by Tim Mead
"I'm really going to enjoy getting to know all about you, Adam, all those quirks that make you . . . you."
The two had finished their supper, cleaned up the kitchen, and were sprawled side by side on the sofa.
Adam felt wonderfully content. But then who wouldn't after great sex followed by a good meal? He turned his head to look at Blake. "Yeah?"
"Yeah! I mean, I already know your left tit is more sensitive than the right one. I know you're great on top, but I think you probably like it better on the bottom. I know you have a room full of mostly unopened boxes with books in them. But I didn't know you collect first editions. When can I see them?"
"Can you wait until Micah brings the book cases? Then you can help me unpack and put them on the shelves in the right order."
"Sure. I love books. Not just reading `em, but handling `em feeling `em. I even love the way some old books smell. But I want to see the one with the note inside."
"Next time you're at my place." He cocked an eyebrow. "You really like the way they smell?"
"I knew there was something special about you."
They made out for a while on the sofa. Then, a thought having crossed his mind, Adam pushed Blake away.
"What about your father?"
"What about him?"
"Are you going to tell him about us?"
"You know, I haven't had sex with anybody but you since that day in your office when I offered to change my major if you'd have me. And I only sent his majesty emails after I'd made it with some guy I'd picked up."
"So he hasn't heard from you in a couple of months?"
"I'd think he'd be worried."
"He's probably glad not to be hearing from me. He cut off any relationship we had years ago. I just sent the emails out of spite. But that's over."
"You don't think he might come to Colby and raise hell because what we're doing is `inappropriate'?"
"I'm pretty sure he wouldn't. The semester's over in less than two weeks, and I won't be your student any more. I'm over 21 and can do what I want so long as it's legal. Besides, if he made a fuss, it would only call attention to the fact that he has a gay son."
"Still, it might be better to let well enough alone."
"Okay, I won't stir up trouble." He pulled Adam closer and they kissed.
A few minutes later: "How about your grandmother?"
Blake, who gave the impression he'd rather be kissing than talking, said, "Oh, I'll tell Gran. I don't think she took her laptop to Hawaii, but we'll either email or more likely talk as soon as she gets back. And she'll be happy for me."
"You sure? She won't care how—"
Blake put his hand over Adam's mouth. "Don't say that word! She won't care as long as I'm happy."
Later that evening, in his bedroom, Blake said, "I'd sure like to get rid of these rubbers."
"Tony and I always used condoms, but I'll get tested."
"I've always played safe. And I get tested regularly anyway. You can go to SHS, you know."
"Yeah, Student Health Services. They take care of faculty and staff, too."
"Good, let's make a point of having the tests soon."
"Agreed. Now, shut up!"
Adam found himself supine on the bed with Blake on top of him. Blake was making it difficult for him to breathe, much less talk. Well, in cases like this, talking could be overrated. As for breathing . . . .
Blake moved his lips very close to Adam's ear and whispered, "Adam, stop thinking!"
And because thinking could be as overrated as talking, Adam did.
# # #
Blake and Adam spent the next day together, but for two weeks after that they saw little of each other. Adam had to prepare, administer, and read final exams; Blake had to study for and take them.
Finally, the new semester began, and they gradually settled into a routine.
The two men kept clothing both at Blake's apartment and at Adam's condo. Each had a key to the other's place. But they spent most of their free time at Adam's. They were gradually seen together at concerts, movies, and restaurants. And, of course, at Nellie's. They fixed dinner one Saturday evening for Jake Handley and Jim Grant, and that went so well they decided they'd do more entertaining.
Soon they were thought of among the Colby gay community as just another couple. And that was the way they thought of themselves.
Adam came to think the age difference really didn't matter. Blake was solid and mature, with a mind of his own. A good mind. He asked lots of questions, challenging Adam to explain or justify things he'd said. Though he seldom argued for the sake of arguing, he didn't back down out of deference either. He stimulated Adam in ways that no one ever had. And that was only one trait of the complex man Adam came to admire and love more every day.
Adam told his parents and Brian about Blake right away. Then, a couple of weeks after they became lovers, he got a phone call from Tim Mead, who said he hadn't heard from Adam since before the holidays and wanted to know if everything was all right. Adam apologized and explained about his new relationship with Blake.
"I'd worried about the difference in our ages, but, honestly, it doesn't seem to matter."
"Nor should it," Tim said. "Before Max came to Kent I had a lover who was a student. We were only about five years apart, but he was in one of my classes when we first got together. And what we had was really good."
"Something must have happened."
"Yeah. I loved Cedric. Still do, I suppose. But he was hit by a car and was in a coma for a while. When he came out of it he had amnesia. Couldn't remember anything about the last, uh, that is, the most recent year of his life. Which meant that, though he remembered me as his professor, he had lost all memory of us as lovers."
"That must have been heartbreaking for you, Tim."
"Yeah, it was."
"So Max was there to offer comfort?"
Tim chuckled. "You could say that. Max and I had had crushes on each other back at Kenyon but hadn't confessed. So when it was apparent that Cedric didn't have the feelings for me he once had, it was only a matter of time before Max and I discovered our long suppressed love for each other."
"That's good for you. Max is a great guy. But what about Cedric? Did he ever get his memory back?"
"Not so far as I know."
They chatted a few minutes longer, and then Tim asked, "Before I forget, have you managed to learn anything about Vivian Clay?
"I'm still waiting for the old prof in Ann Arbor. But I've about given up hope. If he were going to remember it, he'd have done so by now, I'd think. Did you have any luck?"
"I'm sorry, but I haven't been able to find out anything from the colleagues I've asked about her, either."
"Well, thanks for trying."
"No problem." That subject apparently exhausted, Tim said, "You know, when spring arrives, Max and I would like to meet your Blake."
"Definitely. Come any weekend. Or maybe during spring break. Hugs to you and Max."
"Thanks, Adam. Bye."
# # #
At home one evening soon after they had become lovers, Adam, who had been staring at Blake, said, "Aha! Your roots are showing! That's the first time I've seen them."
"Yeah, it takes a lot of touching up. And I'm tired of it. What would you say if I let my hair grow out? You know, quit bleaching it?"
"It's going to look strange for a while, but I admit I'd like to see the real you."
So Blake did let his hair grow. When the natural brown part was about an inch long, he got a crew cut, thus removing all the blond hair.
Adam liked the color, didn't like the short cut, so Blake promised that he'd let it get back to its previous length.
Adam was happy about the change because the bleached hair reminded him of the time when Blake used to cruise Nellie's and other spots picking up men. The new "do" was, as Blake said, a promise that those days were gone forever.
# # #
At work Adam was beginning to feel more settled in. Of course he had new classes to teach, new students' names to learn with the new semester. But he had gotten to know many of his colleagues and managed to like some, respect some, and more or less ignore some. But that's the way it always was in a big department.
Bruce Evans was writing such excellent chapters in his study of Faulkner that Adam looked forward to reading each of them and to his conferences with Bruce about them. However, it was beginning to look as if the dissertation wouldn't be finished in time for spring commencement. Adam asked Donna Kasmaryk if Bruce could possibly extend his teaching fellowship through the fall term. She consulted with the appropriate dean and came back with an affirmative answer. As Adam told her and later Blake, he was relieved that Bruce wouldn't have to rush what was obviously going to be a solid piece of scholarship.
# # #
On the evening when Jake and Jim came to dinner, Jake mentioned the latest CQ gossip. It seemed that Albert Ronsard had a young man, a male student, living in his condo. No one knew whether the young guy was merely renting a room, or whether there was more. Jim rather sternly told them they should all mind their own business.
Blake remarked a while later that it was a shame Ray Stonesifer didn't have a partner. Jim agreed. "So," Blake said, grinning, "it's okay to gossip about Ray but not about Albert?"
Jim huffed in mock disgust and looked at Adam. "You put up with all this attitude?"
"Yup," Adam said, smiling.
# # #
Micah delivered the bookcases as promised in mid-February. Blake helped with unpacking all the boxes and putting them on the shelves. But he was like a kid at Christmas, constantly distracted by new finds, putting down one book to pick up another and leaf through it, sometimes becoming engrossed and forgetting the job at hand.
And, of course, he wanted to know about each of the ten or so first editions Adam had collected. Where he bought it, what the story was behind finding that particular book, and then how each of the volumes fit into that author's particular canon. Adam took great delight in seeing Blake's enthusiasm and in supplying the information his lover asked for.
# # #
One evening toward the end of February they were just finishing up in the kitchen when the phone rang. Since Blake answered the phone, Adam heard only his end of the conversation.
"Hello? . . . Yeah, who's this? . . . Oh, hi! I'm fine thanks. How are you? . . .Sure, he's right here. Hang on a sec."
Adam had no idea who it was. He looked a question at Blake, who was handing him the phone.
"It's Tony," Blake mouthed.
Adam took the phone, caressing Blake's butt as he did.
"Tony! How are you?"
"As I told Blake, I'm especially good today. And I have a question for you. Have you read Saul Gould's biography of Emerson Wolcott?"
"No. I bought it when it came out early last summer, but with the move and all never got around to reading it. It's been packed in a box with some other bios most of the time since. Blake and I just unpacked it the other day."
"Oh, so Micah with the cute ass finally came through with the book cases, huh?"
"Yeah. Blake and I both drooled when he and Joe delivered them. That's a couple of sexy dudes, though in different ways. But let's not get off the subject. Why are you calling? What about Gould's book?"
"Go get it! Arch was in this afternoon to tell me he'd finally remembered that book is where he'd read about Vivian Clay. She was Wolcott's sister."
"Well, Arch and I put together what we could remember from the book, and I think it will answer the big question. But I'll let you see what you think."
"Aww, that's no fair! Tell me."
"Nope. Don't want to influence your judgment. Just read the parts about Wolcott and John O'Phelan. And call me back when you can."
"Tony, I don't know what to say except thanks, man. I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
"Be sure you do! Is Blake in on the flyleaf business?"
"Yeah, he sure is."
"Then I imagine he'll be reading over your shoulder. You guys have fun this evening!"
"Okay. And thanks again. Oh, and please thank Arch for me when you see him.''
Blake watched and listened, obviously curious about the conversation. When Adam mentioned Arch, he became excited.
Adam put the phone down and asked, "Do you remember where the biographies are?"
"They're in the first case on the left." Blake paused, brow furrowed. "Except that anything having to do with the Lost Generation, regardless of genre, is in the case you set aside just for that stuff."
"Hang on! I'll be right back."
Adam went to the study, found the needed volume quickly, and took it to the living room where Blake was waiting.
"Do you wanna tell me what's going on?" Blake asked.
"Yeah. As I recall, you cited Emerson Wolcott in your term paper, didn't you?"
"Uh huh. He had some things to say that supported my thesis. Besides, I like the way he writes. Er, wrote. I assume he's dead by now."
Adam looked at the dust jacket. "Yeah, he'd be over 100 years old if he were still alive. But he died in `65."
"So what's this all about?"
"Vivian Clay was Wolcott's sister."
"Oh?" Then recognition came. "Oh! Cool! So Wolcott may have something to do with the flyleaf thingie."
"Yep, or so Tony says."
"What do you know about Wolcott? Was he big with the Lost Gen guys?"
"Uh huh. He was born just a few years too late to be in the Army in World War I. But he went to Harvard and after that lived in Europe for a while. He met Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gerald Murphy, dos Passos – all the Americans who'd been through the war and stayed in France, or went back to France because they felt alienated in the US after the war."
"So he was a critic?"
"Yeah. He was a regular contributor to the New Yorker, where he later met and became friends with James Thurber, by the way."
"Oh, man. I'll have to introduce you to Thurber. But not tonight."
"Okay, back to Wolcott."
"Right. He probably met Stearns through Thurber. Anyway, he published several books of criticism, one focusing particularly on the writers of the World War I generation. I think he was married for a while, but I'm not sure about that. Word is he kept his private life very private, and he died in the mid sixties."
"And I'm guessing Tony called because he thinks Wolcott has something to do with our book."
Adam noted the "our book" and decided he liked that.
"Wolcott knew Stearns personally, but he never carried the banner for him as he did for some of the others. But he did like Stranger. So if he was `Intellect,' which would be a good name for him, by the way, `Sonny Boy' was right."
"But we still don't know who `Sonny Boy' was, do we?"
"Tony said to read the part in the book about John O'Failin or something like that. Let me check the index."
A moment later, he continued, "It's O'Phelan." He spelled the name for Blake. "Hmm. There are references to this guy spread over a hundred pages. Why don't you let me work on this for a while, and then I'll come tell you what I've found out?"
"Would you like some whiskey?"
Adam had found that having Blake in bed beside him was better than Jack Daniels to help him sleep.
"Can't I help?"
"We can't both read the same book, stud. I promise I'll let you know right away what I find."
Blake sighed. "Okay, I'll go watch TV or something. Just come and tell me as soon as you've figured it out."
Adam grunted an affirmative and Blake reluctantly left the study.
An hour later he found Blake watching a drama on PBS.
"I think Tony's right. We've cleared up the mystery."
Blake used the remote to turn off the television. "Great! I'm all ears!"
Adam sat beside him on the sofa and took a deep breath.
"O'Phelan graduated from Fordham in 1955, when he was 21. He worked as a kind of gopher at the New Yorker, where he met Wolcott, who more or less took him under his wing. He liked to argue with the Jesuitically-trained kid. Oops! Younger man. They became friends. According to Gould the two eventually became lovers.
"He says they were very discreet, especially at first. When Wolcott went to Europe or anywhere out of the country, he took O'Phelan along. John moved from the magazine to McDermitt-Block publishers, where he eventually became an editor. But he and Wolcott were, again according to Gould, lovers until Wolcott died. Seems he, Wolcott, that is, died of a stroke while O'Phelan was in England on company business."
"Geez, how far apart were those two in age?"
"Nearly 30 years."
"No comment. Go on with the story."
"There's not much more of O'Phelan's story. When Wolcott died, the obits in the papers listed his sister, Vivian Clay, of North Carolina, as his only survivor. Yet in his will he had left his entire estate to O'Phelan."
"It certainly sounds like those two could have been `Intellect' and `Sonny Boy.'"
"Yeah, assuming the sister got the book from Wolcott somehow."
"Well, I think that solves the mystery. Why don't we have a drink to celebrate? Want me to open some champagne?"
"Let's just have a glass of the chardonnay that's in the fridge."
Blake left and came back with two glasses of wine. He raised his glass. "To `Intellect' and `Sonny Boy.'"
After touching his glass to Blake's Adam said, "If O'Phelan was Wolcott's heir, I can't help wondering what the sister was doing with the book. I'd think something that personal would have meant a lot to O'Phelan."
Blake thought about that for a moment. "Yeah. You're right. It sure would to me."
Later, they were in bed, in each other's arms, ready to go to sleep.
Adam's eyes popped open when Blake asked, "When was O'Phelan born?"
"I think it was 1933."
"Which means he'd be in his seventies. Wonder if he's still alive."
"Hey, you wanna call Tony? We should thank him."
"Let's do that." Adam rolled over, reached for the phone, and called Tony's private number. As it was ringing he looked at the clock and saw it was after 11:00, a bit late to be calling.
It wasn't Tony who answered the phone.
"Hello. This is Adam Craig. Could I please speak with Tony? I realize it's late, but . . ."
"Oh, hi, Adam. This is Ted. You must be calling about the Wolcott biography. Hang on a sec. I'll get Tony."
When Tony came to the phone, a happy Adam apologized for the lateness of the call and thanked him for the information about Gould's book.
"Blake and I are pretty sure my copy of the book was a gift from O'Phelan to Wolcott and that O'Phelan wrote the inscription."
"That's just what I thought. So what are you going to do about it?"
"I've not really thought that far. I'd like to know how the sister came to have the book."
"Why not find O'Phelan and ask him?"
"You know, I think I'll see if I can track him down."
"Keep me posted."
"I will, Tony. And thanks, guy. I really appreciate your help."
They said their goodbyes.
Blake who'd been listening to Adam's part of the conversation, asked, "Who answered the phone?"
Blake grinned. "At this hour? I'm sure they must have been discussing bookstore business."
"I thought Ted was straight."
"Well, ya just never know!"
They kissed goodnight, but it was a while before Adam could turn off his mind enough to get to sleep.
# # #
As they rode through the Manhattan streets in the cab, both men were excited. Adam, however, was nervous about the upcoming meeting, whereas Blake seemed only eager.
They'd managed to track down John O'Phelan. After his retirement in 1998 as a senior editor at McDermitt-Block, he continued to live in New York City. When Adam had called, he'd had to do some fast talking, but by identifying himself as a CSU faculty member and offering the person who'd answered the phone the name and number of his dean, he'd been listened to. He'd told Ian, the man on the other end, that he'd like to talk with Mr. O'Phelan about `Sonny Boy' and `Intellect.' Ian had asked for Adam's number. An hour later he'd called back.
"Uncle Jack doesn't do many interviews, but whatever this thing is about `Intellect' and `Sonny Boy,' you've piqued his interest. In fact, he seems excited. So, if you can come here, he'll see you."
They'd set a time. Ian had given Adam the address, and Adam had called a travel agent. Blake responded eagerly to Adam's suggestion that he come along.
"As if you could go without me!"
The apartment building had a CCTV camera at the entrance so the residents could see who was asking for admittance. Soon Adam and Blake were stepping off the elevator on the fourth floor. As soon as they knocked on the door, it was opened.
There stood a man about Blake's age. He was around 5'10" with black, curly hair and lively blue eyes. His square face and slightly pug nose helped to confirm his "Black Irish" ancestry." His rimless glasses gave him a look that was both studious and fashionable.
"Come in, gentlemen. I'm Ian." He shook hands with both of them.
Then he led them down a short hall into a living room where they saw a thinner, taller, and much older version of Ian sitting in a wing-back chair. O'Phelan had the same blue eyes, the same facial characteristics. His hair though white was still full and curly.
"Uncle Jack, these are Dr. Craig and Mr. Bellamy," Ian said. "This is my uncle, John O'Phelan."
The older man held out his hand. "I hope you'll forgive me for not standing. It's my arthritis."
After the handshakes, he asked, "Would you like some coffee? Or maybe something to drink? I'm a bourbon man, myself."
After a glance at Blake, Adam said, "If you're going to have something, we'll be happy to have the same."
"In that case, Ian, would you mind getting us three bourbons? And one for yourself, of course."
"I can find things to do in my room if you and these gentlemen need some privacy."
"Nonsense! Get the drinks, please, and then stay so you can hear what we talk about. And find out what it is that Dr. Craig is carrying." He nodded toward the package Adam was holding.
"I realize you don't know us, Mr. O'Phelan, but we'd be more comfortable if you'd call us Adam and Blake."
The older man smiled. "And I'm Jack." He paused and then continued, "In case you're wondering, Ian's my grand nephew. He's working on a degree at Columbia and living here. It's convenient for both of us."
Just then Ian returned with the drinks. "And he's a wonderful help to me," Jack added.
After Ian had handed around the drinks and was seated, Jack said, "One of the prerogatives of being an old fart is that you can ask tactless questions. Am I right in assuming that you two are something more than professional colleagues?"
Blake looked at Adam out of the corner of his eye but said nothing.
"We're lovers," Adam said.
"As I suspected. How wonderful! And I also assume you know about my first love and me?"
"Your first love was Emerson Wolcott?"
"Yes." His eyes went unfocused for a moment. "We had only ten years together, but they were precious. Oh, we had to keep things on the down low, as I think you young people call it." He looked at Blake and then Ian and grinned. "But what we had together was, as I said, wonderful."
Then Jack seemed to remember something. "You could have known that Em and I were lovers from the Gould biography. But how in hell did you learn about our pet names for each other? I didn't think anyone knew about them. At least not anyone still alive. You really puzzled Ian here. I had to explain to him about them."
"We've brought you something." Adam set his whisky on a chairside table and began to unwrap the package he'd been holding in his lap. When he was finished, he opened the copy of Stranger in Paradigms to the flyleaf, stood, and placed the book in Jack's lap.
When Jack looked down at the book in his lap, there seemed to be a hitch in his breathing. He ran his gnarled hands slowly over the faded ink of the inscription. For a while he seemed lost in his memories. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.
"I miss him, you know, even after all these years."
"I think I can understand that," Blake said. "Um, not that I've ever lost anyone. It's just that . . . ."
Jack looked at him. "Yes, you can imagine what it must be like to lose someone who means the world to you, can't you?"
"You know, I'd always wondered what happened to this book. It should have been with his others, but it wasn't. May I ask how you came across it?"
"To make a long story short, a bookseller friend of mine bought it in a sale of things from the estate of Vivian Clay. He knew of my interest in Stearns and that I collect first editions from that era. We've been trying for months to figure out who wrote this inscription."
"Vivian! I might have known!"
"Would it be prying to ask how she could have wound up with something that would, I'd think, have meant a lot to Wolcott?"
"You're entitled to know, especially since you've gone to all this trouble. Vivian and Em grew up in North Carolina in a family that thought of itself as southern aristocracy. And families like that just didn't have homosexual sons. She hated that he was gay, hated our love for each other, hated me. Who we were besmirched the Wolcott family name." He chuckled. "And her husband's family, the Clays, were even snootier. So it really galled her to have people know she had a queer brother.
"When Em died, I was in England on business. I came back as soon as I got the word of his passing. This is the apartment where he lived. I've been here since his death. Of course there was a lot to do, what with the funeral, settling the estate and so on. Eventually, though, I noticed that several things were missing from the apartment. Every picture of me or of Em and me together was gone, plus a few other things.
"She had a key, you know. Sometimes when we were going to be out of town for an extended period she'd come to New York to shop or go to the theater. I think she must have come in here before I got back from England and taken away things that might have linked Em to me."
He took a drink of his bourbon, set the glass down, and looked once more at the book in his lap. Again, he seemed lost in thought for a couple of minutes.
"I can't tell you what it means to me that you've found this and that you've gone to all this trouble to show it to me." Then something seemed to cross his mind. "You're not planning to write an article about this, are you, Adam?"
"Not if you don't want me to."
Again a pause while Jack seemed to be pondering.
He looked up, eyes bright. "Let's have a bargain. Or a gentlemen's agreement. I know you're not some tabloid journalist. Ian's checked out your publications for me, and he tells me you're a reputable scholar. I can't see how any of this would be of use to you, but if this little bit of arcana should be truly relevant to some scholarly article you're writing, run what you've written by me first. Would that be acceptable?"
Adam nodded. "More than acceptable. Thank you."
"Jack," Blake asked, "Would it be nervy to ask you to talk a little about those days?"
"Be careful what you ask for, young man. As Ian knows, I'm inclined to talk at length about the past." He looked at Ian, who only smiled.
"I've had a long career in publishing, and I've known a lot of fascinating people, most of them writers whose names you'll know. I've even had other lovers. But those years with Em were the best."
"Despite the age difference?" Blake asked.
Jack smiled. "Well, `Sonny Boy' was one of the gentler things he called me. Sometimes it was just `boy,' sometimes `pup.' But it was always affectionate. When we first met I was just out of Fordham and full of beans. We argued and argued. I'd say things just to wind him up, and it was grand to sit there and listen to him refute what I'd said. Even if he said the same thing the next day. But that was all just a part of our love. I suppose these days you'd say our `relationship.' But we were lovers, as firmly committed as any two people could be, even if we had to be much more circumspect back then."
He looked at Adam and then Blake. "Don't let anyone ever tell you that age has to be a barrier between two people who really love each other!"
Adam looked at Blake, who grinned and winked at him. He had to clear his throat to get the lump out before he said, "Thanks, Jack. We'll keep that in mind."
Once again, thanks to Drew, Tinn, Mickey, and Terry.
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org If you do write, please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks -- TM