We shook hands and after that we fell silent. Sitting there on that bench side-by-side, underneath the shade of the oak trees behind us, there was a slight breeze that helped to dry the sweat on my brow. It was peaceful, but I also felt I should be saying something or asking something, I didn’t want him to think that I had nothing left to talk about. Truth was, I wanted to spend the rest of the day and night with him, talking, getting to know each other. I worried he may get up and say goodbye. I wasn’t willing to let him go so easily a second time.
“So, you wanna grab something to drink?” I asked, hoping he’d say yes.
“Yeah man, sounds good, I feel a little dehydrated.” Damien said.
“There’s a beverage stand over by the entrance, let’s go.” I said while motioning towards the entrance to the fairgrounds. We headed out towards the stand and I spent most of the walk trying to remember all the things that I had wanted to ask him.
“Do you live around here?” Damien asked.
“Yes I do, I actually went to high school here. What about you? I mean, I know we didn’t go to high school together, but do you live around here, go to college here?” I asked.
“Haha!” Damien laughed, “Well, I’m not from here, but I did go to Vale Tech a few years ago, but then I didn’t go back for my second year and decided to stay back in Terryville, which is where I’m from. I got a job there during that summer and it paid really well, so I put my associate’s degree on hold. I needed the money honestly.” Damien confessed.
He continued, “The following year I realized that I just needed to finish my degree and get it over with, so I enrolled again and came back here. My employer said that when I finished school he’d hire me back and pay me more. I was working on my associate’s degree in Industrial Electricity. My job was with an electric and construction company. So basically I was installing wiring in homes and industrial buildings.”
“Haha, you seemed like the hands-on type of guy!” I laughed, mostly because I already knew from the moment I saw him those years ago, that he was one of those types of guys. And now I knew for sure that my perception of him was scary accurate.
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Freckles asked half-jokingly.
“Haha, nothing, just messing with you. So what brings you back to this place now, didn’t you graduate last year?” I asked.
“Yes, I did graduate and I went back to Terryville, but when I contacted my former employer he said he had to absolve me of my old position. They no longer had the money coming in to hold it open for me. I was so pissed about it at first, but swallowed my anger and thanked him anyway for trying.” Damien said.
“Wow man, I’m sorry to hear that it didn’t work out.” I said, trying to let him know I actually cared.
“Sometimes curses are blessings in disguise,” Damien continued, “I was offered a job through the school here and it was an opportunity that came at the perfect moment for me. So I packed up my things and moved here permanently.” He said as we arrived at the stand.
We looked up at the sign above the stand, showing what beverages they offered and the prices. I acted like I was concentrating on the sign, but really my mind was replaying what Damien had said, “Sometimes curses are blessings in disguise,” I couldn’t get over how true those words can be.
If I had continued with the military, Damien and I would have never met. If any of the emotional and mental battle that I had gone through inside myself, all the pain, if none of that had happened I may never have had the opportunity to be standing there with Damien, talking to him. Something similar to what I could only dream about a few years previous.
Though we face hardships at times in life, there are moments when life really can be amazing.
But before I got too wrapped up in the words of my Dream Man, I still needed to find out what gender he was interested in. I had been spending time trying to read between the lines of his speech and mannerisms, his behavior, trying desperately to pick up on any signs possible that would give me a hint at his orientation.
All I could determine was that he was an incredibly nice guy, competitive, loyal, masculine, but none of that offered me clues to his romantic interests. I had no choice, but to ask him directly, somehow, by slipping it into our conversations.
“I’ll take a water.” I said to the lady in the tent. I looked over at Damien, who had also looked over at me. For a second we just stared into each others eyes and a voice in the back of my head sounded out, “Order him one too, you idiot!!!”
I turned back to the lady and said, “Make that two bottles of water,” turning my head back to Damien with a smile on my face.
“Oh dude, you don’t have to do that, I can pay for my own.” Damien said trying to assert his manhood.
“Nah man, it’s okay, I got this, you can cover me the next time.” I tried to play it cool and also slip in the notion that I was open to hanging out with him again.
“Haha,” Damien laughed out loud, “Whatever man, I won’t argue with you. Thanks for the water.”
I smiled back at him. He had such a great laugh, I could have listened to it all afternoon. Not just because it sounded nice, but because him laughing meant that he was happy. Never could I have wanted anything more than that, than to be the person that made Freckles happy.
We stood there a while, drinking our water. Our voices may have been quiet, but my mind was still racing. How do I ask him, what do I say, how do I say it? Will he be offended? What if I make him mad? What if he never talks to me again when he finds out I’m into guys, especially him?
“So, what are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?” I asked, hoping he would be available.
“Um, I’m not really sure, why, were you wanting to keep hanging out?” He asked, the question struck me with a little bit of fear. To say yes might make me sound lonely or clingy, but to say no would be a lie.
“Well..” I hesitated with awkwardness… “Yeah, if you were open to it. I mean, I don’t have anything going on later, but if you had other things you wanted to do, it’s cool, maybe we can hang out another time?”
“No man, it’s alright, I have nothing else to do today and you seem like a chill guy, you already bought me water, you might as well buy me dinner, haha!” Damien laughed hilariously at his comment.
I laughed too, but in more of a half-scared way. Was he really just joking, or perhaps being coy with me and secretly wanting me to take him out to eat? Could he tell that I was into him? Was he picking up on my feelings? My heart started to flutter with fear, I could feel my face flush.
“But seriously though, it’s all good, I need to go home first and shower though, cause I’m sure I smell like ass right now.” Damien conceded.
“Ha, yeah I probably do too.” I honestly had never considered whether I reeked of armpit sweat or not, but after Freckles had brought it up, I became paranoid that maybe I stunk badly.
I glanced down at my left armpit, the whole side of my shirt had a huge circle of drying sweat, my shirt was going to be stained for sure. I felt embarrassed and looked up at Freckles to see if he had noticed me and sure enough he was looking back.
“Happens to me all the time, that’s why I don’t have sleeves,” Damien pointed towards his bare shoulder, “Dries out much faster!”
I felt a little more at ease, I should have known better than to think that he was going to seriously judge me. Damien was too nice of a guy to do that.
“I feel way better,” as I finished my water and tossed it into the nearby trash barrel.
“Yeah me too. I guess I better get back to my place.” Damien announced.
“What time is it anyway?” I asked.
“Um…” Damien looked down at his watch, “Almost four o’clock. You want to just meet up in like an hour or two?”
“Were you being serious about the dinner thing?” I asked without thought.
“Oh well, yeah if you wanted to, I don’t have a problem with it, but I’m not going to make you buy me dinner, that would be kinda weird, haha!” Damien said.
“Haha, no I didn’t mean it like that, I was just wondering what you had in mind is all.” I laughed nervously, secretly wanting to face-palm myself.
“Ha, it was your idea to hang out, you come up with a game plan, here let me get your number.” Freckles reached into the pocket of his mesh shorts and dug around for his phone… “Oops, that’s not my phone!” Damien announced playfully, insinuating that he had grabbed a hold of his crotch instead of his phone.
In my head I said, “Oh my god, did he really just do that?” I smiled and shook my head at him, trying not to react too much to it, but secretly I wished that had been my hand instead of his. Such is the mind of a guy. We just can’t help it.
He pulled out his phone, “Okay man, hit me with those digits.”
I recited my number as he typed it in and saved me in his contacts, showing me that he saved it as “Quiet Guy”.
I laughed, “Haha, really? You’re going to save my number as Quiet Guy after we’ve spent the last hour together talking?
With a cocky smile, Damien replied, “Yep! That was my first impression of you.”
“Fair enough.” I said, giving in to Freckle’s reasoning. “When you text me later, I’m going to save you into my phone as Shorty.”
“Ooooh! Low blow brother, low blow! Make fun of a guy for his height, a guy can’t help that!” Damien cried out acting so offended by it, “What makes you think I’m actually going to text you anyway, maybe I’m just gonna blow you off now that you made fun of me?”
“Is he flirting with me?” I thought to myself, is he just playfully toying around or is he really flirting with me? Freckles was so hard to read.
I replied, “Come on, you don’t really think I’d make fun of you, right?” Hoping to put him on the spot to see what he really thinks of me.
Damien turned his head slightly to the side, squinted one eye and cocked the eyebrow above his other eye and replied, “Hmm, I’m not sure about you just yet Mr. Fitzgerald, ask me that question at the end of the night. It’s time for me to go, later dude!”
With those words he tossed his empty bottle into the barrel and headed off into the parking lot as I replied, “Later man!” I stood there smiling, shaking my head at the crazy little man that walked away from me, with that cocky stride that only a man who thought himself one badass mother fucker could pull off. But I had a feeling that under that tough guy attitude, there was a much softer side to Freckles, I had hoped that I would get a glimpse into that part of him later that night.
I also had set out on my way to find my car, so I could hurry up and get back to my place and try to figure out what we were going to do that night. After we had talked about it so much, I felt like going out to eat was definitely going to be part of it, but I wasn’t sure what else we were going to do.
There’s not much in this town, in terms of entertainment for young adults, we’d have to venture into the nearby city. I was 22, about to turn 23, so going to a bar was an option, but I wasn’t really into alcohol and I didn’t know if Freckles was into drinking or not.
As I sat there in my car with the engine running, trying to think of what we could do that night, my phone alerted me to a new message received, then beeped again with another new message. I pulled it out and lit up the screen, it was from an unknown number. “Who is this from?” I asked myself out loud while opening the messages…
“Thanks for the water.”
“PS: Don’t forget to wash those stinky armpits!”
Of course! Who else would it be! Damien wasted no time in utilizing the new number in his contacts. I really couldn’t believe he messaged me that quickly. It meant he was still thinking about me, and apparently my armpits.
It felt good having heard from him so soon. I sat there wondering if I should reply or let it go until later when I had an idea of what we’d be doing. I shrugged my shoulders and figured oh well, why not?
“You’re welcome. And no worries, my armpits will smell great tonight!”
I pressed send.
I waited for a bit and there was no reply. I figured he must have been driving, so I put my phone away and headed off to my apartment.
I got inside and started taking off my clothes, I wanted to hurry up and get ready, I tend to take a while and even though I had no idea what it meant for Freckles, for me the night was going to be a big deal.
I didn’t know what to wear, I didn’t want to be too dressed up, but I didn’t want to be too dressed down if it turned out that Freckles was actually into me and the night meant as much to him as it did to me.
My phone went off with another message…
“Lol, it’s not like I’m going to be sniffing them!” Damien messaged.
I replied, “It’s okay, I have good hygiene practices! :)”
He replied, “A smiley face?”
My heart stopped. Did I go too far? Was I being too cute with my message, was he catching on, was he straight?
I decided not to reply to him. I put my phone down and headed off to the bathroom to shower. Thirty minutes later I got back to my phone. Half dressed I stood there by my bed, phone in hand. I saw that the light was flashing, which meant I had a new message.
I was scared to read it, what if he sent something like, “Dude, I’m straight.” All of my hopes could be crushed with a single message. My heart started to race, the last, nearly four years of my life spent wondering off and on about this guy could have all been a complete waste with the words in this message…
He replied with a winking face with its tongue sticking out. I was incredibly shocked and relieved and blurted out, “Oh thank god!”
Hope was not yet lost! It didn’t mean he was romantically interested, but at least he wasn’t completely put off by my message. I finished getting dressed. In the shower I had decided that we could go see a movie after dinner or head to the park for a walk, daylight should at least last until nine o’clock.
I looked up at the clock, it was 5:30.
I replied back to Damien, “Hey man, what do you think about seeing a movie after having dinner?”
Damien messaged me back, “What is this, a date? Should I have done some manscaping? LOL”
My heart fell from my chest and landed in my stomach, I thought I was going to puke.
Fuck! I started to freak out and realized I was becoming paranoid. It’s a good thing I didn’t suggest the walk afterwards. He would have really thought that odd. After all, Scott and I went on dude dates all the time, going out to eat and then seeing a movie, he and I never thought of it as more than just us, friends, hanging out.
But Damien just threw it out there and made it awkward. He put that “LOL” at the end, maybe I could just follow up jokingly and down play the idea too.
I replied, “Lol, What’s wrong with a dude date?”
The ball was in his corner. Surely he’s gone on dude dates with his buddies before? Or maybe this was a first for him?
I waited and waited, for twenty minutes I received no reply. I started to wonder, my head was going a million miles an hour. What do I do? Should I message him again? Should I tell him we can call it whatever he wants, we’re just two guys hanging out?
Part of me wanted to do just that, to just act like I only wanted to be friends, make him think I’m straight. But part of me just wanted to tell him everything, just put the truth out there. Tell him that I was gay and interested in him. And then I thought about rejection, about him telling me to go away and delete his number, never talk to him again.
It all kept playing out in my head in different ways. I began to worry myself sick. Suddenly, I didn’t want to go out anymore, I didn’t want to go anywhere except to bed.
Just then my phone went off again, I scrambled for it quickly to read Freckle’s message, “nothing”
A huge weight lifted off my shoulders. There was still hope. But I did feel tired, the heat from earlier today and the emotional ups and downs that I was feeling from talking to Damien, it was getting to me. I went into the kitchen to get something to drink, just as my phone went off again.
I ran back into the bedroom, picked up my phone and read, “Want to meet at the grocery store downtown at 6?”
I replied, “Sounds good!”
I looked up at the clock, Crap! I had ten minutes to get there. I threw on the rest of my clothes and headed for the door.
Damn it! I wanted to face-palm myself again. I didn’t even think to look at what movies were playing or the showtimes! I hate not having things planned and the night was turning into a chaotic mess. We didn’t even decide where we were going to eat!
I slammed the door closed behind me and headed out into the night, not knowing where it would lead, uttering below my breath, “Oh well, screw it!”
Click here to read more chapters from this novel.