by Tim Mead
After Labor Day, with the high school and CSU guys back in school, there were fewer men to do the work. So it was the year-round crew who had to keep on taking care of people's yards. Dave usually arranged it so that they weren't doing any major landscaping jobs in September, figuring the fall planting would be fine in October, but the grass wouldn't be growing much by then. Some days in September, though, Joe had to go cut grass by himself. Not that he minded. He enjoyed getting out of the shop and doing something with his hands and his back for a change.
He went home to Bryant one Sunday in September to have dinner with his mother and Kevin, which went pleasantly. She wanted to know all about his recent weekend with his Cousin Bill. Joe gave her a severely edited version of their time together. She wasn't very happy that Bill had loaned Joe the money for the computer, but Kevin defended him by saying, "Bill wouldn't have offered if he couldn't afford it. And I'm sure Joe will pay him back in a timely manner. So I don't see any problem." Betsy appeared mollified. "But," Kevin continued, "I'd have been willing to do the same, Joe. It never occurred to me that you wouldn't have a computer."
Joe thanked him. He'd been naturally suspicious of Kevin at first, as he probably would have been of anyone his mother was "dating," but he was beginning to like and trust the veterinarian. He was glad his mother had found a good man. She deserved to be happy, and Kevin, it seemed, would see to that.
* * *
One rainy Wednesday Joe was at the computer in the office when he heard someone come into the shop. He got up and went to see who it was.
Dave Cromer was using his fingers to plane the water from his hair. He was wearing khakis that were soaked from cuffs to knees, loafers, and a windbreaker that was soaked through at the shoulders.
"Man, it must be raining a lot harder out there than it was when I came in!" Joe said, commiserating with his boss.
"Yeah," Dave said. "I'm gonna get some paper towels. Be back in a minute." He came into the office, took off his jacket, and dried off his head and hands with the paper towels.
Joe couldn't help wondering why Dave had come out on this messy morning when he could have passed on any information or asked a question over the phone.
Dave gestured for Joe to sit behind the desk, taking the only other chair in the tiny office himself. It seemed odd to Joe to be in the "power chair" while Dave took the other one. But that was typical of Dave, who was always sensitive to people's feelings.
Dave's eyes lit up. "He's just fine, thanks. I think he's in a botany lecture as we speak."
`Better him than me,' Joe thought, but he didn't think he should say that.
"How are you doing, Joe? Everything okay? How was your Labor Day? Didn't you say you had a relative in town?"
"I'm great, thanks. Everything's okay. And, yeah, my Cousin Bill was here. We hadn't seen each other in a long time, so we had a great time catching up."
Dave asked a few questions about Bill. Then he stood up. "Is the coffee here as bad as ever?"
"I think mine's a little better than Ed's. But I don't make any promises. It's not Dunkin Donuts'."
"Let's have a cup."
Joe didn't really want any, but he agreed to another. And on that wet, chilly morning, it felt good to have something warm in his stomach.
"Joe, I'm here for two reasons."
Joe leaned forward, putting both hands around the mug on his desk. "Okay." He raised his eyebrows.
Dave frowned. Then the corners of his mouth twitched and the skin by his eyes crinkled, as if he was suppressing a smile.
"First, I found a used condom in the waste basket in this office one afternoon recently. Now don't misunderstand, I don't make a point of coming over here and searching the place. It's not like I'm spying on you or don't trust you. I'd just mislaid a folder, couldn't find it anywhere, and stopped in to see if I'd left it here on the desk or the file cabinet. And there was the rubber, in plain sight."
`Oh, fuck!' Joe groaned inwardly. He had fucked Jeff that morning. Then Jeff had gone back to the garage and he'd gone out that afternoon to do lawns. He'd meant to throw the condom down the toilet before he left but had forgotten to do so. `Fuck, fuck, fuck!'
Dave's face was once more composed. He looked sternly at Joe and said, "Now someone who has access to this office has been having sex in here. At least I presume it was in here and not out in the shop. I can't imagine who would do something that risky. What if someone had walked in? It would certainly be embarrassing to the individuals and to the company. Wouldn't it?"
"I, um, well . . ." Joe swallowed. He knew he and Jeff were risking getting caught, but Karensky was pushy and Joe had to admit that he'd gotten an extra thrill from the slim chance that they'd be discovered. He remembered that Justin and Todd had been reprimanded by Dave the previous summer for doing something of the sort.
"I'm sure in your capacity of crew supervisor, you'll see that nothing like that happens here again, won't you?"
Joe nodded. "Yeah, Dave, I sure will. I'll put a stop to it."
Dave grinned. "Good man! Now. The other reason I'm here is to see if you're free this Saturday afternoon and evening."
Joe had been almost dizzy from worry. He'd felt the way he had when the baseball coach had yelled at him for screwing up in the field back in high school. Greatly relieved now, he said, "Yeah, I am. What's happenin'?"
"CSU is playing Kent State. Brody and I have four tickets, so we'd like you to come along if you're interested. And then we'll go back to our place for lasagna."
Joe hadn't seen Colby play football since the fall he was enrolled at the university.
"That sounds great, Dave. It's nice of you and Brody to include me."
"Well, now that the Hammers aren't playing anymore, I seldom see you, and Brody says he never does. So it will be good to get together." He paused. "Besides, there's someone we want you to meet."
`Someone they want me to meet? What's that all about? What should I say? Should I act curious or just try to give the impression that it's cool?'
"You did tell me you'd never met Micah Sutton, didn't you?"
"Micah Sutton?" Why was that name familiar?
"Yeah, you know, the guy I was having dinner with at Applebee's that day."
"Oh him! Sure. I'd like to meet him." He guessed he'd like to meet him. Hadn't gotten a very good look at him in the restaurant, but from a distance he seemed pretty ordinary. Still, if he was a friend of Dave's and Brody's, he was probably a good guy. He wondered if Micah was gay.
* * *
The next evening Jeff Karensky called Joe at home.
"Hey, stud, it's been awhile."
"Yeah, about a week. You okay?"
"No, man, I'm horny! You gonna be at the shop tomorrow? I could probably get away from the garage for a bit."
"I'll be there, but you'd better not come around."
"Whatsa matter, Hill? You got a new boyfriend?"
"I don't have a boyfriend."
"Shit," Jeff said, "you mean I'm not your guy?"
"Come on, man. We're just buddies, right? No way are we boyfriends. Besides, that word is so . . . gay."
Jeff laughed. "And we're not gay?"
"Okay, I get your point. But we've got to quit foolin' around at the shop."
"Because Dave found a used rubber in the trash can."
"Well, the last time I was there, you were the one wearing the rubber."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I meant to fish it out of there later and flush it, but I got busy and forgot."
"So it's not my fault."
"Nobody said it was. But Dave made it pretty clear he doesn't want any more hanky-panky going on in the office."
"Did he chew you out?"
"Nope. He never actually let on he thought I was involved. Just said I should find out who did it and make sure they don't do it any more. He said it would be embarrassing to the company if anyone got caught having sex in the office. He must've known I was involved. He could have torn me a new one, but he didn't. And he's right."
"Fuck, Joe! I kind of liked our sessions in the office."
"Me, too. But I'm not gonna risk my job. I don't know what I'd do if Dave fired me. Besides, he's too good a guy. I wouldn't want to piss him off. You know, after talking about the rubber, he invited me to his house."
"For a fuck?"
"No, asshole, for dinner."
"No shit? That is decent. So, what say we get together this weekend? What you doin' Saturday?"
"That's when I'm gonna be at Dave's. I don't have anything goin' on tomorrow, though, and I don't have to work Saturday morning. Wanna come over?"
"My bed's bigger. Why don't you come here? In fact, why don't we grab some supper first?"
They agreed to meet the next evening at a Wendy's near Jeff's place in Colby and then go back there afterward.
* * *
They rushed through their burgers so they could get back to the mechanic's apartment and fuck. Jeff was good natured, but he wasn't into foreplay. Their sex had, as usual, been energetic, almost frantic.
At about 9:30 they'd paused for a beer. Jeff turned on the TV and they sat side by side on the sofa watching the last inning of a Tiger's game. When it was over, Jeff grabbed Joe's cock and asked, "You ready to go again?"
They went again, a little more slowly this time, but still without gentleness or subtlety. Jeff loved sex, but enthusiasm seemed the only emotion he was capable of expressing as they were doing it.
Joe left Jeff's place around midnight. As he drove back to Higgins, he couldn't help comparing his evening with Jeff and the weekend when Bill had been there. What a contrast! Jeff was a nice enough guy, but Bill was different. Not just in the slower, more gentle and caring way he had during sex, but he seemed to know things. `Well, of course he does. He's smart. And educated.' But it was more than that. He understood things. Understood people.
`Careful, Hill, you can't have a crush on your cousin! But he did say to keep looking, that you'd find somebody. Didn't he?'
* * *
Joe slept a little late on Saturday morning, but was up in time to work with his free weights, do some grocery shopping, and his laundry.
It was the coolest day they'd had in September, so for the game he pulled on a old but still serviceable sweater over a decent shirt. He figured he could take off the pullover when they got back to Dave and Brody's place if it was too warm.
He was to meet Dave, Brody, and Micah Sutton outside Cougar Stadium. He put a 12 pack of Sam Adams on the seat of his truck, since his hosts were supplying not only game tickets but dinner.
Both Dave and Brody were wearing black and gold CSU Cougars sweatshirts and jeans. Sutton, wearing a nondescript gray sweatshirt, seemed dwarfed by Brody and Dave. He couldn't have been more than 5'8" tall. He was thinnish, with curly brown hair. But Joe noticed his hazel eyes, which were his best feature – if you didn't count the nice bulge in the front of his jeans.
Micah seemed shy at first, though he had a nice smile and a cool, dry, firm handshake.
Joe was sure he had seen the guy somewhere before. Well, he knew he'd seen him across the restaurant at Applebee's that day, but he couldn't escape the sense that they'd met when Dave wasn't around.
Dave (or Brody) had gotten good tickets. They were on one of the 45 yard lines about 25 rows up. The Cougar band was doing its pre-game show when they found their seats. The band had new uniforms this year. Although the school colors were black and gold, the uniforms were white, with lots of gold braid. The only black was at the cuffs of the jackets and a stripe down the pants legs.
Joe found himself sitting between Brody and Micah. Dave was to Brody's left. He worried about what he and Micah might talk about during the game since he'd never been good at making small talk. As it turned out, there was little chance to visit. It was a close, exciting game. Rumor had it that the Cougars were going to have their best team in years, but on that day Kent State's Golden Flashes gave them a spirited battle. They spent much of the game on their feet as the score see-sawed back and forth.
Joe learned that Micah, though apparently not a talkative sort, did know his football. And that he had a heart-melting, prick-raising smile. Ordinary looking at first glance, he became compellingly attractive when he laughed or grinned.
Both bands performed at halftime, so there was no chance to get to know Micah better then, either.
When the Cougar band had left the field after, as usual, allowing the guest band to perform first, Brody invited Joe to come with him to get coffee.
"We're having a big supper, so let's not load up on snacks, okay?"
"Fine by me," Joe said. "But what about Micah? He looks as if he needs feedin'."
Brody laughed. "Don't worry about him. He eats like a cormorant. He's just blessed with the kind of metabolism that keeps him thin."
Joe wondered what a cormorant was. "I'm looking forward to getting to know him. I'd swear I've met him before somewhere, but I just can't remember where."
"You'll like him, I think."
During the second half he and the other guys still didn't have a chance to talk much. From time to time, though, when good things were happening for Colby State on the field, Micah would look at Joe, smile, and they'd high five. When that happened Joe found himself strangely out of breath.
After the game, which the Cougars won by a field goal, Dave said, "Joe, Micah's truck is at our house. Why don't you give him a lift?"
Joe glanced at Micah and smiled. "Sure." `So Micah has a truck. Okay. Though these days that doesn't tell me much.'
Not a lot was said as they went with the crowd to the parking lot and hiked to where Joe had parked his truck.
When they got to the truck, the 12 pack was in the passenger seat.
"Oh, sorry. Throw the beer in the bed till we get to Dave's."
"No problem. It might slide around back there. I'll just put it on the floor between my feet."
"Sure you don't mind?"
Joe had noticed that Micah's sneaker-shod feet were a bit on the large side for a little skinny guy. He wondered if what they said was true about shoe size and cock size.
Once he'd waited in line to get out of the parking lot and had pulled onto the highway, he glanced to his right and said, "Micah, do we know each other from somewhere?"
"I thought so! Problem is, well, I'm embarrassed to say, but I can't remember where. Were we introduced?"
"Nope. Not introduced. But we've talked."
Wondering why Micah was being so terse, he looked to his right. The guy was grinning.
"You really don't remember, do you?"
"Like I said, I'm sure we've met. So, are you gonna make me feel even worse, or are you gonna tell me?"
"Did you get your landlady's hall painted?"
And then it came to him. If he hadn't been driving, he'd have smacked himself on the forehead. Micah was the guy who'd helped him in Home Depot that day, the one who gave him advice about paintbrushes and roller covers. The one with the ass he'd wanted to just dive into and start eating. Maybe if he'd seen that tight little butt first, he'd have remembered.
"Oh, fuck! In the paint department. That was you!"
"Uh huh. That was me."
Embarrassed that Micah had remembered him and he hadn't remembered Micah, he went back to the little guy's question. "Yeah, I got the hall painted. Thanks for the advice. Miz Brill was happy with the results."
Micah's response was, "That's good."
After that they drove on in silence. Joe wanted to be sociable, but he felt awkward about asking Micah questions. He'd never been good at the getting-to-know-you routine.
When they arrived at Dave and Brody's house, he pulled in behind what he guessed was Micah's truck, a gray Ford van which was parked to one side of the double drive so as not to block it. He and Micah had just gotten out of the car when the garage door went up and Dave's SUV pulled into the driveway. He took the beer from Micah and they stood aside so that Dave could garage his vehicle.
"Hey, guys, hope you haven't been waiting long. We ran into some friends in the stadium parking lot and stopped to chat for a moment. Come on in!"
They went into the house through the garage, Brody pushing the button to close the overhead door as he followed the others into the house.
"If anybody needs to use the facilities, you've been here before, so help yourselves. If not, have a seat in the family room," Dave said. "I'm gonna put the oven on."
Joe set the beer on a kitchen counter and headed off for the guest bathroom. When he got back, Brody said, "We've got red wine and cold beer, Joe, unless you'd like something stronger."
"Um, wine sounds good, Brody, thanks."
Soon they were all sitting in the family room. Brody put a tray with peanuts, crackers, and onion dip on the coffee table. Joe noticed that Micah, like Dave, was having beer, while Brody opted for the wine.
They chatted about the game for a while. Dave, the only one of the four who'd graduated from CSU, told some stories about memorable CSU/KSU games from his student days. When something beeped in the kitchen, he excused himself. "Be right back. Gotta put the lasagna in the oven."
Returning a couple of minutes later, he said, "Joe, Micah's a really talented guy. He makes fine furniture."
"He does?" Joe had never known anyone who made furniture. He had assumed it all came from factories in Michigan or North Carolina or someplace.
"Yeah," Brody said. "See our new entertainment center over there?" he asked, gesturing toward it. "That's his work. He made it to our specifications, but neither of us had any idea how beautifully it would turn out."
On the wall opposite the sofa was a big flat-screen TV. Under it was an eight-foot cherry unit that had both open shelves and some doors behind which Joe assumed they could store CDs, DVDs and the like.
"Okay if I take a closer look?"
He got up, went over to the object in question and squatted down to examine it. He ran his hands along it to feel how smooth it was. And he studied the way the reddish-brown grain of the wood had been matched on the doors. The wood didn't have a high shine; it was more like an eggshell luster.
"Man!" He looked at Micah. "You did this? All by yourself?"
The others chuckled.
"Yep," Micah said. "All by myself."
Joe noticed that Micah's ears were bright red. Apparently when he blushed it showed up only in his ears.
"This is, well, it's really beautiful!" `And,' Joe thought, 'that explains why he had stain and stuff in his cart at the DIY store.' "It must take a long time to make something this nice."
He went back to the sofa, which he'd been sharing with Micah, and sat down.
"It does take a long time. So long that I can't make a living as a furniture maker."
"You have another job?"
"Yeah, I work for Colby Kitchen and Bath and make my stuff weekends and evenings."
"Micah," Dave said, "maybe you should get some help."
"I've been looking. There are a lot of carpenters and joiners, but no really good woodworkers available around here."
The subject drifted.
Later, at the dinner table, Joe asked, "Where did you learn how to make stuff like that?"
"I grew up near Millersburg, where there are a lot of Amish cabinet and furniture makers. They usually keep their skills pretty much to themselves, but one of them, a neighbor who didn't have any kids, took me on as an apprentice and taught me all I know."
As the dinner conversation went on, Joe learned that Micah and Dave were the same age, three years older than him and Brody and that Dave had first met Micah at church.
"So, Micah," Brody asked, "you knew Dave when he was married?"
"Were you surprised when he wound up, well, with a guy?"
Micah glanced at Dave and gave him a little smile before answering. "Not really. I figured he was family all along."
"You did not!" Dave exclaimed.
Brody chuckled. "Relax, David. You fooled everybody else in Colby County. Including me. Micah must have exceptionally good gaydar."
"I've never thought so, but it was working with Dave. I remember wondering how he could be happy married, even though his wife was, er, is a very nice person."
Micah helped himself to a handful of peanuts – perhaps, Joe thought, to cover his embarrassment.
"You know," Dave commented a few minutes later, "I'm surprised you two have never met. Joe's been in town four years and has worked for Dad and me for three and a half of them."
Micah shrugged. "Well, except for church I don't get out much."
"Joe," Brody asked, "do you go to church anywhere?"
"Not since I left home," Joe replied.
"I'm not much of a church-goer myself," Brody said. "We'll have to get these guys to pray for us." He grinned at Joe.
Dave then proceeded to tell Micah that Joe was from Bryant, that he'd attended CSU "for a while" and that he'd recently been promoted to crew foreman.
"And not because he's gay, either," Brody said, grinning.
"Indeed not!" Dave said. "In fact, I don't think Joe had come out yet when I decided he was the guy to take Ed's job."
"Diplomatically put," Brody said. He looked at Joe and winked. "But we were both pretty sure he was family, weren't we?"
"You were?" Joe asked. "I thought I was being as inconspicuous as possible."
"Dude," Brody said, `nobody who looks like you can be inconspicuous. I think all the women and ten percent of the men in town salivate when they look at you." He turned to Micah. "Don't you agree?"
Acutely embarrassed, Joe didn't know what to say. Across the table Micah, too, looked uncomfortable, as if he knew what Joe was feeling.
"Come on, Brody. Don't put the guy on the spot like that. Let's change the subject, please!"
"Sorry, guys," Brody said. "Didn't mean to embarrass anybody."
After supper they decided to save dessert for later and returned to the family room where Dave turned on the TV. Notre Dame was playing a team from the West Coast.
Joe had seen big flat-screen TVs in stores before, but he'd never had a chance to watch a program on one. He was amazed at the clarity of the picture and at the size of the images. He almost felt like ducking sometimes when it seemed that one of the players was going to come out of the screen into the room.
The guys had all kicked off their shoes and were relaxed and comfortable. It had been a filling meal, with warm, crusty Italian bread and Caesar salads to go with the lasagna. Joe didn't know when he'd felt more at home. Here he was with three other gay men, all friendly and fun to be with. This was the way it should be! Nice, too, that here in their home Brody and Dave were so openly lovers. He could tell by the way they looked at each other, by their occasional touches, that they really cared for each other.
They were both hunks, too, a couple of the best-looking men in town in Joe's opinion.
And then there was the new guy. Micah wasn't spectacular looking like Brody and Dave, but he had nice eyes, and his smile, though rare, was sweet. `Funny thing to call a guy, but sweet's the word for that smile.' Joe felt an urge just to hug the smaller man and envisioned the two of them lying in bed cuddling. As his mind wandered away from the game, Joe stole glances at Micah, whose thin body was surprisingly attractive. And then of course, there was the ass to die for.
He uncrossed his legs, adjusting his growing log, and left his legs spread apart. As he did so he glanced at Micah, who, he was embarrassed to discover, was looking back at him. Joe thought he saw a hint of a smile, but it disappeared quickly as Micah looked once more at the TV. Joe hurriedly re-crossed his legs.
When the game ended, Brody got to his feet and asked who wanted brownies and ice cream. The recent meal forgotten, everyone enthusiastically said "yes."
Micah offered to help Brody in the kitchen. While they were out of the room, Joe summoned up the courage to ask the question that had been nagging at him all afternoon and evening.
"Um, Dave?" he asked softly.
"Is this a, well, um, are you and Brody trying to do some matchmaking?"
The usually in-command Dave seemed embarrassed. "Yes, I suppose so, in a way. We just know that you're both alone, you're both great guys, and we thought we should introduce you. What happens from here on out is up to you."
"What makes you think he'd be interested in me?"
"You mean apart from the obvious?"
"Come on, Joe. Your looks."
"Oh, that. But I'm really pretty dull."
"Are you turned off by Micah's looks?"
"Do you think Micah's dull?"
"No. I'd like to know more about him."
"And I suspect he'd like to know you better, too."
They were interrupted when Brody and Micah returned with brownies a la mode and coffee.
About 11:00 Micah rose and said he thought he should go.
"Well, I have you blocked in," Joe said, "so I'll be on my way, too."
Micah and Joe thanked their hosts for the game, the dinner, and the evening.
As they were leaving both Micah and Joe were hugged by Dave and Brody.
While Brody was hugging Micah, Dave whispered in Joe's ear, "He's a good man, Joe."
There was a moment of awkwardness in the driveway until Micah put out his hand and said, "It's been nice meeting you, Joe."
Joe shook his hand and said, "Yeah, Micah, same here."
He mentally kicked himself all the way home for not suggesting they get together. `Nothing wrong with grabbing a pizza or a beer with the guy sometime. Maybe I should ask Dave for Micah's number.'
When he got out of his truck he noticed the temperature had gone from cool to cold. Fall was definitely in the air.
To Be Continued
Big hugs to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey for all kinds of editorial advice and encouragement.
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you email me, please put the story title in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim