The walk to the restaurant made me realize just how dumb I was acting. Freckles may not have been single, he may not have been gay, but here we were together. It may not have been a romantic date, but in a sense it was sort of a date, the closest thing I was going to get anyway, a dude date.
I took a second to watch him walking a bit ahead of me. Baseball cap pulled down over his head, his old t-shirt that fit him like a glove with cut-off sleeves, his slim-fit dark blue boot-cut jeans and those brown roper boots on his feet, making that unmistakable sound as he walked. I looked at the tips of his boots and noticed they were square toe, the same kind I’d buy if I were into wearing boots. I asked myself how I could be upset in this situation? How selfishly ignorant I was being. I should have been grateful for the moments I was being given with Damien, I swore I would never take him for granted again. Anything was better than nothing.
I quick stepped and caught up with him, “Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for what you said back there in the truck. I didn’t know how to react, but now I realize the importance of what you were doing. So thanks for that.”
“Don’t mention it man, we all go through shit and sometimes it just takes someone willing to speak up and do something to make it better.” Damien said with the kind of wisdom that could have only come from experience.
I didn’t ask him where he had learned that, what type of hardships he had been through that led him to that understanding. I didn’t want us to dwell anymore on the negative, I wanted to make the rest of this night positive, make this a night to remember for the good things that could hopefully happen.
We got to the door and Freckles reached ahead and pulled it open, stepped aside and said, “After you.”
I smiled, not knowing if I should be insulted that he was insinuating I was a girl or honored that he was just offering a gesture of respect and politeness. “Thanks, man!” I said as I walked through ahead of him.
He then rushed passed me and opened the second set of doors into the restaurant. Really? I thought to myself. I couldn’t bite my tongue any longer and I asked, “Are you trying to make me feel like a girl?”
“Hahaha,” Damien laughed loudly, “No dude, my momma just raised me right!”
Good answer, I thought to myself. His girlfriend was the luckiest woman in the world. I hoped she equally worshiped the ground he walked on, ensured that he woke up every morning with a smile on his face, cherished every moment she had with him. I knew that I definitely would have never let him forget how incredible he was.
We stood at the front register, waiting to be taken to our table. A young beautiful black haired girl greeted us with a Hispanic accent, she smiled and gestured for us to follow her. I looked over at Damien to see if he had noticed how beautiful she was, but he was looking at me and said, “Man I’m starving, I haven’t eaten since this morning.”
“Yeah me too, that water balloon fight out in the sun took it out of me, haha!” I said as Damien and I both laughed at remembering the fun we had earlier that day.
He and I took a seat and the waitress took our drink order and said she would return shortly to take the rest of our order. As she walked away I looked up from my menu at Damien, still expecting him to say something about how attractive the waitress was and possibly even catch him check her out as she left.
“Wow, did you notice how hot she was?” Damien asked excitedly, “She’s got all the right curves in all the right places, damn!”
“Haha, yeah she is pretty much a Mexican goddess.” I answered as I opened my menu to the center, feeling somewhat jealous that he did actually notice her.
Damien turned back to see where she had walked off to, I noticed and rolled my eyes at him. I guess I can’t blame him, I would have done the same thing if it had been an attractive male waiter. All men really are the same, regardless of orientation. I reached up with my menu and tapped him on the side of his hat.
He turned back around, “What? I can look, I just can’t touch.” He said with a dirty grin.
“Yeah well, I don’t know why you would even need to look at other girls, Megan is beautiful enough.” I said, conceding that her appearance was far superior to my own.
“It takes more than just looks, looks and personality.” Damien asserted.
“Sounds like something I would say.” I replied, wondering what he actually meant by that.
I pressed him further, “Are you saying that Megan’s personality could be better?”
“Um, well… we… I mean she… sometimes we just don’t get along the best.” Freckles admitted.
Wow, I thought to myself. Did he really just say that or did my mind just plant those words in his mouth to make me feel better?
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“We’ve been together for three years now and we know each other really well and it used to be great all the time, but ever since I moved back, we’ve been having issues.” Damien began entrusting me with his relationship problems and I began to feel like he really did feel at ease around me, that somehow in just this one day’s time we had bonded and he was willing to trust me, despite my breakdown in his truck earlier.
I wondered if maybe that had something to do with his willingness to talk to me. Maybe he was opening up to me in the hopes that I would reciprocate and tell him what had been bothering me. Whatever the intention, Damien continued to prove himself a formidable partner and I couldn’t help, but think that any issues he and Megan were having could not possibly be Damien’s fault.
“Honestly, she didn’t want me to move back to Vale, she said there was nothing there for me and that because of her job she couldn’t come with me right away.” Damien said.
“So wait, you’re living here… I mean in Vale… alone?” I asked curiously, forgetting we were currently in Madison City.
“Yep, she claimed that it wasn’t possible for her to up and move right now, which was complete bullshit, Terryville is not that far from Vale and if she really wanted to come with me she could have.” He said with frustration.
“You guys ready to order?” The waitress had approached and interrupted us.
We went ahead and ordered our food and munched on the chips and salsa she brought with our drinks as I continued our conversation about his love life.
“Where does Megan work?” I asked.
“She works at the hospital in Terryville, she’s a nurse and she’s on-call a lot, so at any moment on her days off she may be called back in to work and get time off later for it. She says that’s why she couldn’t move, the hospital relied on her too much.” Damien replied.
“Is she like a lead nurse or something? Sounds like she’s important.” I inquired.
“I don’t honestly know for sure, she’s been there a while, I think she only works in one particular unit and doesn’t get moved around, I wanna say it’s the ICU, but I could be wrong.” Damien said.
I continued asking Damien more questions about his relationship, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to find out what kind of dynamic they really had and it was my chance to gauge just how serious they were. Deep down I wanted desperately for them to break up, but if it would hurt him, then there was no way I could want that. The last thing I’d ever want was for Freckles to be heart broken. His happiness meant everything to me.
He went on to tell me that just a year ago, they had been engaged and had set a date for their wedding, but when Damien had decided to return to Vale for a job, they got into it and put the engagement on hold. When I asked if she ever planned on moving to Vale to live with him, he conceded that he didn’t think she ever would and that she was waiting for him to realize it and move back to Terryville.
Damien said that he thought about it, but he really didn’t mind living in Vale because it was away from the city and surrounded by farmland, something he was very much partial to. He said that he had grown up on a farm and missed it a great deal, enjoyed waking up in the morning to the sounds of birds and not the sound of honking cars. The air was fresher and the people nicer in his opinion.
“What about you man?” Damien asked, “Do you have a girl, recently get out of a relationship?”
I looked down at the table, I noticed the crumbs from the chips I had been eating were scattered out in front of me. It was difficult for me to answer that question because in order to keep my secret, I had to lie to him. It’s not that I was still in the closet, all my friends, family and co-workers knew about my interest in guys, I had just came out earlier that year in the Spring. I hated the idea of lying to Freckles, but I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. I tried to work around it, answering his question without making it sound like I was looking for or interested in girls.
“Nah, I don’t have a girlfriend, but why do you ask about a recent break-up?” I asked him wondering his reasoning.
“Well, when I told you to get your own girl back at the grocery store parking lot and whenever I talk about my girl, you kinda start to act funny, like it bothers you or something, like maybe you just got out of a relationship or something.” Damien said innocently, completely oblivious to my reasoning.
“Oh…” I said, not sure what else I should say to his observation. He was clearly thinking and noticing my behavior. I began to feel a little panicky, and I started choking on a piece of chip that was still in my mouth. I covered my mouth with my arm and coughed.
“Okay, here you guys go, hot plates, one chicken chimichanga and one beef enchilada,” said the waitress as she placed our plates on the table in front of us, ” let me know if you guys need anything else.” We said thanks and she returned to assisting other patrons.
Damien reached for his utensils and I was relieved, hoping he’d forget about the question he had asked and let it go for now. We both started eating and only the sound of utensils scraping on plates, our chewing and the occasional sound of us putting our cups back down on the table after taking a drink, could be heard. It didn’t feel awkward to me at all, I felt relaxed and comfortable around Freckles and I really hoped that he felt the same way. I wanted him to be at ease around me and feel like he could confide in me, just as he had told me I could do in him.
“I get it man,” Damien announced, taking a break from eating, “I know why you act that way and I want you to know you don’t have to worry about it, I completely understand and it doesn’t bother me at all.”
I stopped chewing, my eyes went from my plate to his face. I’m sure they were huge as I looked up at him, mortified that he had just figured it out. I couldn’t chew, I couldn’t breathe, I could feel my face flush and my heart skip a beat.
“You do?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yeah dude, I know and it’s okay, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to feel jealous of Megan.” Damien said.
I swallowed hard, hanging on the phrase “Jealous of Megan.” Was I so obvious that he figured it out in just a days time? I must have been more extroverted than I believed myself to be. I decided not to say anything and waited to see what else he would say about it.
“I mean, having a girlfriend isn’t really that great, you’re not missing out on anything honestly.” Damien reassured me.
“Uh…?” I halfway asked with stupidity.
“She’s always on my case about stuff man, you don’t need that in your life right now, just enjoy your freedom. When I bought my truck she totally flipped shit about how we could have spent that money on a down payment for a house or just the other day I bought an Xbox game for like forty bucks and she threw a fit, telling me it was a waste of money.” Damien said with a sneer, trying to mimic his girlfriend’s voice.
He continued, “Do you have any idea how many pairs of shoes she owns? Dude, half of them I never see her wear and do you think I complain when she buys a new pair? No man, I don’t say a word. She’s got enough clothes she could clothe everyone in a homeless shelter… with at least two sets of clothes each. I bet she has more scarfs than I have pairs of underwear!” Damien complained with a laugh.
I laughed too and blushed a little at Damien mentioning his underwear, I remembered thinking four years ago when I first saw him, about what type of underwear he wore. I almost wanted to ask him, but I bit my tongue realizing that now was hardly the time.
“So yeah bro, don’t feel jealous about her, you don’t need that and if you feel lonely don’t worry you got me, we can pretty much hang out anytime. I usually only go home on the weekends cause she tries to only work shifts during the week, since I’m only off on the weekends. But me and you can hang out after I get off work any week day you want.” He said, believing that he was making me feel better.
And in many ways, he was making me feel better. Not only did he still not know I was gay and into him, he just reassured me that we could hang out five nights a week. I wondered though, why he wouldn’t have other plans with other friends.
“You have that much free time during the week?” I asked.
“I don’t know anyone in Vale anymore, so I actually don’t have other friends to hang out with. That’s why I went to the fair today, I was hoping to meet some new people to chill with. Honestly, I’ve gone every day trying to meet some new cool people.” Damien admitted with a sense of vulnerability and defeat.
“Cool man, good thing you met me! I’m also free most of the time, other than cleaning up around the apartment and doing laundry, I lead a mostly boring life where my free time revolves around video games and Netflix movies, haha!” I confessed.
“You too, huh?!?!” Damien laughed, “You sound pretty cool to me, do you like doing stuff outdoors?”
“Yeah I do, weather permitting, what did you have in mind?” I asked.
“How about camping, fishing, riding ATV’s, that sorta thing?” Freckles asked, eager to find more common interests.
“Yep, all sounds good to me and hiking too, I’ve been wanting to find someone to do that stuff with, get me out of my apartment.” I said, hoping he’d be encouraged to make plans for us in the future.
“Oh hell yeah dude, I’d love to go hiking, maybe not in these boots though,” Damien lifted his right foot up off the floor and held it up against the edge of the table, “I’d need to get something more comfortable, haha!”
“For sure, your feet would be killing you after a few miles, even if you’re used to wearing those things.” I proclaimed.
We kept chatting about the things we could do and our other interests and hobbies to see if we had more in common. It really sounded like we wouldn’t have any shortage of things to do and I was getting more and more excited about the coming weeks before winter, we’d have to pack it full of stuff. I already loved Autumn, but this Autumn was going to be amazing.
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