I didn't really sleep Friday night. I tossed and turned, still thinking about Lucas and wondering if it had really happened. Had I really been at Rhapsody only a few hours ago? Had I really talked to Rube on the phone, or was that just some crazy hallucination? Was this all just some dream? Would I wake up tomorrow and find that I was straight again, or would I find Rube lying next to me?
I dragged my tired ass out of bed at six, despite the fact that it was Saturday and I could have slept in. I decided not to waste my whole day lying in bed, so I showered, dressed, and decided on what I should do. My first task was to get Simon a sympathy card and a gift, to be given to him at the funeral. I wondered what I ought to get him. It felt too weird to give him something like a Best Buy card, so I decided I'd take him out to dinner or something. Taking Simon's mind off it seemed better than giving him some stupid present.
An hour later found me in Walgreens, buying a card for him. I picked up some milk and a loaf of bread, too, since I was running out of them. I returned to my apartment, carrying a plastic bag of groceries and a jug of milk. As I passed Audrey's cage, I checked the thermometer and the other gauges, making sure nothing was out of whack. I set my purchases on the counter, along with my keys.
My answering machine beeped, strange since it was only seven-thirty in the morning. It was probably just some telemarketer, I told myself, and pressed the play button. My heart skipped a beat when I heard Lynn's voice on the machine.
"Hey Daniel, it's Lynn. Sorry for the early call; my flight just got in. I was wondering if you'd like to meet me for lunch today, to catch up." Lynn? She'd been gone for a year, in Malaysia, of all places, teaching English while trying to avoid catching some horrible disease. Right before she left she'd said that we should break it off, and that a long distance thing would never work. I'd been crushed.
I played the message again, scarcely believing it was real. When it finished, I called the number she'd left at the end of the message. It rang twice before she picked up.
"Hello?" she said, her voice naïve and innocent.
"Hey, Lynn," I said, "it's Daniel."
Her voice shot up about five decibels. "Daniel? How've you been? Boy, you got back to me fast; it's not even eight o'clock."
"I've been good," I lied. "Listen, about lunch today, I know this great little sandwich shop.."
For having lived in a third-world country for a year, Lynn looked great. She'd slimmed down a bit, her frame narrower. Her thick red hair curled slightly around her shoulders, framing a freckled face with hazel eyes. She gave me a good hug when she spotted me, and then we went inside and found a table.
She began spinning tales of all the children she'd taught, of the weather out there, the people, the culture. It sounded exotic, something completely removed from Westernization, but at the same time, rather crude and primitive. Each story was intricately told, and she had tons of them, having been away for a little more than a year. As she told one after another, I realized how much I'd missed her. Lynn was a friend, not a girlfriend like Janice.
"So what have you been up to?" she asked me. "How's Simon been?"
I crumpled the paper from my pastrami sandwich. No Reuben today. "He's been good, but his mom passed away on Thursday. The funeral's this afternoon, actually, at St. Margaret's."
"Oh, that's awful," she said, like it was my mom who'd passed. "How's he holding up?"
"He's Simon, he'll be okay."
Lynn was silent a moment, staring down at the table, and absentmindedly twirling the straw in her Sprite. "Anything new with you? Girlfriend or anything? Whatever happened to that Janice girl?"
"She broke up with me," I admitted.
"Don't be." I smiled. "After she dumped me, I started to think about my relationships, and now I think I'm gay."
She looked up at me, still drinking her Sprite, the straw dangling from her lower lip. "Really?"
"Well, I'm going on a date on Monday with a nice guy I met last week, so, yeah, I guess so." I stopped to analyze her expression. "You're not upset, are you?"
She sat straight up in her chair, moving from her slouched position. "No, why?" After a moment of reading my confused expression, she lit up, like a 200 watt bulb. "I didn't tell you, did I?"
"Didn't tell me what?" I asked in confusion.
She held up her hand, revealing an engagement ring. "Remember Michael? We started dating after I got to Malaysia; he was teaching there, too. We got engaged two months ago."
"Congratulations!" I said, trying to sound upbeat. "When's the wedding?"
"In June," she said. "I'm still making all the arrangements. It's more work than I honestly thought it would be, Daniel. If only I'd known all the work that goes into those stupid things…" She picked up her Sprite again. "So tell me more about this guy."
What did I really know about Rube? What reality could I separate from my imaginary Rube, the one whom I'd guessed at, tried to figure out without really speaking to him? "Well, his name's Rube, first of all. He's tall, about an inch or two taller than me, and he's pretty good-looking. And he's a snappy dresser," I explained. "It's only our first date, so please excuse the lack of information."
"I hope it works out for you, Daniel." She glanced out the window. "Some times, I wonder what it'd have been like if I'd stayed here with you. You know, maybe settled down, bought a house. But, I guess, some things…" Her head tilted a bit to the right, her hair falling. "You know what, Daniel? I'm really glad I know you."
"Thanks, Lynn." Now my thoughts began to drift to what she'd been saying. If she had stayed, would we have gotten married? Had kids? Would I be a suburban dad, the kind who could teach his kids how to throw a perfect spiral and pitch a baseball? Would I never have considered the possibility (and now, more or less fact) that I was gay?
I stood up, her following suit, and tossed out the remnants of my lunch. "I have to get going. The wake starts at one."
"Tell Simon I said hi," she said, leaning forward and giving me another hug.
"I'll be sure to."
Black suit? Check.
Black tie? Check.
Anything else? Was anything else really necessary? I turned around in front of the mirror again, making absolutely certain that there were not stray pieces of lint or schmutz stuck on my suit. Today I needed to not be attacked by the stupid dustbunnies that plagued my apartment. Glancing at myself again, I passed my final judgment. I brushed my hair out of my forehead, griping over my face again.
I sighed, snagged my keys and Simon's card, and left. The drive to St. Margaret's didn't take too long, only about twenty minutes. I parked in the back lot, entering through the front doors after I walked all the way around the church. As I pulled open the door, I noticed the little sign that read "Peters Funeral: 1:00." I'd always found it mildly amusing that Simon had two first names- Simon Peters. Now it didn't seem so funny.
It smelled of flowers and formaldehyde once I entered. A bitter, awkward mix of smells, one that drew forth memories of my mom's garden and ninth grade science. The vestibule, dark and cramped, opened up into the main part of the church, the nave, with its neatly arranged pews leading up to the altar. Directly before it was Mrs. Peters' casket. Billowing arrangements of flowers, one with a portrait of the late woman in the center, arranged around it like a wreath, sat to the left and right of her casket.
I found Simon, standing with his dad. "Hey, Simon," I said, He blew me away completely when he reached out and hugged me. "I'm so sorry." His hips pressed against mine again for a moment, and I was instantly reminded of Lucas and the night before.
"Thanks for being here, Dan."
I didn't know what to say at the moment. Saying something along the lines of "It's the least I could do," sounded rather jerky, like I was being lazy. So I just stammered out another, "I'm really, really sorry."
Simon nodded, and let go of me. I went and paid my respects to the late Mrs. Peters, reminding myself that she wasn't that old- only sixty. She had a nice mahogany coffin, with gold handrails. I stayed for a bit, talking to a few other people whom I knew from the train ride, but other than that, I didn't really know anyone.
I left after about an hour, not feeling bad, really. Simon seemed okay, and I was sure he'd start to get over it. From what I understood, he and his mother had never really been all that close to begin with. But she was still his mother. I remembered how upset I'd been when my mom had passed. It still bothered me sometimes, especially around Christmas.
Holy shit. I'd be spending Thanksgiving alone again this year. And quite possibly Christmas, too. Truthfully, I didn't want to be alone. I was alone last year and it almost killed me. Maybe this year I'd ask Simon if he wanted to come over for dinner. Hopefully it wouldn't sound too gay.
I sighed as I unlocked my Honda. The car was kept spotless, since I didn't use it too much, except for trips to the grocery store and whatnot. It had a silver exterior, shiny, with that fresh-from-the-car-wash exterior. We'd lost the new car smell a long time ago, however. It had a rather sterile feeling to it, one that I'd never quite lost with it, the same one with my apartment, somewhat like no one really lived there.
Perhaps my whole existence was sterile. And existing was basically all I did. Maybe I needed to get out and live more, just like going to Rhapsody. My parents always told me to follow my dreams and bullshit like that, and then pushed me into going to a private school with very limited class choices. Truthfully, if I'd had the choice, I wouldn't have gotten a business major and worked at WaMu. I'd have learned a bunch of languages and taught someplace.
After I mulled around my sterile apartment for half an hour, I decided to get out and live. What had I wanted to do since I was a little kid? Besides being an astronaut, of course. At six foot, I was just a bit too tall to be one.
So I went and dug out my old bike, the silver racing bike my brother had owned before passing it along to me. The tires were almost flat, so I filled the back up using the pump, and then carried it down to the ground floor. Screw a helmet, I told myself as I set it down on the sidewalk outside.
Now it was time to see if the axiom held true. Did one ever forget how to ride a bicycle? For my sake, I hoped I hadn't. I swung my leg over the side, my left foot firmly planted on the ground to keep me steady. Finding the pedals, I kicked off, and found the bike moving forward. Not so bad.
I think too many people lose touch with their lives. They get too consumed by work and taxes and annoying relationships that they forget what they really are. We're only human, after all. Sometimes all we need is a good, long bike ride to clear our thoughts.
That was, until I fell off. Then reality sank its fangs back in.
I spent Sunday goofing off in my apartment, cleaning miscellaneous things and watching daytime TV until the Simpsons rolled on at about seven. I ordered Chinese take out, even though that stuff will be the end of me, and had Simon over for a bit. He was a bit bedraggled when he showed up at my door, his hair messy, but the start of a signature grin forming on his face.
"Don't worry," I said to him as I opened the door. "I got the crab Rangoon."
"You know me better than my girlfriend, Dan," he replied. He tossed his coat on one of the armchairs and went over to my island, finding the plate I'd set out for him.
"Is that a compliment or an insult?" I asked him as I flopped down on the couch.
He was busy poking through the various white boxes, taking bits of this and that. There was a man in my office, Robert, who was a fresh-off-the-boat, for lack of a better term. He told me that in traditional Chinese cuisine, one never mixed two dishes together, and things always remained separate. All the vegetables were cooked, never eaten raw, and the strings were pulled from the celery stalks so that they didn't get caught in someone's teeth.
Needless to say, Simon wasn't a traditional Chinaman. He had a pile of rice with several different colored things on it, surrounded by crab Rangoon that almost looked as though it was taking the other food on his plate hostage. I always knew seafood was evil. "What movie'd you get this time? Please not Romancing The Stone."
I laughed. I'd rented that movie like five times in order to get him to watch it. "I got The Matrix," I replied. "You haven't seen it, have you?"
He shook his head no as he sat down. He seemed absolutely engrossed in the movie, while I was more in it to watch Keanu Reeves. That man could not act his way out of a paper bag, but he was still pretty damn good looking.
By the end, Simon was laughing and cracking jokes just like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys. It was good to have him partially back, good to know he had a foot in the door of despair that was threatening to shut him in.
It was Monday afternoon.
Twelve fifty-four PM, to be exact.
And I was two blocks outside of the restaurant I'd told Rube I'd be at.
Because, basically, I think I was having a heart attack. I'd never been so nervous on a first date in my life. Never. I knew this date meant one thing that all the others never had, though. It was a loss to my heterosexuality. From this point on, there would be some big, black mark on my personal track record- dated another man. I didn't see anything wrong with it, I just…
I just didn't know if I was ready to let go yet.
But some part of me was, and that part had control of my legs, because I walked those last two blocks. Now it needed control over my hands to get the door open, so part of me chickened out and opened the door. Here we go, Daniel, they said to me. We got you this far, now you do the rest.
I spotted Rube sitting at a table for two, bent over his menu, and checking his watch again. A pang of guilt stabbed me; I didn't want to be late. As I headed toward his table, I checked my own watch again, one that proudly read one o'clock on the dot. Maybe Rube was just an early kind of guy. Or maybe my watch was just five minutes too slow. Probably the latter, knowing me.
He looked up at me, and smiled, the melancholy in his eyes evaporating briefly. "Daniel," he said in the smooth voice, one so calm it reminds me of a placid lake, one where you can literally watch the air move. "I thought you weren't going to show."
"Sorry," I replied, getting settled into my chair and picking up my menu. "It's a bit of a walk from my office."
"So you work downtown? Interesting."
"Yeah," I said, flipping a page. "I work over at Washington Mutual, in the IT department." He raised his eyebrows for a moment. "I guess it's not as interesting as you expected. What do you do for a living, then?"
He reached for his water glass, the slender fingers causing the condensation on the glass to fall, almost like tears, streaking down toward the tablecloth. "I'm sort of in-between jobs at the moment. I'm a photographer, and I'm switching employers and studios right now."
Okay, he was definitely more interesting that I was. And with a body like that, he was more model than photographer. "Who was that woman I saw you with at the coffeeshop?" I asked him, hoping not to sound too prying.
He glanced up and to the left, in the corner of his eye, for a minute. "Oh," he said, setting down the glass. "That's Alex, an ex of mine. I was dating her when I came out."
"And you two are still friends?"
"Why wouldn't we be?"
I grinned. "My last girlfriend, Janice- she left me after she found out. The very afternoon, actually. I came home to find a U-Haul and half my stuff gone." I went silent a moment, peering at my menu, which seems to be in some incomprehensible foreign language. "I'm pretty new to all this 'being gay' stuff, in case you can't tell. I'm sorry if that sounds naïve or something, I just-"
He tilted his head. "I understand. And I must admit, you handle it well." He ran a finger along the rim of his glass. "You know, the day I met you in the coffee shop, I didn't actually think you'd call me back. I thought you were just some straight guy whom I'd royally freaked out."
"If you'd asked me a week earlier, I would have been."
He smiled again, the sadness fleeting from his eyes. "So what do you define as being 'new' to being gay?"
"I mean, I just don't know the lingo and stuff, I guess. Assuming there is lingo to be learned. I suppose I'm going at this from the angle that I'll still be dating, still be going out to dinner and to movies, it's just that instead of Janice or some woman, I'll be going with someone like you. That it can't be, I mean, that much different from a straight relationship. Except, I don't think you have the same affinity for shoes that Janice did."
By the time I finished my mini-monologue, I was staring at the tablecloth, pinching it between two of my fingers. I scarcely noticed when Rube lifted my chin with his finger and gently leaned over to kiss me on the mouth.
"How do you know I don't like shoes?" he said, smirking. "And there's a lot of lingo to learn, buddy." When I looked confused for a moment, he smiled again. "I can tell I'm going to like you."
Well, at least one of us likes me.
"And don't worry about the kiss," he whispered, taking a quick survey of the room. "If they throw us out, they throw us out."
"I guess we'll find out."
We both returned to our menus for a moment, deciding on what to order. "What are you getting?" he mumbled to me.
"I think I'll try the Reuben," I said, hoping he would laugh. He rolled his eyes at me, but not in an annoyed sense.
"You will not believe how many people make that joke." He shook his head. "No, seriously."
I closed my menu. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm getting the chicken panini."
The waiter arrived, took our orders, and promptly disappeared. I tapped my fingers on the tablecloth. The only thing I could think about right now was Rhapsody, with Lucas, and parts of the Matrix fight scenes. What had he said to me? There was something I hadn't understood, some phrase…
"Rube," I began, "If you don't mind me asking, what's a top and a bottom?"
He blinked a few times, tilting his head forward and raising his eyebrows, his forehead wrinkling slightly. "Who told you that?" he said, gazing to his left. The way he said it, it reminded me of my mom asking me the very same question whenever I said some dirty phrase.
"This guy at Rhapsody."
"Aright, I'll tell you." He leaned forward and whispered some very, very filthy dirty talk in my ear. My face blushed bright red, and I coughed once when he was done. As he leaned back, he said, "Maybe one day we'll try it."
Part of me couldn't wait.
As it turned out, Rube was a very interesting person. He'd traveled the world, and had stories from each corner of the globe, from Asia to Europe, to Africa and South America. He talked about his photography and where that took him, where he'd gone to college and whatnot, how he'd came out to Alex, who had suspected from the very beginning. But there was something I couldn't shake from him, some little detail that would explain the melancholy demeanor, which I'd found could evaporate for brief scintillating moments.
We finished eating, and I picked up the check, ripping off half the receipt. I scrawled my name and phone number on it, along with my address, before giving it to Rube. He and I left the restaurant, and he decided to walk half the way to my office with me, since the train station was on his way.
The corner where we had to split up arrived too soon. He stopped, turning to me for a moment. "I had a great time today, Daniel-"
"Me, too, Rube," I interjected.
"-and I would be honored if you would let me take you out to dinner on Friday night."
"Of course I would," I answered.
He told me he'd call by Wednesday, with a time and a place. I just prayed that nothing would happen to me by Wednesday. He kissed me one last time, on the streetcorner, in the middle of public, ignoring that we were two men out here for the whole wide world to see.
"Bye, Rube," I said as he let me go. I knew that kiss would have to last all the way until Friday.