We left the sanctuary with people following us with their eyes. It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly. I could tell it was the same reaction I first had of him. That he didn’t belong here. I stopped Tony. I pointed to the wall mural of the white dove with an olive branch flying across the world before we walked out.
He grinned. “Whosoever will.” He grinned at me. “Even us Yankees?”
I nodded. “We can’t all be perfect.”
He shrugged. “If that were true, we’d all be Italians.”
Stopping in front of Terry who was smiling at us. “You must be Tony Delveccio.” She took his hand. “I meant to come greet you, but I got caught up with someone in my office. I almost didn’t make it to service.”
Tony shook his head. “Well, that is sort of critical for you, isn’t it? You being pastor and all.” Tony nodded shaking her hand.
“I trust you had a good trip down.” Terry still smiled, but her eyes darted to me and I saw an extra sparkle.
Tony nodded. “It was long, but I made it fine.” Then spoke with confidentiality to us. “I need to find a place soon. Living in my son’s apartment is….” He thought a moment. “….he’s a teenager. He and his roommates and friends have a lot of energy.” He shrugged. “I’m not a teenager.”
Terry was in her early forties and nodded. “I have two nieces I can tolerate a day or two, then out!” She looked back at Tony. “But I saw you were getting along with Mitch here, you seemed to be getting along well.”
Tony grinned at me. “He’s alright, for a Southerner.”
I frowned. “And you’re alright for a Yankee!” But all was said in fun.
Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Now, you’re both Southerners, but you have different accents.”
Terry nodded. “I’m from Charlotte, he’s from Asheville.”
“As different as Queens’ accents are from the Bronx.” I postulated. “But you all say yuz guyz the same.”
Tony’s eyes grew. “I’ve never said yuz guyz in my life. You say ya’ll.”
I shook my head. “Not once.”
“Never!?” Tony asked.
“Not with my mother you didn’t.” I stated shaking my head.
“So you’re a hillbilly.” Tony said as a question.
“No more than you’re a mobster because you’re from New York and Italian.” I shook my head. “Just because I’m from the mountains doesn’t mean I play the banjo and go around raping people like they did in Deliverance with Ned Beatty.” One of my eyebrows rose.
Tony chuckled. “Touché.”
“And don’t even think about questioning whether I understood that or not.” I growled.
Tony shook his head. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” Then he turned back to Terry. “Any recommendations about where they serve real Italian Food here?”
“Olive Garden?” Terry suggested.
I laughed as Tony looked at me. “See? They have you fooled! Olive Garden.” Tony said the name with disgust.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“West of the Ashley for now.”
I nodded. “I’ve never been, but Amici’s is supposed to be good.”
Tony nodded. “We’ll find out.” Then he looked at Terry. “Do you want to come? I’m buying.”
Terry smiled at me, and the sparkle came again. “I’d love to, but Kim and I are due somewhere else today.” Then she leaned in and whispered so only I’d hear. “He’s gorgeous.”
I stepped back looking at Tony. “He is? I hadn’t noticed.” I shook my head with a smile and Terry just rolled her eyes, nudging me with her shoulder.
Tony looked to Terry, then me. “What?”
“Play nice guys.” Terry smiled and patted both of us on the back as we exited.
Outside I looked to where Bubba was parked. “We can take mine.” I pointed to my truck. It needed polishing. It needed paint!
“It’s clean.” I said as his eyebrows rose. Then he nodded. “Of course it is.” But he smiled. “Or we can take mine.” He pointed to a Mercedes 500s.
He was rich!?
He must have read my mind. “No. I was rich.” He explained. “The car, some furniture in storage and my clothes are all that’s left until I get a job.”
I frowned. “Can you afford to take me to lunch? I can pay for my own.”
He smiled weakly. “I’m not poor either. I have enough to buy lunch. But it will run out quicker if I find a place to live and have no job.”
I nodded. “A place to buy, not rent.”
He nodded. “That’s the plan.”
I shrugged. “We’ll take your car.” I grinned. “Do I need to shower first?”
He rolled his eyes and walked off. Then grinned back at me. “Maybe.”
I liked him!
We got to the restaurant and he looked around as we entered. Then he sniffed. It wasn’t fancy, but I noticed the art and pictures of the coliseum, the Leaning Tower and other things famous in Italy.
“Smells good.” Tony said, but smiled when the young pretty hostess came forward. She was clearly Italian. Then Tony spouted something. “È il cuoco Italain?” He leaned close to my ear. “I asked her if the chef was Italian.”
“Huh?” The girl asked Tony. “My Dad speaks Italian, he’s in the kitchen. I only know a few phrases. Should I get him?”
Tony grinned. “Is he cooking?”
She nodded. “He insists.”
“Is he good at it?” Tony asked.
She nodded with a smile. “I think so. I love his sausage and peppers.”
Tony bounced once. “Table for two, please?” He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a potentially good meal. “This sounds promising.”
We sat while we looked at the menu. It was all written in English, so I was fine. But the Italian spelling next to it.
I grinned at Tony who was smiling as he perused the menu. “Missing home?”
He gave a bobbing nod. “Kind of. But it’s nice to find a little slice of something from home.” Then he smiled at me. “And new friends.”
God! I hate the “get to know you” thing. I hated it when I was trying to be straight. And I hated it now even more. I really liked Tony! “Okay. Cards on the table. That’s how I play. If you think you might want something more than friendship, I’d be willing to find out. But!!” I watched his eyebrows rise when I said this. “I don’t sleep around. I don’t go for casual sex. So if you just want a friendship, fine. Anything else will have to be built.”
Tony smiled at me. “I do like you.” He nodding putting his hand on mine. Then sighed. “I promise, if we get to that stage, I’ll be honest with you.” He grinned. “So, I’ll tell you I am interested in seeing where it could go. If you’re as willing as you seem to be.” Then he lowered his eyes. “Here goes my contribution. I was married to Jean for ten years. We married before she got out of high school. We had Nicolas just after she graduated.” He chuckled. “It was a stupid thing we did. It was pretty good and it worked for a while.” Then his eyes rose to mine. “Then I realized, these guys I was staring at….I wasn’t just looking at how good they looked in their suits. I was more interested in them.” He shrugged. “That’s when I understood I was gay.”
I nodded. “I was married, too.” I shook my head. “No kids, thank God.” Then chuckled. “You have to have sex for that, and I didn’t want her. We did, of course have sex, but once that was done and I proved I could, it sort of died.” I smiled. “I never did want her and it nearly killed me. Until I realized I wanted in a marriage….with right person.”
Tony grinned. “Did you look?”
I nodded. “Of course I did!” I grinned. “I even had a lover, briefly. As in long term.” Then frowned. “He was a talented man. And he had a great ass.”
Tony chuckled at that. “So what happened?”
I took a deep breath. “Well, the truth is…I did it more, I think to get back at my parents.” I chuckled at the thought. “You see? His mother was black.”
Tony grinned as he nodded. “I guess they wouldn’t like that fact.”
I nodded. “Dad won’t admit it, but he’s prejudice. Almost where I suspect he has a white robe on standby. They had a fit!” I shook my head. “Ted was a photographer. And he had a keen eye. Like I said, he was very talented.” I smiled at the memory. “He would take these amazing pictures. And he hated digital.”
Tony smiled. “No digital?”
“No, he would explain, in detail about the lines in digital images. Even showed me close ups to see what he was saying.” Then I sighed. “We were together just over six months here.” I looked at Tony. “But I’ll tell you. He was manic aggressive.”
Tony frowned. “Don’t you mean manic depressive?”
I shook my head. “I mean when he was in the manic part, he as fun and I wanted to be around him. Then the aggressive came into play. Then he would be mean.”
Tony frowned. “Mean? Did he hit you?”
I grinned and shook my head. “As Mom told Dad, if you hit me once, make sure it counts, you won’t get another chance, ever.” I chuckled. “He was big, like you, but I can handle myself.” I said confidently. “I have martial arts in my background. I was a cop.”
Now Tony sat back surprised. “A cop? Really?” He grinned.
I nodded. “Until an argument between brothers over a girl escalated into gun play.” I shook my head. “I was shot in the hip. That ended my career in law enforcement. Now all I have is a few twinges when it gets cold and a scar.”
Tony frowned, but his eyes held compassion. “You chose a tough route in life. I’m glad you’re out of it.” Then he got quiet. “Once I realized I was really gay, well…” he shook his head. “…and I’m not proud of this.” He pointed out. “I became a real slut.”
My eyes widened hearing that.
Tony sighed. “I was cruising the bars and places. And there are many in New York. I’d get blow jobs and fuck almost every weekend. Even on the weekdays sometimes.” His eyes lowered so I didn’t see the regrets. “Needless to say, I got caught.” He chuckled sadly. “Jean suspected me of having an affair, but never believed with who.”
I shook my head. “But that was dangerous.”
Tony nodded. “Very.” Then his eyes returned to mine, there was a small smile. “But I don’t do that now. I know what I want now. Basing a relationship on just looks is foolhardy. I came to realize that attraction of a man’ physical appearance only goes so far.”
I nodded understanding. “Tell me about it.”
Tony smiled. “Nothing wrong with being physically attractive. That’s what draws our attention first. We see something in another person that makes us look closer. Then as we get to know each other, if there’s more depth you’re almost helpless to fall in love.”
A beacon of hope lit my heart. I was nodding. “That’s it exactly!”
Tony smiled wider as the waitress came up. “You were in a deep conversation, I almost didn’t want to come an interrupt, but eating is why you’re here, right?”
Tony laughed. “Yes, it is.” Then he began rambling off something in Italian that the waitress just nodded at as she wrote.
After she was done, she was looking at me for my choice.
“Well, I don’t speak Italian, so here it is in English. I want that Devil’s Pasta with Sausage.”
She smiled. “You do realize that’s hot?”
I nodded. “I’ve not met a dish too hot to eat yet.” I handed her the menu as she nodded.
“To continue…” Tony said softly. “I did go through a number of encounters. Some a few minutes, or a day, some a week…the longest was a few months.” Then he frowned. “And there was Luke.” He shook his head. “He was beautiful. He really was an underwear model. But he broke my heart.”
I could hear the pain in his voice.
He shrugged. “He couldn’t be faithful to anyone. Certainly not me.” He admitted sadly.
Tony smiled again. “If he had been faithful, we wouldn’t have met.” Then he sat back. “And there’s a life changing event I’ll tell about one day.” He looked at me. “I am very attracted to you, Mitch. I’d love to see where we can go with a friendship.”
I smiled. “I’d like that.”
“And I promise, when and if we get to that point. We will be tested to show we’re both clean. I don’t want to deceive you about anything.” Tony swore. “But I am clean. I’ve been tested. And I’ve been with no one else since Luke.”
“I’ve been tested, too.” I replied. “I’m clean as well. Any relationship I get into has to be with a friend I fall in love with. As of right now, we’re going strong with the friendship part. I’m willing to find out if there’s more.”