A special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. A big thanks to Brad and Rockhunter for their patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right'.
I love to receive feedback at email@example.com. My other stories are listed in Nifty's Prolific Authors section, and on www.gayauthors.org.
Chapter 19, HOME SWEET HOME
The clock radio announced the new day abruptly at 7:30 a.m. when Van Halen's "Runnin' With The Devil" suddenly blared from the speaker. Jeremy's taste in music had matriculated to the 'classic rock' genre - probably because Charlie had 'The Loop' FM station tuned in at his apartment. The DJ, a guy named Johnny B, bumped the end of the song with time and temperature before introducing the newsreader. 'Nobody should be that cheerful this early in the morning,' Jeremy thought with a shudder as he turned off the radio and got out of bed. He yawned, stretched and scratched while he became more coherent.
His plan of action...at least for the next few minutes...included taking a whiz, starting the coffee and getting cleaned up for the day. He considered the extra pleasure of 'rubbing one out' while he was showering but decided to wait for the real thing later that night. Jeremy grabbed a pair of briefs, opened his bedroom door and made sure the coast was clear. He didn't want his sister to catch him in the buff sprouting a woodie that had a mind of its own. 'It's easier to take a morning pee and let little Jer deflate before attempting to put on my underwear,' he rationalized as he did a fast walk to the bathroom.
A few splashes of water on his face and a swig 'n' swirl of mouthwash gave Jeremy enough time to allow his member become more pliable and assure a fairly accurate aim into the commode. He quietly sighed while doing his business and thought about calling Charlie. They had planned on picking up their tips and going to the bank later in the morning. 'I'll call him around 9:30,' Jeremy decided. 'He'll be up by that time.' His concentration was interrupted by a couple of taps on the closed door.
"Jeremy, I guess you're up for the day?" Naomi asked from the hallway.
"Not any more, Sis. It never lasts that long," Jeremy replied with a snicker.
"Ewww. Things about my brother I don't need to know."
"You're right - it's a guy thing. To answer your question, it's going to be a busy day. I'm just about finished here and on my way to make coffee. You want to do your thing in here first? I can take a fast shower after you finish."
"That works for me. I won't be too long. By the way, dear...I'm going to miss your joking around."
Jeremy flushed the toilet, put down the seat and stepped into his CK's. After a few adjustments, he opened the door and said with a grin, "Morning, sexy."
"Right. My hair's a mess, no makeup and I'm wearing one of your old Cubs tee shirts. I wish Tom was as easy."
"Brotherly love...what can I tell you." Jeremy stepped out to the hallway and added, "Take your time. I'll do coffee, eat some cereal and watch the morning news. I also need to write that lease termination letter. It's days like this when I wish I had a computer." He had decided to buy his first computer and it was on the list of 'things to do' with Charlie later that day.
"Go ahead. I need to get ready for my shift at the hospital...then the john is yours." Naomi winked and closed the door.
The local morning show droned in the background while he drank coffee and ate his cereal. Jeremy's thoughts were more on the pending moves and sudden change in his living pattern. However, he couldn't blame his sister for wanting to get on with her life. Charlie had never spoken about their living together and Jeremy was unsure what the reception would be if he should bring it up. His lover seemed pleased at the arrangement they currently had and Charlie's apartment was really sized for one person. Jeremy cleaned up his dishes and wrote a lease termination letter in longhand.
"I'm finished and ready for coffee." Naomi was now in her professional nurse's aide mode. She poured coffee and took a sip. "I hope I can teach Tom to make coffee half as good as you. He's into green tea."
"There's probably plenty of things you're going to teach him...including wiping up dribbles and putting the toilet seat down," Jeremy said with a laugh. "Would you look over the letter? It's just a draft so fix anything you think should be changed."
"Will do. I'll probably be gone by the time you get showered."
"Go. I'll write the rent check and we can settle up later." Jeremy kissed Naomi lightly on the cheek and returned to the bathroom.
By 9:30 he was clean and dressed for the warm August day. He went to the living room and dialed Charlie's number. "Hey, Babe. I figured you'd be up by now."
~~~ "Hi, hot stuff. I've been up 'bout fifteen minutes. We're still planning on me picking you up around eleven to do banking and shop for a computer?"
"Yes. Something came up last night, however, that I didn't plan on. Naomi told me she's gotten engaged to Tom Goldsmith."
~~~ "That's great news. You like him and he'll be great for Naomi."
"I agree but that's only part of it. She's going to move in with him and I don't want to stay here by myself. We're giving up the old apartment and I'm going to have to look for a place to live."
~~~ "And that's a problem?"
"Charlie, I don't know what to do. I'm probably too late to get student housing. Christ, classes start in almost a month."
~~~ "Sloan, get your head out of your ass," Charlie said, a little irritated. "You forget that your partner...the guy you love and who loves you...has an apartment."
"Um, I thought about it. But it's too small for both of us." Jeremy was a little surprised that Charlie had taken this immediately to heart.
~~~ "Who's the blond guy I see over here most of the time? I wouldn't mind at all waking up with you next to me every morning."
"I...I really like you saying that, Hon. But after I get all of my meager possessions over there and set up a study space, we'd be on top of each other." Silently, Jeremy beamed with happiness that Charlie was so insistent about the two living together. "If ya don't mind, why don't we put off going to the bank until later? I'd like to come over to your place so we can talk."
~~~ "That works. Bike on over and we can figure something out. But give me a little time to do a few errands that can't wait. We can do an early lunch while we talk."
"Charlie, I really love ya. Just so you know, I'd enjoy waking up next to you every morning. I'll be there around eleven."
~~~ "Love ya back. See you then."
Jeremy took the time to clean up his room and kitchen. He then re-wrote the lease termination letter and hand-delivered it with the rent check to the landlord before departing for Charlie's place. The street traffic up Clark Street during the day was always a bitch for bicycles and today was no exception. Experienced cyclists like Jeremy were always on alert for car doors opening, sudden right-hand turns by drivers not paying attention and crazy cabdrivers. He arrived unscathed and secured the bike to the rack in front of Charlie's apartment building.
"I got us ham and cheese sandwiches, cole slaw and watermelon. Plus beer or iced tea," Charlie said when he opened the apartment door.
"A banquet for kings." Jeremy eased up for a daytime kiss as soon as the door was closed.
"Mmmm, yum," Charlie said after returning the kiss. "And a few queens, I'm sure. Since you're not working tonight, how about a beer?"
"Okay, but only one. Wouldn't be cool to be arrested for being drunk on a bike." Jeremy set his helmet on the coffee table and joined Charlie in the kitchen area. "What can I do to help?"
"Just be a good guest. The deli at Treasure Island made the sandwiches and the slaw. I figure we better spend our time working out your problem." Two plates were already out on the counter, each holding a sandwich and slaw. "Grab your food and some napkins for us while I get the beer. I'll follow you back to the couch."
As they had done many times, Jeremy sat on 'his' part of the couch while Charlie took the easy chair. Charlie handed Jeremy a beer and they silently saluted each other before taking a swig.
"I've been mulling over the news that Naomi dropped on you last night. Big changes all the way around."
"But not completely unexpected. Tom's a neat guy and they're clearly in love. Between his new residency status at the hospital and Naomi's school, they decided that this wasn't the time to tie the knot. Their decision to move in together just caught me off guard, that's all."
"I don't blame you for wanting to move rather than staying there alone. Your old home has many memories," Charlie replied. "I also agree that this place probably isn't large enough for both of us...24/7. Overnighters are one thing, but two guys trying to live here full time is another." He paused for a moment before continuing, "But don't think for a minute that I wouldn't want to share with you. I'd love to figure out how we could find a place together but the timing is crazy."
"Yeah, we're both starting school in less than a month and the job's keeping us very busy. I promise not to whine too much," Jeremy said with a small smile. "Maybe I can post a notice for a roommate at the school and Bally's." Jeremy bit into the sandwich and smiled. 'I'd love to find something with Charlie,' he thought. 'Maybe next year?' He nodded to himself while he chewed until he was able to say, "Super sandwich."
"Thanks." Charlie joined him by taking an equally enormous bite. "Muh muffer 'ould kill me if see saw me wuffin dis down like dis," he attempted to say.
"Let's give it a second." Jeremy laughed, took another sip of beer and leaned back into the cushions. "Next we'll be talking in 'pig Latin'."
"Ood-gay, oint-pay." Charlie said before he stuck out his tongue. "Seriously, I may have a possible solution to your problem. No...make that our problem."
"Really? Whazzat?" Jeremy sat up with excitement. He really liked the way Charlie was thinking the plural.
"Just found out a little while ago - after we talked this morning - that there's going to be a studio available on this floor...very soon. The guy, who I only know from running into at the mailbox once in a while, told me that he's being transferred to Brazil...like, A.S.A.P. Apparently the whole thing came up very suddenly but it's a promotion he can't turn down. Bottom line is that he's only taking his laptop and clothes. The furnishings - basically just-out-of-college starter stuff - are available at a good price. And if he can find a new tenant, so much for the better in terms of getting back his security deposit."
"Man that sounds almost too good to be true." The idea of being steps away from his lover - but not smothering him in the same cramped apartment - was very appealing. "I can imagine it's probably painted purple with an orange shag carpet," Jeremy rolled his eyes.
"Naw, he seems like a pretty cool guy. I told him about your situation and suggested that you might want to talk with him. He's taking off from work today and is in his place. Les - that's the guy's name - would be available to meet at 1:00 p.m. Whaduya think? I can tell you up front that studios in this building are kinda small but it's not like you're going to entertain with sit-down dinners for eight," Charlie said with a snicker.
"Only for two...with a good friend who lives down the hall and is used to take-outs. We'd probably wear out a path between the two apartments."
"Just remember that we couldn't run back and forth in our underwear."
"Babe, all I need is space for my clothes, a bed for the rare evening when I'm not over here and a desk for studying. This might work. Can we give him a call?" Jeremy considered this option a complete win-win situation and crossed his fingers.
"Let me do that right now." Charlie pulled out a piece of paper, grabbed his cell and dialed the number. "Hi, Les. This is Charlie Barnett in 208. My friend is definitely interested in seeing your place and I wondered if 1:00 p.m. is still good for you?" Charlie nodded a few times and finally smiled. "Fine. We'll be there in a few minutes. Bye."
"Sounds like we're in business." Jeremy was getting excited about the turn of events.
"Les is waiting for us. He'd appreciate it if we could come down now. There are a few errands he needs to run."
"I'm too excited to eat anything else. Let's do it." Jeremy stood up, grabbed his plate and took it to the kitchen.
Charlie picked up the two beer bottles and bussed his plate back to the kitchen. "I'll put the beers back in the fridge. We can finish everything later...including the watermelon."
Thirty seconds and as many steps later, Charlie knocked on the door of 221. The door opened and a short guy in a polo shirt and shorts greeted them. Jeremy guessed that Les was probably in his mid-20's and of some sort of Latin American ancestry.
"Charlie, come on in. This is your friend?"
"Yes. Jeremy Sloan. This is Les..." Charlie paused and indicated that he was stuck for a last name.
"Les Modolo" Les extended his hand and Jeremy took it. "One thing about these studio apartments is you can't get lost inside," he said as the two guys entered. "I told Charlie that this was my first place out of school and it's really got nothing in it that I want to move to São Paulo.
"Why such a fast move...if you don't mind me asking?" Jeremy asked as he scanned the studio room. He was relieved that the carpet was generic rental beige with the walls painted off-white. The framed modern poster art was probably from the Art Institute.
"Not at all. The man I'm replacing was in a serious auto accident and won't be back at the job for a long time. My fluency in Portuguese moved me to the head of the line because the company needed someone there...fast. Go ahead and check out everything. Don't feel shy about opening the closet, cupboards or going into the bathroom."
Jeremy nodded and quietly absorbed the surroundings. The small kitchen faced out into the studio. Furnishings included a queen-sized bed, a couple of easy chairs with a table, lamps, and a small credenza on which a conventional TV set was positioned. Like Charlie's apartment, Les had the dining area set up for a small office with a desk and swivel chair. He thought the style could best be described as IKEA/Crate and Barrel/Pottery Barn basic black modern with laminated surfaces. 'More than adequate,' he thought. 'In fact, it's pretty cool.' The closet was a small walk-in jammed with clothes. The bathroom layout, upon inspection, seemed to be the same as Charlie's.
"Les, this is just what I need. I should tell you, however, that I'm just starting college at the end of the month and I'm not too flush with cash. What kind of money are you thinking of asking for your stuff?" Jeremy held his breath for fear that Les was going to toss out a number that was too high.
"I can remember what you're going through very well. Here's my deal. What I bought three years ago was fine and served its purpose. In Brazil, I'll probably have a chance to buy furniture that is better than this assemble-by-the-numbers stuff you see. Ah...for everything, including the kitchen stuff and TV, if you could come up with two grand, the whole shebang is yours."
"$2,000.00? Hmmm." Jeremy looked around, mentally calculated how much this would eat into his savings and compared it with what buying new would cost. 'Not that bad of a deal,' he decided with a smile. 'But let's see if I can negotiate down a little bit. I gotta spend a lot to get a computer.' Jeremy walked around for a few moments and added, "I think I can swing $1,200.00. But that's about it." He turned to Les and looked at him with a steady gaze.
"Charlie, your friend drives a hard bargain. However, I'm what they call 'motivated'." Les turned back to Jeremy and said, "If you can come up with the money today, I'll accept your offer. I need to be out of here in 10 days and the rent is paid through the end of the month. You need to change over utilities to your name by the time I leave. Pretty simple.
"I know I'm just a guy recently out of high school but I know that a deal's only good if both parties feel it's fair. I'm good with it so shall we shake on it?" Jeremy asked with his hand extended. "I can have a check - certified if you require it - by this afternoon."
"It's a fair deal," Les said as he took Jeremy's hand. "Just write the check - no need to have it certified - and I'll deposit it tomorrow. Looks like you've just bought everything. One thing: we should set a time when we can go over to the leasing office on Broadway. Charlie, just so you know, they may want you to co-sign for Jeremy because of his age."
"That's the very least I could do. We're close friends."
"I've got my checkbook back where I live. Can I stop back with the check later today? And if you want to meet at the leasing office tomorrow, I'm available all day." Jeremy was almost unable to contain himself with excitement.
"You know, don't worry about coming back today. Charlie and I are neighbors and if he's your friend, that's good enough for me. Let's meet, say at nine, tomorrow morning, with the check and we can finalize everything. Then, I can show you around the place in detail, if you want. Okay?"
"Better than okay. You just made my transition into college a little easier. See ya at nine."
The two guys said goodbye to Les and went back to Charlie's apartment. As soon as the door was closed, they drew each other into a tight, lengthy hug.
"Babe, this is fucking amazing. You sure that you're going to be okay with me so close?" Jeremy knew the answer but loved to hear the reassurance of being wanted.
"That's an understatement. It's almost like having our own place...just the hallway between bedrooms is a little long and very public. Let's see how this works out and then think about getting our own place next year."
"I like the ring of 'our own place'."
"And I'm not talking about renting. At the rate we're both earning money, we should buy a condo together and split the tax break. I don't think you really appreciate the income that you're going to have to declare to the I.R.S."
"You're right. It's just been the Bally's check in the past. Honestly, I haven't even thought that far." Jeremy started thinking about the tips that he'd have to declare for taxes. "This probably seems stupid but I really don't know how to handle the tax stuff."
"Later this week, I'll make an appointment for you to see the guy who helps me with taxes. He'll probably recommend - no, make that 'insist' - that you start paying quarterly estimated taxes. It's not too complicated but he can explain it better. Basically, it keeps the Feds and Illinois off your butt."
"Ha. The only one that I want on my butt is you." Jeremy pulled Charlie in again and hugged tightly. "Anytime, any place."
"Rain check 'til tonight? I wouldn't mind going at it, you dog, but we've got things to accomplish first."
"Alright, babe. Tonight...if not sooner. Maybe we can get everything done and have a little time before dinner."
"And you think of me as a horn dog. Let's finish those beers I left in the fridge and figure out where we go from here." Charlie playfully stuck his tongue into Jeremy's ear, laughed and pulled his partner into the kitchen. "We'll go to the bank and then go over to Best Buy to see those Geek Guys about getting that computer for you. I saw some good deals in the paper that might move you into the 21st century."
"Yeah. I'm from the Stone Age. I must be the only guy about ready to enter college who doesn't own a computer. I'll need your help cuz I don't know megabytes from gigahertz."
"I'm not much better. We need to find something that has good memory and horsepower. You might like to play video games or get involved with digital photography. Then, there's all the downloads for an iPod and shit like that."
"If we have time, I should really get a cell phone."
"Consider that a done deal. With a cell, you don't need phone service in the apartment. For the Internet, you can buy a modem from the cable company."
"Charlie, I can't believe how friggin' behind the curve I am with all of this. A computer, Internet, cell phone and cable...I've never had any of these things."
"Things have looked up for both of us since we met. Besides loving you and being proud that we're partners, I'm happy to help you with everything." Charlie choked a little and his eyes got a little moist. "See what you made me do. My mascara is running." He smiled and brought his lips to Jeremy's willing open mouth. They kissed with determination...but as two men who cherished each other. Both knew that intimacy would be later in the day. Silently, they held each other an extra moment before releasing. They smiled, stood back and admired each other.
The lovers grabbed their unfinished beers out of the refrigerator and went back to the living room. This time they both flopped down on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, took long pulls from their beer bottles and grinned at each other like two Cheshire cats.
"Since we don't work tonight, how about going out to celebrate your new residence?" Charlie asked. "I'd like to go to Brasserie Jo down by the club. It's one of those 'Lettuce fucking Entertain You restaurants' and is supposed to be terrific. You up for a little country French chow?"
"Frog food sounds good," Jeremy said as he shifted his body closer to his lover. "But I really would like an appetizer here...before we go out for dinner."
"Babe, not only an appetizer. And, I think we can squeeze in dessert...later on."
"No-cal, of course."
"I'll hold back on the whipped cream and cherries," Charlie replied.
"What do you think, Charlie? Did I make a good deal? I don't think I'll even have to do a paint job. Probably just leave the poster art where it is." Jeremy needed to have his decision validated.
"Buddy, you've got a great deal. Even the first price would have been good. Everything looks like he took care of it and the place is spotless. Les is anxious to move...just like you. Since we're going to be very close neighbors, we need to discuss how to handle study time. If you want to sleep with me every night, I'll be very happy to oblige. But we're both going to need separate time to study. The only thing I ask is that we work out some sort of schedule."
"I buy that. It probably is good that we'll have our own free zones to go to." Jeremy's voice faded away and his eyes glazed over for a moment before snapping back. "These past six months or so have presented big changes for me. Sometimes I find myself just staring off into space at the wonder of it all - like what has happened."
"Yeah, I saw that. And, my boy, you really came out with your sexuality, big time. That had to be a relief...to figure things out and talk about it."
"Big relief. But I'm particularly thinking of all the people who've become important to me. First I found a big brother in Zach after losing my uncle. Then Garin lines me up with a great job and the opportunity to make some serious money. Finally, you come into my life at a time when I was really discovering what's what." Jeremy moved closer and added, "You're really my rock...my lover...my best friend. Thank you for helping this here kid get his shit together."
"Kid? Hardly. Hon, I feel the same way about you. I'm a little older...but not by much. We're a support group for each other and I need you, too. The phrase, 'been there, done that' is true but only by a hair. Christ, I won't be 21 until this fall. Like everything else, I'm only a few steps ahead of you. But look at the others that helped you. It's remarkable that Robert is still your best friend after all these years."
"Bobby and I will be friends forever."
"And I second your salute of our boss, Garin. He's been an important person in both our lives and will likely be there for several more years." Charlie paused and kissed Jeremy on the forehead. "And then, out of the blue, comes Jim Franklin. Who would have thought our former principal would have your back covered when you were attacked? Those assholes are now the guests of Illinois down-state because all your friends were looking out for you."
"Put that way I feel pretty lucky. There's no doubt that we're all going to be together for a long time and I've also got a neat, new prospective brother-in-law."
"And don't forget my Mom. She's mad about you and asks about you every time we talk. I even think Dad is getting the picture."
"Charlie, hold me for a minute and pinch me...I want to make sure I'm not dreaming." Jeremy rested his head on his lover's chest and sighed.
"You're not dreaming."
"Promise me that after I move in and we're busy with everything, if I bug you by being around too much...you'll say something."
"Don't see that happening as long as we don't interrupt each other's studying. Let's agree to respect that aspect of our lives; I suspect everything else will fall into place." Charlie put his hand on Jeremy's knee and squeezed it for emphasis. "This is forever and forever for me. Being a 'Gio' is not my deal."
"Me neither, babe. Me neither." Jeremy understood what he was hearing and felt the depth of his special bond with Charlie. He knew that they would be life mates.
"How about us going out to take care of our errands and shopping now? I'm anxious for that appetizer before dinner."
"Charlie, I don't think anxious is the word I'm thinking of."
The final sentence was typed and Jeremy hit 'save'. He was pleased at the composition of the mid-term paper he had written and would 'proof' it one more time before submitting it in the morning. He rolled back his desk chair and smiled at the large, framed poster print of himself wearing only a provocative grin and a pair of UnderGear briefs. He was quite proud of that modeling milestone and pleased when June, his first photographer, gave the poster to him as a housewarming gift.
The upcoming weekend promised to be crazy. Sunday night was a few days before Halloween and the monthly 'men only' performance had been marketed as a costume party for the mostly gay audience. Jeremy was particularly excited that Kent Jackson was taking a break from taping the TV soap shows to visit Chicago. Kent and a friend planned on seeing the Barecats performance in a private box and then joining Charlie and him for dinner afterwards.
The chirping of his cell brought him back to the present. Jeremy smiled when he saw Charlie's name displayed. "Hey, babe. How's studying going?"
~~~ "Finished for the evening. How'd you fare with your paper?"
"Just wrapped it up. I'm going over it one more time tomorrow morning. Hope the professor likes it."
~~~ "Don't worry. If it's anything like your other report I read, it'll be super. I was wondering if we're still on time for you-know-what?"
"Yes. I'm ready to come over for our...since when did our shave become a 'you-know-what?" Jeremy said with a chuckle.
~~~ "Just adding a little mystery to our weekly appointment. When can you be here?"
"How about 30 seconds? The commuter traffic will be light tonight."
~~~ "Give me a few minutes to put my books away. I'll be waiting for you."
Jeremy took his keys and a book with him. He was pretty sure the other neighbors on the floor observed the number of times he spent shuttling between the two apartments. And the sweat pants, tee and flip-flops certainly indicated that he wasn't going out into the chilly fall evening. Somehow, carrying a book gave the short journey some sort of validity. He knew it was stupid to think that way but it was just part of his Midwest sensibility and propriety. Jeremy imagined everyone on the floor kept track of how often he got laid.
Each man respected the other by automatically lightly tapping a double-knock before entering the other's apartment. Jeremy performed this routine almost daily since he moved in; the knock followed by slipping his key into the lock, turning it to disengage the deadbolt and opening the door. Tonight the visual greeting surprised him when he stepped into the apartment. The only lighting in the living room was several clusters of votive candles and a single trail of candles that led to the bedroom. He closed the door and stood silently for a moment. His olfactory senses picked up the burning apple cinnamon incense coming from the bedroom along with the soft lyrics of John Mayer. Jeremy slowly walked toward the source of the music:
And if you want love
We'll make it
Swim in a deep sea
Take all your big plans
And break 'em
This is bound to be awhile
Your body is a wonderland
Your body is a wonder - I'll use my hands
Your body is a wonderland...
He arrived at the bedroom and saw Charlie standing by the bed with only a towel wrapped around his middle. Jeremy noticed that more candles were carefully positioned around the bed and the light reflection was bouncing off his oiled body. "Hey, babe. From the look of things, it appears you have something planned?"
"I decided tonight would be a special treat for both of us. Welcome to Charlie Barnett's massage parlor. After we shave each other, I'm going to give your muscles a little work over."
"All of them?" Jeremy asked in a suggestive tone as he raised his eyebrows. "We haven't done that for a while."
"I think the official term is a 'complete release' and I figured that we deserved a little detour from our usual straight-forward grooming session." Charlie grinned and slowly licked his lips.
"I love the detour, but I didn't bring anything for a tip." Jeremy pulled off his tee, kicked off his flip-flops and eased out of the baggy sweat pants.
"Oh, I think you'll think of something. But time's a-wastin'...let's get the stubble shaved and hair trimmed, first."
Charlie discarded his towel on the bed and each man looked admiringly at the other. Charlie took his partner's hand and led him across the hall to the bathroom. He switched on the lights and sighed. "Kinda blows the atmosphere but I don't think shaving by candlelight would work."
"I can get back into the mood at the flick of a light switch." Jeremy leaned in and lightly kissed Charlie. "This is just a sample of what I've got in mind after the massage."
"Babe, when did I last say 'I love you'?" Charlie took a washcloth from the basin filled with hot water and gently started to moisten Jeremy's chest. Their routine was to shave from top to bottom.
"I think it must have been...at least 15 hours ago. When we got up. As I recall, I said something like that to you."
"I know. It's something I never tire of," Charlie replied as he applied the shave gel.
"Then I'll say it again. Charlie Barnett, I love you with all my heart."
"And I love you, Mr. Sloan, more than life itself."
In silence, Charlie continued to carefully shave his partner. While the razorblade did its job, handled with expert and loving precision, Jeremy was transported back to an earlier time when they had somewhat clumsily started their weekly routine. So much change had taken place since then and he looked forward to when they had their place together and finished college. Although the Studz Barecats would ultimately become part of their past, they would maintain friendships with the dancers. Indeed, they would grow their circle of friends as they shared their lives together. Without talking about it, he knew Charlie felt the same way.