Flesh & Bone
I blamed Kiara. That damn harlot from Hell. I’ve known her for 15 years and I loved her dearly, but the moment that the demonic twin-spawns which she has for nephews ate, literally ate, my first edition copy of the August 1998 Donald Duck & Co. comic, I’ve wished for her eyes to melt out of their sockets and for her skin to cover in boils. I’m not a cheap person. True, I rather spend my Saturday night watching Netflix reruns than go to the movies; I will wear the same clothes for years before buying new ones (they are in one piece, they are fine!); and I absolutely hate shopping of any kind, but—but, I cherish Donald Duck comics and my passion for them burns like a billion suns. That is why, when her demonic nephews ate (how could they eat it?!), part of my August 1998 first print, Kiara gracefully accepted—(read, she was threatened by me)—to go on an adventure with me to look for that first edition, so that my collection, the product of many painstaking years of search and a lot of money, could be complete once again. We looked for two weeks. We went to garage sells, flea markets, and second-hand shops. We’d found three copies of the August 1998 print, but none of them had been first editions. We were in the last second-hand shop in the city. My last hope before having to turn the search country-wide, when we found a first edition print of the August 1998 Donald Duck & Co. comic.
When I had the comic in my hands, I acted cool and collected—though it felt like my heart was about to beat out of my chest. The comic (which by the mercy of the late Don Rosa was in perfect condition) was not priced. I was not about to let the owner get away with cheating me, so I played it off like I would have had it been any other comic. As the owner was about to tell me that it was 3 dollars, my good friend Kiara, the woman that I loved dearly, the Ying to my Yang, my confidant of 15 years, my soulmate-sister, came in and said—
“Oh, my God! Kenneth! You got it! The first edition too! Your collection is complete again!”
Silence befell the counter. The owner smirked as he gracefully took the comic from my hands, “3—00, of course. $300. It’s the first print, and in such good condition too. And I hear it’s the last piece of your collection, good for you, boy! $300 it is.”
Kiara looked like I had just caught her stealing from my candy bowl, which she knows that she’s not allowed to touch, and was inching out of sight. She would pay for what she did. Dearly. If I had leered at her any harder, my eyes would have been closed.
“$100.” I said, countering the Shit Owner’s offer.
“$175 and not a penny more!”
All three of us, Kiara, the Shit Owner and myself, turned to face the offer that had come from a man who looked positively beaming at the comic in the Shit Owner’s hands. Kiara would pay for this. Her last thought amongst the living would be to recognize her folly at crossing me and my comics. They would write epics of my revenge. It will change the course of history!
The man came forward, smiling. “That’s the August 1998 edition, right? I recognize the cover. Shit, I’ve been looking for this one for a long time! And it’s the first edition? Hell, yeah.” The man turned to the Shit Owner again. “300 bucks, my dude.”
The Shit Owner’s smile was toothy and annoying, and I wanted to punch him in his dumb face. “$300 it is.”
As the man paid for my comic, I went to Kiara and said—
“You little shithead. We had it, I had it and you just had to open your fat mouth. Oh, God.” She was pouting and hoping, I was sure, that I’d forget what had just transpired in a few weeks. Or days if she was lucky. But she wasn’t. “You’re paying full rent for the next three months. And I will not bake my brownies for you for the rest of the year.”
The wail, the literal wail, that came out of that woman, didn’t just startle me but the whole store. I might as well have just told her that her mother had died. Though, I was sure that she loved my brownies more. Kiara leaped to the guy, grabbed him by his shoulder, and turned him around. The guy (read, Comic Stealer) looked, understandably, startled and even put his hands up in self-defense.
“Listen to me, my friend, Kenneth, he’s a bit of a weirdo and he loves those damn comics. I was babysitting my nephews, they are such angels by the way—believe nothing that you hear about them unless it comes from me—and I went to make food for like 15 minutes and when I came back, they had, sort-of, eaten his copy of this comic. It wasn’t their fault! The babies are teething! And he’s dragged me through the whole city for the past few weeks to find this damn thing and we did, and my fat mouth ruined it, and I want brownies and cheap rent—oh, for the love of God, you haven’t tasted his brownies. I will murder a man for them. And I like buying pretty things, so he lets me pay cheap rent and I don’t want to have to stop buying pretty things, so, for the love of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, let him have the damn thing!”
“Would you like the receipt?”
I couldn’t see the look on Kiara’s face when she turned to face the Shit Owner as he handed the receipt to the Comic Stealer. However, from the look on the Shit Owner’s face, it must’ve been a look of murder. The Shit Owner put the receipt down on the counter and took a very large step back.
Wanting to defuse the situation and leave, (I was already planning on making a fresh batch of Godiva chocolate brownies the second that I came home and also planned to eat the whole thing in the living room by myself with the fan pointed at Kiara’s room) I went to them.
“Let’s go home, Kiara Marie.”
Kiara’s eyes, understandably yet again, opened wide. I never called her by her first and middle names at the same time, unless I was on the brink of rage. She knew this. She feared this. As it meant that I wouldn’t be cooking for us or cleaning the house after her for a while. A quick glare from me stopped her from wailing for yet a second time.
Nodding to the Comic Stealer and saying a silent curse to the Shit Owner, I grabbed her hand and I started to lead us to the door, when—
Kiara gripped her hand tight in mine and I knew that she had hope for whatever was about to happen next. I turned and the Comic Stealer had already come close to us, which caused me to take a step away from. He was smiling and it was the smile of an August 1998 first edition Donald Duck & Co. comic owner, who was not me, so I didn’t like it.
“They ate it, huh?”
I chuckled. “Like they were rabid dogs and the comic was a juicy steak.” Kiara was about to protest when I glared at her, causing her to shut her pie hole.
“I’d be willing to part with it,” Comic Stealer said, holding the bag up, between us.
My eyes couldn’t have possibly been any wider. “You would?!” I might have sounded a bit more enthusiastic for a comic than a 29-year-old man should have, but I felt no shame.
“Sure, for a date.”
If the sound that I heard had turned out to be Kiara snorting, I promised myself that I would increase the brownie-ban to 18 months. “Sorry, but I’m not gay.”
“That’s okay,” Comic Stealer shrugged. “I am, but I’m not asking you to go to bed with me. Just a date. It’ll even be my treat.”
“And the comic?”
“You can get it at the end of the date.”
“I want to make sure that you mean for free. There will be no non-monetary payments of any kind either.”
Comic Stealer smiled and it was a reassuring thing. “None at all. Give me your phone.”
“I haven’t said that I accepted your proposal.”
“Dude,” Comic Stealer laughed, and it wasn’t unpleasant. I could even describe it as wholesome. “You’re getting a $300 comic for just an evening’s conversation and dinner, so shut the hell up and give me your phone.”
He was right and we both knew it. As long as he was to be trusted in the whole free thing, an evening’s conversation and a meal wasn’t a bad price to pay, especially when he had just paid $300 for it. He’d basically be giving me a $300 gift to go on a date with him.
I wondered if this makes me a prostitute?
I fished out my phone from my pocket and gave it to him. With a single hand—the other one carrying the bag that held my treasure—he texted himself, I assumed, and gave the phone back to me. I didn’t even bother looking at it.
“So, I’ll call you in a few days after I plan for the date, and I’ll let you know?”
“Can’t we just have the… date tonight?”
“I work, Kenneth.” He smiled again, shaking his head. “I’d love to, but I can’t tonight.”
“Everyone calls me Kenny.”
“I like Kenneth. It’s a good name.” Comic Stealer looks down at his watch and winces. “I really need to catch the train, so I’ll let you know soon.” Comic Stealer was out the door from one moment to the next. I stood there, defeated in that store, looking my comic get farther and farther away from me.
Kiara chuckled. Low and sinister. “Should I tell Marrissa that her son is a bona fide prostitute?”
I spent the next week searching the net for first edition copies of the comic, but they were nowhere to be seen. As that had been the last of the stores in the city, I was out of options. I could go on the date and get the comic for free or planned to expand my search net to include neighboring states. Kiara walked in the room, watching me gloom over the situation when she said—
“It’s just a date, you baby.”
“It’s not just a date, he’s a guy!”
Kiara let out a heavy sigh. “Did he or did he not say that it would just be dinner and conversation?”
“What if he lied?”
Her eyes might as well have rolled to the back of her head. “Oh, God, Kenneth. Do you really think that the guy who offered you a free Donald Duck comic for a date would try to rape you? He was adorable. Like a giant teddy bear.”
“He was quite tall,”
“I wonder if he has a huge—”
“Calm your testicles, Ken.” Disappearing into the kitchen and coming back with a plate of brownies—which she had already explained that she was no longer banned from since I was getting the comic back anyways, and for free—and said, “It’s not like you’re going to his place. You’re probably just going to some restaurant. You’ll meet. And talk. And then he’ll realize how boring you are and just give you the book so that you leave him alone and that’s it!”
“I hate you.”
“Nobody hates me. I am sunshine and freaking rainbows.”
“You’re a crotch-zit—they’re real, look it up.”
Kiara winced and took another bite of the brownie, closing her eyes and savoring the chocolatey goodness. “I think I’ll pass on that.”
A few hours later, my phone went off and Kiara ran from her room to the living room where I was. She was screeching, “Oh, he texted you!”
“It could be literally anyone else, Kiara.”
“It literally cannot. The only person who texts you is in this room.”
“Truth hurts. Now check your damn phone.”
I sat up from the sofa, paused Netflix and reached for my phone. After I flipped it open—only God can judge me—I saw the message. Up until that moment, I hadn’t checked my phone to see how the Comic Stealer had saved his number. It was literally the last thing on my mind. So, when I read ‘Garrett Hell’ with a devil emoji next to it, I knew that it had to have been him. I opened it and read—
’Hi, Kenneth! I have time this Friday evening. Do you?’
I worked from home, so I always had time. I replied back with a yes.
’Sweet. Come over to my place. I’ll cook—I make a mean lasagna.’
“I can’t believe it. I’m going to get raped for a first edition print of the August 1998 Donald Duck & Co. comic.”
Kiara, quite loudly, groaned. “What now, drama king?”
“He wants me to go to his place for the ‘date.’ He’s tall. He’s gonna overpower me and take me and then send me home.”
“At least your collection will be complete again!” She smirked.
She tsked. “I know, it’s a joke. Nothing is gonna happen. That guy is still just an adorable—”
“His name is Garrett.”
Kiara gushed and then looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world. “Garrett. You’re afraid of getting raped by a giant teddy bear named Garrett?”
I gave her my phone so that she could see his information. “He wrote his last name as ‘Hell.’ And with a devil emoji.”
Kiara read it and said, “Oh,”
In the couple of seconds that followed, Kiara typed something and threw the phone back on my lap. Not a moment later, my cell vibrated.
The harlot from Hell smirked. My cell vibrated again. I read the two new messages. ’Great. See you on Friday then!’
When Friday evening came along, I was standing in front of my floor mirror, checking myself out, and I was panicking.
“You’re worried about what to wear? What are you 15?”
I took off my white polo. “Woman, if you’re not going to help, get out.”
Kiara sighed one of her long sighs and sat on my bed. “Okay, boo. What’s wrong?”
“Don’t boo me, you cretin. I’m going on a date with a guy at his place because of you!” I took off my pants and tried on a pair of khakis.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’re too comfortable around me.”
“Ugh, you’re like a sister to me. Anything sexual would be incestual and I am not all about that.” I pushed those disgusting thoughts very far away. “Now help me before I have a panic attack and raise your rent for the next year.”
Kiara sprang to her feet as if by magic. “Okay, so just wear anything. Why are you even worrying?”
I went back to the closet to find a shirt to wear. “What if he thinks that I’m not taking it seriously and sends me packing without the comic? My collection will remain incomplete and I will probably have to sell your kidneys to get my hands on another one.”
“Oh, Kenneth. It will be fine. I don’t think that Garre—did you just say my kidneys?”
I grabbed the long-sleeved blue shirt, (the only real decent shirt that I owned and only because I rarely wore it) and put it on. Standing in the mirror I could see that it didn’t look bad with the khakis. Kiara agreed too, though that might have had more to do with getting me to just leave for the damn date.
My taxi called when I was putting on my shoes. Kiara was there, looking smug. “I don’t know why you look the way that you do. I am only in this mess because of the chaos that are your nephews.”
“They were molded by God Himself. They grace us with their very existence.” She threw me a tie and said, “Now go and remember, if he doesn’t understand the meaning of no, crush his testicles.”
I put on the tie in the taxi on the way to Garrett’s place. By car, he only lived 25 minutes away. I was surprised that he lived so close to me. I even knew the place where he lived. One of Kiara’s many friends lived in that apartment complex. But he’d been out of the picture for almost three years. The second that I got out of the taxi, my heart started beating, almost, out of my chest. I calmed myself down and told myself that it was just a conversation. And dinner. It was like hanging out with any other friend—not that I had any besides Kiara.
Garrett’s apartment button was exactly where he said it would be. There was a little paper next to it which read, Garrett Hell. Was his name actually Hell? As I laughed to myself, I pressed it and waited.
“This is Garrett.” He sounded chirpy.
“Hey, uh, Garrett. It’s Kenny. Uh, Kenneth.”
“Hey! Come on up.”
The buzzer was loud. Garrett lived on the fifth floor and, of course, there was no elevator in the building, but I was still thankful as it gave me the time that I needed to calm down. Garrett was just a giant teddy bear like Kiara had said. But if the teddy bear drew claws, I would beat it to the ground. Garrett might be much taller than me, but I was sure that I could kick his ass if the situation called for it.
I knocked as I reached his door. And then panicked harder than I had the whole night so far. I was really there. In some random guy’s apartment, about to have a date with him, to get my comic.
Don Rosa, please don’t leave me.
When Garrett opened the door, I instantly realized that I was overdressed for the occasion. While I was wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt with khakis and a tie, Garrett was wearing jeans and a black polo. Though he was wearing a bubblegum-pink bowtie.
“I’m overdressed for this, aren’t I?”
He chuckled. “A bit, but you look good, don’t worry,” Garrett reassured me as he led me inside. “Welcome to Hell’s.”
I snorted only because I knew that he was the type of guy who would always use that joke whenever someone came to his place for the first time.
Garrett’s apartment was a geek’s wet dream. I could barely recognize half of the memorabilia that he owned. If we hadn’t been in the situation that we found ourselves in, I might have wanted him for a friend. I was in such a desperate need for more testosterone in my life. Kiara was great and wonderful, but God, I needed a guy-friend.
Maybe this could be that.
As I walked behind him, I took a second to see him. Garrett was very freaking tall. He was at least half a foot taller than me and I was six feet tall. From the back, he looked slim, even though he had a bit of a belly—though barely noticeable. While he had worn a cap in the store, he didn’t then. His hair was brushed to the side and a bit of mouse held it in place. He hadn’t shaved, but compared to the last time that we had met, he had trimmed his beard.
It smelled very good. I could smell the salsa, the spices, and the meat, and the cheese and I wanted it in my mouth, and I wanted it immediately.
“You like to cook?” I said, not knowing how else to break the ice.
“Yeah,” Garrett nodded. “My gran taught me. She loved cooking and I loved eating,” he chuckled. “When she passed, I had been trying to find out what I wanted to do with my future, so I settled on being a cook. She always made me happy with her food, so I wanted to try and make other people happy with mine.”
Shit, that’s adorable. “Sorry.”
Garrett smiled and waved a dismissive hand. “It might be sad, but grandparents die, Kenneth. It’s nature.”
I pulled up a seat at the kitchen counter and took a seat. “True, but still.”
He smiled again, though it was different. Softer. “Thanks.” Turning his attention to the oven, Garrett opened the oven a bit to check on the food.
I was assaulted with the best smelling lasagna that I had ever smelled in my life. My mouth literally started to water.
As I looked around the room and I became very conscious of where I was, for some reason. I was in a stranger’s apartment. I had been with a handful of women in my life, but for the dates that took place, they were always at my place or in a restaurant. The first night that we would spend together, we would spend it at my place. I wasn’t afraid of being there, in Garrett’s place, because he was gay. It was because I was not in control.
I felt a hand on me, and I jumped.
Garrett held his hand up. “Sorry, I just said your name like three times, you okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s just… yeah.” I still wasn’t looking at Garrett in the eyes, I was looking all around me. It feels like my skin was crawling. It dawned on me that it was the first time that I was ever in a stranger’s apartment. I swallowed and it felt like sandpaper.
“Do you like kebab?”
“Yeah, I—wait,” I turned to look at him. Garrett was smiling. Comforting, again. “What did you say?”
“I asked if you liked kebab.”
I chuckled and snorted at the same time. “Of course, I do. Kebabs are amazing. Everyone loves kebabs.” It was good to think about something else. To take my mind off of where I was.
“Would you like one?”
“If you literally pull a giant kebab rotisserie out of your pantry, I’m gonna flip the hell out.” I chuckled at the thought. “That I promise.”
Waving his hand again, Garrett smiled and said, “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been delivered yet. Customs are horrible. But there’s a place not too far away. We can get some there.”
Wait, “But what about the lasagna? It smells really freaking good.”
“The lasagna will be fine. I love that recipe so trust me when I say that it won’t go to waste.” Fixing his Harry Potter-like glasses, Garrett turned around and turned the oven off, leaving the oven door a crack open. “It’s not a long walk, is that okay?”
I nodded and I followed him to the door. Halfway there, I realized why we were leaving. He saw me. Looking around his place, looking nervous. Jumping when he touched me. He wanted to make me feel comfortable in an already uncomfortable situation, and so, we were leaving his place and the dinner that he had probably spent a long time making, just so that I would feel better. It made me feel like shit, but I was so relieved to be leaving that I didn’t say a word.
Before he opened the door, Garrett bent down and picked up a small bag. It was Donald Duck comic-book sized. My reward for the ‘date.’ Opening the door, Garrett said, “After you.”
“That’s the first time that someone’s opened a door for me. Except for Kiara but she’s a bitch and she calls me a princess when she does it.”
“Well, you’ve never met a gentleman before,” He smiled. “And she sounds hilarious. Though she looked terrifying that day in the store.” Garrett locked the door behind him.
“She has that effect on most people.”
We said nothing as we went down the stairs. When we got out, the cool night air felt refreshing. I started to take off my tie when Garrett said, “Aw, and here I thought you looked cute and stuff.” He chuckled.
“Well, we’re going out now so, it’s better to just take it off.”
“I can put it in the bag, give it here.”
As Garrett put my tie away, I saw the comic in the bag. I chuckled at how silly this whole situation was, so I put it out of my mind. “Lead the way, good sir.”
Garrett smiled at that. It’s funny. Most people when they smiled, it’s an afterthought. A reflex. Something that comes and goes, and it means nothing. But every time that Garrett smiles at me, it’s like he means it. Like he’s happy. I had never seen such a sincere smile before.
Two minutes into the walk, he asked me, “So, devil twin-things ate your comic?”
“Ugh, don’t even get me started. Listen, genetics are a bitch and you can’t help what you’re born with, but those little devils look like imps and act like them too. I can’t even tell you the number of plants that they’ve killed in my house and my garden. But when they went after my Donald Duck comic collection,”
“Angry-Kenneth came out?” He chuckled.
“You laugh but it’s true. It was the first time that I ever felt like I could goal kick a child.” I smirked at the thought. “I so wanted to.”
“Damn, and did they get punished at least?”
“They got away with it. I guess their faces are punishment enough.” I made Garrett choke-laugh at that. “If it was up to me, they would be sent to the dungeons and never see the light of day again.”
“Damn, boy. Someone takes their collection seriously.”
“You’ve no idea. It’s the one thing that I have. That I care enough to collect.”
“Well, after tonight, the collection will be complete again. You just need to imp-proof the cabinet where you keep them.”
“Oh, trust me. The child-sized rat traps are on their way.”
The rest of the trip to the kebab place was spent in silence, but it wasn’t bad or awkward. At least it hadn’t been for me. It was a nice walk. The cool, night air was nice, and I had enjoyed it. Though just before we got to the kebab place, the cold night air was getting close to unpleasant. The heat of the store was the most welcomed thing.
I looked around the place for a table while Garrett ordered, as he asked me to. It wasn’t hard to do so since we were the only two customers there. When he sat down, I asked him how much it had been—
“It’s my treat,” Garrett said. “I told you that before.”
“Yeah, that was before you made a great dinner and left because—”
Garrett smiled that heartening smile of his. “It doesn’t matter where we are, Kenneth. We’re just hanging out. The food back home isn’t going to waste so just forget about that. I can make you another one, next time.”
Next time? “Sure.” I said.
The bell rang. My favorite thing about kebabs, besides how good they freaking were, was the fact that they were quick to make. The best places made them in under a minute. “I can pick it up at least.” I said as I got up. “Okay?”
Garrett smiles and sits back, arms folded in front of him. “Sure thing.”
When I got to the counter, the man looked at me with an arched brow and slammed the plates on the counter for me. The man sized me up and down before looking to where Garrett was waiting for me.
“We’re not on a date.”
I don’t know why I said it. The man looked at me softer then, as if approving of what I said, though he looked towards Garrett in a harsh manner. The bubblegum-pink bowtie. Had to be it. I took the two plates and went back to our table.
Garrett was looking away when I got back to him. His face the most serious that I’d seen it. Setting the plates down, I pushed his across. Garrett said nothing as he took it and I wasted no time in unwrapping my kebab and taking the first bite. It was juicy and savory and everything good in life. Kiara and I didn’t eat nearly enough kebabs.
I saw as Garrett started to unwrap his, when he set the whole thing down and looked at me. There was something there, in his eyes. It was a disapproving look. It bothered me and I didn’t know why. “Do you care that much about what strangers think of you?”
The question came completely out of left field and I didn’t know how to answer it, so I asked, “What do you mean?”
“On our way here, you took off your tie. To that man, you just blurted out that you weren’t on a date,”
“Because I’m not,” His bowtie was gone. I didn’t notice it before, but Garrett definitely had it on when I went to get the food just moments before. He had taken it off because of what I had said. Because of how that man looked at him.
Garrett shook his head and gave a heavy sigh. “That’s not the point, Kenneth. Why does it matter if it was? Why does that stranger’s disapproval of this non-date matter to you?”
“I’m not gay.” I said, honestly. “I just didn’t want him to be wrong.”
I felt the look of pain that flashed by his face. “I understand that you’re not gay, Kenneth. But I am. Is that wrong? Am I wrong for liking who I like? Do I deserve people looking at me like that man just did?” I didn’t say anything. “Am I disgusting to you? Is this so wrong to you that you can’t even enjoy yourself for a little while?” Picking up the bag with the comic from the ground, he threw it on the table and pushed it towards me. “It’s just a book, Kenneth. I don’t care about it that much. If this really is so hard for you, just take it.”
I had never been in that situation. When I went on dates, no one cared. I don’t think anyone even looked at us unless they were serving us something. Yet, I was very aware that I was being watched then. That we were being watched.
Is this the first time that someone looks at him like that? I wondered.
I took the bag and pushed it back to him. “I don’t think that you’re disgusting, Garrett. I don’t care how other people live their lives. I’m just awkward and I don’t like being the center of attention. But I don’t think that you’re wrong just for being you.”
Garrett smiled and I was very glad that he did. Out of all the people that I had met before, Garrett’s smile was different. It made you trust him. It’s why Kiara called him a teddy bear before.
“Do you realize that it’s the first time that you’ve said my name?”
“I said it before,”
Garrett shook his head. “Nope. Not even at my place.”
Well, shit. “Now I have. Is it everything that you hoped for? Does it sound amazing?”
“My name sounds amazing coming from everyone’s mouth.” I was sure that my cheeks were as red as tomatoes, so I grabbed the kebab and started eating it again. “Biggest thing you’ve ever taken in your mouth, I’m sure.” I choked on the food and Garrett got up and slapped hard on my back. “Wrong hole?”
I grabbed at my chest and tried to breath. “Stop. Talking.”
Laughing, Garrett sat back down, and it was like what happened not even a minute before never did. His smile was toothy and wide and contagious.
We ate our food, though I had proposed leaving it and going somewhere else. Garrett explained that the kebab did nothing wrong and that we should honor it by consuming it. I concurred with his flawless wisdom and enjoyed the rest of my food. We didn’t really talk much while we ate. I realized just how hungry I had been the second that I started eating. Even though he still finished first, he waited for me to be done before he talked again. It was weird, eating while he watched me. I couldn't figure out why.
“Garrett,” a flicker of a smile pass through his face at the mention of his name. It was endearing. “How do you think it’s going, compared to your usual dates?”
He wasn’t smiling then.
“To be honest, I don’t have many. I think this might be the first ‘official’ date that I have. Is that sad? Oh, God, that’s sad, isn’t it?” The fake-panicked look on his face was hilarious.
I laughed, he wanted me to, and I felt like it. “It’s not sad, man. But why did you air quote ‘official’?”
“Ah, that. Well, when I turned 18, I downloaded Grindr like every closeted gay kid does and tried to meet people. There were absolutely no gay guys in my hometown, or so I thought. There was actually a handful of them. This guy was talking me up for two days and he was cool. He was like 10 years older than me, but he was hot, so I didn’t care. He offered me a date at his place, and I accepted. When I got there though, the date lasted all of 5 minutes before he kissed me. He wasn’t pushy and I felt like I could have easily stopped it if I wanted to… but I was depressed and lonely and I wanted to feel that someone cared, even if for an hour, so I gave him what he wanted.” Garrett chuckled, it was a sad thing. “Not as romantic as first times go, but it’s what I got.”
I sat back. “If I’m being honest, I thought that story was going to go a whole different direction midway through.”
Garrett rolled his eyes at me like a total douche. “Rape isn’t an epidemy in the gay world, Kenneth.”
“Do you?” He eyed me suspiciously. “Were you afraid that I’d rape you?”
Well, shit. “Not while I was at your place. Then, I was just unnerved. I don’t like being in stranger’s homes. That counts women’s too. But after you offered the date, I might have freaked out a bit. Maybe a little bit more when you offered the date at your place. I didn’t even get the chance to accept, Kiara took my phone and did it for me.”
Garrett chuckled at that. It was a lively thing. “I think that I would really like Kiara.”
“She’s a bitch, but she’s a nice bitch.”
“Huh, well, you can feel safe that I would never do such a thing. To you or to anyone.” He scrunched his eyebrows. “I think that if I even tried to, I would just start crying immediately.”
“Adorable,” It took all of my willpower then to not put my hand over my fat mouth. Garrett smiled, wide and toothy. “You know what I mean.”
“I know, I am adorable.”
I groaned out loud to make a point. “Wait, so, even if that first date didn’t go the way that you wanted, did you go on others?”
“I did,” Garrett said as he nodded. “I went on a handful of dates, but each and every one either ended with me in someone’s bed after less than 20 minutes or I just left annoyed. I mean, yeah, sex is nice, but sometimes I’m just in a mood to meet people. So, I deleted my apps and just decided to live my life. I had the day off last Saturday, I went to a secondhand shop to look at nice things and I found this kickass comic and you and, well, here we are.”
“Huh, so I got an important mission here. I need to give you a good date.”
“Well, seeing as it for sure won’t end in either of our beds, either it will be good, or it will be disastrous. I will be judging all straight men by this date.”
“Damn,” I said, fixing my collar which was already fixed. “Okay, I can do this. Shoot.”
Garrett looked pensive for a moment before he asked me, “Tell me about yourself?”
“That’s simple enough!” I straightened in my seat and felt myself smile. “So, my name is Kenneth Lloyd and I’m 29. My best friend is Kiara, the harlot from Hell that you’ve met. We’ve been living together for the past 8 years in my grandfather’s old house. It’s cheap rent and no one was using it. It was a perfect thing after we both finished at university. I don’t have a girlfriend, but I do go on dates now and again, though not as often as Kiara. She’s a serial dater. But she enjoys it, so I don’t care. I work for a couple of magazines writing articles. It can be shit sometimes but it allows me to work from home, so, there’s that. I like collecting Donald Duck comics and watching Netflix. I also run a lot. Every morning and every night before bed. I can’t calm my head down enough to sleep if I don’t. And I get too stressed out in the mornings if I skip it. There’s a lot of open roads near our house so I take advantage of them.”
Garrett chuckled. “That explains why you’re in such a good shape.”
“It’s born out of stress reliving more than the desire for it.” I confessed. “You look good too, you know, in a, handsome kind of way. I guess.”
“Are all straight guys this flustery on dates?” He snorted. “Yes, Kenneth, I know what you mean. I can appreciate a woman’s beauty as well, even if I wouldn’t touch their nether regions with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.”
I laughed at the reference. “Touché.”
“And I think you might be in need of an eye checkup.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “Why?”
“Well, my stomach isn’t flat. I got a nice underbite that if I shave would make me look like an upside-down horse. I’m a 3, at best. And to finish, you can’t see it, but I have an outie bellybutton.”
I took a second to look at the things that he mentioned. Yeah, he didn’t have a flat stomach, but I wouldn’t call him fat either. He was maybe 10 pounds overweight. It wasn’t even noticeable anywhere else besides his stomach. I had noticed his underbite before, but again, it was only noticeable when you looked at him from the side. As I saw him then, straight at him, I couldn’t even see it. And his bellybutton? God’s sake. Still—
“We all have our insecurities, Garrett. I don’t like my nose. I don’t know what the hell is up with my eyebrows, it’s like I was born without half of my right one. I don’t like my feet. I got a black girl’s booty and I’ve no idea where it came from since the rest of my family are a couple of planks. And besides, you have a more handsome face than me. Underbite and all. That’s just factual. I’d call you a definite 8.”
“Huh, look who is suddenly confident in his sexuality.”
I did what I did whenever I found myself in an uncomfortable situation: I joked it off. “I also like long walks to the shop for chips, large dogs, ducks, video games and horror flicks.”
“Flicks?” Garrett laughed. “Are you 50?”
“Are you shaming my vocabulary?”
“I would never.” He said, snorting.
“Tell me about you now.” I pointed at him. “Is your last name Hell?”
“It is, indeed.” Garrett snickered as he said it. “There’s not many of us in the country. It’s always the first piece of conversation that comes up. I’m used to it.”
“So, you’re telling me than I am making this ‘non-date’ date boring and unoriginal?”
“Well, I certainly didn’t say such a thing.”
“Fine!” I said, taking a moment to think. I couldn’t come up with anything too specific, so I asked, “Have you ever been with a girl before?”
Garrett choked on… nothing. Just air. It was funny and I felt like he deserved a hug, but that’s what he got for calling me boring and unoriginal. “Really?” Garrett shook his head as he laughed. “That’s the second thing you’re going to ask me?”
“What? Not original enough for you?”
“Well, it’s the second most asked question after people find out that I’m gay.”
“Huh, and the first?”
“If I’m a top or a bottom.”
And then it was me who was choking on air. I was trying to laugh it off, but it only made it worse. Thankfully, it lasted only a few seconds. “You want me to be honest?”
“One should be honest in a ‘non-date’ date.”
I smiled. I liked that it was so easy for him to make me smile. Kiara always made me laugh and smile, but that was after a decade of experience. She knew me better than anyone. I didn’t have many friends, none really. Outside of Kiara I just had acquaintances. People that I would meet up with once every other month, maybe, to catch a drink. And yet, Garrett was funny, and he made me laugh. I’d been looking for a friend like him for a very long time.
“I did think about it. It was the first thought that passed through my mind when I met you in the shop. I think that you’re the first gay guy I’ve met. The first open one, at least. And while I’ve never met a gay guy, everyone knows about that. So, yeah.”
“And you’re curious about it?” I shrugged and nodded at the same time. “Well,” Garrett said, as he smirked. “Too bad. The only people who know that are the ones that I’m in bed with. So, feel free to assume.” After a moment, he said, “And I tried being with a girl before. In high school, there was this girl that always followed me around, Veronica. And I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t want to be because I thought that I would be abandoned and die alone and diseased. So, if I was going to be with a girl, might as well be someone who liked me. So, we tried to hook up and we were making out and everything, but, during the whole thing I was thinking about her brother who was a year younger than us, and hot as all hell. So, I was imagining that it was him that I was with. But even the hardest of fantasies couldn’t help me when the time came to, you know, that. So, I backed out and that was that. I tried to get her candy the next day, but she was a bitch and told the whole class that I couldn’t get it up, and I got angry and told them all that it was because she was a fat whale. She was left crying and I ate her chocolates. She wasn’t that fat, but I wanted to make it hurt and I can be vicious.”
I was laughing at the end, but I composed myself to ask, “Did you really think all of that stuff, about yourself? The dying alone and stuff?”
Garrett smiled a sad smile again. “You know, about 10 years ago, when I was 16 in 2002, Christina Aguilera, my Forever Queen, released a song called ‘Beautiful’. Around that time, I saw the music video on MTV for the first time and it was the first time in my life that I had ever seen two gay guys kissing and holding hands and being happy. Up until that point, all the gays that I had seen in the media had been beaten, raped—usually by straight guys, abandoned, dying of AIDS, or killed. My view of what I was had been defined by the media as a sinful thing that would make me hurt and suffer and die. And even worse, it made me think that it was something that I deserved just because I was different. It’s why I had gone so far with Veronica a few months before even though I didn’t really like her. I thought I would have to live the rest of my life hidden away, being miserable. And one night in 2002, I was in my room, watching TV, and I turned it to MTV, and that music video was just starting. And I saw it. And when I saw those two guys kissing, and it was so passionate, and they were smiling, even as people were looking at them like they were filth, nothing mattered to them except each other. To this day, that kiss is the most erotic thing I’ve seen on TV.” He laughed and it was warm. “I wanted that. I still do.”
“You’ll find it, someday. Most people do. I’m looking for it too. It’s why I keep going on dates. If I’m just in the mood for sex, I got apps for that too.” I saw as Garrett looked at me, but his brow was scrunched, and I realized that he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking past me. At the store owner. He must’ve been looking at us. And not in a nice way from the way that Garrett looked. “Do you like sweets?”
Turning his attention back to me, Garrett smiled. It wasn’t one of his real smiles. It was a reflex. I didn’t like those. “Hmm?”
“Do you like sweet stuff?”
His smile changed then. It was wider, toothier. “Of course, I do. I’m a chef for God’s sake. How do you think that I got this belly of mine?”
I groaned out loud and got up. “Yes, well, get your huge fat-ass up and follow me. I know a good place, but we’ll need to walk for a bit, sound good?”
Garrett gasped, but it was fake and melodramatic. “Did you just call me fat? Worst. Date. Evah.”
Leaving the store, and making a mental note never to return there, we were met with the cool evening outside. We decided to take a taxi, but we would need to wait for it. We took refuge in a bus stop near the kebab shop as we sure as hell were not going to go back there. Garrett sat next to me. And inched closer to me. It was very cold. However, the bus stop was walled in and it saved us from the worse of it.
“Haven’t you tried dating some of the guys that you’ve slept with?” I don’t know where I got the courage to ask that since it was none of my business, but it made sense. What if they started interested in sex in the beginning, I was sure that some of them would have been interested in him.
Garrett didn’t think long for that one. “You know how they say that men have it so much harder than women because men have to have money, looks, a nice dick, but on the other hand women just need to breathe? It’s the same with us. To me, it seems like you have to fit this mold to be able to date. I see the couples in Instagram and Twitter, and they look so happy, but every picture I see is a freaking pair of models showing off their love for each other. I don’t see men like me.” His face twitched. As if he remembered something painful. Garrett looked at me and smiled, but he was just trying to brush it off. “I’m good for a night, but apparently, not for more than that.”
We didn’t talk much after that. We sat, huddled together, the windy air howling around us. I felt bad for him. I was just starting to meet him, but he seemed so nice. And wholesome. Anyone would be lucky to be with him. I was about to console him when the taxi rolled up.
I gave the directions to the driver and Garrett asked—
“What are we eating? Is it a cake?” He gasped. “I love cake.”
“Better than cake?” Garrett asked, incredulously.
“Trust me.” I said it as a joke, but Garrett’s face softened at that.
“…okay.” He smiled. “I can do that.”
Of course, the store was closed. Garrett was almost keeling over laughing at me and I was cursing the owners of the shop under my breath. They were supposed to be open for another hour, but there was no one there. The lights were out, the place was obviously closed. They hadn’t even left a note on the door, the bastards.
“I want a drink,” I said, annoyed.
Garrett wiped the laughing tears away and pointed across the street. “We can get something cheap there, I’m sure.”
We went to the late-night shop and stared at the collection of booze behind the cashier.
“Without mixers, it’s shit.” Garrett said.
“God, do you want me to be white girl wasted and giving you a lap dance?”
That was a mental image that I didn’t ask for. “Yeah, okay. Gin?”
“I’m not 60.”
“Garrett, I swear to Jesus—”
“I’ll take that bottle of whiskey,” Garrett told the cashier. It was a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I didn’t know if he took a shot in the dark, or if he just didn’t care, but I did like drinking Jack Daniel’s every now and then. Garrett didn’t let me pay, of course.
Outside the store, Garrett opened the bottle and took a chug.
“Do you want to get your ass hauled to jail?”
“I’ve seen that porn before.” He laughed as he offered me the bottle. When he saw that I was hesitant, he said, “The alcohol kills the gay germs, don’t worry.”
I snatched the bottle from his hands. “It’s not that, you idiot, and you know it. I just don’t really feel like getting a ticket over this.”
“I have a good arm. If cops come, I will throw that bottle far away.”
“Yeah, sure, and then you kill an old lady with it.”
“Hey, she was at death’s door already. And what the hell is she doing out? It’s past 11 in the night. She should have gone to bed like 6 hours ago.”
I laughed a lot. Almost obnoxiously so, but Garrett didn’t mind it. He laughed along with me. I drank from the bottle and it was as good as I remembered it. It wasn’t until I had drunk 3 big gulps, that I remembered that I didn’t drink often, and it was already going to my head. Garrett had found a lawn to lay on and I joined him. The grass underneath was cool to the touch and, thankfully, dry.
The bottle was over halfway done, and I felt sufficiently warm when I propped myself on my elbows, looked at Garrett and asked him—
“Have you ever played Truth or Dare?”
He snorted. “Is this about to become a cheesy porn?”
“Aww,” he said, pouting. “Well, yeah. I have. As a kid.”
“Let’s just play Truth. There’s no upside since we won’t be seeing each other again, probably.”
Garrett’s wide and toothy smile was gone in a moment, replaced instead with a sad shadow of a smile. “Sure,” he said, almost a whisper. “You can start.”
I laid back down next to him and thought about what to say. Turning my head, a little to the side, I could see him. His eyes were closed, his lips tight. It was like he was enjoying just laying there. I could see his biggest insecurity clearly then, his small underbite. It wasn’t as bad as he made it out to be. He was actually quite handsome. I hadn’t lied in that. If we just compared faces, I’d say he was two grades above me. Kiara would have said the same, I was sure. I thought about the night we’d had so far. The conversations. It’s been fun, for the most part. I didn’t understand Garrett’s fear of remaining single forever. I was single as well, but I just wait and try again.
I didn’t know what possessed me to touch his jaw, but Garrett jumped at my unexpected touch. He didn’t recoil away, he just shook a bit, blue eyes opening wide to stare at me. His brown beard was scratchy on my hand. Propping himself on an elbow, Garrett said nothing as he looked down at me. My hand still on his jaw.
“I had fun tonight, Garrett.” His pupils dilated at the mention of his name. “I don’t think that you’ll be alone forever. Those are my truths.”
Garrett said nothing. He just looked at me. It felt like I had crossed a line. Touching his biggest insecurity without his permission. I felt wrong. I was about to take my hand off him, when Garrett put his own hand above my own, holding it in place for a moment. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he took my hand and laid it on my chest. Laying back down next to me, Garrett closed his eyes and said—
“Do you think things are set in stone?”
I didn’t think much before answering, “Yeah, some things are. The sun will always rise and set every day. If you throw something up, it will always come down. Things like that.”
Garrett chuckled and replied, “In the far north of the planet, the sun only rises and sets every six months, not every day. If you throw something up and beyond the gravitational boundary of our world, it won’t come down.”
“Ok, well,” I said with a chuckle. “Some things can be changed, I guess.”
“Do you think that people are made of stone? Unchanging?”
“Not when we’re young. We change a lot when we’re kids. We learn, and we figure out what we like and don’t like. Our fashion senses, our music and film likes.” I took a deep inhale of cold night air and it filled my lungs and it cooled my warm chest. It was nice. “As we are now, I think that we are set in stone.” I chuckled, “I don’t think that I’ll be suddenly discovering that I like peppers out of nowhere all of a sudden.”
Garrett chuckled too, but it was a reflex. He laughed because he thought that he should. I didn’t like that. “Perhaps. But like the sun setting differently in the north, and things not coming down from beyond the gravity pull of the world, some people do learn later on in life new things about themselves.”
It was obvious to me that he was trying to tell me something. I just couldn’t see what. I had drunk too much, too fast to think hard on things. Everything that I was saying was the same as I thought them. Drunken truths. I wondered how it was for Garrett. From the sounds of it, he wasn’t nearly as drunk as I was. Then again, I rarely drank so my limit was pretty shit. Garrett took another big gulp of the whiskey before handing the bottle back to me. I just set it down. I’d had enough.
“You haven’t told me a truth, yet.” I said.
I saw him smile then, and it was sincere. And I liked it. “What truth do you want?”
“Well, I told you two truths about this date. You do the same.”
It hadn’t been a calculated move. It was just the first thing that came to my mind. It made sense, in my mind, since I had done the same. I saw as Garrett’s whole body tensed for a second before he laid both of his arms over his eyes and chuckled—
“Tonight.” Taking a deep breath, Garrett said, “I had fun. It’s the best date I’ve ever had, even if we pretty much just ate a kebab and got drunk on a lawn.” He chuckled to himself, before he went quiet. “And, I hate that you’re not like me.”
I looked at him for a moment, and to be honest, in that moment I sort-of hated the fact that I wasn’t like him as well. Garrett was nice and funny. And he made me smile and laugh. If he had been a girl, we wouldn’t be laying on a lawn, we would be on a bed—of that, I was completely certain.
“Kenneth,” Taking a deep breath, he said, “I think we should call a taxi. It’s getting late.” He was still covering his eyes with his arms.
I couldn’t give him what he wanted. He was frustrated. I could understand that. I fished out my phone and started dialing.
The end of the date was upon us. Garrett and I said nothing while we waited for the taxi. When it came, Garrett started acting his bubbly self, but it was just a mask. So, I used one of my own. We agreed on dropping me off first since my place was closer than his, it was Garrett’s idea, I just went along with it. We didn’t speak in the taxi. The middle seat that separated us might as well have been a wall.
When my road came into view some time later, I said—
“You can stop here.”
Garrett finally looked at me, before looking around and said, “There’s no house here.”
“I know,” I pointed to a road just ahead of the taxi. “I live down that road, but it’s bumpy and shit, so I can just walk down. It’s like a minute’s walk.”
“Are you sure?” He sounded hesitant. I just nodded in response. The moment that I was about to say good night, Garrett said, “I’ll walk you down then.”
“Are you sure?” God, it was like we were a pair of teenagers.
“Yeah, come on.”
Garrett left first. I took out my wallet and asked the driver to let me pay the fare. If he stopped it then, I would tip him $100 bucks. It would pay more than enough for Garrett’s fare back to his place. Garrett had paid for everything else on the date. It was the least that I could do. Once I paid, I left the cab and met up with Garrett who was looking down the road to my house.
“You know,” Garrett said as we set down the road. “When I was a kid, I would see all of these romantic comedies on TV. I’ve always been a bit of a romantic, I guess. And I would see all of these straight couples having fantastic dates, funny banter and conversation, they were happy. I always told myself that one day I would have that. Except, you know, with a guy.” He laughed.
I wanted to hold his hand and comfort him, but I knew that would be unfair of me. “Garrett don’t give up. We’re young. I haven’t found someone either, but I’m not going to stop looking for them just because I haven’t found them. That’s part of the journey.”
He smiled, but it was a reflex. “Thanks. I’ll remember that.”
We were almost at my porch and I was getting more and more nervous as we got closer. My heart felt like a ticking bomb. Almost to the steps of my house, Garrett said—
“The most romantic parts of the date in the movies, for me, were always the good-night. Whether the date had gone well or not, whether it was funny or romantic, the end of the night always made my heart flutter.” Garrett smiled. “The man would step closer to the woman and they would look at each other and they would speak without using words. And then the magic happened.”
We reach the steps and I stopped when I went up the first step. Turning around, I was looking at Garrett eye to eye. I don’t know how my face looked, but I was feeling nervous and scared and confused. I looked into his eyes, and just like he had said, I could understand him. Just like those people in the movies. The way that his eyes moved as they looked at mine. As he looked at my lips and licked his own, softly biting his bottom lip. He wasn’t aware of it, I could see that. It was an involuntary reaction. I doubted that Garrett could even formulate a sentence at that moment. He was breathing deeper, like I was. As he took a silent step towards me, I closed my eyes and I felt his kiss—
On my cheek. I didn’t open my eyes, I couldn’t. I let out a shaky breath and I actually had to stop myself from reaching out for him. He was still there, the side of his face on mine. I could feel his scruff on my cheek; his warm breath on my ear. I could hear it. Just like mine, his breathing was shaky.
“Kenneth,” Garrett’s voice was deeper than it had been all night. I recognized that tone, it had come out of me plenty of times after successful dates.
His voice made my heart flutter. I was shaking. Not from the cold, but from him. From how close he was. From his voice. From the scent of him—he smelled like sweat and skin. I couldn’t even describe it. He just smelled like a man. And it wasn’t unpleasant.
“Yeah, Garrett?” My voice was shaky, like a teenager’s. My eyes still closed.
The moment that I said his name, Garrett nudged the side of his face on mine and I could feel the heat coming off of him. The feel of his lips brushing alongside my cheek. I wanted him to kiss me.
I’d never had the thought of having another guy kiss me. I never even cared about trying it. Never a thought in my mind. Not with porn or anything else. Before him, before that moment, there had been nothing. It was as if Garrett had discovered something in me. A possibility of something.
He kissed me again, a softer and quicker peck on my cheek. I felt his hand on my chest, and I didn’t stop myself at that time. I went up to meet it, but as soon as I felt the bag, I grabbed it and Garrett took his hand away. His voice was a whisper—
“Thank you for tonight.”
When I finally opened my eyes again, they hurt, and Garrett was already a few feet away from me and getting farther away with every breath that I took. I couldn’t see him clearly, it was like my vision was hazy. And there was something in my head, in my mind, something scratching at me. Like this obvious thing, this answer to a question that you’ve been asking yourself for hours, and you know the answer, it’s on tip of your tongue, but you can’t say it. That’s how I felt then. There was a question in my mind, and it was blaring at me, screaming at me, but I couldn’t focus on it. I couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t see it.
The second that I said his name, Garrett stopped. He turned around and I could see his face in the lights that stood along the path. I could see his eyes. They were wet. There was a pain on his face, but it softened as he saw me. And I don’t know what he saw in me then, but the pain was gone, and he was smiling. Wide and toothy. I remembered the conversation that we had laid down on the grass. The message that Garrett was trying to tell me but that I couldn’t understand back then.
And just like the answer to the question that you’ve been asking yourself all day eventually comes, so did the question—
What if, Kenneth?
After all, people are not made from stone.
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