Copyright © 2016
by David Lee
by David Lee
With Michael back home again, Joe's life felt a bit empty. His studies, his running, and texting with Michael kept him from obsessing over it, but he could still use some companionship. When Jared Brown, Duffy's buddy, asked if they could eat dinner together in the cafeteria, it was a welcome invitation.
"Hi Joe, I've been wanting to get better acquainted with you. I can't thank you enough for helping Duffy get his life straightened out. That bitch had messed him up just like she was trying to do with you. I really miss him!"
"I'm missing Michael right now like crazy, so I appreciate your company. I suppose I'm pining for him in a different way."
"Uh, do you have feelings for Duffy, or am I being too nosy in asking?"
"Yes and no. Yes, I've come to care about him, a lot; and no, you're not being nosy. I need advice."
"Have you talked to him about your feelings?"
"Um," Jared swallowed, "I was going to when he was here, but I chickened out. I panicked about what'd happen if I told him when he first got here and then he would have to survive two nights in the same room with me if he didn't feel the same. It would have been awkward at best. Then I thought about discussing it before he left, but that wouldn't have worked out very well if we needed more time. Shit! That's not a rational reason either. I was just a friggin' chicken!"
"Hmm, I've tried fricasseed chicken and roasted chicken, but never friggin' chicken. Is it a new taste-treat from the Colonel?" Joe giggled.
"Thanks, I guess I needed your smart-ass remark to lighten up," Jared laughed heartily. "I've been agonizing over this for a long time."
"I can empathize! I've had times of stress, starting with when I fell in love with Michael in high school when he was my coach. I had to try to curb my feelings for him, or I could've gotten him into a lot of trouble."
They sat in silence, thinking for several minutes before Joe came up with a plan.
"Here's a thought," he offered. "Why don't you see if Duffy can come for the weekend? He could sleep in the empty bed in my room. That would solve the problem of sharing a room if things didn't go well."
"But, what if things go the way I'd like them to? Then I couldn't, um, cuddle with him if my roommate doesn't go home; and I don't think he is."
"If it comes to that, I could ask to stay with my future in-laws for a night or two. Their little boy, Noah, would love for me to be there. They've given me an open invitation."
"Wow! That'd be awesome. Thanks! I'm gonna ask him about staying over this coming weekend. You're a great guy, Joe!"
Joe wasted no time in phoning Michael, who agreed that he'd felt there was a spark between Jared and Duffy.
"I've got a crazy theory," Joe said. "I wonder if Maddie found out something about Duffy's orientation, or made a guess and decided to 'save' him by offering her body to prove he wasn't a homosexual. In a weird way, that almost makes sense – 'sacrificing' her vagina for the sake of her religious belief."
"Is she a member of FFJ? Is there a chapter on campus?" Michael asked.
"Huh? What's that?"
"Um, Fucking for Jesus!"
"Michael, you're a VERY naughty boy!"
"Yup, it's one of the qualities you like best about me?"
"Yeah, that's one of your better ones. Hey look, I'm almost back to the dorm. How tired are you?"
"That depends on what you've got in mind."
"I was thinking about Skypejacking," Joe giggled.
"You know my answer about being up for it."
Around 5:30 on Friday, Joe answered the knock at his door to open it for Duffy who had arrived right on time.
"Wow, Joe, I want to at least take you out for dinner tonight to thank you for saving my scholarship and, basically, my whole educational opportunity. If you hadn't intervened, I don't know what I'd have done – certainly it wouldn't have involved a degree from here."
"That's kind of you, but it really isn't necessary. I just did what I'd want someone to do for me in that situation."
"Well, I'm buying dinner, and I'll do more when I can. By the way, do you have any idea why Jared was so insistent to see me? Is he sick? He seemed kinda out of sorts on the phone. I don't mean grumpy, just edgy or something."
"He has been under stress lately, but I think you can straighten that all out while you're here. I know he misses you a lot."
"I miss him too. We were pretty tight when I was here…."
Their conversation was interrupted by another knock on the door. This time it was Jared, whom Joe had also expected.
Jared looked so pale that Duffy was sure he must have contracted a fatal disease. He got up from the bed where he'd been sitting, and embraced Jared gently.
"Well, guys, I'm going down to the lounge so you can have privacy," Joe said, taking his coat out of the closet. "You both have my cell number, so give me a buzz when you're ready. Jared, remember what we discussed about chicken. I don't think we want to order that tonight, 'kay?"
Jared only nodded, as Joe left.
"Jared, what's wrong; are you sick?"
"In a way," Jared gulped.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Yup, just tell me you won't hate me when I tell you."
"You know I could never do that. So what is it?"
"I… I… I love you," Jared sniffled."
"AWESOME!" Duffy exclaimed. "Is that what's been stressing you?"
"Yup. I was gonna tell you when you were here, but I chickened out."
"I was gonna do the same, and I wimped out too. I thought you might send me packing."
"Let's call Joe and go out for steak! No chicken tonight!"
"Is that what Joe was talking about when he left?"
"Yup. I asked his advice before 'ordering' you to come."
"Thank you for doing that! I love a strong man."
"Look at me. I'm still shaking. Do you call that strong?"
"Yeah I do. You were frightened, but you didn't let that stop you from telling me what was on your mind. I call that strength!"
"I love you so much," Jared sighed as he kissed Duffy on the lips for the first time ever.
Duffy responded in kind. Soon their gentle kisses turned more passionate, and they fell back onto the bed, hands roaming.
"Um, I think we should call Joe," Jared grinned when they came up for air. "He was really worried about me."
"Yeah, we can't fool around anyway since your roommate didn't go home," Duffy sighed.
"Joe said we could stay here tonight," Jared told him.
"I don't think I want company," Duffy shook his head.
"He's going to Michael's folks' house. He already changed his bed for us, and packed an overnight bag. We get the place to ourselves."
"Wow! Let's go eat our celebration dinner," Duffy brightened. "And no one gets to order chicken!"
After his phone didn't ring within the first five minutes, Joe had begun to wonder if things between the two guys hadn't gone off as he'd hoped. He was about to start worrying when it began to vibrate. Duffy's number was the one displayed on the screen.
"Yo, this is Joe."
"He loves me!" two voices said in chorus.
Joe chauffeured the couple to the restaurant, and that's the operative word because he told them to sit in the back seat. They didn't object, because it allowed them to hold hands and not pay attention to traffic, or anything else but one another.
True to his word, Duffy paid the bill for dinner. He had worked while going to the community college in his city, and had saved a lot of his earnings by living at home. He had thought that he'd have to make his own way through school for the next couple of years. Now that his funding had been restored, he felt like he could relax his hold on the purse strings a little.
Joe offered to leave the tip, but Duffy wouldn't hear of it, so he backed off. He contented himself with watching his friends' smiling faces as they chattered away excitedly. He could see that both were on an emotional high, fueled by their sense of relief. They had obsessed and fretted over how to come out to one another, and now that was all behind them. He could empathize for sure.
Their appetites were good, though the two lovers ate carefully, avoiding too many carbs, and skipping dessert. Evidently, they didn't want to be overstuffed so they wouldn't be lethargic when they got back to the room.
When they finally did arrive at the dorm, Joe made Duffy and Jared sit in the lounge while he got his things out to take to the Cooper's home. It wasn't long before he came with his overnight bag and handed them a key to his room.
"Have a good rest, and call or text me if you need anything. Otherwise, I'll be back on Sunday evening."
After quick hugs, he departed for the Cooper's house.
"I wonder why he took so long. I thought he had packed before we saw him this afternoon," Jared grumbled.
"Hey, just be grateful that he's giving us a place to, um, get to know each other better."
"Yeah, he's really cool," Jared agreed.
Opening the door, the guys found the room lighted only by six delicately scented candles. The beds were pushed together and turned down from where they met, to the outside. There was a chocolate mint on each pillow, and a note to use whatever they wanted from the fridge.
The guys opened it to find two foot-long subs, and several cans of diet soda and bottles of water.
"This is so sweet!" Jared enthused. "I'm really embarrassed that I grumbled."
"Hey, I'm the only one who heard it, and I'll never tell."
"I definitely need a shower after all the worry I did today," Jared swallowed.
"Me too. I'd love to join you in one, but I guess we should go down separately.
"I think we can go at the same time, but we shouldn't share because there'll be a few people around and we might get caught."
"Okay, let's take the towels he set out for us and go do it. Wow, he thought of everything!"
If any boy in Ames was excited on Friday night, it was Noah Cooper. He had Joe all to himself. Well, almost. Joe visited with Kristen and Phil, but from his position on the family room floor surrounded by wooden toy trains and a pile of Duplo blocks which Noah had unceremoniously dumped. The boy had discovered the joy of building with the larger cousins of Lego, but hadn't abandoned Thomas the Tank Engine yet. So, Joe was busy helping him create train stations and other buildings.
When it was time for Noah to go to bed, he wasn't very happy about it. He'd rather stay up to play with Joe. Joe offered to read him his bedtime story, and that solved the problem. Even though he was just a little kid, he didn't want Joe to think he was a baby, so he didn't fuss when it was time for the lights to be out.
Joe sat up a while to talk to his "in-laws," but they sensed that he was probably tired from his week of school, and made an early night of it. Actually, they had an ulterior motive; they were going to have a bit of quality time before they went to sleep. Fortunately, Noah's bedroom and the guest room were rather well removed from the master suite, so sounds didn't carry that far.
After a full breakfast, Joe played with Noah for a little while, but said he needed to go to the library. He knew that the youngster wouldn't be content to leave him alone if he remained in the house all day. For the sake of his studies, he needed to work without distraction.
On Sunday, Joe went to church with the Coopers. He liked the service and the young preacher. He might continue to go there at times, especially around holidays. He'd have to see what Michael thought.
After lunch, the family Skyped with Michael and Maria so they could have family time. There was even some discussion about late summer nuptials, since the guys were hoping to get married before fall term.
Joe had gotten caught up and didn't have any homework to do on Sunday, but he also didn't want to wear out his welcome. He was trying to think of a polite way to end his visit when he received a message from Jared that Duffy and he would like Joe to come back to the dorm.
Again, Joe thanked his hosts and received hugs from everyone before he left.
When he got back to his dorm, Joe was almost bowled over by the affection he received from the glowing pair who had spent the weekend in his room.
"You're the best!" Jared exclaimed, hugging him from one side while Duffy hugged him from the other. "You gave me the balls to tell him how I felt, and the place for us to celebrate. We'll never forget it!"
"I'm glad to have been of service," Joe made a sweeping bow after disentangling himself from the young lovers. "I hope the room service was satisfactory."
"Everything from the candles to the food was perfect!" Duffy chimed in. "Um, we washed the sheets after lunch and made the beds back up so you wouldn't have to do maid service as well."
"Thanks! I'm happy not to have anything to do tonight other than Skype Michael."
"Before that, we'd like to take you out to eat again," Jared said. "This time I'm treating."
Despite Michael's feelings of nostalgia about leaving his first teaching position, he found himself counting down the remaining days until he could be in Ames with Joe. They would still see each other more in the meantime because of their spring breaks, which, as noted, didn't coincide, so they couldn't go away together.
Joe's vacation came a week earlier than Michael's. He drove home in the Camry the minute his classes were over on Friday. He would spend parts of his days with Grandma, but would sleep at Michael's apartment. Given their status of being officially engaged, they didn't care how others might view the arrangement.
Joe ran with the track team to keep in shape for his competitions, and also to reconnect with some of his old teammates. Mr. Prentice was pleased to have him at school as a living example of how hard work and study paid off. Joe was an inspiration to other poor kids who might not realize that further education was within their reach. Some couldn't believe it, despite Michael's efforts to convince them.
When Joe spent time at his grandma's house, the children in her care loved having him there to play and to read to them. It not only gave Maria a bit of a respite, but provided a male role model for some who didn't have fathers in their homes.
He also enjoyed helping Grandma with meal preparation, and learning to make more of her recipes in the process. He knew that Michael and he were likely to share household duties more or less equally, and he wanted to be able to provide appetizing meals when it was his turn to cook. Someday, he might be the one to carry on her traditions for the next generation, though he sincerely hoped his children would have the privilege of learning at least some of them from her directly. Either way, they were a part of his ethnic heritage – something he was beginning to feel he should embrace more openly.
Ah, the nights were so much better when Joe and Michael could spend them together. It wasn't like they had to have some kind of sex play to make them special; it was the intimacy of bodily contact, the knowing that the other one was there.
Michael and Joe prepared several meals for themselves and for Maria. It was a blessing for her not to have to do anything in the kitchen on some of those days when she was tired from working with little ones.
The thing was, Maria did a lot more than provide food, shelter, and a safe environment for the children in her care. She did her best to further their education as well.
Of course, there was plenty of time for kids to socialize, and learn to play together, but there was also story-time. She hoped to boost the learning of all of her charges. But for the lack credentials from a college, she could have been a preschool teacher.
The week went by rapidly for Joe, but he enjoyed every minute of it. On Sunday afternoon, he packed up to go back to the university. However, he wouldn't spend the next week alone because Michael drove to Ames right behind him.
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