tagGay MaleForget to Remember Ch. 01

Forget to Remember Ch. 01



Every tale begins with something special and meaningful. The glories of a youthful love affair, of finding the ONE, eyes snapping to yours and consuming each other in a passionate fire. It would be fate, a meeting made for the twilight fires of middle age, telling mutual friends of their adorable and instantly known love story as everyone reminisced on their passed youth.

Except when it doesn't. I'd pretty much given up the hopes of adolescent me, that some knight would swoop down and lift me away in his big strong arms. I was no longer sure about the post adolescent fantasies that I would miraculously blossom into. Something. And swoop in to save myself, going on to meet the love of my life at the bank or by the bar at a happy hour, a sweetly adorable love interest with bright eyes and even brighter hopes. At 26 I think those parts of me still exist. But they exist very quietly.

Driving through the evening traffic which is no worse and no better than any other Tuesday, I recognize that I hear the self mocking voice of my anxiety far more these days than the sunny hopeful voice that led the charge through my exceedingly long and lonely growing up. That voice is a reminder to stop looking for fantastic perfection and a fairy tale and start living in reality.

But neither does every story begin with a melancholy tale of woe and love unrequited.

My story lives somewhere in between, which frankly, is where most of us begin.

Chapter 1

"Josh, what do you think about establishing a ground rules with Nathan? Is it too much? Too soon?"

Maris hunches over in her chair while she asks me, stirring her over creamed coffee into a whirlpool with a tense rush of words that thud onto the table to lay there among the debris of half eaten muffins and both our phones. I blink and do a great gaping fish face, before launching an exasperated sigh.

"Maris, aren't I the literal last person someone should ask? I haven't even been on a date in 17 months, let alone been in a relationship where you need to establish rules. Besides, I thought you both were just keeping it casual?"

I pause, raising an eyebrow, and take in Maris's flushed cheeks with a grimly amused half smile. I'm realizing while she may have said she was keeping it casual, and this time of course she's serious, she has again teetered dangerously into her typical relationship minefield of fast deep feelings and poorly thought out choices with just a hint of possessiveness.

"Josh..." she whines in a warning tone. "It's just that you give such good advice. I can't help that I'm bad at, you know, using it," She flaps her hand at me impatiently continuing,

"Or that it never seems to work for yourself,"

She says it lightly, with a smile to take the sting out. It still feels too hot and too close to the truth. I can't be trusted with my own advice. While Maris comes to me in search of comforting wisdom about how to make her love life work better, I can't even make one happen. Thus, the sound I make in response to her is suspiciously like a guffaw.

"Maris. Darling. Sweetheart. I suck at relationships. And so do you."

Maris abruptly sits up and flings her shiny curtain of hair to one side. Her mouth is pursed as she tilts her face back to me.

"Cut the crap Josh. You're always so down on yourself. You're a great guy. You're adorable, smart and have a good job. You just, haven't met the right one is all," she trails off softly.

Her shiny ruby glossed bottom lip is caught between her teeth. She looks guilty because we both know that not only am I right, but the only one of us who has a chance of changing perpetual singlehood is Maris.

I haven't really had relationships. Sure, we established it's been a while since I'd even exchanged numbers with someone, but even before my last date happened (a disaster which ended in him breaking down crying when his ex called with a breathless promise to forgive and forget while I was in the john thanks to my 3 quickly downed beers, leaving me to return to a table occupied by a sobbing man and a heaping entree of embarrassment), I really didn't get out there much. Everything was so much easier in my head, and the fascinating game others played of meeting, flirting and tethering themselves to someone attractive was often too bewildering to me to navigate when I tried. The clubs were loud and intimidating, dating at work was a horrifying prospect, and blind dates via friends were unfailingly awkward the few times it occurred back in college. Being the kind of person who is put off and flustered by both failure and discomfort, the more experiences I had like that (read: all of them) the less effort I made in even trying. Now at 26 I suspect I'm forever out gamed and yet unwilling to settle. At least I like cats.

I've known Maris for 6 years. We met on the campus shuttle at Carmichael University. I had started the term finally living in one of the better dorms, which was also one of the most outlying on campus. However, a perk for me was that the shuttle bus system ran directly from my dorm to the center of campus every 15 minutes. Daily, I was deposited neatly on a sidewalk steps away from whatever my destination was, and so the option of a single room far away from everything and everyone or a cramped shared one in the heart of campus was no hard choice at all.

I've never been a talker. I have a lot to say, but I'm not blind to the knowledge that my life largely lacks an audience. Like I said, I kept waiting to grow out of my teenage awkwardness. At 20, when I met Maris, it was still in full swing. At 26 I am beginning to understand it's probably just who I am. Let me say more about myself here. I'm not ugly, I'm nondescript. Brown eyes, brown hair, and fair skin. I'm not a burly man's man but I'm not a twink. I'm 5'10 in my socks and I hover around 185lbs, so I have some soft spots but I'm not chubby, exactly. Wide shoulders, big hands but no athletic ability, and a firm disinterest in the gym. I'm boringly guy shaped. The everyman. If I were bolder and the type of James Bond hero I'd love to be, I could be a great spy, because I'm easily forgettable in my placid no-stand-out-features.

My best friend though, striking is a word for her. Maris is tiny. Petite and pinkishly sweet like a bowl of sorbet. She is barely 5 feet, creamy pale with long strawberry blonde curls. Her every move broadcasts sass and charm, which is such a contrast to my own plain, unassuming, and quiet self.

Maris's personality as I've come to know her, is just as heady as promised during that first campus bus meeting. She may look like a delicate blossom, but behind the sweet smile is a lewd, crude, and absolutely hilariously witty mouth. I'd noticed her before on our bus rides, it's hard to miss such a stormfront of excitement. She had slid into an empty bench seat next to me one morning during our shared commute and simply tossed her hair and stated, "Hey doll. I'm Maris," in such a tone that her simple introduction sounded to my ears like a challenge. My thoughts drift back to that day.

My eyes had jerked up from the page of the silly but witty British fantasy novel I had been reading while my brain caught up with my ears.

"You're from Paris?"

I blurted out stupidly as my brow wrinkled. Of all the people to talk to me, notice me. It's a crazy person launching into origin stories. She didn't sound French though.

"No," she vibrated with laughter. "I'm Maris. I'm not from Paris."

The silence stretched taut between us when I didn't respond immediately with my name. I simply looked blankly at her trying to understand why she was involving me in a conversation. With another toss of sunkissed curls she rolled her eyes, smiled sweetly and prodded.

"What's your name doll?"

I was confused and unsure. No one ever approached me. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted that to change. On the one hand I would love to have friends, but on the other, my childhood and especially the years in high school, had taught me that not only did people tend to not pursue friendships with me but I usually ruined things before they started, with my constant awkward anxiety ridden social foibles.

I realized this new woman was gazing at me expectantly with raised golden brows, her anticipation clouding the stale shuttle bus air around us.

"Josh. I'm. I'm called J-Josh"

I managed to stutter out gracelessly while casting my eyes helplessly back at my novel as if it held the answers to my life.

"Good to meet you Josh."

She purred, smirking and leaning so close to me I feel the heat from her body, making my eyes widen. Is she coming on to me? Shit. What do I do? Oh no. This is bad.

"So...Joshy...I bet you know where the cutest boys are," she husked at me, her nose wrinkling with delight as she took in my surprise.

I went into a shutdown. Every sense was filled to overload.

She could tell I was gay! But how? I totally was, but I didn't go for the camp and glitter or overly put together fashion plate looks I'd seen on the other obviously gay types roaming the campus. And yeah, I know that looking gay is a stereotype, but so far two years at Carmichael U had shown me lots of evidence they held some truth. Also while she may have on point gaydar, apparently she could not tell that I was a friendless vagabond washed upon these college shores, with few ideas of where these cute boys might be hiding except the bare truth of not anywhere around me.

"Uhh.. I..."

I gulped and stuttered trying to look anywhere but her, to be anywhere but there. My face was hot and my mouth dry. I felt like I was drowning, my eyes widening as I felt my old friend Mr. Panic Attack waking up.

"Hey!" She suddenly leaned into me, her face serious and with no trace of that cat-like sensuality.

"Josh are you ok, I'm sorry. I can be such a tease but I didn't mean to upset you"

Her face looked tense and her small hand hovered over my arm, instinctively knowing touching me was not going to help me keep it together. I drew a deep breath and raised my eyes to hers.

"I'm ok. Sorry. I can be a bit..." I bit my lip and tried frantically to think of a word that didn't make me sound like a pathetic spaz.

"No you're fine, it's my fault," she answered ruefully, leaning back into the faded bus bench.

"My mom always said I'm in charge of a mouth that writes checks my ass can't cash. How I need to be more mindful of how I talk to strangers. Lets try again."

While I hate to think of myself as a pathetic spaz, I'm proven wrong when I stare bewildered at her and say, "huh?" loudly and with evident confusion.

She smiles shyly and taking a deep breath she holds her hand out to shake and sweetly says, "Hi. I'm Maris Fontaine. You seem nice, like someone who can be a good steady friend. And it looks like I need someone to reel me in. What's your name?"

She waits, perfect eyebrow raised, sweet as peach smile curving her lips. I pause. So this gorgeous intense charmer wants a new friend? In me? She has waded through these awkward few minutes and yet still wants a redo? Ok. Take a deep breath, well Josh, you said this year you were finally making friends and here it is. Make a friend. Oh god wait still blankly sitting here. You spaz. You have to say something. Speak up! So I do.

"J- Josh. Joshua Alan Morris, sophomore, book lover and spaz extraordinaire," the words tumble quickly from my lips.

Maris laughs, her full cheeks blooming into rose tinted joy, delighted at my effort. I grin back, taken by surprise and suddenly I knew life as I had known it was over, and something brighter took its place.

This coffee shop where I was spending my Tuesday evening with Maris, where we regularly spent our evenings out, was my sanctuary. My second home for the last 4 years. I'm pretty sure I'm at least some of the reason they have the social special mug: a 5 dollar mug of coffee that could be refilled your whole stay. Perfect for those amongst us who sit in coffeehouses for upwards of 3 hours.

What could anyone seriously in a cafe for 3 hours you ask? Well fresh out of school, what else did I have to do. Back when I found this place, shortly before graduation, I was a close to broke student without regular employment. Thankfully scholarships, grants, and my admittedly small college fund let me get out of my education without debt. But there was a small matter of rent and food and you know, LIFE, to pay for. My small amount of money wouldn't last forever, especially jobless. Maris as usual had come through to rescue me. We had graduated in the same class with 2700 other young hopefuls and as neither felt a need to move back to our cities of origin or most importantly away from each other, we stayed in town. Maris had settled into a local high end construction company as the sum total of their new marketing department. She excelled at what she did, using every drop of her personality to sell the company's services to whoever was buying. I didn't really have many prospects lined up, so I while I stayed in the medium sized Ohio town we had finished university in, we became roommates as well as best friends.

I'm sure if I had been straight, or Maris a guy, we would have been a couple from day one. Instead we were the soul mates that our friends teased were actually in a platonic marriage. I helped her through her ups and downs of romance and she nagged me to go on dates, even setting up a few for me. I helped her bond with her explosively charming and overwhelming family, who she deliberately lived a few hours away from and she shared them since I had none. When Maris landed that first big girl job, we moved into her luxe two bedroom apartment with a balcony and a great kitchen and, oh yeah, how did I make my share of the rent?

Well, I didn't really. Not at first. It took me almost 3 months past graduation to get my current job. In the meantime I was using my savings and feeling increasingly desperate. Maybe I'd be the English major cliche that ended up a manager at the grocery store. I was putting forth a token amount of money to rent from my part time gig tutoring at the university for the summer students, which Maris accepted without complaint and without comment. She didn't truly need me to help pay the expenses, she wasn't super rich but had a healthy bank account, generous parents and a great paying job. Still, I'm not a user. I wanted to get things right with her.

Why not move into my mom and dad's then you ask?

Excellent question.

They didn't exist.

My mom passed when I was three. Car accident. I barely have a memory of her besides a snatch of a James Taylor song sung as a lullaby and the impression of warmth. My dad tried I guess, but I always felt like I was just a chore to him. He had been older than my mom by a good twenty five years. Consequently, he was in his fifties when I was born. She had been an only child as far as I knew, though my dad had one older brother who died in Vietnam. His parents died before I was born and I wasn't aware of any extended family. Dad always worked a lot and we had a housekeeper who doubled as a nanny for me until I was 14. Then her daughter moved out of state and Mrs. Davis decided to follow. So we got a twice weekly cleaning service and I was left alone. My dad was clearly who I got my personality from, he was quiet, a loner, and he worked as an accountant. He was a nice guy, just not very social or warm. We just never clicked, so although I guess he loved me, and I guess I loved him, it felt like it was obligation if nothing else. I had food, shelter, an allowance and all the things you do for kids except the love and attention. There wasn't any catch in the yard, or Saturday morning snuggles, or anything like that. I suspect my mom had wanted a baby and as he had no children yet he wanted to please her, his sweet younger bride. After she was gone he was left lost on what to do. We were like strangers sharing a house.

Dad had looked crushed and vaguely unsettled when I came out as gay my senior year of high school but it didn't really change anything. He just nodded and said thanks for telling him, gave me an awkward hug and left the kitchen. He never mentioned it again and we went on living parallel lives. He passed away from a heart attack at the beginning of my sophomore year of university, at the age of 73. It was shortly before I met Maris. I didn't really feel the loss of him, as much as I felt hurt to lose the possibility of a dad. His lawyer handled everything, and there wasn't a service per his will. He didn't have a huge estate, we weren't monied, but I was able to pay for school tuition, the single dorm I lived in, and bought a car I rarely use anyway. The house was sold, and the money used to fund college expenses and what was left went in my savings, so I really had nowhere and no one to go back to.

All I had some money in the bank, but not enough to endlessly fund a jobless life of leisure. It seemed then like I was destined to be awkward forever. And possibly living with Maris for just as long.

I put the coffee mug in my sink, still thinking of those early years, giving it a cursory rinse before leaving it. No time for my favorite coffee shop this Wednesday morning, just a quick keurig brew. I needed to be focused and not late, as today was the MCAT. This was a major test, used for medical school admittance and security for the test ran very tightly. No I wasn't using my English degree as a launching pad for being a doctor. I was a test proctor, meaning I administered exams, mostly the big ones that people used for entrance into graduate school programs. I had really lucked out with this position too.

After tutoring the whole summer past graduation, I had been complaining to my new found friend Sarah, an anthropology major, at the Learning Center where I helped the undergrads rewrite their incompetent papers. She had constantly heard my worries about finding a job where I could support myself. I loved living with Maris and our midnight margaritas and watching stupid TV but I also knew I wasn't paying my share. Being grateful for the hand up this first summer didn't mean I wanted to feel dependent on her forever. Also in the front of my mind was living with her was great now but what about in a few years when she wanted to settle down. Or got tired of the potential for spazfest 24/7. I needed full time work.

Sarah came in to the Learning Center on a Tuesday near end of that first summer, her black eyes sparkling and a grin nearly cracking her face in half.

"I found you a job!" she crowed triumphantly.

I paused in the act of lifting my Coke to my lips, smiling in response to her excitement.

"What is it?" I asked, my mind coming up with and summarily rejecting about fifteen scenarios. Sarah was a pistol, and her ideas weren't always rooted in reality.

"No Josh listen. Seriously. Heidi, you know the tall blonde who's in charge over at the Testing department and has been looking so frazzled all summer well it came up this morning when we were getting coffee that Angie isn't coming back from maternity leave after all, Heidi just heard this morning. She needs a new assistant director. Best of all, Heidi is a sorority sister, well I mean, she's part of my sorority for all that she's a good twelve years older than me but hey anyway that's good because I told her all about you and since I know you don't work on Friday I asked if she could interview you then. Here's her card!" she breathlessly finished the world's longest explanation and presented me with a business card labeled boldly with Heidi Cox: Carmichael University Testing Center Director and the associated contact information.

I was stunned. I hadn't known Sarah that long, she was a senior student and stayed over the summer because she lived in town so the work was convenient. This was an opportunity to stay in the familiar, to stay at Carmichael U which to be fair I was more comfortable with than the thought of a new workplace. Maris hadn't changed me completely. I was still shy and a spaz.

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