Adam had just stepped out of the shower when the phone rang. He was tempted to ignore it, but not many people had his new number, so this might be important.
"Hey, babe. How are things in Ohio?" There was no mistaking that rumble.
"Brian, it's good to hear your voice, finally! I'm okay. How are you adjusting to California?"
"It's a weird place. They don't call it 'La La Land' for nothing."
"Oh, come on, you haven't been there long enough to know."
"The folks at UCLA have been great. But I gotta tell ya, LA isn't anything like where we were."
Adam chuckled. "I can well imagine."
"So, what are you up to?"
"As a matter of fact, I'm standing here naked. I just got out of the shower."
"Cut that out! With all the eye candy in Cali, you won't miss this scrawny body."
"I will, you know. I miss you already."
"And I miss you. But we agreed . . . . You know what, babe? I've got to get to a reception."
"Oh, I keep forgetting about the time difference! I bet I know what that reception's all about. Your dean or provost or somebody is having a wine-and-cheese 'do' for new faculty."
"Exactly! You also know how much I hate those things, but must needs put in an appearance."
"Tell me about it! I have the same kind of thing tomorrow evening. Look, I'd better let you go. The reason I'm calling is that I've finally got a phone. So I thought instead of sending the number by email I'd give you a shout and see how you're doing. Wanna take it down? Then you can be on your way. But call me soon, okay? We can compare notes."
"I'll want to talk about more than the stupid reception, Bri. We promised we'd stay in touch."
"Yeah, you miss me, don't ya?"
"Man, you know it!"
Adam scrabbled around for a pencil and scrap of paper. He hadn't been in his condo long enough to be well organized, so it took a couple of minutes. Then he wrote down Brian's number, promised to call, and hung up. He wouldn't be the one who failed to call, to let contact lapse.
He was cold. The air conditioning on his damp skin left him with goose bumps. He grabbed a towel and scrubbed his body. Then he began to dress.
"Life is full of endings and beginnings." Christ, Craig, that's trite! But it's true. One of the problems of having a PhD in English is that you recognize your own clichés. At least you didn't think "new beginnings."
Adam sighed audibly. Then he thought, It's good I'm not into so-called creative writing. I'd never make it.
He knotted the tie and adjusted it squarely between the points of his shirt collar.
But the reason for these things is that they contain an element of truth. Take me. My life back there is over. My life with Brian is over.
The two of them had taught at a state university in the hills about 230 miles east of Colby, Brian in journalism, Adam in English. Adam had gone there when he'd completed his doctoral studies and had remained there for fifteen years.
And here I am, he thought, forty years old, ready to make a new start, career-wise at least. It'll be lonely without Brian. We agreed we'd both move on, but that's going to be hard.
He slipped on his blazer, checked the pockets of his chinos, and left the condo, making sure the door locked behind him. He took the elevator to the garage in the basement, got into his just paid-off Miata, and programmed Dean Stockton's address into his Garmin.
If he'd known the dean lived so close he'd have walked. To make matters worse, he had to park in the lot of the physics building, a block away. Obviously the closer on-street spaces had been taken by those who arrived on time for the 4:00 reception for new faculty in Colby State's College of Arts and Sciences. It was 4:25. So he'd be fashionably late. . . .
The dean's house was a two-story red-brick Georgian with a white portico and columns. Green shutters flanked the symmetrically-arranged windows. The whole thing would have looked more appropriate in Virginia than in northwest Ohio. Richmond in Colby County.
In the foyer a table had been set up to the right of the door. Behind it sat an attractive young woman, a student obviously, all shiny hair and perfect teeth. On the table were a half a dozen name tags.
God, he hated name tags! But no reason to take it out on her.
"I'm Adam Craig," he said, returning her smile.
"Hello, Dr. Craig." She handed him a name tag. "Would you mind putting this on? Dean Stockton says it helps at these affairs where people don't know one another."
Silently giving the girl full marks for knowing the difference between "each other" and "one another," he smiled and put the tag on the left lapel of his blazer.
When he stepped from the foyer into the large room to his right, he was greeted by the Dean, who peered at his name tag and then called him by name.
"Ah, Dr. Craig. Welcome. Glad you could make it."
As if there were any choice, Adam thought.
"It's nice to be here," he said.
He was introduced to the dean's wife, who gave him an appraising look as they shook hands, and was then left on his own. He moved slowly toward a table where a young man in black trousers, a white shirt, and a black bow tie was dispensing sherry in plastic cups.
It figures, he thought.
He hadn't had time to investigate the munchies before he heard a voice behind him. "Adam, I was beginning to wonder about you."
He turned to see his department chair. Although he made no claim to expertise in women's fashions, he thought Donna Kasmaryk looked great. She was wearing a tan two-piece outfit with a dark green blouse. Her straight auburn hair looked as if she'd just come from the salon. He envied her the hair. If his could have been auburn instead of carroty red, straight instead of curly, he'd have been happier with the way he looked.
"Hello, Dr. Kasmaryk. A friend called just as I was getting dressed, and that delayed me a little." He wasn't about to tell his new chair that he'd been talking with his former lover and that he'd been naked at the time.
"No matter. Those things happen. So, I assume you've met most of the new faculty at the orientation sessions earlier this week. But perhaps you can get to know some of them a little better this evening." She paused, smiled, and asked, "Are you all ready for classes to begin Monday?"
"Rarin' to go!" he said. At least he'd rather be in class than standing around like an extra on a movie set.
His boss moved away, leaving him to look around the room. He did indeed recognize several of the people in the room as being newcomers like himself, people he'd met at the orientation sessions for new faculty. Several of them looked as lost as he felt.
He took a sip of the sweet wine. Awful! He wasn't fond of sherry, and this was certainly not imported from Spain.
Someone next to him chuckled.
"You don't like the dean's sherry?"
He turned to see two men. It was apparent that they were a couple, both fiftyish.
The taller of the two was, like Adam, wearing a navy blazer, blue shirt, and striped tie. But his trousers were a lightweight gray flannel, and he was wearing very shiny plain-toe black oxfords. About 6'2" with short dark hair and green eyes, he had the spit-and-polish look that suggested he was ex-military.
The other man, a couple of inches shorter, was wearing a tan sport coat over dark brown slacks with a blue shirt open at the collar. He was wearing cordovan loafers. His curly blond hair showed some gray on the sides. He wore a small gold stud in his right ear and gold-rimmed glasses. The stud in the right ear seemed to confirm Adam's first hunch about the two.
"Amontillado it's not," he said in answer the question.
"Well," the shorter man said, smiling, "the grapes for this are grown on an island in Lake Erie, and the winery itself is down in Cincinnati."
"Oh!" He couldn't think of anything else to say, so he peered at their name tags.
"Sorry," said the more talkative one, "I'm Jake Handley, history. And this is my partner, Jim Grant, criminal justice."
"Hi." He shook hands with each. "I'm Adam Craig, in English. Are you both new?"
"No," said Grant, "I'm the newbie. Jake's just along for moral support."
He was trying to think of something intelligent to say when Jim continued, "We've put in our appearance. Why don't we circulate for a few minutes, and then you come back to our place? We have beef stew in the crock pot, and I'm sure we can come up with something better to drink than the dean's sherry."
"Man, I'd really like that! I don't have my kitchen fully stocked yet, and I'm tired of restaurant meals. So, if you're sure I wouldn't be intruding . . . ." Adam was surprised that he'd accepted the invitation with such alacrity, but he had been immediately drawn to Handley and Grant. Not only were they good looking and friendly, but he also sensed that there was no shred of phoniness about them. Academe had more than its share of poseurs, he'd always thought.
"We wouldn't have asked if we didn't mean it, Adam," Jake said.
Even if these guys were ten years older than he was, they were both seriously sexy.
Agreeing to split up, the three moved about the room, saying hello to people. Adam made eye contact with and smiled at the dean, who, faithful spouse ever at his side, was greeting a couple of super-tardy arrivals. Adam spoke again briefly with his department chair before fading into the crowd and thence to the foyer, where he met up once more with Jim and Jake.
Noticing as they left the Dean's house together that Jim Grant walked with a limp, he wondered whether it was the result of a war wound.
"You can follow us, if you like," Jake said.
"If you'll give me your address, I can use my Garmin."
"I hear those things don't always work too well in rural areas," Grant said.
"In that case, Jimmy, why don't you ride along with Adam? You can show him the way."
They agreed that was the best idea. Adam had expected to have to walk slowly as they went to his car, adjusting to Grant's limp, but the taller man's legs were considerably longer than his, and they fell into a comfortable pace.
They didn't talk much in the car, though Jim pointed out some local landmarks.
The house to which they drove was a large old frame building which appeared to be in excellent condition. Set well back from the road, it looked as if it had a large addition along one side.
Jake, whose car had been parked near the Dean's house, was already there when they arrived. He opened the front door as Adam and Jim approached and stood back for them to enter.
"Better let me go first," Jim said to Adam. "I have to grab the beast."
The beast turned out to be a very happy beagle, who was wagging his whole derriere and whimpering.
"Adam," Jim said, "this is Archie. Unless you want a friend for life, you should probably ignore him."
"Oh, I can't do that," Adam said, stooping to pet the dog. After he and Archie spent a couple of minutes making friends, he stood.
"Go to your bed, Archie," Jim said. The dog gave him a sad look but dutifully trudged off.
Soon Adam found himself ensconced in a comfortable leather-covered easy chair with a glass of bourbon on the rocks. Taking a sip, he said, "Oh, this is a damn sight better than the dean's sherry!"
Jim sat with him in the big room off the kitchen, a drink in his hand as well. After warming some crab dip in the microwave, Jake put it on a tray with a bowl of pita chips and carried it to where the others were sitting.
"Adam," Jim said, leaning forward slightly, "we wouldn't want you to misunderstand the situation here." He glanced at his partner and seemed to frown slightly. "We're not coming on to you, or anything of the sort."
Surprised at this statement, Adam found himself uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
"Oh, I, uh, hadn't really thought about that."
Jim smiled, looking again at his partner. "Good. Jake and I recognized that you were 'family,' and we thought you looked as uncomfortable at the dean's house as we were. And we also thought we'd like to welcome you to Colby and to Colby State and, perhaps, get to know you better."
So they'd known at once that he was gay! Before they'd even spoken to one another?
"Before I left my place I looked in the mirror, Jim. There was no rainbow on my forehead. And I don't think I was sashaying around the dean's house, either. How did you know?"
It was Jake who answered. "You aren't obviously gay, if that's what's worrying you, Adam."
"I really don't give a damn who knows I'm gay. I just didn't think I was sending out signals."
Jake chuckled. "It's a matter of vibes, I guess. A lot of people discount 'gaydar,' but sometimes you just know when another guy is one of us."
Adam relaxed. "Okay, sorry. Didn't mean to get feisty, though my ex always insisted it went with the red hair."
He looked at his hosts. Though older, both were in good shape, both handsome, both, he admitted, sexy. He hoped he looked as good ten years from now. But then, he told himself, I was never as good looking as these two guys. From the way the two interacted, the way they looked at each other frequently, sending and picking up little signals, he could tell how devoted they were. And he thought of Brian and what they had once had. What they might still have if the pulls of their careers hadn't been so strong, if they hadn't both disliked the place where they were teaching so much - if they hadn't let complacency turn to neglect. So he hoped Brian would be successful and happy in LA, hoped he'd find someone new.
And he couldn't help wishing for the same for himself in Colby.
Jake stood. "Excuse me, guys. I've gotta go check on things in the kitchen. Adam, don't tell Jimmy all about yourself while I'm not here." He grinned and left them
The kitchen was actually at the end of the great room, separated from it by a bar. But it was far enough away that conversation between the two areas would have been a bit awkward.
"Can I do anything to help?" he asked.
"Thanks, but it's all under control," Jake said.
"In that case," Adam said, turning to Jim, "tell me a little about yourself. I'm guessing you're ex-military."
Jim smiled and shook his head. "Not in the sense you mean. I was in the Army toward the end of the mess in Nam. But I've been a policeman here in Colby most of my adult life."
"Oh. Are you from around here originally?"
"Uh huh. This is the family place. I've modernized it a bit and added on, but except when I was in college and the service, I've always lived here."
"But you're not a cop, uh, policeman any more?"
Jim grinned. "It's okay. We call ourselves cops. I had an accident about a year ago, which required an extensive convalescence. After that I was moved to a desk job. I'd been a working detective until then. After some unpleasantness in the department, I took my retirement. And now I'm starting out as an associate professor of criminal justice at Colby State."
Jake, who'd come in to check on their drinks, perched on the arm of the sofa and said, "There's a lot more to the story than that. He's giving you the edited version." Obviously proud of his partner, he continued, "Jim was Chief of Detectives and then Chief of Police for a while before he retired."
"I'm impressed," Adam said. "So Colby's getting a highly-qualified person in criminal justice."
"I'm scared to death at the idea of teaching," Jim admitted.
"We all were, at first," Adam said, looking to Jake for corroboration. Jake didn't notice, however, because he was on his way back to the kitchen.
So, Adam thought, Grant's military look comes from his being a policeman. And the limp isn't from a war wound but from some sort of work-related injury. That sounds like an interesting story, but I'd better wait until I know them better before I ask about it. And he definitely wanted to know these guys better.
During dinner Adam asked about the gay scene in Colby.
Jake smiled and looked at his partner. "Shall we tell him about Nellie's? And the Colby Queers?"
Jim grinned and nodded, inviting Jake to continue.
"Okay, we've got one gay bar, Nellie's, and it does a good business. The climate for GLBT people in Colby has always been more or less live-and-let-live. There were some highly placed homophobes in the police department until recently, but, though they made things difficult for Jim and a couple of others on the force, they didn't run around bashing the rest of us."
"Sounds as if it could be worse."
"Uh huh. As I said, it's not bad. We'll have to introduce you to Nellie's - and our friends - soon."
"Great! Now. The Colby Queers?"
Jake chuckled. "Yeah. The number fluctuates, anywhere from a dozen to twenty of us, who get together two or three times a year depending on when the guiding lights decide we should."
Jim grinned and nodded. "I know you haven't been in town long," he said to Adam. "Have you heard about Adrian Lynch and Tom Nielsen?"
"I'm not sure about Lynch. But I've met Tom Nielsen. I think he's some sort of big wheel in the condo building where I live."
"Oh, you live there, do you? I think Pinkie's the guy who supplied the money to have that building put up. It's a nice place."
"Sorry. Tom's middle name is Pinkerton, so everyone calls him Pinkie."
"Well, Nielsen has one of the two penthouses on the top floor. The rest of the building has four condos per floor, so mine's about half the size of his - and the other one up there."
"The 'other one up there,' as you put it, belongs to Adrian. Those two have been a couple for a while now, and it looks as if it might last."
Adam had the impression there was more Jim could have said, but he didn't want to press him. "The name Adrian isn't all that common. Is he connected with the fancy restaurant downtown?"
"Yep. He manages it for his dad. He's Adrian, Jr. But the old guy has pretty much retired, so it's really Junior's place now. I hear he owns a restaurant in Detroit, though Jake and I've never been there."
"And these two, Nielsen and Lynch, do what? Organize the Colby Queers?"
Jim chuckled. "Adrian's the organizer. Pinkie pretty much just goes along. But they occasionally throw a party for a cadre of gay guys and any newbies they can drag in. It's a mixed group. Several CSU faculty members, but there are a couple of guys in the county government -- one of them's a published novelist, by the way -- the head of a local landscaping company and his partner." He grinned. "A really hot ex-Marine."
"Watch it, there, Grant!" Jake said, obviously trying hard not to smile. "You're taken, and so is Brody Cox."
All innocence, Jim said, "I just said he was hot. And he is. A real hunk." Then he smiled. "But you know I love you best."
Jake nodded and returned the smile.
Adam could feel the affection between his two hosts and once again thought how attractive they were. He tried hard not to imagine them in bed.
They were in the great room having plums in port with coffee a while later.
"Jake, Jim's told me a little about himself. What about you? Are you a Colby native, too?"
Jim and Jake were sitting in easy chairs facing each other at right angles to the sofa where Adam was sitting. Jake leaned forward and put his bowl on a coaster on the coffee table.
"Nossir. I was born and grew up in Tampa."
"How'd you wind up in Ohio?"
"Hated the Florida summers. Went to Northwestern and stayed there for all my degrees. Was hired here right after I got my doctorate. So I feel almost like a native. I've been here nearly 25 years."
"What's your specialty?"
Jim sighed. "The inevitable question when academics get together, I'm learning."
"Yes, I guess it is. Do you mind my asking?"
"No, sorry. I'm just new enough to all of this that I find it fascinating. It's like being plunked down in a different culture."
"I suppose it is." He turned and looked at Jake to see if he was going to get an answer to his question.
"Twentieth-century British, with emphasis on the first half of the century."
"With special emphasis on the period between the two world wars, to be exact," Jim added, as if he'd heard it all before.
"Okay, I promise not to ask about your dissertation." But he wanted to, since both he and Jake were interested in the same period.
"Thank you," Jim said, smiling. "Would anyone like refills on their - oops, pardon me Adam - his coffee?"
"Hey, I'm not the grammar police. But I don't need more coffee, thanks."
"How about you, babe?" Jim asked, looking at Jake.
"I'm good, too, thanks. And now it's time to grill Professor Craig."
"Jake," Jim said, with a hint of warning in his voice.
"I really don't mind, Jim. Ask away, Jake."
"You sure? We both want to get to know you, however delicate my partner is pretending to be."
"If it would be easier, Adam," Jim said, "you could just tell us a little about yourself and Jake wouldn't have to play twenty questions with you."
Adam took the last swallow of coffee and set the mug on the coffee table.
"Okay. I was born in Ohio. You ever heard of Westerville?"
"Sure," Jim said. "That's just outside Columbus. Otterbein College is there. Did you go to Otterbein?"
"No, but I didn't venture too far from home. Went to Denison. Then a bit further afield to UVA in Charlottesville for my grad work."
"Damn! Good schools! I'm impressed," Jake said.
Adam cursed his fair skin, knowing he was blushing, and looked down.
"What did you do after you got your PhD?" Jim asked.
"Got a job offer in Morgantown, and I've been there ever since."
"Your special interests?" Jim asked.
"See, Jimmy, now you're doing it!" Jake crowed. "But I know the answer to that one. See, I read the memo the dean sent out about the new Arts and Sciences faculty. Dr. Craig specializes in the Lost Generation. He published a book some years back on Louis Bromfield and has just recently published one on Mark Stearns, plus a string of articles on various novelists of that period." He turned to look once more at Adam.
"And how did Colby State manage to lure you here?"
"For one thing, WVU already had a Lost Generation person. And as long as she was around, I'd never have been able to teach graduate courses, and only occasional undergrad courses in my area. CSU not only offered me a solo position with regard to early twentieth-century American lit, they offered me more money, too."
"Great! Good for us!" Jake said.
Jim nodded. "But you were there for how long? Fifteen years? Leaving must have been a bit of a wrench."
"Yeah, it was." Adam decided to be up front with these guys since he felt so comfortable with them. "But I was in a relationship that had sort of fizzled out. Brian, my ex, got an offer to go to UCLA, and we decided we both needed a fresh start."
"Oh," Jim said. "That must be tough."
"You know, I'm sure we did the right thing. But I still love him."
"Though the bloom is off the rose?" Jim asked.
Remembering his earlier thoughts about clichés, Adam smiled and nodded. "As I said, I love Bri, but we're not in love any more."
"Well, we're glad to have you here," Jake said. He glanced at Jim and asked, "Anyone for a brandy?"
Not wanting to overstay his welcome, Adam hesitated. Then he decided it couldn't hurt to stay a while. It was only a little after 9:00.
The conversation over brandy turned to getting Adam plugged in to the Colby community. He asked about their primary care physician, their dentist, their ophthalmologist. Jim left for a few minutes and came back with a piece of paper on which he'd listed the names and phone numbers of the doctors they went to.
"Oh, while I'm at it, I'd like to have some bookshelves made. I want to fill one whole wall of my study with shelving. Got any suggestions?"
"You looking for something inexpensive?"
"Probably not. I'd want a custom job. Glass fronts on some of them."
Jake raised an eyebrow. "Jimmy, I do think Professor Craig is a collector."
"Ah, yes. That would explain the glass fronts."
"I have a small collection. But you won't want to get me started on that."
"Let me guess," the ex-detective said. "Your field is the Lost Generation. You wouldn't collect first editions, would you? There must be some around."
"Spot on, Sherlock," Adam said, grinning. "First editions from that period are less expensive than, say, those from the eighteenth century, but I still have to shop carefully and force myself to be patient."
"I've got a guy in mind for your shelving," Jake said, "but you may have to be patient about that, too."
"Who?" Jim asked.
"Oh, you know, that young friend of Dave Cromer's. I hear he does beautiful cabinet and furniture work, but he's 'booked up' for months in advance."
"If he's good, I'd be willing to wait."
"Tell you what," Jake said. "Give me your phone number and your home email, unless you'd like me to contact you via campus email. I'll call Dave soon and see how you can get in touch with . . . "
"His name's Micah," Jim prompted.
"Yeah, that's it! Micah."
"I have a mnemonic device: I think of Formica and a cabinet maker, hence Micah."
Both Adam and Jake chuckled.
"I'd appreciate knowing how to get in touch with him."
Jake handed him a pen and a small note pad, on which he wrote his home phone and email.
A while later Adam took his leave. Both his hosts hugged him and said they'd have to get together again soon.
"Do you know how to get home?" Jim asked.
"I think so."
"Well," Jake said, "just turn right at the end of the driveway and you'll wind up back in Colby."
"I suppose I can't get lost if it's that simple."
He didn't get lost, and that was a relief. He'd have been embarrassed if he'd had to use the Garmin, even if he was the only person who knew.
Back in his apartment he was happier than he'd been in a long time. Colby didn't seem to be so foreign, wasn't such a lonely place. Adam liked Jim and Jake and was looking forward to meeting their friends. He was also interested to know that one of the "Colby Queers" group was a published novelist. He wondered what sort of thing he wrote or whether he'd ever heard of him. He'd have to ask about that.
After he'd taken off his clothes and brushed his teeth, he sat, naked, at his PC to check his email one last time before going to bed.
The only item in his Inbox was a monthly circular from Biggs and Lucarno, a rare and used book dealer from whom he'd bought a Bromfield a while back. He had exchanged several emails with Tony Lucarno, the proprietor, and they had talked once on the phone. There was nothing of interest on the current list.
Wait a minute! His shop is in Ann Arbor. That can't be too far away! Maybe I could run up there and check it out one of these days.
Since leaving the house he and Brian had shared, he'd not slept well. It just wasn't the same, being in an empty bed. Even though their sex had cooled off for some reason neither understood, Bri was a cuddler, and Adam missed that.
He poured himself a rocks glass half full of Jack Daniels and drank it. Then he brushed his teeth and went to bed. The whiskey, along with what he'd drunk at Jake and Jim's, insured him a good night's sleep.
Thanks, as always, to Drew, Tinn, and Mickey. -Tim