By Tim Mead
Dan was pissed. The more he thought about it the more he resented Dean Meadows' calling him a ruffian. After all, he hadn't been the aggressor. He hadn't hurt anything about Gage Bonds except his pride. And the bastard had that coming. It seemed as if the Dean had an attitude about MMA fighters. He decided he'd go in and confront her about it. She wasn't being fair, and he'd just march in there and set her straight.
He was sitting in front of the TV with Urijah, stewing over the dean's snarky attitude when Casey got home from work.
He hung up his coat, toed off his grungy white sneaks.
"You left your shiny black shoes at the restaurant?" In this kind of weather a guy needed boots, Timberlands or something. But Dan knew Casey didn't own any. Maybe he couldn't afford them. He decided not to say anything.
"Uh huh," Casey responded. "That way I don't get salt on `em. And these are a lot more comfortable for walking home after I've been on my feet all evening." Casey flopped on the sofa and scooped Urijah into his lap. "So what's up?"
"Oh, I'm just sitting here thinking I'll go in and tell Dean Bitch what I think of her attitude. She shouldn't be in that job if she's got that kind of prejudice."
"But didn't you say you thought she was gay herself?"
"I do think that."
"Then what's the prejudice?"
"She practically called me a hoodlum, Case! She said she'd be keeping an eye on me, and I'm pretty sure it's because I used to be a fighter. At least that's how she made it sound."
Casey scratched the cat's ears and sighed.
"That sucks, Cool. But you can't go in there and call her on her attitude. She can find ways to make your life miserable, I imagine."
"Yeah, I suppose she could. But still . . . ."
"Your response to Bonds was . . . measured and appropriate. And as non-violent as possible under the circumstances."
"I thought so."
"Well, you need to be patient and restrained here. You're not going around campus starting fights. Bonds is gone. His buddies are gone. In all likelihood, you'll never have to see that dean again. She's one of several assistants, and most students never see any of them."
"I guess you're right." He stretched. "Thanks, Case, for helping me put it in perspective."
Casey reached over and ruffled Dan's hair. "That's what buds are for."
The feel of Casey's hand made Dan want to purr like Urijah, but then he pulled himself up short. Whoa, boy! You don't want to go there!
There followed a few minutes while both stared at the wrap-up at the end of the 11:00 news.
"You wanna watch Leno? Or Letterman?"
"I don't care which."
Dan left the channel unchanged and the opening of the Leno show came on.
"You know what, Dan?"
"It's nice just to be here with you. With classes and schoolwork and my job, I don't get to see much of you."
Dan turned to look at his friend. His pulse accelerated when he saw Casey's smile.
"Yeah. Is there anything we can do about that?"
"I dunno. I don't see how unless I could get some time off."
"That'd be nice."
Casey looked back at the TV and they watched Leno's opening monolog for a few minutes.
"Who you been hangin' with these days?"
"Nobody much. I see Nicole once a week. But Arnie and Bernie are pretty much a couple, so it's mostly just classes and then back here.
"Fuck, man. We need to get a life!"
Dan chuckled. "I guess we do."
Dan lay awake that night thinking about what Casey had said.
He thinks we should spend more time together! Wonder what he means by that? I know he likes me. Could he like me that way? No. He told me last summer he wasn't interested in a relationship, so he must just mean we should be better buds.
Even that would be good, though. If only . . . .
Dan's cell phone rang.
"Hi, Arne. What's up?"
"Where are you?"
"I'm walkin' home from my last class. And, as you probably noticed, it's snowin' like a sonofabitch."
"Well, I have some news. Why don't you call me back when you get home?"
"Okay, will do."
A few minutes later Dan was inside. He toed off his snowy sneakers on the mat Casey had put inside the door, set down his back pack, took off his coat, and stooped to pick up Urijah, who was rubbing against his legs.
"Hi, Tiger, ya miss me?"
He checked the cat's water supply and then sat in the recliner to call Arnie back.
"It's me. What's the big news?"
"I just got interrogated by Dean Meadows. She said you gave her my name."
"Yeah, I should have called you." Dan felt a strong twinge of guilt. Obviously he'd been so pissed with the Dean that he'd forgotten about warning Arnie.
"Yeah, you should have."
"I'm sorry. She seemed to think because I'm a fighter I singled out and beat up our old buddy Gage. She wanted to know if there were any witnesses. You were the only person there that I knew."
"No problem." He chuckled. "And it did seem like she was trying to get me to say you started the fight. Which wasn't really a fight since the dude never landed a blow and you had him in whatever kind of lock that was in a nanosecond."
"Did you tell her that?"
"Yeah. It's cool. She did sort of suggest at first that because I'm your friend I might lie to keep you out of trouble."
"I can't believe this! I'm guessing that when he flunked out, the Dean of Students' Office wasn't involved. Or at least Dean Meadows wasn't."
"Well, I told her I recognized a couple of people in the little crowd you and Bonds attracted. I was able to give her their names. She said she'd check it out. But when I was leaving her face almost unfroze for a minute. She said unless Tremain and his chick gave her a different story, she'd consider the matter closed."
"Oh, was Tremain there? I guess I didn't notice who else was around. I was concentrating on Bonds. I hope he won't mind that you gave the Dean his name."
"Nah. I called him. We're cool."
"Well, thanks, man. I appreciate it."
"So, uh, Arne, how are you and Bernie doing?"
Arnie chuckled again. "We doin' the couple thing. He behavin'. But then he better if he knows what's good for his ass."
Dan heard Bernie say in the background, "I'm a paragon of monogamy. But tell Danny we're up for another three-way whenever he's ready."
"Did you hear that?" Arnie asked.
Dan laughed. "Yeah. And I appreciate the offer. That was awesome. But I'll take a rain check for now. I'm kind of working on something else."
"I'll tell you later. Let's have a beer some afternoon. I've missed hanging with you since you and Bern hooked up."
"Yeah. Call me sometime."
"Will do. Thanks again for straightening the Dean out."
"I'm not sure anybody can do that. But you didn't do anything wrong, so you've probably heard the last of her. Oops! Somebody's got his face in my crotch! Later."
The phone connection was broken.
Dan felt a moment of envy. Bernie and Arnie seemed to be enjoying each other. And, Dan thought, Bernie really had forsaken his wandering ways now that Arnie was his boyfriend. Who ever would have thought?
It was late on a cold, windy afternoon. It wasn't snowing, but the skies were low and dark, as if it could commence at any time.
A deep voice behind him said, "Hey, wait up!"
Dan turned to see a big guy about ten yards behind him. He had on jeans, a bomber jacket, and a watch cap. His broad shoulders were hunched up as if he were attempting to protect his neck from the weather.
Dan stopped and waited.
"I thought that was you," the guy said, smiling. "You're Dan, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Dan Cole. And you're Bailey Stone."
Bailey fell in beside Dan and the two continued walking.
"Yeah, we met at a football game last fall."
"Well, Dan, you in a hurry to get someplace?"
"Only to get someplace warm."
"The Cougar's not far. We could have coffee."
After they'd found a booth in the bar and ordered coffee, agreeing that once they got warmed up they might have beer, Dan said, "Like you said, we met at that football game, but I saw you play baseball last summer."
Bailey smiled. "Yeah?"
"Uh huh. I'd just come to Colby, and Casey brought me to see you guys play. I think it was your last game. He pointed out you and Justin. Brody Cox and Dave Cromer, too."
"The gay guys, huh?"
Dan knew he was blushing. "Well, yeah."
"I don't know Casey really well, but he seems like a good guy."
Their coffee arrived. They thanked the perky server, who was wearing the bar's uniform: jeans plus a black tee with a gold cougar logo on the left breast. Or pec, in the case of the male employees.
Bailey took a sip of his coffee and winced.
"Be careful! That stuff's hot!"
He set down his mug.
"So how'd you get to know Casey?"
"How much do you know about Case?"
"Umm. Let's see. He's a friend of the chef at Adrian's. And he used to be an MMA fighter. Jus and I haven't had a chance to be around him much, but we both like him. He seems decent and solid."
"He is all that!"
Bailey smiled. "And you met him . . . how?"
Dan grinned back at him. "I was in the red corner, he was in the blue corner. The ref called us out, reminded us to fight fair, and told us to touch gloves."
"So you were a fighter, too?"
"Yep. Got to know Casey better than I wanted to at the time when he submitted me. It was tap out or pass out. I tapped."
"Doesn't sound like a good way to start a friendship."
"Probably wouldn't have been, if Case hadn't been the guy he is."
Bailey waited, an expectant look on his face.
"He invited me to go out for a drink with him afterward. I wasn't old enough to have a beer, so we had Cokes. But we talked for a long time. And we hit it off. So we stayed in touch by email afterward."
Dan smiled. "That's what he calls me, you know. He said a lot of fighters have nicknames, and I should be `Cool' Cole."
"Did you use that?"
"Not really. It was just a kind of private thing between us."
"So you both wound up here at CSU."
"Yeah. When I decided I wasn't really good enough to make it in MMA, my folks pressured me to come here. It's their alma mater. And I remembered Casey had quit fighting and come here. So I got in touch. He'd decided to get out of the dorm and rented an apartment. But to pay the bills he needed a roommate. I emailed him at just the right time. And here we are."
"Where are you guys from?"
"He's from Parma. That's a Cleveland suburb."
Another brilliant smile from Bailey.
"I know. I'm from Strongsville."
"Really? I have a friend from there. Nicole Fischer. Do you know her?"
"I know who you mean. She was two years behind me at Strongsville High, and we live in the same neighborhood. So, like I said, I know who she is. But I can't really say I know anything about her. I've seen her on campus a few times, though. She's turned into a great-looking chick."
"Oh, yeah! She's smart and sweet, too. If I were straight, I'd make a play for her. As it is, we're just good friends."
Their server returned then to ask if they wanted more coffee.
"You in a hurry to get someplace?" Bailey asked.
"No. Case will be at the restaurant, so I don't have anywhere special to be."
"Are you and Casey a, um, couple?"
If only! "No. Just good buds. But you and Justin are together, right?"
"Yeah. But he's got an evening class, and he called to say he was still working on a paper that's due tonight. So I'm giving him some space. Don't want to distract him."
Dan could see why having the big hunk around could be a distraction.
Meanwhile, the server was standing there trying not to look impatient.
"Let's have a drink then, if you're in no hurry."
"Sounds fine." Dan looked at the server. "Merlot for me, please."
"Sounds good," Bailey said. "Same for me, please."
The server, who'd overheard their conversation since she'd arrived at their table, raised an eyebrow and said she'd be right back with their wine.
Bailey chuckled. "I can just imagine. She's thinking, how like a couple of queers to want wine instead of a good, manly drink like beer."
"Yeah. I've ordered beer often enough just so I won't look too gay."
"Well, if we were at Nellie's, we wouldn't have to feel . . . out of place."
"At least we're inside out of the cold. Nellie's is three blocks away."
"Screw `em all!" Bailey said.
"Yeah!" Dan exclaimed loudly enough to get some stares from nearby customers. "Sorry. Didn't mean to attract attention." His mother had always insisted that one never attracted attention to oneself.
He couldn't help grinning when Bailey growled, "Let `em look!"
"So how did you and Justin get together?"
"It's nothing special. Sure you want to hear?"
"Yeah. Tell me."
"We were roommates freshman year."
"In the dorm?"
"Yep. The University assigned us to live together."
"Okay. So it was love at first sight?"
Bailey chuckled. "Hardly. I mean I liked the feisty little dude the first time I saw him. But I'm straight."
"Well, I'd always thought I was straight. Dated women in high school. Took a few of `em to bed. Never spent any time looking at guys with anything more than casual interest. I was just . . . straight."
"What'd he do? Seduce you?"
"No. It didn't work that way."
"So what happened?"
"The day we met he told me he was gay and asked if that would be a problem. I told him that I'd had some gay friends and that it wouldn't be an issue. So we got off to a good start."
Bailey's eyes went out of focus, as if he was thinking.
"The only way to say this is that I fell in love with him. He tells it like it is, even if that gets him into trouble. He can be abrasive once in a while, but he's getting past that. Has a wonderful sense of humor, too. But he's a rock solid friend. And he's patient with me when I tend to mother him sometimes."
"Really! How long did it take you to figure out you, uh, loved him?"
"I kept denying it, telling myself he was a guy and I was straight and that I just liked him a lot, the way you do with a really good friend."
"Well, in the spring term, things came to a head. Doesn't matter what triggered it. I just realized that if anything ever happened to him my life would be pretty empty. He mattered to me."
Dan sighed, realizing that pretty well described how he had come to feel about Casey.
"Had he ever done anything to suggest he was coming on to you?"
"No. He took me at my word that I was straight. He went out with other guys some. I have to admit that I sometimes got turned on by him. And as time passed that happened more and more. But I resisted it. It seemed to me it wouldn't be fair to him if I was just curious or casually interested. After all, I didn't even think I was bi."
Their waitress returned with their wine, so the conversation paused while she placed coasters in front of them and set down their glasses.
Dan held up his glass to Casey and took a sip. "You were saying you didn't think you were bi."
"Yeah, but the time finally came when I had to admit to myself and to Jus that I loved him. And it wasn't primarily a matter of sex, though that came in due course. I was lucky that he'd had feelings for me all along but had suppressed them for the same reason I had."
"That's a great story, Bailey! Thanks for sharing it with me. Can I ask a question?"
There were smile crinkles at the corners of Bailey's brown eyes when he said, "Sure."
"You said you and Justin have sex. How would you answer the question, are you gay?"
"Oh, yeah. We have sex. But let me ask you something. Do you look at guys and wonder what it would be like to have sex with them? Do you mentally undress them?"
"Well, yeah. That's what gay guys do."
"I don't. I'm perfectly content with what I have. I think I'm just gay for Justin."
"Do you ever get turned on by chicks?"
"I don't let myself. I mean, look, Dan. We all know when we've seen someone who's great looking, whichever sex they are. But I get what I need from Justin, and I don't get all hot and bothered looking at other people, male or female."
"Bailey, that's amazing! I'm glad you have somebody who makes you so happy."
Bailey looked at his watch. "I need to get home. I want to make sure Jus eats some supper."
"Yeah, I need to get going, too."
"Before we split, there's something I want to ask you."
"What's behind all these questions? You wouldn't have an interest in your roommate, would you?"
"Well, the questions come from an interest in getting to know you better. Mostly. But, yeah, I've developed feelings for Casey that go beyond the platonic, I think."
"Have you told him about them?"
"No. When I first moved in with him last summer, he said he didn't think it was a good idea for roommates to be involved beyond the level of friendship. And he said something about us looking so much alike that having feelings for me would be like incest."
"And you've left it there?"
"And that's been, what, six months?"
"Maybe it's time you two talked."
"Bailey, you've gotta promise you won't tell anyone what I've just told you."
"I promise. Not even Jus. But you may be losing out on something special if you don't tell Casey how you feel."
"I'm afraid if I say anything it will ruin our friendship."
"Do you really think that's going to happen? After all, most people aren't offended when they learn that someone has special feelings for them. And it's not like Casey's straight."
"Promise you'll think about it."
"Dan, this has been good. I feel as if I've got a new friend. You'll have to come over for supper some evening. Between the two of us, Jus and I can put on a pretty good meal." He grinned. "And maybe you could bring Casey. We're not up to Adrian's quality, but maybe some evening when he's not working?"
"Yeah, I'd like that. And I think Case would, too."
They settled their bill and walked out together. On the sidewalk, they hugged before parting.
"Get a room!" a passerby growled.
Dan stiffened and was about to snarl a reply.
Bailey said quietly into his ear, "Relax Dan. Jerks like that aren't worth the trouble."
Dan thought of Dean Meadows and let the tension go out of his body. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks, Bailey. Say `hi' to Justin."
"Right. And to Casey."
When he got back to the apartment, he hung up his coat, and sorted the mail into two piles. Then he leaned against the wall while he unlaced his boots and tugged them off. By this time, Urijah, who'd been rubbing against his legs, was becoming impatient. Dan picked him up and cradled him in his arms.
"Hi, cat. You miss me?"
Urijah closed his eyes and twitched the end of his tail.
"I know, you just want to be fed."
As always the apartment felt empty when Casey wasn't there – which was most of the time, it seemed.
After replenishing the cat's water supply and giving him his supper, Dan washed his hands and opened the fridge. He was pleased to find a bag of salad greens plus some other veggies. So he heated a couple of rolls from Adrian's in the oven while he cut veggies and assembled a salad.
Afterward, he brushed his teeth and came back to the sofa where he looked through his mail. Junk. Nothing but junk.
Remembering that he'd turned off his cell while he was at The Cougar with Bailey, he retrieved it from his backpack and turned it on. There was a voicemail from Arnie.
"Yo, dude. Why ainchu home? You suddenly get a life or somepin? Nothin' important. Call me."
Dan chuckled. Arnie had been in gangsta mode when he called.
He pressed Arnie's number on speed dial and Arnie answered.
"Dan! Where were you this afternoon?"
"I bumped into Bailey Stone on the way home. He and I went to The Cougar."
"He's a hunk."
"A really nice hunk, too."
"Seems that way."
"So what's up with you? Or should I say you guys?"
He could hear the smile in Arnie's voice when he said, "Oh, hanging out with Caldwell's an adventure?"
"What have you been up to?"
"Dillard's was having a sale on designer jeans yesterday. You'd think fifteen pairs of jeans would be enough, but Miss Priss got her panties in a twist so last night we just had to go to the mall."
"I'll get you for that remark, Compson. And I only have twelve pairs of jeans, I'll have you know."
Recognizing Bernie's voice in the background, Dan laughed.
"So what happened?"
"Well, he tried on jeans by Nautica, Tommy H, Lauren, and I don't know what all. And we fooled around a little in the dressing room. He, um, needed my advice on how they fit."
"I can picture that."
"Well, the clerk began hovering outside the door and clearing his throat. So Ole Bern here stormed out, told him he was just jealous, and left without buying anything."
By now Dan was laughing so hard Urijah was giving him puzzled looks.
"But here's the best part. When we got back to Colby, he pulled into a more or less deserted parking lot on campus. It's the one behind the Economics building."
"Don't tell me you . . . ."
"Yup. He left the motor running, `cause it was cold. We climbed in the back and you can imagine the rest."
"Spoilsport. I won't ask for details, but did he suck you off or just present his ass?"
"I didn't need sucking to get me hard. I'd been that way ever since Dillard's. So he just shimmied out of his jeans. Oh, I forgot to tell you he'd been trying things on commando in the store. What was I to do? That moon he showed me was so bright it could attract attention, so I had to throw my black body over it."
"You know, bud, hangin' with that dude's gonna get you in trouble."
Arnie chuckled. "I think it's my mission to restrain his worst urges. So I can keep him out of trouble."
"Lotsa luck. I think you were pushing it both at the store and in the SUV."
"Pushing it? Clever, man. But we only pushed it in the car."
They chatted a few minutes longer, agreed that they should get together soon, and hung up.
Casey came home at the usual time, but he only stepped inside the door.
"Hey, Cool. How's everything?"
Dan grinned. "Cool. What about with you?"
"Good. But Seth wants to talk to me about something. So I'll be up there for a while. I don't have a clue what he wants or how long I'll be, so you don't need to wait up."
"Um, okay. Say `hi' to Seth."
Dan had tried hard not to be jealous. Seth had always been nice to him. He'd asked him up for drinks, and they'd shared occasional meals. But Casey spent more time with Seth than Dan did. Dan didn't want to begrudge his roomie that friendship. Casey worked hard. He spent most of his waking hours in class or studying or (more and more lately) at the restaurant. So if he had a friend in Seth, good for him!
Still, he couldn't help wondering about the nature of the relationship. Were they just friends, or was it something more?
Sighing, he stroked Urijah, who'd been lying beside him on the sofa, stood up, and went to get ready for bed.
He was still awake when, about a half an hour later, he heard Casey come in, speak softly to the cat, and go into his own room. Somehow the knowledge that Casey was home made it easier for him to fall asleep.
When Dan got home from his last class the following Monday, he expected to find Casey there, since his roomie didn't work on Monday's.
But, except for Urijah, who was sitting just inside the door, the apartment was empty. Casey's coat was there, but the man himself wasn't to be found.
Dan stopped, picked up the cat, and said, "Is he upstairs with Seth?"
Loud purring was Urijah's only response.
Just then Dan could hear voices. But they weren't coming from upstairs. It sounded as if Casey was in the basement. Not surprising, come to think of it, since he usually did his laundry on Mondays.
If he hadn't been holding the cat, Dan might have done something theatrical like smacking his forehead. "I should have remembered."
He set Urijah on the floor.
"I think I'll go down and say hello."
Urijah didn't point out that Dan's going to the basement just then might look suspiciously like spying, but the thought crossed Dan's mind anyway.
Noticing a black sock in the hall near Casey's bedroom door, he grabbed it, went to the basement stairs, and started down. But he paused when he heard Seth's voice.
"Come on, Casey. What harm can it do?"
"I dunno, man. I'm not sure it's a good idea."
Uh oh! Sounds bad. Is Seth coming on to Casey? The bastard! I'd better break this up. That'd give Case some time to think it over.
He clumped noisily down the stairs.
"Hey, Case! You missed a sock."
Casey was taking clothes from his laundry basket and putting them into the washer. Seth was leaning against the wall, hands in pockets, a basket of clean, dried clothes at his feet.
"Hi, Cool," Casey said, smiling at him.
Seth, too, smiled. "Dan, just the person we were talking about."
"Seth!" Casey sounded . . . worried? Alarmed?
"Look, guys, I've got to get back upstairs. Nice to see you Dan." He picked up his basket of laundry. "Casey, why put this off? You two obviously need to talk. And, as I said, you may be surprised by the results."
"I don't know. . . ."
Dan had never seen Casey look that way. It was almost as if he was . . . afraid.
Case afraid? What's up? Are they gonna tell me they're a couple now or something?
Seth sighed and set down the basket. He approached the two roommates and put a hand behind each of their heads, making them face each other. He pushed their foreheads together.
Dan shivered. The last time his face had been that close to Casey's they'd been on the canvas. He wondered how Casey would respond to Seth's action.
"Put the damn laundry in the damn washer and go talk!" Seth hadn't raised his voice, but his tone was forceful.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org If you email me, please put "Cool" in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam.
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