by Tim Mead
Adam had first read Stranger in Paradigms back in his undergraduate days. But when he got home from Ann Arbor, he carefully undid Ted's wrapping and set the book on a table next to the reading chair in his study. He poured a glass of cabernet and worked on his preparations for the next afternoon, even though he had all of Thursday morning to devote to them as well unless he turned out to be surprisingly popular with his students or colleagues and thus had a number of office visits.
He realized he was deliberately delaying the pleasure of examining his new book.
Hungry, still unable to remember exactly what he'd had for lunch, he popped a couple of Pillsbury biscuits into the oven and reheated some leftover stew, which he dug into with gusto.
After his meal, he turned his attention to the book. Stearns, like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the others of his generation, had had to make a living as a writer. There were no dilettantes in the group. Since they had to compete on the commercial market, his books were not fine examples of the bookmaker's craft.
This particular book had been read but, Adam guessed, only once. The spine wasn't cracked and there was no evidence of reader-wear. Its dust cover, in excellent condition, had been left on the book, so the binding was faded only at the top edges where light could have gotten to it as it sat on a shelf. The pages had yellowed, however, and they felt dry and brittle. He held in his hands a literary masterpiece, a bookbinder's disgrace. But that's the way books were made back then, printed on cheap paper, meant to be read by one or two people and then relegated to the shelf, ignored.
Somehow, even though the book had been published a few months after the author's death, Adam felt closer to Stearns, knowing that this was the first edition, not a paper-back edition published fifty years later. However, he couldn't help wondering about Vivian Clay, from whose estate the book had been purchased. Was she "Intellect," the person to whom the book was apparently given? And if so, who was "Sonny Boy"? Was Vivian the only person whose gaze had rested on these pages before Adam's?
No, Adam didn't think "Intellect" was a woman. Something about the tenor of the inscription convinced him the book was a gift from a younger man to an older one, a mentor, perhaps.
He sighed, wondering if he'd ever find the answer to this puzzle. He'd tried the usual search engines and had come up with nothing. He opened the book, reread the intriguing inscription on the flyleaf, and then turned to the first page. . . .
At about 11:00 he set the book down, went to the kitchen, poured his nightly bourbon and took it back to his study.
A little after 1:00 AM he closed the book, stood, stretched, turned off the light, checked that the door was locked, and went to the bedroom. He'd had several insights during this reading of the familiar novel. He thought, in fact, that he had come up with an idea for an article. He was still musing over it when he fell asleep.
# # #
He got to Memorial Hall at 9:00 the next morning. His class wasn't until 1:00, so he had some time to himself unless students came in, and this early in the term he didn't expect any.
About 10:15 he went down the hall to the men's restroom. On the way back, he glanced through the open door into Nigel Brewster's office. The man was there, the picture of misery, his head in his hands. He seemed completely unaware of Adam's presence. Adam wondered why Nigel would leave his door wide open if he was having some sort of mental or emotional crisis. He was tempted to go on by, but he didn't.
"Nigel, are you okay?"
Nigel jumped, looked up, ran a hand over the top of his head, and replied, "Oh, hello, Adam. Didn't see you there."
"Didn't mean to startle you. Are you all right?"
"Oh, yes, thanks. And how are you this morning?"
"I'm fine as well."
Nigel began tidying up the things on his desk. "Settling in, are you?"
"Yes, thanks. So far, so good." Whatever was wrong, Nigel obviously didn't want to talk about it. "Well, I'd better get back to my office. Someone may actually need to see me."
Adam returned to his office puzzling over the weird conversation. Perhaps he'd been wrong about the Englishman's obvious unhappiness. But he didn't think so. Whatever it was, however, Nigel obviously wasn't prepared to talk about it. At least not to him. He was, after all, pretty much a stranger.
# # #
A little later Bruce Evans stopped by. Adam had read Bruce's dissertation proposal the previous week and emailed him that he'd be happy to supervise the project. Bruce was full of gratitude and enthusiasm. He'd brought a tentative outline he'd done over the summer. They chatted for a few minutes about that, and Bruce took his leave.
This would be the first doctoral project Adam would supervise at Colby State, and he wanted it to go well, not only for the candidate, but also for himself. But he felt confident about Evans. He seemed mature, motivated, and intelligent.
Adam leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head, and thought back to what it was like to be a PhD candidate: the excitement of finally being able to specialize in a field that had fascinated him since his sophomore year; the sleepless nights; the pressure; the competition; the toll it had all taken on his stomach.
He was brought out of his retrospective reverie by a tap on the door, which Bruce had left partly closed.
Blake Bellamy stuck his head around the door, grinned, and asked, "Got a minute?"
"Sure, come on in!" Adam strove to be calm, adult, professional. His cock twitched and began to fill. Damn, he thought, I can't let this kid get to me just because he gave me a great blow job. Get a grip!
"What's up, Blake?" he asked.
The younger man put down his bag and dropped into one of the chairs facing Adam's desk.
"Good morning, Dr. Craig. I'm fine thank you, and how are you this morning?"
"Arrogant pup! You're giving me lessons in behavior?" Adam asked, grinning.
Apparently all innocence, Blake said, "Certainly not, professor. Would I do that?"
Despite himself, Adam chuckled. "Okay, okay. I'm fine, too. So what brings you to my office this morning?"
"Well, I'd really like another go at that fat dick of yours, but you've said that's off limits." He reached into the bag on the floor beside his chair and pulled out a form. "But I do have a legit reason to be here. I'm switching majors, and I'd like you to be my advisor."
"Switching from something to English?"
Blake gave him a "Well, duh" look. "Yes, Dr. Craig. I've been pre-law, but that's really not my thing, and I'd like to major in English."
Adam leaned forward and clasped his hands on the desk, looking intently at the boy. "Tell me more. Why pre-law? And now why not pre-law?"
Blake grinned, leaned back in his chair, and said, "You really wanna know, or are you just asking pro forma questions?"
"No, if I'm going to be your advisor, I need to know." Blake's legs were spread apart, so Adam couldn't help being aware of the nice mound in the boy's jeans.
"Okay, the Cliff's Notes version. My dad's a big deal lawyer and wants his only son to follow in his footsteps. But he and I have never gotten along. He's pissed that I didn't go to Ohio State like he did. But he's not paying my way here and can't really do anything about it."
Adam waited for Blake to continue.
"My grandma, see, knew my dad was really upset when I came out to him. But he had to seem to be accepting. Still, he kept on trying to control my life. Maybe more so than ever. But Gran said she'd pay for my college expenses. She said I should give pre-law a try and if I didn't like it, I could switch majors."
"Okay. You're a junior now, right? What was so bad about pre-law?"
Blake smiled and rolled his eyes. "Have you ever had a poly sci course? Or half a dozen? I can't hack that stuff. It's so fuckin' obvious!"
"And you think you'd like English better?"
"Yeah, I've loved my English classes, even Freshman Comp. And I can really see myself in an office like this someday."
It was Adam's turn to grin. "I'm not sure that's a very lofty ambition. Are you sure you aren't just trying to spite your father?"
"Oh, I spite my father every time I pick up some guy in a bar. And I make a point of telling him about it in my emails to him."
Adam shook his head. He almost grinned. "You're nasty." Then he tensed. "You didn't tell him about the other night, did you?"
"Sure. But I didn't tell him who it was. Didn't even tell him it was a professor. I don't want him to come up here all full of wrath and righteous indignation, after all. I just want to get a little payback for the way he's looked down his nose at me ever since he found out the family heir was a fag."
Inwardly, Adam gave the boy three cheers.
"Okay, Blake. I understand that your relationship with your father is strained. But are you sure you're interested in majoring in English? You really think you'd like to teach some day?"
Nodding, Blake answered, "Yeah, I really think, I would. If I'm good enough."
"You've had other English courses?"
"Yeah, comp, like I said, an intro to lit course, and last year the Brit lit survey."
"I haven't been here long enough to know exactly how things work, but shouldn't you go to Dr. Kasmaryk and ask her to assign you an advisor?"
"She'd do that, but since you're new and don't have many advisees yet, the department secretary says Dr. Kas'll be sure to approve it if you're willing."
Adam knew that department secretaries usually took care of the nuts and bolts of running a department.
He sighed. "Okay. There's just one problem."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. It's that dick of yours. If you're my advisor, it means I shouldn't give it the kind of attention it deserves."
"Damn, Blake! You're really making this ha—um, difficult. You have to understand that if I'm your advisor no other kind of relationship between us is possible."
Blake nodded and grinned. "I understand that's the policy, professor."
Against his better judgment, Adam signed the change of major forms, agreeing to be Blake Bellamy's advisor.
# # #
Adam sat in his reading chair. Not reading. Just sipping his bedtime bourbon. Thinking. Or to be more accurate, feeling. He was horny. He missed having a partner. One of the reasons why he and Brian had split up was Brian's being a total top. Adam didn't mind getting on his knees or his back for Brian. In fact, he'd loved it. But once in a while, he needed to top. Oh, sure, Brian had been willing to go down on him, but even that was done as something of a favor. But in most things Brian was easy going. Fun. And, face it, sexy. Still, they should have split up before they did. They'd settled into a comfortable routine, however, and who knows how long they'd have been together if Brian hadn't gotten the offer to go to LA?
He realized he had to be patient. He was still new in town. There were lots of guys around. Tony Lucarno wasn't in town, exactly, but Adam had definitely felt an attraction that afternoon in Ann Arbor.
And then there was Blake. He knew he could put his dick up that boy's ass any time he wanted to. But that wasn't going to happen.
He finished his drink, completed his nighttime ritual, and got into bed. After turning off the bedside lamp, he did what thousands of men in the Eastern Time zone were doing to help themselves get to sleep.
# # #
One evening a couple of weeks later, Adam tripped over one of the boxes of books in the room he was using as a study.
"Damn!" he said out loud. Then, to himself, I must call Micah Sutton and get him to make me some bookcases. I've spent too much time trying to work around all these boxes. Besides, I need to get the books out of there and into some sort of order, so I can find what I need.
He looked Micah up in the phone book and punched in the number. The phone rang four times before Micah answered.
"Hi, Micah. This is Adam Craig."
"Oh, hi, Dr. Craig. What can I do for you?"
"I'm tripping over boxes of books, and, as I mentioned, I really need some bookcases. I'd like to see some examples of the furniture you make. When would be a convenient time?"
"Saturdays are usually good for me."
"This Saturday, then?"
"I'm sorry. I'm going to see Colby State play and then go to dinner. How about the following Saturday?"
Does everyone have a date on Saturday except me?
"Just let me check my calendar." Adam didn't really need to. He was a bit depressed to note that there was nothing marked for either Saturday. He really needed to get a social life."
"Yes, that will be fine. When would you like me to come over?"
"How about right after lunch?"
"Great. Now, tell me where you live, please."
"I live on Township Road 18, which is off Portage Road, just south of town."
"Do you have a house number?"
"Sure, its 1783."
Thanks to his GPS unit, Adam had no trouble finding Micah's house, with its separate wood shop in the back. Although Micah had nothing resembling a showroom, he did have several examples of his handiwork to show Adam, pieces that were ready for delivery.
"Micah, this is phenomenal work. I'm embarrassed, I think. You're too good to make bookcases."
The younger man looked at the floor for a minute and then looked at Adam, smiling. "Thanks, professor. But there's no caste system with furniture as far as I'm concerned. A bookcase deserves the best work I can do."
"Well, I'd be honored if you'd do the job I have in mind. I want to cover a wall with bookcases, but I don't want built-in shelves. I want separate cases. Would it be a problem if some of them had glass fronts and the rest didn't? I mean could they all still more or less match?"
"No problem. What kind of style did you have in mind? What wood and finish?"
"Um, I rather like cherry, the brownish finish, not the really red stuff. As for style, something on the order of that unit you did for Dave and Brody. I think you said it was Amish."
"Come on into my office."
The office had a desk and several utilitarian book shelves, plus a file cabinet. Whereas the floor and surfaces in the shop had been covered with sawdust, here things were surprisingly clean and neat.
Micah pulled a notebook off the shelf and flipped it open, showing a picture of a bookcase. "How would something like that be?"
"The style's great. Not too fond of the wood."
"Yeah, that's pine, not what you had in mind." He took a piece of wood off a rack and handed it to Adam. "Would something like this do?"
"Yeah, that's it exactly!"
"Great! Now I just need to see the place where you want to put them."
"Oh, okay. I guess you need to measure."
They set up a time two weeks hence when Micah would come to Adam's condo. Adam invited him to come for lunch.
"Thanks. I'd really like to have lunch with you, but I have a delivery to make that morning and don't expect to be back in Colby in time. Could I come to your place about 2:00?"
When the day came, Micah showed up promptly at the agreed-upon time, took his measurements, and was ready to leave.
"I know you're backed up with work, but can you give me a ballpark estimate as to when you can have these ready?"
Micah looked concerned. "I think I told you at Brody and Dave's that I can only work on the furniture evenings and weekends. And only late afternoons and sometimes evenings on Sundays. So it's gonna be late spring, probably. I wish I could have the job done for you sooner, but I don't want to mislead you. And there's just no way to rush the process."
Adam sighed. "I really need to get those books out of their boxes so I can get at them."
"That's okay, professor. If you can't wait, I'll understand."
"No, Micah. I'll wait. It'll be worth it. And please call me Adam. After all, we're social friends, aren't we?"
Micah smiled. "Sure. I'm just not used to rubbing shoulders with Colby faculty."
"Don't be intimidated. I've never met many faculty members who could create anything with their hands as beautiful as you do. You're an artist. And a damn good one."
"Well, an artisan, maybe. But thanks for saying that."
When Adam asked about cost he mentally flinched at the figure Micah quoted, but still he knew he was getting meticulously crafted pieces and would have them forever. So he'd take a little more money out of his savings.
After Micah had left, Adam thought, I hope that boy finds himself a good man. He's a real catch for somebody.
# # #
One day early in October Adam checked his email when he got home from work. It was from Tim Mead, who was his counterpart at Kent State.* They had met when they'd been on the same panel at a professional conference, had hit it off well, had run into each other regularly at such meetings ever since, and had kept in touch via email.
How are you? Getting settled in at Colby State? How are your classes? I'm sure you don't get the same quality of students out there in the boonies we get here at KSU.
I've held off being in touch to let you get your feet on the ground in your new location. It must seem strange being on flat land after Morgantown.
Now, however, I'm writing to suggest that you come see Max and me. I looked it up. It's only about 120 miles, and almost all of that is on the Turnpike. We'd love to have you come for a weekend. The visits you and I have had have been all too fleeting, and Max wants to get to know the sexy Stearns specialist I keep telling him about.
Our social agenda is pretty much open this fall. Think about it, please, and let us know.
That would be nice, Adam thought. He'd have to think about getting away some weekend. He and Tim could talk about their favorite period to their hearts' content. Keeping in mind, a voice told him, that Max might not be so enthralled. He thought about that for a minute. Max wouldn't have any reason to be jealous. But he might not appreciate us spending all our time together talking about our favorite writers, the articles we'd like to write, the articles we didn't write, and things of that sort.
But I'll have to tell Tim and Max about my book. Maybe Tim'll have an idea about how to find out who Vivian Clay was.
Thinking of Vivian Clay and the novel he'd bought reminded him of Tony Lucarno. Adam had thought the guy was appealing, that perhaps they'd even connected. Tony had seemed sincere when he'd invited Adam to come back to Ann Arbor again soon. But of course, that's what shopkeepers said, wasn't it? Still, those eyes spoke of sincerity, they gave off warmth. Too bad Ann Arbor was 70 miles away.
Do you have to wait until he comes up with another book he thinks you'll be interested in? That could be a long time. Would it be pushy to invite him to Colby? If you could find something going on here on campus that he might be interested in, you could ask him to come, have dinner at Adrian's, since you've been wanting to try that place anyway, go to the – whatever – and have him stay the night. Just to get to know him better, of course*
A few nights later Adam was marking a set of essays from his American Lit class. He put down the pen, clasped his hands behind his head, and stretched. His mind had been straying, and, he rationalized, it wasn't fair to his students to grade their work when he wasn't fully concentrating. Though it was difficult to concentrate on some of those essays under the best of circumstances.
His mind turned to Brian. They hadn't talked for a while. They'd promised they'd keep in touch. He was about to reach for his phone when it rang, startling him.
"Adam babe, you sound as if you just woke up."
"Brian, hey! I was about to call you."
"Why? Is there something wrong?"
"No, not at all. I was just sitting here thinking it had been too long since we talked. So how are things in Ahnold Land?"
Brian answered that "things" were fine, and they chatted about inconsequential matters for a while.
Then Adam said, "Bri, it's good to hear from you and to know that you're doing okay out there. But I know you. There's something you want to tell me, isn't there?"
He heard a chuckle from the other end of the line.
"Yeah, Craigsy, there is."
Brian hadn't called him that in years. Not since their relationship had begun to cool from torrid to friendly.
"I've found a guy."
"Uh huh. Convince me that he's good enough for you."
Brian spent fifteen minutes explaining how great Tristan was, how he managed a gym near the campus, how he did exquisite watercolors in his spare time, how cute his Georgia accent was, how cute his ass was . . . .
Adam made appropriate noises from time to time. Brian sounded completely besotted with this Tristan. Well, he deserved to be happy.
"That's great, Bri. But if this guy hurts you, I'm gonna come out there and cut his balls off. You can tell him I said so!"
Adam thought of a famous trip Lillian Hellman had made from New York to Dash Hammett's apartment in LA when she'd called her lover and a woman had answered.
Again, there was that sexy chuckle. Right then Adam wondered if he'd been crazy to split up with the big guy.
"Hey, I can take care of myself. And I promise Tris won't hurt me. But there's still no reason you can't come out and meet him some time." He paused, coughed, and then continued, "That is, I don't want to rub him in your, well, you know . . . ."
It was Adam's turn to laugh. "No, you'll be too busy rubbing him in your own face. But I'm happy for you. Really."
"Thanks, man. How about you? Any hot prospects?"
"Well, one of my students wants to get me into bed."
"Not the first time you've faced that problem, is it?"
"No. But this one's a real temptation."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Strictly professional."
"But there's no one else, no real candidate?"
"Not really." He paused.
"Come on! I know you! From the tone of your voice, I can tell there's something you're not telling me. Or someone you're not telling me about."
"Well, you may not remember, but I've bought a couple of books from a guy in Ann Arbor."
"Well, he emailed me about a first edition of Stranger in Paradigms, and I went up there and he took me to lunch and I bought the book."
"And he's cute as hell?"
"Well, yeah, kind of."
"Sounds to me like you're definitely interested, babe. What's he like?"
Adam spent a while telling Brian about Tony.
"Yep, you've got it as bad as I do."
"Until you got me talking about him, I didn't realize just how much I'm attracted to him."
Adam heard a doorbell chime at the other end of the line.
"Hey, that's Tris," Brian said. "We're going to this great sushi place, so I gotta run. Your Tony sounds like a cool guy. I think you need to explore the possibilities there. Seriously."
"Thanks, Bri. You and Tristan have fun. Love you."
"Yeah. You be happy. Love you, too."
My Tony sounds like a cool guy? My Tony? Hmm.
# # #
Adam emailed Tim Mead saying that most of his weekends were free and that he'd like to visit him and his partner in Kent. So the ball was in Tim's court. He was waiting for a specific invitation.
He was still wondering what kind of pretext he could use to invite Tony Lucarno to Colby. Getting away from the shop might be difficult. Besides, he couldn't just say, "Hey, I think you're sexy and I'd like you to come down here so I can take you to my bed and have hot monkey sex with you."
If you cleaned up the language a little bit, that voice said, you might get away with it.
# # #
As he sat in his office, as he attended department meetings, as he paid bills, as he did his laundry, as he fixed his suppers . . . at all these and other times, he wondered about "Intellect" and "Sonny Boy." The key had to be to find out who Vivian Clay was.
*The "Tim Mead" referred to here is not the story's author. Mentioned briefly in "A Writer's Romance," he's the title character of "Dr. Tim and the Boys" and "Tim and the Guys" as well as being a minor character in "Out of the Night." (Links to those stories can be found under Tim Mead in the Nifty Authors section.) The fictional Tim is now a 32-year-old professor at Kent State University who lives with his partner and lover, Max Hewitt, an Episcopal priest. Tim has his PhD from Stanford and, despite his relative youth, is a recognized scholar. His book on John Dos Passos, published by Stanford University Press, garnered great critical praise. As I said, that Tim is definitely not yours truly.
To Be Continued.
Thanks, as always, to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey.
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.
Oh, and would
you consider sending a contribution to the Nifty Archive? What would
we do without it? --Tim