Sweetcheeks IX: Masks

Debra Fran Baker


Chapter One

Jim waffled a bit over which earring to wear. He finally settled on his smallest gold stud, and even then he held it for a moment, not sure if he should wear even that. Ah. His father had seen it before. He slipped out the sapphire one and put the new one in, and turned his head. Good. Just barely noticeable.

That done, he stood before his full-length mirror and adjusted his current...costume was probably *just* the right word. He wore a sweater over a t-shirt over a pair of slightly faded jeans and boots. The things we do for family.

Blair was waiting for him in the living room, reading some journal. Now, *he* looked as delicious as ever. "How do I look, sweetcheeks?"

He looked up, and his face just glowed. "Jim! That's...you haven't worn that sweater in months."

Jim shrugged. "What could I do? It was a gift from Dad."

"Well, it fits you, man. Fits you enough that if we weren't so late..." Blair leered playfully, and picked up the giftwrapped wine bottle. "But we'd better get going."

"Oh, darn!" Jim snapped his fingers, gave Blair a brief kiss. "Maybe if we were late enough, we could just miss it." He grinned again and took his jacket and car keys. "And we will be right on time."

"Right. If we survive."

"I heard that."

"You were meant to." Blair looked entirely unapologetic for his slur on Jim's driving.

Despite all of Blair's mutterings, they got to Jim's father's place without major mishap, breaking the speed limit too severely *or* using the siren, *and* two minutes early.

Blair sat in the cab, shaking, until Jim handed him out. "I just promised my first born child if we survived this trip."

"And who is having this child, if I may ask?"

Blair smiled. "Are you sure that's the right tense? You know all about my wild past. Okay, I'm steady now. What *was* that rush about?"

"Darling, you are *never* late to William Ellison's. Time is *money*." They walked up to the front door carrying the wine bottle. Jim took a deep breath and straightened his spine before ringing the door bell.

To Jim's surprise, Dad opened the door himself. "Son. Dr. Sandburg. Welcome." He held out his hand. Jim took it in a firm grip.

"Hello, Dad."

"Hi, Mr. Ellison." Blair juggled the wine bottle and nearly dropped it in his eagerness to take Dad's hand. "Thanks for inviting us."

Dad just smiled and took the gift. "It was long over due. Please, come in."

Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder as they followed his father into the living room. There were trays of canapes set out on the coffee table, and Jim could smell...yes. Pot roast. In Sally's special wine sauce, too. Dad was going all out.

"Have a seat. Would you care for something to drink, Dr. Sandburg?"

"Uh. Yeah, sure. Whatever you got. Sir." Blair seated himself awkwardly on the sofa.

"Jimmy, you know where the drinks are."

"I think so. Scotch okay?"

"Just a small one. Don't want to interfere with dinner."

Jim watched his father settle on the leather chair next to the sofa, and busied himself at the bar. There was an open bottle of...whoa. Macallen. He poured three short glasses, making sure that his was well watered. Meanwhile, Dad and Blair had a painfully polite conversation about university politics.

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