“An escape, that’s what you need,” Jericho said, pointing his finger at me as we stood in the living room of the small townhome he shared with Pascal and, often, me.
“What?” I said, yawning and scratching at my head. “Sorry?”
“You’re tired all the time and stressed. Thank God, I give you weekly examinations, which do help, but, honestly, Scott, you need to get out of this city for a few days… Maybe a week.”
I mean, he had a point.
“A vacation? In the middle of term?” It didn’t seem feasible.
“Why don’t we go camping?” Pascal suggested from the couch, where he sat scrolling on his phone. He didn’t look up.
“Maybe in the spring?” Pascal said. “That’s only a few weeks away.”
“Hmm. Maybe,” I said. Term would be over at the end of April, but I’d already registered for a couple of classes in May and June to bump up my professional qualifications. “How about July?”
“Sure. It would be an inexpensive way of getting a break,” Jericho concurred. “And being out in nature might be nice for a change.”
I hadn’t gone camping in a very long time. My memories were…mixed. I quite enjoyed sleeping in a bed these days. A night on the hard ground would not bode well for my joints. Also, how could we get up to anything interesting in a tent? The idea might have appealed to me when I had been Jericho’s age, but I didn’t feel up to it now, even though it had been Pascal, who was closer to my age, who’d made the suggestion.
“Duke and Julius have a cottage in Quebec,” I said. “They don’t use it every weekend.”
Jericho and Pascal looked at each other and shrugged.
“It’s near Wakefield,” I continued. “I’ve never actually been, but I’ve seen pictures. Looks pretty nice up there.”
“Is it rustic or something fancy?” Jericho asked. “I wouldn’t mind roughing it a bit.”
“It’s rustic. The view is incredible, but the house isn’t fancy, except for some windows on the back, which were upgraded to take advantage of the outdoors. It’s on the river, and there’s a firepit and a big deck.”
I sincerely hoped Duke could rescue me from three days in a tent in God knows what kind of weather. There weren’t any other two people I’d rather camp with than Jericho and Pascal, but I would prefer walls and a roof to surround me.
“Sounds cool,” Pascal said. “Sign me up.”
“Sure,” Jericho responded, “if it’s okay with Duke and Julius.”
He moved closer and circled me with his arm, gazing at my lips and licking his own.
“I wouldn’t mind a little R and R in a cozy little cottage in Quebec with my favorite professor.”
I grinned, planting an eager kiss on his familiar lips. “Mm-hmm. Me neither.”
“Same,” Pascal murmured from the couch. “I like the idea of a cottage over a tent if you can fix it, Scott.”
“I will do my very best,” I said, kissing Jericho again then licking his ear before I backed up and nodded with satisfaction. “Gotta go. Call you later?”
“You’d better,” Jericho said, blowing me a kiss.
“See ya,” I said to Pascal, who waved absently as I stepped out of the townhouse, briefcase in hand, ready to face another day of teaching.
* * * *
It was my career and I loved it, but lately it had taken an unprecedented toll on me. The effort I put in every day, the care I took with my lesson plans and the after-hours support I gave my students was something I was proud of. I couldn’t imagine getting by with putting in the minimum amount of effort, although several of my colleagues managed. But those colleagues had kids and spouses to attend to and—
I stopped dead in the hallway near my office as I recalled that, although I didn’t have an official spouse, I had gained two partners over the course of the year and did not have as much free time as I’d had before I’d met Jericho and Pascal at the Halloween party at Sonny’s last October. It occurred to me as I resumed walking that perhaps I did need to make some adjustments, considering I had more demands on my time.
My students were important to me but so were my two boyfriends, and the relationship we had cultivated and nurtured was vital to my mental and physical health.
As I rounded the corner, I was greeted by a student waiting outside my office door, holding two coffees. Did I dare hope one of those coffees was for me?
“Good morning,” I said with a smile. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic was crazy.”
“No worries, Professor Vernier. I got you a coffee.”
I keyed us into the small, cluttered space and gave him a glance of gratitude. “Thank you, Connor. I hope you’re not trying to get a better grade.”
He laughed. “Not with coffee, sir.”
He waggled his eyebrows and I laughed.
“Seriously, I would like some clarification on an assignment. I figured you’d be able to help me better if you were, you know, awake.”
I took the paper cup from him and popped the lid as I sat in my comfy chair and gestured for him to take the other one.
“Two milks and one sugar, right?”
“You got it. How did you know that?”
He blushed. “There’s a chart on the college Facebook page. It has all the profs’ coffee preferences. I have no idea where the information came from, but it’s a great reference.”
I blinked. “That’s…both alarming and ingenious.” I took a sip. “Ah. Thank you. This helps more than you know.”
He nodded, adjusting his glasses. “Are you okay, sir? You seem to be struggling lately—like, to stay awake while you’re teaching.”
I put my head in my hand for a moment, embarrassed, then tilted my chin to look at him. “Oh God. Is it that obvious?”
He laughed. “Well, it’s not like it isn’t something we’re all familiar with, as students. Normally our professors are more rested than us. I don’t mean to pry, but I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
I looked the kid up and down. Connor was about five foot six and had a helix piercing and a tattoo of a yin-yang symbol on the inside of his wrist. He was one of my best students and didn’t make a habit of asking for extra help.
“That’s very kind of you, Connor. I appreciate your concern. The fact is, I, uh, used to be single—and now I’m not. Finding the time to do everything and get the rest I need, is, um, proving to be a challenge.”
“Oh.” He grinned. “Hard to get your rest. I get it.”
I blushed. “Well, you know, I—”
He shook his head and held up a hand. “You don’t have to explain, sir. I get it. We did wonder.”
“We? What do you mean, we?” I said, taking another long sip of the delicious hot beverage.
Connor cleared his throat. “Well, uh, me and Sarah and Justin. We saw you with a couple of cute guys downtown a week ago.”
“Professor!” he said with mock indignation. “The language.”
“I’m sorry. Dammit, I forget you students are out and about in this city. I mostly only encounter you here.”
“I don’t mean to invade your privacy. But, just so you know, we think it’s great.” He scratched at his head and widened his smile. “We have a bit of a bet going, actually.”
“Yeah. On which of those guys is your boyfriend.”
Oh shit. This time I didn’t curse out loud, but I was speechless for a moment.
“Oh, really? What makes you think either of them is my boyfriend?”
“Seriously? You’re gonna pretend neither of those cuties is interrupting your beauty sleep on the regular?”
Fine. If we were going to play this game, it was my turn.
“Actually, it’s both.”
He kept smiling but seemed abundantly confused. “Pardon?”
I suddenly felt an intense desire to tell Connor the truth. It wasn’t illegal to have two boyfriends. It was finally acceptable to be out and proud, and I didn’t want to hide anything anymore.
“I’m with both of them. You can believe that or not, I don’t care. It’s the truth. And, trust me, I know this is going to go around like wildfire. I honestly don’t care.”
Connor seemed to process this. “Wow,” he said, regarding me with even more respect. “Okay. Wow. That was not what I was expecting.”
“Who did you think it was?”
“Which one did you think was my boyfriend? I’m curious now.”
He shook his head, like he still couldn’t believe what I’d told him. “Um, the bigger guy? With the muscles and the beanie?”
“Pascal. Why? Because he’s closer to my age?”
“So…” Connor leaned over my desk and lowered his voice. “So, you’re, um…with…the younger guy, too?”
I glared at him. “I shouldn’t even be having this discussion with you, Connor.”
“Oh, but I’m so glad you are.”
I couldn’t help a small laugh at the way he’d leaned in eagerly.
“Fine. They were together when I met them. Now, I’m with them. They live together and I live alone…but I’m over there quite a bit.”
“You are officially my coolest prof, now.”
“Thanks.” I took a pretend bow from my chair. “What can I help you with? And thanks again for the coffee, although it appears to have loosened my inhibitions.”
“Excellent,” he said, laughing. “It’s the final assignment. I’m a little hazy on the requirements…”
We focused on the work I’d assigned, and I clarified some issues for him. By the time we were done, I’d finished half of the coffee Connor had brought and felt human again.
“This coffee is a godsend, Connor. Thanks.”
He blushed and chuckled. “Well, I guess I can understand why you’re so exhausted.”
Now it was my turn to blush.
“We’re not sexing each other up every night, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Almost every night, maybe.
“I’m not telling you what I’m thinking, because it would probably make you uncomfortable.”
I gazed at him, assessing. “I’m not supposed to ask you, so you don’t have to answer. Are you gay, Connor?”
“Uh, well, bi, I guess. Still trying to figure things out.” He shrugged, and I envied the sexual fluidity of his generation. “Definitely can appreciate your…problem.”
“Cute. I don’t know if there’s any point in asking for you to keep it between us? I needed to tell someone, but now I’m not sure I want everyone to know.”
“Well, I could keep it quiet. I’m capable of it. But I’m telling you that most of the people I know who go to school here would be very impressed.”
“Really? How times have changed.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“It’s a very good thing.” I shrugged and laughed. “I’m lucky to have two wonderful men by my side.”
“Way to rub my nose in it, sir.”
I glanced at him, embarrassed to be gloating. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think about—”
He grinned and winked. “Gotcha. I am quite happily committed to Justin at the moment. He’s great.”
I smiled, relief flooding me. “Well, I hope I was able to clear up some of your problems with the assignment.”
“Yes, thanks. I’ve got a much better idea of what I’m going to do now. And, I guess I’d better get to class. You’re on in ten minutes.”
“Oh, shit. Really?” I glanced at my watch. He was right.
“No worries, sir. Nobody will complain if you’re a little late. At least you’ll be awake when you get there.”
He gave me a wave and exited my office.
I picked up the paper cup and drained the rest of the coffee, which had cooled down while we’d been chatting. Then I tried to scramble a plan together for my lecture.