by Tim Mead
On the morning after Christmas Adam and Blake said goodbye to the senior Craigs. They went to COSI, Columbus's splendid museum of science and industry, where they spent a couple of hours. Then they made the return trip to Colby.
It had been snowing when they left Colby on Christmas Eve. Obviously sensing Adam's malaise, Blake had volunteered to drive. This day, however, though it was cold, the sun was shining and Adam was happy to drive, enjoying his new vehicle as he did so.
The holiday had gone well, he thought. Blake had charmed his parents. His mother, taking Adam at his word when he'd insisted the two weren't lovers, had put them in separate bedrooms. Blake had willingly acquiesced when it was suggested they go to church on Christmas Eve. They'd all exchanged gifts the next morning. The rest of the day had been one of food and talk. Adam had enjoyed it. Though Blake outwardly had seemed content to be there, Adam sensed some suppressed . . . tension?
And why, now, Adam wondered, is Blake so quiet?
They'd been listening to classical music on WOSU-FM, Adam making occasional comments about things they'd passed along the rural highway. Blake stared out the window, responding only tersely to Adam's remarks, offering no conversation of his own.
He must have something on his mind. When he's ready, he'll tell you, Adam thought.
It was a quiet, awkward trip, and when Adam pulled up at last in front of the building in a predominantly student-housing area of Colby where Blake had an apartment, he couldn't stand it any longer. He switched off the engine and asked, "Blake, what in hell's wrong? Did one of my parents say something to offend you? Have I said something?"
Blake sighed. "Your parents are great people and they were very, um, gracious in the way they treated me. And, no, you haven't said anything to upset me."
"Well, then, what?"
"Adam, I'm trying to figure out whether you're insensitive or just totally clueless."
Stunned, Adam turned to study his young friend's face. Blake was still looking straight ahead, through the windshield.
"You're going to explain that, I hope."
"Sorry. Forget I said anything." He paused. "You did ask."
"Yeah, I did. And I want to know. But all that coffee I drank with lunch has gone through me. I've gotta pee."
A flicker of a smile appeared on Blake's face. "Can't have you pissing your pants, professor. Come on in and pee."
Adam had never been in Blake's apartment. He was surprised. Not that it was neat, which it was. He wasn't sure what he'd have guessed about Blake's lodgings, but he hadn't expected the Spartan elegance he found there. Obviously this wasn't a furnished flat. Someone with taste – and money -- had selected the contemporary pieces. He wondered if it had been Blake's grandmother, but this was a very masculine room. It was undoubtedly Blake's, but it revealed things about the boy Adam hadn't suspected. The severe lines, the muted grays and blues gave no evidence of the cheeky Blake Bellamy who picked up men in bars.
When he came out of the bathroom, Blake said, "Thank you for your gift, for taking me along."
"Wait just a goddam minute, kiddo. We're not saying goodbye. I'm not leaving until you tell me what you meant by that remark in the car."
"Kiddo? You're pulling the age card? You disappoint me, professor."
"Aw, shit, Blake!" Adam felt as if he were a kid who'd disappointed his parent. "The `kiddo' just slipped out. It was affectionate. And as for my `pulling' something, I didn't think this was a confrontation."
Blake sighed. "Okay. Do you want something to drink?"
"Then let's sit."
Adam sat on the sofa. Instead of sitting in the nearby chair, which looked like a good copy of an Eames chair, Blake sat at the other end of the sofa, turning and pulling one knee up.
"I'm really sorry I made that remark in the car. Can we just forget I said anything?
"That's going to be pretty difficult. I'm, what was it you said? Either `insensitive' or `clueless'? No, wait, it was `totally clueless'."
"Like I said. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to piss you off."
"I'm not pissed. I'm puzzled. Worried. I've done something, but I don't know what. And I've come to care about you, Blake. Surely you know that."
Blake squinted his eyes, looking beyond Adam. Then he slowly refocused on Adam's face. Again he sighed. Softly, he said, "You've never told me that before."
"That I care about you?"
"Well of course I do. I couldn't have managed without you after the accident. I asked you to come home with me so you wouldn't be alone at Christmas. How could you not know?"
"Oh. So caring means that you're grateful and feel sorry for me, is that it?"
Damn! This guy should be a lawyer!
"It's more than that. In spite of the difference in our ages, you've become a real friend."
"And how do you think I feel about you?"
"Well, um, I . . . ."
"Have you forgotten what I told you that night at Nellie's?"
"Yeah, or, no, that is . . . ."
"Okay. Let me spell it out for you. Being with you is both what I want most and a form of torture. It hurts to sit next to you in the car or at the dinner table and know I'm not allowed to touch. To watch you talk to your parents or to me and not be able to . . . ." He hesitated a moment. Then he concluded, ". . . do this."
He scooted closer to Adam, put a hand behind the older man's head, and pulled him so that their lips were touching. Adam was startled. Blake, who'd been so restrained, had suddenly become bold. Adam's whole body tingled when Blake touched the back of his neck. The tingling increased many times over as their lips touched. When Blake's tongue tried to slip between his lips, he relaxed them and allowed it in. He put his arms around Blake and held him close. At that moment he couldn't think of any reason not to do what Blake wanted.
# # #
When he got home a couple of hours later, he made his duty call to Westerville. His mother answered the phone.
"Mom, just wanted to let you know that Blake and I made it back okay." `Made it.' Yeah we made it, certainly.
"Thanks for calling, dear. Isn't COSI spectacular?"
"Yeah. I thought it was pretty great when it was in the old high school, but this new building's really something else." He paused. "I also wanted to thank you and Dad for being so good to Blake. He really likes the two of you."
"Yes, and we loved him. But I sensed a sadness about him. I think he must have been missing his family."
"He may have been a bit sad, but not for the reasons you think. He has no use for his parents. I think his sadness came from the fact that he'd never experienced the kind of love he felt around our table."
"That's really tragic."
"Uh huh. It's amazing he's turned out to be such a great guy."
"I'm glad you realize he's a fine young man, Adam."
"Well, of course I do."
"I don't think you quite understand, dear."
"When Blake looks at you, it's obvious to me that he's in love with you."
Remembering what had transpired at Blake's apartment just a bit earlier, the heat and intensity of it, Adam shivered and said, "You know, Mom, I think you may be right."
"Then you're going to have to ask yourself just how much you care about him. You could very easily hurt the boy, you know. And you wouldn't want to do that."
"As always, you give wise advice."
"Just be careful with him. Promise me?"
"Sounds as if he's grabbed your heart, Mother."
"Well, to some extent. And he could become very special. If you'll let him."
"I promise to be careful with him."
"See you do."
"Is Dad there?"
"No, he had to run an errand."
"Give him my love and tell him I said thanks for everything."
"I'll do that. Call again soon, sweetie."
He opened a bottle of cabernet and without waiting for it to breathe, poured himself a glass. He took that with a hunk of stilton, along with some crackers, and sat in his favorite chair.
Although he was pretty sure he'd managed to sound normal on the phone with his mother, he was actually shaken by what had happened that afternoon.
The kissing had led to increasingly frenetic stroking and groping. The two had found themselves naked on Blake's bed, unable to make enough contact of skin on skin. After intense exploration, the question had inevitably come up, who was doing what to whom. Blake had made it quite clear that he wanted to please Adam. When Adam hesitated to take command, Blake had offered himself to Adam. The resultant sex had been the best Adam had experienced since the earliest days of his time with Brian. Athletic, tender, loving, exhausting!
Although Adam had a slight preference for catching, Blake had assumed Adam would want to top, so he offered himself that way. Adam, motivated in equal parts by lust and a desire to give Blake what he wanted . . . gave Blake what he wanted. Afterward, they had lain there, arms around each other, relaxed, happy.
The guilt hadn't set in until later.
So what happens now, Craig? He's still practically a kid. And what about Tony?
Adam didn't have his usual whiskey at bedtime. Tired from being "up" for three days, relaxed from the afternoon's sex, he slept like a baby.
# # #
The next morning he went to the supermarket to stock up on groceries. He did laundry afterward and then it was lunch time.
After he ate, he called Blake. There was no answer.
He spent the afternoon reading. About 5:00 he poured a glass of the cabernet from the previous day. Cupping the bowl of the glass in his hand so the wine would warm up more quickly, he sat by the phone and called Blake's number again.
"Blake, it's Adam."
"Hey. I'm surprised you called."
"I thought you might have fucker's remorse or something."
Adam barked out a laugh. "Never heard that term before."
"Well, I just thought maybe you'd be mad at me for, well, seducing you."
"Is that what you did?"
"No. Not really. What I mean is that I didn't set out to do that. It's just when we were sitting there and I was trying to explain how hard, um, difficult it is to be with you without being able to touch you, I just . . . . You have to know how tough it was for me to be with you that week after the accident. If you hadn't been so beat up, I don't know how I'd have kept from coming on to you. Am I making any sense?"
"Yeah. I understand. And, for what it's worth, I'm really sorry you had to suffer that way, if that's what it was, while you were taking such good care of me. I really, um, care for you for that. You know?" Maybe you need to figure out exactly what your feelings for Blake are.
After a pause, Blake said, "Well, you know how I feel about you. But yesterday may have been a mistake."
"You think so?"
"I'm afraid you'll think so."
"I confess I'm pretty confused right now. The sex was amazing, Blake. And, as I said . . ."
"Adam," Blake interrupted, "don't say anything more right now. Just take some time to get it all sorted out in your mind. Or, I hope, in your heart. I'll see you in class next week."
"No buts. Happy New Year. I love you. Bye." Adam heard the click as the connection was broken.
# # #
Adam did think about it, trying to get it sorted out, as Blake had said. Looking back on the unexpected sex that afternoon in Blake's apartment, he felt satisfaction. Excitement. And guilt.
But why, exactly, did he feel guilty? Blake was well over the age of consent. He'd never made any secret of his feelings for Adam, though he'd behaved with strict propriety the week he stayed with Adam, and he'd been the model of circumspection in Westerville.
Was the guilt due, as Blake had suggested, to his insensitivity to the younger man's feelings for him? Was it wrong to invite Blake, to allow his mother to pressure Blake to spend Christmas with him? He'd thought he was doing Blake a kindness, not wanting him to be alone at Christmas. Still, Blake had spoken more than once about his feelings for Adam.
He realized that indeed he had to think his way through this dilemma.
Things were more complicated because Tony was coming for New Year's Eve and the CQ affair the day after.
Could any of the guilt he was feeling be related to Tony?
# # #
"How's the Middle West's sexiest bookseller?"
Tony laughed. "Variations on a theme, huh?"
"Not very inventive of me, is it?"
"I'm not complaining, so long as you think I'm sexy. And I won't ask how many booksellers you've had sex with. So, how was your Christmas?"
"Good, good. How about yours?"
"Good also. Very quiet, but nice. Alice and I spent Christmas Day together. Teddy went home for the holiday. Mmm. That sounds like a song title, doesn't it?"
"It is, I think. Will he be back for New Year's?"
"No. He's recharging his batteries for the time being. So he can come back and rush towards finishing his dissertation."
"When can you come to Colby? Do you have to work on New Year's Eve?"
"I've given Alice that day off. I'll keep the shop open until noon, grab some lunch, and then set out for your place, if that's okay."
"You know, Tony, I have no idea what we're going to do that night. As I've told you, we're invited to the CQ cocktail party and buffet on New Year's afternoon. I'm sure there must be New Year's Eve parties in Colby, but I'm new and I haven't been invited to any of them."
"No problem. Why don't we go to the movies? Then we can come back to your place and watch the ball drop. So to speak."
Adam chuckled. "So to speak, indeed. I'll lay in some decent champagne. And check to see what's showing."
"Does that soi-disant university town have an art theatre?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Then you might see what they're showing."
"Good idea. The restaurants will be packed that evening. I'll see if I can get a reservation somewhere. If not, we'll either have to stand in line forever or else you'll have to trust my culinary skills."
"Whatever you decide is great with me."
"Okay, I'll let you know via email. It'll be good to see you, Tony."
"And you. I'll watch for your email."
"Hugs to Alice and Ted."
"That'll be pleasant."
# # #
Not long after he'd spoken with Tony on the phone, Adam decided he didn't want to cook on New Year's Eve. Or rather, he didn't want to inflict his cooking on Tony that evening. The question was what to do. The chain restaurants didn't take reservations. He knew he'd never be able to book at Adrian's at this late date. Then he remembered The Faculty Club. This was a private restaurant that, despite its name, had nothing to do with the University. He'd heard it was good. People didn't drive out from Toledo to eat there as they did Adrian's, but it had a good reputation.
Yes, he was trying to get a table for New Year's Eve. But Colby, like many university towns, was pretty deserted during the holiday break. Thinking there was no harm in trying, he looked up the number and made the call. The person he talked with told him there had just been a cancellation and she would put them down for a table for two at 7:00. He said that would be good and thanked her.
He leaned back and sighed. Now, all he had to do was fix breakfast for Tony on New Year's Day and the next day. And be careful not to tell Tony he'd had sex in the afternoon with Blake.
Then he emailed Tony to tell him to bring two shirts he could wear a tie with, one for The Faculty Club, the other for the occasion at Jake and Jim's the next day. Tony emailed back saying, "I'll not just bring two dress shirts but two outfits. I'm gay, after all <g>.
# # #
Adam spent a good part of the week between Christmas and New Year's reading term papers which had been turned in the last day before the holiday break began.
One morning he stood, stretched, went to the kitchen for more coffee, and then flopped back into the reading chair in his study. He preferred to mark papers on a lap board rather than sitting at his desk.
The next paper he picked up was Blake's essay on Stearns. He had set out to trace the changes between Stearns' first book, the war novel, Rue de la Paix, and the final one, Stranger in Paradigms. The earlier work manifested, as Blake had pointed out, both the anger of someone like dos Passos and the stoicism of Hemingway's Jake Barnes. But as time passed, the mood changed. Stearns, he argued, seemed to have found his inner peace. The final novel manifested gentle humor and an indulgent, amused sort of social commentary.
Those points had, of course, been made before, most notably by the critic Emerson Wolcott, and Blake had cited Wolcott and the other writers who made them. Still, he'd put his own spin on the whole thing, so that Adam took pleasure in awarding the paper an "A." That was the highest grade Adam ever gave. A+ would have meant perfection, and no one wrote perfect papers. Blake, for example, had written about the "waist" of World War I. A mere slip, but still . . . .
Besides, it wouldn't do for him to think Adam was partial. Just because they were friends. Just because they'd had sex. The best sex Adam could remember in over a decade! No. It was a first-rate paper.
# # #
The Faculty Club was, Adam decided, more appealing than Adrian's. The décor was like an English gentlemen's club. But the maitre d' and the waitstaff didn't seem to have pokers up their asses like the people at Adrian's. And the food was damned good!
He and Tony talked easily about their usual variety of things.
Adam asked Tony about his Christmas without any family around.
"Alice and I do very well. We're friends. She's not exactly my hag, but she knows all about me. Understands me too well, if anything. And I'm used to holidays without my folks. They're always half-way around the world. Sis is always in England. One of these summers I'd like to go over there and see her and her family. I'd love to spend some time crawling around bookstores in England, too. But I'm losing Teddy come May, and I can't very well ask Alice to run the shop for two weeks."
"How about for a week? You can be in England overnight, you know."
"Yeah. I know. I think I might just do that." He cut a piece of asparagus with the edge of his fork and ate it. "Speaking of families and holidays, how did your visit to Columbus go?"
"It was pleasant. Quiet, but pleasant. Went to church. Ate too much. Stopped by COSI on the morning after Christmas before we came home. The folks loved Blake."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Blake was with you?"
Woops! "Yeah, hadn't I mentioned that?"
"He doesn't have anything to do with anyone in his family except his grandmother, who's in Hawaii at the moment. In view of what he did for me after the accident, I couldn't very well let him spend the holidays alone in his apartment. So I sicced my mother on him. She persuaded him to come to Westerville with me."
"Considerate of you. He seemed a nice kid, though I met him only briefly."
"Yeah. He's a good guy."
Tony didn't say any more about Blake, leaving Adam to wonder whether or not he was jealous. Or perhaps just surprised that Adam had forgotten to mention it.
After their supper at the restaurant, Adam suggested they return to the condo, change into casual wear, and, instead of the movies, go to Nellie's.
"I don't know whether they have anything special going on, but it will be as good a place as any to see in the New Year."
Tony looked as if he was going to say something but changed his mind. "Sounds good. It's party night. So let's party."
They arrived at Nellie's in jeans and sweaters to find things already jumping. Even if the University wasn't in session, the place was nearly full – of people dressed in everything from jeans, like Tony and Adam, to formal wear. And the volume level was higher than Adam had ever heard it. Some of the noise came from a small group playing by the dance floor at the back, the rest from dozens of people trying to make conversation over the music. Several young waiters scurried through the crowd bearing drinks.
As they looked around for a place to sit, Adam noticed someone waving from a booth in the back. It took a moment to place the guy doing the waving, and then he realized it was Micah Sutton, who was making his book cases. Micah had called not long ago to let him know that they might be ready toward the middle of February, but Adam hadn't actually seen him recently.
There was someone else in the booth, but Micah's companion had his back to them.
"We can either go sit with that young man waving at you," Tony observed, "or we can stand and hope someone leaves."
"He's a nice guy. Let's get our drinks and then I'll introduce you."
Adam pointed toward the bar and then nodded, indicating to Micah that they were going to get drinks and then would be over.
"We just had wine with dinner. What are you going to have?" Tony asked.
"We walked, so we won't have to worry about driving home. How about a brandy? I can't imagine what the cognac here would be like."
Tony grinned. "Is bad brandy less bad than bad cognac?"
"Smart ass! Let's find out."
They carried their drinks to the booth where Micah and his companion were sitting.
Introductions were made. Micah's friend, Joe Hill, was stunning. Tall, broad shouldered, with blue eyes and perfect masculine features. Micah was a nice-looking young guy, and Adam remembered he had a nice ass, but Joe was jaw-droppingly handsome.
"Thanks, Micah," Adam said after they were all seated. "I hope we're not intruding."
"No, sir. We weren't expecting anyone, and it's nice to see you again."
"Micah," Adam said, turning to Tony, "makes beautiful furniture. He's going to do bookcases for the study."
"Can't have too many bookcases," Tony said, smiling.
"But these will be not just any old bookcases. Wait until you see his work."
"And what about you, Joe?" Tony asked. "What do you do."
Joe, looking embarrassed, said, "I work for Dave Cromer. He has a landscaping business."
"I've met Dave," Adam told him.
"Have we done some work for you?" Joe wanted to know.
"No," Micah said. "Dr. Craig lives in a condo. The same one where Adrian Lynch and his, uh, friend live."
"Come on, Micah. Call me Adam, please. Both of you."
"Okay," Micah said.
"Adrian's place is where I met Dave and Brody."
"Oh, at the Queers?" Micah smiled.
"I guess everybody knows about them."
"Yeah. Joe and I are gonna be introduced to that group tomorrow."
"So," Tony asked, "you and Joe are partners?"
Joe, who'd sat next to Micah after they'd stood for introductions, put his arm around Micah's shoulder, squeezed it, and said, "Finally!"
"We've only been together a short while and still have separate places to live." He grinned, turning to look at his partner. "But Joe's gonna give his notice to his landlady and move in with me on the first of February." Micah put his forehead against Joe's.
It was touching, Adam thought, how much the two younger men glowed with their love for each other.
Neither Micah nor Joe asked about the relationship between Adam and Tony. He was grateful for their tact.
Time passed quickly. Micah and Joe, as established residents of Colby, were full of information about the side of Colby that wasn't focused on the University. It was a revelation to find that the local gay community wasn't exclusively made up of students and faculty at CSU.
Not long before midnight, four young men who'd been taking orders and serving drinks wearing jeans and Nellie's tee shirts vanished briefly and reappeared wearing flipflops, what looked like diapers, and sashes that proclaimed the New Year. After taking a collective bow to acknowledge the hoots and applause their costumes and hard bodies elicited, they served everyone complimentary flutes of champagne.
The place had become so crowded the four were unable to get out of the booth and stand up. So, when everyone did the countdown and screamed "Happy New Year," they took a swallow of their champagne. Adam thought it was sweet when Micah and Joe kissed each other.
He turned to Tony, who leaned forward and gave him a New Year's kiss.
When they got back to his condo, Adam insisted that they have a glass of decent champagne, since what they'd had at Nellie's had been what you might have expected of free stuff at a place like that.
It was after 2:00 when they went to bed. Afterward Adam couldn't remember who'd made the suggestion, but they'd decided, since it was late and they'd had so much to drink, that they'd defer sex. They snuggled up together and were asleep almost at once.
The next morning, quite a while after the sun came up on the first day of the year, two gentle men on the cusp of middle age had gentle wake-up sex, Adam offering himself to and being taken by his guest.
They lay together contentedly until someone's stomach rumbled. Having received that signal, they shaved and showered, putting on only robes for their breakfast.
They watched the Rose Bowl Parade on TV for a while. When the time came, they dressed for the CQ gathering.
"You look sizzlin', as the kids would say," Adam commented.
"Thanks. You're not so bad yourself."
When they arrived at the big old house in the country, Jake was at the door greeting arrivals. After they'd exchanged hugs, Adam asked, "Where's Archie?"
"Oh, he's with the neighbors. He didn't want to dress up."
After they'd moved on Tony asked, "Who's Archie?"
"Their beagle. Sweet dog."
"Oh! For a minute I thought of my friend in Ann Arbor. You remember Arch. But then I realized he wouldn't be here, as he's not gay."
At the mention of Archer, Adam wondered if the old gentleman would ever remember where he'd run across the name of Vivian Clay. Perhaps he never had. Perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him.
There was a table where drinks were being dispensed by a cute black-haired guy with fake diamonds (at least Adam assumed they were fake) in each earlobe. In addition to champagne and other wines, the guy offered to mix them anything they wanted.
"Several of the guests," he said with a sexy smile, "have chosen bloody maries."
"I think for now I'll have a virgin mary," Tony said.
"I'll have the same, please," Adam added.
Having received their drinks the two moved off to chat with the others. Jake came out of the kitchen briefly to greet them. Adam saw both Tom and Adrian moving about, obviously helping, but not seeming rushed. Both came over to say hello to them.
"The group seems a little smaller than last time," Adam commented.
"It fluctuates," Adrian replied. "We've got some newbies coming, I think. But you, Jake, Jim, and Digby are the only CSU faculty members who'll be here. The rest are still out of town."
Not long after that, Micah and Joe arrived. Adam moved off to greet them, leaving Tony in a conversation with Jake about Ted's dissertation topic.
"Hi, you two. You're looking chipper this morning. Or this afternoon."
Micah smiled. "Yeah, we left Nellie's just after you and Tony did. And since we didn't have all that much to drink last night, we're in great shape." He looked fondly at Joe, who blushed.
Damn, that Joe's a walking wet dream!
Adam managed to say hello to and chat with several of the people he'd met at Tom and Adrian's party in the fall. He made a point of spending some time with Albert Ronsard, whom he had not gotten to know. Albert seemed pleased when Adam didn't start the conversation by talking about food. They wound up speaking mostly about the music of Franck and Saint Saens. When someone else came over to say hello to the Frenchman, Adam moved to the drinks table where he asked the stud with the studs for chardonnay.
He had just asked Brody Cox, who in his blond way was just as good-looking as Joe Hill, what his major was when the doorbell rang. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jim Grant answer the door. He missed Brody's answer because, when he turned slightly to get a look at the latest arrivals, he saw Ray Stonesifer come in with his arm around someone's shoulders. Momentarily Jim blocked Adam's view. By the time he moved out of the way, Ray had taken his arm from around his date.
And Adam got a clear view of Blake, who was smiling and shaking hands with Jim.
To Be Continued.
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