The Human Condition Ch. 05byjfinn©
I must have dozed off. The answering machine had already picked up by the time I absorbed the knowledge that the phone was ringing. The buzzer beeped and the message started.
"Hi guys," a very familiar low voice spoke out from the box. "It's me. I don't know what you two are up to that has you so busy you can't pick up... Or wait, maybe I do, but let's not go there, okay?"
I laughed softly to myself.
"Anyway, I called to let you know we're going to be a little late. Don't roll your eyes, Joe, you only have to take care of yourselves this weekend. We've got all the kids, plus a couple extra I've never seen before, and both dogs, which are almost more work. Grandma has her yoga class until 9:30, so she can't come over and scare the hell out of them like she normally does either. And to top it off, my darling wife is in the bathroom with morning sickness even though I told her she can't be because she's in her third trimester, which probably wasn't the wisest thing to say..."
I reached for the phone but stopped when I heard Joe leave the bathroom and pick up the hall receiver. He strolled into the bedroom with his hand on the cordless. Half his face was shaved and he still had bed hair and I almost jumped him--he looked so gorgeous.
"Sure, sure," he was saying into the receiver, "let me talk to her."
He winked at me and motioned for me to pick up the phone. I shook my head lazily and he shrugged.
"Hey, sweetheart, how's it going?" He frowned and I sat up. "Your stomach hurts?" He listened and the worry was replaced by amusement. "Even though you know that can't happen in the third trimester."
I rolled my eyes and flopped back down on the bed.
"Well, why don't you try eating some ice cream to settle your stomach?"
"Joe!" I said exasperated. "Is that your idea of sound medical advice?"
He stuck his tongue out at me and walked back into the hall. A few minutes later I heard him hang up. He came back in the room and lay down on the bed.
"Reprieve," he said staring at the ceiling. "They'll be about 45 minutes late, which translates to an hour, hour and half minimum."
"Is she really sick?" I remembered my earlier concern and wanted to make sure I was right to let it go. "I mean we could cancel..."
"She's not sick. You worry too much."
"Oh and you don't."
Joe turned his head and smiled at me. "It's good for her to get out, experience a change of scene."
I snorted. "Watch it. You're beginning to sound pretty new age there, Mr. MD."
"Well," his eyes turned sexy. "I'm a sensitive kind of guy." He leaned over to kiss me tenderly then abruptly changed moods and pinched my ass.
"Come on, let's shower and then I'll make you one of my bean curd and sprout omelets."
"My God," I groaned in mock horror. "Aliens have come in the middle of the night and replaced the man I love with Richard Simmons."
"Never happen. We're a team, you and me; not even aliens could separate us."
He walked out of the bedroom without waiting for my reaction. He already knew what it would be. He was right: nobody would ever separate us. Not that a couple hadn't tried...
The sky was cloudless, the air tangy with the sweet scents of fall and beer. The sun shone down with hard rays, warming my face and hands. It was a perfect day for football. The only problem was: we were losing.
Carl my old roommate and perennial football buddy, moaned in agony as Joe got sacked again.
"Third down," boomed the loudspeaker.
"I can't watch anymore," Carl practically whimpered, than matched his actions with his words and got up. "You want a dog?"
I shook my head. He shrugged and took off trying to beat the half-time mob.
For four years now, we had been watching the Wolverines together. As freshman, far away from home and friends, it had seemed expedient to go to the games together. After a while, it had become a habit and had given us some common ground that we didn't otherwise share. It had been the basis of a friendship that, while I wouldn't call it close, was something I valued.
He had gotten married the previous June to a pretty little blonde named Ashley, who was sassy and funny and I was half in love with her myself. I was surprised and flattered, when he asked me to be one of his groomsmen.
Ash didn't like football, but she had graciously agreed that Carl and I could continue our football affair, as she called it. So Saturday afternoons remained the two of us, up in the stands, yelling 'Go Blue!' and singing Hail To The Victors, regardless of whether the team won or lost.
There was one difference this year. Joe had landed us some killer seats at the 50-yard line. Now, while most of the students were crammed into the edges of the stadium, we sat with the Alumni bigwigs. Joe was so pleased to have been able to do this for us that I never told him I kinda missed the insanity that went on in the student section.
A hand grasped my shoulder firmly.
"Jesus," I said without turning around. "That was quick."
"Mike?" It was not Carl.
I swiveled around in my seat, my mouth suddenly gone dry. There behind me stood Culvert Atchison Montgomery IV, sexy grin and all.
It had been over two months since I'd started my new job at the firm and I'd had plenty of time to check out Cam. Familiarity had not bred contempt. If anything, I thought he'd gotten better looking then when I'd first laid eyes on him. A lot of that had to do with how he acted, as well as the way he was put together.
He was always friendly, always polite when he made a request and grateful for any work that you did for him. He snubbed no one; treated nobody like they were below his notice. He knew everybody's name from the overworked secretaries to the guy who cleaned the washrooms. It was no surprise that I wasn't the only person who'd have jumped in front of him to take a bullet. We probably would have fought over the honor.
My job, as I've mentioned, was research, and I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that some of the research I'd done had been on Cam. No, I didn't do a TRW on him. But I asked around, casually, and I found out as much as I could without risking a reputation as a stalker.
He was 34 years old, divorced, and the father of two kids, a boy 9 and a girl, 7. He and his ex-wife, Elise, were friendly; he kept a picture of her on his desk along with one of the munchkins. Rumor had it that his ex had left him for another guy; but I didn't buy it. I mean, who could she have found that would be better than Cam? He had been raised in Chicago and was from a wealthy family, but had decided to move to Ann Arbor after the divorce.
His sex life was strictly private. Nobody knew anything for sure, but the prevailing theory was that he was still heartbroken over the breakup of his marriage; he even wore his wedding band. Of course it goes without saying I'd of loved to help him out by licking his wounds and any other body part he wanted me to attend to.
But being the realist that I am, I'd accepted that wasn't going to happen anytime soon. Instead I'd been conducting my own quest for a new love, or a reasonable facsimile of that phenomenon. My results though, had been less than spectacular. I was beginning to be afraid that my senior year would be a relatively celibate one. Joe wasn't having a lot of luck in the love life department either, if his bitching could be believed.
Ironic isn't it? Just as we'd realized settling down has some advantages; we both hit a dry spell. But the problem faded as I looked at the ice blue eyes of the face in front of me.
"Cam! I thought you were somebody else." I said inanely and unnecessarily; the man was not an idiot.
"Sorry to disappoint you." But his expression showed how unlikely he thought that was.
"No, no, have a seat."
"Okay, just for a minute," he swung gracefully around me to sit in Carl's vacant spot.
I could feel the heat and strength of his leg as it brushed mine and the faint smell of some kind of spicy aftershave drifted past my nose. I had to restrain myself from sniffing appreciatively. Cam looked around him and raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, a friend of mine is on the team. He got them for me."
He knew about my friendship with Joe? My surprise must have registered in my face, and he answered my unspoken question.
"Pen told me you two were friends."
For a second, my heart warmed. Cam had been asking about me. His next sentence told me that wasn't the case.
"I was telling her about my not so glorious years at Northwestern. I was second-string quarterback. She told me you knew the kid with the golden arm."
"Yeah, not so golden today though," I sighed, though it was as much for my disappointment in finding out Cam was not checking me out, as for the dismal showing the team was putting out that day.
"I'm not sure it's entirely his fault, his blockers look like they've never seen a defensive play before."
I nodded glumly in agreement. Cam laughed and shrugged.
"Hey," he admonished. "Everybody has a bad day now and again."
"Which would be fine, if it wasn't against the Spartans!"
"Ah yes," he laughed, as only somebody who was from out of town would. "The famous rivalry."
"It's not just that," I protested, then grinned at the disbelieving look on his face. "Okay, maybe it is, but you have to understand what it'll do to our ratings. State isn't even ranked this year."
"Cheer up," he squeezed my arm.
I could feel it all the way to my groin. Damn! This guy made me feel like a horny thirteen year old.
"Maybe they'll do better the second half."
I managed to stutter out some reply and he took his hand away which allowed my brain to clear. We continued to talk about the team, and the game. He told me he was with a couple of the partners and their wives, and pointed to some seats about twelve up from us.
Carl came back and I introduced them. Carl joined in the conversation and we argued good naturally about what the Wolverines had to do to pull this one out. Finally, halftime ended and Cam rose to leave.
"I wish I could stay and sit with you guys," he said. "The people I'm with only want to talk about work. It's fun talking football."
"We're going out for some beers later with Lassiter," Carl said. "Ditch the stiffs and join us."
Cam looked at me and I nodded. My mouth was dry again and I seemed to have temporarily lost the use of my vocal cords. Don't be an asshole, I told myself this is just a bunch of guys getting together for some brews. But I almost jumped for joy, when Cam nodded.
"Thanks, I'd like that. I'll have to meet you though, I came with my associates."
Carl gave him directions to the bar. I sat there like an idiot. If I didn't get myself under control I was in for a very long and uncomfortable night.
We lost. Carl and I waited at the gate until Joe limped over to us. He looked beat; he had a cut lip and the beginnings of a black eye. He saw the look on my face.
"Don't even start," he warned, but I ignored him.
"Jesus Joe, those farm boys kicked the shit out of you."
"Fuck you, Mike."
"There you go, wishing for the impossible again."
We walked over to my car. Well, Carl and I walked; Joe hobbled. He really did look all out. I was a little concerned, so naturally I gave him crap until he groaned and slumped in the back seat of the car and covered his ears.
"Christ, why do I put up with this abuse?" He whined. "I could have gone out with some nice young thing that'd give me sympathy, instead of rubbing salt in my wounds."
"Yeah, but she wouldn't have liked it when you got shit faced and threw up all over the place."
I watched his face brighten at the mention of drinking. Don't get me wrong, none of us were really drunks, but this was college and a lot of male bonding is done over a dozen or so beers.
We eventually pulled into a dilapidated tavern about 10 miles out of town. It was our normal hangout after a game. Joe liked a little down time to unwind; so we usually avoided the crowded sports and college bars, though we probably would end up in one by the end of the evening.
We walked in and, as usual, it was only half full and everybody ignored us. We found a table and ordered a pitcher.
About 15 minutes later, Cam walked in. Carl and I hadn't mentioned he was joining us to Joe. Carl had probably forgotten, and I didn't want to seem too eager. Joe looked at me quizzically, as Cam sat down.
"Cam," I said making introductions. "This is Joe Lassiter. Joe, Cam Montgomery, he's a partner at Croft. We saw each other at the game, and we told him to join us."
They eyed each other speculatively. I was amused. Two alpha males meeting for the first time can be very entertaining. Eventually, they relaxed and started to talk. Carl joined in, but I took the opportunity to sit back and watch the action.
It slowly dawned on me that they had more in common than just star quality. Physically, they were the same body type, coloring, hair, even eye color, though Joe's were a warmer blue and Cam's body had the mature musculature of a man in his thirties. Their voices were similar too. Low and masculine with identical inflection and accent; which was reasonable, when you knew they'd been raised in the same area of the country.
There were, of course, differences. Joe had an air of enthusiasm, a joy in life, while Cam was more wary. When Joe smiled, it was open and inviting. Cam's, I saw, now that I could compare the two, was more ironic and world-weary. It made sense, when you considered the years and the experience that separated the two men. Joe, in another twelve years might have exactly the same mannerisms if life and love dealt with him as unkindly as it apparently had Cam.
I shivered as that thought struck home. God, I hoped that wasn't a premonition. No way did I wish that kind of unhappiness on my best friend.
"You okay?" Joe said. "You're kind of far away there, dude."
"Yeah, just felt somebody walking on my grave is all."
Joe shrugged and grinned and went back to arguing with Carl. Cam stared at me, his face briefly mirroring Joe's concern. I felt my stomach lurch, as my attraction to him dug in deeper. Jesus, I thought, freshman year I fell in love with Joe, a straight guy, and now I was repeating history with Cam. Was this my fate, to always fall for unattainable men?
Cam was still looking at me. I wanted to break eye contact, but my treacherous body wouldn't let me. Slowly his mouth curled up in a little, amused grin. Shit, he knew!
It was like he could see into my soul. I felt my face flushing. The noise of the bar receded; the only thing I was aware of were icy blue eyes pulling me in like a tractor beam. At least, when I'd been so hung up on Joe, I'd been spared the humiliation of him being aware of the attraction. Now, I would have to deal with the knowledge that, Cam was not only fully cognizant of my schoolboy crush; he thought it was funny.
"Hey ladies," Carl broke the moment, and I went weak from relief. "It's been fun; but duty and marriage calls."
"What you really mean is, you're going home for some sex," Joe retorted.
It was a well-established fact. Beer made my old roommate horny.
"Well at least, I'm going to get some tonight, which is more than I can say about you sad shits," Carl stood and tossed some bills on the table. "Later..."
He walked away as Joe and I looked at each other and laughed. Cam stared at us, puzzled.
"Watch this," I said to him with glee.
Carl walked out of the bar, with his hand searching his pocket. Through the dusty plate glass window, we saw him stop in the parking lot and look around. Finally, he turned back and walked back into the building, his cheeks a fiery red.
"Mike?" He said pouting.
"Yes?" I had no intention of making this easy for Carl.
"Can I have a ride home?"
Joe and I broke into a roar. Cam realized what had happened and he joined in. Carl just stood and glowered at us.
"Assholes," he muttered.
"Aw," I said in mock sympathy. "Did the little head take all the oxygen from the big head and make you forget who drove?"
"Come on Mike, have some mercy," Joe added. "Take the boy home, so he can get some relief."
We all stood and got ready to leave. Joe and Cam decided to head to one of the pubs down by the school. I was going to meet them for burgers and more beer, after I dropped off Carl.
I meant to do just that; but Ash met us at the door and invited me in. One look at Carl's agonized face, silently begging me to refuse was all I needed to agree to stay for a while. So, it was almost an hour and a half until I caught up to them. Well, one of them anyway.
"What happened to Joe?" I asked Cam, when I finally found him at the bar.
"He found a young lady with a hot tub." He grinned at me and stood. We grabbed a booth.
"Sorry, I didn't know you'd be stranded, I got caught by Ashley, that's Carl's wife."
"No problem, Joe just left a few minutes ago. I thought I'd stay for a while. I figured you'd show up eventually."
"Thanks, it was good of you to wait."
"I wanted to," he looked at me with those incredible eyes and I mentally groaned.
I was not prepared to a have a one on one evening with Cam. It had been hard enough, no pun intended, to sit with him when Joe and Carl were there as buffers, I had no idea how I would handle it alone. I struggled to find a safe topic.
"So," I finally managed to croak out. "How did you and Joe get along?"
"Okay, he's a nice guy."
"He's my best friend."
"He said the same about you," something about that statement amused Cam. "So tell me, how did you two meet?"
I told him, and in the telling I started to relax. It was a story I'd repeated a lot in the three years I'd known Joe. I'd learn how to tell it well, dwelling on the funny aspects and brushing off the real terror and pain that night had given me. But as I told it, I remembered, and the memory made me rub the scar I would always carry on the palm of my right hand.
Cam noticed; he reached across the table and flipped my hand up and stared at it. "The surgeons did a good job," he said softly, still holding my hand in place.
"It works okay, though my handwriting will never win any awards and the scar feels kind of weird," I tried to pull my hand away, but he tightened his grip.
"Let me see," Cam moved his hand to trace the bumpy ridges on my palm.
Even though I didn't have much feeling there; I shivered from his touch.
"It's cooler than the rest of your hand," he slid his fingers up, stroking mine.
My heart pounded in my chest. Could what I think was happening really be? My eyes searched his face. Yep. I may be slow; but I wasn't a complete imbecile. Cam grinned a lazy, sexy smile. He knew I was going to be easy.
"Are you sure?" I asked. I wanted him to spell it out, to make it perfectly clear in my mind.
He obliged. "Sure this is wrong, considering where you work? Sure I'm getting in way over my head? Sure I want you?" He never broke his gaze. "Oh yes, I'm sure." He gave my hand a little squeeze, then released it and sat back.
"I'm starved," he abruptly changed the subject. "Didn't you say this place had great burgers?"
I nodded dumbly. He called a waiter over and got some menus. I managed to pull myself together enough to order. Cam started to chat about work, as if the last few minutes hadn't happened.
Amazingly, I managed to restrain myself from dropping to my knees and sucking his cock. If he wanted to play it cool, then I would too.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. Part of me listened and laughed and responded at the appropriate times, but most of me was consumed with how the evening would end.
I shouldn't have bothered.
We walked out of the pub at a little past midnight. The streets were almost deserted. Most people were at home by now, or still partying indoors. Cam walked with me to my car. I waited for him to ask me to his place; I wanted to ask him to mine. He didn't, and my courage failed me.