Settling Accounts Ch. 01byKen Nitsua©
NOTE: This story is the second of "The Steelman Tales," and thus a sequel to "Totaling the Balance." However, there are new characters and incidents and it is not necessary to have read the previous story in order to make sense of this one.
PART ONE: WALKING TO WORK
If there were one reason why he would have wanted to end his career teaching at a school in the north, it was the summer weather in Texas, especially now, at the beginning of what was misnamed fall semester. Jon Evans had grown up in New England, where the beginning of school meant the crispness of early autumn, falling leaves and chilly nights. Trudging back into the classroom in the blazing heat of late August, when the cool waters of his backyard pool, not to mention the area lakes, still beckoned, seemed absurd to him even after many years in the Lone Star State. That partially explained his grumpy mood today, on the first day of class.
He was walking rapidly despite the increasing heat of the August morning, a slender but fit man who looked younger than his forty-five years, with dark hair and mustache beginning to be flecked with gray. The distance from his house to campus was long enough to be good exercise if he set a brisk pace. Jon had always walked to school, partly for the workout, partly because it offered him a time where he could be alone with his thoughts.
The real problem was classes starting again at Steelman College meant that Kevin would be leaving in a week. Having him share his house and his bed for an entire summer had been an unexpected, wondrous event in his life. He had always known that the former Steelman student would leave for graduate school at Berkeley in September. Now that the time had almost arrived, though, the reality of their imminent separation weighed heavily on them both.
He avoided thinking of David, dead now for fifteen years, and Matthew, lost to him for other reasons. He was so accustomed to pushing them out of his mind that he did so with ease now. Perhaps, after such a long time, the pain really had begun to fade. There had after all been others since: Kevin, of course, and also Ward...
Jon had reflected some time ago that, with the passage of the years, most of his moral boundaries had fallen away, discarded without much trepidation or regret. Ward Childers had put paid to his rule never to indulge in a workplace affair. He had come to Steelman as a visiting instructor in German--four years ago? five?--hired hastily when Wilhelm "Bill" Mohrer, a longtime Steelman professor who had come to America as a World War II refugee, died one day in May of a heart attack in the closed garage of his house. He had been on his way to commencement, and was discovered that evening by his housekeeper, lying on the concrete floor by the open door of his car, dressed in his flowing academic regalia.
Jon had liked the sharp-tongued bachelor, who had been the head of the languages department forever. He had always suspected that Bill Mohrer was an old queen, though no rumors or scandal concerning him had ever been hinted at. He had gotten his first look at Mohrer's successor on the Steelman faculty when Ward stood and was introduced during the matriculation conference at the beginning of the academic year. This was a ritual all new faculty members had to undergo, and Jon had found the new visiting instructor, in his early thirties and just out of graduate school in California, disturbingly attractive.
The same thought had struck with fresh impact when he saw Ward for the first time in the locker room at the gym. Jon exercised regularly at lunch hour, either using a treadmill or swimming laps in the pool. The younger instructor was obviously also serious about keeping fit. They started greeting each other casually. Ward was friendly, but Jon held back. The truth was, he was hard put not to stare at the German professor's muscled, sturdy body, particularly in the speedos he favored for his aquatic workouts.
It was well into November that year when he started noticing a pattern in their cautious socializing, which had broadened to include an occasional impromptu lunch in the campus cafeteria. At first, he had encountered Ward at the gym now and then, but it seemed to Jon that their meetings were becoming more frequent--at least twice, sometimes three times a week. It always seemed, too, as if they were emerging from the pool at around the same time.
Most of the faculty who used the locker room either took off their suits in the shower, or wrapped a towel around themselves before walking toward the shower area, located off of the rest room. Jon couldn't help noticing how Ward would peel off his trunks or workout clothes first, and walk naked through the locker room, holding his towel by his side, or draping it around his neck. He would frequently stop at Jon's locker and engage him in conversation, so that they ended up showering together. He thought nothing of stopping in front of a urinal and starting to pee while still talking. Jon decided that if he was being invited to look, he would look. He noted that what Ward had in that department was nothing special.
Still, here was a good-looking and pleasant man who seemed to be cruising him. Jon found himself eyeing Ward's crotch when the two met in a hallway or at the cafeteria. Once after doing this he glanced up to find the other man looking at him with a slight smile on his face. He had blushed outright then, he remembered, and started talking quickly about some inconsequential business. He supposed that he must have given away his own interest then or at some other time. At any rate, it was not really a surprise to him, nor to Ward, he suspected, when it finally happened.
It was an unseasonably warm early December, and the semester was nearly over at Steelman. Jon had spent the lunch hour that day preparing a new final in his upper-level Shakespeare class and had missed working out. At twenty to five he realized that it was the last day he could file an expense report to be reimbursed for a recent off-campus trip he had taken. He had rushed off on foot to the main administration building and the business office, a considerable distance. Walking back to his office at leisure, he realized how hot and sweaty the unexpected jog had made him. The gym was near the classroom building that contained his office. Jumping in the shower to cool off a bit before heading home on another hot walk seemed like a good idea.
He greeted the student door monitor and entered a practically deserted gym. Near the end of the semester attendance was sparse, as most students abandoned their workouts in favor of studying for exams, and athletic teams took a hiatus as well. The men's locker room was empty, but he heard the shower going. Jon opened his locker, stripped and took out his towel, soap and shampoo. The lights were on in the rest room, but the shower room was dark--apparently a light had burned out. Jon stepped to the entrance, and then hesitated. Feeling somewhat foolish, he called out, "Hello?"
"Jon?" came the echoing reply. He recognized the voice.
"Ward, yeah, it's me."
"Hey, how are you doing? Looks like a bulb blew, or something. It's a bit dark in here, but come on in, the water's fine."
Hanging his towel on a hook near the entrance, Jon stepped in and saw Ward standing in the semidarkness near a jetting showerhead. "This is a bit weird, isn't it?" he said, keeping his voice light, though he found himself nervous at this unexpected encounter. "I didn't know you swam this late."
"I don't, usually, but I had some extra time today, and I really needed the workout. Feeling kind of stressed out these days, you know."
"I hear you," Jon replied, as he began to turn the shower nearest him on.
"Why don't you use this one so we can hear each other better?"
Jon turned. Ward was pointing at the shower next to where he was standing.
He paused, then decided to throw caution to the wind. "Okay." Without looking at Ward, he quickly turned on the spray, adjusted the temperature and began to lather up.
"Feels good, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does. It's pretty hot out there today," Jon replied, rinsing off.
"I kind of like showering in the dark too. Somehow it's more relaxing."
Jon felt it too--the rushing water, the dimness, and not least, Ward's body so close to his was giving him a powerful sensual charge. He felt his cock rising and found that he didn't really care if Ward saw.
"Would you do me a favor, Jon?" Ward said. "Wash my back?"
Jon turned. Ward was facing him, extending a bar of soap, his eyes wide and questioning in the dim light. Jon had seen that look on a man's face before. He said, "Sure," and took the soap, shutting off his own shower.
Ward turned. Jon's cock took another leap upward as the V-shape of his back and shoulders was revealed. He began to run the bar of soap over the other man's flesh, at first keeping himself at arm's length; then, growing bolder, he moved closer, his hand never stopping, roving up over the broad shoulders, and down almost to where the cleft of his buttocks began. As yet he avoided doing anything overt, concentrating on evenly lathering every square inch. Conversation between them had ceased--there was no sound save that of rushing water.
His hand decided the matter for him. He saw it slip around Ward's body and begin to run the soap over his chest. He moved closer until his cock was almost touching Ward's buttocks. He half expected the other man to draw away, or to turn around and object, but Ward stood silent, unresisting. Jon reached out, put the soap bar in the wall holder and continued to massage Ward's pectoral muscles, running both of his hands now through the wet hair on his chest, making sure to hit the nipples at every pass. Soon Jon abandoned all pretense and pressed up against the other man's back in a wet embrace, his cock nestling in the cleft between his buttocks. Ward's head went back against his shoulder.
"Is this all right?" Jon asked softly against Ward's ear.
"Umm, feels great."
When Jon's hand moved downward to take Ward's cock, however, he felt the other man stiffen. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"It's just that--if I get any soap up my dick, it burns like hell. Can't use it for lube."
"Oh. Well, why don't you rinse yourself off." Jon pushed him gently under the shower. Ward obeyed, turning toward Jon. In the semidarkness he could see the younger man's hopeful yet bashful glances, his cock standing out stiffly in front of him.
When he was finished, Jon said, "You know, there's no soap in my mouth," and kneeling, kissed Ward's thighs and gently tongued his balls before completing the act. He felt Ward's body tense as his cock was surrounded by the warmth of Jon's lips and tongue. After only a few seconds, the other man pulled away.
"Did I hurt you?" Jon asked.
"Sorry--I was getting too close. It feels damn nice."
"Good, just do it," Jon replied, plunging forward again and burying the entire length of the organ in his mouth. He ran his tongue around the head once or twice before he heard Ward's gasps above the sound of the water. His mouth was suddenly filled with warm salty liquid as Ward's hands tightened on his shoulders. Jon let himself swallow the load, and kept Ward in his mouth until he had stopped shooting. Finally he released the softening cock and stood. Ward's chest was still heaving with the intensity of his climax. He managed a smile at Jon. "Thank you," he said.
"Don't mention it. Seems like you needed that, buddy.
"It's been a long time. Sorry I couldn't hold back. It just felt so good."
"Hey, I'm happy when someone enjoys my work," Jon said.
"It was wonderful. I owe you one."
"Yes, you do. And you can pay me back--after we have dinner."
Ward beamed. "I'd like that, Jon. I've been wanting to get to know you for so long. Didn't expect it to happen quite this way, though," he chuckled.
Jon returned the smile. "I've got to rinse again."
So Ward Childers had become Jon's lover, for a few months. Jon still had a few snapshots of him, and even a framed photograph standing somewhere in his house. But of his most vivid memories there were no visual reminders.
Neither of them harbored any illusions about the permanence of their relationship. Ward's appointment expired at the end of the spring term. He obtained another position at a community college in the Bay area, and prepared to return to California.
They were lying in Jon's bedroom one evening about a week before classes ended that spring. Ward had looked at him and said, with typical directness, "I'm going to miss you, Jonno."
He had replied, "Likewise, Mein Herr."
Ward had remained serious. "You've been great. And I'm not just talking about in bed, either," he smiled, "but with everything. You've taught me a lot. I won't forget it."
Jon had dreaded this conversation and strove to keep things light. "You'd better not. I expect regular e-mails, at least until you find your next lover."
He remembered Ward's hurt look. "I'm not that kind of person."
Jon had looked at him and softened. "I know. And I'm still in shock that you wanted me. Ten years older, skinny, can't do the butterfly worth shit."
Ward kissed him. "You know, you sell yourself short an awful lot. How much you want to bet you'll find a new boyfriend before me? I mean, look at all the beautiful guys who walk around this campus."
Jon said firmly, "In all my years of teaching, I've never done anything with a student, and I'm not going to start now."
Their final farewell had been dry-eyed, a fond embrace near Ward's loaded U-Haul in front of his vacated duplex. "Goodbye, teacher," his friend had said as he drove away, waving. Jon had been surprised at how empty he felt, watching him go.
PART TWO: KEVIN
It was ironic that Kevin Kuehlwasser had made no impression on him at first--understandable though, since he had been in Jon's freshman English composition class the same semester he met Ward. A decent student, but not one of the standouts, and consistently late in handing in papers; that was about all he could say about Kevin back then.
It was one day a couple of years after Ward had left when he read in the student paper about homophobic incidents on the Steelman campus. For its small size, the school had an active and at times vocal gay and lesbian student organization, and something they had done had offended some students. Leaders of the organization had been receiving threatening voice mail messages, and posters of meetings and activities were being torn down and defaced with hateful graffiti. The article mentioned a "rally for dignity" on the steps of the campus student union building that week.
Jon read the article then put it aside. While not obsessively closeted, he had never been open about himself on campus, nor had he made himself known to gay students. Before he had received tenure, this had seemed a prudent policy; afterward, he told himself, he just was not a political person. Still, no one could fault him for supporting a rally against bigotry, of whatever sort.
The day of the rally was clear and sunny. Walking toward the student union around noon, Jon saw a small crowd standing in front of the entrance. Someone was standing on the stone steps, speaking into a microphone. To his surprise, he saw that it was Kevin."It took me a long time to find the courage to say what I'm going to say to you all now," Kevin's voice boomed from speakers standing on both sides of him. He stood, calm and dignified, not at all intimidated by the crowd. "But part of the reason I can stand here and say that I'm gay is the supportive, inclusive atmosphere that has existed here on the Steelman campus. I'm asking all of you, as a member of the Steelman Lesbian and Gay Action League--otherwise known as 'LEGAL,' even though we're not, in the state of Texas." He flashed a momentary grin. "I ask you to continue to accept everyone here for what we all are: human beings of worth and dignity."
Applause and whistles from the spectators, mixed with a few jeers, greeted his words. Jon stood silent, impressed by Kevin's quiet composure. Later that afternoon, he dialed Kevin's voice mailbox. When the tone sounded, he said, speaking rapidly, "Kevin, this is Jon Evans. You may remember I taught you freshman English. Just wanted to say bravo for your speech this afternoon. That took courage. I don't think I had half as much when I was your age. Thanks again." He put down the phone quickly, wondering whether he had done a wise thing.
A few days later, as he sat in his office, there was a tap at his partly opened door. He turned and saw Kevin. "Dr. Evans," he said. He came toward Jon and extended his hand. "Your message meant a lot to me. I wanted to thank you personally, not just leave you a voice mail."
Jon shook hands, wondering why he felt so nervous. "I meant it, Kevin."
"I know, and I really appreciated it, especially after those death threats," Kevin grinned wryly, an expression Jon later learned was very characteristic. "I've got to get to class. Talk to you later, OK?"
"Sure," Jon replied, and watched the student go. Some feeling stirred within him for which he instinctively knew he was not prepared, and he pushed it back. But he found himself whistling and smiling at odd moments for the rest of that day.
After that, Kevin greeted him when he saw him on campus. Jon learned that he was a psychology major and planned to go on to graduate research. He also noticed that student members of "LEGAL" whom he had never met now hailed him as if he were an old friend. Kevin must have told people about his phone call. The thought did not upset him; it even pleased him a little.
He and Kevin were not friends, though. They never spent any time together on campus, beyond the occasional chance meeting. He was not enrolled in any of Jon's classes. Yet somehow, as the next school year began, Jon found himself thinking that this would be Kevin's last year. He was surprised at how much the thought depressed him.
After commencement that May, amid the rush and whirl of people in the hot afternoon outside the gymnasium, Jon saw Kevin, in his cap and gown, standing near the main doorway, alone. Wondering why he wasn't surrounded by admiring relatives, Jon went up to him and touched him on the shoulder. Kevin turned and, seeing Jon, smiled.
"Oh hi, Dr. Evans," he said.
"Congratulations, Mr. Kuehlwasser, looking good," Jon said, shaking Kevin's hand. "Would have thought you'd be mobbed by adoring fans. No family here today?
Kevin's smile stiffened, then turned into his familiar wry grimace. "Funny you should ask. My folks are divorced. My dad's out of the country because of his job, and my mom--well, she's remarried, and I guess she had better things to do than come see her son graduate from college. Long story, pretty boring too."
Embarrassed but concerned, Jon said, "Kevin, I'm sorry, I had no idea."
Kevin shrugged. "You couldn't have known. Anyway, thanks for saying something."
"What's in your future?"
Kevin laughed, but Jon thought he detected a wistful look in his eye. "My immediate future? Well, I get to spend tonight alone in the dorm. The guy whose place I'm subletting for the summer hasn't moved out yet. Luckily they'll let me stay a few extra days. Charging me for it, of course."
"Kevin, that sounds awful. What are you doing for dinner?"
"Don't know. Some of my friends mentioned my going out with them--but I don't know if they'll remember, they're pretty busy with their families and all...I haven't told a lot of people I'm by myself, Dr. Evans. I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me," Kevin said, his jaw set.
The words rose to Jon's lips almost without conscious thought. "How about coming over to my house for dinner tonight?"