Adrian and Tom hadn't yet set up a meeting of their group with the in-your-face name. Nigel had never come through with an invitation to supper. Tim hadn't responded by naming a specific weekend for him to visit Kent. Adam hadn't yet decided how to inveigle Tony Lucarno into coming to Colby. And it was Saturday night.
He thought about treating himself to dinner at Adrian's. He'd meant to check out what was supposed to be the best restaurant in town, marginally beating out The Faculty Club which, despite its name, had nothing to do with the University and which, according to some, was nearly as good as Adrian's. And equally expensive.
He'd even told himself he should try both places so he'd have an idea where to take Tony should he in fact come to Colby.
But he just wasn't in the mood to put on the requisite jacket and tie for a visit to one of the upscale places.
So. He broiled a steak and had it with bag salad, finishing with some ice cream he found in the freezer. After cleaning up the kitchen, he sat in front of the TV flipping channels. The local PBS station was having pledge week, which seemed these days to be two weeks every month. He watched a sports show to see about the football scores. CSU lost to Ball State. Both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines had won that afternoon. It appeared that they would, as usual, decide the Big Ten championship when they played each other in the final game of the season in about a month. The Mountaineers had also won, as had Rutgers, Louisville, and South Florida. He wondered if the Big East wasn't a tougher conference than the Big Ten.
After the sports, another football game came on, but it was a couple of teams from out west he wasn't interested in. He turned off the TV, went to the second bedroom, also his study, and turned on his PC. No email. Not even any spam.
Finally he decided to go to Nellie's.
Not to try to pick up some guy. No. He wouldn't do that. But he could enjoy the eye candy, could feel at home in a bar that catered to "family."
Although he'd showered that morning, he took another. He didn't shave, however. Nothing wrong with a little stubble. He put on a blue oxford shirt and a pair of freshly laundered jeans and checked himself out.
You don't look like a forty-year old, even if there is a touch of gray at the temples, he told himself. Actually, you look like a kid in a play made up to look like a middle-aged guy.
# # #
When he got to Nellie's, he stopped at the bar for a JD and carried it to the one remaining booth, which was in the rear, not far from the pool table and the dart board. And the door to the men's room where Blake . . . well, that wasn't going to happen again!
He sat, sipped his drink, and people-watched for a while, perhaps a half an hour. There were lots of good looking men, ranging in age from the just-legal twenty-ones to guys in their fifties. But they were all part of groups or couples.
Oh, well, you didn't come here to pick anyone up . . . or be picked up.
Although he was sitting where he could see the entrance, he was distracted by a noisy group to his right playing darts. So Adam didn't see the person approaching him until he slid into the booth and said, "Hi, Adam."
There facing him, a glass of beer in his hand, was Blake. Looking hot as usual. Even though the hair was obviously bleached, it was a good bleach job, and it made Blake's dark brown eyes all the more striking. He was wearing a brown pullover with a white shirt under it.
"Well, good evening, Mr. Bellamy. Not having JD this evening?"
"No, it's early yet."
"Cruising, are we?"
The boy gave Adam a dazzling smile. "I wouldn't have to be."
Ignoring the feelings emanating from his crotch, Adam held up a hand. "Blake, we – "
"I know, I know. Verboten! But you can't blame a guy for trying. Is it all right if we just sit and talk over our drinks?"
"I have no problem with that. And we can start with a question I've been meaning to ask you."
"Is this a test?" This was said in a teasing rather than a huffy manner.
"Not really. But I'd guess you're a couple or three years older than the typical junior."
"Oh, that! Yeah. I got ticked with both the old man and my grandmother, so I spent a couple of years working on a Great Lakes freighter."
"Romantic, hell! It was just hard, boring work. And being trapped on a boat with a bunch of homophobic bozos wasn't a picnic, either."
"Why did you stick it out so long?"
"Oh, I guess I thought I was paying my dues. And I worked on my novel when I wasn't on duty."
"You've written a novel?"
Blake grinned. "Most of one."
"The last day I was on the Caroline Smoot I threw it overboard."
"Dare I ask why?"
"Because it was crap."
"Have you ever regretted it?"
"No. I realized that I'm not a writer. So I quit pretending I was, chucked my job and came to Colby State." He grinned. "Any relief my father felt at no longer having a merchant mariner for a son was quickly dissipated when I came to this place instead of going to OSU."
"I see." Adam took a sip of his whiskey and studied the young man sitting opposite him. "So now you spend your Saturday evenings picking up men?"
Blake's chuckle escalated to a laugh. "Dr. Craig, you've made it clear that we're just professor and student. If that's the situation, do you think your question is a proper one?"
Adam smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Ah, but, Mr. Bellamy, I'm also your faculty advisor. I need to understand you if I'm to really help you make the most of your university experience."
"What you could really do to help me make the most of my university experience, Adam would be – "
"Blake! This is the first time I've seen you this term."
Standing next to them in a peach-colored cashmere sweater, tan chinos, and sockless loafers, was a young man of college age. About 5'10" with blue eyes, he had shaggy light brown hair with blond highlights. He stood with one hip cocked and was holding a glass of white wine.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your sexy friend?"
Blake's face took on a steely look. "I will if you'll leave."
"Ooohh, it's not like you to be so possessive! Is this your new boyfriend? Or should I say daddy?"
Adam tensed, but then Blake's face revealed a wicked smile as he looked at Adam and winked.
"This is Dr. Adam Craig, my faculty advisor. Dr. Craig, this, uh, person, is Bernie Caldwell."
"Talking about your academic progress at Nellie's on a Saturday night?" He stuck out his hand to Adam, who shook it briefly without attempting to stand up.
"Yes," Adam said, looking Bernie in the eye. "Blake and I just bumped into each other. There was some background information I'd been intending to ask him about, and he was explaining it to me."
"Oh!" Bernie's expression said he didn't believe a word of it. "Well, then I'll let you get back to your, um, conversation. Nice to have met you, Dr. Craig. See you around, Bellamy."
Adam was pretty sure Bernie was giving his ass some extra wiggle as he walked away. He chuckled. "Not one of your favorite people?"
"He's competition. But the difference is that I'm the soul of discretion, and that campy bastard likes to have sex with guys and then brag about it all over campus."
Adam sighed. "Well, there are those types around. But you know, what you said about competition. . . . You have too much to offer to spend your weekends cruising bars."
"Careful, Adam. You're dangerously close to sounding like my old man. Except he calls me a whore." He set down his empty glass. "I'm ready for another, how about you?"
"No, I'm doing okay."
"Can I come back? To the booth, I mean?"
Adam realized as he watched Blake walking to the bar that he did indeed want the young man to come back. He was an interesting guy. They didn't need to have sex to be friends.
When Blake slid back into the seat across from him, he continued, picking up where they'd left off. "I'll admit to being a slut. But a whore? That stings. I never take money for it."
Nodding to acknowledge what Blake had said, Adam asked, "But wouldn't you be happier if you could find a guy . . . ?"
"Mr. Right, you mean? Eventually, maybe. I figure what will be, will be. If he's out there, we'll bump into each other some day. Meanwhile, I'm having an awesome time just fuckin' around. But what about you, Adam? You're alone, obviously. Haven't you found Mr. Right yet?"
"I think we've gone beyond what a student and his advisor would normally be talking about. But what the hell!" He took a sip of the JD he'd been nursing. "I had a partner for fifteen years."
Blake's expression was one of sympathy. "Did you lose him?"
Adam was reminded of a line from The Importance of Being Earnest. As if he had somehow misplaced his ex. Then he continued, "Not in the sense you might think. Brian's in Los Angeles now. We still love each other, but we gradually figured out that we weren't meant to be lovers."
"And that experience didn't sour you on the whole monogamy thing?"
"Not at all. I know I'm meant to have a mate. I hate coming home to an empty condo. I love waking up in the morning and finding a tousled hunk in my bed. And going grocery shopping together. And, well . . . I guess I'm pretty domestic, when you get right down to it."
"So you're still looking for your one true love."
"I suppose I am."
"And you accused me of being a romantic!"
# # #
On Monday morning Adam found an email from his department head on his office computer. She'd forwarded an announcement of an upcoming lecture sponsored by the English Department at the University of Michigan. She'd added a note: "Adam, why don't you go to this. I'm sure you'll want to hear what Boggess has to say. CSU will pick up all your expenses, and you can be back here in time to teach your Thursday afternoon class."
The lecturer in question was Calvin Boggess, one of the country's best-known Hemingway scholars. Adam decided that he would go. Of course he'd be interested to hear what Boggess had to say, but he also figured he might be able to see Tony Lucarno while he was in Ann Arbor. He could surely stop by the bookstore the next morning before he started back to Colby.
The morning passed quickly because he had his classes to teach. The afternoon was a little slower. He bumped into a haggard looking Nigel on his way back from picking up his campus mail at the English Department office. The Englishman made an effort to smile when he saw Adam, but something was obviously wrong there. Adam wished he could help, but didn't feel he knew the man well enough to ask about his problem.
Although he kept "office hours" that afternoon, no one came. Thus he was able to catch up a bit on recent scholarly articles in his field.
# # #
That evening about 8:15 his phone rang.
"Yes, this is Adam Craig."
"I hope you don't mind my bothering you at home. It's Tony Lucarno."
"What a great surprise! How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks. How about you?"
"I'll bet you're wondering why I'm calling you."
"Don't tell me you've come across another book you know I'll want."
"I wish I had, but, no, that's not it. I just learned that Calvin Boggess is going to be speaking on campus Wednesday after next. Have you ever met him?"
"No. I heard him speak once at a conference, but had to catch a plane and couldn't stick around."
"Well, what I was thinking was that you might like to come up to hear him. We could have supper some place and if your schedule permits, you could stay overnight and drive back to Colby the next morning."
"Your timing is impeccable, my friend," Adam said, chuckling.
"What do you mean?"
"Just this morning my department chair all but ordered me to go hear Boggess. She told me the University would pick up my expenses."
"But except for gas you won't have any. There's a spot I'd like to take you for dinner, and you're welcome to stay at my place overnight."
"Are you sure, Tony? I don't want to be a bother."
"I'm calling you, remember? I wouldn't be doing that if it were a bother. I'm looking forward to hearing what Boggess has to say. And even more I'm looking forward to spending some time with you."
That sounded promising. "In that case, yes, I'd love to."
Tony wanted to know when Adam would have to leave for Colby the morning after the lecture. He seemed delighted that Adam's only class that day was in the afternoon. "Great! I can fix breakfast and we won't have to rush."
Surprised and gratified that Tony seemed to want to do this for him, all Adam could think to say was, "Thanks. I'm really looking forward to it."
# # #
That week there were meetings of both the senior English faculty and of the whole department, both of which Adam was expected to attend. He was gradually getting to know his colleagues, who seemed to be, on the whole, a friendly lot. Oh, there had been some spirited discussion of a couple of new course proposals for the next academic year, even a little rancor. Academics tend to be territorial as a group, and some of them can be pretty picky. Still, this bunch was no worse than others he'd worked with. And once the meeting was over, several of them took the time to ask him how he was getting along. In the days following, three of them stopped by his office to chat for a few minutes.
Nigel Brewster continued to be pleasant, though Adam noticed he often looked unhappy when he didn't know he was being observed. One afternoon Adam, again passing Nigel's door, looked in to see his colleague scowling and biting his lower lip.
Fools rush in!
Shut up! The guy may need a friendly listener.
He tapped on the doorframe.
"Oh, hello, Adam. Come in." Nigel waved Adam to a chair.
Adam sat. Having come this far, however, he was uncertain how to proceed.
"Nigel, we don't know each other well, but I'm concerned about you. Lately you've seemed preoccupied, even unhappy. I just want you to know if there's anything I can do . . . ."
Brewster ran a hand over his thinning black hair and looked at Adam. The blue eyes which had seemed so full of sparkle when the two men first met were now simply troubled. The smile which appeared on the man's face didn't reach his eyes.
"It's kind of you to be concerned. And I must apologize for allowing my problems to affect my appearance."
"No reason to apologize. And, I don't want to pry. I just want you to know that, well, as I said . . . ."
"I won't burden you with the details, but I've a work-related issue and a family one as well. But I'll just have to `man up' as the lads are saying. Can't make it anyone else's problem." He paused, shifted in his chair, and continued. "Oh, and I'm rather afraid there won't be a dinner invitation forthcoming. Sorry I offered something I can't produce."
"Oh, no problem." Adam stood. "I hope whatever it is works itself out." He'd already offered twice to do anything he could, so he didn't say so a third time.
Nigel stood as well. The two shook hands before Adam returned to his own office.
# # #
The much-anticipated Wednesday finally came, and Adam found himself coping with late afternoon traffic in downtown Ann Arbor. He pulled into a small parking area off a service alley behind Tony's shop and went in through the back way, as instructed. Tony greeted him with a hug.
"It's trite to say I'm so glad you could make it, Adam, but I am."
"I've looked forward to it."
"Yes, I should imagine you'll be curious to hear what Boggess has to say."
"Well, yes, I suppose I am. But I meant that I'd looked forward to seeing you again."
Tony smiled at him and said, "Good. Let's get your things in from the car."
"You live here?"
"Oh, yeah. Upstairs, didn't I tell you?"
Adam fetched in his things and they went up. Tony explained that he and Harry had bought the building along with the business. They'd renovated the two upper floors into living quarters. The second floor contained a living room, kitchen, dining area, and half bath. The third floor had two large bedrooms, a small study, and a bath.
They put Adam's bag in the guest bedroom.
"Am I keeping you from anything?"
"No, Ted's going to close up."
"Oh, I'm sorry I didn't get to say hello. He seems to be a nice kid."
Tony chuckled. "As a second-year graduate student he wouldn't be too happy being called a kid."
"Does he teach along with his studies and working for you?"
"Uh huh. He really doesn't have much time for me this year. But I've another person who helps out. Alice is the widow of a faculty member with lots of time on her hands. She didn't know much about old books when she came to work for me, but she's a quick learner. She dotes on Ted. Mothers both of us. She'll be here in the morning, so you can meet her. I think you said you didn't have to leave at the crack of dawn, didn't you?"
Adam agreed that he didn't.
Tony took Adam to Gratzi for dinner. The restaurant was in a 1930's movie palace, the old Orpheum Theater. The interior had been restored to its original opulence while being modified for use as a restaurant. They'd done an excellent job, Adam thought, and the space made for a rather posh place to eat.
The food and service didn't disappoint, either. Tony had veal scaloppini with capers, artichokes, and lemon butter. It must have been artichoke day, for Adam's poached salmon came with asparagus and artichokes as well.
The two men chatted with the comfort of old friends. Of course they had known each other for years, but the relationship had been strictly business. Over their food that evening they continued the process of getting to know each other as individuals. For Adam it was a matter of finding out more about a man to whom he'd been strongly attracted from their meeting a few weeks earlier. He had the impression Tony felt the same way.
Predictably, the subject of families came up.
"Mother and Dad are Down Under," Tony said in response to a question from Adam.
Adam wondered briefly if that meant they were both buried somewhere but then realized as his host continued that they were in Australia.
"Dad spent his career with the State Department. His last posting was to the embassy in Canberra. He's just at the point of retiring, but they plan to stay in Oz. Seems they fell in love with Sydney and have bought a condo there. They'll be moving soon."
"You don't see them often, then?"
"Very infrequently since I came here as a freshman. I'm hoping now they're retiring we'll get together more often. They love travel, and as long as their health holds up, they plan to do a lot of it."
"I have an older sister, Tracy, who's married to a solicitor in Birmingham. Two kids, a boy and a girl, both in university at the moment."
"So your parents will no doubt go to England to see the grandkids."
Tony smiled and nodded. "Yeah. But they'll show up here one of these days. They're pretty spontaneous."
Adam set down the glass from which he'd been sipping a particularly nice pinot grigio. "You must have lived in lots of places as a kid growing up."
"You know it! Seemed like every time Trace and I got settled into a school, Dad would be sent somewhere else. I've seen a lot of the world. I think that's why I loved being able to settle in with Harry and make a life here together."
"I'm sorry, Tony. I'm sure you must miss him."
"I do. But forgive me. In fact, enough about me. You're from Ohio, I know. What about your family?"
"Mom and Dad are still in Westerville, just outside of Columbus. Dad's a library administrator at OSU. Mom was a high school English teacher until I came along and then my sister Laurie was born a few years later. She hasn't worked since. Laurie and her husband live in Portland. Oregon, that is. She's a CPA who works at home and he works for Intel, which is big there. They have two kids, both boys, both in the soccer and little league phase of growing up, so Laurie spends a lot of time hauling them around."
"A librarian dad and an English teacher mother. No wonder you love books!"
"Yeah, guess it was inevitable."
Later, over dessert, Adam asked, "How does your family feel about your being gay?"
Tony smiled. "It was never an issue. I knew it from the time I was twelve. They were always very supportive. Some of the places we lived I knew enough not to let on that I was gay, but at home things were always good. And they loved Harry, were almost as devastated as I was when he passed. How about your family?"
"I came out to them when I was about 15. Mom, Dad, and Sis were all okay with it. My brother-in-law, though, has always been pretty standoffish. He's never actually said anything, but I think he's uncomfortable when I'm around. I miss seeing Laurie and the boys, but it's probably just as well we live so far apart."
# # #
Although Calvin Boggess was a nationally prominent Hemingway scholar, Adam had never been much of a fan. For one thing, Boggess seemed to glorify the macho Hemingway, the big game hunting Hemingway, the swagger and bandoliers Hemingway. For Adam, the more interesting Hemingway was the one for whom Jake Barnes' physical wound in World War I was a kind of objective correlative for the psychic wounds inflicted by that war on the young men (and women) who'd been caught up in it. The Hemingway who'd finally put an end to his own life.
Besides, Boggess was an arrogant bastard. During the question and answer session after the lecture, Adam bit his tongue. He wasn't about to get into a public wrangle with the visiting speaker, especially since he, too, was a visitor.
He did have a pleasant though brief chat afterward with Nancy Spiegel, of the U of M English faculty, whom he'd met at several conferences. But he didn't want to tarry too long talking shop since he was with Tony. He didn't, he realized, know whether his friend was particularly interested in Hemingway and company – other than their having produced commodities called books. Well, that wasn't fair. He had the impression Tony was not just a book seller but also a reader. After all, he'd majored in English. Adam just hadn't had time yet to find out about the man's literary enthusiasms.
# # #
When they returned to his home, Tony took off his jacket and tie as soon as they got to the top of the stairs and invited Adam to do the same. "Kick off your shoes, too, if you want," he added. "And you know where the john is if you need to use it."
Adam did. Then Tony did. And they met in the living room.
"Yeah, that'd be nice." Adam was accustomed to having a drink at bedtime. It helped him sleep. It wasn't late, at least not by his standards, but he'd take what he could get.
"What's your poison?"
Adam chuckled. "You sound like a character from Raymond Chandler or Dash Hammett."
"That's one of my dad's favorite questions. And I think he reads and rereads those `tec stories from the 30's and 40's.
"You know Hammett was one of the writers born in the 1890's. He's often overlooked when people are talking about the Lost Generation, but he shouldn't be. Sorry, didn't mean to lecture."
"No problem. I suppose I knew Hammett was chronologically in the same bracket as the big names, I'd just never made the connection. But you still haven't told me what you'd like to drink."
"Have any bourbon?"
"Sure. How do you take it?"
"Rocks, no water, please."
They talked for a while about the lecture, but then they moved on to other things, including food, wine, politics, religion, music, art, being gay – and through two refills of Tony's excellent bourbon.
When, some time after midnight, Adam yawned and then apologized, Tony yawned. He grinned. "Me, too."
Now, Adam thought. Here's the moment. Will he ask me to sleep with him? Is it too soon? Does he even want to sleep with me?
"This is awkward."
"Asking you if you want to share my bed tonight."
"Well, now, you've just done it. And that wasn't so hard, was it?" Adam grinned and put a hand on each of Tony's shoulders.
"No, I guess it wasn't. And your answer would be?"
Adam kissed him, gently at first and then with increased intensity. When they pulled apart, breathing heavily, he said, "I've wanted to do that since I first saw you downstairs in the shop a few weeks ago."
"Oh? Really? Um, me, too. Shit. Here I am 40 years old and mumbling like a kid." He took Adam's hand. "Come along, then. I'm ready to find out even more about you, Dr. Craig."
Their lovemaking that night was gentle, tentative, exploratory, tactile, and oral. But nothing anal. The two seemed tacitly to agree not to go there. Yet, Adam hoped.
When they woke up the next morning, they 69'd again. As they lay together afterward, Adam's glow was dispelled by a jarring thought. "Oh, God," he said. "I'm not the first one since Harry, am I?"
Tony put a hand on Adam's cheek and smiled. "No. I've turned that corner."
Adam breathed a sigh of relief as Tony pulled him closer and they snuggled.
Later, after they'd showered, Tony fixed blueberry pancakes and sausage for breakfast. Digging in, Adam told his host that surely beat the cold cereal he usually allowed himself.
They continued to chat comfortably after breakfast. Finally, after checking his watch, Adam said something about starting back to Colby.
"Can you stick around a few minutes? The shop opens at 10:00, and Alice will be disappointed if she doesn't get to check you out."
Alice turned out to be a white-haired, wispy woman with intense dark eyes.
"I've been eager to meet you," she said. "After your recent visit, both Tony and Teddy have spoken highly of you. Did you boys have a good time last night?"
Adam was startled at first because he thought she was asking about what they'd done in bed. Then he realized what she meant. "Yes, indeed! Supper at Gratzi was a real treat, and my colleague's lecture was, uh, interesting."
"You blush beautifully, Adam. But then redheads usually do."
Adam felt himself blushing even more.
"Interesting is such an . . . interesting word, isn't it? I'd be willing to bet you thought Boggess's lecture was a crock. Didn't you?"
They chatted a few minutes longer. When a customer came into the shop, Alice excused herself, leaving Tony and Adam to say goodbye.
Tony walked out with him and they shared a kiss beside Adam's car.
"Tony, thanks. For yesterday evening at Gratzi, for last night. And this morning."
"It was my pleasure. I'd like to see you again, Adam."
Adam's mind was filled with happy thoughts on the drive back to Colby.
As he pulled into a parking slot behind Memorial Hall, he realized that he and Tony had said nothing at all about the identity of Vivian Clay, "Intellect," or "Sonny Boy." Wondering what he should do about that puzzle, he locked his car and went inside to meet his class.
To Be Continued.
Thanks, as always, to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey. And this time to Terry O as well.
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.
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