by Tim Mead
Mrs. Brill wanted her front hall painted. She offered to pay Joe for the job, but she hadn't given him a hard time when he'd been a day or two late with the rent, and it had been agreed that he'd do the occasional odd job for her when he moved in. Besides, she minded her own business and sometimes made him cookies. So he'd insisted he wouldn't take any money, that this kind of thing was part of their deal.
"Yes, Joseph." Joe smiled wryly. No one called him Joseph, not even his mother. "But I meant things like taking the trash to the curb or shoveling the front walk. This is more of a job than that."
"It's okay, Mrs. B. I can do one coat on a Saturday afternoon and the other the next day."
"Well . . . if you're sure. But I'll pay for all the paint and brushes and so forth."
"Don't you have rollers and brushes and a drop cloth from the last time you had something painted?"
"If I do, I'm sure I don't know where. Henry did all of that, rest his soul."
So Joe found himself at Home Depot on a Saturday morning. Mrs. Brill had gotten paint chips from somewhere, so he was able to get the exact shade of ecru she wanted mixed at the store. Then the guy from the paint department disappeared, taking his smoke break or something, no doubt.
Joe picked up a drop cloth, added it to the cart with the gallon can of paint, and studied the bewildering array of brushes and rollers. Natural bristles, nylon bristles, fluffy roller covers, flat roller covers. He'd painted some for his mother when he was back in high school, but he hadn't had to choose the equipment. He just supplied the labor.
"You seem undecided. Can I help?"
Joe hadn't noticed the guy standing beside him with a cart containing cans of wood stain and varnish. A quick sideways glanced revealed that he was a good bit shorter than Joe, probably about 5'8", that he had curly, medium-brown hair, hazel eyes, a wiry build, a nice package, and a perky butt. He looked to be a bit older than Joe, maybe late twenties. He wasn't wearing the familiar orange apron. Just jeans, work shoes, and a tee. Obviously a customer, not an employee. And definitely hot!
"Uh, yeah, probably," Joe answered. "I'm painting walls. Need a brush to do the trim around the doors and stuff and a roller and cover. But there are so damn many choices."
"Ah," the guy said, grinning. "A do-it-yourselfer, huh?"
"Yeah. I'm doin' it for my landlady."
"So, I see you've got latex paint there. For the cutting in you'll want a brush with nylon bristles." He took one off the rack. "Now this is a really good brush. Clean it good with soap and water when you're finished and it will last for years."
"I don't think I'll be needing one quite that good."
"Okay," the guy said, giving him a smile that made him twitch, "then this will do almost as well and costs half as much."
"Um, thanks." Joe really wasn't thinking straight by this point. He was too mesmerized by the little stud beside him.
"Now, what kind of surface are you painting over?'
Again, the smile. "Not over wallpaper, I hope."
"Uh, no, it's plaster."
"Stippled or smooth?"
"Okay, this should do just fine," the guy said, handing Joe a roller cover. Then he took a roll of blue painter's tape from a hook, dropped it in Joe's cart, and said, "Use this. You'll be glad you did."
"Um, thanks." Joe didn't think he could possibly have carried on much more of a conversation at that moment.
"Not a problem," the little hunk said, waving his hand before heading toward the front of the store.
"Damn!" Joe said out loud. A woman with curlers in her hair and a toddler in her cart turned and scowled at him.
Ignoring her, Joe watched the tight little butt twist inside the Levi's as the helpful stranger walked away.
`That's one seriously hot little dude!'
Then he checked out, went home, and painted Mrs. Brill's front hall, thinking from time to time about the guy in the store.
* * *
Jeff Karensky. Now that his libido had returned from its long exile, Joe wondered about a lot of guys. No longer was it just a matter of admiring a basket or a butt. Now it involved wondering whether the basket or butt belonged to someone who liked to play with other men.
He wondered about Karensky. Jeff was the guy who took care of equipment problems that Joe or Dave couldn't manage. Not an employee of Cromer Landscaping, he worked on a contract basis, repairing recalcitrant mowers, edgers, trimmers, chain saws, and the like. (The trucks, the backhoe, and the other large pieces of equipment were all serviced at a local garage.) Joe had learned over his four years with Cromer to change spark plugs and clean fuel lines in mowers. As Dave became busier and busier with the running of the business, doing all the design work, negotiating contracts for the big jobs, and such, he was less available to see to equipment problems, and Joe had learned just to call Jeff when something broke down and he couldn't fix it.
With a bunch of high school and college guys using the equipment, things seemed to need repair all the time. Jeff was usually in the shop a couple of times a week. At 5'10" and 170 pounds, he wasn't quite as big as Joe, but he was hunky. He regularly wore cut-off jeans, a grease-stained tee, and work boots. His hair was straight and short, a blond bleached even lighter by the summer sun, his eyes a pale blue. Joe figured he'd clean up good.
The thing about Jeff was that he was always smiling. A very friendly guy. The constant puzzle for Joe was whether Jeff was friendlier around him than he was with other guys. He always took time to chat for a few minutes, no matter how busy his day was. Joe found himself looking forward to Jeff's visits to the shop. When Jeff was around, Joe found himself wishing more than ever that he had the "gaydar" he'd heard and read about. And that made him wonder what Justin Quinn thought about Jeff. But, of course, he couldn't very well ask Justin that kind of question.
Still, the mechanic was a definite hottie, and it would be nice to know if he was "family," to use a term he'd picked up from Roger. Even if he was straight, and he probably was, you couldn't blame a guy for looking.
* * *
Joe had been running along in his quiet little groove ever since he'd dropped out of the University and gone to work. In the closet. Not attracting attention. Not thinking much. Trying not to feel much. And that had been okay. A way of getting along. Doing an honest day's work, paying the bills.
But since that night with Roger . . . . Or had it been since Dave had given him the new job? The two had happened close together. Well, since then, life had seemed a lot more interesting. But there was this . . . ache? Itch? Both, actually. Now that his libido had been reawakened, he found he needed more sex. But he also found himself looking enviously at Justin and Bailey, at Dave and Brody. Those guys had someone to care about. And that was something he realized he wanted. Maybe it was too much to hope for right away. After all, he'd just spent four plus years trying not to think about other guys, either as sex partners or as lovers. But someday?
He and Roger had been together twice. And both times Roger had left without suggesting any kind of follow-up. Joe knew Roger's number was in the phone book, Roger had told him that. But Joe was determined not to call. He didn't know what he'd say if he called and got Mrs. Norton. For that matter, he wasn't sure what he'd say to Roger, except that he'd like to get together for more sex. And he blushed at the thought of doing that.
Still, the beast, once liberated, refused to go back into his cave.
He decided he could use some new polos and a couple more pairs of khaki shorts now that it was summer. And with his increased income, he could actually afford them. So one evening he went home after work, ate the roast beef dinner he'd popped in the microwave, showered, and went to the mall.
He spent twenty minutes looking at clothes at Dillard's. At first he was disappointed when he didn't see Roger around. But then he remembered that Roger worked in the suit department, which was at the far end of the men's section. So he took the shirts and shorts he had selected and went to one of the check out stations. As he paid for his purchases, he asked the middle-aged woman if Roger was working that evening.
"Oh, yes, but he's on his dinner break. He should be back in a half an hour or so. Do you want to wait for him?"
"Oh, no, that's okay. He's just a buddy, and I thought I'd say `hi' if he was here." He took the bag with his purchases and left, embarrassed.
Later that evening, he was watching a Tigers game on TV and drinking a beer when his phone rang.
"Oh, hi, Rog."
"I hear you were in the store this evening."
"How'd you know?"
"Kathy told me."
"How'd she know my name?"
"She didn't. But she described you to a T. Said there was this tall, hunky guy with black hair and blue eyes. I knew right away who she meant."
"Um, well, I . . ."
"Stocking up on summer duds, huh?"
"Yeah. And since I was there, I thought I'd say hi."
He summoned up his nerve. "Rog, would you like to get together?"
"Well, whenever you've got time." He was beginning to sound like he was pleading, and he didn't want to do that.
"Tell you what. I'm finished at 9:00 tomorrow, and I don't have to work on Saturday. How about meeting me at Gridley's about 9:30? Or would you rather have me come to your place?"
"I've got beer. Why don't you just come straight here?"
"Sounds good to me, stud. See you tomorrow night. Have the beer good and cold, okay?"
Thinking of what they'd be doing, Joe felt himself flushing. "Uh, yeah, good and cold, Rog."
After they'd hung up, he was pleased with himself. Up to this point he'd left it to Roger to make the first move. This time he'd initiated things, and Roger hadn't refused. Joe took that as a good sign.
Roger showed up in a blazer, tie, and dress slacks. But he had a backpack that, he said, contained jeans, a polo, and his sneakers. "I put this in the car when I went to work. So I'm prepared, just like a boy scout."
"Dude, you ain't no boy scout."
Roger gave him an evil grin. "You've noticed, have you?"
Roger got out of his suit, but he never managed to put on anything else that evening.
Their night of sex was more athletic than romantic, but that seemed to be what Roger wanted, and it was okay with Joe.
This time, Roger spent the night. The next morning at breakfast Joe asked, "Your mom won't be worried about you?"
"No. I told her I was spending the night with a friend."
Joe grinned. "Does she know what that means?"
Roger returned the grin. "Oh, yeah."
Joe chewed thoughtfully on a bite of English muffin.
"Mmmm?" He replied, his mouth otherwise occupied as well.
"You told me once your number's in the phone book. But you've never said anything about me calling you. Does that mean you don't want me to?"
"Shit, no! I guess I just forgot." He poured some corn flakes into a bowl and added milk. "You must have thought I was kind of using you." Giving Joe a more serious look, Roger continued, "Don't misunderstand, Joe, but I gotta say this."
"What?" Joe put two more muffin halves in the toaster.
"We're having fun, right?"
Joe tingled at the thought of what they had done that night. Twice. "Oh, yeah!"
"But that's all it is. We're just, well, fuck buddies, aren't we?"
"Yeah. This ain't luuuuuv or anything like that, so you can relax."
"Good man! I thought you understood, but better to make sure. Now, you won't get your panties in a twist if some time before I take off for Pittsburgh I find myself in some other dude's bed, will you?"
Joe snorted. "Nobody's ever accused me of wearin' panties before. But, no, it's your business who you screw. As long as I've got the same rights."
"Cool, Superstud. So tell me, have you been screwing any other guys lately?"
"Hey, I haven't asked you that question."
"Whoa! Didn't mean to pry."
Joe used his fork to put a toasted muffin on Roger's plate and one on his own.
"It's okay. Since you asked, you're the only action I've been gettin'."
"We'll have to fix that. What say we go to Nelly's some evening?"
"That seems to me like a place where guys go to hook up. Going there wouldn't mean you want to dump me, would it?"
"Nah. But I would like to see you fixed up before I leave town."
* * *
Dave got the guys who'd played for the Higgins Hammers the previous season plus Joe and three other newbies together for a couple of practice sessions. Then the season started and they played two evenings a week. Joe wound up in left field. He wasn't upset. He was new and untested. And he hadn't played since high school, so he'd have done the same thing if he were Dave. Besides, he'd always been an outfielder, though mostly in center.
The camaraderie was great. He still hadn't officially come out, despite what Justin thought, but Dave, Brody, Justin, and Bailey were. The other guys on the team obviously weren't bothered by that. After all, they could have played for some other team if they wanted to.
One evening during a game with the Colby Clippers, Joe was sitting next to Justin, who was sitting next to Dave on the bench, waiting for their turns at bat. They were idly watching Squats, their catcher, fouling one ball after another with the count three and two.
"Hey, Dave," Justin asked, "what happened to that jerk Hotchkiss that played for the Clippers last year? Not that I miss the bastard."
Dave was obviously trying not to smile. "Oh, he's no longer with the Colby PD."
"I hope he got shot."
From further down the bench Bailey Stone said, "Come on, Jus, you don't mean that! Who was Hotchkiss?"
"Oh, he was a particularly nasty homophobe," Justin explained. Then, turning to Dave, he asked, "So, what happened to him?"
"You know there's a new regime in the Colby PD. Chief Boros is gone. And Jim Grant, whose grass you and Bailey have been cutting, is the acting chief. Hotchkiss was pretty vocal about not wanting to work for a gay chief. So he was encouraged to leave. I hear he's down in Podunk somewhere, working with ex-Chief Boros."
"Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy," Brody commented.
"So Mr. Grant is really Chief Grant?" Bailey asked.
"Well, Acting Chief Grant. And not for much longer. I understand his replacement will be here July 1, and Grant's retiring from the department."
"He seems a bit young to retire."
"Oh," Brody said, "he's not totally retiring. He's gonna be a prof at CSU."
"Really? What department?"
"Cool!" Justin said. "He seems like a nice guy." He looked at Bailey. "Let's take a course from him."
"Sounds good. We'll have to see if there are any prerequisites, but if there aren't, why not?"
`So,' Joe thought, `that answers some questions. Guess it'll take me a while to get caught up with who's gay and who isn't around here. But it's nice that gay guys seem to know each other. What's the word? It's sort of like there's a gay network. Cool, as Quinn says.'
After the game, when they were gathering up their equipment, Brody put a hand on Joe's shoulder.
`God! He's such a hottie! Blond, blue eyes. Built. Nice guy. My age, but he's been around. Marines. Iraq. At Colby State now. Dave's a lucky guy!'
"I hear you and Roger Norton are friends."
"Um, yeah." Joe wondered how Brody knew that. But he was learning there weren't many secrets in the local gay community.
"Roger's a great guy. He helped Dave and me get together."
"He did?" `Cool, Joe! You sound like some awestruck teen.'
"Sure did. Rog and I sort of fooled around a bit at one time."
Joe had heard that, but he didn't know what to say. So he didn't say anything.
"But then Rog figured out how I felt about Dave. And he gave me a shove in the right direction. Told me I'd always be sorry if I didn't go for what I wanted. And he was right."
Joe still didn't know what to say. Or why Brody was telling him this.
"That's great, Brody. But I, um . . ."
"What's my point?" the stud asked, smiling.
"Like I said, Roger's smart. He understands people. He's a good guy. But he's not ready to get seriously involved with any guy yet."
"Uh huh." Joe nodded.
"You understand what I'm saying, Joe?"
"I think so. And I appreciate it. I know Rog's leaving for grad school the end of the summer. But he and I are just having fun together."
Brody popped his fist gently into Joe's stomach. "No harm in that. Just didn't want you to get hurt."
"Good! You know, Roger's right. You do look like Superman. Nice work this evening, by the way."
The last was exaggeration. Joe had caught a couple of long fly balls, but at the plate he'd been less than impressive.
"Hey, man, you're the guy who got three hits and drove in two runs."
"You'll get the hang of it soon. See you next time."
"Yeah. And Brody . . . thanks for caring."
"You're one of us, Joe. Welcome home."
Damn! Tears came to his eyes when Brody said that. He'd never felt as if he belonged anywhere since he left home and came to Colby. Until now. But what did he mean, "one of us"? A member of the Hammers? Or of Brody's circle of friends? Either way, it was nice.
* * *
Joe was nervous. The last time he'd gone to Nelly's, there'd been that scene with Marcus. And now Roger was insisting they go there. So, on a late June Saturday evening, here they were.
Joe was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a pale blue tee shirt. He'd have dressed up more, maybe put on a pair of khakis, but Roger had pretty much told him what to wear. Roger, too, was in faded jeans and a black tee. Both wore sneakers.
What Joe saw in the crowded bar was an overwhelming variety of men, with a few female couples scattered around like accent pieces. They stopped at the bar to get a pitcher of beer and two frosted mugs. They were able to get a booth just as two older men were leaving. Roger told him they were a CSU faculty member and an interior decorator.
"Probably going home for an early night," Roger said with a grin.
"But not to sleep?" Joe asked, grinning back.
"Not likely. They aren't that old."
Even though he'd been there once before, Joe couldn't help feeling a bit overwhelmed. All these people were gay? There were guys just barely old enough to be there legally, most of them looking like CSU students, but who could really tell? And then there were older men ranging all the way up to a couple who had to be in their forties. Well, why not? They could come in and have a beer on a Saturday night and watch the cute guys. That, come to think of it, was more or less what he and Roger were doing.
There was a bowl of Spanish peanuts on the table, and Joe helped himself. Just as he was doing so, Roger smiled and nodded at someone. Joe turned to look over his shoulder to see who it was. There were so many people at tables and in booths along the far wall that he had no idea who it was Roger had been acknowledging.
"Who were you smiling at?"
"See the two black dudes over there?" He tilted his head toward a booth across the room and slightly behind Joe.
Two big men, both very black, both over forty, maybe a bit older than that even, were sitting facing each other, in conversation.
"Yeah. You know them?"
"I know the one on the left. That's Digby Gautier. He's a music prof at CSU and he plays sax in various jazz groups locally. Nice dude. I haven't actually met the guy he's with, but I know he's Tyrese James, who's a big shot lawyer in Toledo. I used to see him in here with a really great-looking tranny, but for the last several months he's been showing up here with Gautier."
"A tranny? You mean like a transvestite?"
"Uh huh. And, dude, shut your mouth. There are such people, you know. Even in Colby."
"What happened to him? Her? It?"
"I heard she left town.
"How do you know all this shit?"
"Oh, you know, word gets around."
Joe grinned. "You mean gays are gossips?"
Returning the grin, Roger said, "Well, maybe."
"So nobody has any privacy."
"If you don't talk too much, you can keep your secrets."
"Speaking of that. Have you been telling people I'm gay?"
"Absolutely not. Why would you ask that?"
"Well, word seems to be getting around."
"Look, stud, you're here, aren't you? If you want to stay in the closet, you shouldn't be seen with me, and you shouldn't be in a place like this."
"True. But you and I haven't been out in public much, and I think some of the guys at work know about me."
Roger set his mug down and stared into space for a moment. Then he refocused on Joe. "One of the guys at work is Justin Quinn, right?"
"Well, I'd bet Justin has figured you out. He claims to be nearly perfect at it. And he isn't, shall we say, known for his discretion."
"Hey, Joe, he's probably just saying what he's guessing. But you're going to have trouble denying it after tonight. And, frankly, I don't see why you want to. Your boss isn't going to care. Do you have lots of friends who'll drop you if they find out you're gay?"
"No, not really." He grabbed the pitcher and poured some beer into Roger's mug, then refilled his own. "I just don't think it's anybody's business."
"In the abstract, you're absolutely right. But in a town like Colby you can't keep things like that a secret unless you stay in the closet. I thought you were enjoying your new freedom."
Joe thought about that for a moment or two. "You know, Rog, you're right. Who the fuck cares? I don't owe anybody any explanations."
Roger beamed and raised his mug. "Atta boy, Superman! Who the fuck cares? We're out, we're here, we're proud, so get used to it!"
Feeling better than he'd felt in a very long time, Joe raised his mug and said, "I'll drink to that!"
* * *
Joe and Roger had had a good night of it on Saturday after Nelly's. The sex had been fantastic, and he'd lazed around the apartment on Sunday feeling really comfortable with himself. His ass didn't even hurt much. It was more like a happy ache when he sat down or stood up.
Now, though, it was a rainy Monday morning and the forecasters had said it would teem most of the day. The crews had been told not to come in.
Joe was in the shop sharpening mower blades on a grinding wheel, his back to the door. Carborundum on steel makes a lot of noise, so he didn't actually hear anyone behind him, but he sensed someone was there. He turned off the grinder, put the blade on the bench, took off his goggles, and slowly turned around.
Pale blue eyes, just a tad lower than his. A sexy grin. Joe felt a twitch in his jeans. Karensky.
"Oh, hey, Jeff. I didn't hear you come in."
"I suppose not. But here I am!"
And there he was. Standing a little too much in Joe's personal space.
"I don't remember calling you. Don't think we have any equipment that needs work right now."
"Are you sure you don't have any equipment that needs attention?" Karensky lifted an eyebrow.
"Oh. Well, uh, then . . ." Did the sexy mechanic mean what he seemed to imply? Joe didn't want to just come out and ask. That would have been too blunt, and he wasn't raised that way.
"I saw you and Norton at Nelly's Saturday night."
"Oh, nothing. I was just wonderin' whether you and him are an exclusive item. Or is there some wiggle room in your relationship?"
"Jesus. You don't pussyfoot around, do you?"
"Not when I see something I want. And I'm definitely interested in you, Hill. I just never knew you were gay."
Joe cleared his throat. "Interested in me?"
"Oh, yeah! Why do you seem so surprised?"
"I don't, well, I just . . ."
"Awww, you're embarrassed! What's the matter? You've gotta know how hot you are!"
Joe knew he wasn't bad looking, but he'd always thought guys wouldn't be interested in him because he was, well, dull.
Jeff, who'd been standing close all the while, cupped Joe's balls. "Mmm. Big fat ones. Full, too, I imagine. How long's it been since you drained `em?"
Joe groaned and his cock began to stiffen uncomfortably in his jeans.
"Saturday night, not that it's any of your business."
"Come on, big guy. You missed yesterday? Let's get you some relief."
"But we can't, not here. Someone could come in."
"Okay. Let's use your office." He kept his hand in Joe's crotch and walked forward, propelling Joe backward toward the office door.
Moments later Joe's pants and boxers were around his ankles, his bare butt on the edge of his desk, as Jeff knelt in front of him, sucking his now rigid cock.
He'd fantasized about Karensky, but he'd never expected anything like this to happen. `Fuck,' he thought. `The guy's a stud. If he wants to blow me, what's wrong with that? Rog said I should find some other guys, so he won't care. And, oh shit, Jeff knows what he's doing!'
Fifteen minutes later a still-stunned Joe went back to sharpening mower blades, very aware of the taste of Jeff Karensky in his mouth.
To Be Continued
Big hugs to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey for all kinds of editorial advice and encouragement.
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you email me, please put the story title in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim