by Tim Mead
Joe didn't want to leave. What he wanted to do was hug Micah and reassure him, tell him he was sexy and fun to be with and someone he'd looked up to since they'd been introduced at Dave and Brody's. Of course he'd wanted to get at his ass since the day he'd seen him in Home Depot, but that could wait.
Micah had surprised him with his insecurity. Joe had always thought him to be self-possessed, cool, in control. Maybe that was because Micah tended to be a quiet sort of guy and, well, still waters run deep, as his mother liked to say.
After he'd locked the truck and quietly climbed the stairs to his apartment, Joe threw the keys on the kitchen counter. He didn't usually drink alone except just before his supper, but he uncapped a Sam Adams and flopped in his recliner, still thinking about the evening with Micah.
The scary thing was that he almost ached thinking about Micah's obvious distress. And Joe felt as if somehow it was his own fault. He hadn't meant to cause his friend any grief. When he told Jeff Karensky that he wasn't going to have sex with him, he thought he was doing what Micah wanted him to do. And pleasing Micah had become very important.
Why was that? `Because, stupid, you have feelings for him that you've never had for anyone else!'
`You heard me!'
The internal dialog continued.
`But . . .'
`But nothing! Why were you willing to give up sex with Jeff? Would you go to bed with Roger if he showed up on your doorstep now?'
`Okay, okay, I see what you're getting at. But you could be wrong, you know.'
`Oh? Wanna explain any other reason why you'd give up your new-found sexual freedom, give up all the rolls in the hay you've been having since you finally woke up and left the closet?'
`Oh, shut up!'
`See! You don't have an answer! I'm right, and you know it! Joe Hill is in luuuvvv!'
Joe, who'd been swigging his beer much faster than usual during this internal debate, finished the bottle and turned on the TV -- where he found nothing worth watching. He toed off his shoes and put the chair into its full reclining position.
`I told him to call me. Wonder if he will? If he doesn't, what'll I do?'
* * *
The weather was chilly but clear, and Cromer Landscaping's field personnel were busy trying to get the last of their residential and commercial planting done before snow fell again. During such times Joe worked outside along with the other year-round guys, letting the office work slide until the weather turned bad again.
The weekend came. He didn't go home because he would be going there the following Thursday, which was Thanksgiving. It was a long and very lonely weekend. Micah didn't call. Joe took care of his usual Saturday chores and that evening treated himself to a cheeseburger and fries at the mall before seeing a disappointing action/adventure film at the Cineplex.
The next day he had Sunday dinner at Applebee's. He'd hoped perhaps Dave and Micah would be there. He'd thought he might ask to sit with them if they were. But no luck. Practically morose as he ate his weekly steak, he didn't see anyone he knew in the restaurant. He dragged himself home to watch football. It was the Browns that afternoon and the Lions after supper. `Hoo fuckin' ray!' He fell asleep in his recliner after the first quarter of the Browns' game.
He was awakened by the telephone, which, somewhat groggily, he answered.
"Hey, Joe! How are you?"
He recognized his boss's voice. "I'm fine, Dave, How about you?"
"I'm great, thanks, but I need you to do something."
"Do you have the phone numbers of the outdoor guys there at home?"
"No, `fraid I don't."
Dave sighed. "Well, I wonder if you'd mind going to the office. Brody's brother and his family are here this evening, or I'd do it."
"No problem. What do you want me to do?"
"The weather forecast for this week is rain mixed with snow. We're fairly well caught up, so I thought I'd give the guys the whole week off. And you, too, of course. Oh, just a minute."
Joe could hear voices in the background, as if Dave had his hand over the receiver.
"Joe, still there?''
"Brody just reminded me that we have the phone numbers you need here. If you have a pencil and paper, I'll give them to you. So you can call `em all from home."
Joe copied the numbers as Dave dictated them. When they were finished, Dave asked, `You still planning to have Thanksgiving with your mother?"
"Good! This is a family time. But you know if you were going to be in town, you'd be welcome to come here. Brody and I are having several guys over, and one more would be welcome."
"Wow. That sounds awesome." `Yeah, and you sound like Justin Quinn,' his internal voice said. "Thanks for thinking of me, Dave. You and Brody have a great Thanksgiving. Now I'd better get started calling the guys. They'll be glad to get the news."
"I hope so. Thanks for taking care of this for me, Joe. And have a great Thanksgiving with your mother."
"I will. Best to you and Brody."
He hung up and then began to make his calls, leaving messages for those who weren't home.
Then he went back to his recliner and wondered what the hell he was going to do with himself Monday . . . and Tuesday . . . and Wednesday.
* * *
They were slow days. Joe knew that the only Cromer employee on duty that week except for the boss himself was probably Connie, the receptionist at the company's main office. But he went to his little office at the shop Monday morning, mostly for want of anything better to do. He worked at the computer, making sure that all of his record keeping was up to date, supplies ordered, anything he could think of to stay busy. Then he got a push broom and swept out the shop, even though it didn't really need it.
Tuesday morning he took the blades off all the mowers and sharpened them on an electric grinding wheel.
That afternoon he found himself back in his apartment, staring out at the squirrels and birds. Thinking about Micah. What could he do to reconnect? Micah had asked him to leave. Joe had told him he wasn't willing to let their friendship drop. Micah hadn't called. Hell, he probably wouldn't call. And wouldn't that just be a shame? It wasn't as if they didn't like each other. Or enjoy being together. And Micah had even admitted he was attracted to Joe. So what was the huge fuckin' problem?
His urge was to go pound on Micah's door and demand that they get this all straightened out. But he knew that wouldn't work. This wasn't the time to go in guns a'blazin'. Not that Joe was the sort to do that anyway. But what, then?
If he could send someone else to plead his case? Well, that was a great idea, but he didn't know anybody who'd do that for him. Besides, Micah would probably not sit still for that. An email? Would Micah read it? Even if he did, Joe wasn't good with words. He was sure he'd never be able to tell Micah how he felt. He could just see it: I like you. I think I may even love you. Let's fuck! Or even if we don't fuck, I want to be with you.
Despite his perturbation, he chuckled. Yeah, that'd be a great email to send Micah.
How about something that didn't involve words? A gesture? What kind of gesture? A gift? What did Micah like? From being in Micah's house, he knew that Micah didn't collect anything. He couldn't very well buy him a new tool. It looked as if he had all the tools he needed, and Joe couldn't afford to buy a fancy piece of shop equipment. They shared their enthusiasm for MMA. And both the UFC and WEC had online gift shops. But giving a friend a memento of a sport in which two guys try to beat the crap out of each other didn't seem very, well, it didn't seem like the kind of thing you'd give a guy when you were trying to tell him how much you liked him.
If Micah'd only been a girl. . . Candy. Flowers. Yeah, flowers would have been good.
So why not flowers? Was that too girly? Too unimaginative? Did guys send guys flowers? He didn't know. Still, flowers could be delivered. Micah could throw them out if he didn't want them. But at least he'd know that Joe had made the effort.
He thought about that for a while. Then he checked his phone list. He was pretty sure he had that cell phone number, though he'd never used it. Yep! There it was. He punched in the number.
"Hi, this is Brody."
"Brody, it's Joe. Joe Hill. I'm glad I caught you. I need some advice."
"Hang a sec, Joe."
He heard Brody talking with someone. Then he came back.
"How can I help you?
"Am I interrupting something?"
"Nah, I'm at the shop, helping out this afternoon."
"Petal Pushers, in Higgins."
"If I came over, could you spare me a few minutes and some advice?"
"For you, Joe, anytime. I'll be here until 5:00 or maybe later."
When Joe got to the florist shop, there was a woman about his own age behind the counter. She smiled and said, "You've got to be Joe Hill."
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"Brody said you'd be in. He asked me to let him know when a tall, dark-haired, gorgeous man arrived."
Joe could feel himself blushing, even in places that didn't show. "He didn't!"
Nodding her head, the woman answered, "He did!"
Joe didn't know what to say. Obviously sensing his embarrassment, she continued, "He's working in the back Come on, I'll show you."
Joe walked around the counter and followed her into a large workroom with glass-fronted refrigerators along one wall. Brody was standing at a table snipping the stems of flowers and putting them into a vase. Joe's first thought was, `Well, that's pretty gay!' Then he felt ashamed, remembering that 1) he was gay, 2) he liked Brody, and 3) the guy was a former Marine who'd served in Iraq.
"Hey, Joe," Brody said, putting down the shears and shaking hands. "Sheil, can you take over here?"
"Oh, I think I can remember how to do that," she said, grinning. "And I'll keep an eye on the front, too, if you guys want to use the office."
Brody led Joe to a room that reminded him of the little office he had behind the shop. When they were both seated, he asked, "So, how can I help? You did say something about advice, didn't you?"
"Um, yeah." For some reason, Joe found himself embarrassed. For one thing, he was cooped up in a tiny office with a very sexy man, and he couldn't help being turned on. For another, now that he was here, he was uncomfortable with the questions he wanted to ask.
Brody waited for Joe to continue,
"Uh, I'm really glad I caught you. I thought maybe you'd be in class."
"State is closed until Monday for the holiday. I haven't been working here much since I moved in with Dave, but my brother let one of our regulars have the week off to go to Savannah for the holiday, so I'm helping out."
"So, how can I help you, Joe?"
"Um, do guys, uh, ever send other guys flowers?"
Brody smiled. "It's been known to happen."
"But lately? Around here?"
"Uh huh. You'd be surprised how many gay couples there are in the Colby area. We do a lot of business with gays and lesbians on Valentine's Day, but there are birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions, too, when our people buy or send flowers."
"I don't want to pry, but I'm guessing you are thinking about sending flowers to a guy."
"He'll probably be pleased. I would be, and I've worked with flowers all my life."
"What kind of flowers would I send?"
"Anything you think he'd like. It depends a bit on the situation. Of course roses are very romantic. And it might help if I knew who the guy was. Do I know him?"
"That's a little embarrassing. You do know him."
"Well, I promise not to tell anyone, if you want to keep your relationship a secret."
"It's not quite like that. We're still exploring to see whether we want to have a relationship. I mean, I know I do, and I think he does, but he seems to be kind of, well, conflicted. And I just want him to know that . . ."
Brody nodded. "I think I understand the situation, but you still haven't told me who the lucky guy is. And if we're gonna send him flowers, we have to know where to deliver `em."
Taking a deep breath and then grinning, Joe said, "You damn well ought to know who it is. You and Dave set us up."
"Oh," Brody said, looking innocent, "you mean Micah."
"I think it's great that you want to send Micah flowers. What did you have in mind?"
"I didn't. Roses seem sort of, well, too flowery. Oops. Bad choice of words."
"I understand what you mean. But you know, yellow roses are nice. They're not quite as trite."
"Somehow I don't think of Micah as the roses type. What else you got?"
Brody stood. "Come on. I've got an idea."
They went back into the workroom, where Brody led Joe to a case full of what even with his limited knowledge of flowers, Joe recognized as chrysanthemums. Mums in all sorts of colors, red, maroon, yellow, gold, and bronze. "What do you think?"
"Yeah. These look more appropriate for a guy."
Brody opened the case and took out a container of mums with huge bronze blossoms. "These are usually called football mums. We make a lot of corsages with them for Homecoming. But a dozen of them in a vase make a nice bouquet."
"I like the smell, too. Not too sweet or fussy. Kind of a nice, earthy smell. I don't mean they stink, but . . . "
"I know just what you mean. Do you want to look at some other possibilities?"
"No, thanks. I like these. They seem just right for Micah."
"Do you want them in a vase or just in a box?"
"I doubt if he has a vase. So you'd better include one."
"Great. And when would you like them delivered?"
"I don't want to embarrass him by having them come while his dad's there. How about some time after noon on Friday?"
"Sure, no problem."
The woman Brody had called Sheil, who was working on another arrangement, said, "We're closed Friday afternoon this week, aren't we?"
"I'll see that the flowers are delivered as Joe wants," Brody said.
They went out front, where Joe gave Brody his credit card.
"Do you want to include a card with the flowers?"
"You want him to know the flowers are from you, don't you?"
"Well, duh! I guess I'd better put in a card."
Brody showed him a rack of enclosure cards. He chose a blank one. And then deliberated about what to say on it. Finally, he wrote, "Can you think of a good reason why we shouldn't be together this weekend? --Joe"
He signed the credit slip, handing it and the enclosure card to Brody
"Thanks, man. I really appreciate your advice. And if it's gonna be a problem about delivering it on Friday . . ."
"It won't be a problem. It'll be a pleasure to do something like that for you and Micah. You guys belong together."
Joe had been pissed at first when he learned that Brody had told Micah about his giving up sex with other guys, thinking it was nobody's business. Later, as he'd thought about it, he still thought that Jeff and Justin should have kept their mouths shut. But he realized that Dave and Brody had introduced him to Micah and had gently nudged them a couple of times.
He was brought back to the present when Brody continued, "Now, I have a question."
"Is it all right if I tell Dave about this? I won't if you don't want me to . . . even though he and I don't keep secrets from each other. For example, I'm gonna tell him that it got a little, let's say hard to concentrate back there in the office."
Joe had to laugh. "You, too?" He definitely didn't want to go there. "Sure, go ahead and tell Dave. After all, if it hadn't been for you two, I wouldn't even know the little guy."
Brody frowned. "You don't call him a little guy, do you? He hates that!"
"Yeah, I know. That was just between you and me."
The two shook hands, thanked each other, and Joe went home.
Now all he had to do was figure out how to get through until the weekend.
* * *
Wednesday was a long, boring day, but Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, was fun. He slept in a little, then got up, shaved, showered, ate, and hopped in his truck. He was in Bryant by a little before ten o'clock. He recognized the aromas wafting from the kitchen as soon as he walked in the door. Following his nose, he found his mother and Kevin, both wearing aprons, busily preparing for the forthcoming feast.
Kevin was pulling small chunks off a large pile of yeast dough, rolling them into balls, and putting three of each into the wells of a muffin pan to make his mother's famous cloverleaf rolls.
"Hey, Kevin," Joe said, "she's got you doing my job!"
"Sorry I can't shake hands," Kevin said, holding them up to show that they were covered with flour. "And you can have your job back, if you want it."
"Nah, that's all right. She'll find something for me to do."
"She will? When are you going to give her a hug and a kiss?" his mother said, trying to sound indignant.
Soon Joe, also in an apron, was helping.
When his aunt and uncle arrived a little after noon, they were both carrying food as they came in. Aunt Sue had brought her green bean casserole with onion rings on top, the one she always brought to family gatherings and church pot-lucks, the one she thought everyone loved. Joe had never let on that he didn't like it much.
His Uncle Will was carrying a coconut cream pie in a Tupperware container. Joe knew his mother always made pumpkin and apple pies for Thanksgiving, so, as always, there'd be plenty of dessert. Maybe if it didn't all get eaten he could take some back to Higgins. He wondered what kind of pie Micah liked.
"Joe," Will said, "there's a cooler in the back of the SUV. Would you go bring in the wine? I've brought Riesling for the ladies and chardonnay for us men."
Joe brought in the wine while the others hugged or shook hands, everyone seeming to talk at once. Kevin, he was pleased to notice, seemed to blend in like one of the family.
The day passed happily as they ate, talked, and ate some more. Betsy wanted to know all about Bill. Joe was surprised to realize that he was nearly as up to date on Bill's life as his mother was, thanks to the emails they'd been exchanging since Joe had gotten his computer.
"And he's definitely promised he'll be home for Christmas," Sue said. "He'd better come home! It's been too long."
Joe thought at that moment how nice it was that he could see his mother whenever he wanted to, but that they weren't so close together they were in each other's pockets. But it was definitely great to be there with his mother and his aunt and uncle on Thanksgiving.
Still, he couldn't help thinking about Micah from time to time, wondering if he and his father were having a good time together.
Kevin was called away about 3:30. Something about a cow in labor. The Kendalls stayed a while longer before returning to Mansfield.
After they were all gone, Betsy coaxed her son to stay over. "After all, dear, you don't have any reason to rush back, do you?"
"No, mom, not really."
"Not really? Does that mean maybe there could be a reason to go back?"
Mothers were amazing.
"Yeah, there could be."
She sat there with an expectant look on her face.
"I've met this guy, see. I think I really like him a lot, but we're still working on it."
"Of course I wouldn't pry, Joey, but if you want to talk about it . . . "
"Well, when I first met him I thought he wouldn't be interested in me. Sort of like I wasn't good enough for him."
Joe smiled, "But it turns out he doesn't think he's good enough for me."
"Well, that's about where we are right now."
"It seems to me that all you'd have to do would be tell him he is good enough."
And there it was! She was right, of course.
"Would you like to tell me about him? If you want to, that is."
He wanted to. He went into detail about how he had first seen Micah at the Home Depot, how they'd been introduced by Dave and Brody, about Micah's amazing talent as a maker of fine furniture, about their shared enthusiasm for watching MMA, about how much he enjoyed being with Micah.
Betsy listened carefully, not interrupting, nodding from time to time.
Later they were "piecing" in the kitchen. Of course they couldn't possibly eat another meal after the feast they'd had earlier, but somehow it was okay to take a piece of this and a piece of that from the bowl or kettle or whatever. They sat together at the kitchen table. Joe was buttering a piece of cloverleaf roll, which he then dipped into some cranberry sauce.
"You told me a lot about your Micah a while ago, Joey. But you never said what he looks like."
Joe didn't want to get into a discussion with his mother of how sexy Micah was. But he had to say something.
"He's, um, not very tall. About 5'9" I'd say."
"That used to be considered the average height of men."
"I dunno, Mom. Could still be. Anyway, Micah . . . he's kind of skinny, but he's strong, too. You should see him moving furniture around! His hair's brown. He says he's ordinary looking, but I think he looks awesome. He's got the greatest . . . eyes. They're brownish sometimes and greenish sometimes. And I love it when he smiles at me."
Betsy put her hand on her son's. "It sounds to me as if you're in love, baby."
"I've never felt like this before, mom, but I think you may be right."
The next morning as Joe hugged his mother goodbye, she said, "You'd better go back to Higgins and call that young man. You need to straighten out whatever's keeping you apart."
"Nothing. But I won't call him this morning. Maybe he'll call me tonight."
"Joseph, you can't count on that!"
"Well, maybe not, but I'd bet on it." Then he explained about the flowers which were to be delivered to Micah that afternoon.
"Flowers!" She hugged him again. "How wonderful. You're such a sweetie! I love it when Kevin brings me flowers."
Joe made a mental note to send his mother flowers at the first possible occasion. Then he thought he might bring her some when he came home for Christmas.
"Be sure to let me know what happens," Betsy said as he climbed into the old truck.
"I will, Mom, I promise!"
* * *
Joe stopped at a supermarket in Higgins and did his weekly shopping on the way home. The place was jammed with people. He knew the malls would be crowded on "Black Friday," but he hadn't expected so many grocery shoppers. It was nearly noon when he got back to his apartment.
Nothing on the machine from Micah. But then he realized the flowers weren't to be delivered until that afternoon. He wasn't given to praying, but he hoped fervently that the flowers would do the trick.
He made himself a turkey sandwich with leftovers his mother had sent home with him and then began doing his laundry. When the clothes were in the machine, he started in on the weekend cleaning. One of his reasons for doing the weekend housework on Friday was that he was on edge, eager to hear from Micah, and it helped pass the time. The other was that, if things worked well, he might be otherwise occupied on the weekend and wouldn't have time to do the usual chores. `And,' he thought hopefully, `no harm in having clean sheets on the bed.'
It was a long afternoon. With the apartment clean and tidy, the clothes washed, dried, and put away, he turned on his computer. There was no email, so he decided to write to his cousin. He told Bill in great detail about Thanksgiving dinner and the gathering that had included Bill's parents. Then he told Bill all about the misunderstandings he and Micah had had, concluding with the business about the flowers.
And so here I sit, antsy as hell, hoping for a call from Micah. Wish me luck, cousindude!
He tried watching a college football game, but he didn't care about either team and found he couldn't concentrate. Finally he found a college wrestling match on one of the ESPN channels and half-heartedly watched that.
It was a little after three when the phone rang.
"You're right." Micah's voice sounded husky.
"Micah! Are you okay? You sound funny. And what am I right about?"
"Yeah, I'm okay." He cleared his throat. "Brody just stopped by with the flowers. That's well, uh, I didn't think . . . Damn! I'm trying to say thanks. And you're right about what you said on the card."
"Look, big guy. If you really want us to be together this weekend, I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't be. And I love the flowers!"
"No shit! I mean, um, I'm glad you like the flowers. So do you wanna come over now?" Joe asked, hopefully.
"I could do that. You're probably tired of hauling ass over here all the time. But, uh, see, I've got these beautiful mums, and it'd be a shame not to enjoy `em."
"You really like `em?"
Micah chuckled. "Yeah, didn't I say that?"
"Yeah, but you really do like `em?"
"Why don't you come over here and let me show you."
"Yep. Look, I've made a big pot of spaghetti sauce. Thought pasta would be a change from all the turkey. We can have that and a salad for supper. But over the weekend we'll probably be eating leftovers. I made too much for just Pop and me."
`"Over the weekend." He said "over the weekend!" Wow!'
"You're sure about this?"
"Joe Hill, just get that fine ass over here, okay?"
"Should I bring anything?"
"Um, your toothbrush?"
* * *
The mums were sitting on a table near the front door, the card lying flat next to the vase. The big blossoms did look spectacular and not at all feminine. Joe was just able to put his dopp kit on the table before he was hugged by his host.
"It's about fuckin' time," he said, grinning.
Micah sighed. "Yeah. I know. Come on and sit with me. We need to talk."
They sat together on the sofa.
Micah took Joe's hand and they interlaced their fingers.
"Joe, I'm sorry. It was a shock when you called me a drama queen. I'd never thought I was anything like that. But I did a lot of thinking about what you said, and I realized that you really must care about me. And if you care about me, that's all the validation I need. I had a nice time with Pop here, but I couldn't wait until I knew you'd be back in town so I could call and apologize for being so silly."
The two had swiveled so they could face each other, Micah looking at Joe intently as he spoke.
"I knew you'd be home some time today, but wasn't sure exactly when. I called once this morning and you didn't answer. So I decided to wait a while and try again. And then the flowers came and . . ." Micah's voice became husky again. He cleared his throat and closed his eyes. Joe was pretty sure he was blinking back tears.
"Babe, it's okay. You don't need to say any more. I understand." Letting go of Micah's hand, he held his arms out.
Micah scooted into his embrace.
"So, what happens next?" he whispered into Micah's ear.
"How about we start with a kiss?"
As they embraced, Joe reached around and gave that delectable, tantalizing ass a squeeze.
It was quite late before they remembered the spaghetti.
This, of course, is really only the beginning of Joe and Micah's story. But I think we'll let the picture dissolve here. If you want, you can imagine they lived happily ever after.
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