A story about a guy who grows and learns to see his life and socialization differently.
|I spotted Nate waving to me just outside his building as I began looking for a place to park. I found one just off his street and was just getting my car settled as he made his way to the car. He opened left rear door and Katie bounded out of the back seat and jumped up at him, placing her front paws on his chest. He laughed and said, “Well it’s good to see you, too.” She began licking his face.
“Katie!” I scolded as I got out of the car myself. “Get down!”
“Oh, let her be for just a minute,” Nate said. “She’s just excited to see me.”
I shook my head, smiling. “Suit yourself. But if I taste dog slobber when I kiss you later.”
“I’ll be sure to wash up. So, how about you? Is Katie the only one excited to see me?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“I’m happy to see you and spend time for you. As for excited,” I paused, then said, “Well, let’s just say that’s a work in progress right now.”
“Gotcha! So, what can I help you with?”
“Well, if you can just grab Katie’s leash, that’d be great. Other than that, I just have my backpack and another bag full of my art stuff.”
“You brought your art stuff?”
“Yeah, I won’t have time to go back home after meeting Ted at the park before heading to the church to meet with the teens. I figure if I brought my stuff, I could stay here longer. If that’s okay with you, of course.”
He grinned. “That sounds great to me and you know it.” He kissed me on the lips. After a few seconds he drew back. “So wait, does that mean you’re taking Katie to church with you?”
“Yep. I already cleared it with Jessica. She said Katie can stay in her office if need be.”
“That’s pretty cool. The only church I ever went to seemed too uptight to let a dog on the premises.”
“Yeah, I suspect a few in charge would be like that at my church too. I know a couple of the leaders at the church my parents attend would be.” I followed Nate, who had begun walking toward his place. He pulled Katie to the side and opened the door so I could walk through. I shook my head. “Go up with her. Otherwise, she’s going to bowl me over trying to get past me.”
“Good point. Well, here, in that case, let’s step inside.” I did and he followed and closed the door behind himself. Once it was latched, he reached for the hook connecting the leash to Katie’s collar and released it. “Go on,” he said to Katie and she looked around before rocketing up the stairs.
I chuckled. “I think she only touched five out of twenty steps.”
Nate laughed. “No kidding. Anyway, shall we?” With that, he took my head and led me up the stairs and into the kitchen. There, his small wooden table had been covered with a white linen table cloth and two places had been set. Between the two settings sat a pair of red taper candles already which were already lit. He led me over to one of the two chair and pulled it out for me to sit. I took my seat and he squeezed my shoulders and collarbone slightly before walking over to the stove. He came back with a pot and began to spoon a concoction of pasta and broccoli onto my plate, then his. “Sorry I don’t have fancy dishes to serve from.”
“Quite okay. This looks fantastic. What is it?”
“Spicy broccoli raab and and gemelli.” He took the pot back to the stove and set it down. Then he opened the oven and took out a baking sheet. He also grabbed a fork and walked over to me. There was a single baked chicken breast on the baking sheet, which he slid onto my plate.
I looked up at him quizzically. “I thought you said I shouldn’t expect you to cook meat for me.”
He smiled at me. “That’s right. You shouldn’t expect me to do it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do it on occasion, anyway.”
I reached up and caressed his cheek. “You’re amazing.”
“I don’t know about that, but you certainly make me want to do nice things for you.” He placed the baking sheet on the stove, then opened a cupboard and pulled a bottle of wine from it. He retrieved a corkscrew from a drawer and opened the bottle, then walked over and filled each of our glasses. “As I recall, you said you like Rieslings.”
“Love them. But how did you? I mean, you’re not twenty-one.”
He grinned. “I’m a college student. We can be resourceful when it comes to acquiring alcohol.”
“Yeah, a couple of my roommates were quite skilled at that. Though they mostly got beer and the occasional bottle hard liquor.”
“Well, hopefully that just proves I’m not your typical college student,” Nate said sitting down.
“There’s nothing typical about you,” I said, raising my glass.
“I’ll gladly drink to that.”
We sat on the couch after dinner, eating tiramisu. “I hope you don’t mind that the dessert is something I bought,” Nate said.
“Not at all. It’s delightful. Besides, you put in enough work just making dinner.”
“That and I’m not nearly as good at baking as I am at cooking.”
“Well, even if you were only half as good at that, you’d be amazing.” I picked up the bottle of wine and refilled my glass.
Nate smiled at me. “Isn’t that your third glass?”
“Only my second, actually. Why? Are you concerned I’m drinking too much?”
“No, you’re an adult. I’m sure you know what you can handle. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to be driving tonight.”
“Though I do hope you don’t end up falling asleep on me.”
I took another sip as I considered his words. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem. But I’ll slow down a little, all the same.”
“Good. So, are you up for watching a DVD?”
“Sounds good to me. Did you have something in mind?”
“Well, I know you really like ‘The Princess Bride.’”
I set my wine glass down and studied his face for a moment. “Are you trying to appeal to my hopeless romantic side?”
“I’d say it’s more like I’m trying to affirm and encourage it.”
I kissed him. “That’s really sweet of you. And yeah, I’m always up for watching it. As long as you don’t mind.”
“Can I hold you while we watch it?”
I blinked. “Well, I kind of assumed we’d cuddle or something.”
“Just making sure. In that case, I’ll watch anything you want.”
“You’re so easy to please sometimes.”
“Have you been talking to one of my exes?”
I elbowed him.
We cuddled on the couch as the ending credits for “Taken 2” rolled by on the screen. “I still love that movie,” said.
“I like the first one better,” Nate offered, running his hand through my hair.
“Well, yeah. That one was definitely more suspenseful.” I paused, then added, “You know, we could’ve watched that one if you wanted to.”
“Nah, this one was fine. Besides, it was your choice. I wasn’t going to override you.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “You know, it never occurred to me how much some of my exes would do that. They’d give me a choice, but then they wouldn’t honor it for what reason.”
“Damn, that’s awful.”
“Yeah, if Jack had wanted to watch a different movie than the one I chose -- or just didn’t like my choice -- he’d ignore my choice.”
“Even when he said it was your pick?”
“That’s not right.”
I shifted uncomfortably. Something about Nate’s statement bothered me. “Yeah, but if he didn’t like the movie I picked, it made sense for him to suggest an alternative.”
Nate brushed my cheek. “Curt, that sort of makes sense. But at the same time, I feel that if I say something is your choice, you deserve to make that choice free of my influence. Besides, if there’s a movie I really didn’t want to see, I would have said so up front. It’s jut as easy for me to say, “Hey, I really don’t like the English Patient and don’t think I can deal with that tonight, but any other movie you want to see, I’m game. Your choice.’ And that keeps it your choice.” He paused for a moment while looking into my eyes, then added. “Besides, if Jack didn’t like the movie you picked, did he say ‘Hey, not that one?’ and let you pick again?”
“Well, no. He just picked one at that point.”
“Yeah, that’s not giving you a choice. That’s pretending to give you a choice.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just don’t like to think about how badly my exes treat me.”
“Because I let them do it,” I admitted.
He took my chin in his hand and maneuvered my face close to his. “You didn’t know better at the time. Now you do, hopefully.”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good.” He brushed his lips against mine. “So, do you feel like another movie?”
“Maybe in a bit,” I said as I placed my hand on his chest and rubbed it.
He smiled. “A nap first, maybe?”
“Well, going to bed, at least,” I said.
“I think I can accommodate you there,” he said. He stood, then helped me up. Together we headed for the bedroom.
Ted and I sat on our customary bench the next day. I watched Nate playing fetch with Katie several hundred feet away. Ted spoke up. “He seems pretty charming.”
“Yeah, he really is. He’s sweet and thoughtful. I was almost in tears last night when he talked to me about Jack and other exes.” I paused. “I just hope I don’t scare him off with that kind of thing.”
Ted sat quietly for a few seconds before speaking. “Does he seem like the type that would be bothered by that sort of thing?”
“I guess not.” I glanced at the ground collecting my thoughts. “Actually, that’s the weird thing. He’s been very encouraging when it comes to me talking about my past.”
“That’s not a bad thing. Unless he’s looking for things to use against you when you fight down the road.”
I looked at Ted, a bit frightened by the idea. “Do you think he’d really do that?”
“Not really. Though to be honest, I just met him. What do I know. But I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”
“Okay, thanks. So, what do you think of the conversation I had with Tina.”
Ted snorted derisively. “I think she continues to prove herself to be a real piece of work.”
“Yeah, I’m really starting to see everyone else’s point of view on that one.”
“And she hasn’t called you since?”
“No, not yet.”
“And you haven’t called her?”
“No. I mean, I’ve thought about it. But what would I say?”
“Well, I’m glad you’re not thinking about apologizing.”
I hesitated. “Well, I’ve considered that too.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“Honestly? I’m not convinced I did anything I should apologize for.”
“I’m glad to hear that. You don’t have anything to apologize for. She was the one completely out of line.”
“Thanks. It’s good to have that reassurance. Otherwise, I think I might cave in and try to make amends.”
“Then I’m glad I can encourage you. Though I hope you learn to trust yourself in time.”
“I know. But enough about me. How are you and Paul doing?”
“We’re doing okay. I haven’t seen him this weekend. He’s on a business trip to Colorado. He called me last night to let me know he got checked into his hotel okay.”
“He’s calling to check in with you? Did you two get married?” I asked teasingly.
Ted affected a scowl at me. “We certainly enjoy each other’s company, that’s for sure. And at the risk of giving you any more ammo, he admitted that half the reason he called was so he could hear my voice. We hadn’t even talked for a couple days prior to that.”
“Well, I guess I can’t tease you too much. I’ve been a bit obsessed with Nate. Plus acting something like a horny teenager.”
“Well, watching you get your sex on and actually enjoy some intimacy has been kind of fun, to be honest,” Ted said. “As for being obsessed, I think you were much more obsessed when you were single. If anything, it seems like dating Nate has made you find a new interest in life in general.”
I considered that. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I mean, I have the stuff going on with the youth, though that has more to do with Steve getting me involved than dating Nate. Plus there’s the possibility of me taking some classes. Which again is really about work and not my love life.”
“But haven’t you told me you’ve been doing a lot more drawing in your spare time, too?”
“Well, yeah. I figure I need something to do on the evenings when I’m not hanging out with Nate or working with the teens.”
“What did you used to do with your evenings?”
“Honestly? Watched television and surfed the Internet while wishing I’d meet someone special.” I cringed as I said it. “Wow, that sounds pretty sad, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds like someone who was depressed, if you really want to know my opinion.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. So why didn’t you say anything.”
Ted placed a hand on my shoulder. “Curt? I tried. Why do you think I kept telling you that you needed to get out and meet people? I even suggested you talk to a professional a couple times.”
“And I brushed the idea off,” I said smiling ruefully. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t apologize to me, guy. Your choices to stay secluded and sad didn’t affect me. Well, other than being sad to see a great friend do that to himself.”
“So, do you still think I should talk to someone?”
“Ultimately, only you can make that call.”
“But don’t you have an opinion?” I pressed.
Ted considered long and hard. “After Zach died, I spent some time in therapy. Mostly for grief, though we did cover a few other things. After my experience, I admit that I’m one of those people who thinks anyone can probably benefit from a few conversations with a therapist they can trust and open up to.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“Sort of. But at the same time, I’m not as worried about you right now as I used to be. I see you turning yourself around right now. You’re much more cheerful. You’re looking forward to working with your church’s teens. You’re doing things you love. And you even seem to be starting to set some boundaries with people like Tina. Plus it sounds like you might be starting to express your needs with Nate.”
“So that’s a no?” I asked. I was getting confused.
“I’m saying that it really is entirely up to you. Though can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said hesitantly.
“Okay. Let me first say that I think you and Nate make a cute couple and that I hope that you stay together for a long time, even all of your lives. However, just hypothetically suppose that the two of you break up for some reason. Do you think you’d still do all the other stuff you’re doing now and do them so enthusiastically? Or do you think you’d revert back to your sad, isolated self?”
“You don’t ask easy questions, do you?”
“No, I don’t. That’s why I don’t actually expect you to answer it, and certainly not right this minute. I’m just asking you to think about it carefully.”
I nodded. “I will. I promise.”
We both looked up somewhat startled when Nate cleared his throat. He was standing about twenty feet away. Katie stood beside him, her tail wagging. “Is it safe for me to rejoin you?”
Ted stood. “Sure. I don’t know how much of our conversation you heard and I’m sorry if any of it offended you.”
Nate grinned. “Not at all. In fact, I’m inclined to agree with everything you said.” He turned to me and spoke more somberly. “In fact, I do hope you take his question seriously, Curt. I love spending time with you, but I don’t want to be your only source of happiness. One of the things I like about you is that you have so much going on for you right now.”
I smiled. “Thanks, hon. I’ll think about it. Maybe we can talk about it more later tonight. Assuming you’re interested in hanging out again tonight.”
“By all means, assume,” Nate said, grinning again. “In fact, I figured we could go catch that movie later, if that works for you.”
“Sounds great. Dinner too? My treat.”
“Cool, I’ll pick you up when I’m done with the teens. Then we can drop off Katie at my place and go out. Are you sure you don’t mind catching the bus home from the park?”
“Not at all, hon. I take buses a lot when I’m not with you.”
“Or I could give you a lift home,” Ted offered. “From what I understand, your place is just a couple blocks out of my way.”
Nate looked at Ted. “You sure?”
“Hey, anyone important to Curt is alright in my book. Consider it a favor on his behalf.”
Nate turned to me. “You really do have some cool friends.”
“I know. I’m starting to realize just how lucky I am.”
I was picking up after working with the teens for two hours. One of the girls, a fifteen year old with black hair came over to me. “Thanks again for doing this Curt. You’re a lot of fun to work with.”
I paused trying to recall her name. “You’re welcome, Nicole. It was great working with you today. You have some real talent.”
“Thanks.” She glanced around the room. Jessica was sitting in a far corner, working on some paperwork. When Nicole spoke, her voice was a bit quieter. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. I can’t promise an answer though,” I said honestly.
“Are the rumors true? Are you?” She paused, then added, “You know.”
I chuckled, trying to hide my discomfort. “I didn’t realize there were rumors about me.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, you don’t exactly seem like you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re, you know.”
“Gay?” I offered.
“Yeah. And I can’t believe you just said it.”
“Well, I figured one of us needed to before the conversation went much further. I’d be totally embarrassed to keep things going for another five minutes only to find out you were really talking about me being asthmatic. Which I’m not just, for the record.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you always such a smartass?”
“Sorry about that. I’m just a bit nervous.”
“Oh, because you’re not supposed to be talking to me about this?” She waved her hand dismissively when I gave her a quizzical look. “Oh please. Becka told most of us about the big pow-wow with the leaders.”
“I see. I wish she hadn’t done that.”
“Because you teens don’t need to be burdened with those kinds of politics.”
“Seems to me that we’re already burdened with them. Remaining ignorant wouldn’t change that.”
“I guess not.”
“Anyway, can I ask you another question?”
“Sure. Same caveat, though.”
“That’s fine. Why do you keep coming here when they turn you into a huge political issue?”
I considered the question. “Some days, I wonder. But then I remember that I actually love Jesus and I love the worship here. Being gay doesn’t change that.” I placed a hand on hers. “Besides, if I hadn’t stuck around, I wouldn’t be able to work with you and all the other great teens.”
Nicole blushed at that. “Thanks. I’m glad you stuck around, too. It gives me hope, I guess.” I looked at her in a way that I hoped conveyed I wanted to make sure I understood her correctly. “Yeah, I think I’m...that way too. Sorry. I’m not ready to actually say the word.”
I nodded. “I wasn’t ready when I was your age, either. I understand. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me, though.”
“So, when were you sure? I mean, did you ever go through a time when you doubted?”
“Kind of.” I paused, gathering my thoughts. “I think I always knew. It was pretty obvious when I started noticing other boys when most of my friends were noticing girls. But I also knew what I learned growing up, so I spent a few years trying to convince myself that I was just confused. I looked for any little excuse to explain things away.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I do that too. It’s getting harder to rationalize, though. I mean, when my one friend gives me a hug and I suddenly have this overwhelming desire to kiss her on the lips, it’s pretty hard to say ‘oh, that’s just being affectionate.’”
I chuckled. “I’m sure. And yeah, it got harder for me too. It’s why I eventually quit.”
“I think I’m getting to that point. I’m just not sure what to do next.”
“Do you have anyone you feel you can talk to?”
“Not my parents, that’s for sure.”
“I can relate to that.”
“I have a few friends I could tell at school. But, I’m a bit nervous to. I think they’d all think it’s cool and start wanting to have make-out parties.”
“I take it that’s not what you want?”
“Not really.” She looked at me nervously. “Is that weird?”
“Not at all. You have to figure out what’s right for you,” I said.
“You’re not just saying that because you’d get in trouble if you pushed me to do anything are you?”
I shook my head vigorously. “That’s not my style anyway. I think it’s good that you’re trying to work these things out for yourself and I don’t want to try and influence you. I mean, you have to live with any choices you make. Not me.”
She looked at me for a few minutes. “I like you. Most adults would be rushing to tell me exactly what I should do.”
“And they’d tell you it’s for your own good.”
She smirked. “You got that right. So why are you different?”
I pondered that question for a moment. “Because half the time, I don’t think I know what’s for my own good. So I see no point in pretending to know what’s for yours.”
“You mean you’re not perfect?” she said, her voice full of mock surprise.
“Don’t tell them that, please. They might take my adult card away.” She laughed. “No, I’ve made all kinds of mistakes and I suspect I’m going to make plenty more.”
We both jumped a bit when Jessica coughed as she approached us. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I heard footsteps approaching and what sounded like Nicole’s father talking. I figured you might appreciate a heads up.
“So you heard our conversation?” Nicole asked, her eyes fearful.
“Nope. For all I know, the two of you have been debating which brand of chalk is better,” Jessica said. If she was joking, nothing in her tone or demeanor gave her away.
Nicole was about to respond when the door behind us swung open and a burly man called out. “Nikki! Aren’t you ready yet?”
“Sorry about that, Mr. Chilson,” Jessica said as she turned to face him. “I asked her to help me with a few things. I didn’t realize it had gotten so late.”
The man glared at me, then spoke to Jessica. “Well, that’s okay then. I just thought she was screwing off when she knows I need to get back to the store.”
“No, Dad. I’m ready to go though. Thanks for the tips, Curt.” She picked up her backpack and headed for the door with her father.
“Any time, Nicole. Remember to keep drawing,” I said. Once father and daughter left and closed the door behind them, I turned to Jessica. “That seemed a bit intense.”
Jessica nodded. “Mr. Chilson is wound pretty tight at times. He’s quite strict in general. And he’s starting to suspect that his daughter is a lesbian.”
“So that’s why he gave me a dirty look, I take it?”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Eh, not your fault. Besides, it’s probably best he give me dirty looks than take it out on his daughter.”
“Except I gather he does that, too.”
“So you can see why I’m glad you’re doing this project. Besides the fact that it’s a great project, I mean.”
“Yeah. So, are you going to ask me what we talked about?”
“Good. I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling you, anyway.”
Jessica nodded. “I’m sure. And I think that’s a good thing.”
“I better go check on Katie. Thanks again for letting me keep her in your office.”
“No problem. Are you going back to Nate’s now?”
“No. Well, yes. But only to pick him up. We’re going out to dinner and a movie.”
“Sounds like fun. Any idea what movie you’re going to see?”
“Well, we haven’t officially decided, but I suspect we’ll go see the Nicolas Cage movie that’s out?”
“Oh, I hear that’s great.”
“You’ve seen it already?”
“Yeah, Steve and I checked it out last weekend while Nate was writing a paper. But I told Nate I’d watch it with him again.”
“Such a good boyfriend,” Jessica said, her voice teasing.
“I try. Besides, it’s a really good movie. I’d watch it again anyway.”
“I’ll take that as a ringing endorsement.”
“Cool.” We reached her office and she unlocked it. Katie came bounding out and ran up to me. “Hey girl,” I said, petting her.
“She’s a beautiful dog,” Jessica said. “How long have you had her?”
“Five years now. She’s actually a gift from an ex. Probably the best gift he ever gave me.”
Jessica reached down and ran her hand along Katie’s back. Katie turned and licked her hand. “She’s a real sweetheart.”
“Yeah. And she keeps me company at my place, which is always good. She keeps me from getting too lonely.”
“I understand how that is,” Jessica said. “Anyway, you have a good night. Will I see you at church tomorrow?”
“I’m planning on coming, yeah.”
Nate and I sat at a small table in the Thai restaurant. “So, are you sure you don’t mind seeing this movie again? I mean, you just saw it last weekend.”
I smiled. “It was a really good movie. I’d love to see it again. Especially if I get to watch it with you this time. Besides, it’ll be fun to watch your reactions to some parts.”
“Oh, what do you mean?”
“It’s hard to explain, and you might find it a little weird.” I paused.
“Well, when I’m watching a movie that I really like with someone I care about, I often like to glance at their face and see how they like it. You know, to see if they’re enjoying it as much as I do.”
Nate picked at his sesame tofu for a few seconds, then said, “That’s kind of sweet actually.”
“Well, yeah. It means you really want to share an experience you enjoy with them and want to know if they’re enjoying it as much as you are. It shows just how considerate you are.”
I blushed a bit. “Thanks. Yeah, I guess I see what you’re saying.” My phone sounded a text alert. I glanced at the screen and grimaced. Nate gave me a quizzical look. “Tina.”
“First time she’s contacted you since the fight?”
“What did she say?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t actually read the text.”
“Not sure I want to deal with her right now. I’m looking forward to a nice evening with you and I don’t want to ruin that by going round two with her.”
Nate grinned. “Fair enough.”
We continued chatting and eating our dinner when my phone went off again. I glanced at the screen and scowled this time.
“Yeah. Guess I better at lest read the texts and send a short reply so she doesn’t keep pestering us.” I pulled up the texts and snorted. “Oh geez. The first one was ‘Are we still friends’ and the second one was ‘guess not.’”
Nate shook his head. “Well, that’s quite the guilt trip.”
“Yeah. I’m half tempted to just send her back ‘works for me.’”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did, though that doesn’t really seem your style.”
“No, it’s not. Give me a second? I promise I’ll try to make it quick. I’m just going to let her know that I’m with you and I’ll talk to her later.”
“Thanks hon.” I punched in the message real quick and set my phone aside. In less than a minute, I had another text.
Nate reached for my phone, but stopped and looked at me as if to ask for permission. I nodded and he picked it up. He scanned the screen with his eyes and started laughing.
“That bad, huh?” I asked.
“‘Well, okay I guess. Talk to you soon, I hope.’ Sorry. That just cracked me up.”
I held out my hand and Nate handed the phone to me. I turned it off. “I really don’t want to deal with that right now. Or ever.”
Nate patted my hand sympathetically. “I don’t blame you there. I’ve had a few friends like that. They’re never fun.”
“Yeah, that too.”
I slid my phone into my pocket. “Anyway, I want to talk about something more pleasant. What did you do this afternoon?”