By Tim Mead
After a restless night Jesse got up early Saturday morning to run before it became too hot. He was looking forward to the fall weather which, natives of the area told him, was right around the corner.
When he got back to his apartment, he found he couldn't remember much about what he'd seen on the run. His mind had been on Ray and their very brief phone conversation the evening before. Obviously Ray wasn't ready to hear Jesse's apology.
He showered, dressed, had juice and high-fiber, high-protein cereal for breakfast. He knew by then Kroger's would be open, so he grabbed his wallet and his shopping list and went to his car.
Ray continued to occupy Jesse's thoughts as he worked his way through the crowded supermarket putting items into his shopping cart almost by rote.
He noticed as he loaded the bags of groceries in his car that there were big black clouds off to the west. As the weather mavens on TV were fond of saying, storm systems usually came from the west. Wouldn't mind some rain, especially if it cooled things off.
After he returned home and put away the groceries, he remembered the clothes from the evening before. He'd forgotten and left them in the dryer overnight, and they were a wrinkled mess. It didn't matter about the tee shirts and socks, but he'd have to iron the khakis and the button-up shirts. He'd never been a fan of the slept-in look.
Once the socks and tees were folded and put away, the pants and shirts ironed, he sat. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
The question was what to do about Ray. Jesse really didn't want this thing between them to get any worse. The image of Brody clubbing Harry's knee remained vividly in his imagination. He didn't know Brody well. He felt on more solid ground with Ray, who was not, he was sure, by nature a cruel person. Ray's excitement over what had transpired with Harry had been the result of adrenalin, most likely. Realizing he had probably over-reacted, Jesse though he should apologize for leaving Ray's place so abruptly, if only he could get the chance.
He tried to call Ray, knowing he almost never turned off his phone. And the phone wasn't turned off. However, it rang and rang, but Ray didn't answer.
A rumbling from his stomach echoed the thunder outside, reminding him it was lunch time. He poured a glass of iced tea and drank it as he ate a banana and an apple.
He had planned to cut the grass that afternoon, but it had started to rain. And this rain looked as if it might be around for a while.
So he did what had become his habit since enrolling at the university. When there was nothing else to do, he turned to his books, in this case his sociology text. There wasn't much reading in connection with the computer course, though he had some projects to work on on his PC.
He woke mid afternoon, the fat text in his lap. It was dark outside, even darker in his apartment, and the rain continued. He moved to the chair by his window and looked out at the back yard. The birds and squirrels had gone wherever they go when it rains. The grass had turned that bright green it becomes during a rain, and the leaves of the oak tree glistened.
Jesse enjoyed a feeling of coziness, comfortable being inside looking out at the rain. He liked the sound of rain on the roof and the languor that came from having nothing he absolutely had to do right then. The only thing lacking was having someone to snuggle up and share the moment with.
He didn't know how long he'd sat there before the ringing of the phone brought him back to reality.
"Um, Jess, don't hang up, please."
"I wouldn't do that to you," Jesse said, thinking that's pretty much what Ray had done to him the last time they'd talked.
"I guess I deserve that. But I'm calling to apologize."
Jesse took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, "Apology accepted. And I need to apologize, too."
"Look, I've got a pot of spaghetti sauce simmering. Would you mind slogging through the rain and coming over here? We could have a salad, I've got some good Italian rolls, and I'll open a bottle of red wine."
"I'll bring the wine. Will the sauce keep for an hour?"
"The longer it simmers the better, but come as soon as you can, okay?"
"Right. Just need to get a quick shower." He didn't want to say so to Ray, but there was always the possibility that they'd be having make-up sex, and he wanted to be fresh.
"See you soon. Drive carefully."
Jesse took the shower, put on clean clothes, grabbed a bottle of merlot from his wine rack and a cardboard box from his closet, went downstairs, and sprinted to his Corolla.
Though it was a Saturday, Ray got up that morning at his usual time and went to the gym, where he worked off some of his feelings of frustration and irritation with Jesse.
He spent the rest of the morning grocery shopping and running the usual Saturday errands.
For lunch he fixed himself a sandwich and drank a glass of iced tea with it. When he was finished, he put the dish, the knife he'd used to spread mayo, and the glass in the dishwasher. He was restless and needed to talk with someone. Neither of his parents would do. Nor anyone at work. The only friend he felt close enough to was Jesse. And Jesse was the problem.
He thought of Jim Grant and reached for his phone. When his mentor and former boss answered and they exchanged greetings, he said, "Jim, I hate to intrude on a weekend, but I need to vent and I could use some advice. I don't want to tear you away from the professor, but would you have some time for me maybe?"
"As it happens, Jake has torn himself away from me. He's at a conference."
"Do they have those things on weekends?"
"Not usually, but this one happens to be. So, would you like to come over?"
"Right away if you want."
Ray thanked him, said he'd be there in half an hour, and hung up.
As he drove through the rain he remembered that it had been raining the last time he'd been to the big house in the country where Jim and Jake lived. The place had a big front porch and a huge back yard with lots of shade. But, as with his previous visit, there'd be no sitting outside.
Jim Grant and Archie greeted him at the door, just as they had the last time Ray was there. Again, Ray stooped to pet the dog and then stood to be hugged by his host.
Grant was a young-looking fifty-something who, Ray suspected, wore contacts. His hair was black, though there was a small balding patch near the back of the top, and he had some gray at the temples and over the ears. He stood straight and looked fit, though Ray knew he would always walk with a limp from a work-related injury.
After the hug, Grant held Ray at arms' length. "How are you doing, Ray? You're looking good."
"I'm okay, thanks."
"But you say you have a problem?"
"Yes, sir. A couple of them. Related ones, actually."
"I'd thought we might sit on the porch and watch it rain, but it's gotten chilly, hasn't it? Come on in the big room. Would you like something to eat or drink?"
"No, sir. I just had lunch a while ago."
"Ray, I'm not your boss any more. We're friends. Do we have to have this conversation every time we've not seen each other for a while?"
"No, Jim. I'm sorry. I'm just feeling a little insecure, I guess."
Once they were seated in big chairs beside a window that looked out on the back yard, Grant asked, "So what's making you insecure?"
Archie had settled himself in front of the fireplace, even though it would probably be a couple of months before it held a fire. His head on his paws, he watched the two men.
Ray poured it all out. About Jesse's stalker, what he and Brody had done to scare the guy off, his being chided by Marlowe, and about Jesse's negative reaction to what they'd done to Sloane. He felt a little guilty about mentioning Brody's name, but he trusted Grant, who listened to it all without interrupting.
Archie, stretched out on his side, snored softly.
His master stood.
"Sure you wouldn't like a beer or something, Ray?"
"Um, no, thanks. I'm good."
"Well, it's damp and turning chilly. I think I'll make a cup of tea. Sure you won't have anything?"
"Actually, the tea does sound nice."
Grant's moving out of the room woke up Archie, who went to the kitchen to check on his master and then came back to where Ray was sitting. He stretched to rest his chin on Ray's knee.
"Need some lovin', Arch?" When Ray scratched behind his ears, the beagle closed his eyes, obviously content. When Ray finally quit, Archie gave him a little tail wag and went back to the kitchen.
A few minutes later Grant called out, "How do you take your tea, Ray?"
"Just a little milk, please." That was the way his mother had taught him to drink hot tea.
When they were settled once more, each with a steaming mug, Grant said, "First of all, Phil Marlowe was right. However much you may have wanted to help your friend, you've misused your position as a policeman and you're an accomplice to an attack on the stalker." He took a sip of tea and set the mug down. "What might you have done instead?"
"I suppose I could have talked with him. I could have told him that we knew about the stalking in New York and that we'd be watching him while he was here. That if Jesse filed a complaint, we'd follow up on it."
"Uh huh. So your captain let you off with a warning?"
"Frankly, I'd say you got off easy."
"I see that."
"Okay. Lesson learned. Now we come to the harder part. The law is pretty clear-cut most of the time. Affairs of the heart often aren't."
Ray hadn't quite thought of this tiff with Jesse as an affair of the heart, but now that Jim Grant had used the term, he supposed it was. He very much wanted this relationship with Jesse to work. Which meant that his heart really was involved. Maybe, he thought, that's why it hurt so much when Jess didn't seem to appreciate what Brody and I did for him.
"You and Jesse are just getting to know each other, aren't you?"
Grant raised an eyebrow, probably at Ray's use of sir. "So you really don't know much about what life has been like for him. You were a jock in high school, weren't you?"
Ray nodded. "A minor one. Played center field."
"And you've been through the police academy, so you're trained in the use of weapons. And in self-defense."
That was self-evident, so Ray merely waited for Grant to continue.
"So perhaps you need to understand that you and Jesse bring very different experiences, even very different mind-sets to the table. A lot of people would have been shocked by what Brody did to the stalker. What's his name?"
"Sloane. Um, you're not gonna tell people that Brody was involved in this are you?"
Grant smiled. "I'm not a gossip, Ray. And I have no official involvement with the police any more. This conversation is between friends. The point I was about to make is that you should cut Jesse some slack. Now that he's had time to think about it, I'd bet he's grateful for what you and Brody did for him. He just needs to be allowed to tell you."
Ray, who'd been sipping his tea, finished it off and set down the mug.
"I'm sure you're right. And I really appreciate you giving me some time this afternoon. I promise I'll stick to procedure on the job. But right now I think I need to go find my guy and apologize."
They both stood.
Grant smiled. "There's something you might want to remember and pass on to Jesse sometime. It's from Orwell, I think."
He said something about rough men protecting people, but Ray didn't catch it all.
"I like that! Could you write it down for me?"
Grant went to the kitchen and came back a couple of minutes later with a slip torn from a small note pad.
Ray thanked him. They hugged. And he left.
He went home, hung up his damp hoodie, and began pulling things out of his pantry and refrigerator: ground beef, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, onion, garlic, bell pepper, basil, and oregano. A while later, when the sauce was simmering slowly, he called Jesse, who seemed to be in a mood to be reconciled. He agreed to come over as soon as he'd had a shower.
When Jesse arrived Ray hugged him before he got a chance to put down his offerings or take off his hoodie.
"Poor baby, you're all wet."
"Yeah, it's really coming down out there."
Still holding him tightly Ray said, "I'm sorry I was a bitch to you when you called."
"I think I was the bitch."
Ray took the wine. Jesse set the box down beside the door and took off his hoodie. Ray didn't even seem to notice as he led the way to the kitchen.
"We need to talk, Jess, but let's have some wine first. There's some good spinach dip I can put in the microwave."
He handed Jesse the corkscrew and bustled around the kitchen while Jesse opened the wine.
When they were settled in the living room with wine, dip, and pita triangles, Jesse said, "Just so you'll know, I tried to call you a couple of times today and you didn't answer."
"Sorry `bout that. I was out doing the Saturday errands this morning. Then after lunch I had a long talk with Jim Grant. I'll explain that later. Right now, let's just enjoy the moment."
Jesse visibly tensed. "Ray, are you getting ready to dump me?"
"Oh, Jesus, no! We've just had our first major misunderstanding, but I don't want it to break us up!"
"Well, in that case, cheers." Jesse lifted his glass in salute to Ray.
The knot in Ray's stomach relaxed a bit.
Ray hadn't fixed many meals for Jesse. He knew he wasn't a very good cook. But he did know how to make spaghetti sauce. At least he'd helped his mother with it often enough. On this wet, gray day, he thought of it as comfort food.
He was nervous, however, as he cooked the pasta and set the table. Jesse seemed a little edgy, too, but Ray didn't think he was terribly angry. In fact, as he was draining the pasta, he noticed that Jesse was grinning.
"In The Big Chill, one of the characters threw a strand of spaghetti against the fridge. It stuck. He said that's how you could tell if it was done."
Ray chuckled. "I think maybe it's less messy just to taste it."
As they ate, Jesse complimented him on the meal.
"This is delicious, Ray. And it's a treat to have freshly grated parmesan instead of the dry, powdery stuff in the green can. Are you sure there isn't some Italian in your lineage?"
He knew he was blushing and hated, for the millionth time, his coloring. "Nope. This is just plain old Ohio spaghetti."
When they finished, Jesse helped Ray clean up the kitchen.
There were brownies, but they took coffee to the living room, deciding to postpone the pleasure of dessert for later. Ray hoped that Jesse would still be around after their impending talk.
Since Jesse's arrival they hadn't had any trouble finding things to chat about, but they'd tacitly avoided THE topic.
Finally, Jesse set down his mug and said, "Ray, I haven't thanked you yet for chasing Junior back to Manhattan. I'm really grateful to you and Brody for that. I'm sorry I didn't tell you that the other night. I'm sorry I rushed off. That was stupid of me."
"Well, I won't say it didn't hurt. But your apology is accepted. And Jim Grant helped me see things from your point of view this afternoon."
"So he knows what happened?"
"Yeah. I told him all about what I've done, what Brody and I did. Didn't want him hearing about it from Captain Marlowe."
"What's Marlowe got to do with all this?"
"He knows about most of it. You see, I asked the BCI lab to check the fingerprints on that letter the creep sent you. And I'm not authorized to do that. So the Captain found out about it. And then the boss security guy at The Colby Inn told Marlowe what he knew about our confrontation with Sloane."
"How much did he know?"
"I'd asked him for a pass key to the room in case your friend wasn't in. We would have waited inside for him."
"And Beaumont, who's an ex-cop, told the Captain that one of their guests, the one using the room in question, had checked out with a pronounced limp he didn't have when he checked in. So Captain Marlowe figured out most of what was going on."
"Uh oh! What did he do?"
"He called me in and very nicely ripped me a new one. Accused me of vigilantism and said if it happened again he'd bust me and put me back in uniform." With a wry smile, Ray added, "He said I'd be spending my nights riding around in a cruiser in rural Colby County."
"Jesus, baby! You mentioned that you and Brody took some risks, but I didn't have any idea! I'm so sorry! I wish I'd never told you about Junior."
"I'm the one who's at fault. I just should have handled him through proper channels." He grinned. "But at least we got rid of the bastard."
"Do you think you can get back in the Captain's good graces?"
Ray nodded. "When he was threatening me with being busted, he was trying not to grin, I think. I'll be a good boy." After a moment he continued, "And, Jess, I was nasty to you on the phone that night when you called and I wouldn't talk to you. I'm sorry."
"I was calling to apologize then, Ray."
"Shit! Me and my temper. That's why they say in a relationship it's important to communicate. What I did was childish. Forgive me?"
"Yeah, I think you know I do."
"Well, there's one thing I want you to see. Jim gave it to me this afternoon." He reached into his pocket, pulled out the slip of paper, and handed it to Jesse.
On it Grant had written, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf – George Orwell."
Jesse was quiet for a moment. "You know, I'd never thought of it that way. But we do take you guys, cops and the military for granted, don't we? And I see now how blind I've been to reap the benefits of that kind of protection and still somehow fear or mistrust it. Obviously I've got some thinking to do."
"Okay. Jim said you should see it. I've passed it on. Now, are we okay?"
Jesse stood up, took a couple of steps, held out a hand to Ray. "Let's sit on the sofa."
When they were side by side, they turned toward each other and, putting their arms around each other, began to kiss.
After they made out for a while and had become breathless, Ray panted, "Ready for dessert now?"
Jesse grinned and said, "Not for brownies. Hang on a sec."
He went to the box he'd set down beside the front door, got it, and came back to Ray.
"I think we need to explore this in the bedroom."
"It's not dessert?"
"It's my box of toys."
In the bedroom, Ray said, "Okay, let's see what you've got in there."
"Might as well get naked first."
When they had shed their clothes, Jesse glanced at Ray's erection, grinned, and said, "Looks like you enjoy snogging as much as I do."
"Snogging's a funny word for it."
"That's what the Brits call it."
"Well, I loved the snogging. And I confess I'm turned on by the idea of what's in that box."
"Oh, you're gonna love this stuff, bottom boy."
"And who's the bottom boy all that stuff belongs to?"
"That would be moi. Now let me show you my collection."
Jesse's box had a surprising variety of dildoes, vibrators, butt plugs – even a set of anal beads.
"Why does the expression, `like a kid in a candy store' come to mind?" Ray asked, grinning.
"Let's sample some of them. You grab the lube and I'll turn back the bedcovers."
"Be right back." Ray went to the bathroom and came back with two beach towels. "Just to catch any leakage."
Over the next two or three hours, they tried out or tried each of Jesse's toys, including the double dildo. Ray didn't like that as much as he'd expected to. He had seen them being used in porn vids. The problem was that he couldn't see Jesse when they were both plugged with it. So it became almost an anonymous activity. Fun for others to watch, had there been any others around, but not something for lovers to do.
Eventually, Ray, his whole body quivering, gasped out, "I've been on the verge of exploding for an hour, and I think you have, too."
Jesse rolled Ray onto his back, climbed on top, ground his cock against Ray's abs, and began to kiss him. That was all it took. Ray's cock erupted, coating himself and Jesse with cum. Jesse humped his own in the warm, sticky mess a few times, and that triggered his own orgasm.
They lay there, Jesse on top, kissing and wiggling.
When his heart rate had returned to normal, Ray asked, "Why'd you do that? I wanted you to fuck me."
"And I want you to fuck me. But we can make it last a lot longer now that we've both cum."
"Want to get cleaned up first?"
Giving Ray an evil grin, Jesse said, "Nah. Let's just stay nasty. Who's going first?"
"We could flip a coin."
And that's what they did.
Some time around midnight they showered and, towels around their hips, went to the kitchen for brownies and milk.
Ray awoke the next morning to see Jesse standing beside the bed in running shorts and a wife beater.
"I thought you took all your clothes with you when you left last time."
"I found these in the bottom of your laundry basket. The rain has stopped, and I'm going for my run."
Jesse grinned. "When I don't get my morning run, I'm likely to be irritable."
"God forbid! So go! I'll get my shower and have breakfast on the table when you get back."
"I'll need to shower first."
"You mean you haven't?"
"I'm about to go get very sweaty."
"Yeah, but if anyone gets a whiff of you they'll know what you were doing last night."
"Let 'em eat their hearts out."
Things were going so well, Ray was reluctant to trouble the waters. But, remembering what they'd said the night before about communicating, he decided to press on.
So, at breakfast, he said, "Jess, there's something you and I still have to talk about."
"I told you about being on a kind of unofficial probation with Captain Marlowe?"
"Uh huh." Jesse set down his glass of orange juice and gave Ray his full attention.
"Well, it wouldn't do my work situation any good if it got out that my lover was smoking pot."
Jesse's eyes narrowed. "How'd you know about the pot?"
"I smelled it one day when I was in your apartment."
"You aren't gonna get all judgmental on me are you?"
"No, babe. I did a little weed now and then when I was in college. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. But I'm a cop, so I can't condone people using it. Technically, I should have turned you in."
"Jesus!. Everybody does it. You wouldn't really arrest me, would you?"
"You're putting me on the spot, man. If it comes to the attention of anyone on the Force that you have weed in your house and are smoking it and that I knew about it, both our asses would be in a sling."
Jesse thought for a while. "So you're saying that if we're going to be together I've got to give it up?"
"Think about it. I want us to be together, Jesse. Seriously. But suppose we split up. Then I'd still be required by my job to turn you in."
"What if I told you I'd quit?"
"If I catch your meaning, you'd better not let anybody in your apartment whose nose is working properly. It's hard to hide that smell. And think of this: I'm not absolutely sure about the law, but you might even get Mrs. Brill in trouble if the police found the stuff on her property."
Jesse got up, went to the coffee carafe, and poured himself a refill. "You want more?"
Back in his place at the table, he sighed. "I guess there are disadvantages to being in Bumfuck, Ohio. I can't believe anybody really cares if I mellow out with a joint once in a while. Who the fuck is it hurting?"
"Nobody. But I'm sworn to uphold the law, whether I agree with it or not. And there's our bind."
Jesse took a swallow of his coffee and stared out the window. After what seemed to Ray an eternity, he turned and said, "Okay. I'll flush it down the john. It wasn't very good compared to what I could get in New York." Then he grinned. "But you may be guilty of turning me into an alcoholic."
Ray smiled back at him. "At least drinking's not illegal. And I can point you toward the local AA groups if necessary."
Later, as Jesse was leaving, Ray hugged him, kissed him, and said into his ear, "Keep your windows open and use lots of air freshener. And be careful who you invite in."
"Does that include you, sergeant?"
The misunderstanding cleared up, life went on pretty much as usual for Jesse and Ray. They spent most weekends together, but rarely weeknights, since Ray often had to work late and Jesse was, in Ray's view, excessively conscientious about his studies.
They had taken Dave Cromer and Brody Cox to dinner to thank Brody for his help getting rid of Harry Sloane. Jesse had been alarmed at first that Dave knew all about that evening, but Ray had reminded him that Dave and Brody were partners and kept no secrets from each other.
It had been a pleasant evening. Jesse seemed to relax and feel comfortable with Ray's two hunky friends as the evening progressed. When they split up afterward, they were looking forward to seeing one another at the Colby Queers' get-together scheduled for Labor Day.
The weekend itself went well, for the most part. There was a parade on the Saturday, however, and Captain Marlowe had insisted that Ray don his uniform and march with the CPD contingent. Ray was pretty sure it was a not-so-subtle reminder to mind his p's and q's.
The CQ picnic was held in Jake and Jim's big back yard, though the catering was done by Adrian's. Ray enjoyed seeing and chatting with all the people he'd gotten to know at previous gatherings of the group, and it was fun introducing Jesse, who attracted lots of attention. Most of the guys had heard that a famous model was now residing in the area and were eager to get a look at him.
Ray might have felt jealous seeing his lover surrounded by so many gay men, but he was pleased that Jesse seemed right at home. However solitary he might be at times, he knew how to handle himself at gatherings like this.
Nearly everyone Ray had met before was there. Jesse had been hoping to see Casey, but he wasn't in evidence. When Ray got the chance, he asked Albert if Casey had been invited.
"Ah, oui. Adrian and Tom do not usually invite undergraduates, but as I wished to bring Casey as my guest, they agreed to invite him. Unfortunately for me he went back to Cleveland this weekend to see his grandmère, that is, his grandmother. He will return tomorrow for the beginning of classes on Wednesday."
"I'm very sorry that we couldn't retrieve his stolen computer."
"C'est dommage, ça. It is unfortunate."
"Will he be in the dormitory again this semester?"
Albert nodded. "For the fall term, yes. But I know he wishes more privacy and would like to move off campus."
Someone else came up to say hello to Albert, and Ray was engaged in conversation by Micah Sutton and Joe Hill.
When they got home that evening, both Jesse and Ray were exhilarated, though more from being with all those interesting, attractive men than from the alcohol they'd consumed. They spent over an hour comparing notes and talking about the CQ members. Jesse had many questions about who was who and who was with whom.
On that Wednesday, as Albert had pointed out, fall-term classes began, and life returned to what had become normal for Ray and Jesse. They spent weekends together, only occasionally meeting each other for dinner on weeknights.
Things were normal, that is, until the second Friday of the semester.
Ray hadn't gotten away from the office until 5:30. He knew Jesse was coming to his apartment after his last class, so he wasn't surprised when his lover greeted him at the door.
He was surprised, however, at the strange look on Jesse's face.
"What's up, babe?"
"Oh, come on in and see!" Jesse backed up, turned, and gestured. On the coffee table were a dozen yellow roses and a bottle of wine.
"Roses? For me? But why did you--"
"Then where did they come from?" Ray asked.
"I have a question for you, Stonesifer."
"Who the fuck is Spike?"
To Be Continued
Thanks to Tinnean for the Orwell quotation.
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org Please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim