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Meet-Cute Casserole

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It was on one of those rare days in summer in Mt. Absalom, Ohio, when the heat was actually bearable, that Chester first saw him. There, in the produce section of the store, was the most gorgeous man he’d ever seen.

The man was so breathtaking it was impossible to look away, although he really should have been.

Chester reeled as his cart crashed loudly into the shelf next to him. Deeply embarrassed, he turned away before the man could see his face, and pretended to be studying the first thing he saw on the shelf—which just so happened to be ant spray.

He’d heard through the grape vine that a new resident would be staying at Fenwood House, but nothing could have prepared him for this. What had the man’s name been again? He knew the man would be rebuilding the observatory – oh shit, that meant they’d be working together—but what was his name? He was a doctor. Dr….Peltham! That sounded right. Wait, how long had he been looking at the ant spray? Probably longer than normal. He should really stop looking at the ant spray.

Chancing a look up, Chester nearly deflated with relief to see that the man was not looking at him. He was less relived to find he still couldn’t look away.

Dr. Peltham was not especially tall. He had long hair that fell over his shoulders in waves, starting as a natural light brown and ending in a light pink; it looked oh so terribly soft.

The man was picking up pieces of fruit and putting them in the tote bag that hung at his waist. The leaves of his button up were rolled up to his elbows, revealing his hairy forearms which had ever so slightly defines muscle, which flexed as he moved. He also wore a long, green skirt that stopped right about his boots.

Chester didn’t think he’d ever seen a man wearing a skirt in real life (other than himself, once, when he was a teenager) and it was...a conflicting but not unpleasant sight. After all, men simply did not wear skirts and did not look good in them when they did. But this man wore the skirt as if he’d been born to, the light fabric flowing around him beautifully. And even though the fabric was loose it was still obvious the man had a very nice-

Chester whirled around and headed decisively back down the aisle. He wasn’t here to...admire Mt. Absalom’s newest arrival; he was here to get mac and cheese for his son. Who, he reminded himself, Lou Lou would be bringing back home soon. He began to head to the register, only to stop.

Mt. Absalom’s newest arrival…

That gave Chester an idea.

 

~

 

9:33 pm. Chester had officially been parked in from of Fenwood for 10 minutes, like some sort of creep. Still, he couldn’t work up the nerve to get out of the car. It wasn’t a big deal, he told himself, just the mayor’s aid performing his duties by officially welcoming Mt. Absalom’s newest resident. Just like he’d done for Lily. Of course, Lily had previously lived in Mt. Absalom, while Abbie Douglas who hadn’t wasn’t thrown a welcome party, but that was fine.

It’s not like there was anyone keeping track of who was and wasn’t given a welcome party, right? Plus, since Chester was the head of the Mt. Absalom Historical Society he would likely need to work with Dr. Peltham in the near future. Best to introduce himself now and make a good impression. Yes, that made perfect sense.

It was fine, everything was fine.

If Chester could just get his hands to stop sweating.

He wiped his hands on the steering wheel and forced himself out of the car—almost forgetting to take the casserole with him—and marched towards the door. The front step creaked painfully the second he put his foot on it, and Chester winced. Then finally, finally he was standing before the door.

He knocked twice, taking some of the chipping paint with him when he pulled his hand back. Fenwood house really was in need of some repairs, which could have been easily provided if Dot would just-

Not the time to worry about it, he reminded himself.

“Someone’s at the door!” Through the open window, he heard a voice that he recognized from the library. Douglas. They had only been in Mt. Absalom a few short weeks, and had already become quite infamous. God above, he did not want to have to deal with them tonight.

Chester heard footsteps and he braced himself for the trying encounter, but Abbie Douglas seemed to be moving away from the door.

Faintly, he could hear other voices—presumably coming from somewhere else in the house—to which Douglas responded; “I don’t work here!”

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it—Wes, don’t let her get up!” Came a man’s voice that must have been Dr. Peltham’s.

Ah, good. Chester thought as his heart rate definitely did not pick up. This was what he had wanted. It would be easier to just give the astronomer the casserole directly, avoided any...questions Dot or might ask about what he was doing here.

He stood up taller and pushed down the urge to fix his hair as the knob turned and the door opened.

Chester forgot how to breath.

Haloed in the light from Fenwood house, Dr. Peltham was even more beautiful than he’d been in the store. Not beautiful, another part of his mind told him, he did not think men were beautiful and he definitely did not think this man was beautiful. But, god help him, those eyes...it was hard to make out their color in the lighting, but even in shadow the spark in them was clear. A spark of life that was intense, wild, and pinned Chester in place without even trying. He wondered if those eyes twinkled when Dr. Peltham was happy. He bet they did. God, that was a sight he wanted to see.

“Can I...help you?” The man in the doorway asked, shifting awkwardly.

Just like that, he was jerked back to the present. He opened and closed his mouth, searching desperately for something to say. Like his name, for instance, yes, that would be a good place to start. What was his name again? Oh, this was not going well at all.

Just start over, said a still-reasonable part of his brain. Yes, perfect.

Chester took a deep breath.

“Sorry, got lost in thought for a second there,” he began. “Dr. Peltham, my name is Chester Warren. I’m the mayor’s aid and I’m here as your official welcome party to Mt. Absalom.” He held out the casserole purposefully, trying to betray none of the nervousness still coursing through him. “Casserole is a traditional welcome gift in Mt. Absalom, so I took the liberty of making you one.”

“Oh, well thank you, Mr. Warren, you didn’t have to go through all the trouble. And by all means, call me Rudy.” Rudy reached out to take the casserole, his fingers brushing Chester’s briefly as he did, and Chester was certain he was going to die right then and there.

Chester managed a small nod in response. Rudy, he marveled at the way the name sounded, and that he had been given permission to say it.

“Well, have a good night,” Dr. Pel- Rudy said, beginning to retreat back inside.

“Wait!” Chester blurted out.

Rudy turned back to him, looking confused.

“I, uh,” think of something to say, think of something to say, “I’m the chair of the Mt. Absalom Historical Society, so I’ll be checking in with you as you repair the telescope.”

A grin spread across the astronomers face—and yes, his eyes did twinkle. “That’s great to know, Mr. Warren, I look forward to working with you.”

“Chester,” Chester rushed to say. “Call me Chester. And I look forward to working with you to.”

“Have a good night, Chester.”

And if Chester watched the door closed like a sad puppy, then at least Rudy was turned around so he couldn’t see it.

He walked slowly to his car, in case anyone in the Fenwood House was watching and could see in the dark. The car door shut, and now with some semblance of privacy, any resolve Chester had snapped. Thoughts came to him unbidden.

Rudy Peltham. God above, how to explain him. How to explain what a small interaction with the man could do to him. His eyes, his hands, his everything Chester had had the privilege of witnessing so far. He hadn’t felt like this in a long, long time.

His body felt weightless and his insides felt fuzzy. It felt nice, it felt good, and it felt like...something. Like somehow in the past few hours, since he first set eyes on the astronomer—or maybe even earlier, maybe this all began the second Dr. Peltham decided to come to Mt Absalom—Chester’s entire life had changed.

Suddenly, he was no longer just a husband, a father, a man with a thousand jobs, a man who would live and die in the town he was born in. A world of possibilities had suddenly been opened to him, a hallway full of doors he had never known was there. This changed-

Nothing, Chester realized as he crashed back into reality.

It changed nothing. Because he was a husband, a father, and a man permanently tethered to the town he’d always lived in. Chester had a wife and son who he loved very much, and a town who needed him. None of his previous…infatuations with men had changed anything about any of that, and this one wouldn’t either.

A feeling, however good it may feel, was just that. It was a fleeting thing that would be gone before he knew it. Then, he could get back to his normal life as if the feeling had never been there at all. He would let it fade into the background until it became just another box shoved into a shadowy corner of his mind.

Still...Chester could see the doctor in his mind’s eye all the way home, feel the brief ghosting of his fingers as he handed him the casserole, hear him saying “thank you.”

Call me Rudy...”

Chester should have known he was in trouble.