By Tim Mead
Even though they didn't have a class together in the spring term, Dan and Nicole had decided to continue getting together for chat over a late afternoon drink on Tuesdays.
Dan was waiting for her at The Cougar. Nicole almost danced into the bar.
"You'll never guess, Dan!"
In spite of the fact that they were "just friends," she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
"My Mom gave me a car for Christmas, a PT Cruiser!"
"Yeah? Wow! Brave woman."
She frowned at him, but it was obvious she wasn't angry. She was way too happy.
"She said she trusted me."
Dan chuckled, and Nicole swatted his hand.
"What do you think I'd do that she'd disapprove of?"
"Sorry, gorgeous. I know you're a good girl. But if you were my daughter, I'd worry about you while you were away at college. And with a car . . . you'll really be guy bait."
"Speaking of guys," she said, "did you hear that Gage flunked out?"
"A deft change of subject there. But I don't know anyone except you who knows the bastard, so I hadn't heard. Serves him right, though."
"From what I hear, his father was furious. Made him get his hair cut short. And now has him detailing cars for one of his dealerships."
"I hope he lives someplace cold."
"Is Buffalo cold enough for you?" Nicole asked sweetly.
"Like I said, serves the bastard right. And you deserve so much better."
"Well, Danny, if you find a suitable candidate – who's straight, of course – I hope you'll steer him in my direction."
Nicole sipped her beer. Dan sipped his chardonnay. He'd finally admitted to her he really didn't like beer.
"You've told me about your less-than-exciting Christmas . . . ."
"Well, it was fun while Case was there."
"You've got such a crush on him. When are you gonna admit it?"
"Okay, have it your way. I was trying to ask you about that gig you had with Casey and the campus gay gang. What was that like?"
She put down her beer and grinned at him.
"Why? You wanted to do them all?"
"Well, yeah, most of `em. But I didn't mean that."
"I wanted to know who they all were. I think I counted two dozen, give or take. And I knew they were all gay, of course. But Case and I were too busy to talk much. So I couldn't ask him about them. And Adrian, he's nice enough, but I wouldn't want to piss him off."
"The party was at his place, right?"
"Yeah, and it was his staff that were doing the catering. I was the only one working who wasn't a regular."
"I don't need those details, stud. Tell me about the men."
"Chill, girl. They're gay men, remember?"
"Do I have to hurt you?"
Dan took what was more a swallow than a sip of his wine, set the glass down, and sighed. "Like I said, I looked a lot. And I could make some guesses. But there wasn't anyone I could ask about who was who."
"So did you learn anything, or just stand around with a woodie?""
"Yes to both questions."
"Okay. I knew who Adrian was, and Casey had described his partner, Tom, aka Pinkie. I've met Albert, who's Casey's good friend, head chef and second in command at the restaurant."
"Were there any Colby students?"
"Not many. Guys I know like Justin and Bailey, Arnie, and Bernie – they weren't there. Basically the CQ's are all older."
"How much older?"
"Well, that's the thing. Brody Cox, I've told you about him, is still a student, but he spent four years in the Marines after high school. He was there with his partner Dave Cromer."
"Uh huh. You've told me about them."
"There's this tall, hunky, red-headed cop, Ray Stonesifer, who Casey met when his laptop was stolen from the dorm. I'd never seen him before, but I spotted him from Casey's description. And he was with the guy Casey had a crush on, Jesse something-or-other. He's a student, though he's got to be pushing thirty."
"What's the story there? And what's Jesse like?"
"Jesse was a fashion model. And he's still just, well, amazing. He'd had enough and decided to quit and go to college, according to Casey."
"A model, huh? What does he look like?"
"You know, Adrian looks like a guy I used to have the hots for when I was in high school. He's a European model named Marcus Schenkenberg."
"I've seen Adrian, and he's a hottie for an older guy. I'll Google Schenkenberg tonight. But tell me about this Jesse."
"You just got me thinking about guys who look like models. Jesse's tall, thinnish, blue eyes, I think. Get a copy of GQ and check `em out. They all look sort of like Ethan Hawke. What you might call delicate features, a sort of wistful look. But from what I could tell, Jesse's a nice guy. I saw him talking with a lot of people, and he was always smiling, animated, I suppose you could call it. Certainly not standoffish like you might expect a famous model to be." Gorgeous and a really nice guy. No wonder Casey likes him so much. And that sets the bar impossibly high for anyone who might want to get close to Case.
"This dream man's been walking around campus and I've missed him?"
"Well, there are 25 K of us, you know."
"Only half are men. And I've missed Jesse the model!"
"Chill, sweetie. He's taken. And Casey has first dibs on him if he breaks up with the cop."
"Does Casey talk about Jesse a lot?"
"No. He told me about him right after I moved in. And he mentioned him again when I asked for a preview of who I might see at the Queers' gathering."
"Poor Casey. Sounds like he's out of luck, if Jesse's partnered up with the cop. I suppose he's cute, too."
"Oh, yeah. Red hair, as you know. Pale skin. Tall. Broad shoulders. Looks like he's right off the farm."
"Were any other CSU students there?"
"Uh huh. Again, I put together what Casey had told me in advance with what I could see. There's another red-head in the group. A prof in the English Department named Adam Craig. His partner is a student named Blake."
"What's he look like?"
"Blake or the prof?"
"About my size or just a little taller. Nice brown eyes. Kind of a baby face, but when you look again he's got to be 23 or 24. Like all of `em, good looking. And, again, he cut loose from his prof and they worked the room separately."
"Trouble in paradise, you suppose?"
Dan thought about that. "I don't think so. I think really secure couples don't have to cling to each other at parties."
"And how do you know that, oh wise one?"
"I've been at enough cocktail parties my parents have thrown. And I've observed that couples, straight or gay, are of two kinds. Either they stick by each other through the whole affair, or they circulate, come back together, and circulate again. I mentioned it once to my mother, who's the one who said the secure ones don't mind being apart because they know they're going home and to bed with each other."
"You're mother's pretty sharp, isn't she?"
"Nobody ever accused her of being stupid."
"So, who else was there?"
"Oh, I've only scratched the surface, but that's all the guys whose names I know. There was a great-looking pair of black men there, too. Older guys."
"Yeah, between 40 and 60, but I can't always tell. They were in great shape. One was bald, but I think he'd shaved his head. The other had corn rows. Casey told me later the one with hair was a member of the music faculty and the other one was a Toledo lawyer."
"For somebody who couldn't ask questions at the time, you've picked up a lot!"
"Case told me about a pair of faculty members. One of them is in history, and, get this! The other used to be the police chief and now is teaching in criminal justice."
"Did you see them?"
"Yeah, but I didn't know who they were at the time. The ex-cop walks with a limp, and I noticed that."
"And that's it?"
"There was another couple. And you can tell couples, right?"
"The one guy was tall with amazing shoulders, black hair, and blue eyes. His partner was another little guy, not real skinny but on the slender side. Kind of a mis-match."
"What did Casey tell you about them?"
"The big guy is Joe Hill. He works for Dave Cromer's landscaping company. The little guy is Micah something. He's a cabinet maker in the daytime. He makes very expensive furniture in his spare time."
Nicole finished her beer and chuckled. "It sounds to me as if your eyes were popping out of your head. And you've taken very good mental notes, Grasshopper."
"I hope I can get to work the next Queers gig."
"Why? You think you're gonna meet the man of your dreams?"
Dan almost said he'd already done that, but he caught himself. "No, but it's a gay man-watcher's dream. Besides, there were a bunch of other guys there that I still don't know anything about. The sad thing is that except for Albert, the chef, they all seemed to be partnered up."
"Poor Albert! Poor you, for that matter."
Dan shrugged. Actually, he'd had more sex, at least more good sex, since coming to Colby than he'd ever had before. He didn't know anything about Albert's sex life.
They chatted a while longer. Then Nicole patted his hand.
"Gotta run, stud."
They stood and hugged.
"See ya next week, Nicky."
"You know you can call me if you ever want to talk, right?"
"Um, yeah. Sure. Thanks."
She turned and started to leave.
"But, Nicky, is there something in particular you think I might want to talk about?"
She waited a moment before answering. "No, not necessarily. Just remember me if you ever need a sympathetic ear, okay?"
"I will. Thanks."
She gave him a brilliant smile, turned, and headed toward her dormitory.
"I will. Thanks."
He walked off, puzzled.
One evening early in the new term Dan had finished with his class assignments and was watching Noah's Ark on LOGO, Urijah curled next to him, when he heard Casey's key in the lock.
The door opened part way. A voice from the vestibule said, "Are you sure you don't want to get checked out at the ER?"
"No, thanks. It's okay. I'm okay."
"And you're sure you don't want to file a police report on this?"
"Yeah. You said it could be handled by the university."
"Oh, yes, we have their names and student ID's. They'll have some explaining to do to the Dean. And he'll probably want to talk with you, too."
By this time Dan was on his feet, moving toward the door. Casey was talking with a uniformed campus security officer.
"Okay, I can do that. And thanks, Sergeant, for saving my ass."
"It's just good we came along when we did. You sure you don't want to get yourself checked out?"
"I've been hurt worse than this. I'll be okay."
"Good night then, Casey."
The campus cop left.
Casey closed and locked the door. When he turned Dan was shocked by the condition of his friend's face.
"My god, Casey what happened to you?"
Casey's left eye was swollen. His hair and clothes were in disarray. And when he closed the door, he moved as if he were in pain.
"I got jumped by three guys on the way home."
"You can tell me about it later. But first, let's get you fixed up. I'll get some ice for your eye."
"I think I'd like a shower first. I just want to stand under the hot water for a while."
Dan hovered, wanting to help, wanting to know what had happened.
"What can I do?"
"Help me get out of my coat and my shirt?"
Dan unzipped Casey's parka and helped slide it off his arms. Then he did the same with his shirt.
Casey winced as he tried to remove his tee shirt.
"If I can hold my arms up, can you take this off for me?"
"We could just cut it off."
"No, I'll man up. Just do it, please, Dan."
After the tee was removed, Casey dropped his arms to his side.
There was a bruise in the solar plexus area.
"Geez, no wonder you're hurting."
"They got me in the ribs, too." He turned slightly so that Dan could see the bruise on his left side. "It would have been worse if I hadn't been wearing that heavy jacket."
"Are you sure you don't want to go to the ER?"
"I don't have a concussion. Or internal injuries. And though my ribs hurt, I'm pretty sure they're only bruised."
"Okay. But if anything changes, you tell me."
"Yeah, thanks, Dan. Now, I think maybe I'd like to just soak in a tub of hot water. That sounds easier than standing in the shower."
"I'll go run the water. Can you get your pants off?"
"Yeah." Looking raffish with his swollen eye, he gave Dan a pained grin. "Gravity will take care of that."
"Here, let me help you to your room."
"No, bud. If you'll start the water in the tub, I'll be there in a sec."
Dan went to the bathroom and turned on the water. When it got hot, he tempered it with some cold. When it was just on the tolerable side of scalding, he added a healthy squirt of shower gel, so the water from the tap created bubbles.
He got a fresh towel and put it on the mat beside the tub. Then he went in search of his injured friend, whom he met in the hallway, stark naked. Although he and Casey had lived together for five months, they'd never seen each other naked. Casey was careful always to wear his boxers or a towel on his way to and from the bathroom. Though not particularly modest himself, Dan had followed his friend's practice.
So, for the first time, he had a look at the body he'd admired – and sometimes fantasized about. It was enough to take Dan's breath away, but it was marred by ugly bruises which were beginning to form on his belly and his left side.
"Here, let me help you into the tub."
"Dan, I'm okay. Thanks for drawing the water. I just need to soak a while."
"Okay, be stubborn. I'll let you soak. But when are you gonna tell me what happened?"
"I don't really want to tell you, but you need to know. Why don't you sit there on the can?"
Casey stepped into the tub and began to lower himself carefully.
Dan held out his hand, which Casey grabbed to steady himself.
He sank into the hot water with a sigh of relief.
"Bubbles. That's nice."
Dan put the lid down on the toilet and sat, concerned for Casey but also regretting the suds, since they covered up everything below his nipples. He'd slumped down so his knees were out of the water, but his body was immersed.
"So talk to me. What happened? Why don't you want to tell me? Do you hurt too much? Do you want me to go away? I'd do that, but you don't want to fall asleep. Do you need painkillers?"
Casey chuckled. Then he said, "Ow, that hurts. Don't make me laugh."
"Am I being funny? Case, I just want to help. What can I do?"
"You can chill, Cool. Oh, that's funny, and I don't want to laugh." He had opened his eyes when he chuckled. Now he closed them again. "If we've got some kind of painkillers I'll take something when I get out of the tub. Meanwhile, if you'll let me, I'll tell you what happened."
"I was on my way home from Adrian's, like always. I'd turned the corner onto Sandusky Street and was walking along the sidewalk across from campus. And three guys jumped me from behind. Before I could get into a defensive position I was on the ground and they were whaling on me and kicking me."
Dan clenched his fists, but forced himself to keep quiet.
"I thought I was really in for it, but talk about luck. A Campus Security patrol car was coming down the street and they saw the whole thing. We call `em the Krazy Kops, but I'm sure glad they drove up when they did. They pulled over, got out of the cruiser, and grabbed the guys. They told me they'd seen the three guys come out of a dark shop doorway and light into me."
"Thank God they were there!"
"Yeah, I was lucky."
"So was it just a mugging?"
"No. At least their motive wasn't robbery."
"How do you know?"
"Because while I was on the ground and they were hitting me, they were calling me a fag and shit like that. After the campus cops got us all on our feet and were checking ID's, when they read my name from my driver's license, one of them said "Oh, fuck!" And they actually apologized, saying it was a case of mistaken identity. It seems they were looking for a guy with a scar."
"Me? Really? What did I ever do to them?"
"Well, about that time one of them told the other two to clam up, and they did."
"What's gonna happen to them?"
"They'll be taken to the assistant dean of students who's in charge of discipline. The campus cops asked if I wanted to press criminal charges, and I said I didn't think so."
"Why the fuck not?"
Casey sighed. "Well, think about it this way. Since there were reliable witnesses to what happened, and it's just not my word against theirs, all three of `em will probably be expelled from the University. Considering what they did, that's appropriate. But if I press charges, it will come out that they called me a fag, and then it becomes a hate crime, and they could be in really deep shit."
"Well, if it wasn't a hate crime, what was it?"
"I think it was revenge. One of them muttered something about your old buddy Gage."
Dan slipped off the toilet and was on his knees beside the bathtub.
"Case, you didn't deserve any of this. I'm so sorry. It should have been me!"
Casey shrugged and then winced. "No real harm done. But I don't think I want to carry any trays for a day or so."
"You're probably gonna have a nice shiner for longer than a day or so."
"Shit! I hadn't thought of that. I doubt if Adrian will let me work as long as I've got a black eye. It might offend the clientele."
"If you lose pay, I'll make up for it."
"No worries. I imagine it will come under sick leave. Maybe I can get a little ahead in my studies if I have to hang around here for a day or two."
"You may be sore for longer than a day or two. But I'll take care of you. I'll do the cooking and all that stuff. And I can bring you things, so you don't have to keep getting up and going after them."
"Don't make an invalid out of me, bud, please."
"I just want to make it up to you somehow."
"It was just bad karma or something."
Dan was seething that Gage would have sicced his friends on Casey. Well, on him, Dan, but Casey was the one who'd suffered. Gage was in a fraternity, and Dan wondered whether these guys could have been frat brothers.
"Oh," Casey said, "the cops said the dean would want to see me and probably you in connection with all of this."
"I'll give him an earful."
"That's my Dan."
Casey settled even further into the water and closed his eyes.
"I'll let you soak. But don't go to sleep. I don't want to have to give you CPR when you drown."
Actually, the idea of putting his mouth to Casey's made his dick even harder than it had been while he was kneeling there next to his naked albeit suds-covered roomie.
When the water began to grow cold, Dan helped Casey stand up. They used the shower over the tub to rinse off the bubbles. Dan then handed his friend a towel and was going to dry him. Casey had at first insisted that he could do it himself, but then his ribs hurt when he tried, so he meekly allowed Dan to do it.
Casey stood there passively while Dan toweled him off, apparently absorbed in thought. Dan couldn't tell whether his friend was thinking back to when he was being attacked or merely concentrating on moving as little as possible because of his sore ribs. But for Dan, it was a trying experience. He was actually up close and personal with Casey's naked and oh-so-tantalizing body.
When he got to the genital area, Casey said, "Cool, I think I can do this part myself."
Dan reluctantly handed him the towel and hoped that his erection wasn't showing when he straightened up.
Casey winced as he twisted to use the towel on his butt. Then he gave the towel back to Dan and said, "Sorry, dude, but I think you'll have to get the legs."
Dan had no problem with that.
Once he was dry, they got Casey into a pair of boxers, after which he took an Aleve, and went to bed.
Dan wanted to tuck him in, but he didn't think that would be a good idea. Instead, he stood next to the bed and said, "I'm really, really sorry about this, Case. I'd like to get at those bastards! I guess we can only hope the Dean kicks their asses out of school. I'll let you get some sleep now if you can. But you be sure to call me if you need me."
"Don't feel guilty, Cool. And I'll be fine. Just shut the door so I won't have Himself in here all night. And thanks for all your help."
Dan wanted to plant a kiss on Casey's forehead, but he didn't think it would be appreciated, so he merely said "Goodnight" and left.
Dan lay awake for a long time that night, thinking.
Thinking about the icy rock that formed in his stomach when he first saw Casey's battered face.
Thinking about the fact that his friend had taken a beating meant for him.
Thinking about how much worse it might have been if the campus police hadn't come by just when they did.
Thinking about what Casey said about not filing a police report. After the three frat guys had attacked him, he was thinking about saving them from being arrested and tried for a hate crime. That would never have occurred to Dan. But then Casey, well, he was something else.
Dan woke himself up the next morning humping the sheet under him. He'd been dreaming, not of what a great guy Casey was, but of his cute cock, plump balls, and killer ass. (Cute because it was slightly smaller than Dan's own, though, Dan thought, it would make a perfect mouthful.)
Dan took care of business, wiped himself off with a Kleenex, and then showered and shaved.
Casey was in the kitchen munching cereal when Dan got there.
"Dammit, Case, I wish you'd have let me get your breakfast. That's quite a shiner you're sporting, by the way. How are your ribs?"
Casey grinned. "What's happened to you, Cool? You've tended to run off at the mouth ever since I came home last night?"
"Sorry. I'm just concerned about you."
"Thanks. I appreciate that. My eye's painful to touch, but the painkillers are keeping it from throbbing. They don't do much for the ribs, though."
"Sure you don't want to go to a doctor and get checked out?"
"Nope. I'm okay if I don't laugh. Or sneeze. Or bend."
"Sounds to me as if you need to just kick back for a few days."
"I'm gonna call the restaurant as soon as someone's there. And I'll take your advice and stay in today. I'm going to class tomorrow, though. I can manage to carry a book or two."
"Yeah, yeah, that's what my Gran says."
A few days later Casey was summoned to the Dean of Students' Office.
When he got home, Dan asked, "How'd it go?"
"Okay, I guess. I talked with one of the assistant deans. She wanted my story about what happened when those frat goons jumped me. Apparently what I told her squared with what the campus cops said. The way she was talking, those dudes will probably be sent home."
"They should be. At least that."
Casey sat on the sofa, grunting slightly as he did so. Urijah, who had long since given up his grudge, hopped into his lap. Casey scratched behind his ears.
"She wants to talk to you."
"Who? The dean?"
"Yeah, Assistant Dean Meadows."
"She's all interested in why Bonds was pissed enough at you to get his buds to beat you up."
"So she wants you to call and make an appointment."
Dean Meadows was about 5'2" and couldn't have weighed over 110, dripping wet. She had on a dark pants suit with a distinctly masculine cut. She wore her red hair short.
Her handshake was decidedly firm.
"Sit down, Dan."
He wouldn't have been surprised if she'd called him Mr. Cole, but apparently these days even deans took the "friendly" approach.
"Did Casey Shaw tell you why I wanted to see you?"
"Was it about the night he was attacked?"
"Not exactly. The three young men who did that are no longer students here. At least not for the remainder of this term. Whether they'll be allowed to come back in the fall remains to be seen."
"Well, I wasn't there anyway, so I don't see how I can help you," Dan said.
"I think you can."
"How would that be?"
"You know the attack on Casey was intended for you?"
"Yes. He told me that. He and I are sometimes mistaken for each other."
"The students in question were supposedly acting to redress something you allegedly did to their friend, Gage Bonds."
"I had guessed that, but of course had no way of knowing. I've told Case, that is, Casey, that I'm really sorry he was hurt when they were after me."
"As you may know, Gage is no longer at the University."
"I'd heard that he'd flunked out." Dan wondered if "flunked out" was a term deans used, but he couldn't think of another way to say it that didn't sound really stuffy.
"That's neither here nor there. I can say that it's unlikely the occasion which motivated his desire for revenge against you is related to his reason for leaving the university."
"Then how is it relevant? If I may ask?"
The Dean looked as if her face might break, but she smiled . . . faintly.
"Are you majoring in pre-law, Dan?"
"I haven't declared a major yet, ma'am, but it won't be pre-law."
"Then would you please just tell me what happened between you and Gage Bonds?"
Dan took a deep breath. "I'm good friends with a student he was dating at the time. She and I were lab partners. We got together after lab once a week and had a . . . coke. He was the jealous type. Complained to her about me. She told him not to worry. One day he confronted me outside The Cougar. Told me to stay away from her. I told him she and I were just friends."
He stopped to draw breath and looked at the Dean. She nodded for him to continue.
"He wouldn't accept that. In fact, he took a swing at me. He missed. Wound up on the ground. While he was down there, I told him the reason he didn't need to worry was that I'm gay."
"I see. What happened after that?"
"Nicole, my friend, heard about what happened – not from me, though. And she dumped, that is broke off with him."
"I know the term dumped." Again the pained smile. "But tell me, how did Gage get from taking a swing at you to being on the ground?"
"A hip toss. Um, that's a common move in MMA."
She glanced down briefly at a manila folder on her desk. "I understand you've had some professional experience in that, uh, sport."
"Tell me again what led up to your throwing him down. Were heated words exchanged?"
"Only on his part. I was cool. And he threw, or tried to throw the first blow. Besides, I didn't hurt him. Except for his pride, maybe."
"Can anyone corroborate your story?"
"There were about a half a dozen people who'd just come out of The Cougar who stopped to watch. But I don't know any of their names. Before Bonds came up to me, though, I'd been walking with a friend. He saw the whole thing."
"Is your friend a student at Colby State?"
"What's his name?"
"I'll be checking with him. But that's all for now. Thanks for coming in."
She stood. Understanding he was being dismissed, Dan stood, too.
"Dean Meadows, may I ask a question?"
"This has been a pretty frosty interview. Almost like an interrogation. Do you think I've done something wrong? Is it because I'm gay?"
She seemed to be considering her response. Then she said, "No. It has nothing to do with your being gay. Colby State has a large number of GLBT students, and we try to foster an environment where diversity is encouraged."
Dan secretly thought the Dean might be one of those diverse people. Which was why he found her barely-concealed hostility puzzling.
"I'm sorry if you've found my attitude, uh, frosty, Daniel. I'm trying to keep an open mind about all this. If your friend Arnold supports your story, that will be the end of it. But this University does not tolerate ruffianly behavior. Students who engage in street brawls will be disciplined."
"Dean, I don't think what happened between Gage and me was a brawl. He took a swing at me. I put him down. I told him that Nicole and I would continue to be friends, but that he didn't need to worry about anything romantic or sexual going on between us. And I let him up."
"So you say. Thanks for coming in."
When he got back to the apartment, Casey was messing around in the kitchen.
"Whoa, Case. You shouldn't be cooking. Doesn't it hurt?"
"Nah. The black eye is practically gone, so Adrian says I can show my face at the restaurant again. I'm going back to work tomorrow." He put a lid on a skillet that was sitting on one of the stove burners. "How was your meeting with Dean Meadows?"
"Man, that is one tight-assed bitch."
Casey chuckled. "Yeah. I'd hate to get on the wrong side of her."
"That makes two of us! So what's for supper? And can I help?"
"Veal marsala. And everything's under control until it's time to put on les nouilles."
"Frog for `the noodles.' Want some vin rouge?"
"Mais oui, mon chef."
Casey poured two glasses of red. The friends, followed by Urijah, went to the sofa for comfort and conversation.
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