by Tim Mead
"Not a good idea? What's wrong with a hug?"
"Because I'm afraid we wouldn't stop there."
"Look, man, I know how you feel about sex. I promise I won't come on to you." He tried not to grin. "Unless you give the okay."
"Thanks, Joe." Micah looked embarrassed. "Right now it's not you I'm worried about. But, as you said, there's nothing wrong with a hug."
So, awkwardly, they hugged.
"It's been a great evening. Thanks for having me. And thanks for opening up. You know, about Peebee an' all." He said all this softly into Micah's ear.
Micah shivered, pushed back, and shook his head. "Hey! You were practically blowing in my ear." But he was grinning, so Joe knew he wasn't really mad.
"I think I'd better go home right now, before anything else happens."
Still grinning, Micah said, "Maybe you should. But call me, okay? We need to talk about Thanksgiving."
"Damn, that's right. It's gettin' close, isn't it? I'll call."
He didn't really want to leave, but he knew he had to. On the drive home he found himself wondering just what it was he was getting into with Micah Sutton.
* * *
The next morning as he sat, munching his breakfast and looking out at the back yard, he was still thinking about Micah. A couple of fat red squirrels were busily taking acorns from under the oak tree and burying them.
`What the fuck am I supposed to do? I like the guy. I feel good when I'm with him. I don't feel like I have to impress him. He seems to be okay with who I am. We can spend an evening together and it goes fast. Then I look back and wonder what we did or said and can't remember.'
He got up and refilled his mug with coffee. A bunch of sparrows were taking turns using Mrs. Brill's feeder. Soon the snowbirds would show up, back from wherever they went in the summer. He wondered if Brody Cox had sat there and watched the birds and squirrels when he lived in the apartment.
`What does Micah want from me? Do I have to give up sex just to be his friend? He can't expect that, can he? Or was he saying that if he and I were to become . . . what? Boyfriends? I'd have to give up sex with other guys? I could do that. At least I could if Micah and I were having sex. And, man, I'd sure like to get the little fucker into bed!' He grinned. `And he said he didn't want to hug me last night because he was afraid of what he might do. That must mean he wants me that way, too!'
He rinsed off his breakfast dishes, topped up his coffee, and went to the living room, where he flopped in his recliner.
`The question is, do I want to give up sex with Jeff and anybody else I might run across who's willing so I can maybe have sex with Micah? Fuck! It's so complicated!' After thinking about it all a while longer, he decided he needed help. Which could come from only one place. It wasn't something he could talk with his mother about. And though he looked up to Dave, he'd be embarrassed to go to him for advice about something like this. But Bill might be able to give him some good advice.
So he went to his computer, went online, and poured out his situation and all his confusion to his cousin.
* * *
Monday was a cold, drizzly day. The crew was working to get as much done as possible before the winter set in and they couldn't do any more planting. He arrived home as wet and cold as the weather – and out of sorts. After turning up the thermostat, he stripped off his clothes and took a long, hot shower during which he jacked himself off. Whereas a few weeks earlier it might have been to mental images – or memories – of Roger, Jeff, or Bill, now it was Micah who was featured in his fantasy. And that did wonders for his mood.
Afterward he put on sweats and heavy socks. Then he opened a bottle of red wine he'd picked up on Saturday morning and poured himself a glass. (Brody had left some dishes and a set of four stemmed wine glasses when he moved out of the apartment, saying he wouldn't need them now that he was living with Dave, and he thought Joe might be able to use them.) Joe sliced a piece off a hunk of cheddar and checked his answering machine, which was flashing.
There was a message from his mother, asking him to call her when he could. He decided that he wanted his wine and cheese first, so he took them to his computer. After logging on, he discovered he had an email.
Subject: Affairs of the heart . . . and the cock
It sounds as if you're working yourself into a tizzy over this Micah guy. I hope he's worth the angst. I'm assuming you think he is or you wouldn't have spilled your guts about him in your last email.
As for advice. . . I'm not sure what to tell you. I'm no expert on relationships. Despite what you might think of me after the weekend we spent together in July, I'm not a Casanova. I'm inclined to agree with your Micah that it's better to find yourself a really good man and try to be monogamous.
On the other hand, while I was being monogamous, my ex-partner wasn't trying very hard. And that can lead to a world of hurt. Perhaps Micah's experienced something like that, too.
Oh, a passing thought: have you gotten yourself tested lately? I'm sure you've got sense enough to use condoms every goddam time. Regular testing for sexually active guys is a must.
I'm not quite clear from what you told me whether Micah is saying you have to give up sex if you want to be his friend. That sounds pretty unreasonable. If he's saying you need to give up sex with other guys if you and he are going to have a relationship, then I can see his point. And it all boils down to whether you like him that much, doesn't it?
Good luck with all of that, Joey. You're not only a hunk, you're a really nice guy. I don't want to see you hurt.
Now, on another matter, I'm informed by my folks that we're all invited to have Thanksgiving dinner with Aunt Betsy and her new guy. I think it's so great that she's found somebody after all these years. And you've told me you like this Kevin, which means he must be okay. However, I'm not going to be home for Thanksgiving this year. We're really swamped at the firm right now, and R.H.I.P., you know. The senior guys get their choice, so I take what's left. I'll miss seeing you and your mom and meeting Kevin. But I'll be back in Ohio for Christmas!
Keep me posted about how things are going with you and Micah. (Cute name!)
"It all boils down to whether you like him that much or not." Yep. The lawyer had gone straight to the point, hadn't he? And Bill was also right that Micah wouldn't expect him to change his sex life if all he had in mind was their being "just friends." So. How much did he like Micah? `Yeah,' an inner voice said, `and how long is he going to make you have blue balls before he lets you fuck him?'
He decided he'd better put those thoughts aside and call his mother.
"Joe, dear. I'm glad you called. How are you?"
"I'm good, Mom. How are you?" As an afterthought, he asked, "How's Kevin?"
"We're both fine. Kevin sends his regards."
"Uh, give him mine."
"I called you earlier. I guess I'd forgotten when you get home from work. I just wanted to talk to you about Thanksgiving."
Joe chuckled. "You wanted to tell me that you and Kevin have asked Uncle Will and Aunt Sue and Bill for Thanksgiving dinner."
"How in the world did you know that?"
"Just got an email from the lawyer dude. He told me about it."
"You will be here, won't you?"
"Sure, Mom. It wouldn't seem right not to be home at Thanksgiving. And it will be nice to see the aunt and uncle."
"And Billy, too, of course."
"No, he won't be there. He told me in his email that he couldn't get away from work until Christmas time."
"Oh, I suppose he's told his mother that and she just hasn't let me know yet. Maybe I'll call her this evening."
"You know, maybe you should wait for her to call you."
"Why is that, dear?"
"Because if Bill hasn't told her yet, she might be hurt that you knew before she did that he's not coming."
"That's right, of course. I hadn't thought of that. You're such a thoughtful boy, Joe."
Joe gritted his teeth at being called a boy. `Hey, mothers are mothers. She loves ya! So get used to it!' his inner voice said.
"Well, Bill's a busy man." He tried not to stress man. "I'm sure he'll be in touch with her soon. And then she'll call you."
"I'm sure she will." She paused only briefly. "So what's going on in your life? Have you made any new friends lately?"
Joe realized that he hadn't told her about Micah. But then he'd been too confused about Micah to talk with anyone (except Bill, of course) about his new . . . friend?
"I'll tell you about it all when I see you on Thanksgiving. That's only a couple weeks off, now."
"Yes, it will be here before we know it. So, I'll let you go. Take care of yourself. I hate to think of you working outside in this weather."
"I have my Carhartts. I'll be fine. But thanks for worrying."
"I love you, Joey."
"Love you, too. Bye."
"Good bye, dear."
When his stomach growled just after he hung up the phone, Joe realized the cheese hadn't been enough. He was ready for his supper. Since he certainly wasn't going back out in the nasty cold rain, he fished a Hungry Man meal from the freezer and nuked it, pouring himself a second glass of merlot to go with it.
After he'd eaten and cleaned up the kitchen, which consisted of tossing the tray and washing the silverware and his glass, he went back to the computer and emailed Bill, thanking him for his advice and saying he was sorry they wouldn't see each other at Thanksgiving.
He spent the rest of the evening with the TV on, but his mind was occupied mostly with thoughts of Micah until 9:00 when WEC Wrekcage came on Versus. When that was over, he shut off the TV, turned back the thermostat and fell into bed, where he promptly went to sleep.
* * *
The next day Dave decided it was too muddy to work, even though the system producing all the rain had moved east. Joe spent the day in the office, catching up on computer "paperwork," ordering supplies, etc.
A few minutes after 10:00, hearing someone come into the building, he left his little office to see who it was.
Karensky smiled broadly. "Hey, stud!"
"Did someone call you about an equipment problem?"
"Ow, man, I'm hurt! Can't I just stop by to see my bud?"
"Sorry. I didn't mean I wasn't glad to see you. It's just I've been out of the office a while," Joe said, trying to make up for his poorly-chosen words.
"No problem. So. Pretty deserted around here, ain't it? Wanna fuck?"
"Uh, no, man. I told you I promised Dave there wouldn't be any more of that going on here."
"He wouldn't have to know."
"Maybe he wouldn't find out, but a promise is a promise."
Jeff grinned and cupped his tackle. "You do remember what you're missing, don't ya?"
Grinning back, Joe said, "I can't see the part I'd miss until you turn around."
"Well, that's available to special guys. Like you. Whatcha doin' this weekend?"
"I've, um, got other plans."
"Somebody new in your life, Hill?" Jeff asked, cocking his head to one side and raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, sort of." He wasn't sure he could explain what his relationship with Micah was at that moment. Moreover, he and Micah hadn't actually made any plans for the weekend. Joe just knew he would rather be with Micah than with Jeff. Though something in his groin complained a bit at that idea. `Why pass up a sure thing?' it asked.
"Who's the guy? Oh, I know. Word has it that you've been seen around with that Sutton guy. The one they call the Ice Prince."
First Joe gasped and then coughed. Jeff banged him on the back. "You okay, dude?"
"Yeah," Joe said. "Um, what do you know about Sutton? And where'd that name come from?"
"I've seen him once or twice. You know, in a bar or somewhere. He was pointed out to me. And the `Ice Prince" moniker is because he doesn't put out. Like ever!"
"Oh. Maybe he's just particular." Joe grinned to show he didn't mean any offense.
"Has he put out for you?"
"I don't know him that well. He's just a friend. But I've invited him over to my place for dinner Saturday."
Smiling and shaking his head, Jeff said, "Okay. Just a nice quiet evening at home. I hope you know what you're doin'. But if you're so horny you can't stand it, call me Sunday. Maybe if I'm not totally fucked up, we can get together and take care of your problem."
"Don't count on it."
"Wow. You're serious about that skinny little dude, ain't ya?"
"Well, good luck! You're gonna need lots of it to get up that ass, from what I hear."
Joe changed the subject by offering Jeff a cup of coffee, which he refused.
"No, thanks. Your coffee sucks. No offense." He grinned. "Guess I'd better get back to the shop before my boss calls my cell. Give me a shout Sunday if you're hard up."
* * *
That evening when he got home, Joe decided he should call Micah. He didn't want word getting around that he'd invited Micah to supper before he'd actually done so. No one answered, so he assumed that his friend was out in the shop. He had the shop number, but decided not to interrupt. If Micah was involved in some tricky cutting or delicate finishing, he wouldn't stop what he was doing to answer the phone anyway.
He popped a frozen pizza into the oven. He'd never thought the texture of the crust was right when they'd been microwaved. He sipped a glass of merlot, his white-sock-clad feet on the footrest of his recliner. He wiggled his toes and sighed.
Later, after supper, he called Micah again. This time there was an answer.
"Micah! It's Joe."
He thought he heard a chuckle on the other end.
"Hey, Joe. I hope you're calling to invite me to dinner Saturday evening."
Stunned for a moment, he then responded by asking "How the fuck did you know that?"
"Oh, I haff my zources," Micah replied with a terrible German accent.
"Well, I, uh, shit! Have you been talking to Karensky?"
"No, haven't seen him, why?" Micah still sounded amused.
"Come on, give."
"I bumped into Brody at the BK today at lunch time. He told me he'd heard I was having supper at your place Saturday evening."
"So, how about it? Can you come?"
"Come? Oh, you mean for dinner?"
"Man, you're getting a big kick out of all of this aren't you?"
"Sorry, Joe. Yeah, I'd love to come. When do you want me? Can I bring some wine or something?"
"Do you like pork chops?"
"Well, that's what I thought I'd fix. And I've got beer, which I imagine you'd rather have than wine."
"I'm civilized. I'll drink wine if you're having some."
"Okay. You can decide that when you get here. Tell ya what, though. How'd you like to pick up something for dessert?"
"No problem. Any preferences?"
"Will do. What time?"
"Can you tear yourself away from your woodshop and get here by 6:00? It is the weekend, you know."
"Yeah. I'll even try to have all the sawdust washed off before I get there."
"That'd be a shame. We could shower together."
Joe realized he probably shouldn't have said that out loud. He was relieved when Micah merely ignored his suggestion. "So how are things going with you otherwise? Everything okay?"
"Yup. How about you?"
"Everything's cool here. See I guess I'll see ya Saturday, huh?"
"Right. Thanks, Joe. See ya then."
* * *
Joe hadn't had much experience cooking for other people. Practically none, in fact. But he'd been cooking for himself for four years, and he told himself, `You can do this!'
At the butcher counter at his supermarket he found some nice, big pork chops that were already stuffed with dressing. Instructions for baking the chops were on the package. He thought he could manage that. He picked out some sweet potatoes and salad makings. He thought he'd put out salsa and corn chips if Micah wanted beer. There was always his favorite sharp, white cheddar if they had wine.
He was nervous on Saturday, afraid that he'd screw something up. But it all came off well, better than he'd expected. Micah sat in the kitchen with him while they drank merlot and nibbled cheese. Joe had decided to mash the cooked sweet potatoes. He didn't have an electric mixer, even a hand-held one, but there was an old-fashioned potato masher in his junk drawer, and that worked fine. He added butter, salt, and pepper liberally, and he, at least, thought they were good.
And to Joe's immense relief, Micah sat back in his chair, smiled contentedly, and said it was delicious.
Best of all, however, were the great vibes Joe felt as they talked in the kitchen and afterward.
Micah had brought apple crisp for dessert, along with a can of Reddi-Wip. The crisp was still warm when he arrived.
"Did you make this?"
"Nope. Got it from the Maumee Bakery. I warmed it up just before I left and wrapped it in a towel to keep it warm. Can we put it in your oven?"
"Not till the chops come out. But then I'll turn off the oven and leave the door open a little and we'll put it in to stay warm until we're ready for it."
They didn't get to the dessert until 9:00. As they sat in the living room with glasses of milk and bowls of the apple crisp topped with the whipped cream, Micah asked, "Do you have plans for Thanksgiving?"
"Oh, yeah. I've been meaning to ask you about that. I'm always expected to go home to be with Mom on Thanksgiving. And this year she's invited my Aunt Sue and Uncle Will to be there, too, to meet Kevin."
"Sounds nice. How about your cousin Bill, will he be there?" Joe had mentioned his lawyer cousin once or twice, but he'd never said anything about the sexual nature of their relationship.
"No, he can't get away from work long enough. Won't see him until Christmas. But look, there's always room for more at the table. I'll just be in Bryant for the day. Why don't you come, too? I'm sure Mom would be glad to have you."
Joe couldn't quite interpret the look that came across his friend's face when he received the invitation.
"That's, uh, well, that's really nice, Joe, that you'd want me to meet your family."
`Shit!' Joe thought. `I hadn't quite meant it as a meet-the-family kind of thing. Now he'll think I'm pushing too hard.'
"But," Micah continued, "I've invited my dad to come here. He doesn't like to cook, and if I went home we'd just go to some holiday buffet somewhere. I've told him that, for better or worse, he'll at least get a home-cooked meal if he comes to my place." He smiled. "You know, I was going to invite you to have dinner with us."
"How long is your dad staying?"
"He says he has to go back to Millersburg on Friday. Didn't say why."
"Well, thanks for thinking about me. I'd like to meet your dad." He grinned. "And see whether your cooking's as bad as mine."
"Hey, this has been a great meal. Nothing fancy. Just good food. And you can meet Pop some other time."
Joe took their dishes and glasses back to the kitchen. Then he put on a DVD of great MMA knockouts and they watched those.
There was no awkwardness this time when they parted. After agreeing that they'd talk on the phone before the upcoming holiday, they hugged. Neither seemed in a hurry to let the other go, but when he began to get hard, Joe stepped back.
"Thanks for coming. And thanks for bringing the apple crisp. That was perfect for a cold November evening."
"Yeah. One of us should learn how to make that, huh?" Micah twinkled at him.
As Micah went to his van, Joe stood and watched him, thoughts of the two of them making apple crisp together filling his mind.
* * *
The following Tuesday when Joe got back to the shop after a day working outdoors, he checked the answering machine in the office. The only message was from Micah, asking him to call. As Micah had never called him at work before, Joe was afraid there was some sort of problem.
"Micah, what's up?"
"Oh, Joe. Thanks for returning my call. Look, I'd really like to talk with you. I'm thawing some home-made chili I had in the freezer. Would you be willing to come over and have supper with me? Or, um, I could come to you if it isn't convenient for you to drive home and then back here."
"Is everything okay?" He couldn't keep the note of concern from his voice.
"Oh, I'm fine. Physically. But I need to talk with you."
"Give me an hour or a few minutes longer to get home, clean up, and get back there."
"Great. Thanks, Joe. I appreciate it."
After going to his apartment and taking a very quick shower, Joe made it to Micah's in 65 minutes.
When his friend opened the door, Joe put a hand on each shoulder, looked him in the eye, and asked, "What's going on?"
"I've alarmed you. I'm sorry. Let me have your coat."
After Joe's coat was properly stowed in the closet next to the front door, Micah led him to the kitchen.
"I've got some of your merlot on hand, but I think I'll have beer with the chili. What about you?"
"Beer's good. Now tell me what's up."
Micah handed him a Sam Adams longneck.
"I've really mis-handled all this. It can wait until after dinner. It should wait until after dinner. Take off your shoes and we can relax in the living room while the chili heats. I'm about to put some corn bread in the oven and when it's ready, we'll eat"
Joe got the message that whatever it was, Micah had no intention of talking about it until after their meal. So he rather self-consciously made small talk. Fortunately by this time they knew each other well enough to chat about their jobs, the weather, sports, local politics, and the Colby/Higgins gay community.
After supper Joe helped Micah clean up the kitchen.
As they were sitting in the living room with milk and supermarket brownies, Joe said, "Dude, you're being mysterious, and you've got me worried. Have I done somethin' wrong? `Cause, I'll be honest with you, I don't want to fuck up whatever this thing is that we've got goin'. Or are tryin' to get goin'.
Micah washed down a brownie he'd been chewing with a swallow of milk.
"Just the opposite, actually."
"You gonna tell me about it?"
With a slight smile, Micah said, "I was about to. If you'll be patient."
Joe clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back, and said, "I'm known for my patience."
"Most of the time, yeah. But not tonight. Though I admit I've been a little, uh, unfocused in my behavior, which might have seemed strange."
"You could say that."
"We talked at your house the other night about how word gets around."
"Uh huh." Joe wondered what Micah could have heard that would have him so nervous."
"Well, the word is that you've sworn off sex because of me."
"So it's not true?"
"Well, not exactly. Er, yes, I guess it is, sort of."
Micah had been picking at his thumbnail, something Joe had never seen him do before. "I don't want to be bitchy, Joe, but I haven't a clue what you just said. Or what you meant by what you said."
"You know Jeff Karensky, right?"
"I know who he is. And I've heard that you and he are fuck buddies."
"Damn! I didn't know it was common knowledge. It's not like we've been holding hands on Main Street."
"Karensky knows Justin Quinn?"
"I suppose he would. Justin has worked for Dave for the last two summers, and Jeff's around our shop a lot. And Quinn has a big mouth."
"Quinn's also, I understand, pretty tight with Brody Cox."
"Yeah, they have some kind of special relationship. Some of the guys on the crews think Justin gets special treatment from Dave because of that, but I've never seen any evidence of it."
"Well, that's all neither here nor there."
Joe was reminded for the moment that Micah's father was a high school principal. He sounded like one himself from time to time.
"I suppose the point is that . . . and I hate this . . . Jeff told Justin who told Brody who told me that you had sworn off sex because of me."
"And that would upset you because . . . ?"
"Just tell me if it's true, please."
"That's not exactly what I told Jeff, but let's say it was true. What of it?"
"You shouldn't have done it."
"Oh, fuck, Micah. What have I done now? I thought that's what you wanted."
Joe had always thought his friend was pretty cool-headed, had himself under control, all the time. At that moment, however, Micah seemed distressed.
"You haven't done anything wrong, Joe. Seriously. I've just screwed up. I've handled the whole thing wrong, saying things I shouldn't have – or at least when I shouldn't have."
"I should never have raised the subject of casual sex with you. I had no right to do that. It made you think I had expectations of you, that I was making demands. And I'm in no position to make demands. We're not lovers. You're free to do whatever you want to. You must think I've got a colossal nerve."
Joe didn't know what to say, so he fumbled for words. "Man, it's not like that. You know how gossip is. Things get distorted. All I told Karensky was, well, um, that I didn't want to have sex with him anymore until I . . . saw what happened between you and me."
Micah was shredding the paper napkin in his lap. Then, apparently realizing what he'd done, he balled up the paper scraps and put them on the coffee table. He looked up at Joe and took a deep breath.
"Do you ever look at yourself in the mirror?"
"Sure, every time I shave or comb my hair."
"What do you see?
"The same face I've been looking at for 23 years now, more or less."
"And you don't know how, well, how stunning you are?"
"I've been told I'm good looking. But never stunning. Besides, behind the face there isn't much that's special."
"That's where you're wrong. You're a good man. You have a responsible job. People who take the trouble to get to know you all like you. I'll bet you couldn't come up with the name of an enemy or anyone who you think doesn't like you."
"Well, I, uh . . ."
"And there's the point. I'm just this short, skinny, nerdy, ordinary-looking guy. I bathe regularly and brush my teeth, so I don't smell or have bad breath, but there's not much else to say. I'm a guy who has no social life. I spend my nights and weekends rubbing on pieces of wood, for godsake! How pathetic is that! And you think I have the nerve to tell you when you can have sex and when you can't? What must you think of me?" He stood.
"Micah, it's not like that."
"Yes, Joe, I'm afraid it is. I think you'd better go home now. I apologize for what must look to you like my monster ego. When you've thought about all this, you'll see that you deserve somebody way better than me."
"Aw, come on, man. Don't say things like that."
"They're true." He went to the closet, got Joe's coat out, and handed it to him. "Just go home and think about it. You'll see I'm right."
Joe hadn't felt like crying in years, but he was on the verge right then. He fought back tears of anger, frustration, sorrow: he wasn't sure which. Maybe some of each. Had Micah invited him to supper just to dump him? Hell, he couldn't do that! They weren't even "together" yet.
He slipped on his coat. Knowing the offer of a hug would be refused, he looked his host in the eye and said quietly, "I didn't think Micah Sutton was a drama queen. And the real Micah isn't; the one I really like a lot, maybe more than like, isn't. But I'll go home for now."
He put his hand on the doorknob and turned. "Just remember, this is not over. We've got something worth working on, and I'm not giving up on it. Call me whenever you want to. You and your Pop have a good Thanksgiving. And thanks for supper. You make great cornbread, by the way."
And he left.
To Be Continued
Big hugs to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey for all kinds of editorial advice and assistance..
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