I Read A Lot Ch. 04bylill_street_writer©
I didn't want to admit that Sandra had done me any favors by interrupting Gabe and I on the couch, but really she had. If she hadn't charged in, I don't think we would have stopped until we were both naked and sated. And while I would have cheered for that kind of release, I don't think I was ready for the fallout that comes with impulsive actions.
Someone in college had once joked that I would have to plan ahead before I spontaneously combusted.
If that person had seen me on the couch with Gabe, half-crazed with pent-up frustration, ready to chew his clothes off to get to him, they would have laughed themselves silly. Gabe just did that to me, every time I saw him, wherever we were. In a way, I felt drawn to him like a planet orbiting the sun. And in a completely different way, I also felt like I was stalking my prey. The contradictions that didn't really seem at adds in my head made me feel a little dizzy.
Until now, I had never even considered a serious relationship. My past experiences had definitely been casual in nature. I know that a few of the guys I'd been with wanted more from me, and one of them had been pretty determined to start something lasting. But it hadn't really worked out. One former -- whatever-you-would-call-him, Chad figured that if I wanted to be with him, and I could just change parts of my personality to suit him, we could build a life together. I realized that if I had to morph into someone different, then it wasn't really me that Chad wanted. It wasn't that I thought there was anything wrong with long-term partners, or that I didn't want one, I just hadn't met anyone that triggered those kinds of feelings in me. Now that I had, I knew that casual was not going to be enough.
From our conversations, I knew Gabe experiences were at least a little different from mine. He called them 'flings' which sounds so carefree, but baffled me. He had been friends with his previous lovers first and then they seemed to just evolve into more than friends. After they split, he seemed to go back to being friends with them. (I could never seem to do that.) When we talked, he never seemed to regret his relationships and he never seemed to have wanted anything else than what he'd had. What I didn't know was what he wanted now, with me.
The more time I spent with Gabe, the more time I wanted to spend with him. And this was the most unusual and totally unique part of our friendship, as far as I was concerned. Usually I needed to escape from people after a while and find a quiet corner and a good book. Now I didn't feel right unless I knew Gabe was nearby. I liked to hear him mumble to himself while he worked and moved from room to room Hell, I hardly minded when he interrupted me and just started talking about whatever was rolling through his mind.
If he didn't want to sleep with me, fine. (It wasn't fine at all, but I would accept it for argument's sake.) If he did, but he didn't want to stay with me and at least try to make a long-term relationship work, well I could live with that too. Either way, I would have to stop seeing him, since I was sure that I couldn't be 'just friends' with him anymore. It would be awful and I could hardly imagine cutting off contact with him, even after knowing him only a little over three weeks. But if I slept with him first, and then found out that an LTR wasn't going to happen, it would just hurt a lot worse. That fear was what had kept me from trying to go further with him already.
In the end, Sandra probably did me a favor, though of course I'll never tell her that! Hopefully I could get this resolved with Gabe on Thursday. God did I despise anything that even resembled 'a talk'. Any time someone said the words: 'we have to talk,' I would rather eat glass. But I had to do something, I had to know what would happen. Otherwise, I would have to be locked into the loony bin. The next few days might just drive me completely around the bend. I thought about him all the time, fantasized about being with him, imagined what his body looked like, felt like and tasted like. No wonder I avoided this sort of attachment; I was seriously losing my mind.
Work had been my only respite from all of this maudlin brain work. The company I worked for, and my work-group especially had landed a huge project. Since a lot of the initial planning had been my idea, my boss had decided to see if I could head up the group and manage the whole thing. It was a big step, one that took me away from purely technical tasks and would force me to spend more time and energy managing people and the project. While people-skills aren't always my strength, my boss thought it was time to see what I could do. The last week or so at work had been intense as I planned for our launch meeting and the entire project. When I immersed myself in this new challenge, I could escape some of the uncertainties and fluttering butterflies of my feelings for Gabe.
If I had to be in touch with all my feelings, all of the time, I would go wacko-bananas.
On Thursday I parked Tom's car at Tonio's and walked over to the Frisbee Park around 6pm. Since I had tons of stuff to schlep around and only a bike to do it with, Tom had generously offered to lend me his car. It was thoughtful of him to offer his car, given that I had tons of stuff to get over to Isabelle's in order to hang my pieces for the art show. When I tried to thank him, though, he just waved it aside, as if it was totally normal that he would inconvenience himself for me.
Since the night that Sandra interrupted us, Tom and I hadn't spent much time together, and I was trying hard not to read too much into it. All of his words sounded right: he was crazy busy at work with a big meeting coming up, and I should focus on finishing up for the show at Isabelle's. It wasn't that he was wrong, or even inconsiderate. Rather it was my fear eating away at me. What if I had finally found a man that could be more than *just for fun* and he was already tired of me? In a twisted way, it would serve me right. I had certainly walked away from a few nice guys in the past. It probably was my cosmic turn to have someone walk away from me.
Once I got to the Park, I looked around and found Amy hanging out with a few of the other wives/husbands/partners/whatevers of the players. It had taken me a while to remember the names of the core players and even longer figure out all their attachments. According to Amy, I was still doing better than Tom, who had stop trying to remember a long time ago. Amy was wearing a pretty, flowy kind of dress that looked very nice in the warmer weather we'd been having. She waved at me when she saw me walking and motioned that I should join her.
"Gabe," Amy crooned as she held up her arms to give me a hug. "How's the favorite man in my life?" The delivery of this greeting was a little dramatic and I knew she was doing to help include me in a conversation already under way.
"Uh oh," I replied and I wrinkled my brow. "What did Henry do now? If I'm your favorite, then he must be in some serious trouble." The rest of the group laughed and welcomed me. I continued, "Okay, spill. What's he done?" I'll admit I was expecting some minor but annoying infraction like leaving the seat up or forgetting their anniversary.
Maria from the other side of the group spoke up, "He's going to England for two weeks."
"Without her," someone else added.
With a swivel, I turned a looked straight at Amy, trying to see just what her true feelings might be. This might be a public chat, but I was sure that her mood was a little more serious than she was letting on.
Amy waved a hand and dismissed it all. "It's a great opportunity for a couple for conferences. He's presenting something or other and it will look perfect on his resume. Besides," Amy said, laying a soothing hand on my arm. "I told him to bring me back a fabulous present and I would be fine."
I stared at Amy hard and I decided to save my 'liar liar, pants on fire' for a more private time when I could find out the whole story.
Just then, Tom jogged over to my side, a little out of breath. "Hey, why don't we go over and grab a table, since we have to leave early?" He greeted everyone quickly and explained that we would go ahead to the restaurant and save a table. Tom and I had to get over to the café in order to paint the wall and hang my work tonight. If we spent all evening with the Frisbee folks, we would never get it all done.
Amy decided to come with us since she was feeling a little tired and wanted to sit down.
The three of us began walking to Tonio's, Tom and I on either side of Amy. Once we were well out of earshot everyone else, Tom took her hand and said, "Amy-honey, it's not four months in Africa and he's not Scott."
"Yeah?" she asked in a plaintive voice. Amy turned her head to look at Tom and I could see him smile kindly at her, then touch her nose lightly.
"Besides," Tom added. "If Henry tried anything, Gabe and I would break his pointy little head."
At this Amy giggled a little and turned her head to look up at me. "Would you really do that for me?"
"Absolutely," I agreed. "Then he would have to admit that two guy men opened a can of whoop-ass on him." And finally, Amy really smiled.
By now, Amy was starting to feel a little better and we had arrived at the back entrance of Tonio's. It was a good thing that we had come early, because the place was starting to get really busy. The bar was jammed with singles and the waitresses were weaving through the crowded floor with trays of pizzas held high and pitchers of beer.
The three of us found a couple of tables in the back that we could push together and be able to fit most of the regular crowd. Tom and Amy positioned themselves to see the front door in order to wave folks down when they arrived and I faced the other way, towards the back door. Kind of like a stake out, we had the place covered.
Even more than usual, I was looking forward to a very cold beer and some ridiculously cheesy pizza, since I had spent much of the day hauling canvas and hardware. I knew that somewhere a waitress was just dying to take my order. Scanning the restaurant, I was just about to wave my hand in the air to get some attention when Amy grabbed me and hissed.
"Gabe, NO." Amy's hand clutched my arm hard enough to make me a little alarmed. She turned to Tom and said in a hoarse whisper, "Do you think it's him?"
Tom seemed as clueless as I felt. "Who? What are you talking about?"
"Over there at the end of the bar, it's Scott." Amy turned her head in a way that made it obvious that she wasn't looking in the direction she'd mentioned.
"Shit!" Tom swore heavily. "And I'm guessing the blonde isn't his sister or cousin, right?"
Amy's pained voice followed, "You so know it isn't."
"Yeah, but a guy can hope, right?"
"Tom, tell me when I can look, okay?" I'd figured out that they had spotted the husband of Amy's best friend at the bar with someone definitely not his wife. Amy had been fretting over Jen's crumbling relationship while her friend was doing a semester of research in Africa. Now mere feet away, was the reason and proof of that disintegration.
"Go ahead Gabe, it can't get any worse," Tom met my eyes and looked suddenly sad. He put an arm around Amy and lightly stroked her back.
Since Scott didn't know me from a manhole cover, I thought this was a great opportunity to flag down a waitress and get an eyeful at the same time.
Craning my neck and half turning in my chair, I quickly spotted the man-who-must-be-Scott and his blonde squeeze. At that moment, squeeze was pretty literal as Scott had his hand on her ass. The couple was having a good time, drinking cocktails and laughing like there wasn't a woman halfway across the world wondering why her husband seemed distant lately. Scott looked like a smooth charmer, an operator. Finally I found a waitress to signal and I turned back around in my seat. Amy and Tom were deep in conversation.
"How could he bring her here, especially in Thursdays?" Amy said. "He knows we all come here."
Tom shook his head. "Maybe he wants to get caught."
This made sense to me and I think I understood where Tom was going with this reasoning. He confirmed my thoughts with his next words.
"Amy, I we see here with another woman, what would he expect us to do about it?" Tom leveled his gaze at Amy.
"I'll have to tell Jen," Amy said flatly.
"Yup," Tom nodded. "And what easier way to break the news than have you do it for him?"
Amy sat there for a minute, staring off into nothing while she contemplated this strategy. "Then he's a bigger bastard than I thought."
"A rat-bastard," Tom agreed.
"But we can't just ignore it, can we? There's no way in hell I can talk to Jen and pretend that this isn't happening." Amy looked lost and confused. Her normally take-charge attitude had completely flown.
At this, Tom looked at me. An idea sprang into my head. Granted it was an awful idea, but at least I'd thought of something. Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it and definitely before Tom could put me in a headlock, I stood up and walked towards the end of the bar.
Scott was turned slightly away from me and his woman was more in line with my line of sight. Once I'd gone a bit away from our table, I added a little swish to my walk. Nothing obvious, not 'Queer Eye' or anything, just enough to make it clear that she and I did not go to the same church. As I approached, I made sure not to make eye contact with her, especially since none of this was really her fault.
"Hey Scott," I crooned. "I thought that was you. Who's your friend?" I placed my hand on his shoulder and ran it down the length of his arm. Instantly, Scott turned his head and looked straight at me. Obviously he'd already had a couple of drinks because he was a little slow in reacting.
"Do we know each other?" Scott asked this in a calm enough way, but his posture had become defensive. Still, he didn't shake off my touch.
"Very well," I said and I put a little edge in my voice. I turned and looked at the woman. "Scott seems to be having some monogamy issues. Or is this just a little drink after work?"
The woman just looked like a fish out of water, mouthing little silent "o's". I turned back to Scott. "Come on, let's go home and we can make up, hmm?"
At this point, Scott's face was turning red and he couldn't decide what to do next. Here I was, massaging his upper arm and his date looked at him like he ate small children for lunch. She decided to get the hell out of Dodge and quickly gathered her purse and moved toward the door.
As she left the scene, she said "Don't ever call me again."
Scott just watched her leave, but then turned a fury-filled glare on me. Since this was the end of even the shred of script I had in mind, I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had just wanted the whole thing to end, and now that Scott's date had left, I figured my job here was done. Scott seemed to have other ideas.
"Just who in the hell are you and what was that all about?" Scott's voice was cold with anger and menace. I had already removed my hand, and now he moved to stand opposite me, but still very close. I figured he wasn't getting in my personal space to get friendly. About the time I decided I really should have taken some self defense classes, I heard a loud chair-scraping sound and I swiveled to find the source.
Tom stood half the restaurant away, but he loomed larger than life in my eyes. Suddenly, Tom looked double his normal size and ready to beat the shit out someone. He focused not on me, but on Scott, who had also noticed the source of the noise. Threat and warning arced between the two men and I just stood there wondering what to do now.
Scott blinked first. "Fuck," he swore. Then he pulled his wallet out of his pants, flung some bills on the bar and stalked to the exit. Since he couldn't really have the last word in a silent test of wills, he settled for flipping Tom off as he stomped out.
"Oh shit," Amy gasped. "What is he doing?"
I couldn't really guess what Gabe was planning, but after years of knowing Scott, I pretty much knew what the end result would be. Even though I had been around Scott since college, we would never have considered ourselves friends. He tolerated my presence with barely veiled contempt and never hesitated to take a cheap shot or tell an off-color gay-joke when he thought he could get away with it. So far, I had restrained myself from breaking his nose because I liked Jen and loved Amy too much to cause a rift like that in our group. But all deals were off if he laid one smarmy hand on Gabe.
Gabe did this little saunter walk as he approached Scott that I found to be completely sexy and infuriating. Only on a stage with a pole had I ever seen someone walk like that. And the thought that he was aiming that at someone as homophobic as Scott just made me a little crazy. Rationally I knew that Gabe was just trying to get a reaction from Scott, and not actually coming on to him, but reason had flown my mind the second I figured out where Gabe was going. By the time Gabe put his hand on Scott's arm, I was past any sort of thought. The only thing that kept me from jumping up was Amy's fingers digging into my arm.
Finally Gabe's drama had played itself out: the blonde had walked away and Scott's plan had completely backfired. I had just started to breathe again when Scott looked like he was about to throw a punch at Gabe. I don't even remember moving, but in an instant I was on my feet and staring at Scott, just daring him to make a move. For years, I had been waiting to tear his ass to shreds and this seemed like a prime opportunity. He only had to sneeze in Gabe's general direction and I would be on him in a second. Scott caught my eye, held my stare and tried to hurl red daggers of hate at me through the air. It was over, any pretense of friendship between us over the years was completely dead. Scott turned and stormed off, tossing some bills on the bar and tossing me a bone in the process.
After the door slammed shut, Gabe stood looking a little stunned until a female bartender came over and handed him a couple of bottles of beer and gave him a bright smile. Gabe rewarded her with a laugh and a hand shake and started to make his way back to our table. As he walked casually across the restaurant, I met him halfway.
"What in the hell is your problem," I hissed at Gabe. "Scott can be a mean bastard and I know he is stronger than he looks."
"Yeah," Gabe agreed. "I think I figured that out a little too late."
Concerned by the slight tremble in his voice, I put my hand on his arm. It was almost the same way Gabe had touched Scott, intimate but not overt. He was shivering, kind of quaking like aspen leaves in a breeze. Feeling this I wanted to wrap my arms around him and held him close, protect him from monsters under the bed and assholes in a bar. I also wanted to shake him until his head began to wobble and he promised never to pull another dumbass stunt like that again. Anger, confusion and need chased around inside of me but found nowhere to settle down.
Gabe shrugged and he handed me a beer. He clinked the neck of his bottle with mine and we both swallowed the cold, amber deeply. With a sigh he said, "How about we fight about this later, okay? Folks are starting to come in and I don't want Amy to freak out."
"All right," I replied and I tried not to sound too pissed, but probably failed. As Gabe stepped past me, I rested my hand lightly on the small of his back and hoped I had the right to this gesture. At the moment, all I knew is that I wasn't going to let Gabe out of my sight.
By the time we got back to the table, a couple of Frisbee folks had already come in through the back door and found seats at the long table we had claimed. Our chairs next to Amy were still vacant and we slid into those. I wanted to pull mine closer to Gabe's, but thought that was being ridiculous, so I settled for angling my body a little towards him.