by Tim Mead
Two weeks and a day after the Saturday he'd spent with Dave, Brody, and Micah, Joe was having his customary Sunday dinner at Applebee's. He'd given the server his order.
As he waited for his food, his thoughts went back over recent days.
Toward the end of the week following supper at the Cromer/Cox household, he'd been tempted to call Micah and see if he wanted to get together and do something. But he wasn't sure whether the hot little guy even liked him. He'd thought there'd been some vibes, but he wasn't sure. And maybe, if there had been, Micah would call him.
But that hadn't happened, and Joe had another lonely weekend.
What he had done, though, was to email Bill, telling him about Micah, about how attracted he'd been, how unsure he'd been of Micah's feelings toward him. Bill had replied saying, essentially "Go for it!"
"After all," he'd written, "the worst thing that can happen is that he'll say `no.' But if he does, he's a damn fool. You're sexy as hell, cousin, and a sweet guy, too. Chances are he's home wishing you'd get in touch with him. Besides, even if you two don't wind up in bed, maybe he'd like to have a friend, and I'll bet you would, too."
Good advice, maybe, but he hadn't taken it. And now, a week later, he was into the second day of another lonely weekend. He might have gone home for Sunday dinner, but since Kevin had arrived on the scene, he wasn't sure his mother would have been all that pleased.
No, that wasn't fair. He knew she'd be happy to have him at home. But Joe didn't want to cut into her weekend time with the veterinarian. He was happy she'd found Kevin. It seemed strange to think of having a stepfather after all these years of being "the man" in the family, but he liked Kevin and liked even more his mother's obvious happiness. From things his mother was saying, a proposal wasn't far off. Thus he had decided to stay out of the way and let their romance blossom.
So this had been another empty weekend for Joe.
He had arrived at the restaurant in advance of the after-church crowd and had been shown to a booth which could seat four. But then people had begun streaming in. Across the aisle from the booths were tables for two. Soon most of them were occupied as well.
Joe was idly using his straw to stir the ice in his water when the hostess seated a guy at the table across the aisle. She told him the server would be right with him and scurried back to her podium. Joe was about to give the guy the once-over when he found himself staring into blue eyes. Quickly averting his glance, he went back to stirring his ice.
The server showed up and asked Blue Eyes for his drink order. He requested chardonnay.
`Damn,' Joe thought. `Wine sounds good. Wish I'd asked for some.'
Trying not to be too obvious, he managed to steal quick looks across the aisle. Judging from his eyebrows, Joe decided the guy had medium to light brown hair, but the shaggy hair-do had blond highlights.
It was difficult to be sure while the guy was sitting, but he looked to be about 5'10" or so. He had on jeans that were old, soft, and faded, the kind that look as if they've been painted on. But the maroon sweater he wore had probably cost $200. And his sneakers Joe recognized as being way more than he could ever afford.
`Not my type,' Joe thought. `Rich kid. Probably at Colby State. Thinks he's hot shit.'
The server brought Joe's steak and turned to take Rich Kid's order. Joe almost whimpered when he looked at the server's ass. `Where do they get these guys?' he wondered. `Do they all have to be hot to work here?'
He'd just sprinkled some Worcestershire sauce on his steak and was cutting his first bite when a body slid into his booth. He looked up, startled. It was Blue-Eyed Rich Kid.
"Hi, I'm Bernie Caldwell. Bernard Jamison Caldwell, to be exact. And you're Joe Hill, aren't you?" He held his hand across the table.
As Joe shook the proffered hand, the guy continued, "I hope you don't mind. I told Caleb, our server, that I'd be sitting here."
"Well, I, uh – "
"I just thought it was a chance for us to get to know each other."
"But – "
"Come on, dude. I know I come on a bit strong sometimes, but what harm is there in us having dinner together? I'm sure Applebee's is glad to have the extra table."
Finally collecting his thoughts, Joe grinned and said, "No, man, it's okay. You just took me by surprise, that's all."
Bernie's smile was dazzling. "There we go!"
Just then Caleb reappeared. "I'll have whatever he's having," Bernie said. "Joe, you really should have some wine with that steak. You do drink wine, don't you? Caleb, bring the man some cabernet, please. And since I'm having steak, take this back and bring me cab, too."
"Uh, I'll have to charge you for both the white and the red," Caleb said, looking embarrassed.
Bernie took a roll from Joe's plate and said, "I'm starved. Didn't have breakfast. You don't mind do you? I'll return the roll when Caleb brings me mine. He's a hunk, isn't he?"
Joe grinned. "Dude, slow down. Take a breath. Do you talk like that all the time?"
Bernie returned the grin. "Only when I'm nervous."
"And why are you nervous? It seems to me it would take a lot of confidence to do what you've just done."
Taking a deep breath and expelling it, Bernie said, "Yeah, I'm usually pretty sure of myself. But this little stunt is out of the ordinary even for me. After all, you could have taken me outside and beaten the shit out of me."
"Not my style, man."
Again the dazzling smile from Bernie. "That's good. Because when we're finished here, I want you to come back to my place."
Joe shook his head. This guy was definitely a new experience. "And why should I do that?"
"Because I want you to fuck my brains out." He raised an eyebrow. "Unless you'd rather have me fuck you."
Joe had been hit on often enough by females, but except for Jeff never by a guy, and certainly never like this. He shook his head and said, "Man, you've got big ones."
Bernard Jamison Caldwell grinned, leaned forward, and said, "As a matter of fact, I do."
Joe barked out a laugh, causing people at nearby tables to stare at them. Bernie sat there looking pleased with himself.
"Is this going to cost me?"
Bernie put on a mock tragic face and clasped his hands to his chest. "I'm wounded! How could you think that? Do I look like a hustler?"
"Fuck, man, I don't know if I've ever seen a hustler. But if you aren't, I, uh, well – "
"Chill, stud. I just thought we might have a little Sunday afternoon sex."
And, though Joe had misgivings at first, that's exactly what they did.
Saying that his roommate was out of town visiting his girlfriend for the weekend, Bernie took Joe back to his apartment, which was not far from the CSU campus. Joe was impressed that a couple of college guys could live that well, but then he'd assumed from first laying eyes on the guy that Bernie didn't have any money problems.
"Would you like anything to eat or drink?" Bernie asked.
"No, man, we just left the restaurant."
"I know. But Mother would be unhappy if I didn't offer you something."
Joe wondered how Bernie's mother would feel about what her son was really offering.
Bernie took charge right away. There was no great rush to remove their clothes and get down to business, but he didn't dawdle either. He didn't skip foreplay. In fact the made quite a point of Joe playing with his ass.
It turned out that he was what Joe thought of as a bossy bottom.
When it was all over, however, Joe felt relaxed and sated. Bernie had a talented ass. He knew exactly what he wanted, exactly how to please his partner.
`That was fun,' Joe thought as he got dressed and ready to leave. Bernie was somewhere between Bill's slow, tender lovemaking and Jeff's more urgent approach. The sex was hot, and truthfully, the thought of being wanted so much by a total stranger made it even hotter.
"Maybe we can do this again sometime. Are you in the book?" he asked. "Maybe I can give you a call."
"You don't need that," Bernie said, shrugging. "It was only sex. Maybe I'll see you around. Maybe not."
That stung at first. As he drove home, however, he decided Bernie was right. Good sex. But just sex. No other emotions involved, really. And it wasn't as if he and Bernard Jamison Caldwell had anything in common.
Then he wondered how Bernie had known his name back there in Applebee's.
* * *
The following Wednesday Joe worked with a crew doing the landscaping for a new home in Colby. As they were putting their tools back into the truck, Dave, who'd arrived just in time to check on their progress and make sure everything was as it should be, pulled Joe aside.
"I've got a Chamber of Commerce supper tonight. Brody's gonna be alone. He tried to call you earlier, but you'd left the shop by then. He'd like you to meet him for a burger at Gridley's about 6:30."
"I guess I've got time to get home and clean up," Joe said. "What's on his mind?"
Dave put a hand on Joe's shoulder. "Joe, you need to realize that you're a nice guy and that people like being around you. Maybe Brody wants to have a relaxed meal without having me around."
"Yeah, right!" Joe said, chuckling.
"Just go have a good time, okay?"
"Sure, boss, if you say so."
"Dammit, Hill. You're impossible. Why do you keep calling me `boss'? You work for the company, but by now you should realize that we're friends. And not just because you're `family,' either."
"Sorry, Dave. It'll be good to shoot the shit with Brody instead of nukin' somethin' at home."
So, after a hot shower and some attention to his fingernails, Joe pulled on clean jeans and a sweatshirt and met Brody at his favorite bar.
They both had Super Gridleyburgers. Joe asked for a large order of fries, and Brody a large order of onion rings so they could share. Both had Boston Lager.
"I noticed you had wine with the lasagna the other night. That was a great day, by the way!"
"Yeah, good game, and good company."
"Well, thanks again for inviting me. I was asking about the wine. I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit I like it. It doesn't seem very, well, manly."
"I was strictly a beer or bourbon man in the Corps. But a guy I was going with after I got out introduced me to the pleasures of wine. How about you?"
"My mom likes it, and she let me have a little glass at meals starting when I was about twelve, I guess. I don't know one label from another, but I enjoy it, especially with food."
"Good for you. Just don't let anybody give you a hard time about it."
The conversation turned to Brody's classes and the various landscaping projects the company had lined up.
Then Joe dipped a fry in catsup and worked it around. "Brody, I'm not as dumb as people think, you know."
All innocence, Brody answered, "Who says you're dumb?"
"Well, I like having company for supper. That doesn't happen very often. You probably know I don't eat out much. And I'll bet when you were living upstairs over Miz Brill you didn't either. But you've got something on your mind or we wouldn't be here this evening. So why don't you just spill it?"
Looking embarrassed, Brody said, "Okay. But first, you do know that Dave likes you a lot, don't you?"
Joe wondered if Brody was trying to set up a three-way, but quickly dismissed the idea. "He's always been great to work for, I know that."
"It's not my place to speak for him, but I can tell you he thinks of you almost as if you were his younger brother."
"Gee, he's never told me that."
Brody, who was chewing, set down his burger and took a sip of beer. "Dave sometimes has trouble telling people he likes them. Believe me! But I think a lot of guys have that problem."
"I guess that's true." Joe waited for Brody to say more.
"You and I are about the same age, I think."
`Yeah, so?' Joe wondered.
"Oh, fuck, Joe. Here's the thing. You're a good guy. Dave likes you. The crew guys all like you. And, well, um . . . ."
Joe grabbed an onion ring and took a bite of it. Then he finished it in a second bite. "Okay, Brody, why don't you just tell me whatever it is?"
Brody smiled, and at that minute Joe was glad he was sitting down. The ex-Marine across the table was almost paralyzingly sexy, though one part of Joe wasn't paralyzed, as its sudden movement indicated. He thought wistfully about the three-way, but he was summoned back to reality when Brody said, "I hear you spent some time with Bernie Caldwell Sunday."
"How did you know that?"
"Everybody on campus knows that."
"Uh huh. He's been going around saying that you two got it on at his place."
"Son of a bitch!"
"Well, you're unattached, you don't owe anybody any explanations."
"Then why are we here?"
"I thought you would want to know. Justin and Bailey heard about it, and they don't even know Caldwell." Brody took the last bite of his burger, chewed it, and wiped his mouth. "He's the kind of guy who looks for notches to put on his bedpost. He likes to make it with hunky guys and then brag about it."
"You're pretty well known in certain circles on campus, you know."
Brody sighed. "Dude! You have a reputation for being maybe the best looking gay man in the county."
"Fuck!" Joe took a big swallow of beer. "So do you think Caldwell came looking for me Sunday afternoon?"
"I don't doubt it. He probably heard from someone who knows where you have Sunday dinner."
"Well, there aren't too many people who know that except for you and Dave. And, I guess, Micah . . . and Roger . . . and Jeff."
"It wasn't Dave or Micah or me who told him. I avoid the guy whenever I can. Dave can't stand him. And I don't think Micah even knows him. Still, word gets around. Someone who knows you could have dropped something in conversation that got back to Bernie."
"Yeah. I guess I don't need to be mad at anybody except him. Or at myself, maybe, for not seeing him for what he is."
"Mind you, I'm not asking. But even if the sex was fantastic, you need to ask yourself if you want to have a reputation for being an easy lay."
"Damn right!" Joe shook his head, wondering if he was blushing. "Thanks, Brody, for letting me know. I appreciate it."
"Not a problem. Dave and I are just looking out for a friend."
"Speaking of that, I assume the game and supper afterward was you guys looking out for your friends, too?"
"We just thought the two of you should know each other. Have you called Micah yet?"
"I thought he might call me, but he hasn't."
"And you haven't called him because . . . ?"
* * *
The next evening Joe checked the phone book and then called Micah's home phone number.
"Um, Micah, it's Joe. Joe Hill. How've you been, man?"
"I'm good, Joe. How about you?"
"I'm good, thanks."
Pause. Micah was obviously waiting for Joe to explain why he'd called. But his silence wasn't making things easier.
"I, uh, guess you're wondering why I called."
"It's good to talk to you Joe, so what's up?"
"I was wondering if you'd like to grab something to eat and take in a show Saturday evening."
"I dunno, but with ten screens, they must have something we can agree on. I haven't been to the movies in a while."
"What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?"
"Nothin' special, why?"
"I've got a problem. I'm supposed to deliver a chest tomorrow in Windsor, but the guy who usually helps me had to go out of town to visit a sick relative. And the chest is more than I can handle on my own."
"No problem. We can make the delivery, come back home and clean up, and then get something to eat. Just tell me how to get to your place and when you want me to be there."
He was surprised by how eager he'd been to see Micah again. Admittedly he found the man attractive, though he wasn't good looking by conventional standards. Well, there was the butt, which he had to admit he'd lusted after from the first time he saw Micah from behind. But he'd not even been sure that Micah even liked him after they'd been to the game and the dinner at Brody and Dave's. He'd been nice enough. But very quiet. Reserved.
Still, Micah had nice eyes. And all Joe was doing was helping the guy deliver a piece of furniture and then they were getting something to eat, maybe take in a movie after that. No harm in any of that.
Micah lived outside the city limits of Colby on the south side of town. His modest ranch-style brick house looked as if it had been built in the seventies. Behind it and to one side was a newer outbuilding that housed Micah's shop. Joe couldn't help noticing that, though the lawn had been mowed recently and the leaves from the several large oaks had been taken away, the foundation planting was wildly overgrown. It had gotten to the point where it was beyond trimming. It needed to be torn out and replaced.
Micah came out of the shop as Joe pulled into the drive. Joe got out of the truck and the two shook hands.
"Joe, you're helping me out of a real bind. My customers have been pretty antsy to get their chest, and my buddy left me up the creek."
"Glad to help out. You wanna use my truck?"
"No, it'll fit in my van just fine."
"Well then, let's do it!"
Micah grinned. "Git'er done!"
"You like that guy?"
"Not really, but I've watched him once in a while."
The item of furniture to be moved was an oak chest of drawers done in a sort of golden finish. Joe found the severe lines of the piece appealing. No nonsense. Just something that was obviously meticulously constructed to do what it was supposed to without any fancy decorations.
Running his hand over the side, he said, "This is really nice. What kind of a style would you call it?"
"I suppose you'd have to call it Amish. Though they'll do almost any style you want, even if you have to show `em a picture, if left to their own devices, this plain look is what they prefer. It's what the customer asked for, but I have to admit I like it, too."
They loaded the chest in the van and took off for Windsor. Joe enjoyed the drive. It was a perfect fall day in northwestern Ohio, the sky a dome of blue. Roadside stands were selling cider and pumpkins, and people had decorated their doorways or rural mailboxes with shocks of corn.
Joe had never been to the college town of Windsor, which turned out to have many old stone buildings covered with ivy, along with some spectacular modern ones. The town square had lots of oaks and maples, all scarlet and gold in their fall dress.
"You know anything about this place?" Joe asked.
"Only that it's supposed to have a great music department. Pretty town and campus though, huh?"
"Just what I was thinkin'."
They delivered the chest to a guy who Micah said was a professor at Windsor. He and his wife were ecstatic over the finished piece. Once it was in place in their bedroom he handed Micah an envelope.
"Here's the balance I owe you, Micah. You've done a great job. I hope you'll put us on your list to do a dresser to match the chest when you can get around to it."
"Yes, sir. I'll do that. But it will probably be next spring, I'm afraid."
The professor's wife sighed. "That seems like such a long time, but it will be worth waiting for. You'll call us, won't you?"
"Sure thing! We'll need to talk about the dimensions, number of drawers, and things like that. I'll want to do a sketch for you before I start cutting."
On the way back to Colby, Joe commented, "I'd say those were two satisfied customers."
"I try to keep `em that way, even if it means making `em wait until I can do the job just right."
After they had pulled into his driveway and he had switched off the van, Micah asked, "You hungry?"
"Yeah! I've been wrestlin' around this humongous piece of furniture must've weighed a ton and a half."
Micah chuckled. "Solid oak's not lightweight stuff." He pulled his keys from the ignition. "Why don't we wash up and go get something to eat? I know a place I think you'll like."
They washed their hands and faces and checked their hair. Then they got back into the van. At the end of the driveway, Micah turned away from Colby, and they drove for perhaps five miles, pulling into a parking lot where there were several pickups of varying sizes and ages. The place, which looked as if it had been there for a long time, had the usual neon beer signs in the window. A big sign on the roof said "Al's Place."
As they were getting out of the van, Micah grinned and said, "You're not gonna embarrass me and ask for wine, are you?"
Returning his grin, Joe said, "Not if they've got something decent on draft."
Inside, a juke box was playing country music. About a dozen people, mostly men, were sitting around, all of them obviously blue collar types. Joe felt at home even before the cheery, fortyish looking fat guy behind the bar said, "Hey, Micah, who's your buddy?"
"Hi, Chuck. This is Joe. Joe, Chuck. He's the owner."
"Hi, Chuck glad to know you. But, uh, what happened to Al?"
"Nice to know ya, Joe. Al's my dad. He and Mom are in Florida now. What are you guys drinkin'?"
"How about a pitcher of draft and two mugs?"
"Find a booth or table that suits you and I'll send it over."
"Nice place," Joe said after they had slid their butts into a booth.
"Wait till you taste the food." He leaned forward. "But, Joe, there's one thing."
"I've been coming here for years. Loved Chuck's parents. But this is not the place to let on that we're gay, okay?"
"I hear ya, man. I figured that out when we came through the door."
Soon after that a cute young thing in very tight jeans and a well-filled plaid blouse brought their beer. She also set a big bowl of peanuts on the table.
"Hi, Micah." She gave Joe a lingering look. "Who's your hunky friend?"
"Kristi, this is Joe."
"So," she asked, snapping her gum, "you guys here for supper?"
"Uh huh, but give us a while, okay?"
"Sure. Just let me know when you're ready." She looked Joe up and down again before sashaying back to the bar.
Micah laughed. "I suppose you get that all the time."
"Yep. All the time. From the girls, that is."
"Well, a lot of guys would do it, too, if they weren't afraid you'd put some hurt on `em."
"I'm not a violent person." He looked Micah in the eye. "I might be inclined to say yes if the right guy came on to me."
"And that's the kind of conversation we'll have to save until later, back at my place."
`Interesting.' Joe thought. `He's planning for us to go back to his place. Sounds good.' Visions of unwrapping the tantalizing package facing him wafted before his eyes.
Like most bars, Al's had several TVs, all of them tuned to the same game. Joe recognized the blue and gold uniforms.
"Man, I get so tired of always seeing Notre Dame on TV," he complained. "It's not like we're in Indiana."
"We're not that far from the Indiana border, are we? And even though we're close to Ann Arbor, people around here don't much like Michigan."
"Wonder who the Buckeyes are playing today?"
"I think they have a night game at Penn State. We could watch some of it later if you want."
"Sounds good. Did you hear anything about who Colby State was playing today?"
"I'm not sure. I think they may have been at Miami."
"No, Miami of Ohio, down near Cincinnati."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot about them."
After they'd finished a mug of beer each, Micah asked if Joe was ready to order supper.
"Sure. What's good here?"
"They have great burgers, but since this is your first time, you gotta try their barbecue sandwiches."
"Al told me once that they'd always served those here. He says back in the fifties just about every burger joint also had beef and pork barbecue sandwiches. These days they call it "pulled pork" or "pulled beef." Its shredded meat in a barbecue sauce, served on a bun. And to be authentic, you've got to get it with slaw on it."
"Kind of like having kraut on a brat? Sounds good to me."
Micah caught the eye of Kristi, who moseyed over to their booth, cocked a hip, and said, "You guys are looking hungry. What can I get you?"
Micah nodded for Joe to go ahead.
"I hear your barbecue sandwiches are so good, I think I'll try one of each."
"You want slaw on `em?"
Grinning at Micah, he said, "Wouldn't be the real deal if I didn't."
Micah ordered a pork barbecue – with slaw, of course – and fries.
The sandwiches were delicious. Al's used buns that were whole wheat or something. Joe didn't think you could get anything like that at the supermarket. And he had to agree with Micah that the pork was just slightly better than the beef.
Kristi had left them a pile of paper napkins. Picking up his second sandwich, Joe said, "This is great. I like this place. Love the food. And I'm really enjoying getting to know you better. But there are a lot of questions I want to ask that I can't bring up here."
"Nothing says we have to go to the movies. I'd hoped you'd come back to my place afterward. To talk, of course." His smile left Joe wondering whether talk really was on the agenda or not.
"Fine with me."
When Kristi brought the bill, Joe reached for it. Micah put his hand over Joe's.
"Let me get this."
"I'm the one that called you about getting together."
"Yeah, but you really helped me out this afternoon. You can help me celebrate getting the professor's check."
"Okay, but next time it's my turn."
Back at Micah's house they took off their shoes. Micah made coffee and cut big wedges of an apple pie he said he'd bought that morning at a bakery in Colby.
They talked about many things, as two guys getting to know each other will. Looking back on it the next morning, Joe couldn't have listed all of the topics they'd touched on, but they were so involved in their conversation that they didn't bother to see what was on TV that night.
They did discover that they both had recently begun watching MMA fights on television and that both were a bit embarrassed to admit it. Joe thought that was something they might do at a future get-together.
One thing Joe remember clearly, however, was that Micah talked more about his "apprenticeship" with the furniture maker in Millersburg. He also said while he was doing that he was also getting an AA degree in Arts and Design from the Tuscarawas branch of Kent State in New Philadelphia. When his studies of both kinds were over, he'd gotten the job in Colby and had lived there ever since.
"How'd you get to know Dave and Brody?"
"I met Dave in church."
"Oh, that's right. He told me that. Or you did. And you knew Dave before Brody was in the picture?"
Micah nodded. "His wife was a nice woman, but Dave seems so much happier now that he's with Brody. It's fun watching those two together, isn't it?"
"Oh, you've noticed that, too? They seem to be just right for each other."
"It took long enough."
"What do you mean?"
"I've said too much. You should ask them sometime about their past."*
"Man, now you've got me curious. I'll have to figure out how to ask them without seeming nosy."
Joe also remembered that Micah had asked him why he had been practically invisible for four years and then had come out. He found himself telling the whole story about what had happened to Eddie Cline in Bryant and his resolve not to let anything like that happen to him.
"I can understand why that would have been a motivator back in high school, but when you came to CSU, I'd have thought you could come out. Or at least relaxed a little."
"I was only on campus one term. Then I went to work for Dave and his dad. Here were all these macho landscapers, and I didn't want to be the only queer. So I just worked and kept my head down."
"Well, I'm sure it's better for your state of mind to be out."
Joe grinned. "Oh, yeah, and not just my mind."
When midnight rolled around, Joe apologized for staying so long, thanked Micah for supper, and stood to leave. Obviously there was going to be no invitation for an overnight. So what would be an appropriate kind of farewell?
He gathered up his courage. "This has been a great day, man. Want to get together again next weekend?"
Micah put a hand on each of Joe's shoulders. "Maybe, maybe not. I like you, Joe. I like you a lot. But I have to tell you something. I'm just not into casual sex."
"Oh!" `Shit! Fuck! Damn! He's heard about me. Does everybody think I'm a slut?'
"You think about it. I don't know whether you're just looking for a pal or want something more. Maybe I'm jumping to the wrong conclusion. Decide what you want. Decide if you think it's worth exploring the possibility of something ongoing. And if you want to talk some more, call me, okay?"
"Um, yeah, okay."
Micah put his arms around Joe and kissed him on the cheek. Then he patted him on the ass.
"Be careful going home."
*See "Brody Comes Home," Adult Friends, final posting October 28, 2006.
To Be Continued
Big hugs to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey for all kinds of editorial advice and encouragement.
Emails encouraged at email@example.com. If you email me, please put the story title in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim