Same bar as last night, but Mike didn’t want to go. So, I won’t be going home with Mike. I’ll be going home alone. I feel naked without my friend here. Like flying without a parachute.
Why am I here? For another chance to even just see Ken for a moment, I came. For one moment’s wishful thinking, I got ready in record time and came.
I read my text messages and sigh. I’m that creepy old man he was talking about. Suddenly my courage has left me.
I sense someone standing next to me on the right. I look up from my phone. It’s him.
“We meet again,” Ken says.
“Hi,” I reply.
I look down at my phone and switch it off, then take a drink of my beer while I listen to him make an order. Inwardly I chastise myself for doing this; sitting in the same seat hoping to see him again.
“Thought you were playing a video game,” Ken says.
I look up at him to see a gentle smile. “Ah, yeah. Got bored and wanted a beer,” I reply.
I nod. “Yeah. My friend couldn’t come. His kid’s in town so he didn’t want to go out.”
“Your boyfriend?” he asks.
“No, nothing like that. Just an old friend.” Why did I throw out the “old” word again?
The bartender brings three glasses of beer.
“Listen, grab one of these and follow me.”
“Uh.” That was the only word that came to mind and came out of my mouth.
“Come on. Grab that one.”
I dutifully stand up and grab the beer, then follow him to a table. My inner self is screaming in panic. Am I going to meet his friends now? His college friends? I’m too old to hang around these people. What will they think of me?
Ken goes to a table with two young women. He gives a beer to each and then takes the one from my hand.
“Have a seat,” Ken says to me. “These are my friends Marla and Josie. The world’s cutest couple.”
“Hello,” I say as I sit across the table from them. He’s right, they are cute. They are also young, probably the same age as Ken.
Both women reply with a “hi.”
Ken sits down next to me and takes a big drink of his beer. My heart feels like it’s frozen inside my chest.
“Ken,” Marla says with some annoyance as she looks at him and makes a strange face. Then she looks to me and asks, “What’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m James.”
“Hi, James. Nice to meet you,” Marla says.
“How did you two meet?” Josie asks.
“Oh, well I was just here last night and we happened to meet,” I say.
Ken looks at me, then looks to Marla and says, “Yeah, then he came to my restaurant today.”
I still can’t believe I’m sitting here next to Ken. This is so unreal.
Marla looks at me intently and asks, “Single?”
I feel her eyes boring into my soul. I wasn’t ready for this. “Yes,” I reply.
“Gay?” she asks. I think this is kind of rude to ask.
“How old are you?”
“Own or rent?”
“What do you do for a living?”
“General Manager of a property management company.”
“Top or bottom?”
Josie slaps Marla on the arm. “Hey, stop it with the third degree.” Josie looks to me with a kind smile, “You don’t have to answer that last one.”
Marla slaps back. “Hey, I just wanna know the important things. Gotta look out for our baby.”
Ken looks up from his beer, makes a face at Marla, then looks at me and smirks. “Ignore her. I’m older than her and she acts like my mom.”
“He is cute though,” Josie says. I hope my skin tone is sufficiently dark enough to hide a blush because I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m doing right now.
I smile back at Ken but inwardly I’m a wreck. Seeing this as the right time, I ask “How old are you?”
Ken replies, “Twenty-four.”
I’m still doing all I can to wear that smile as I mentally calculate that I’m 19 years older than he is. I figured mid-twenties but I still want to crawl into a hole and die.
“Me and Josie are 23,” Marla says. She then nods her head toward Ken and says, “He’s single, gay, rents, and is trying to get his Bachelor’s in Computer Science while working at his parent’s restaurant, and a bottom.”
“Marla!” Josie says while slapping her on the arm. If I was a gambling man, which I’m not, but let’s say I was, I’d bet that both Ken and I are red as roses from embarrassment right now. This Marla is something else.
“Come on Josie, let’s go to the little girl’s room,” Marla says as she stands up. With that, they both leave for the restroom.
Ken lets out a sigh, and somehow that reminds me to breathe again. “Marla is a nuisance,” he says with a soft chuckle.
“Sounds like a good friend though,” I say.
“Yeah, been friends with them since high school. They’re the only gay friends I have.” Why did he have to throw out the high school reference? He looks young enough that if he said he graduated yesterday I’d believe him.
I look back to my beer and I drink more. I’m going to need another before too long, I notice.
Ken looks at me with a somewhat serious look. “I’m glad you came. It gets lonely watching those two being all lovey-dovey.”
“Marla and Josie?” I stupidly ask.
“Yup,” he says as he nods.
“Well, I may be a creepy old guy, but I can be one of your gay friends—if you want another,” I say and give a nervous laugh. What the hell did I just say?
“Thanks,” he says as he smiles at me. He looks at my glass and gets up, “Let me get you another beer.” He then walks away.
Offering to be his friend? What the hell is wrong with me? Is it possible to be anymore lame than I am now? Twenty-four. Computer Science? We couldn’t possibly have anything in common.
After a few minutes he returns and sits down with the beer. It’s not what I was drinking before, but I won’t complain. It was nice of him. I’ll just make sure I pick up the tab for him and his friends.
“Sorry about the creepy old man comment earlier,” Ken says after taking a long draft of his beer.
I take a drink of my beer. “Don’t worry about it.”
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a mere minute before Marla and Josie come back.
“Did you kiss him yet?” Marla says to Ken with a big grin.
“No.” I look to Ken and see that he has a faint blush.
“Stop trying to be his wing girl, Marla,” Josie says.
“Hey, if I don’t help out, our baby will always be single. I want to double-date.”
My chest hurts. Baby? He’s their baby? That makes me some old pervert. What am I still doing here? I should have never come, or at least found a reason to have left already.
“Come on girl, let’s go dance,” Marla says to Josie as she stands. Then she looks at Ken and I with a face that says she means business. “You two. Get outta those chairs and get your butts on the dance floor.”
Ken and I glance at each other then we all stand and follow Marla.
I’m no dancer but I can shake it like everyone else. The dance floor is packed and I’m dancing next to Ken. He’s a bit shorter than I am. I’m 5’11” so I guess he’s 5’8″. And very cute. His black hair and his dark brown eyes make me think that it’s a shame he doesn’t have a boyfriend to appreciate this.
After 30 minutes, Marla switches partners and starts dancing with me. “He thinks your gorgeous,” she says to me.
“What?” I ask, puzzled.
“I wouldn’t even let you anywhere near my baby if he hadn’t told me that.” She’s scary, I think to myself.
“Seriously, nothing’s going on. I have only known him a day. I’m too old for him anyways. He should find someone his age.” I need to be realistic with her.
“He don’t care about that,” she replied. “He said he gave you his number. He doesn’t just hand that out to any Tom, Dick, or Harry that he meets.”
I’m not sure what to say to that, other than “Oh.”
“But if you hurt my baby, I will hurt you back.” Yes, very scary.
With that she changed partners back and I was dancing next to Ken. He looks at me with a bit of concern and asks, “What did she say to you?”
I put on a friendly smile and shake my head. “She’s just trying to protect you.”
“Yeah,” he says. “She is overly possessive. Even my mom isn’t like this.”
I laugh. “Is she like this with all the guys you meet?”
He nods. “Yeah, when things don’t work out, she’s always been there to pick up the pieces and put me back together.”
I look at him with a swell of pity and a little pain in my heart. He definitely needs a boyfriend who will cherish him and take care of him. Wish that could be me.
After an hour of dancing, we go back to our table. “It’s only 11:30. We still got another hour-and-a-half til last call. Wanna change bars?” Marla asks.
“I do,” Josie says.
“I can’t,” Ken replies. “I have to work tomorrow, and I didn’t get enough sleep last night before I had to work this morning. If I stay out any later, I’ll be a wreck tomorrow and my mom won’t be happy.”
“I should go too. Let me pay for the beer.”
Ken looks and me and says, “Oh, no I got it. You can’t.”
“I insist. You’re all college students. I’m old, single, with no kids and got everything paid off with plenty of disposable income now.” I laugh aloud. I also inwardly laugh at myself for trying to be gallant in front of Ken and his friends. Who am I trying to show off for?
“Fine,” Ken smiles. “I’ll go with.” He turns to his friends and says, “Bye ladies.”
“You better go home like you said and get some sleep,” Marla warned.
Ken waved and followed me to the cashier. I pay the entire bill, which wasn’t much actually.
After we leave out the front door of the bar, he says to me with a big grin, “If I had known you were buying, I would have drunk more.”
“Maybe next time?” I’m not sure how that came out. Was it a question? A suggestion? An offer? My heart races a little as I wait for what seems like an eternity for his response, which was in reality, only seconds.
“Sure,” he replies. My heart feels like it’s going to burst in flames.
“I’m that way,” I point, signifying where I parked.
“Oh, I’m the other way,” he points.
Suddenly I feel super self-conscious and a need to get a grip on reality. I must end this most-awkward evening. “Take care,” I say as I turn and walk away.
“Bye,” I hear Ken say from behind.