If you’ve read much of my work, you might have noticed I like to have a little fun with what I call “dates from hell.” We’ve all had them, right? And if you answered no to that question, let me congratulate you. It takes a very special person to get through life without at least one date from hell on his or her resume.
The excerpt below is from my latest, Blink, and it showcases the date from hell one of my characters, Andy, has before re-connecting with Carlos, the man he’s never forgotten. Are you nervy enough to share one of your own dates from hell in the comments below? I’d love to hear about yours!
I have just taken a sip of the expertly-made cocktail, reveling in its briny chill, when I feel someone tap me on the shoulder.
I turn around to face Chet. I smile and think that the picture he used on the site had to be at least a few years old. It’s okay, I think, we all want to put our best foot forward. The guy before me still has the beard and the baseball cap I saw in his profile pic, but the beard that was flecked with gray on OkCupid is now fully silver. He also didn’t wear glasses in his profile picture, but now a pair of wire-rimmed oval frames shield his muddy-brown irises.
Which is not to say he looks bad. He doesn’t. Just older. He’s still cute, with a kind of high-school wrestling coach vibe about him, augmented by his outfit—an Abercrombie and Fitch jersey, cargo shorts, and workman’s boots. I try to hold in any judgment I know I would make if I were sitting here with Jules observing him, about a man trying a bit too hard to look manly and young. We would laugh into our drinks and for sure Jules would say something like, “Mutton dressed as lamb.”
I slide off the stool, smiling, to shake his hand.
He grabs my hand and uses it to pull me into a bear hug, planting a too-wet kiss on my neck, which startles me. I move back and hop up on my stool, give a little laugh. I want to admonish him for being fresh, as my mom would say, but instead I ask him what he’d like to drink. “I’ll get the first round,” I say, holding up my glass. “Since I’ve already started.”
He orders a Bud Lite and sits down beside me. Immediately, one of his hands goes to my leg, just above my knee, and rests there. He looks me up and down, and then does it again. His grin, a little lewd, never wavers. I wonder if a wolf whistle is in store. I begin to have my doubts about Chet but again, remind myself to withhold judgment. He just got here, after all. Give the guy a freakin’ chance!
“Man, am I glad I sent you that message. It’s so nice when they look better than their pics.” He leans back on his stool to check me out again and I have to admit, he’s making me more uncomfortable than flattered. Much as I admired my reflection in my condo building’s front door before heading over here, I am not all that. I’m relieved when the bartender, a blond in a black V-neck T-shirt who could be Alexander Skarsgard’s twin, sets Chet’s beer before him.
“You want a glass with that?” the bartender points to the sweating brown bottle.
Chet winks at the kid and asks, “Do I have any other options?” I groan inside.
The poor bartender just looks confused. Then he smiles. “I don’t know. I think we’ve got an aluminum bowl in the back if you’d be interested.”
Chet shakes his head and reaches into his wallet and throws a ten on the bar, in spite of my having said I’d treat. “Keep the change, stud.”
The bartender grabs the cash from the bar and gives me a look. In the look, we’re both saying something along the lines of “Do you believe this character?” He hurries away, presumably to wait on less flirtatious and younger men. Or maybe to find out what the Jeopardy! response is to the answer displayed on one of the monitors: Arizona's motto, ditat deus, means he “enriches.”
God, I think, the answer is God. A fella I fear whose help I’m going to need to call upon before this night is over.
I turn to the guy I agreed to meet, based only on about a dozen or so lines of type and a decade-old (at least) photograph and try to make the best of things. “So Chet, do you come here a lot?”
He shakes his head and crinkles up his nose, as though he’d smelled something bad. “Nah. I just picked this place because it’s kind of neutral, you know?”
I shake my head.
“Pretty boys. Bright lights. Nothing too extreme.”
I think I see. “Good for meeting for the first time, huh?”
He leans in closer to me and slides his hand up farther on my leg toward my crotch. “Right.” He leans even closer and growls in my ear. “If I like the guy, we can always go someplace else.”
Like your place? I wonder, but don’t say. I lean back and away from him. He smells like cigarette smoke, Old Spice, and booze. I laugh and am embarrassed when it comes out a little high-pitched. I try to get him back on course. “So, where do you like to hang out?”
“So to speak?” He raises his eyebrows and laughs as though I said something filthy and then I realize he’s making my reference to ‘hanging out’ into something lascivious.
Why didn’t I call Jules and set something up? You know, the old saw where she would call a half hour after I meet my date and, if it wasn’t going well, I could say there was an emergency at home and I had to go?
“Yeah. Do you go to any other clubs?”
“Me, I like the leather bars.” He stares at me and I wonder if he’s expecting me to rush in with something like, “Oh me, too! I left my harness and chaps at home.”
“Yeah,” he says. “There’s no pretense there.”
Really? Men standing around in biker gear trying to look butch? Okay….
“What I mean is,” Chet continues, “They don’t have game shows on the TVs, for Christ’s sake. Or run show tune videos like that joint down the street. They’re just about what we’re all here for.”
Although I know what he means by ‘what we’re all here for’ I ask Chet anyway, “What’s that?”
“Come on, Andy!” He rubs a hand over my chest and tweaks a nipple. I pull back. I can’t keep the scowl off my face. Undeterred, he leans forward once more to whisper throatily, “Fuckin’ and suckin’.”
I grab his hand, still on my chest, and return it to him, placing it carefully on his leg and nowhere near his crotch.
“I mean, why do gay men come out to the bars? To meet fuck buddies, right? We might as well be honest about it. I know I am. I like the leather bars because even if I don’t meet a guy to bring home, I can always wander into the backroom and get a little somethin’-somethin’.” He laughs. “You know what I mean?”
I’ve had enough. I think I know this is going to go nowhere. Same old story. I feel a little sad. “No, I really don’t Chet. When I go out, and it’s not that often anymore, it’s to meet up with friends, laugh, talk, have a few drinks.”
“And then go off to your bedroom and do the nasty.”
I sigh. I’m impatient now. “Well, I’d be lying if I said that never happened, but it’s usually more of a thing about circumstances turning a certain way, rather than something planned.”
“I was kind of planning on you and me getting together tonight.” He jerks his head toward the door behind him. “I live just around the corner. On Cornelia?” He says, in a softer voice, “Got the sling all set up.”
I laugh. “We have an optimist here!”
“What? You agreed to meet up with me.”
“And that means I agreed to have sex with you?”
“Well, yeah. That’s what guys go online looking for, right? I mean, what else is there?”
I wanted to answer—romance, companionship, friendship, maybe, just maybe, finding true love. But I have a feeling that our Chet here is too far-gone for any of those responses to resonate. Concepts like love and friendship would be lost on him. I don’t think his thought processes go any higher than above the belly button. It’s kind of sad, really. Like his clothes, I suspect Chet is stuck in a kind of faux masculine adolescence. At the end of the night, when he’s alone and covered with sticky lube and his latest conquest is but a memory, does he ever hunger for more?
“For some, I guess, not much.” Finally, I allow myself to touch him, putting a hand on his shoulder. As much as I am a big old introvert and hate confrontation of even the mildest sort, it’s not that hard to be honest, because I know at the end of what I have to say, I’ll be free. “Listen, Chet, I think you and I are after different things.” I gulp down what remains in my glass and set it back on the bar. “I’m gonna take off. Thanks for coming out to meet me.”
He sneers. “What are you after? True love?”
I get down from the bar stool and stand, facing him. “Yup,” I say and turn to walk out the door.
“Good luck with that!” he calls out behind me. “You’re gonna need it.” He pauses. “At your age.”
He laughs and my consolation is that no one laughs with him. I slip outside into the exhaust-choked air, feeling like I can breathe again.
Life can change in the blink of an eye. That's a truth Andy Slater learns as a young man in 1982, taking the Chicago 'L' to work every morning. Andy's life is laid out before him: a good job, marriage to his female college sweetheart, and the white picket fence existence he believes in. But when he sees Carlos Castillo for the first time, Carlos’s dark eyes and Latin appeal mesmerize him. Fate continues to throw them together until the two finally agree to meet up. At Andy’s apartment, the pent-up passion of both young men is ignited, but is snuffed out by an inopportune and poorly-timed phone call.
Flash forward to present day. Andy is alone, having married, divorced, and become the father of a gay son. He’s comfortable but alone and has never forgotten the powerful pull of Carlos’s gaze on the 'L' train. He vows to find him once more, hoping for a second chance. If life can change in the blink of an eye, what will the passage of thirty years do? To find out, Andy begins a search that might lead to heartache and disappointment or a love that will last forever….