A story about a guy who grows and learns to see his life and socialization differently.
|It was Friday night, and the car’s clock said it was eight minutes before six when I parked on a side street and walked about two blocks to Del’s kitchen. The restaurant took up the first floor of a three-story stone building in what had come to be thought of as the art district of the city. As I approached, I spotted Nate -- his strawberry blonde hair atop his tall, lean frame made him stand out -- reclining against the way between two of the restaurants large windows. He was dressed in a blue striped long sleeve tee shirt and jeans. I instantly hoped he wouldn’t find me overdressed in my mint great button down shirt and khaki pants. He spotted me as I approached, shoved off from the wall and began to walk toward me.
“Hey,” I said. “Have you been waiting long?”
“Actually, I just got here myself.” He put his arms around me and gave me a hug. “It’s good to finally meet you in person.” He kissed me on the cheek before taking a step back.
“Likewise. I didn’t think it was possible, but I think you’re even cuter in person.”
He laughed as we headed into the restaurant. “And you’re at least as charming in person as you are in texts and on the phone.” He waved to one of the waitresses before guiding me to a small booth in one corner. I sat with my back to the wall and he took the bench across the table from me.
“Yeah, I’ve enjoyed what little conversations we’ve had over the past couple of days.” We hadn’t texted more than a couple dozen times and we had only found about an hour for a voice call on Wednesday, but we managed to hit it off.
“So, how did that dinner you mentioned go last night? I see you still made our date tonight, so I guess it’s safe to say that no one stole you away from me.”
I laughed. “Oh trust, me it was nothing like that kind of a dinner. It was to discuss a project that a group of us are considering.”
“A work group? A group of college friends?”
I hesitated. “A church group.”
He smirked. “Ah. Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure what you would think of that.”
“Well, as an atheist, I can’t say as I have much use for religion. But that’s me. We’re talking about you, and I’m not going to judge you if you feel you get something out of church.”
I smiled shyly. “Fair enough. But yeah, it’s a church thing. Some of the leaders are talking about having me oversee the artistic end of building scenery for this year’s pageant.
“Oh, so it’s an artsy project, then. I can definitely get on board with that.”
“Even though it’s religious in nature?”
“Art is art, man. I adore all art, even art I might not agree with.” He paused and took a drink of water, then added, “That’s one thing I’ll give religion. I may not have much use for it personally and tend to think it’s the source of a lot of woes. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s been the source of a lot of art and artistic inspiration though.”
“That’s quite a compliment you’re offering up there,” I noted.
“Yeah, just don’t take it as a chance to try and convert me,” he said, grinning.
“No worries, I promise to wait until at least the fifth date before doing that.”
“Note to self: Stop seeing Curt after the fourth date.”
I laughed nervously. “No, seriously. I’m not like that. I was joking.”
“So was I.”
“Good,” I said, suddenly realizing that I had just talked about not only a future date, but quite a few future dates. I could hear Patty’s voice in the back of my head lecturing me about not rushing things. “So, how were classes today?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Interesting, really. I’m really starting to get into my Cultural Anthropology class.”
Our waiter, Daryl, arrived to take our drink order at that moment. Nate said, “I’ll just have an iced tea, unsweetened. And actually, I’m ready to order, unless you need a moment to look over the menu, Curt.”
“No, I think I’m all set. I’m going to go with the chicken marsala special.”
“And to drink,” Daryl asked.
“Diet coke, please.”
“Very good. And the usual for you, Nate?”
I raised an eyebrow as Daryl walked away. “Your usual? I take it you come here often, then?”
“A couple times a week, actually. I adore their grilled portabella sandwich.”
“That does sound good,” I said.
“Would you like to try a bite when it gets here?”
I hesitated. “We’ll see. I sort of have this thing about germs.”
He nodded. “No pressure. Consider it an open invitation.”
“Thanks. So, Cultural Anthropology, huh? Is that for your Poli-Sci major?”
“I find it useful, but it’s not a required class, no. I just find how societies form and develop traditions and mores fascinating. The class gets into that a lot.”
“That’s cool. So when did you declare your major, anyway? This year? Or did you always know what you wanted to be?”
“Actually, I changed majors last year before summer break. Before that, I was an art major. But two semesters convinced me that I just didn’t have what it would take to make a living as an artist.”
“Yeah, it’s not easy to do. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.”
“And yet, you landed a sweet job working for a nice firm.”
I shrugged. “I was lucky. A friend knew someone. Plus, I had the advantage that I knew computer aided art.” I shifted uncomfortably. “So you decided to switch to poli-sci. I assume you plan to run for public office someday?”
He shrugged. “That’s an obvious choice and certainly not one I’m discounting. But I’ve also considered just becoming a journalist on the political beat or a speechwriter. I don’t have to be in the spotlight.”
I laughed. “Same here. One of the things I hate about my job is having to make presentations to my prospective clients. I’d much rather just give the artwork to one of the architects to show off and stay at my cubicle.”
“That would be a shame, though. From the few pieces you’ve sent me via email, you seem quite talented. You deserve any and all attention you get, I’d say.”
I blushed and looked down at my plate. “Thanks.”
Dinner continued going well, and by the time we headed to the gallery, I found myself enjoying Nate’s company immensely. As we walked inside, he placed his arm around my waist and I nearly melted inside. There as about a couple dozen people in the gallery wandering between the metal sculptures placed about the room. Nate guided me toward one that reminded me of two people doing yoga together. I was just reading the notecard below it when I heard a high pitched voice squeal, “Nathan! Oh good, you made it!” I turned to see a young blonde man in a polo shirt and black pants approaching us.
“Hey there. Yeah, I told you that I’d be here.” Two pair hugged and Nate turned to me. “Curt, allow me to introduce Raph, the artist behind this exhibit.”
I reached out my hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure,” he said politely before turning back to Nate. “So, this is your date I take it? Glad to hear you’re not still mourning over me.”
Nate playfully punched Raph’s shoulder. “Yeah, I finally found the strength to move on. I wasn’t sure I was going make it after the break-up though. I mean, it was the darkest five minutes of my life.” I blinked, letting the implication of this exchange set in.
Raph simply laughed. “Well, Curt, if Nate thinks highly enough of you to date you, that’s saying something. Is this your first date, then?”
“Yeah, it is,” I said.
“And he brought you to his ex-boyfriends art show.” He turned to my date. “I know you’re unconventional, Nathan, but wow.”
Nate shrugged. “I figured it was just another event. And it’s not like you want us to get back together any more than I do.”
Raph laughed, “This is true. But I hope you at least warned Curt. He might find it awkward.”
“He didn’t,” I said, trying to keep my voice pleasant. I found myself comparing myself to the man I now knew is Nate’s ex and feeling like I came up short. If Raph couldn’t keep a guy this great, what chances did I have?
“Yeah, that was my bad. I didn’t figure it would come up and didn’t want you worrying about it. I’m sorry, Curt.”
Raph looked rueful. “Yeah. Me too. I guess I should’ve asked Nathan about it before I said anything.”
I forced myself to smile as I turned my attention to Nate. “I’ll be fine. It really doesn’t matter, does it? I mean it’s not like I have to fight Raph to keep you, right?”
“Absolutely not,” Raph shrieked in delight. “Our time together is a thing of the past, and while it was certainly pleasant in many ways, I’m glad to leave it in the past.”
Nate nodded. “Same here, seriously. I brought you here because I knew you’d like the exhibit and I wanted to share it with you.” He ran his hand along my forearm, trying to reassure me. I stepped toward him and we embraced. “Okay, I believe you. But no more surprised like that, okay?”
Raph cleared his throat. “At any rate, I had best mingle and talk with the other people. It really was a pleasure to meet you, Curtis. And I hope you and Nathan enjoy yourselves. Both tonight and in the future. Take care.” At that, he wandered over to a small trio of women looking over another sculpture.”
“Are you okay?” Nate asked me.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Do you want to leave?”
I thought about it for a moment. “No. His sculptures are amazing, and I really want to see more.”
It was almost eleven by the time we were back in front of the restaurant. It had been a wonderful date and we stood there for a moment. “Do you need a ride home? I don’t know what the bus schedules are like right now.”
“Actually, I am home, more or less. I live on the second story, over the restaurant.”
“Oh! I didn’t realize that.”
“Yeah.” He led me around to the side of the building an indicated a door while pulling out a keyring. “So, would you like to come up? My apartment is small and not much to look at, but it’s cozy.”
I shuffled my feet, considering. “I don’t know. It’s kinda late.”
“You can spend the night if you’d like.” I blinked. I looked at him long and hard. I really did like him, and it was so tempting. He straightened and said, “Maybe I’m being too forward.”
“No,” I added quickly. “Believe me, it’s a tempting offer. And part of me wants to say yes. It’s just...been a while....”
He reached up and took my chin between his thumb and forefinger, gently tilting my face up to his. I held my breath as he said, “Maybe it’s been too long, “ and leaned down. His lips met mine and I closed my eyes. My posture softened as our kiss deepened. I gave myself over to the experience, knowing that I wanted him more than anything.
He pulled back and looked into my eyes. I nodded. He unlocked and opened the door. I walked in ahead of him and headed up the stairs.
It was still dark when I woke up laying on my side. I felt an arm around my waist and panicked at first, trying to get my bearings. Then I remembered that I had been with Nate and must have fallen asleep. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I confirmed that I was indeed still in his bedroom. I carefully stretched from my semi-fetal position and rolled over to face him. He muttered in his sleep as his arm fell from its position across my body and drew it back to his side. I lifted my torso up on my elbow and looked at the alarm clock on his nightstand. It was a little after three in the morning. I got up and tiptoed out of his bedroom and down the hall to the bathroom. I found the pull chain that turned on the light and gave it a soft yank, flooding the small bathroom with light from the naked incandescent bulb.
I sat on the toilet and relieved myself as I took stock of the aches I was feeling. It had been a while since I had been intimate with a guy, and my body was clearly not used to that level of passion. My hips complained softly and my back felt like it needed to work out a few kinks. Yet, mixed in with the bodily weariness was a sense of contentment. I flushed, stood and walked to the sink to wash my hands and splash water on my face. I looked into the mirror. I noticed a telltale purple mark a little way from my neck, just over the clavicle, and reached up to touch it. I leaned toward the mirror and confirmed my suspicions.
“Sorry about that. I don’t usually leave marks, but I was really excited to be with you last night.” I spun, startled by Nate’s voice. He stood in the doorway of the bathroom, still naked.
I smiled, still tired and struggling to take everything in. “It’s okay. In some ways, it’s pretty cool. I’ve never gotten a hickey before.”
Nate stared at me, his face registering disbelief. “You’re twenty-eight and you’ve never gotten one before?’
“I know. Sad, huh?”
He walked over and gingerly touched his handiwork. “Actually, I think it’s pretty sweet. And awesome.” He caressed my cheek. “So, any regrets?”
I paused for a moment before answering. “Nope. I had a great time last night. Though I admit that I’m not used to things moving that fast. But I’m glad it did.”
“Yeah, I tend to be a bit of a steamroller when it comes to this sort of thing.”
“So, I have to ask. Is this a one-time thing.”
It was his turn to take a moment to respond. “I’d like it to be more than that. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to move in together. But I enjoyed our date. And the sex.”
I laugh. “No problems. I’m not looking to move in together, either. But I’m glad I’ll get to see you again.”
“Soon, hopefully. So, are you coming back to bed?”
I paused and considered. “No, I actually better head home. Katie’s going to need to go out in the morning. And it’ll be a lot harder for me to forget if I’m where she can pester me.”
He chuckled and said, “Very well. But just so you remember me.” He leaned in for another kiss. Our lips touched, and the tip of his tongue his tongue darted between my lips for the briefest of moments. He pulled back and I longed to maintain the contact between us.
I ran my hand over his chest briefly, feeling his pecs. He stepped back out of the doorway and I headed back to his room, collecting my clothes and putting them on. He sat on the bed watching me, then walked me down the stairs back to the street. There he gave me one more kiss before opening the door for me. I stepped through and he said, “Text me so I know you made it home, okay?”
“I will,” I said. “Good night. And thanks. For everything.”
“I enjoyed it too,” he said, before waving and closing the door. I pulled my phone from my pocket as I walked to my car. Steve had texted me around midnight, assuring me that Katie had been taking care of. I smiled, thankful to have such a good friend. I was even more thankful that I had enjoyed such a memorable night.