by Tim Mead
"'I'm not into casual sex!'" Joe said aloud as he drove home. He banged his palm against the steering wheel. "Who the fuck does he think he is?" Normally pretty calm, he was surprised to find himself upset by what Micah had said as they parted. `And who – or what -- does he think you are?' a voice inside him asked. `And if he really feels the way he said he did, why did he pat my ass?'
Joe told himself he was just another guy looking for a good time. What was so wrong with that? Micah made him sound like the whore of Babylon. Fuck! He'd lived like a monk for almost four years. Longer than that, really, because he hadn't had sex with guys in high school, either.
Micah couldn't have known about the girls he'd fucked back at Bryant High. So really there were only Roger and Jeff. And Bill. And recently there had been that afternoon with Bernie. Maybe that shouldn't count since it was definitely a one-off. Oh, and there'd been the three-way with Marcus and Roger, but that wasn't going to happen again. What was so bad about five guys in just over five months?
Well, when you put it like that, it did seem like he was whoring around. Or you could make it sound like that if you were a fucking prude. Or a religious fanatic. But Micah wasn't one of those, was he? He'd grown up in a conservative religious community. But he went to the Episcopal Church with Dave. Or was Dave Catholic? Joe wasn't sure. `Stupid! The Episcopalians and the Catholics probably don't think much of screwing around, either.'
He pulled into the drive, shut off the motor, got out, locked the truck, and went inside. Though he felt like stomping up the steps to his apartment, he didn't, just in case Mrs. Brill was still awake and had her hearing aids in.
* * *
Joe had done his grocery shopping and filled up the truck with gas on Saturday morning, the day he and Micah took the chest to Windsor.
He woke up at six on Sunday morning. He began to think about the evening before with Micah and couldn't get back to sleep. So he got up, changed the bed linens and towels, did the laundry, dusted, and mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors. When he knew Mrs. Brill was at church, he ran the vacuum. After all that housework he shaved and showered.
At 11:00 he called Jeff Karensky. The phone rang until the answering machine picked up.
"Jeff, it's Joe Hill. If you don't have anything goin' on this afternoon, I was wonderin' if you'd like to hang, take in a show, or we could – "
He was interrupted. "Hill! Why the fuck are you callin' me at this hour of the morning? What time is it?"
Joe chuckled. "It's almost noon, man. What's the matter? You still in bed?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact. So you got a problem or somethin'?"
"You could say that. I'm horny, dude. Wanna hook up later?"
He could hear Jeff yawn. Then he growled, "Sounds good, but I gotta get food in me first."
"I could stop and pick some up. You want breakfast, I suppose, even if it's closer to lunch time?"
"How about a couple Sausage McMuffins and some fries?"
"No, I got juice and coffee here."
"See you in a few."
"I'll need time to get a shower."
"You're gonna need one later."
"Man, I need one now. Trust me."
"Okay, okay. I get the picture. Later, stud."
As he drove to Jeff's place in Colby, Joe was thinking again about Micah, specifically wondering about his past boyfriends. Micah hadn't mentioned anyone. Maybe he'd had a bad experience with someone who fooled around with other guys. Maybe Joe should cut him some slack. When they parted the night before, it seemed like Micah was interested in being his friend.
`Fuck! Maybe I'm over-reacting,' he thought. `Micah's a nice guy, really easy to be around. I'll have to think about that.'
He stopped at a McD's and picked up Jeff's breakfast stuff plus a burger and fries for himself.
Jeff answered the door with one towel wrapped around his hips, using another to dry his hair.
"Got the food?" he asked, smiling at Joe, who held up the two bags.
They ate in Jeff's kitchen, Jeff still wearing only a towel. Jeff had made coffee but offered Joe a cola, which he accepted.
"So," Jeff said, putting his napkin and the bags in the trash, "sounds like you didn't get any last night. Somebody holding out on ya?"
"Yeah, but I don't want to talk about it."
"I suppose you're not used to being turned down."
"I said I don't want to talk about it."
"Ohhh kayy. Tell ya what. I'll fuck you if you can get me hard."
"Like that's gonna take a while!" Joe grinned. He put his waste paper in the trash, rinsed out the cola bottle, and put it in Jeff's recycle bag.
They went to the bedroom, where Jeff hadn't yet made the bed. Pulling the top covers off, he dropped his towel. "Let's do this!"
And they did it. In less than a minute Joe produced the desired erection. Then Jeff rimmed Joe for a while, lubed him up, put on a condom, lubed that, and set to work. Considerately, while Joe was on his knees and forearms, Jeff did a reach-around. Later, when Joe was on his back, legs on Jeff's shoulders, he could work his own tool. When it was over Jeff discarded the condom and used the towel he'd dropped by the bed to clean Joe up.
They watched the first half of a Lions game on Jeff's bedroom TV as they recharged. Then they went at it again, this time with Joe topping. Jeff invited Joe to shower with him, which they did, managing to wash each other until the hot water was gone.
"Sorry, dude," Jeff said as they were getting dressed. "I'd suggest we go get some supper, but I'm meeting a guy at the mall. We're gonna do supper and then a movie."
As he was leaving, Joe thanked Jeff.
"No problem. You're a good fuck, Hill. And a good buddy. I'm glad I was home when you called."
Jeff gave Joe a stinging swat on the butt as he went out the door, reminding him of the gentler pat on the tush Micah had given him.
Joe didn't want to go home. Besides, he was hungry. Sex always gave him an appetite. Since he was in Colby already, he went to Applebee's, thinking he'd have his usual Sunday steak.
The Sunday evening crowd was a younger bunch than the folk he was used to seeing at mid-day. The only person he recognized was Bernie, who was talking animatedly with a good-looking guy who looked to be about 19. The kid seemed somewhat dazed, so Joe assumed Bernie was up to his old tricks, so to speak. Bernie glanced at Joe once, turned away, glanced back for a longer look. But he acted as if he didn't recognize Joe.
`Fucker,' Joe thought. He wondered if he should go over to their table and confront Caldwell. And then he hatched his plan. After he had finished his meal and paid his bill, he waited outside the restaurant. When Bernie and the other guy came out, he walked up to them.
"Hey, Bernie." Without giving Caldwell a chance to say anything, he continued, "That wasn't bad sex we had the other day. But if you're gonna go around telling people after you've gotten it on with a guy, maybe you should also admit that your pecker is kinda small."
Joe nodded to Bernie's companion. "You guys have a nice evening." He turned and went to his truck.
Back at his apartment he couldn't get Micah out of his mind.
He wasn't angry at Micah any more. Now that he'd had a while to cool off, he thought he could understand what the guy was offering. He was willing to be Joe's friend. And they could see what might follow from that. But if he had understood Micah correctly, there wouldn't be any sex unless or until they were ready to make some sort of commitment.
`And what's wrong with that?' Joe asked himself. `Aww,' a voice answered, `he's such a sexy little stud, and he's got the cutest ass!'
* * *
Wednesday evening after he'd had supper and done the dishes, Joe decided to call Micah. The phone rang four times and Joe was afraid he'd get Micah's voice mail, but it was picked up.
"This is Micah Sutton."
"Hey, Micah, it's Joe. What's up?"
"Nothing much, Joe. I'm here in the shop, Getting ready to shut things down and see what's in the freezer I can nuke."
"You work in the shop every evening?"
"All work and no play . . .?"
"Hey, what I do weekdays is work. This stuff is what keeps me on an even keel, keeps me happy. And it brings in some extra cash, too."
"Do you ever let anybody see your shop?"
"Sure. No problem." He sneezed. "Sorry. Even with a mask the sawdust gets to me sometimes. Does this call mean you want to talk?"
"Yeah. Think you can spare me an evening away from the sawdust and stuff this weekend?"
"How about Saturday? And why don't you come here for supper? I can knock off early enough to fix us something simple."
"No need. I'll bring pizza. What do you like on it?"
"Just about anything."
"Just about? What is it you wouldn't like?"
"Well, I'd peel off the anchovies if there were any. Other than that . . ."
Joe chuckled. "Gotcha! No anchovies. You wanna name the time?"
"Six or anytime after. And I'll have something for dessert. And beer to go with the pizza." There was a brief pause before Micah continued, "Hey, you know what? There's a big UFC match on pay-per-view Saturday night. If you want to go halfsies, we can watch it. I think it starts at 9:00. That should give us time to talk beforehand, right?"
Joe had watched the UFC, WEC, IFC, and Bodog fights, but they were almost never live. He'd never seen a live pay-per-view match before. "Sounds good! See ya Saturday."
"Right! Bye, Joe."
He didn't know why, exactly, but he felt like dancing a little jig around the kitchen.
* * *
That Saturday he did his usual errands and chores. He found himself antsy, eager to get to Micah's, though he wasn't sure why. He knew there would be no sex that evening. He thought there might never be sex with Micah. Still he felt this urge to be with the guy.
He called ahead for the pizza, left in time to pick it up, and found himself driving around so he wouldn't get there before 6:00.
When he arrived Micah managed to take the pizza box and still shake his hand.
"Do you want to eat this now or see the shop first?"
"I had a big dinner, so I could wait."
"Let's put it in the oven to stay warm. It'll be okay if we don't let it dry out."
Joe hadn't had a chance to look around the day he'd helped Micah take the chest to Windsor. He was impressed with all the tools, electrical and otherwise, in Micah's shop. There were tools everywhere, in fact. Some he recognized from middle school wood shop, like the lathe, the table saw, and the electric jig saw. He also knew what the router was, though he didn't think they'd had one of those when he took shop. On the walls were hand tools of all varieties, saws, hammers, screw drivers and things the purpose of which he could only guess. There was a large work bench along one wall with a wood clamp at either end. And the large room had the distinctive smell of wood, of shavings and sawdust, even though Micah had apparently used his shop vac, for the floor was clean.
Two pieces of furniture under construction stood in the middle of the room. One was a huge entertainment center of maple. The other was an oval coffee table with curved legs that Micah called Queen Anne. It was oak.
Then Micah took him into a second room, where the odor suggested varnish. "This is where I do the staining and finishing."
"I suppose you use separate rooms to keep sawdust off the wet varnish or whatever."
"Yep. I usually try not to do any cutting in the shop for twenty four hours after I've put on a coat of whatever finish I'm using."
There was one piece in the finishing room, a formal-looking sideboard about five feet long. It had round, slightly-tapered legs that looked like classical columns. A bottom shelf was raised from the floor by a three-inch skirt. Although the whole piece seemed to be of cherry, the legs were black, the rest stained a reddish brown.
"Wow! That's very, um, elegant."
"Yeah, it's a style called Biedermeier. It looks like it came from the eighteenth century, but actually it's neo neoclassical, a nineteenth century style."
"Do you have, like, blueprints or plans to work from?"
"Yeah, I've got a collection of `em. But I designed this piece myself and then made up the plans."
"I gotta say, man, this all blows me away! You have the skills to make this stuff, and that's impressive. But even more, you can actually think up and then build something that beautiful. Wow!"
Micah's ears turned red as he said, "Thanks."
They went back to the house where they ate the pizza Joe had brought, along with cole slaw that Micah produced from the fridge. He also produced Sam Adams Lager, which Joe was beginning to think was his favorite.
"I've got ice cream. Now? Or later?"
"Let's wait awhile. I'm feelin' pretty mellow right now."
After he helped Micah tidy up the kitchen, they went into the living room. It had gotten dark, so Micah put on a couple of lamps. Then he lighted a fire which he had previously laid in the fireplace.
"Come on, Joe. Sit over here and let's talk."
Joe sat at one end of the sofa facing the fireplace. Micah sat in a big chair at right angles to the sofa.
"It's about time to take off shoes, I think. And feel free to put your feet on that table if you want," Micah said, leaning forward to take off his sneakers.
`He's obviously cleaned up between working all day in the shop and me getting here,' Joe thought. `I'm sure he'd wear safety shoes in his shop.' He slipped off his own sneakers, put an arm along the back of the sofa, and was trying to think how to say what was on his mind when Micah spoke.
"I want to apologize to you."
Well, that wasn't the way he'd expected the conversation to start. "Why?"
"I'm afraid what I said the last time you were here didn't come out the way I'd intended."
"Oh?" Joe wondered if Micah had realized that he had, in fact, pissed Joe off.
"Yeah. Your sex life is your business, Joe. And I don't know anything about it. I hope you didn't think I was making any kind of comment about that."
"Well, I . . . "
"See. I did offend you. I'm really sorry."
"Dude, it's not a problem. I admit I was pissed at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized you were just telling me something about yourself, not talking about me."
Micah took a deep breath and nodded. "Exactly. And I jumped the gun. I'd like us to be friends, with no strings beyond that. No implications."
"Uh huh." Joe waited for his host to continue.
"You aren't here tonight to tell me that you don't want to hang with me anymore are you? If so, I've completely misread you."
"No, that's not why I'm here."
Micah gave Joe a tiny smile. "Good." He stretched his legs out and wiggled his toes.
Joe found that so adorable he wanted to hug the smaller man, but he simply waited.
"With your incredible looks, you must have guys hitting on you all the time." Before Joe could say anything, he continued, "It would only be natural for you to think that when guys say they like you, they're angling to get you into bed."
Joe grinned. "That's been known to happen."
"And not just with guys, I'll bet."
"So here's the thing. What I said when you were here last time was intended to tell you I'm not going to try to get you into bed. I like you. I won't say I don't find you attractive, `cause I do. Who wouldn't? But I wanted you to know that I'd like to be your friend and that you don't have to worry about me trying to seduce you."
It was Joe's turn to take a deep breath. After he had expelled it, he said, "Okay. We're being honest here." He paused, obviously searching for words. "When I first saw you that day at Home Depot, I was attracted to you. I won't tell ya how much. But then Dave and Brody introduced us, and from that day on, I've enjoyed being with you. I don't feel like I have to impress you. I know you're smarter than me, but you don't make me feel stupid. Shit, I don't know how to say this. I've never said this to anybody before, but I just feel good when I'm with you, Micah."
Micah's smile caused feelings Joe had never had before. That not only frightened him, but it gave him an unexpected erection.
"I've gotta admit," he continued, "I'd love to get you into bed. But I promise not to push that if we can just be buds."
"I can't understand what you see in me," Micah said. "But I'll not argue with you about that. It would just look as if I were fishing for compliments. And, as you might have guessed, I think you're about the best-looking hunk of man flesh I've ever seen. Like I told you, though, I'm not going to get into bed with anyone until I'm sure we're in a meaningful relationship." He grimaced. "God, that sounds pretentious! I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I understand what you're saying, and I, uh, I can respect that." He paused to take a swig of beer. "I'm guessing somebody hurt you. Someday maybe you'll feel comfortable telling me about that."
"Give me a while on that, okay?"
Having cleared the air, they chatted about this and that for a while before the topic turned to their shared enthusiasm for mixed martial arts – purely as a spectator sport, since neither of them had any desire to be a fighter.
"I love the 145 and 155 pound classes in the UFC and WEC," Joe said. "Guys about your size. What are you, 5'9"?"
"And about 155?"
Micah smiled. "Yep."
"Well, I think guys your size are better conditioned, tougher, more active – more fun to watch than the big guys."
"Agreed. The big ones, with a few exceptions, tend to just get in there and lean on each other. And they gas out pretty early, too."
"Who's fighting tonight?"
"I've already ordered the fight from the cable company." Micah went on to tell him what he knew about the evening's card and they discussed the pairings.
At a few minutes before 9:00 he asked, "How about a sundae? I've got vanilla ice cream, fudge sauce to nuke, and toasted slivered almonds."
"A couple of hours ago, I'd have said no way could I eat that. But, yeah, sounds good. Let me help."
They went to the kitchen, concocted their sundaes, and carried them back to the living room. Micah sat on the sofa with Joe so they could watch the TV, which was to the right of the fireplace. Both men put their stockinged feet on the coffee table, dug into their desserts, and watched the fights. They agreed on their preferred combatant in most of the match-ups. They found themselves rooting for different fighters in one of the 170 pound contests, however, so there was a lot of cheering – and some jeering – as they watched. When his candidate won by a submission in the third round, Micah put his arms over his head in the traditional victory pose and said, "Yeah!"
"Damn, Sutton, you're real people!"
"Well, what'd you think I was, doof?"
"Um, forget I said anything, okay?"
"No, tell me, please."
"Like I said a while ago, I know you're smart, and you've been to college, and you've got all this talent. I'm just your average joe, nothing special."
Micah grinned. "I think you're a very special Joe. And while we're being honest, I guess I'd better admit something, too."
"When I first saw you in Home Depot and again at Brody and Dave's, I figured anybody that looks like you do would just have to be an arrogant prick. Turns out you're `real people,' too."
Their "moment" climaxed with a high five, and Joe felt as happy as he'd ever remembered being – outside of bed, anyway.
Like the last time Joe visited Micah, there was an awkward moment when they were saying goodbye. A handshake seemed too formal, but Joe was mindful of Micah's feelings about sex.
Micah resolved the problem by asking, "Can I have a hug?"
Joe grinned. "That's not too sexy?"
Returning the grin, Micah said, "No, just pretend I'm your cousin or something."
Joe enjoyed the hug. Micah's body seemed a lot more solid than he would have guessed.
As he drove home he chuckled. `My cousin, huh? Micah'd probably go ape shit if he knew about Billy `n' me.'
* * *
The next week Joe didn't spend much time in his little office. His experience – and his muscle – were needed on a job. It was now early November, and Cromer Landscaping was trying to get the work done on a new building in Colby's growing industrial park. It was a long, gray building, ordinary in Joe's mind, but after the scores of evergreens and flowering shrubs were planted, along with some young oaks and maples, it looked as if it had been there a while. The following spring and summer, it would look even better.
He turned down a suggestion from Jeff that they spend Saturday evening together. As he sat in his apartment trying to find something to watch on TV, he wondered exactly why he'd said no to Jeff. It obviously had to do with Micah. Micah hadn't told him he had to be celibate. Still . . . .
He was invited to meet Micah at Applebee's after church the next day. Dave and Brody had something else planned. As they were leaving the restaurant, Micah asked, "Wanna come to my place? We can watch the Lions or the Browns if they're on."
"Seems like I'm always comin' to your house. Wanna come to mine instead?"
"I'd like to see where you live sometime, but right now mine's closer."
"Okay." Micah didn't live in a palace, but his house was much more comfortable than Joe's tiny apartment.
As it turned out, the Lions were playing on the West Coast later that evening, so it was the Browns or nothing. That game was a disaster from Cleveland's point of view. Joe and Micah sat there with the game on, but obviously neither was caught up in it.
"Micah, I don't want to be nosy, but you've never told me about your family."
"Oh, that's right. I guess we just never got around to it. How are your mother and her, um, boyfriend?"
Joe scratched his head. "It seems weird to think of her having a boyfriend, but I guess that's what Kevin is. And they're fine. But are you avoiding my question?"
"No, not at all. Mom died of scleroderma when I was in tenth grade. She'd known she had it for a while. It's one of those things that you can live with for years, or sometimes it hits you and, zap, you're gone."
"Gee, I'm sorry."
"She was great. So's my Pop. He's still the principal of the high school I went to."
"So he's alone now?"
"Just like my mom. Except she's not really alone anymore."
"I wish Pop had found somebody. Or would find somebody. He's in his early fifties now, and he seems content with his life, but . . . ." He sighed, and Joe found himself wanting to take the little guy in his arms or do something to comfort him.
"He must be proud of you."
"Why would you say that?"
"Well, look. You've been to college, and now you're making awesome furniture. Really impressive stuff. You've admitted to me that there's more demand for your things than you can fill."
Micah put his hand on Joe's knee, then pulled it back quickly. "Thanks for the nice words. But Pop was disappointed when I told him what I wanted to do. He's always dreamed of me going on to get a bachelor's and then go to grad school. I think he'd have been happiest if I'd become a college prof."
Wishing Micah had left his hand there, Joe thought about what his friend had said. "I dunno, man. There are probably a lot more college profs than there are guys who can make beautiful things like you do. You're a fuckin' artist!"
"People who do what I do are plentiful where I come from, Joe. But, again, thanks for the generous words."
"They may be plentiful back home, but not around here. And I still think you're pretty special." Micah looked uncomfortable with the praise, so he changed the subject. "While I'm on a roll, can I ask you somethin' else?"
"You can ask."
"Is your feeling about casual sex because of your principles, or because of a bad experience you've had?"
"Would you like a beer?"
"Does that mean I shouldn't have asked that question?"
"Not at all, but if I'm gonna get into that, I'd like to have a beer."
"Okay, I'll have one with ya."
When Micah got back from the kitchen with their drinks, he handed one to Joe and then sat where he'd been sitting – next to Joe on the sofa. He propped his feet on the coffee table and took a sip from the longneck.
"I have to admit it's partly principle. I think gays have a reputation for being, well, promiscuous, for not being able to sustain long-term relationships. And, even if it makes me sound more like 68 than 28, I look around, watch the media, and all I see is people talking about who slept with who, and everybody sleeping with everybody else. And `sleeping' is just a euphemism for fucking. It seems to me that sex ought not to be just a way of getting your jollies momentarily, but of showing someone how much you love them." He turned and looked at Joe. "I suppose that makes me seriously uncool."
Joe smiled and raised his bottle. "It means you have your beliefs, man. It's not for me to judge them."
They sat in silence, except for the background chatter of the football commentators.
"Hmm?" He seemed startled.
Joe chuckled. "You must have been a million miles away."
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
"You said your attitude toward casual sex was partly because of your principals. Does that mean there's another reason there, too?"
Micah sighed. "Yep. Guess I'd better tell you about Peebee."
"What the fuck is a peebee?"
"His name is Percy Bysshe Carver. His father is an English professor at the University of Chicago. Imagine naming someone that!"
"Percy Bysshe? Where'd the dude ever come up with a name like that?"
"Those were the first two names of Shelley, the English poet."
"Oh. Still seems like a nasty thing to lay on your son."
"Well, that's why he went by his initials. P. B. Or, as everyone called him, Peebee."
"So what about him?"
Micah took a deep breath. "Right after I moved here, I decided to celebrate being out by going to Nelly's. I met a bunch of CSU guys there. One of them was Peebee. He was about my size and build but with incredible blue eyes and jet hair. He looked awesome. And when we were together he made me feel as if I were the most special person in the world. This was when I had just started working my day job. I didn't have this place or the furniture business back then. So, anyway, Peebee and I got a serious thing going. Or so I thought. We spent two or three nights a week together, usually at my apartment since he was living in a dormitory. After four months, I was sure I was in love with him."
Joe had swiveled around, drawing one knee up onto the sofa so he could look at Micah.
"And somethin' happened?"
"Oh, yeah! A guy we both knew suggested that I ask Peebee what he was doing the nights we weren't together." He ran his hand through his brown curls. "I'd just assumed he was in his room studying, or at the library or something. I mean, after all, if you're in college you have to study sometimes, right?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, Peebee was so smart he didn't need to study much. Maybe that was in his genes. But I found out he was spending all those other nights with other guys. A whole fuckin' slew of `em!"
Joe had never heard Micah sound bitter before.
"Shit, babe, that sucks!" He realized he probably shouldn't have called Micah "babe," but it was too late to take it back. Besides, Micah didn't seem to notice.
"Yep. It sucked. And Peebee sucked just about anything that moved, when he wasn't taking it up the other end."
"So what did you do?"
"I kicked his ass out. He laughed at me. Said I was two centuries out of date in my thinking. Said everybody fucks around and what was I expecting? He had the nerve to ask me if our sex wasn't good when we were together." He paused. "The thing is, the sex was incredible. But sex with a guy who was playing around most nights when he wasn't with me was, well, that just wasn't acceptable."
"Fuck! The bastard didn't know when he had a good thing goin'."
"It wasn't a good enough thing, obviously. And you know, it was two more years before he graduated. Everywhere I went I heard stories about who the bastard was fucking. And that changed from week to week. Thank God we always used condoms."
"Did you get tested anyway?"
"Micah, the guy was a stupid asshole. A total jerk."
"Thanks, Joe. I don't talk about him much. But you did ask. And you deserved to know."
Joe opened his arms. "Seems to me you need a hug."
"I don't think that would be a good idea right now."
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