After today’s work was done, I found myself in the common area once again. Even though I had to go home and do some last minute preparations for today’s date with Zack, I wanted to stay even just for a little bit and chat with the kids. Spending time with them always made me feel good, and I hoped it was as good for them as it was for me.
I found a place on one of the couches and as I sat down, two teenage boys came and joined me. I’ve talked to them a lot over the past few weeks and they seemed like good guys. Just a little impish, but essentially nice and always ready for a chat.
“Hey, Mr. Carter,” one of them said. He was a cute guy with dirty blond hair, bangs almost covering his eyes.
“Hey Jason, what’s up? And please, call me Adam.”
“Sure, sorry ‘bout that,” he smiled shyly.
“No worries,” I replied and turned to the other guy. “Hey Chance, doing good?”
“Yeah, same old,” he said, nodding. Chance was a bit taller, but skinnier, with very short brown hair.
“Jason has something he wants to ask you,” he winked.
“Shut up, man! Not like you didn’t want to know, too!” Jason elbowed him and shot him a look that could cut glass. I just had to laugh at the scene.
“Ok, calm down you too. What did you guys wanna ask me?”
Jason looked around and continued in a quiet tone.
“Umm, see that guy sitting by the window, reading a book? You think, uh, he could be gay?” Jason asked hesitantly.
I guess I was the only openly gay adult at the center, so the boys thought my gaydar was more advanced than theirs. Oh, how wrong they were. Not that I couldn’t pick up gay vibes, but I was wrong at least as often as I was right. I looked over, trying not to be obvious; it was a guy I’ve never seen before, probably a newcomer.
“No clue, Jase, I haven’t seen him around. Why don’t you guys talk to him?”
“Jason’s too shy, and I’m not really into the guy. Or any guy, you know,” Chance shrugged and flashed a crooked smile. True, he wasn’t gay, but it was nice that he didn’t mind gay people. Jason and he seemed to be best friends, they were almost inseparable.
“Fine, I’ll talk to him,” I said, shaking my head at the two friends and getting up from the couch. I quickly found myself at an armchair next to the new guy, with his face buried in his book. He just kept reading without raising his head.
“Hey, I’m Adam,” I said, hoping to get his attention. He had wavy black hair and black-rimmed glasses that really complemented his face.
“Hey,” he said without looking up.
“I work here and haven’t seen you before. Are you new here?”
“Yeah, I came in yesterday night,” he said, still not raising his head to look at me.
“T. S. Spivet, I love that book,” I said, as I saw what he was reading. “Really impressive, with all the sketches and stuff.”
“Yeah, it is,” he said, just a hint of a smile appearing on his face.
“Which part are you at?”
“He just ran away and boarded the train,” the guy said, finally looking up.
“Oh, so the action is just starting,” I said.
“No spoilers!” he quickly interjected, and I made a lip-zipping motion with my fingers. “I’m Doug.”
“Nice to meet you,” I offered a smile.
“So, you a spy for those two? Did you find out what they wanted?” he smirked without looking at Jason and Chance.
“Ouch, are we that obvious?” I laughed at how casually he blew our plan.
“Kinda,” he replied, the tiniest of smiles once again returning to his lips. “Or maybe I’m just a better spy than you.”
I could see he was slowly bringing down his walls, and I was grateful for it.
“They don’t mean any harm, they just wanna make new friends,” I said. “I guess they were curious since you’re new.”
“Is that all they wanted?” he said. I could sense some uncertainty in his voice.
“I promise. Hey, we don’t tolerate any kind of abuse here, if that’s what you’re worried about,” I reassured him. “Well… One of them may or may not have a crush on you,” I smirked.
“Really? Which one?” he said indifferently, but I could see he was a little interested.
“I don’t know, you tell me. You’re the better spy,” I teased him and got up. “See ya around, Doug.”
“This isn’t over!” he smiled some more and pointed his index finger at me.
“So, what did you find out?” Jason asked as I approached him and Chance.
“Well, you know what they say – where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And I definitely felt some smoke there,” I winked and waved goodbye at the guys.
Since Zack and I were spending the evening at my place, I made dinner, bought some good wine and microwave popcorn, just so we have something to snack while watching Netflix. I assumed he was more interested in the ‘chill’ part than the Netflix part, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there yet.
Sure, I was horny since I hadn’t had sex in months, but I also didn’t like rushing into things. That phase of my life was long gone. God, I sound as if I’m sixty!
He was on time, a quality which I appreciated, and I could see he made an effort to look nice for the evening. As soon as he stepped in, I realized I forgot to tell him about my Labrador, Neptune, who immediately started jumping around our new guest.
“Hey, there, boy! What’s your name?” Zack asked, crouching down to pet him.
“Neptune,” I replied, taking Zack’s jacket and the bottle of wine he brought. “He’s very friendly.”
“I can see that,” he laughed, scratching Neptune behind the ears. “Maybe he’s just grateful you didn’t name him Uranus.”
“Damn, talk about a missed opportunity! He loves sniffing other dogs’ ‘Uranuses’.” Damn, the man had a great laugh.
“You know, I have a Beagle, I’m sure they’d get along.”
“I’m sure, he gets along with everyone,” I said as I went to the kitchen to take two wine glasses.
The dinner was relaxed, with the two of us chatting about our hobbies, families and things that happened in our lives since our last date, which was a few days ago, so there wasn’t really much to tell. Zack worked as a reporter for an online magazine, writing about restaurants and food in general. I hoped the dinner wouldn’t disappoint him, and luckily he seemed to enjoy it. As always, he seemed to be the perfect gentleman. Still, he wasn’t Kaleo…
After we finished dinner, we moved on to the living room where we relaxed on the couch with a movie and popcorn, with Neptune napping in his corner of the room. Zack chose the Black Panther – not really a movie for a romantic evening, but whatever. We weren’t even halfway through it, when the doorbell rang, almost scaring me. I wasn’t expecting anyone and I hardly get any visitors unannounced.
I quickly got up from the couch, popcorn still in my hand, and went to open the door.
We were quickly approaching the airport and I was getting increasingly anxious to board it and take off. The drive had taken too long, even though I had dad to keep me company. He tried to make small talk and I tried my best to respond, but I was just too nervous and he saw it. After about fifteen minutes of silence, as we finally saw the airport ahead of us, he started talking again.
“Here we are,” he said cheerfully.
Finally, I thought.
“Yeah, we’re almost there. I hope I didn’t forget anything,” I said, not because I really thought I might have forgotten something, but because I just needed to say something.
“Well, it’s too late now, isn’t it,” dad shrugged and chuckled.
“Yeah, I guess. I’ll be fine.”
“So, got big work to do in Chicago?”
“Still not gonna tell me what?” he turned to me expectantly, but he knew me better than that.
“Not yet. It’s nothing bad, I promise. Nothing to worry about,” I tried to reassure him. I honestly didn’t want him or mom to worry, but I also wasn’t ready tell them. What if I couldn’t find Adam, or if he doesn’t care about me anymore? I’d have to go back home, face their questions and watch the pity and concern in their eyes. No, they didn’t need to know about him, not yet.
“Ok,” dad said, his last attempt to get me to talk having failed. “But if something happens, you call your mom and me and let us know, ok?”
“Alright, dad, you got it,” I smiled at him reassuringly.
Browsing absentmindedly through one of the duty-free shops at the airport, I suddenly realised I didn’t have anything for Adam. I couldn’t go visit him empty-handed, but what do I get him? What do you get a man who saved your life? I’m not an expert, but I think a fridge magnet is not enough. Hell, a fridge is not enough!
At that moment, I realized I knew next to nothing about him. I had no idea what books he likes – or if he even likes to read – what does he like to drink, does he play any sports? Nothing!
Eventually, I settled for a book about the Pacific Ocean and its islands. Even if he doesn’t read books, at least it’s something connected to how we met. I was almost late, so I had to hurry up and before I knew it, we boarded the plane and were soon in the air.
The flight took ages, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. I tried to pass time by listening to music and sleeping, but I found myself constantly checking the time, trying to move the hands on the clock with my mind. It turned out my powers of time manipulation were still non-existent, so I had to resign myself to just sitting there and quietly waiting for the flight to end.
Once we landed and I was out of the airport, observing Chicago around me for the first time, the reality hit me. I was really there! I had crossed the continent to find a guy I knew nearly nothing about and there was no turning back. Well, theoretically, I could still turn back, but that’d be insane. I was there and I was going to do what I came to do. No matter how it all ended.
I took my one suitcase and went to find a cab. I packed lightly, leaving most of my stuff at my parents’ house – I had no idea how long I’d be staying, so I didn’t want to bring too much stuff. If I really needed anything, I could just buy it.
Spotting a cab, I quickly hailed it and plopped down onto the back seat, thinking whether I should go to the hotel first, or straight to Adam’s place.
“Good afternoon, where to?” the driver asked, turning to me.
Like a loaded gun, I readily recited Adam’s address, knowing it by heart. I had read it so many times, I knew it better than my own.
“Got it,” he snickered, his eyes back on the road in front of him.
I looked through the window, trying to soak up the sights around me and calm my nerves. Surprisingly or not, it actually worked – the new environment got my mind off of Adam and our impending encounter. I tried to make mental notes of the stuff that seemed interesting and the places I’d like to visit, but the thing was, everything seemed interesting. I guess that’s always the case when you’re a first-time visitor.
“You here for the first time?” the driver asked. Was he a mind reader or what?
“Yeah. Any recommendations on what I should visit?”
“Depends on what you’re into. Maybe Lake Michigan, the Navy Pier, everyone goes for that.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, wondering how long till we get to Adam’s place.
After several more minutes of small talk and tips for tourists, courtesy of my driver-slash-tour guide, he announced we were at our destination. After I paid up, but not before receiving a small heart attack when he told me the price, I got out of the car, my suitcase rolling behind me.
As soon as I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I felt self-conscious, as if I was being watched. What if Adam was here? What if all of these people on the street know who I am? I know, it was silly, but I couldn’t help it.
The street was nice and wide, with rows of tall, dark trees on both sides. The buildings seemed old, but very attractive. I could see why he would choose to live there.
A few more steps and there I was, standing in front of his building, feeling as if I was back in college, about to take the most important exam of my life. I glanced at the names and saw Carter – apartment 29, floor six. As a woman opened the door and left the building, I quickly went inside and got into the elevator. My tension rose along with it, creeping up slowly but steadily in that quiet, moving box of steel. When I finally heard the ‘ding’ sound, it felt like a bomb got activated inside my body.
Stepping out, I could hear every footstep echoing inside my head. I looked around, searching for the magic number – 29. Stopping in front of it, I raised my hand and rang the doorbell. The sound was deafening, at least to my ears.
“What the hell am I doing? It’s not too late to turn around and run away… Maybe he’s not there. God, I hope he’s not there! I’m such a fucking coward,” I stood there, my thoughts a complete mess.
But no, over the sound of my beating heart, I heard footsteps on the other side. The lock clicked and the door slowly opened and the well-known face of my mystery man appeared. He looked as beautiful as ever, but this time he had a beard.
My eyes immediately fell upon his. There he was!
“Hey,” I said, my lips stretching in a shy smile. His eyes grew wide – I can only imagine how surprised he was to see me.
The silence was interrupted by a ‘thud’, as the plastic bowl of popcorn he was holding fell on the ground, its contents spilling all over.
“Kaleo,” he whispered, the shock on his face quickly replaced by the warmest smile I’ve ever seen.