I see them walk into the Magnolia Room, the bar at the Stonewall Jackson Inn where they first really started to get to know each other.
is talking, Jeff is
listening, smiling faintly, his gaze taking in the nearly empty room. He spots
me, touches Austin ’s elbow. Austin
breaks off what he was saying, looking a little wary. Austin
For some reason I always think of
as blond, but it’s Jeff who is blond. Austin
has dark hair and the boyishly pouty, unthreateningly exotic looks you’d
expect of a Calvin Klein underwear model – though he’s not remotely the pouty
type and his modeling days are long behind him. Jeff has a more straightforward
handsomeness. Those all American good looks that effectively sell so many pick
up trucks and pairs of Austin . Levis
“Red or white?” Jeff asks and
shakes his head, amused. Austin
Jeff goes to the bar and
comes over to the table to greet me. We
get the preliminaries out of the way, and I ask, “Does he often?” Austin
He relaxes a fraction. “Yes. As a matter of fact, he does.” The look he throws Jeff, now busily charming the lady bartender, is affectionate.
“So how are things going? Where are you living now?”
“So you’re relocating to
I admit that’s a surprise. I thought it was more likely they’d move north. Georgia
“It’s easier for me to relocate than Jeff. He’s got contacts here, both in law enforcement and the community. It would take him years to build that network up again. Whereas I can work from home a lot of the time.” He shrugs.
“But you’re not living in
“No.” There’s a pause before he adds, “Buckhead gives us both a little breathing room.”
Jeff rejoins us. He sets a glass of white wine in front of
“Muscadine Supreme. From Austin
We wait as
tilts the wine glass and checks the color. Finally he takes a sip. He
“So you’re still in the PI business, Jeff?” I ask as
takes his iPhone out and makes notes. Austin
“How’s that pay?”
Of course, they’re not hurting for money.
inherited a bundle when Austin Harrison passed away.
“Have you solved any more mysteries?”
Jeff says briefly, “Every day.”
looks up at that he and Jeff exchange funny little half-smiles. Private smiles. Austin
“What are you doing now,
“He’s had a lot of offers,” Jeff says. “Anybody’d be lucky to have him.”
“I think he ought to open his own winery,” Jeff says.
“It’s not that easy, Jeff. It’s not just about money or even land.”
“You could do it.”
“How’s Ernest?” I ask, since that seems like a safe topic.
Jeff chokes on his beer.
bites his lip and tries not to laugh. He answers, “Ernest is building a rocket.” Austin
“His second rocket,” Jeff says. “The first one blew up.”
“Do you see much of him?”
“What does Ernest think of Jeff?”
Jeff says gravely, imitating Ernest’s adult-sounding tone, “An interesting specimen, Austin.”
When Jeff chuckles, his eyes crinkle. He drinks his beer and doesn’t bother to argue.
“What do the assorted and various stepmothers thinks of you two getting together?”
“Assorted and various things,” Jeff drawls.
“Do you ever see the Cashels?”
“Naw,” says Jeff.
“I met Cormac for lunch when he came to
to meet his publisher.” New
“That was your good deed for the year,” Jeff responds.
shrugs dismissingly. Austin
I say, “You know, a lot of readers thought you two wouldn’t last.”
seems genuinely startled. Austin
Jeff’s mouth twists, but he doesn’t say anything. He seems more interested in
“What’s been the biggest challenge for you?”
“That makes me feel a whole helluva lot better.”
I interrupt, “What’s the most fun about being together?”
“All of it,”
Jeff meets his direct gaze unhesitatingly. “Yeah, no matter how much time we spend together, it’s not enough. So we’re buying this house onChatham Road.”
“Chinese wallpaper in the dining room,”
says. Apparently that’s a good thing. Austin
“What do you fight about?”
“Chinese wallpaper?” Jeff suggests.
“We don’t really fight,”
Jeff states, “We disagree over
’s notion that it’s okay
to veer from his itinerary without letting anyone know, and that it doesn’t
matter if he forgets to check in for a week.” Austin
Jeff opens his mouth. I interrupt, “What have you each learned from the other?”
Jeff laughs. He says, “That the right person makes a difference.”
“He means sex.”
is teasing Jeff. Jeff looks mildly uncomfortable, but that’s not the surprise.
The surprise is that Austin is so
relaxed that he can joke about something that was surely painful to remember at
one time. Austin
Jeff says almost stubbornly, “I mean everything.”
Their gazes hold briefly.
inclines his head as though acknowledging a point. Austin
“What do you laugh about?”
Jeff says confidentially, “Well, when
gets excited he has this little trick—” Austin
“Bastard,” Austin says without heat. Jeff is still laughing, and after a moment
joins in. Austin
Which answers that question – and probably all the rest of them.