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Food and Men

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"My weaknesses have always been food and men - in that order." - Dolly Parton.

*

Chris was putting the finishing touches on the table setting, fussing with the plates and silverware, when the apartment doorbell rang. He hurried to the door, wiping his hands on his apron. He checked through the peephole to make sure it was his expected guest, then opened the door.

"Hey, Tim," he said, grinning a wide smile. He couldn't help himself when he saw the attractive detective standing there—especially as he had been more than a little uncertain if Tim would actually show up for the night's date.

"Hi. I didn't catch you by surprise, did I?" Tim Bayliss asked, offering up a shy smile of his own. "This sweet, older lady let me in the building with her."

"Not at all, come in. Though I hope you told her to be more careful about letting complete strangers in—even handsome and charming ones such as yourself."

Tim chuckled, looking even more adorably shy and a little flustered as he did so. "I didn't get the chance as she was grilling me nonstop in the elevator. Where did I live, what did I do for a living, did I have a girlfriend, and if not could she could give her daughter my number..."

Chris rolled his eyes. "Let me guess: Mrs. Nesbitt? Blue hair up in a big bun, weighed down in about ten pounds of cheap costume jewelry, coming back from walking her Pomeranian..."

"Cute white dog, but yappy?" Chris nodded. "You got it. Anyway...this is a nice place, Chris," Tim said as he looked around.

"Thank you." Chris took Tim's coat, hanging it on the rack by the door. "I try, but with all the time I spend at the restaurant, I feel like I barely spend much of any time here to fix it up the way I'd like."

"And now you've got a night off at home and you're still working away in the kitchen? You're going to make me feel guilty."

"Don't you dare," Chris warned. "I love to cook, especially for friends...and people I'd like to get to know better. Sharing my passion for food is one of the things I love to do the most."

"All right, then. No guilt allowed. But I did bring something in thanks, for later on." Tim handed Chris the bottle tote he'd brought with him. "You said you'd take care of the wine, but I thought I'd provide something special for after-dinner from our bar's reserves."

It was a very fine bottle of French Cognac—nice to see Tim had such good taste in libations. "This will be wonderful, thank you! I fact it should go perfect with the dessert I have planned."

"Do I dare ask what's on the menu?" Tim inquired as he followed Chris to the kitchen. It was a much smaller space than the kitchen at the Zodiac, but Chris could still work his magic here. He'd worked in every kind of kitchen imaginable up to finally opening his own restaurant.

"I thought we'd start with my wild mushroom soup. It's our signature dish at the Zodiac, but I recall you didn't get to try it the other night. I'm following that with a salad of arugula and goat cheese, dressed with a particularly wonderful balsamic vinegar I found in Modena last year." Chris gave the soup a quick stir, turning the heat up a bit now that Tim was here. "Then I've got Cornish hens stuffed with seasoned cornbread ready to go in the oven, and petit flourless chocolate cakes for dessert." The cakes were the only part of the menu he hadn't made himself. He'd asked the pastry chef at the Zodiac to prepare them; sweets had never been his forté.

"Oh my God..." Tim groaned, clutching at his stomach.

"What? You're not allergic to anything, are you?" Chris asked with sudden alarm.

"No! No, it all sounds delicious. But I feel like I gained ten pounds simply listening to that menu."

"Special company deserves a special meal." Chris poured them both a glass of the Bordeaux he'd had breathing in his decanter for the last hour. "Don't you agree?"

"Oh, of course. Here's to...a very special evening," Tim offered as a toast, and Chris raised his glass, hoping it would indeed turn out to be precisely that.

*

From the moment he'd first laid eyes on Tim Bayliss, Chris Rawls had wanted to get to know the tall and good-looking detective better. And he had gotten the distinct impression that Tim had been likewise intrigued.

However he'd also read Tim as someone who might be curious, but not at all experienced when it came to relationships—let alone sex—with men. That he wasn't even a closet case who kept his desires secret to protect his job and family, but a man who wasn't even sure what his real desires were.

"You'd better be careful with that one, Chris," his bartender Noreen had cautioned, that first day at the restaurant after he'd talked to Tim and his partner Frank.

"What on Earth do you mean?" Chris had replied, feigning innocence.

"I saw how you were looking at him. But you know as well as I do that falling for a straight boy is trouble with a capital 'T'. Especially a straight boy with a police badge."

"He might not be straight, Noreen... Not entirely, at least."

She had rolled her eyes at him. "Even worse. Don't go breaking your heart on a guy who might just be looking for a walk on the queer side."

She was right, of course. Chris had learned that hard lesson before, and on more than one occasion. But he couldn't deny his attraction. Neither could he resist the spark he felt in his heart—and further south—every time he talked to Tim during the course of the investigation into Allan's death.

So when the case had been solved and the murderer brought in to justice, Chris had finally made his move. Taken a chance while he still could, put the invitation out there on the table—on Tim's desk, at the Homicide precinct, to be precise. And his heart had skipped a beat to hear Tim say yes.

They had kept that first date casual—dinner at the Zodiac, with all the usual first date awkward conversations and pauses. Basic questions about their jobs, hobbies and interests, how and where they grew up. It had been personal enough to feel each other out without diving in too deep. That initial physical attraction Chris had felt only grew stronger as he'd started to get a sense of how fascinating, how intelligent and sensitive, Tim Bayliss really was. He wasn't one of these typical men on the scene, in the clubs or in Chris' own restaurant, only interested in a hot fuck with a pretty face and hard body.

That dinner had gone well enough that, afterwards, Chris had walked out with Tim to his car, and suggested they meet up again some evening soon.

"Next time at my place, maybe? If that's all right with you. I can cook, we could talk some more..."

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I'd like that," Tim had said, and in the dark of the parking lot behind the restaurant, in the pause while they were standing close and Tim didn't look away, Chris had dared to go in for a quick kiss goodnight.

And it had been very nice, indeed.

Now they were here, and the meal had gone off without a hitch. They'd moved from the dinner table to Chris' couch, with Tim's fine cognac to sip and the newest album by Lisa Loeb on the cd player to listen to.

"This is nice," Tim said.

"The cd? Yeah. Took me a little while to warm up to it after her last album, but now it's winning me over."

"Oh, that? Yeah. I meant—I meant all of this. Tonight. Dinner, the wine...being able to sit and talk. Talk naturally, not censoring myself the way I feel like I have to with...well, with a woman when I'm on a date."

"I'm glad you feel comfortable with me like that, Tim. I really am."

"Can I ask you something, kind of...personal?"

"Sure."

"When did you...how did you first realize you were..."

"Attracted to men? Gay?" Chris prompted.

Tim nodded. "Yeah."

"I don't know if it was ever even a question in my mind. It was simply the way I always was, or always felt inside. I remember...having a friend, a neighbor boy I grew up with, that I always felt different about than my other friends. I thought that was just natural, after all...we were little kids and we all thought girls were ‘icky', right?" He laughed a little at the memory, which made Tim chuckle as well. "One day we were playing in his basement, he had the best collection of Matchbox car of any of the kids on my street. We were playing and talking about how gross it was that his older brother had his girlfriend over, upstairs in his room. Why would he want to hang out with her and what could they possibly be doing together? And then, somehow, that turned into him kissing me." Chris shrugged. "It didn't go further than that, and soon enough he was kissing girls just like his brother and all our other friends. But for me..."

"You only ever wanted to kiss boys."

"Yeah. I waited and wondered when I'd change like my friends did, when I'd suddenly start finding girls mysterious, desirable...kissable. That day never came."

"Interesting."

"But that was just my experience," Chris added, seeing the wheels spinning in Tim's brain. "Other people don't realize their true desires until much later in life. That doesn't make them any less real or strong."

"But for you, there was never any...traumatic event or anything like that, that made you gay."

"No. That's an old and terrible stereotype, if you ask me. The idea that a weak father and overbearing mother make a man gay, or that older gay men are out there looking to ‘convert' young boys through abuse..." Even as he spoke those words, however, a bell went off in Chris' mind as he studied Tim's expression. "Did...someone hurt you when you were younger, Tim?"

Tim didn't answer right away, though his cheeks flushed in clear upset and discomfort. "Uh..." he started, but then Chris was quick to jump in.

"I'm sorry if that's too personal. You don't have to—"

"No, no, it's okay. I just...haven't talked about it to many other people. Actually, only one other person since I was a child; my partner, Frank. I told Frank about what happened. It was...an older relative. A male relative. He did things and...no one believed me when I told them."

"I'm so sorry." Chris wished there was something more he could say.

"So am I. I guess...I've always wondered, if it hadn't happened...how would things be different for me today? Would they be different? I go through months, even years, not thinking about it. Or trying not to think about it. Then something reminds me and...I guess I'll always wonder if that's why I've had a hard time with relationships. With my...desires, when it comes to sex."

"Have you talked to a therapist or anyone about it?"

"Nah, I don't know. Therapy never seemed like...something that would work for me. I don't know how much I believe in it. I mean, Frank was having problems with his marriage, a while back, and his wife dragged him to see a therapist. He said it was a waste of time."

"Frank means a lot to you," Chris observed.

"Yeah, well, he's my partner, and a good friend. We've had our ups and downs, but he's definitely someone I trust with my life. I've learned a lot from him."

Chris wondered if Tim realized how truly important Frank was to him, the way so many points of their conversation seemed to circle back to the man. And it made Chris question if he could hope to find an opening into Tim's heart anywhere near so deep and strong.

Tim laughed a little, then became apologetic. "I'm sorry I've been babbling on about all these things that aren't exactly the most pleasant or relaxing after-dinner conversation."

"It's all right. You're a fascinating man to get to know, Tim." Chris dared to reach out and brush a lock of hair away from Tim's face, then let his fingers glide down the side of his temple, his cheek. Chris wanted to get to know Tim on a more physical level, too. And he was willing to take his time, but tonight he was hoping they could take things further than a single kiss.

Tim didn't move away from his touch, nor did he look away, or close his eyes. No, he seemed focused on Chris, ready and perhaps, hopefully, waiting for more. That next move. So Chris took it, letting his hand glide around Tim's neck and then leaning in for a lingering kiss. Gentle, not too demanding, but he made no effort to move away even as he gave Tim the chance to, if he wanted.

Tim didn't.

And Tim's lips were so perfect for kissing, so soft and full. Chris could enjoy kissing them for hours. He thought, maybe they would do just that, tonight. He didn't want to rush Tim into anything he wasn't ready for, especially considering what he'd said about his past. Chris liked the idea of being with someone who wanted, or even needed, to take his time. Who wasn't expecting a fuck from the moment they made eye-contact and said "hello". So he appreciated this, sitting here on his couch, kissing and touching, nothing more.

Not for a good long time, until he'd noticed the cd had started to repeat songs already played. By now Tim's one hand had started moving down his chest over the buttons of his shirt. Chris took a moment to pull back and look at Tim questioningly, trying not to let desire overwhelm him as he took in the sight of those wet and reddened, kiss-swollen lips.

"We can take our time, Tim," he said. "No need to rush things."

"I know," Tim replied. "But I've never been afraid to...try something new."

"Do you want to...stay here or...we could move things to the other room..." Chris suggested.

"Well, the...other room might be nice. As long as you don't mean the kitchen and expect me to wash the dishes."

Chris laughed, getting up on his feet. "The dishes can wait until the morning." The morning when he might wake up alone, or, if things continued to go so well, he might wake up with Tim beside him. He held a hand out to Tim, who barely paused before taking it, then let Chris lead the way.