Written for the prompt(s): Describe a favorite summertime memory.
|French Fries and Pigeons at Union Square Park
Nothing about Ian Chambers was what I expected.
But when I’d answered the strange, but intriguing singles’ ad on Craigslist, I certainly hadn’t expected anything would come of it, let alone the long, rambling emails, which evolved into three hours-long phone conversations, which evolved into frequent and near constant texting—
—which had evolved into this, our first meeting.
I was sitting in Union Square Park on a sunny, hot Sunday afternoon, watching the cute skateboarders grind off the long, curving semi-circular stone that was serving me as a bench. This spot was where Ian and I had agreed to meet, and I was wearing my crimson velvet blazer. Not the wisest sartorial choice in mid-July, but I’d figured I’d be the only guy wearing something like that in the park. Ian would have no trouble spotting me. I stood out like a scarlet jay among crows and sparrows.
And I should have no trouble spotting him, either, since he’d said he’d be wearing a lime-green Panama hat.
So I sat and waited, and waited and sat. I watched the skateboarders skate and the pigeons pige, trying to keep my nerves in check, till I thought to check the time.
He was eleven minutes late.
My already high-strung nerves ratcheted up another huge notch and I forsook gazing at the cute skaters and pushy pigeons to search the ebbing and flowing crowds for a hint of lime-green.
At fifteen minutes late, I began to think I’d been stood up. The question then became: Did I text Ian and ask if he was still coming? Or wait and see if he texted me with some lame excuse for being a no-show?
I was tempted to do the latter, if only because—two months of back and forth, online and over the phone, aside—I didn’t really know him. Hell, we hadn’t even exchanged pictures.
But I went suddenly cold at that thought. What if he’d come to the park stealth, sans lime-green Panama hat, to see what I looked like, and decided I wasn’t his type? What if I just wasn’t hot enough and he’d quietly taken off with me none the wiser?
I did a mental once-over of myself:
The crimson blazer looked good on me—I got compliments every time I wore it. My jeans were new, black, Diesel, and rode low on my hips. They were tight-ish, but not ball-huggers. They, too, looked good on me. And my vintage Melanie Safka t-shirt, worn not-quite-ironically, was a quirky touch that anyone could appreciate.
My red Converse All-Stars were meticulous, as was my curly, artfully tousled hair.
I was also wearing my contacts instead of my glasses, so I didn’t look too hipster-ish. . . .
All told, I was having a fierce day, despite the heat.
Or . . . maybe I wasn’t. . . ?
I sighed, tapping my foot and running a hand over my hair, tousling it even further. Whatever I looked like, I’d give it another five minutes, and then I was gone. I was gone, and Mr. Ian Chambers could go suck a bag of—
Startled, I nearly dropped my damn iPhone at the sound of a familiar voice, then looked up.
“Yeah, uh . . . Ian Chambers?” I asked tentatively of the person—sans Panama hat—smiling down at me. He wasn’t tall—average, bordering on short, and stocky—wearing a faded black t-shirt that said: Got Rock? in oozing yellow letters, and had a frayed hole near the collar. Hairy, solid legs poked out of long, hunter-green Champion shorts, and were finished off by unlaced, dirty Adidas which had seen better days.
His face . . . was a grab-bag of interesting, but ultimately mismatched features: square jaw, pointed chin, full, wide mouth, aquiline nose, high brow, and round ordinary-brown eyes. All of which was topped off by messy, windblown, mouse-brown hair . . . shoulder-length, and a faded purple at the tips. All and all, he looked at least ten years younger than his twenty-six years.
In one large, rough-looking hand he held a super-sized carton of McDonald’s fries. In the other was a battered Android phone of some kind.
“That’sa me,” he said, grinning, revealing slightly crooked but perfectly white teeth. He belatedly shoved his phone in his pocket, then held out his hand for shaking. I took it and stood. I was at least four inches taller than him.
“Where’s your hat?” I blurted out, then blushed. Ian grinned again and shrugged.
“Sitting on my kitchen table, where I left it last night so I wouldn’t forget it,” he said easily, and laughed. His voice was low and pleasant—the same voice and same person I’d talked to a hundred times already. There was no reason to be anxious. So I laughed, too, nervous and fake-sounding, to my own ears. “But I see you’re sporting the crimson blazer. Well-played, Dennis.”
Blushing once more, I shrugged nonchalantly. At least that’s what I was aiming for. “Well, I said I’d wear it, so . . . here I am. Wearing it.”
“And on this hot-ass day, no less. You’re a better man than I,” Ian said, then retrieved his hand. I hadn’t even realized I’d still been shaking it. My face went up in flames again. “Have you been here long?”
“About twenty minutes,” I replied, shrugging again like it was nothing. As if I hadn’t been ready to go home and have a full-blown hissy fit about being stood up. “I was, uh, beginning to think you weren’t gonna show.”
“Nah.” Ian waved a hand dismissively. “Stand up a date with you? Only for my own funeral.” He offered me the carton of fries but I shook my head. “I’m just always late, wherever I go. I probably should’ve told you that before now, of course. . . .”
“Oh, it’s not a problem. I didn’t mind waiting,” I demurred, and Ian gave me a sideways glance.
“You know, you’re adorable when you lie,” he said softly and I blinked . . . then blushed once more. “And when you blush.”
“Then I must be a freakin’ kitten in a teacup, right now.” I snorted, looking away, trying to hide my face—which actually gets really blotchy if I blush hard enough. Which I’m certain I was doing right then.
We stood there in silence for a minutes, stealing glances at each other, till a skateboarder zoomed past us, a little too close. Ian chuckled and elbowed my arm gently.
“Wanna go for a walk?” he asked me, and I smiled gamely.
“Sure . . . how about once around the park, Jeeves?”
“Very good, sir,” Ian said in a passable English accent, and smartly offered me his arm.
Charmed, despite myself, I took it.
“So, now that we’re actually face to face, I have absolutely nothing to say,” Ian said, sounding only mildly chagrined. I smiled, and kicked at a pebble that was in my path and missed.
“That’s because we’ve already talked about everything on the phone and via email.” I laughed a little, thinking of at least one subject he never tired of talking about. “What about Mingo and Jess? How’re they?”
“Spoiled rotten, as always,” Ian said, smiling fondly as we strolled along. “And shedding like crazy ‘cause it’s summer. Everything in my apartment is covered in a layer of dog hair.”
“Including you,” I noted, brushing at the shoulder of his t-shirt. He laughed.
“Including and especially me.”
We walked on, down the winding path, past other people and couples. We garnered a few glances, but this was New York City. If every one of these people didn’t see something stranger than two guys strolling in the park arm in arm, by day’s end, I’d smile and kiss a pig.
“And how’s Fawkes doing?”
I rolled my eyes, thinking of my little calico baby. “He’s doing . . . his own thing, which lately includes knocking shit off of tables and shelves and sleeping on my Macbook. He, too, is shedding.”
“And yet . . . there’s not a speck of cat hair to be seen on you,” Ian noted back, one eyebrow quirked up, and I grinned at him.
“Nope. I never leave the house covered in cat hair.”
“You don’t strike me as the type who would.”
“Hmm . . . and what type do I strike you as?” I asked half-playfully. Ian’s smile was wistful and he cut me another sideways glance.
“Honestly?” I nodded and he shrugged, clearing his throat. “Well . . . outta my league, for starters. Like the kinda guy who wouldn’t be caught dead on the arm of a guy like me.”
“And yet I am,” I said, leaning closer to him for a moment. We ambled along in a charged silence for a few minutes till we’d made a full circuit of the park and wound up almost exactly where we’d started. This time, by mutual unspoken agreement, we made for a real bench and not the skater’s grinding stone, and sat.
“And what do you mean by a guy like you?” I asked, still holding onto his arm. Ian was the one to blush, now, and smile down at his hairy knees.
“Nothing, just . . . you can’t say that I’m the type of guy you usually go for. That if we’d met on the street you would’ve given me the time of day. Or even noticed me.”
“Maybe I would have. Maybe not.” I shrugged. “Though generally speaking, I don’t spend most of my time sizing up random guys on the street for their dating potential. I have no way of telling if I’d be compatible with a complete stranger just based on how they look. Do you?”
Ian shook his head and looked up at me—looked me over—his eyes hooded. “Well, no. But I’m not the guy other guys fantasize about. And you very much are.”
I blushed, but frowned. “Well, that’s flattering, but I’d much rather a guy actually talk with me than fantasize about me.”
Ian nodded and thought that over for a minute, while I watched another couple sitting diagonally across from us. They were holding hands and speaking easily, and I sighed, wondering if I’d ever be part of a couple that was that . . . easy and comfortable with each other.
“Hey?” When I looked over at Ian, his grin was slow and wry. “What about a guy who does both? Simultaneously, even? Like, multitasking, and shit?”
I rolled my eyes and snorted. “That . . . would be acceptable. So long as said guy knew when to come back to reality, every once in a while, and realize that I’m a real person, with real feelings and flaws. I’m no Ken doll.”
“I’d hope not,” Ian said, still grinning, giving me yet another once-over. “They’re not even anatomically correct.”
I smirked. “I assure you: I am.”
Up-up-up, went Ian’s eyebrows and he said: “Oh, yeah? Well, proof, or it didn’t happen.”
Now I was really blushing, covering my face with my hand. “Okay, this conversation train’s officially jumped the track.”
“Are you kidding? This is just like talking to you over the phone. Only with a much better view than my shitty apartment walls.”
And when I risked a glance up at Ian, he was staring at me, smiling a small, fond smile. One that I returned shyly.
So we sat there and smiled at each other for a few seconds, then both looked away at the same time, laughing a little. A few pigeons landed nearby, not too far in front of us, and Ian gleefully said: “Ah. . . .”
He grinned at me. “I always save the last few fries for the birds,” he said holding up the carton and shaking it. I smiled.
“Aw . . . how sweet.” I leaned against his arm again. “Mind if I help?”
He offered me the carton. “Not at all.”
I took a few fries and after a moment of consideration, scattered them at the two pigeons nearest me. The jockeyed and jostled greedily for the unexpected food.
Ian, meanwhile, had selected a fry and, with a practiced flick of his wrist, launched it at—directly at—a pigeon, nailing it right on the back. The pigeon jumped, making a surprised cooing noise and a big flutter, before going after the makeshift missile.
“Nailed it!” Ian exclaimed delightedly, laughing, and I gaped over at him, my eyes wide. He glanced at me and his laughter slowly died. “Um . . . that is,” he began, turning red, and I shook my head disbelievingly.
“You hit that pigeon with a French fry.”
Ian squirmed a little, not meeting my eyes. “Uh, yeah.”
“Yeah. . . .”
I found myself suddenly grinning so huge it felt like my face might split in two. “Do it again?”
Ian blinked up at me and did some gaping of his own before smiling hopefully. “Uh—are you for real?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked, then clutched at his arm as a couple of the pigeons took off. “Quick—get another one before they all fly away!”
Shaking his own head, Ian laughed and took a fry, then took aim. This fry bounced off the beak of one very surprised grey and green pigeon. It didn’t even stay to find the fry, just took off, winging its way to safer environs, leaving the fry to be fought over by two others of its ilk.
“Classic,” I said, chuckling, and Ian watched me, bemused and a bit dazedly. “What?”
“Nothing, just—you’re like, the coolest guy. You’re smart, funny, sweet, hot, and you like it when I pelt small birds with French fries. You’re a keeper.” Ian looked down at his knees again, blushing, and I let my hand slide down his arm till it was resting in his hand. He glanced up at me again, questioningly.
“Not all small birds,” I informed him with mock seriousness. “Just pigeons. My dad always called them rats with wings. If those had been sparrows you’d been pelting, I might’ve had to change my favorable opinion about you.”
Ian’s lips twitched in a restrained smile. “Ah. Good thing I only ever pelt pigeons, then.”
“It’s a good thing, indeed,” I agreed, linking our fingers together. Ian squeezed my fingers and winked at me. I flushed, not from embarrassment, but from pleased excitement.
And so we sat, occasionally shying fries at unwary pigeons, and smiling shyly at each other. We didn’t talk much, but the silence was comfortable and somehow familiar. Across from us, the couple I’d noticed before was sitting closer than ever and occasionally making out. I don’t doubt that Ian had noticed them, by that point, and I was hoping that he’d maybe take their cue and make a move.
Well, if he doesn’t, then maybe I will, I thought, my smile turning into a smirk at the thought of Ian’s surprise when—if—I took matters into my own hands and kissed him. . . .
I tossed a French fry with a little underhanded flick of the wrist, and it bonked a pigeon right on the head, causing a flap and flurry of feathers and coos.
“Oh, my God! Did you see that? Did you? I hit it!” I exclaimed, turning to Ian, who was grinning at me, wide and proud. After only a moment of reluctance, I hugged him, wrapping my arms around his neck. And after a moment of palpable surprise, he hugged me back, his arms going around my waist.
“I did, indeed, see that! Nice throw!” he said, one hand sliding up from my waist to pat me on the back. “Power and precision!”
I squeezed him tight for a few moments, inhaling his scent—soap, grass, and very slightly . . . dog—before letting him go and sitting back a little. With a final pat of my back that was more of a brief stroke, Ian let me go, too, his face red under his tan. His eyes kept meeting mine and skittering away, before darting right back.
“I really think you should kiss me,” I said, firmly, despite my sudden nerves. At the same time, Ian asked: “Can I kiss you?”
Both of our eyes widened and we looked away from each other, laughing.
“You don’t ask someone to kiss them. You just . . . do,” I said, for lack of anything better to say. Ian was the one to snort, this time.
“Says the guy who flat-out said I should kiss him.”
I turned all kinds of red. “That’s different.”
“Oh, really? How?”
“It just . . . is,” I claimed, knowing I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I could see Ian grinning from the corner of my eye. Then he was a blur of motion as he darted in quickly and kissed me on the cheek.
I got a quick impression of his soft, full lips before he pulled away—not far—leaving me to gape once more. My hand flew up to my face, fingers brushing my cheek, as if to capture the impression the kiss had made, and I gazed at Ian with wide, wondering eyes.
Then my wide-open eyes were fluttering shut as Ian leaned in again—slowly, this time, I suppose so I could turn away, if I wanted. But I didn’t want to turn away, and this kiss landed square on my mouth.
So, here I am, now in these eternal first moments of Ian’s and my first kiss. His lips are pressing mine firmly and I can tell he’s debating whether or not to open his mouth yet, so I settle the matter for him and part my own lips. And he parts his and his tongue darts out to swipe my lips and those lights flashing behind my eyes must be fireworks . . . that a capella hymn I seem to hear coming from a choir of angels.
Ian’s arms are sliding around my waist again and my hands have settled on his chest. I sigh. We have successfully navigated the waters of First Kiss-Dom, to the land of Making Out. I barely even notice when the nearly empty French fry carton pressed against my back falls to the bench and bounces to the ground. But I do hear the excited cooing of greedy pigeons as they fight over the last of the fries. Then I’m not noticing anything but the way Ian’s tongue strokes boldly against my own and the way his hands clench at the small of my back and the swell of my ass, respectively.
“All this, and you’re a Melanie Safka-fan? Will you marry me?” Ian breaks the kiss to murmur on my lips, smiling. For a moment, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Then I remember my t-shirt, and laugh breathlessly. But briefly, because before I can even properly catch my breath, Ian’s kissing me once more, and the fireworks and choirs are going off again, erasing higher brain function completely. . . .
No, I don’t know what I was expecting to get when I met Ian Chambers. But whatever it was, what I actually got was even better.