(This is the first in a shorter series of entries. Shorter than the Earl series, anyway.)
I’d like to take advantage of my down time to write out the story of Will. He was an important lover of mine. A gentle man and a gentleman both. Will was a man with whom I was in love very deeply, and who for a time was even a party of my family. And despite all that, our relationship was a bittersweet comedy of bad timing and misunderstandings that ended, if not horribly, at least not well.
There was a time about a dozen years ago when gay.com was not the blueberry-colored atrocity it is now. Now I find it a slow, empty wasteland in which all but a few rooms are empty, and in which no one chats save through private messages. Around the turn of the millennium, however, the service was new, and young, and full of energy. The local and state rooms were often doubled up on capacity.
Users could make their own special interests rooms, and those were full of usual and funky fetishes. The chat bots were spamming people to follow links and buy natural Viagra at well below pharmaceutical rates, and there were any number of gay.com-appointed room monitors lurking about to bounce out guys who abused the site’s rules.
I loved the local rooms not for cruising . . . though admittedly I did some of that . . . but for the socializing. I actually made friends in those rooms. Friends who were my social companions for most of the following decade. One of the more active chatters in the local room organized a gay.com party within a couple of months of my establishing a presence there. It was held in the basement of a local bar. Guys brought potluck appetizers, wore nametags, associated screen names with faces, and had a great time socializing and getting to know each other. There were a few weirdo types who lurked at the bar’s periphery, refusing to don a tag although it was clear they were hoping to see who was whom, but even a few of those eventually warmed up to the social fun and joined in.
The party was such a success that we held a second one a few weeks later, at a larger and busier bar.It was there that I met Will for the first time. He was introduced to me as part of a pack of people, and he stood at its back, hands in the pockets of his tight jeans. He was older than me—about fifty-three at the time, though I would never have guessed his age. To me he was astonishingly handsome. His eyes were the first feature of his I noticed. They were large and dark, almost perfectly round. Anime-character eyes set deep in his face, of a clear and uncomplicated brown that was almost like toffee. His body was astonishingly fit. His waist was narrow and snugly contained in denim. His chest was buff and muscular. His arms were perfect specimens of ropy muscle, and his forearms were taut and covered in fur. He wore a baseball cap and a T-shirt that hugged tightly every curve and definition of his chest, and stood with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. When we were introduced, he just nodded at me, and averted his eyes.
I thought to myself, Stuck up. Then I tried to think no more about it, though I found myself looking at him from across the room and wishing. Just wishing that I had a chance.
I remembered him by his screen name, though, and when I was on gay.com in the evenings sometimes I’d see him there. His profile didn’t say much about him beyond his stats and his age, and I never saw him speak in the room. I assumed he was too busy having cyber sex with some other jock stud and tried to dismiss all thoughts of him from my mind.
He was so good looking, though. And those eyes. It was a little difficult not to think back at the sight of him, so easy to rest my eyes upon.
I saw him next at the Detroit Eagle, which locals referred to as the leather bar, though it was rarely any such thing. More of a denim bar with the occasional flash of leather. It was a slow Friday night, and my new friends were crowded downstairs, in the middle, ordering drinks. I was sitting at a bar stool, sipping on a Diet Coke, when I saw him. He was wearing another of those clinging, elastic T-shirts of his that hugged his pecs, and a pair of shorts that gave him the appearance of just having stepped out of the gym, or some porn flick nominally set at a gym. A Detroit Tigers baseball cap covered his brow; its brim curved along the same arc as his thick eyebrows. When he was reintroduced to me, he pulled his hand from his right pocket, thrust it at me, then buried back in its warm depth once he’d done.
Silly as it sounds, I was almost afraid to look at him. He was so handsome in a way that appealed deep down to my core. It warmed my heart simply to look at the guy, to let my eyes trip over the handsome chin, the blunt nose. I looked at his brawn and cool, conscious good looks and immediately thought, way out of your league, dude.
But he was still so pretty to think about.
My friends liked to move around the Eagle at that time. I’d learned that it was pointless to drift to the patio unless there were a crowd, or to stand in the balcony where no one went. So I stuck to my bar stool. I was surprised that Will lingered in the vicinity. He stood with his back against the railing a few feet away, sipping on a rum and Coke, while I occasionally cast sidelong glances at him and mentally kicked myself for being so bashful and plain.
I was even more surprised when Will sat down in the chair next to mine. “So, Rob, what does your screen name mean?”
I was surprised he even remembered my actual name. Astonished, even. He looked at me sideways from those toffee-brown eyes, studying me. He was a quiet man, I realized. Here was I, who had been accused throughout my life of stand-offishness more than anyone I knew simply because I was quiet and observant, thinking the same of someone with similar traits. Immediately I felt awkward, and guilty.
I told him that my gay.com screen name was a minor character from a Shakespearean play. “Shakespeare,” he said, nodding. For a moment I feared he was going to be derisive, or say something that proved he wasn’t as high-fallutin’ as I. Instead, in a soft, deep voice, he launched into a story about how, when he’d been still married a few years before, he’d carried his two kids to a production of Shakespeare in a local park, and how he’d been the only one of the three of them who’d remained awake. “So what do you do?” he asked.
I was still working full-time in education at the time; I hadn’t yet begun my artistic career. I told him my job. “Do you like it?” he asked.
He was so serious in his question that for the first time in a very long time, I was taken aback. “Not really,” I admitted.
He nodded, as if he’d known it all along. “So why do you keep doing it?”
“I need the money.”
“What would you be doing if money wasn’t the issue?”
He was so interesting, and his questions kept me so off-guard, that I couldn’t help but respond with the absolute truth instead of something polite and circumstantial. I told him of my artistic ambitions, which I’d been deferring because of my career in education. “Are you meant to do that?” he asked. I said that I thought I was. “It seems to me that you should be doing what you’re meant to do, plain and simple.”
He said it with such conviction that I began to believe it myself. “Are you doing what you're meant to do?” I asked. He was facing me by then. He’d left his drink on the bar. His knees were open and almost touching mine. It was tough not to look down and stare at the hairy, muscular calves blossoming from the tops of his sneakers. He let loose the first real smile I'd ever seen from him, exposing his slightly crooked teeth, and he shook his head. "What are you meant to do, then?"
We were close enough that I could smell the rum on his breath. “I might be a little drunk right now,” he said. “But only a little. And you are very, very cute, and I really want to kiss you very badly.” I was stunned enough by his words that I couldn’t move. “May I?”
I had enough presence of mind to nod. It was a slight thing, a bare tilt of the head, but it was permission enough for him. He leaned forward and cupped the back of my head with his hand, and pulled me close to him. His lip was covered with a five o’clock stubble that ground into my then-clean-shaven upper lip. He kissed me hard, his lips pulling mine, his teeth nipping gently at the flesh, his tongue dancing through the opening and into me.
In my memory it lives on as one of those movie kisses, one of those romance novel kisses that set my body afire. What it mostly did, however, was give me a massive boner in my pants. I leaned into the kiss and returned it. Soon we were making out at the bar, not caring who watched. “Come here,” he said at last, pulling me to my feet. He tugged me toward what the Eagle called their dance floor, a part of the first floor that was dark and had a few flashing lights to impart a sense of conviviality over what was really a gloomy area covered by the balcony. It was dark, though, and we could stand body against body, boner against boner, my scrawny ribcage against his manly, muscular chest, making out like our lives depended on it. I didn’t think. I didn’t over-consider what was happening. I just kissed him, and enjoyed every fucking minute of it.
Our friends came back in at some point to look for us, then saw us making out on the dance floor, and left us alone. Or really, they sat across the bar and talked about us, but at least it was out of earshot. For a half hour or more we locked lips and let our tongues get acquainted, until at last, out of breath and thirsty, we came up for air.
He held my hands and looked up at me. “You wanted to know what I’m meant to do?” he asked. I nodded. “Well. I’m finalizing plans to leave the country, and move, so that I can become a priest.”
After the unexpected make-out session, it seemed so completely random a thing to say that I could only blink. “Really?” I finally asked.
“Really.” He licked his lips and looked at me. “Does that put you off?”
“I’m not single,” I blurted out. “Does that put you off?”
He shook his head.
I shook mine.
Then, after a moment of looking in each other’s eyes, we started to make out again.