by Tim Mead
Adam had not expected to see Blake that afternoon. Jake (or was it Jim?) had told him that, though the University had a number of gay students, undergrads were not generally invited to the CQ gatherings. An exception was made for Brody because he was older, having served a hitch in the Marines, and because he and Dave Cromer were partners.
So it just never occurred to him that Blake might be there. It was not so much a matter of the appropriateness of Blake's being invited, Adam realized. It was the strange feeling in his stomach when he saw him with Ray Stonesifer.
"Well, look who just arrived." Adam hadn't been aware that Tony was standing behind him. "Don't they make a handsome couple?" He continued. "I wonder if your young friend has a thing for redheads."
Adam couldn't tell whether Tony was being serious or whether there was a hint of mockery in his voice.
"That's the detective, isn't it? Ray somebody or other? Did you know he'd be here?"
"Yes, that's Ray Stonesifer," Adam replied. "And no, I didn't know Blake would be here. It's been a while since we've talked."
Just then Ben Moss approached and wished Adam and Tony a happy New Year. Tony took the occasion to discuss Ben's novel. Adam joined in with relief because he wasn't about to rush over and say hello to Blake. They'd be bound to talk at some point during the afternoon. Still, he couldn't help keeping track of the two as they moved around, Ray introducing Blake to people.
When he got the chance, Adam moved back to the drinks table and picked up a glass of wine. He really needed something to combat the tension he'd felt ever since Blake had come in. Still, it wasn't a good idea to start on whiskey that early in the day.
Fifteen or so people who are adult, gregarious, and celebrating a holiday tend to be a fluid group. He'd noticed at receptions and parties in the past that straight couples were inclined to stick together at such affairs. Here, though, everyone except Albert Ronsard, Adrian's executive chef, had a partner, whether temporary or long-term. But these pairs were just as likely to split up and schmooze separately rather than together. Groups constantly formed, broke up, and reformed in different combinations.
Tony was off to his right into a conversation with Tyrese Jones and Digby Gautier. Blake was across the room talking with Dave Cromer. Adam noticed that Blake's roots weren't showing. They'd never showed, though, as Adam knew, his hair was bleached. He wondered how Blake managed that. Then he tried to imagine how Blake would look if he let his hair go back to its natural brown.
Then, chiding himself for obsessing over Blake, he moved over to join the conversation with Tony and the two studly black men.
* * *
"What's the score?"
"I thought so!" Tony said with a smile. "Would you like to explain to me just what it is with you and young Blake?"
They had come home from the CQ gathering well fed and a little buzzed, changed into comfortable clothes, and were ostensibly watching a bowl game on TV. "Ostensibly" because Adam had been staring at the screen, his eyes unfocused. Tony obviously picked up on that and rightly assumed its cause.
Adam's immediate problem was how he was going to answer his friend's question. He remembered one of his undergraduate professors explaining that in the eighteenth century policy meant something like strategy. So Franklin or whoever was being more cynical than most people today understood when he said, "Honesty is the best policy."
"Are you in there? What's going on? I asked you about Blake."
Adam shook his head to clear away distracting thoughts. "Sorry. Blake told me a couple of months ago that he loves me."
"I know that."
"You knew he'd told me? How?"
"No, I know he loves you. I've seen him look at you."
"No doubt about it. What did you say to him when he declared his love?" Tony had a playful smile on his face, which Adam took as a good sign.
"That I was flattered, but a relationship of any kind between us other than that of professor and student was out of the question."
"Did he accept that?"
"He had arguments. Which I finally ended by invoking you."
"Yes, I told him you were my boyfriend."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "So he backed off?"
"Yes. For a while. Then he showed up one day in my office and reiterated his feelings."
"This is beginning to sound like a Victorian novel. Or a gay romance. So, what happened next?"
"I told him once more that it simply wasn't on."
"What were your feelings toward him by then?"
Adam was beginning to squirm under Tony's questioning, but he'd decided to be honest with his friend, that whatever happened with their friendship depended on his honesty.
"You must remember he's in two of my classes and I'm also his faculty advisor. He's very intelligent, my best student, in fact. He's much more mature than the typical undergraduate. He is completely disaffected from his family, except for a peripatetic and apparently generous grandmother. I like Blake a lot. Would you care for something to eat? A piece of pie and coffee? A drink?"
Tony waved his hand. "Later, maybe. Now let's stay with Blake. I'm fascinated."
"You don't seem to be upset."
"Should I be?"
"I'll leave that for you to tell me. Okay, so Blake backed off. I saw him in class. And then there was the accident and he showed up at the hospital, declaring that, as there was no one else to do it, he was going to take care of me. And he did."
"How well did he take care of you?"
"He didn't come on to me, if that's what you mean."
"Okay. And then you took him home for Christmas."
"I've explained that to you."
"So you have. But I've a feeling there's more to the story."
Adam hesitated. Honesty! "Well, yeah, there is. The day we got back here after Christmas we had sex."
"Oh? How was it?"
"Now, there I draw the line. That's none of your business."
"I had to ask. I'm assuming after that you had second thoughts, didn't have another heart-to-heart, and Blake's showing up yesterday was a complete surprise. No doubt he wanted to make you jealous."
"You're a mind reader."
"Not at all, it's just a matter of being observant and coming to the correct conclusions."
"You sound like Sherlock Holmes."
"I hope I'm a bit more compassionate than Holmes."
Adam leaned forward. "If you're angry, you're doing a good job of hiding it."
"I'm sorry you didn't tell me about all this sooner, but I have no right to be angry. It's not as if we'd ever made any vows of exclusivity or anything."
"I suppose we hadn't. Still, I rather thought . . . ."
"Oh, Adam! You were taking our affair seriously, weren't you? And so you've felt guilty because you found yourself being attracted to Blake, because despite your scruples, you gave in and went to bed with him."
"Yeah, something like that."
"Don't be upset, sweetie, but for me this has just been a friendship with the added benefit of good sex. I love you, Adam, but I'm not, as they say in love with you. I mean, face it, what were the prospects? I'm not about to give up my business and move to Colby, and you're hardly likely to leave Colby State. And it's damn near impossible to keep a really serious relationship going only on weekends."
"I'd been thinking about all the impediments to a relationship with Blake. I hadn't thought about those things you just mentioned. So you really aren't angry with me?"
"No. Now, didn't you say something about pie and coffee?"
By tacit consent they talked about other things over mince meat pie and decaf, mostly rehashing the afternoon's gathering.
Later they were back in the living room with whiskey.
"So what happens now?"
Tony didn't pretend not to know what he meant.
"You're obviously besotted with Blake, though you won't admit it, even to yourself. I think you need to give the matter some thought and then get things straightened out with him."
"We're still friends. Good friends, I hope. I'd even like to think we're friends with benefits, but that's up to you."
"I can't believe you! You're too good to be true."
Tony grinned. "Who said anything about being true?"
When they decided it was bed time, Tony asked, "Do I have to sleep in the guest room?"
"You're welcome to sleep with me, so long as that's all we do. You understand, don't you?"
"I understand. But not even a cuddle?"
"Well, maybe a cuddle."
They got up at 7:00 the next morning because Tony wanted to get back to Ann Arbor. Alice would open the shop if he didn't get there in time, but he needed to be there to work on the annual inventory.
As he was about to leave, he hugged Adam, gave him a more than brotherly kiss, and said, "You need to talk to your boy."
"Thanks for being so, well, for being so great, so understanding. You really are a friend."
"Call me. I want to know what happens."
"Yeah, I will. Love to Alice and Ted."
* * *
That afternoon Adam called home to wish his parents a happy New Year. Then he called his sister on the West Coast. She told him her kids had enjoyed the presents he'd sent and asked if that excused her from writing a thank-you note. He chuckled and absolved her of the obligation.
After supper he called Brian, but no one answered. Then he remembered the three-hour time difference and decided that Brian and Tristan must be out.
He worked on preparations for a while since classes would resume the next day.
As he was getting ready for bed, the phone rang. His caller ID told him it was his ex.
"Hi, Bri! Happy New Year!"
"Same to you. You hadn't gone to bed yet?"
"You just caught me."
He asked about Tristan and how the two of them had celebrated the New Year.
"Would you believe after we left the New Year's Eve party we were invited to, we came back here, changed clothes, and went to Pasadena, where we camped out for the rest of the night so we could watch the Rose Parade?"
Adam chuckled. "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din. How was it?"
"The parade was fabulous, but I'm too old to wrap up in a blanket and spend the night on a sidewalk. Next year we'll watch on TV like everyone else. So, what did you do? Didn't you tell me Tony was going to be there? How are you two getting along? Still think he might be the one?"
Adam sighed. "He's obviously not the one, but it's a long story."
"Adam, babe, I'm sorry. Can you put it in an email? Tris and I have to get ready for another party."
"Damn, you really are living large out there, aren't you?"
"Yeah, Tris keeps me active. That's both the advantage and the curse of having a younger lover."
"You never told me he's younger!"
"Didn't I? Well, he's 30. And that ten years makes a difference sometimes."
"Sometime when you're not on your way out the door we'll have to talk about that. Right now, you have things to do. So do `em! Love you."
"Love you, too Adam."
* * *
Adam was stunned that he could have so misread his relationship with Tony. Looking back on it, however, he could see where he'd made unwarranted assumptions. He was looking for a new mate. He was used to having a partner, didn't really like living alone. And he'd jumped to the conclusion that Tony, also without his partner of many years, was doing the same. An incorrect conclusion, as he now knew.
Still, Tony was a sweet man. Adam was somewhat disappointed that the two of them weren't destined to be partners, but he was also relieved. He realized that he was being silly. He couldn't have it both ways. It remained to be seen what would happen with Blake.
The next move is up to you, Craig, that inner voice told him.
* * *
On January 3 his students were all apparently hung over. Not necessarily from alcohol, though with some of them that appeared to be the case. The others seemed enervated from their holiday activities, and class discussions were impossible. Not surprised by this, Adam fell back on the monologs/lectures he'd prepared just in case.
The third class of the day, his American lit. survey, was a bit of an exception. Blake and a couple of the other students had actually read the Baldwin story they were scheduled to discuss. When the period was over, Blake gathered up his things, smiled and nodded at Adam, and left.
Adam felt the same dark weight in his stomach he'd experienced when he'd first seen Blake with Stonesifer on New Year's Day. Blake, he assumed, was keeping his distance, waiting for Adam to make the next move . . . if there was to be one.
He went home for lunch and then returned to Memorial Hall for "office hours." About 4:00 he checked the campus directory and punched in a number.
"This is Jake Handley."
"Jake, it's Adam Craig. I'm glad I caught you in."
"Hi, Adam. How are you?"
They chatted for a few minutes, mostly about the CQ gathering two days earlier. Then, when the conversation came to a pause, Adam asked, "Would you be free to meet me somewhere for a drink?"
"Yeah, if you can."
"Jim's fixing dinner, and that won't be until six or six-thirty. How about Nellie's?"
"Uh, do you know of a quieter place, somewhere we could talk about a private matter?"
"How about the Alumni Lounge at the Union?"
"I've never been there."
"It'll be just the place. Undergrads aren't allowed. Just alums and faculty members. You'll have to use your faculty ID to get in. How about if I meet you there in half an hour? That'll give me time to finish up here and call Jim to let him know where I'll be."
Adam was impressed by the Alumni Lounge. It looked rather baronial, with paneled walls and oriental rugs over gleaming hardwood floors. A fire crackled in the big fireplace at the end of the room.
Jake was already there when he arrived. Once he was seated a waiter in a white jacket and black chinos, apparently an undergrad, took their drink orders. Adam had JD, Jake chardonnay.
"You can walk home," Jake said, smiling. "I've got to drive."
They touched glasses, took sips, and then Adam said, "I suppose you're wondering what this is all about."
"I am, but it's good to see you and bend an elbow."
"I'm a bit embarrassed. You and Jim have had me to your place twice. I've been so busy getting acclimated here that I've neglected to reciprocate. Maybe someday soon you and Jim will be my guests at Adrian's or The Faculty Club."
"That'd be nice."
His colleague waited, obviously expecting Adam to get to the point.
"Jake, what's the situation here with regard to relationships between faculty members and students?"
"Pretty relaxed. One of the dangers from the professor's point of view is that the student could at some point claim sexual harassment. And, of course, it's complicated if the student is in the professor's class. Possible charges of favoritism, that sort of thing. Otherwise, if the two are discreet, there would probably be no problem."
"What do you mean by discreet?"
Jake, who'd been having a sip of his wine, set down the glass. He looked at Adam and raised both eyebrows. "I assume we're speaking hypothetically."
"Yes, of course, hypothetically." Adam took a rather large swallow of his whiskey.
"There are a number of faculty/student couples on campus that I know of, straight and gay, but there must be many more that I know nothing about. I'd think our bosses would frown at the sight of such a couple obviously making out in public. But to be seen together in a restaurant or a bar would be okay. I think sleeping together's okay so long as it isn't flaunted."
"What about living together?"
Jake took off his glasses and polished the lenses with his handkerchief. "Even that would fly, I think, so long as the student isn't in one of the prof's classes."
"I see. Thanks."
Adam was grateful that Jake hadn't asked what this was all about. He didn't know where things would go between him and Blake, so he didn't want to tell anyone about the situation.
He changed the subject to things academic, asking about Jake's current research project. Somehow their talk came around to the inscription on the flyleaf of the Stearns book.
"I can imagine how that sort of thing sticks in your mind, bugs you," Jake said. "Let me know if you ever find out who `Intellect' and `Sonny Boy' were."
Adam promised he would, left money for the drinks, and the two walked out together.
"Jake, thanks for your time and for the information. And for your discretion."
As they shook hands, Jake said, "Glad to help you and your hypothetical friend. I hope everything works out. And thanks for the drink."
"Give Jim a hug for me."
"I'll go home and do that forthwith," Jake said, eyes twinkling.
* * *
Adam finished his preps for the next day, poured himself a glass of whiskey, sank into his favorite chair, and thought about Blake.
Okay, they had Tony's "blessing." And, according to Jake, if they weren't caught having sex on the steps of Memorial Hall, neither of them would be in trouble with the University.
So, what next?
How should he approach Blake? The younger man had insisted he loved Adam. But just how did he feel about Blake? Before anything else was said between them, he had to get that clear in his mind.
He told himself to forget the sex for the moment. That was unquestionably fine. Blake simply excited him, pleasured him like no one else had, even Brian in their best days. But sex and love weren't the same.
He had told Blake more than once he "cared for him." But what, precisely, did that mean?
Well, Craig, think about how you felt when Blake showed up at the party with Stonesifer. Think about how you felt this morning when he left class without saying anything to you? Was that just jealousy? Supposing it was. You have no right to be jealous. You've given Blake no reason to think that you're interested in being more than his professor, advisor, and friend. You can't expect him to carry the torch forever.
But those pangs, the lead weight in your stomach . . . that was fear, wasn't it? Fear that you might have lost him? And what does that tell you about your feelings for him?
Adam decided he needed to see Blake, to be honest with him. Should he call and ask Blake to come to the condo? That might seem as if he were using his age and position as professor/advisor to summon the younger man. If, however, he called and asked if he could go to Blake's apartment, would he look like a supplicant?
You know, Craig, if this thing between you is going to have a chance of being successful, you've got to put the age/position thing aside. You're two men who are strongly attracted to each other. You have to meet as equals.
* * *
The next afternoon he called Blake's apartment. No one answered. He left a message on Blake's machine.
"Hi. It's Adam. Call me, please, when you have a minute."
His phone rang just after 7:00.
"Hi. It's Blake. I just got in. What's up?"
At least he didn't say "Whassup?"
Adam found himself momentarily tongue-tied. "I, um, well . . . . Could we talk?"
Christ, that sounds pathetic!
"Sure. When did you have in mind?"
"Whenever it's convenient. Tomorrow sometime?"
"Ooh, I don't know. Finals are coming up, and I'd better study. See, I've got this prof who's a real terror! I wouldn't want to waste the chance to get a good grade."
"You're jerking my chain, aren't you?"
Blake chuckled. "Yeah. Wanna tell me what this is about?"
"It's not about your grade, dufus. It's about us."
"Us? There's an us?"
"That's what we need to talk about."
"Do you have anything new to say on that score? I don't want to hear the same old song about the difference in our ages and that shit."
"I may have come up with a new set of lyrics. Subject to your approval."
"In that case I'll make time. Where will this audition take place?"
"Okay, how about coming over around 3:00 tomorrow? I'll get my Saturday chores done and maybe a little cramming. If supper time rolls around and we're still speaking, I've got pork chops we can broil."
"Great! See you at 3:00. Can I bring anything?"
"Sure. Whatever wine goes well with pork."
"I got that."
* * *
Adam was nervous as he did his own Saturday chores. What was he going to say when he got to Blake's, "Take me, I'm yours"? "Tony's cut me loose so you'll do instead"? Obviously neither of those. But then, what?
Should he take flowers? No. He wasn't apologizing. Or should he apologize? No.
"I've decided I love you after all"? Well, that was closer to the mark. At least he thought he must love Blake. It had been a long time since he was truly "in love." He wasn't sure he remembered what it felt like. But if obsessing over a guy, thinking about having sex with him at odd, sometimes embarrassing moments, feeling strong pangs of jealousy upon seeing him with someone else . . . if all those things meant love, then he was a goner. And if they didn't mean he was in love with Blake, well, more time together might do the trick.
Now the problem was how to convey all that to Blake.
After cleaning up the condo, he showered. It was cold outside and there was about half a foot of snow on the ground. He put on a UCLA sweatshirt Brian had sent him but decided that was bad symbolism, so he exchanged it for a plain green one. With it he wore jeans and the work boots he usually preferred for bad weather. Atop all that he shrugged on his winter jacket, grabbed the wine he'd picked out, and went to the CR-V. In nice weather he wouldn't mind walking to Blake's but he'd be damned if he was going to do it in this cold.
There was a moment of awkwardness when he arrived at Blake's apartment. Would they hug? Kiss? Neither was practicable because of the bag containing two bottles of wine Adam was carrying.
"Here," Blake said. "Let me take that. You can put your coat there in the closet. Don't you have any gloves? What kind of wine did you bring?"
"Whoa," Adam said, putting away his coat. "I drove, so I didn't think I'd need gloves. And I brought a bottle of red and one of white. I'm not sure what the protocol is for pork."
Blake took the wine to the kitchen, put the bottle of white in the refrigerator, and returned to the living room.
"Are you huggable?"
"I think that's for you to say."
"No, I meant, may I hug you?"
"Oh, yeah," Adam said.
Blake gave him a lingering, though close-lipped kiss as well.
"Would you like some coffee, or a drink?" he asked when they'd released each other.
"Neither, thanks. Let's just sit down."
Blake gestured him to a chair, then sat on the sofa. While Adam was trying to think how to begin, Blake said, "Am I right in guessing that my date with Ray had its intended effect?"
"Maybe I'm wrong. But here's what I was thinking. I certainly didn't rape you here the day after Christmas, Adam. You really got into what we were doing. So I thought I'd give you time to come to terms with what we'd done. And then I bumped into Ray. He told me he was going to the CQ affair and I kind of hinted I'd like to come along. He was agreeable.
"By the way, that is one really nice, sexy man. Somebody's missing out bigtime by not grabbing and keeping him."
"And you aren't about to do that?"
Blake grinned. "No, but I hoped you'd think I might be."
"So you know why I'm here."
"Probably. But I'd like you to tell me."
"How'd you get to be so smart?"
The corners of Blake's mouth turned up ever so slightly. "My parents aren't very nice people, but they ain't stupid, and they don't got a stupid son."
Adam needed that bit of levity. He chuckled and relaxed. Taking a deep breath, he expelled it and said, "Okay. I'm here. I keep telling you I care about you. Actually, I'm pretty sure I love you. That is, I know I love you, but this feels like something more than a merely fraternal feeling."
Blake looked serious when he said, "I'm glad you didn't say `paternal'."
Adam couldn't help smiling. "Or `avuncular.' But, Blake, I do realize that if this thing between us is going to go anywhere, we'll both have to forget about the age difference. I promise to do my best."
Blake beamed. "That's what I've been waiting and hoping to hear. And I'll make a point of helping you forget it." He paused and his smile faded. "But there's another important question."
"Tony and I've talked. We've decided that we're good friends, we enjoy each other's company, and we have good sex. But what we shared was never going to become a serious relationship. He's encouraged me not to let you get away."
"So you're not coming to me on the rebound?"
"No. I'd figured out I wanted you before Tony and I had our talk. I admit when I saw you with Stonesifer at Jake and Jim's I was afraid I was too late."
Adam moved to the sofa.
"So, just to be clear," Blake asked, "are we boyfriends now?"
"Boyfriends? Don't you think I'm a little –"
Blake put his finger on Adam's lips. "Shh! Don't you dare use that word!"
Adam licked the finger. "Sorry! So, what happens now?"
"Well, we still have a lot to talk about. But that can wait. Right now, I think I want to fuck your brains out!"
Adam grinned. "Sonny boy, you got it!"
Giving Adam a look, Blake took his hand, pulled him up, and hauled him off to the bedroom.
A couple of hours later they had showered and were in the kitchen working together preparing their supper.
Adam was cutting strips of bell pepper to add to the salad he'd been instructed to make.
Blake was taking the pork chops from their marinade and putting them on the broiler pan. He turned to Adam. "Sonny boy? Where the fuck did that come from?"
"It's a long story."
"We have all weekend."
Maybe the rest of our lives?
Author's Note: No, this isn't the end. The only important unanswered question, however, will be apparent to those who keep in mind the story's title. --TM
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