I Read A Lot Ch. 03bylill_street_writer©
Hi. Thank you for your comments and votes. I decided to post everything I have so far. Since I like to read a longer story, I decided to post it this way and see what happens.
I know that I'm not the world's most articulate guy in the world, but something about Gabe had me plummeting to new depths of ineptitude. Except when we were talking about books, I was a complete idiot. Hopefully he found my inability to speak coherently endearing instead of ridiculous. Even though I could barely talk around the guy, I definitely knew I wanted more time with him.
Thank goodness he suggested dinner. The restaurant was nearly empty, which shouldn't have surprised me since the only people that ate at 4pm were looking for early-bird specials. Instead of being fazed by this, we just sat back and enjoyed a really long meal, with lots drinks. As soon as I got the menu in my hands I just wanted to try one of everything, I was so hungry. So I ordered tons and asked the waiter to just put it all on the table, family style. I hadn't actually realized that I had taken over until the waiter left and Gabe started laughing.
"You weren't kidding about being hungry, were you?" He sat back in his chair with a very indulgent grin on his face. "You think there'll be enough for me to eat, or should I order something for myself?"
"If you're nice to me, I might let you have a bite or two." I waved a hand in his direction for emphasis.
Pretty soon our Margaritas came and they were huge, served in these iced beer mugs. I'm not sure if it was thirst or nerves, but I downed the first one quickly. The food came and we both fell on it like starving men. Gabe may be skinny, but it definitely isn't for lack of eating. We ordered another round of drinks and in a very short while, I was feeling more relaxed than I could remember.
"Slow down, friend," I cautioned. "We can always order more,"
"Sorry man," Gabe blushed, which was completely adorable. "It's the whole starving artist thing. I haven't had a meal like this in ages"
When I asked him what he meant, he started to explain. Gabe had graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts a few years back and really wanted to make it as a working artist. His work was pretty traditional: he enjoyed drawing, painting, and even a little sculpture. After a while, he moved to the city, away from the smaller town where his family is from, and thought maybe a wider audience would bring some success. What he hadn't counted on was more competition. There were a lot more artists trying to get by, and most of them had day jobs to support themselves, so they often priced their work below market. With rent, cost of living, student loans and supplies, Gabe had found he was in over his head and decided he had to get a job just to the pay the bills. It was a conundrum, a sort of Catch 22: if he took a job to pay the bills, then he didn't have enough time to paint, if he didn't take a job, then he couldn't keep painting at all.
"So that's how I ended up at the book store." Gabe shrugged his big shoulders and used a tortilla to sop up the last of the meaty juices on his plate. He popped the bite into his mouth and continued. "I probably could have found a better paying job, but this one is fine. I don't need a car to get around, the manager is usually pretty flexible about scheduling and I even get health insurance. That's a lot more than most artists."
"Do you miss being able to do your own work all of the time?" I was bugged that Gabe wasn't able to follow his dreams. When he talked about painting and drawing, his face had been so alive. I doubt anyone ever thought that way about a bookstore job.
"Sometimes I miss it a lot," Gabe nodded thoughtfully. "But you know, it's lonely working like that. I am alone for days working through ideas, staying up all hours. And when I'm done, I am still alone and don't have anyone to share it with. At least at the bookstore I get to talk to people and sort of 'be' in the world."
"Did days go by sometimes when you realized that you hadn't spoken out loud all day?" What Gabe had said resonated with me in ways I hadn't planned.
"Yeah, that happened a lot." Gabe looked into my eyes, searching. "Sometimes it was easier to just be by myself than try to be around other people, but I don't think it was really healthy. I mean, ideas come from discussion and activity. I don't think much creative can be made when I'm all alone and shut off."
I frowned at this statement, because I was afraid that what Gabe was saying was true not only for him. Holing up in my apartment had been working to keep me safe for so long, that I had convinced myself that I really liked it that way. But did I? I mean, I can be sort of a perfectionist, which serves me really well in my career. Somehow, relationships hadn't worked out really well for me, so I had decided a while ago to just give them a pass. Now I was sitting across from Gabe and starting to feel that maybe I was missing out on something really important in life.
After dinner, I drove Gabe to his apartment and dragged his bike out of the back of my car. His place was an upstairs room in a big, old converted house. He said that he had chosen it because it was close, cheap and he liked all the roof angles inside. We shook hands and I was glad he didn't thank me for dinner, because I would have been embarrassed. It couldn't have escaped his notice that I had paid the bill while he was in the bathroom at the restaurant, but luckily he did not make a comment. I couldn't have said why I did it: was this a date, did I feel sorry for him? I had no idea.
When I was back in the car, I realized that we hadn't made any plans to see each other again and we hadn't traded phone numbers. It looked like it would be up to me to make the next move, if there was going to be one. Instead of thinking through what I wanted to do next, or how I felt about Gabe, I sank into my big couch as soon as I got home. In minutes, the outside world was miles away and I was comfortable in a fantasy world complete with a wizard, a predictable romance and a quest for something-or-other.
It wasn't until Wednesday that I let myself think about Gabe again. Late in the afternoon, my cell beeped to tell me that I had a new text message. It was from my best friend, Henry and it said: 'Frisbee?' The weather had been getting warmer in the last weeks and the ground was probably dry enough to play. So it seemed that our Frisbee team would start its new spring practice schedule. In the past, we would gather at this huge, empty park every Thursday and play until the softball teams got tired of us goofing around. Everyone and their boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands all came out to the park and then to a great pizza place for dinner and a beer.
That was when a picture of Gabe flashed through my mind.
Our big group of friends had been pairing off in recent years and actually gotten larger; some couples were now married and a few were even starting families. I had always been a single man in the crowd, never bringing someone special to introduce because I hadn't had anyone that special in my life. Now, after only one non-date I had the urge to ask Gabe to join me. It was crazy and impulsive, not at all like me.
Before I could think too much, I called the bookstore and asked for Gabe. Whoever answered the phone put me on hold and it was then that I considered chewing off my left thumbnail out of nervousness. What did I think I was doing? I wasn't even sure that he was gay. Maybe we could be friends?
"This is Gabe." His voice sounded so assured.
"Hey Gabe, this is Tom." I tried not to stammer, though I was positive I broke out in a sweat. "We . . ."
"Hi Tom," Gabe replied. His smile seemed to come right through the phone.
I explained all about Frisbee and where we met and finally asked if he'd like to come. Since I don't really share my private side at work, I kept my voice a little low.
"Do you want me to play on the team?" Gabe sounded a little confused.
"Um no, not exactly. I thought you might to get out and have some pizza afterwards?" If this had been high school, I would have been kicking the dirt and looking at the ground. I had somehow thought that by being gay, I had avoided all the awkwardness of dating.
"Would it just be the two of us?"
"Well, no," I answered. I hoped that was the right answer. I mean, if he wanted it to be just the two of us, it would be fine. Really, I was terrified that if I said too much, I would just start babbling like an idiot and he would hang up the phone, thinking I was some kind socially inept freak. I breathed deeply and tried to continue, "It would be all the Frisbee people, my friends. Does that sound okay? 'Cause if you don't want to, you won't hurt my feelings." I lied there, big time.
"It sounds fun. And thanks for asking."
We traded numbers and e-mail so I could give him directions. After I hung up the phone, I just stared at it for the longest time trying to regain my composure. So many thoughts and feelings were running around my head, I felt like one of those cartoons with bluebirds circling.
It could be a date, it might just be friends. Don't get worked up until something happens. I kept repeating this to myself, over and over until Thursday evening finally arrived.
Tom had been so adorably nervous on the phone, it made me want to hug him. It was obvious to me that he was interested in me, attracted, but I wasn't sure if he was gay, or if he knew he was gay or where he stood on the whole rainbow spectrum. At the moment, I couldn't have cared less, I had a quasi-date and a promise of good pizza.
Since I was riding my bike and I wasn't exactly sure just where this park was, I made sure to leave plenty of time to get there. The park lay at the bottom of a hill and was a wide, pure expanse of spring green-velvet grass. As I came to the top of the hill and started coasting down, I could see the players and the spectators off to one end. It was hard to miss Tom: all dark hair and big shoulders. As I watched, he snatched a disc out of the air, planted his feet, pivoted and flung the disc away to another team member. His movements had been quick, precise and fluid; and he took my breath away.
Either the practice was running late or I really had been early, because the Frisbee team continued to work for at least another fifteen minutes. I eased my way over to the large knot of people watching and soon stood among them and listened as they made comments and talked amongst themselves.
"Hi, I'm Amy," a perky blond woman next to me said, as introduction. "Are you interested in playing? We could use someone with your height."
"No, I don't play," I shook my head. "A friend invited me to drop by and hang out after practice. I'm just a little early." I was trying to play this casual, since I had no idea what I meant to Tom.
"My husband is Henry," Amy looked out onto the field and pointed out a thin, wiry man who seemed to be watching the players intently. "He's a little nervous because he'll be captain on Saturday and it'll be the first game this spring.
"They seem a little loose, but since everyone else is coming off of a long winter, don't you think they'll be fine?" I tried to reassure her.
"Thank you. That is almost exactly what I said to him. It's not like everyone else had spring training in Arizona for Rec. League Ultimate. But he and his best friend, Tom get a little into it, you know?" Amy tilted her head up to look up to me. She had a long way to look too, since she was about a foot shorter than I was.
"I might be starting to," I replied. "Tom is the friend that invited me along tonight. We just met last week." I let this info sink in so I could see Amy's reaction. Mostly I was curious and wanted to know if Tom might have mentioned me.
Dating and romance never seemed much different from the way it was in high school, at least in the early stages. One person always wants to know if the other likes them as a friend, or more than a friend. And no one wants to risk the pain of rejection by asking directly. Growing up, I had often heard my big sisters play the "He said-She said" game. Now I was trying it out on Amy. I didn't know if I was being devious or cowardly.
Amy smiled kindly at me and said that she was really glad I was able to join them. It was a totally ambiguous answer to my non-question, and I probably deserved it for trying to be sly.
As other people milled around, Amy stayed near me and we chatted easily about little in particular. She seemed to know everyone and introduced me to people when they came over to talk and catch up. I noticed that she introduced me as 'Tom's friend' instead of 'a friend of Tom's.' My pea brain ran with that twist until the end of the practice.
As soon as the players left the field, Tom made his way over to me. He was a little sweaty, though the weather was still cool, and took off his shirt to switch it for a clean one he took out of a nearby gym bag. When he stripped off his shirt, I was suddenly glad we were in a group of people in public. It is possible that I gawked and swallowed hard, but I don't think I actually embarrassed myself. Had we been in private, I might have been much more tempted to reach out and touch him. Tom's chest was broad and well defined, with nice dark, curly chest hair that begged me to comb it through my fingers. Before I could even begin to gaze at Tom's abs, he cleared his throat and caught my eyes.
I was completely busted checking him out, and I just hoped that he wasn't offended. Tom stood next to me and as he slipped his head through the clean shirt I could hear his deep voice. "See anything you like?"
I blushed beet red and turned away so he wouldn't see my mortification. Then I heard, "You're cute when you blush, you know?"
That's when I turned back and glared at him a little. "Did you do that on purpose, that little show?"
"Not really, but I'm glad of the reaction." Tom's smile lit up his entire face. "Now come on, so I can introduce you to everyone before we go over to Tonio's."
"Amy took care of that already, but I doubt I'll be able to remember all the names." We began strolling towards a large group of people.
"Amy's great," said Tom. "A little nosy maybe, but great."
"She didn't seem nosy, just friendly," I replied.
Tom rolled his eyes and said, "Just you wait. She'll have your mother's maiden name and favorite color out of you by the time the pizza arrives."
And he was right. Amy made the Mossad look like amateur interrogators.
Damn but did Gabe look fine. He held onto his bike with one hand and casually gestured with the other as he talked. With his height and long limbs, he looked positively Gatsby. If he had been wearing tennis whites instead of khaki shorts, the picture could have been complete. I had been a blind fool not to think him gorgeous right away.
I had noticed him standing near Amy, talking and laughing. He looked totally at ease, which was a relief. If it were me, I don't know that I would have the courage to meet a bunch of his friends this close to the beginning of . . . whatever this was.
When it was time to wrap up, I struggled to remain calm and not act like a nervous dork. Things between us were still uncertain. Maybe he just wanted to come outside on a nice night and enjoy some pizza. Until I knew for certain that he might be interested in me, I needed to keep a lid on my emotions. No sense getting my hopes up if I didn't have a chance.
Taking my shirt off wasn't supposed to be a ruse, but it sure worked like a charm. Gabe's reaction was priceless. He stared and blushed and his eyes maybe even bugged out a little. I'm not some gym rat, but I do try to stay in shape. And Gabe's response was all the motivation I needed to keep working out!
If there hadn't been so many people around, I would have kissed him right there. At least I had a couple of answers: definitely gay and interested.
At the restaurant, Amy made sure to sit next to Gabe on the long padded seat in the rear of the restaurant. I had known she would, since she had to get the scoop on Gabe and me. Since there wasn't anything between us, I figured she couldn't do much damage. Internally I cringed, but knew I was helpless to stop her. It wasn't that Amy was being rude, exactly the opposite. This was how she got to know people.
While Amy started her questioning, Henry and I went up to the bar to order a couple of pitchers. Henry was a man of many fewer words than his wife, so he just got straight to the point.
"Gabe seems like a nice guy. Are you two together?" Henry asked without flinching.
"Maybe," I answered. "It's a little new yet. But I like him."
"Well you're a brave man to let Amy have a go at him. That woman is a force to be reckoned with." Henry shook his head, but looked over at his wife with obvious love. "He looks like he's holding up just fine."
The evening went far more smoothly than I could've hoped. I sat next to Gabe with Henry across the table from us and we caught up on all the news we hadn't shared in a while. Sometimes, Amy even let me talk with Gabe a little. Even though she had his attention, our bodies were close: hip to hip and just his proximity was enough for me.
When we were all done and getting ready to go our separate ways, Amy and Gabe were busy exchanging cell numbers, Henry spoke to me quietly. "I think Amy's in love with him."
"That's fine as long as she keeps her hands off." I narrowed my eyes at him. He got the joke and chuckled.
"She's a little protective of you, you know. But you're safe, because she likes him. I'm glad you brought him with you, and I hope we didn't scare him off."
"Thanks man," I said and I squeezed his shoulder.
We all waved good bye and dispersed once out of the restaurant. Gabe had to unlock his bike, but he didn't just jump on and ride away. On the way back to my car we talked a little bit. Our conversation was a little awkward and nervous, but since I was usually nervous around people, it wasn't a big deal. He told me that he had tried questioning Amy, and found that she was open to answering lots of his questions. So, instead of it being a one sided grilling, he had learned a lot about her, too.
"You have really great friends," Gabe said looking at me and pausing. "I hope I passed."
I laughed out loud. "Actually, I think I'm the one who finally passed. Amy was convinced I was completely incapable of finding someone."
"Oh, and how many 'someone's' has Amy interviewed?" Gabe asked archly.
I coughed at this and turned to start walking again. "None," I answered. "You're the only one she's ever met."
'Okay,' I thought, 'that was a minor bombshell.' Now, what was I supposed to do with it? But before I had formulated any sort of plan, we stood next to Tom's car. He turned to me and loosely laced his fingers with mine. While I took a moment to look into his eyes, I felt his thumb dance little circles on the inside of my wrist. That little bit of contact had my heart racing.
"Is this okay?" Tom asked in a rough voice. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"I like this." I said. Uncomfortable? I had wanted to touch him all evening long. He could have kissed me in front of the entire Frisbee team and I wouldn't have flinched. But I realized that asking me out to meet his friends and holding my hand were steps for him and me, too. Since I felt surer that I wouldn't face rejection, I decided to help things along a bit. "Do you have any time this weekend? I have to work tomorrow and Saturday, but I'm free on Sunday."
Tom grimaced and said, "I'm having dinner at Henry and Amy's house. It's a semi tradition to make sure that I eat decent food once in a while."
"Oh," I said.