"Fuck!" exclaimed the duchess.

I remember Herbert Givens, one of my English professors, saying it was crucial for a novel to have an attention-grabbing first line. He elicited chuckles from the class when he offered the line about the duchess as an example. I've always wanted to use it. So there it is, even though it has nothing to do with what happened between Russ and me.

When I say "what happened" I make it sound as if there were some kind of incident. It wasn't like that at all. I guess I'd better tell you about where and when we met. Or should I tell you about me first?

Damn! That Tim has a way of coaxing people to write. He knows I was an English major as an undergraduate, so he's persuaded me to tell about this. But I didn't take creative writing. I don't know what I'm doing. So maybe forewarned is forearmed. Maybe you'd be smart to leave now.

What? You're still here? Okay, it's your funeral. So let me introduce myself. I'm Baxter Crouse, Ed.D., known to my friends and occasional lovers as Bax. Yeah, I'd been an English major at Earlham, loved books, loved talking about books, but I didn't want to do graduate work in English. Didn't want to spend the rest of my life being pressured to publish. Didn't want to read a lot of freshman compositions, either. So I went to the University of Winnemac* in Mohalis and took a graduate degree in academic administration. "Scholars" look down on people like me, but we do useful things at a university.

When I met Russ I was 30 years old and assistant dean of students (or assistant vice president for student affairs, if you prefer) in the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Zenith. I spent most of my time working with students who were disgruntled or were disciplinary problems. Zenith is hard enough to get into that there weren't as many disciplinary problems as you might think, given that we're an urban university, but maybe because of the IQ's and SAT's of our students, there was a fair number of disgruntled ones, or so it seemed to me at the time. The dean and others in the administration knew I was gay. That wasn't an issue when I was hired. All they asked was that I not be too much of a flamer.

They obviously didn't know me then. A flamer, I'm not. Looking back on it I think I may have been leaning in the other direction, being too unbending so as not to appear soft. Maybe that was why at first I developed a reputation for being something of a bad ass. But I've mellowed.

All of which is neither here nor there so far as meeting Russ is concerned.

I had been at Zenith for five years, during which I'd enjoyed the job, most of the time. They must have been happy with my work, for after the fourth year I was promoted to associate dean. Along the way I made some friends, both among university personnel and in the Fair Hills neighborhood where I lived. I liked Fair Hills. I rented a small apartment there which was only three blocks from the Zenith Rapid Transit station where I could catch a train that would whisk me downtown in twenty minutes and let me off at the university. Fair Hills had its own little town center with an art cinema, a good browsing bookstore, and a nice variety of restaurants and pubs.

In that time I'd discreetly had a few sex partners, but we tended to drift apart after a month or so. I think I was always looking for something more, though I probably couldn't even have told you what that "more" might have been. I just hadn't found it/him yet.

Well, anyway, when Helene Goodman called and invited me to dinner, I was pleased. I'd met Helene and Jim when I first came to the University. She's a pianist who teaches at the Zenith Institute of Music, which has nothing to do with the University. In fact, it's 100 blocks east of downtown, closer to Fair Hills. Jim, however, is a member of the U of Z English Department and we'd struck it off from the beginning. Thus I became one of the people who were occasionally invited to their parties. They both loved to entertain, and one never knew whether the invitation would be for a cocktail party, a buffet for a crowd, an intimate sit-down dinner, a wine-tasting or an after-theater affair.

I'd asked Helene what the dress code was, for she hadn't given me any idea about what to expect. She'd said something like "one step up from jeans." So I wore a pair of khakis and a blue oxford shirt with my cordovan loafers. I took along a rather expensive bottle of cabernet. I don't think the Goodmans knew it, but I'd found out where Jim bought his wine. It was at a little shop near campus. So I went in one day, identified myself as a friend of the Goodmans and asked for advice. After that whenever I needed to take a hostess gift, I could trust Phil, who owned the shop, to suggest something he knew they'd like.

As it turned out the dinner was intime. There was only one other guest - who was simply the most attractive man I'd ever met.

The Goodmans lived in a converted warehouse on the west end of downtown in a recently gentrified area that had suddenly become upscale. When I got off the elevator and stepped into the vast living space, Jim met me and we shook hands. He took the bag with the wine from me with a nod of appreciation and said, "Come on in. I want you to meet our other guest."

The other guest was a lean six feet tall, with wavy auburn hair which he wore short on the sides, long enough to part on top. (It was a left parting, if you're curious.) His eyes, I discovered as we approached each other, were not green like those of most people with his hair color. Instead they were a rich brown. He was beautiful, elegant.

"Baxter Crouse, this is Logan Smith."

I drew myself up to my full five feet eight and three quarters inches, advanced toward the man and put my hand out. Though it sounds like something out of cheap fiction (well, maybe this is cheap fiction), I swear I felt a jolt when we shook hands. His eyes searched mine briefly, and then he smiled.

"Nice to meet you, Baxter. Everybody calls me Russ."

"Glad to know you, Russ. I'm Bax."

'Oh, please, God, let him be gay,' I found myself praying. 'Let him be single, too,' I added.

Just then Helene came out with a glass of wine for me. We hugged and exchanged air kisses.

"Thanks for the bottle, Bax, dear. Jim's introduced you to Russ?"

"Yes, he has."

"Well, loves, I must get back to the kitchen." She smiled. "You three talk guy talk or whatever."

"Russ's my broker," Jim said after we were seated, sipping our wine.

"Oh?" I wasn't proud of my conversational abilities at the moment, but I was still looking at Russ, feeling lucky my tongue wasn't hanging out.

"Yes," Russ said, "Harvey Sloane, Jim's previous financial advisor, was moved up to vice president of the downtown branch of Pierce-Thompson, and he assigned Jim's account to me."

I was thinking about what a sexy voice Russ has when Jim said, "He's done very well for me in the short time he's had the account, too."

As we chatted over wine and nibbles while Helene worked in the kitchen, I found myself registering all the tidbits the stunning guy was letting drop. It was apparent that Helene and Jim were matchmaking again. They'd tried, without any lasting success, a couple of times before. This time, even without knowing anything about their newest candidate for my affections and my bed, presumably, I wanted the match. I had to assume he was gay. Why else would they invite the two of us together? He had to be gay.

During the dinner-table conversation Russ asked about Jim's current classes and his ongoing research. The subject eventually shifted to a currently fashionable novelist whose latest work the others had read but I hadn't. Obviously, Smith read books. A big plus so far as I was concerned.

Later, during a lull in the conversation, I looked at the man across the table from me and said, "I'm puzzled. If your name is Logan, where does 'Russ' come from? Your middle name perhaps?"

He grinned. "Helene and Jim will have to forgive me, since they've heard this story." He looked at each of them and they smiled at him. "When I was in elementary school my hair was lighter and the other kids called me "Rusty." By the time I got to college I just asked to be called Russ. I'm not fond of Logan, which is my mother's maiden name, and don't even ask what my middle name is!"

During the meal I did my best to follow and contribute to the conversation, but I really wanted to know more about this man sitting across the table from me. Oh, yes, I was clearly smitten! Sounds old fashioned, smitten. But Logan Smith left me feeling exactly that way: thunderstruck, overwhelmed, gobsmacked. Smitten.

It was a Friday night. Helene wouldn't have wasted a Saturday night on two single men. We had all worked that day. So, remembering Mom's dictum that three hours was long enough to stay anywhere for dinner, at ten I reluctantly rose and prepared to leave. I still didn't know nearly enough about Mr. Smith, but good manners prevailed. When I indicated I'd be going, so did he. We offered our thanks and goodnights to our hosts and went down in the elevator together.

"Where's your car, Bax?" he asked.

"I came on the Rapid."

"Oh, then you must let me take you home."

"That's not necessary. I can find a cab."

We were on the street in front of the converted warehouse. "Not necessary, maybe, but I want to take you home."

"Isn't it out of your way? Didn't you say you lived on the West Side?"

He grinned. "You still don't understand, do you? I want to go home with you."

Light dawned, albeit slowly. "You want to come home with me?"

"Yes! There's so much more about you I want to know."

I could relate to that. I wanted to know all about Logan Smith. His favorite music . . . the length of his dick.

I laughed. "I'm sorry, I'm a little slow. Where's your car?"

As we drove east on Monarch Avenue toward Fair Hills, I said, "I'm embarrassed."

"Why?" he asked, without taking his eyes off the still-busy street in front of us.

"Helene and Jim are wonderful people, but I hate it when she tries matchmaking."

"She's done this to you before?"

I sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid so."

"Look, Bax, I'll just drop you at your house and keep going. I thought there was some kind of spark between us, but obviously I was wrong."

"No, no! I'm always embarrassed when I think Helene is pushing me at someone. But I confess I find you very . . . interesting."

This time he looked at me briefly and, with the faintest of grins, said, "A neutral sort of word, interesting."

"Okay then, I think you're sexy as fuck! And it's not just your body that I'm attracted to. Is that plain enough for you?"

He chuckled. "Oh, yeah. That sounds good."

We sat in the two large, shapeless but very comfortable leather chairs in my living room, having kicked off our loafers. His, I noticed were Italian. He wore bone-colored slacks that must have been tailor made. On the ring finger of his right hand was a gold ring with a dark topaz stone which, though it wasn't as dark as his eyes, reminded me of them. Obviously he made good money in his job, and obviously he was a little vain about his appearance.

When I offered a drink, he said maybe later. We never got to the drinks. We talked for hours. I found out about his life, his enthusiasms, his previous lovers. And eventually, the size of his dick.

It was 2:00 AM before either of us thought to look at his watch. I invited him to stay the night. He accepted without any pretense that he really should be going home or didn't want to inconvenience me. We both knew we were going to bed together.

As we were undressing each other, he hesitated and then asked, "You aren't a bottom, are you?"

I grinned. "Not normally, but I wouldn't want you to go home unhappy."

"No, no! I'm a voracious bottom, and I was hoping you'd . . ."

"Say no more, Mr. Smith."

In the nude he was truly stunning. It's trite to say, but his pale skin really did remind me of alabaster. He must have been one of those people who had to avoid the sun. His torso was hairless except for his pits, his pubes, and the wonderful rivulet that flowed south from his navel.

He must have been pleased by what he saw as we faced each other, for his soldier was standing tall.

I held out my hand, and he took it.

"Come," I said. "I've been aching to do this since Jim introduced us."

"You never noticed my erection? I was hard all evening."

I'd tried all evening not to stare at his package.

"Poor thing! Let's do something about that."

Having read this far you are probably thinking that we jumped into bed and began to bang away. That's not what happened.

He gently pushed me onto my back, lay beside me, and began to lick. He started with my ears. I kept turning my head so we could kiss, but he'd grin and then pull away. Moving maddeningly slowly, he lapped at my neck, my pits, my pecs, my abs, my navel. Then he started on my inner thighs. All I could do was lie there and moan as I ran my fingers through his auburn mop. By the time he'd worked his way back to my genitals, which he hadn't touched except to move them out of the way, I was in a frenzy. I wanted to fuck him, but for some reason at that point I wanted even more for him to kiss me.

Perhaps the kiss was some sort of test. Some guys won't kiss when having casual sex. But for me this wasn't casual sex. I already knew this man was important to me, that I wanted him in my life. So, much as I wanted to put a lip lock on him, or have him put one on me, I didn't push. He'd come around eventually, I hoped.

Sure enough, he asked for the lube and a condom and soon we had ourselves ready. After a fuck that started out tender and turned out to be mind blowing, I stretched myself over him and we kissed almost to unconsciousness.

After that, as I lay beside him, giddy from it all, he said, "Little man, you are something else."

I rolled over, propped myself on an elbow so I could look down at him, grabbed his balls and said, "You call me that again, and you'll soon be missing these."

He grinned. "I meant it as a term of endearment."

"Sorry. It's just that I'm sensitive about the height thing."

"Well, you shouldn't be. You're a stud. And," he wrapped his fingers around my now-limp cock, "this amply compensates for your vertical issues."

When I woke up the room was full of light. Squinting, I looked at the clock. It was 11:00. Russ was lying on his stomach, still asleep. I got up, went to the bathroom and got back into bed. I needed to do my weekend grocery shopping, but if necessary I could do it the next day, Sunday. I peeled back the covers and began to lick his elegant ass. I didn't know at the time whether it was lots of squats or just genetics that gave him such tight little glutes, but I wasn't about to let that treat go untasted.

Russ woke up appreciative, and we had another round of sex before showering together.

He left after breakfast because, like me, he had weekend things to do. He came back that night, however and spent the rest of the weekend, during which I learned he was from Cincinnati, where his father was some sort of executive with Proctor and Gamble. He'd gone to the College of Wooster, which is where he played his last football, and thence to take an MBA from the Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve. After that he'd migrated west to Zenith and had worked here ever since.

Russ had an air of relaxed confidence about him, but I sensed almost from the outset that there was a restless energy underneath the calm. He could seem so completely at ease that he appeared to become a part of the chair he was lounging in, one long leg slung over its arm. As I came to know him, however, I could feel an underlying tension even as he treated me to one of the lazy grins that gave me the shivering fits.

He had been the vocalist (and a decent guitarist, he claimed) in a rock band in high school, but these days he said though he occasionally enjoyed classical concerts his passion in music was country, especially Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw. My own musical tastes included classical as well, but my enthusiasm was for jazz, particularly vocalists and piano trios. Of course both of us remembered the rock of the late 80's and early 90's with some nostalgia, just as we tended to sneer at rap and other divagations. We were subsequently to spend many happy hours listening to and arguing about music.

Although no vows had been made, no protestations of eternal love offered, we both soon knew we were supposed to be together. Busy during the week, we spent weekends at his place or mine, often going to movies, concerts, plays. Zenith has a rich cultural life, with an excellent symphony orchestra and a fine repertory theater. Besides that, the University provides many ways to while away a Friday or a Saturday evening.

Our only real problem was that we lived on opposite sides of a fairly spread-out city, and it took the better part of an hour by car to get from his place to mine, or vice versa. And though the Rapid got me downtown easily, its West Side service didn't go within miles of Russ's condo. So we planned our weekend activities carefully to cut down on cross-town commuting. Living separately as we did during the week, however, each of us had to do things like grocery shopping and taking care of laundry and dry cleaning on Saturdays.

That dinner at the Goodmans' had been just after the University's fall term started.

One Saturday afternoon in early November when he arrived at my place for what was left of the weekend, Russ said, "Baxter, I'm getting pretty tired of all this running back and forth."

I felt a cramp in my stomach. "Does that mean you're ready to dump me?"

He grinned. "Don't panic! Of course it doesn't!"

I took the garment bag he was carrying (it held the suit he was wearing to the Zenith Playhouse production Antigone that night) and laid it across the back of the nearest chair. I pulled him to me and rested my head on his shoulder. Which wasn't such a good idea, because when I began to talk I was speaking to his chest.

"I'm glad to hear it. You know, gorgeous, you could move in with me."

He stroked my hair. "That had occurred to me. You don't think it's too soon?"

"Two months might seem pretty quick to some people. But I'd love to have you here every evening, being domestic - or fucking with a frenzy."

"Yeah, but will you respect me afterward?"

"I know what you're getting at, babe, but this feels awfully good to me. I can't help thinking I'm in it for the long haul. But if you have doubts . . ."

"No. My folks might be a little worried, but I'm not." He gave me that lazy, sexy grin and continued, "But, dammit, I'm 30 years old. I've found myself a really good man, and I like the idea of domesticity - and all that fucking you mentioned."

"So you'd consider moving in here?"

"Well, this place is pretty small."

He was right, of course. I'd been putting by money for a down payment on something of my own since I'd come to Zenith, making do in the meanwhile with a place that had a small bedroom, a smaller bedroom, and one bath. The kitchen was dinky and the table was actually in one end of the living room. I stayed there only because of, well, as they say, location, location, location.

He pushed me away from him, holding me by the shoulders. Looking serious now, he asked, "What would you think of buying a place together?"

I took his hand and led him to the sofa.

"Do you want coffee or wine or beer or something?"

"No, and don't try to change the subject."

"I'm not trying to change the subject. But this is, oh god, this is so important. I can't believe you're talking about doing that."

He smiled. "Bax, baby, calm down. Maybe a glass of whatever's open in the fridge would settle your nerves."

I gently shoved him down onto the sofa and went to the kitchen. I came back with two rather full glasses of piesporter which I kept around mostly because I knew he liked it.

"Look," he said as we sat on the sofa, turned so we could face each other, "I think I knew how I felt about you after that first weekend we spent together here. I realize I haven't told you in so many words. I just assumed you knew."

"Oh, God, I've felt the same way. But I've just been afraid to say anything. For fear of spooking you, you know?"

His brown eyes seemed to darken and become more intense as he looked back at me. "Baxter, babe, I'm sorry. I don't want you to be in any doubt how I feel about you. I love you. Honest."

This isn't how I thought it would happen, being told by Mr. Perfect that he loved me. But I wasn't going to mess things up. I took a deep breath and said, "I've loved you almost from the minute I saw you. Do you want a house or a condo?"

That made him laugh. "I think location is the most important consideration. We could look for someplace downtown, like Jim and Helene have, but it would be pretty expensive. I wonder if there's anything available in this part of Fair Hills. It's a nice old leafy suburb, I love the area with the bookstore and the cinema, and with the Rapid it's really convenient for getting to work."

"I'd love to stay in this area. Are you sure that's what you want?"

"Let's find a real estate person and see what's available."

Using the Gay Yellow Pages, we found Larry Carson, who was an agent for a well-known local realty firm. He told us later he sang in the Zenith Gay Men's Chorus. Once we'd explained what we were looking for, he showed us several places. There were a couple of large old two-story brick colonials, but neither of us was interested in doing yard work and gardening or in keeping sidewalks and driveways shoveled. Then one day I got a call at work. It was Russ, who'd heard from Larry. He was excited about something he'd found and made an appointment to show it to us that Saturday morning.

Russ stayed at my place on Friday night, and we met Larry at a row of new two-story townhouses. The developer had purchased several old frame houses from the 20's, persuaded the zoning commission to issue a variance, razed them, and built a unit with six side-by-side condos. The unit Larry showed us was on one end. It had three nice bedrooms, two baths upstairs and a half bath downstairs. There was a great kitchen, an eating area, and a living room with a fireplace that had gas logs. Since it was an old neighborhood, from the upstairs windows, back and front, one saw mostly trees. There was parking behind the units. And there was a utility room with hookups for washer and dryer. That alone was a bonanza for me. After hauling my stuff to a laundromat ever since I'd left my parents' house, I thought having my own laundry pair was nigh unto heaven.

Larry made an excuse to go out to his car, tactfully leaving us alone to talk about the place.

"Do you want to think about this? Or keep looking?" I asked Russ. "It is a bit steep."

"Take my word for it, Bax, it's a good investment. Property in this area is going to keep appreciating, even if there are dips in the housing market from time to time."

"You know how much money I have to put toward the down payment. You've never told me if you can match it. Or whether you have student loans you're paying off."

"Not a problem. I'll match what you have, and that'll be plenty. We won't have any trouble getting a mortgage. I have contacts in the financial community, you know." He grinned, those chocolate eyes making my knees week.

* * *

We were moved in by mid-December. Although we were both eager to spend the holidays in our new home, there was the matter of visiting our families. And introducing our mates.

*For more information about State of Winnemac, see Wikipedia

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Drew, Mickey, Tinn, and Bill for their various kinds of help with this story. Thanks, guys! --Tim