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And Maybe A Little Bit Wiser

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Rodney was appalled and suspected that he should be embarrassed. He considered himself a relatively bright person and hoped he was sensible. To not even think about how John would have gotten to the house was a huge oversight on his part. He didn't even know where the Metro bus would have left John off, but he knew it wasn't anywhere nearby.

The girls were in their element, fussing over John. Donna checked over the spare bedroom and its attached bathroom, and dug out fresh towels before she pronounced it 'ready for use.'

Norah scoured the linen closet for the spare toothbrushes they had, courtesy of their regular dentist appointments. She then rooted through the dresser in the spare room for the extra pajamas she knew were there. Her grandparents regularly bought Rodney multiple sets of pajamas for Christmas presents, which Rodney took with appropriate thanks before stashing them away. They kept coming faster than he could wear them and even with putting several sets in the clothing donations they had taken to the VFW, there were still half a dozen sets available.

"There's soap and stuff in the bathroom," Norah said. She considered. "One more thing."

She dashed out and came back with a straight razor. "In case you want to..." She shrugged.

"Thanks," John said, looking faintly overwhelmed. "It's fine."

Rodney came by at that point. "The girls are going to take over the family room, but if you don't mind me working while we watch tv, we can use my office."

"You don't have to..." John started.

"I have papers to grade," Rodney went on. "Having company will stop me from burning some of them instead of grading them."

"Ummm.... then, maybe, mind if I get a book to read?" John asked. "Thought I saw something downstairs that I'd like to look at."

Rodney waved a hand. "Please, help yourself," he said. He pointed across the hall. "Office is there. Pick something out, get a drink if you want. I have plenty to do."

"Good enough," John replied.

Rodney went into his office and booted up his computer. Most of the assignments he needed to correct were in the online course management system. So there wasn't any real danger of papers being burned wholesale -- but it was a good metaphor. A couple of students had turned in hard copy, which was something of a nuisance because he occasionally didn't get something entered into his grade book and then had to scramble to find it. He tried to be 'tough' about turning things in electronically, but it didn't always work.

He turned on the flat screen tv he had installed in the office. He found a hockey game, remembering that John had something about liking hockey more than football. He would only watch with half an ear anyway.

John came back with a paperback and bottled water. He held the book up, "Asimov, the original Foundation series. I haven't read this since I was a kid."

"Yeah, me either," Rodney admitted. "It's something I picked up in a second hand store, hoping to read it again. Just never got around to it."

John looked at the tv. "Hockey?" He gave a small smile.

"It's a west coast game, which is why it's just starting," he admitted.

"What sort of assignments are you grading?" John asked.

"I teach architecture," Rodney explained. "Mostly undergraduate courses but the occasional grad course. Since I never slogged through to the PhD but I have some major design experience, I'm not quite the low man on the totem pole, but I end up with many of the undergraduate courses."

"Architecture?" John asked.

"Designed the house," Rodney said proudly. "Had it built just for us."

John looked around, "It's nice."

"It took us a long time to get here," Rodney said. "Me and Norah, it's been the two of us from just about the beginning and life was tougher when she was little. But I also wouldn't trade her for anything in the world."

"She's a great kid," John said truthfully. "You have got to be proud of her."

Rodney smiled fondly. "I am," he said.

"Do your grading," John prodded him. "I'm fine here." He waved his book.

Rodney gave a small sigh. "Yeah, gotta be done." He turned back to his computer. He was glad to have broken down and bought the two oversized monitors for the house. He had the same setup in his office and it made it easier to correct papers online without having to print them.

He worked steadily and finished the one set he had wanted to get done tonight. He had more to finish before Monday, but this was the overdue ones that had to be done first. He reached up and stretched in place, back popping

He looked around to see John had dozed off in the armchair. He took advantage of the unguarded moment to really look at the other man.

The clothing was just baggy enough without being sloppy to hide a multitude of sins but the delicate wrist bones led Rodney to suspect John was skinny rather than just lean. The fact that he was at the VFW Post led Rodney to believe that John had been wounded in Afghanistan and maybe wasn't as healthy as he wanted everyone to think he was. In spite of that not-quite-fragile air, he was very good looking.

It was like there were two warring imps on Rodney's shoulders. The good imp wanted Rodney to protect John from whatever bad things were going on in his life. The bad imp wanted Rodney to keep John for himself.

It had been a long time since Rodney had slept with a woman, and since college since he had slept with another man. He had been too busy -- and too tired -- when Norah was younger to try to meet anyone, much less have anything resembling a relationship with another adult. And then... time had slipped by and he and Norah had become comfortable together.

"Hey!" John said sleepily. "Must have dozed off."

"No problem," Rodney assured him quickly, looking away from what could be bedroom eyes. "Just finished and was going to wake you up to send you to bed."

John gave a lazy grin that under other circumstances Rodney would have taken to mean more. "Now you sound like my mom," John replied.

Not wanting the night to end, Rodney asked, "Want to raid the fridge? I think there's pie... We never did get to dessert."

A low groan but eyes danced in merriment. "Apple pie?"

"We'll have to go and see," Rodney replied.

"I'm game if you are," John said.

They made their way back downstairs. Rodney decided to leave the girls to whatever they were doing, giving them their privacy. He could hear the tv running what probably was a movie.

The pies were in the pantry, Rodney brought them out. "Apple or cherry?" he asked. There was already a piece of each missing -- the girls had beat them to it.

"Oh, apple," John replied eagerly.

"There's milk in the fridge, unless you want coffee," Rodney said as he got plates and forks.

"Way too late for coffee, and watching the caffeine," John said. He went to the fridge and pulled out a gallon of milk. He looked around and went to the cupboard above the sink and found glasses.

Rodney raised an eyebrow, and John shrugged. "Everyone keeps glasses there," he explained.

"I guess they do," Rodney had to agree. He cut apple pie for John and cherry for himself. "Ice cream?"

John looked ruefully at the pie and laughed, "Oh, heck. Sure."

Rodney went to the freezer and opened the door. "Vanilla or caramel?"

"Caramel," John said instantly.

Rodney grabbed the caramel and rooted through the silverware drawer for a heavy spoon to serve the ice cream with. They had a scoop somewhere, but he liked the spoon.

They sat companionably at the kitchen table to eat their goodies.

Rodney hesitated for a moment but one of those imps -- and he wasn't sure if it was the good or the bad one -- make him ask, "I don't want to pry but... well, tell me something about yourself."

John froze for a moment as he put a forkful of pie in his mouth. He chewed carefully and swallowed. "What sort of things?"

"Why Buffalo? I mean, really?" he started. "And what are you looking to do here?"

John took another forkful of pie and ice cream. "Buffalo? I really did know some guys from the area. They talked endlessly about how great the people were here, and the amazing food. There's also a good VA hospital where I can do my outpatient therapy."

"You were wounded?" Rodney asked, trying to balance curiosity and studied indifference.

"Yeah," John said softly. Rodney understood he wasn't going to get more than that.

"You have to have a degree in something, to be an officer," Rodney decided switching topics might be a good idea. "What did you do?"

"I have a bachelors degree in Physics, of all things," John admitted, somewhat reluctantly. "It's been a long time and not sure what good it does me now."

"They're always looking for tutors at the college," Rodney suggested. "Even if you haven't done anything special with your degree in a while, I'll bet you could pick it up fast enough. And anyone that can tutor basic math and basic sciences is always welcome. It's only part time, but, heck, it would be something."

He could see John considering that.

"I'll give you the number of the woman who runs the tutoring center," Rodney added. "Classes are out for the semester in another couple of weeks but maybe she could get you some textbooks and you could prep for spring classes."

"Was considering going back to school," John said. "Not sure in what but..."

This sort of thing Rodney knew from his experience in advising undergrads. "Find one thing you want to learn and start with that," he said. "If you don't have to take a full course load, then take something in the spring that you might want to learn. Or relearn, as the case may be. Once you have your feet under you, then you can do more."

"I'll think about it," John replied.

Rodney yawned and could see John drooping. "I don't know about you, but I've had enough for today," he said through the next yawn. Dishes went into the dishwasher and they headed upstairs.

"The girls will sleep in tomorrow, so you can do the same," Rodney said. "It'll be at least ten before they're ready to go anywhere and Donna doesn't get picked up until noon. If that's okay with you?"

John ducked his head in a shy nod. "Sure," he replied. "If it's a bother, I can..."

"No, you cannot," Rodney interrupted firmly. "And it's not a bother."

A grin this time. "Okay, thanks."