasional unpleasantness, he had never been one to hide who or what he was. And he needed to reaffirm his community with his gay brethren from time to time. It wasn't that he didn't love Jim Grant. He was pretty sure he did. But he found he craved the company of "family."
Thus one evening he got to Nelly's about 10:15. Since it was fairly early on a Tuesday evening, the place wasn't crowded. Most of those present were familiar faces, some to which he could put names, others not. Then he saw a couple of younger men, both in their twenties, sitting in a booth. He stopped by the bar and got a mug of draft and found an empty booth. He was seated so he could watch the other two. He didn't mean to spy on them, but they were both attractive. The older, in his late twenties, had dark hair and skin, brown eyes. The other, a few years younger, had dark blond hair and blue eyes. Both, so far as Jake could tell, were in prime physical condition. And, he soon realized, they were lovers.
Jake drank his beer and indulged in people watching. When the first beer was gone, he had another. No point in returning to the empty condo yet. He tried not to stare at the young couple who'd taken his eye when he came in, but occasionally his gaze went back to them. About 11:00 someone he recognized came in, got a beer and stopped by the booth where the two were sitting. About six feet tall, with dark eyes and straight black hair, he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt over a dark tee. The newcomer put a hand on the blond's shoulder for a moment, and then the two shook hands. Then he shook hands with the blond's partner. They chatted for a moment longer, and then the newcomer turned and headed for Jake's booth.
"Hey, Dr. Handley! Mind if I join you? You are alone, right?"
"Yes, Roger, I am. Please sit."
Roger Norton was a senior theater major who'd taken a European history survey with Jake a couple of years earlier. Jake had found the good-looking young man pleasant, bright, hard-working. And, though nothing was said by either of them throughout the course, the openly gay professor had recognized that his student was gay as well. After Roger was no longer his student, they'd bumped into each other at university functions and occasionally at Nelly's, though Roger lived in Higgins and thus had a half-hour drive to get home from campus.
Roger took off his jacket and threw it on the padded seat of the booth. Then he sat down and began rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, giving each a couple of turns, revealing nice forearms covered with dark hair.
"So, professor, how've you been?"
"Good, Roger, thanks. How're you?"
Roger ran a hand through his hair. "I'm wiped out, man. I'm the stage manager for the production of Death of a Salesman coming up in a couple of weeks. And nothing's working out right. The director, who shall remain nameless, is an arrogant, demanding bastard. The cast morale is terrible, and that spills over onto the crew." He took a big gulp of his beer and set the bottle down. "But then, that's the theater."
Jake made sympathetic noises and then asked, "This is your senior year, isn't it?"
Roger grinned. "Yeah. There's at least that."
"You haven't been happy here at Colby?"
"No, I didn't mean that, exactly. But I'm looking forward to grad school."
"Where are you going?"
He grinned again. "I'm still waiting to hear from a couple, but I've been admitted to Carnegie Melon already."
"Congratulations! What are the others?"
"Of course not."
"I've applied to UCLA and Yale Drama."
"Wow! You must have good grades."
"Yeah, and I'll have good recs from most of my profs. But I need one from the director I just mentioned, and I don't think I'm gonna get it. The other letters all went in with my applications, but this guy said he'd write my recommendation later, if he felt he could give me one, and I could send it in as a supplement or addendum to the applications."
"So that makes this production pretty important to you, doesn't it?"
They chatted on general topics for a while, and Roger kept drinking.
"Rog, it was great to see you. Break a leg with your show."
Jake looked up to see the couple on their way out. The blond had spoken and given Roger a wave.
"Good seeing you again, Roger," the darker one said.
"Thanks, guys. Take care."
"Now there's a hot couple," Jake said, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Oh, do you know Brody and Dave?"
"No. I just meant they look great. Who are they?"
"The blond's Brody Cox. He's a sophomore here at Colby. He's a local boy. His family has Cox Floral here in town and Petal Pushers in Higgins."
"I don't think I've seen him on campus. If I had I'd have noticed."
"Down, professor, he's taken."
"I didn't mean it that way, Roger. I just meant he's a hunk. And I'm allowed to admire, right?"
"Yeah, we can all do that."
"The other guy is obviously his partner."
"Yeah, that's Dave Cromer. He runs Cromer Landscaping. Excuse me a minute, I'm gonna get another beer. You ready for another?"
Roger returned from the bar with a pitcher and two mugs. As they continued to talk, he drank most of the beer.
"How do you happen to know Cox and Cromer?"
Roger smiled broadly. "Don't wanna kiss n tell, but Brody and I had a few dates about a year ago, before he hooked up with Cromer. Nothing serious, but some really good sex."
"Well," Jake said after a swallow of beer, "I'd say they're pretty much in love."
"Yeah. No question. I envy `em. But they're both great guys, so I'm happy for `em too."
"So what about you? No one to warm your bed at night?"
Roger yawned. "Oh, I get laid once in a while, doc, but there's no point in getting attached. Like I told you, I envy Dave and Brody, but it will be a long time before I have the luxury of a relationship like that. No time for a partner in grad school."
Remembering, Jake said, "Oh, you might meet somebody worth making time for."
"Well, the theater's a risky business. Most likely I'll wind up teaching drama in a high school somewhere. But I'm gonna give it a shot."
Jake raised his mug. "As Brody said . . ."
That sat without saying anything for a few minutes. Roger appeared lost in thought.
Jake was back to people watching. Then he realized that Roger was resting his head on his hand and was practically asleep.
"Rog, I think we'd better get you out of here."
"Huh? Oh, sorry professor. I'm okay." He looked at his watch. "Damn, it's midnight. Guess I'd better hit the road."
"I don't think so."
"You've had way too much beer to be driving. I should have cautioned you a while back. Now I feel responsible."
They had grabbed their coats and stood. Roger wobbled unsteadily.
"Look, I've got an extra bedroom. Why don't you just crash there tonight?"
"Well . . ."
"I assure you I'm not a dirty old man. I'm just offering you a place to spend the night so you won't have to risk having an accident or getting a DUI on your record."
Roger grinned. "Maybe you're right. If you're sure you don't mind."
Jake put his arm around Roger's shoulder. "Then it's settled. Let me have your keys."
Roger's car was a salt-covered Intrigue of an indeterminate color. Jake drove them back to his place and parked in the guest slot next to his car. Roger dozed off in the five or six minutes it took to get there.
Once they were in Jake's condo, Roger seemed to have waked up a bit.
"You know, doc, I wouldn't think you were a dirty old man if you wanted me to sleep in your room."
"Thanks, Rog. I appreciate the offer. But I'm with someone."
"Shit, man! I'm sorry. I've spent the whole evening goin' on about me and haven't even asked what's happenin' in your life."
"We can do that another time. Now, let me show you the guest room and the bathroom."
A little while later, Roger came out of the hall bathroom in his briefs. Jake couldn't help admiring the large bulge in the pouch.
"Could you give me a shout about eight, please, professor? I have a nine o'clock class."
"I think you might as well call me Jake, you know. And, sure, I'll wake you at eight."
* * *
Grant put down his fork. The two were having supper at his house the Friday evening after Roger had spent the night at Jake's. He leaned forward, his green eyes searching Jake's face.
Jake couldn't see Grant's hands, which were in his lap, under the table, but he was sure they were clenched into fists.
"Let me get this straight. You went to a gay bar and picked up a college kid and took him home for the night?"
"Whoa, Jim! You make it sound so tawdry."
"Not at all. I've been going to Nelly's as long as I've lived in Colby. As long as they've been a gay place, actually."
"I can understand that if you're cruising . . ."
"Have you ever been there?"
"Yeah, once, when I was investigating a gay bashing some time back."
"But you've never been there as a, uh, as a patron?"
"Of course not."
"Well, you don't need to sound so superior. It's a nice place. Your tone of voice makes it sound like a den of iniquity. If I didn't know better I'd think I was listening to a homophobe."
"Dammit, Jake. You know better than that."
"Then I don't understand your attitude. On the evenings when I'm at home, I occasionally go to Nelly's for a drink before I turn in. I often see guys I know and we visit a while. Then I go home and go to bed. What's wrong with that?"
"Well, nothing, I guess, if that's all that happens."
"Nothing happened. The kid was tired, he'd had too many beers, and I didn't want him driving to Higgins. Didn't want him driving anywhere, for that matter. So I let him sleep at my place, gave him breakfast the next morning, and sent him on his way."
"What would the authorities at the University say if they knew you'd taken a student home for the night?"
"God dammit, Jake! It would be none of their fucking business. It wasn't improper fraternization or anything like that. He and I didn't have sex. We didn't sit and watch television even. I showed him where the bedroom and bathroom were and then went to my lonely bed. A bed where you could have been if you'd wanted to be."
"Sounds innocent enough."
"Well, thanks a whole fuckin' bunch. It was innocent. Oh, well, he did offer to sleep with me."
"Yep. And I told him I wasn't interested, that I was with someone."
"Is that what you actually said?"
"Sounds more like an obligation than anything you are enjoying: being `with someone'."
Jake stood. "Jim, you seem determined to see this in a bad light. This jealousy is a real turnoff. I thought you'd have trusted me by now. You obviously don't. So let me say it as clearly as I can. Nothing happened between the boy and me. I wasn't even tempted. But let me point out something else. You should have been at Nelly's with me. None of this would have happened if you weren't so goddamned afraid of being seen in public with me. You claim to love me. But you're ashamed of me. Or so worried about your fucking job that you don't want to admit how you really feel about me."
"Jake, I, uh, . . ."
"You don't need to explain. You don't have the guts to come out. I love you, but I just can't keep on like this. I hate sneaking around. I have to tell people like Roger and Adrian that I've got a guy in my life, but I'm not allowed to say who he is. If I want to see you, I have to come here. I admit it's wonderful when I get here. The time we have together is very special. But keeping it secret is so tawdry. I feel as if I'm the `other woman,' your whore that you have to keep hidden away so your marriage won't break up. Except in this case your wife is your job."
"Baby, I'm so sorry. But you know what my job is like."
Grant looked stricken, and Jake almost relented, almost sat down again. But he didn't.
"No, I don't, really. All I know is what you tell me. And in this day and age, I can't imagine why you can't sleep with someone who's unattached without its affecting your job. Now, I'm going home. I'm sorry. I love you, but right now I need some time to reassess. I'll call you."
* * *
A few days later, Jake called Grant.
"Are you okay, Jim?"
"No. I miss you."
"I miss you, too. How are you?"
"As I just said, I miss you." There was an awkward pause. "I'm calling because I wondered if you'd like to see the Theater Department's production of Death of a Salesman."
"Yeah, I would. Powerful play." He paused. "Wait a minute, this wouldn't have anything to do with that twinky you took home, would it? Didn't you say he was a theater major?"
Repressing the urge to swear, Jake said, "No, it wouldn't. Roger's the stage manager of the production, but I'd forgotten all about that until Digby asked if you and I would like to see it with him and Tyrese."
"Oh." That was all. Just "Oh."
The pause on the line grew longer and longer. Finally, Jake said, "Oh what? Oh, you don't want to go? Oh, you'd love to go? What, Grant, for God's sake?"
He could hear Grant's sigh.
"You know, you're turning into a drama queen. Yes, I'd like to see the production. But it's a little soon for us to be seen sitting together again. Maybe I'd better get a ticket in another part of the theater. Then, if you like, I could spend the night at your place."
`"If you like."' `Damn,' Jake thought, `he's acting like it's a concession.'
"No, if you are ashamed to be seen with me, I don't want you to come to me afterward. I just can't live like that."
A long pause. Then: "Oh, well, if that's the way you feel. Thanks for the invitation, anyway."
Jake practically sobbed. "Jesus, Jim."
* * *
"So, Jakey," Digby asked, "how do things stand between you and Captain Grant?"
The two were having supper at Jake's.
"We're at an impasse, I'm afraid. I told him I couldn't go on pretending we didn't know each other in public, and by his lack of response I can only assume he's not willing to be seen with me."
Digby put some apple butter on a biscuit. "I suppose you realize that coming out for a cop is different than coming out for a professor."
"I didn't expect you to take his side, Digs."
"Come on, honey. Use your finely trained mind. Be objective for a minute. We're lucky, you and me. A university in the north is a fairly safe haven for us queers. But your man works in a totally different environment. It's a macho world. No room for weaklings, sissies, or fags."
"But he works for the county. And the county has a non-discrimination policy in effect for all its employees. It's fairly general knowledge that the two top men in the Public Information Office are gay. And they both live with their male partners."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all that. But you aren't listenin'. County policy don't have nothin' to do with it, babe. Your Cap'n Grant has to work all day, five days a week, with big, tough white boys that think gays are an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. He'd lose all that respect he's built up over a lifetime if he came out."
Jake sometimes wondered whom he was with when Digby was around.
"Surely not! He's entitled to that respect. He's received all sorts of commendations for his work. Everybody on the Force knows that he's gutsy and smart. His record speaks for itself."
Digby shook his head. "It's more a question of `what have you done for me lately.' His record won't mean much if he lets folks know he plays for our team."
"Well, I still think if he really loved me, he'd do it."
"Listen to yourself, baby. Listen to what you're sayin'. You're askin' that man to give up everthin' he's worked for all his life so he can be with you. You know I love you, Jake, but that's pretty prideful. Ask yourself this: are you worth it?"
"Damn, Digs, I thought you were my friend."
"Oh, I am. You can come back to my bed anytime, sugar. And if you have a hankerin' to try bein' partners again, I'm willin'. I jus' think you need to take a good long look in the mirrah."
Jake stood up, went to the counter, and came back with the coffee pot. He refilled both their cups. Then he set pieces of cherry pie at each place.
"Okay, if you say so. I'll think about it. Maybe I am being unreasonable."
Digby stood and went to the refrigerator. "Got any ice cream in here? Cherry pie's no good without ice cream."
"I dunno. There's some Reddi Whip in the fridge if you want."
But Digby found a carton of vanilla and spooned some onto his pie. "You want some?"
"You know I talked with Adrian yesterday."
"What's up with him?"
"They're having a Valentine's Day party. Pinky insists on doing it at his place this time, he said. You'll get an invite soon."
Sure enough, the next day Tom Nielsen called and invited Jake to the party.
"Adrian says you have a mystery boyfriend. You're welcome to bring him along. We're all dying to know who it is."
"Thanks, Tom. I'd love to come. You can put me down as a definite yes. I don't think I'll be bringing a guest, but I'll check. If he says yes, I'll get back to you. Okay?"
"Don't bother. You're welcome with or without Mr. Mysterious."
After they hung up, Jake punched Grant's number on his speed dial.
"This is Grant."
"Oh, hi, Jake. How are you?" Grant sounded concerned.
"I'm fine, I guess. I'm calling to relay an invitation."
"Yeah. Tom Nielsen just called. He and Adrian are having a Valentine's Day party at his house. You and I are invited."
"I'm invited as your guest, I suppose. I hope he didn't invite me by name."
"Of course not. I haven't told anyone about us."
"It isn't a costume party, is it?"
"I don't think so."
"Then you know I can't come. But thanks for calling. I miss you, you know."
"Uh huh. I miss you, too. How are you doing?"
"As well as could be expected in view of the fact that the man I love is avoiding me."
"You know why, don't you?"
Grant sighed. "Yeah, babe, I know. I just hope you understand where I'm coming from."
"We've been through all this before. Do you mind if I go to the party without you?"
"No, go ahead. Have fun. I really wish I could be there with you."
"Yeah, sure. Bye."
"Take care of yourself."
"Yeah, you, too, Jimmy."
* * *
Digby invited Jake to go to the party with him and Tyrese, but Jake declined. That way, he said, he could leave whenever he wanted.
He enjoyed the affair. He was able to chat with a score of friends during the course of the evening, people he knew and liked but didn't see often enough. It was a diverse group, and their paths didn't cross much except at events like this one.
Toby Taba introduced him to his partner, Ben Moss, who, though a hunk, seemed rather shy. The body language between the two made it clear, however, that Ben and Toby were very much in love. Ben introduced him to Kris Anders and his partner Trent something or other, who was a nurse somewhere. Anders looked a lot like Ben, and Trent was shorter, like Toby. The two tall blonds both seemed to have a preference for shorter men.
Jake was grilled politely by Adrian Lynch, who was curious about Jake's mystery man. When Jake explained that they were going through a rough patch, however, Lynch had the tact to change the subject.
The couple he'd watched at Nelly's the evening he'd spent there with Roger Norton were also there, and he was able to chat with them for a while. Brody Cox, he learned, was an ex-Marine who'd been in Iraq. Now he was studying landscape architecture so he could be of help to Dave Cromer in his landscaping business. Surrounded as he was by great-looking men who he knew were gay, it was thinking of Brody and David in bed together that gave Jake an erection.
He did leave before Digby and Tyrese. It was snowing as he walked the few blocks back to his condo, which seemed cold and empty when he got there. `At least Jim's got Archie to greet him when he comes in,' he thought. Once he was naked and in bed, still partly hard from the image of Cox and Cromer together, he thought of masturbating. But he felt so much alone that he lost the urge.
Sleep that night was a long time coming.
To Be Continued
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