He was filthy. He'd spent the day digging holes and then planting balled and burlapped shrubs in them. Next he added fertilizer to the holes, filled them, and put mulch around the plants, working all day in a late spring drizzle. The only good thing about it all was that, even working alone, he'd finished the job. Well, that and it had looked good when he'd finished. The boss wouldn't be getting any complaints about this project!

He pulled his company truck into the Cromer Landscaping parking lot and went inside to the restroom, where he washed his hands and arms. Then he grabbed a paper towel and cleaned his glasses. They'd gotten dirty as he worked and then wet again as he walked from the truck into the building. Able to see clearly once more, he went back to the office to clock out.

"Hill!" Ed Johnson, his supervisor, sat behind the desk.


"Dave wants you to come by his office first thing in the morning."

Oh, Jesus! What had he done? "Have I fucked up or somethin'?"

A ghost of a smile crossed Ed's face. But he was expressionless as he said, "Not that I know of. He said to dress in a regular work outfit, so I suppose you'll be coming back here afterward."

"Okay. If he hasn't torn a strip off me, I'll see you tomorrow morning, I guess."

"Right." Ed turned his attention to his computer.

Joe drove his beat-up old truck to his second-floor apartment, the one he rented from Mrs. Brill downstairs, the one the boss's boyfriend used to live in. Joe had been renting a single room up until that time, but when he heard at work that Cox had moved out, he high-tailed it over there to see if it was still available. She gave him the same deal she had given Brody: the rent was low, but he had to take out the trash, keep the grass cut, keep the sidewalks shoveled in the winter, and take care of any minor repairs that needed to be done around the place. He was more than willing to do it. And he had to admit that she'd been understanding the couple of times he was late paying his rent.

He threw his keys on the countertop and, stripping off his dirty clothes, headed for the bathroom.

After a long, hot shower, he put on clean clothes and then had to decide what to do about supper. He didn't feel like going back out in the rain so soon. And he didn't particularly want to order in pizza. That was expensive. Too hungry to fix anything that took a lot of time, he opened a can of "chunky" beef soup, poured salad out of a bag, and finished with a bowl of ice cream in his recliner in front of his little TV.

But he wasn't paying any attention to the program. Although he knew he'd always done a good job for Dave Cromer, he worried. He'd never been called into the big boss's office before. He could only think Dave was going to yell at him.

The story of his life. Never quite good enough.

His dad had left when Joe was seven. Although his mom assured him it wasn't so, he'd always thought maybe the old man took off because he didn't want to stay around and raise a kid. Or maybe there was something particular about him that made his father leave. He'd always wondered about that and couldn't help feeling it might have been his fault. He'd tried extra hard after that to be good, to make his mother happy. She worked as a secretary in a lawyer's office, so he was a latchkey kid. He tried to clean up the house before she came home. When he got older, he'd start supper so it would be ready when she got there. She always seemed to appreciate that. She told him she was proud of him, didn't know what she'd do without her little soldier.

By the time he was in tenth grade he was six feet tall and sporting broad shoulders. The football coach wanted him to go out for the team, but he refused, saying his mother needed him. Somehow she heard about that and seemed hurt that he'd use her for an excuse. She wanted him to make the most of his high school experience.

He never went out for football, but in the spring he tried out for and made the baseball team. He was the centerfielder at Bryant High School for three years, and he had the second best batting average on the team his senior year.

He'd made decent grades, but he'd had to work for them. Neither his academic record nor his athletic ability was good enough to get him a scholarship to any college or university. Yet he and his mother weren't quite poor enough for a need-based scholarship.

He'd started at Colby State, but there just wasn't enough money, so he dropped out at the end of the first term. His mother was sadder about that than he was.

After that came a couple of jobs that didn't pay a living wage. He'd flipped burgers for a while and been a stock boy at a supermarket. But then he'd gotten a job on one of the crews at Cromer Landscaping there in Colby. It didn't pay all that well, but at least now he wasn't depending on his mom to help out. Well, she'd helped him with the deposit on his apartment and with the down payment on the truck. Since then, though, he'd managed on his own. He went back to Bryant every other weekend to see that she was doing okay, to fix anything around the house that needed doing.

And here he was, four years out of high school in a going-nowhere job. He'd learned to do just about everything in the landscaping business, though. After the guys on the lawnmowing crews had gone back to school in the fall, Dave kept him on. Sometimes there wasn't much to do, but Dave didn't seem to mind, so long as he was available. In the fall there were leaves to rake, and mulch and fertilizer to spread so the lawns would get a head start in the spring, and there was fall planting, too. In winter there was often a lot of snow plowing, which, though it was cold and miserable, was a job he was grateful to have.

There were a lot of guys at work in the summer, and although he got along with them, he hadn't made any close friends. That was pretty much his own fault, but it was true, no matter what the reason. They were all wrapped up in their own lives, and he wasn't one to push his way in where he wasn't wanted.

'Fuck,' he said to himself, coming out of his reverie. 'Instead of just sitting here, maybe I'll go to Gridley's and have a beer. At least I can look at people instead of going to sleep in front of the TV.'

He walked since Gridley's wasn't all that far away and the rain had stopped. That way he saved a little gas.

He'd been sitting in a booth for about twenty minutes, nursing his beer, watching some talking heads that seemed to be going on about the young baseball season. He didn't understand why in bars they had the TV on but kept the sound turned down.

The crowd was light when he came in, but it was growing now. He recognized a lot of the regulars. Not that he knew anyone's name. But the faces were familiar.

He was looking into his mug of beer, wondering once more what Dave Cromer wanted with him, when he realized someone was right beside him. He looked up.

There stood a good-looking guy with straight black hair and dark brown eyes. He had on faded jeans and a blue windbreaker with a black tee shirt under it. It was a guy he had seen once in a while at Gridley's, but they'd never spoken.

"Hey," the guy said. "I've seen you here before. I'm Roger Norton. Mind if I join you?"

'Am I coming apart,' Joe thought. But that was a lame old quip and he didn't say it. He wondered why this guy wanted to sit with him. But he remembered he was brought up to be polite, so he said, "Sure, have a seat." After Roger sat down, he stuck his hand across the table and said, "I'm Joe. Joe Hill." He'd always thought that name sounded as anonymous as John Doe, a name for an unknown person or a nobody.

Roger grinned, and suddenly Joe felt warm inside. Whatever Roger wanted, it was nice to have him there.

"Glad to meet you, Joe Hill."

"Um, yeah, nice to meet you, too, Roger." That sounded dorky, but Joe had never been good with words. He was uncomfortable. This guy was a university student. Joe had seen him wearing a CSU sweatshirt once or twice. No way would he be interested in knowing someone like him.

"So, Joe, what do you do?"

"I work for Cromer Landscaping."

Roger's face lit up. "Oh, then you probably know Brody Cox."

"Yeah. I know him." He wasn't going to say more than that because it was no one's business that Cox was the boss's live-in boyfriend. He thought a change of subject might be a good idea.

"So, Roger, I'm guessing you go to Colby State."

"Yep. But not for much longer. I'm graduating."

"What's your major?"


'Oh, great,' Joe thought. 'Like that will give us a lot to talk about.'

"You're interested in acting?"

"Well, some, yeah. But I'm primarily into the tech stuff, scenery, costumes, and especially lighting."

"What you gonna do after you graduate?"

"I'm going to grad school in Pittsburgh, at Carnegie Mellon."

"Sounds cool, I guess. And after that?"

"If I'm lucky I'll get a job with a theater company like the Cleveland Playhouse or something of the sort. If not, I may wind up teaching drama in a high school somewhere."

"Well, good luck. Sounds like you've got the world by the ass!"

"Yeah, I can't complain. It'll be nice to get away from here for a while."


He hesitated for a moment and then said, "Oh, I live with my mom. And she's great! But, well, I imagine you know. A guy doesn't want to live with his mother forever."


"You live with your mother?"

"No, but she's in Bryant, and I go see her pretty often."

"That sounds okay."

"Yeah." He finished his beer. "Let me get us another round."

When he got back to the booth, Joe handed Roger his beer and asked, "How do you happen to know Brody Cox?"

Smiling his "thanks," Roger took a swallow. Joe couldn't help noticing the moustache the foam left behind. Abruptly he realized that Roger hadn't answered his question. He forced himself to raise his eyes, meeting Roger's.

Roger stared Joe in the eye for what seemed like a long time. "I've known Brody since before he and Dave hooked up. There was a time when I thought he and I might . . . ." He left the sentence unfinished.

"You're gay?"

Roger grinned. "Guys that fuck other guys usually are." Then he looked directly into Joe's eyes again. "Is that a problem?"

"Uh, no, not really."

"Now that you know, I can tell you my boyfriend and I have just split up."

Joe wasn't quite sure what to say. He didn't have any experience talking about that kind of thing.

"Sorry. Is your boyfriend, uh, your ex, the black guy I've seen in here with you?"


"What happened?"

"Oh, we're still on good terms. It was great while it lasted, but we knew better than to get too serious. Marcus is going to Rochester to do graduate work at Eastman. And we just figured there was no way we could keep a relationship going when we'd be that far apart."

"Is he in theater, too?"

"Nope. He's a singer. Not all that big a guy, but a bass voice like you wouldn't believe!"

They chatted about this and that for a while. Joe turned the tables on Roger and began asking questions about his life. He was surprised at how comfortably they were able to chat. He found out that Roger had worked in the men's suit department at Dillard's at the Colby Mall. Their paths had never crossed there because Joe didn't own a suit and didn't buy his clothes at Dillard's. Couldn't afford to. He was tempted to ask Roger about his unfinished sentence about Brody Cox, but he decided against it. It was none of his business if Roger didn't want to talk about that.

There was a lull in the conversation, which Roger ended by asking, "Anyone ever tell you you look like Clark Kent?"


"I don't mean the guy on Smallville. I mean the real Clark Kent. The man with the black hair, blue eyes, glasses, and great body. Or, take off the glasses, put you in blue spandex with an S on your chest, and you'd be Superman."

"Thanks, I think. That's better than what some of the guys in high school called me."

"Do you mind telling me?" Roger seemed genuinely concerned.

"Li'l Abner."

"Oh, that sucks! I mean the hair, eyes, and body are similar. But you're not as slow as Li'l Abner!"

Joe grinned. "Some thought I was. But thanks for the vote of confidence."

"So, do you have a guy in your life?"

Joe's eyebrows shot up and he leaned back from the table.

"You think I'm gay?"

"Come on, dude! Are you seriously telling me you're not?"

Joe waited just a beat too long to answer.

"You are!"

"Do I look gay? Do I act gay?"

"Most people would never guess, probably. But I've been watching you in here for months. And I know you're gay!"

"But I'm always alone! I just sit here and have a beer or two and go home."

"It's the vibes, my friend. It's called gaydar." Again, the infectious grin, dark eyes snapping. "Besides, I've also noticed who and what you stare at."

Joe was surprised. He didn't think he'd been that obvious. "I've read about gaydar, but I've always thought it was a crock."

"Trust me. And you haven't told me I'm wrong."

'Well,' Joe thought, 'if this guy has a big mouth, I'm outed here in Colby.'

As a kid growing up in Bryant, he'd had a best friend, Vince. They'd been inseparable from second grade on. When they hit puberty, they did the sort of fumbling around boys did at that age. Then one day Vince had said they couldn't jerk off together anymore. His priest said it was a sin to do it at all, and that it was an even bigger sin to do it with another boy. Besides, Vince said, he was interested in girls now.

Joe had been crushed, forced to get what satisfaction he could from his hand.

And then the summer he was fourteen, Cousin Billy came to stay for three weeks.

Their grandmother in Arizona broke a hip and their mothers were going out to be with her. It was arranged that Billy Kendall, who was a grown-up seventeen and a rising senior in Mansfield, would come and stay with Joe. Billy's father was going to be out of town on business for a week, so it was decided that the boys would stay at the Hill's house. If there was a problem, they could always call Billy's dad on his cell.

Joe was thrilled. Billy had always seemed a bit aloof, but then he was three years older. To the younger Joe he was the epitome of cool.

His mother left, after embarrassing him by kissing him and admonishing him to behave and not give Billy a hard time.

At first Billy had seemed pissed to have to be there looking after a kid who was only going to be a freshman when school started. He insisted that Joe call him Bill, not Billy. But then things thawed in a hurry.

One evening a day or so after their mothers had left, the boys were watching something on television. Joe was stealing glances at Bill. His cousin may have been older, but he wasn't much bigger. Joe had recently had a growth spurt and was now 5'9" tall, only about an inch shorter than his cousin. Bill favored his father's side of the family, with light brown hair, brown eyes, and a slight build. Joe thought he looked great.

"Hey, kid!" Bill said, turning to look at Joe.

"I'm not a kid! I'm fourteen! And my name, as you fuckin' well know, is Joe." His mother, Bill's parents, and many of his own friends called him Joey. But he was trying to establish that he wasn't a kid.

Bill grinned. "Okay, Joe. How'd you like to watch a DVD?"

"What is it?" Anything would have been better than the program they were watching.

"Hang a sec." Bill jumped up, went upstairs, and returned with a disc, which he put in the player. Then he sat down beside Joey, grabbed the remote and pressed the Play button. He fast-forwarded through the opening stuff, and suddenly there on the screen were a naked man and woman. He was sucking on one of her breasts!

"Holy shit! That's porn! Does Aunt Sue know you've got that?"

"No, and she'd better not find out, either." He glared at Joe, who grinned and made a motion as if zipping his lips.

Joe had an instant hard on, but he found he was more fascinated with the man than with the woman. He'd never seen anyone naked except Vince, and he couldn't take his eyes off the man's big dick and, when he turned around, his muscular ass.

Both boys sat there, eyes glued to the screen. Furtive glances at his cousin showed Joey that his cousin was also throwing wood.

"Wow!" Joe said when the woman put the guy's cock in her mouth. He'd heard of blowjobs, and of course guys at school called other guys cocksuckers sometimes, but he'd never actually seen anyone do it.

"What?" Bill asked, eyebrows raised. "Haven't you ever had your cock sucked?"

"Um, no."

"I suppose that means you've never sucked a cock, either."

"Yes. Er, no."

Bill laughed. "You don't have a buddy that you get off with?"

"Well, not that. Not anymore. I mean . . . oh fuck!"

"You want to translate that into English for me, kid?"

He sighed. "I told you, I'm not a kid! I have a friend and he and I used to, well, you know . . ."

"I'm guessing here, but you mean you and your buddy beat off?"

Joe blushed. He'd never talked with anybody about that kind of thing except Vince.


"Used to? What happened?"

"He said it was a sin and he was going to try to find a girl to mess around with."

Billy laughed. "Man, he doesn't know what he's missing."

"What do you mean?"

"I could show you." He gave Joe an appraising look. "Take off your clothes."

Suddenly Joey wanted very much to see Bill without anything on. His cock got even harder.

"But what if someone sees us?"

"Dude, look around. There's nobody here but us, and there won't be for three weeks." He pulled off his tee shirt, stood up, and dropped his baggy shorts. His boxers were showing a nice tent. "Now, your turn."

Excited and scared, Joe took off his tank top and dropped his own shorts.

"Man, you gotta get rid of the tighty whities. Only little boys wear those things! They'll strangle your stuff. Now, drop 'em."

In the next moment, two aroused teens stood there looking at each other. Joe remembered his relief when he saw that his dick was as big as his cousin's. And then his concern when he wondered what was going to happen next. Did Billy expect him to suck on his cock, which was pointing at the ceiling?

Bill heaved a sigh. "You've really never done this, huh?"

"N, no."

"Well, I don't want you practicing on me 'till you at least know what it's supposed to feel like. Sit down and spread your legs."

His cock throbbing now and harder than it had ever been, he did as he was told. A moment later he was chanting "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod! I never thought anything would feel like that!"

Bill pulled off long enough to say, "Try to pay attention, kid. You're gonna have to do this to me, you know."

Joe didn't even bother insisting he wasn't a kid. He was too swept away by the feelings spreading from his cock throughout his body.

Over the next three weeks, Bill introduced Joey to all the pleasures. The younger boy learned about getting his nipples sucked and played with, and of course he was taught to reciprocate.

One day after they'd come back from the community swimming pool, Bill had insisted they shower together. Joe was puzzled when Bill paid particular attention to soaping his butt crack and even stuck a soapy finger in his hole, but it felt so good he didn't complain. Later, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven for sure when Bill introduced him to rimming.

By the time he'd graduated to fucking and being fucked, he'd accepted that he was gay and that he craved sex with Bill, all the sex he could get. And then their mothers returned from Arizona and Bill went home to Mansfield.

For the rest of that summer, he missed Bill, but he stayed busy. He had to take care of keeping the grass cut and he also did lawns for some of the neighbors. Evenings he was often involved in pick-up softball or baseball games at a nearby park. And he came home to beat off thinking about the guys he'd just been with.

But he learned quickly that a fag was something you didn't want to be, so he kept his newfound skills and desires to himself.

When school started, he'd grown some more, and with size in 9th grade comes respect. The baseball, too, helped him be accepted. He wasn't the most popular guy in school, but he never had any trouble getting dates. His size and looks made sure that he could always find a willing girl, and back then he only wore his glasses at home to read. He'd learned that it just wouldn't do to be thought of as queer, so if keeping a straight image meant being one of the jocks and screwing girls, then he would. He loved the baseball and even got so he enjoyed the sex sometimes. But it was never anything like what he'd experienced with Bill.

The two of them got together at family holiday gatherings and managed to have quick, furtive sex on a couple of those occasions, but Bill graduated from high school the spring after he'd spent that time with Joey, and he went off to university and then law school in the East. As Joe often thought enviously, Bill had the brains and his dad had the money. All he had was looks, or so people told him, but that didn't get you anywhere.

When he'd wound up in Higgins, he'd told himself he didn't need to use women for his reputation any more, and it wasn't, he realized, fair to them. So he'd just been something of a loner, doing his job, occasionally bowling with some of the guys, visiting his mother regularly. Not much of a life, but nobody hated him or made fun of him. Besides, he'd be fooling himself to think he had anything to offer. No brains. No talent. Just a body that all the girls wanted.

"Earth to Joe!"


Roger was waving his hand back and forth in front of Joe's face.

"You zoned out on me, man. Where'd you go?"

Joe gave Roger a rueful grin. "Sorry, Rog. I was just remembering something."

"Wanna tell me about it?"

"Not really."

Roger leaned forward, folding his arms and putting them on the table. "So you don't have a regular boyfriend. How long's it been since you got laid?"

Joe blushed.

"That long, huh?" Roger's smile was really nice. He seemed friendly, sympathetic . . . and very sexy.

"Man, don't ask."

"I was just thinking, Joe. I mean, I know we've just met, but would you like to go someplace and make out?"

"Fuck, dude. You don't beat around the bush, do you?"

"I guess I've never been the shy type. Does that turn you off?"

Did it? After years of avoiding relationships, for some reason he wasn't repulsed by Roger's suggestion. This wasn't about a relationship, and the idea of a quick fuck with the hot guy across the table started a swelling in his jeans. "Not really."

"Then let's do it!" He paused. "But there's a problem. I live with my mom. She knows I'm gay, but I can't bring guys back to the house."

Joe realized this was all moving pretty fast. He'd literally not had sex with a guy since the last time he'd done it with his cousin, and that had been years ago. But, dammit, he wanted. Needed. What was he saving it for?

"I've got an apartment near here. It may be a little messy, but we can change the sheets and there's clean towels, and . . ." Realizing how eager he sounded, he shut up.

Roger slid out of the booth and stood up. "Maybe we'll use those sheets and then you can change 'em. Let's roll!"

Once outside, Joe said, "My apartment isn't far from here. I walked."

"No prob. I've got my car. We'll take it and I can drive home from your place."

With Joe providing directions, they were there in five minutes. When they pulled up out front, Roger said, "You live here?"


Roger didn't say any more until they were inside. "This is freaky!"


"I've been here before. This is where Brody Cox used to live!"

"Yeah, didn't I tell you that? Is it a problem?"

Roger put his arms around Joe and licked his ear. "No, stud, you didn't. But it's not a problem."

Unsure what to do next, Joe put his arms around Roger and sighed. They were about to have what's called casual sex, and that, after his long period of celibacy, had him trembling.

"Come on, Clark Kent," Roger said, tugging a belt loop of Joe's jeans, "let's get you out of these. I want to see your Superpackage."

Roger's joke helped calm Joe down a tad. "Wait a minute!" he said, chuckling. "This is my place. Shouldn't I be leading you?"

"Whatever! Just get in there and let me undress you!"

Roger insisted that, in view of how long it had been since Joe had been fucked, Joe should do the topping. Instead of telling Roger about the dildos he'd bought at that place out on the road to Toledo, Joe simply went along. He was so horny he wasn't about to engage in much conversation. He did remember to be gentle, though, and to be sure Roger was properly stretched. He'd had plenty of experience stretching himself. Fortunately he had a bottle of lube in the night stand and Roger had condoms in his jacket pocket.

After their first fuck, during which he made sure that Roger got off too, Joe wasn't sure what would happen next. Roger liked to cuddle, so they lay together, arms around each other for a while. Then Joe asked, "Um, Rog, think you're ready for a second round?"

"Think you can do me again so soon? You really are Superman!"

"Sure. Look! I'm already up. But this time I was hoping you'd do me."

"God! A hunk like you asking me to fuck him! Good thing I've got another rubber. Now, what position do you prefer?"

"Well, I suppose it's kinda mushy, but I'd like to look at you while you . . . ."

Roger reached for the lube and grinned. "You got it! Pull your knees up."

Big hugs to Drew and Tinn for all kinds of editorial advice and encouragement. -- Tim