Sunday, April 13th, 2014
That was how Theo felt about himself the next morning when he woke up to the sound of his phone buzzing with message notifications. They were probably from Alice interrogating him on the events of the previous night. Theo groaned into his pillow, not wanting to face her questions yet. He could barely face himself. His body felt okay, but his guilty conscience was eating him up inside.
After walking out of Flávio’s building, Theo stopped in at 7-eleven to buy a pack of cigarettes, before heading home in a somewhat dazed state. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel and the effects of the alcoholic beverages still lingered, muddling his emotional state even further. He sat on the balcony smoking cigarettes and drinking water until he felt sober enough to go to sleep, trying to minimize the chances of having a headache the next day. The sunrise had already painted his room pink and purple when he finally fell asleep.
It hadn’t been the first time he’d felt that way after a night out. The year he started sleeping around, having decided to move on from Jason, he’d often had experiences where he completely disregarded his partners. In a way, he hadn’t really moved on. He just needed a way to deal with the rage he felt about having dedicated six years of his life to an abusive partner who ended up cheating on him. He wanted to punish his partner by sleeping with as many people as he could. He didn’t care about their pleasure.
Alice had sat him down once after he’d woken up one morning feeling miserable, and suggested he should seek some professional help. She could tell he was harboring a lot of negativity and needed to process it in a less self-destructive way. Theo heeded her advice and booked an appointment with a psychologist. After a couple of months, he felt better and was finally starting to move on from Jason. Once he felt like he had moved on for the most part, he stopped seeing his therapist. His little stint with Flávio had, however, proven to him that he still occasionally acted upon his self-destructive urges.
Theo got up and reached out for his phone. He had one missed call from his mom as well as two missed calls and twenty unread messages from Alice on Facebook messenger. He would call his mom after replying to Alice. Most of Alice’s messages were just her asking Theo if he was already home and if he was okay. Theo sent her a couple of messages as a reply.
SUN AT 2:14 PM
Hey, just got up
Slept at home
When are you coming home?
He got up from the bed as he waited for her reply. The app soon indicated that she was typing.
SUN AT 2:16 PM
what happened last night??
are you okay??
i should be home in like 30 minutes
on the bus now
Theo didn’t answer her questions, instead, he just sent a short reply.
SUN AT 2:17 PM
I’ll tell you when you get here
Alice kept sending him messages, but he needed some time to gather his thoughts before facing her, so he set his phone aside and decided to have a shower. His mind always felt clearer after a shower.
Once under the soothing cascading of the water, Theo tried to forget his reckless mistake, even if only for the duration of the shower. He closed his eyes, picturing a vast desert in his mind. Some people envisioned beaches, other people mountains, but Theo always felt at peace imagining himself surrounded by millennia-old orange dunes.
It was quite ironic in a way. He was taking a shower and imagining himself stranded in the Namib desert.
Fully washed and rinsed, Theo stepped out of the bathtub and dried himself off before brushing his teeth. Once his breath felt minty and fresh, he headed to his bedroom. He already felt a bit better, though feelings of regret still lingered. As he got dressed, he looked at his phone and saw his mom’s missed call again. He almost forgot he’d promised his parents that he would visit them. He called his mom back to let her know he would drop by for dinner.
“Hey, mom. Sorry, I didn’t answer your call, I woke up pretty late,” he paced around his room as spoke.
“Hi, Theo. Did you stay up late last night?”
“Yeah, went out with some friends.”
“Oh, hope you had fun! Did you go with Alice?”
His mom really loved Alice’s company. They were both playful and enjoyed teasing Theo.
“Yeah, we had fun. She said she misses your apple pie.”
“Oh, how sweet of her! Send her my regards and tell her she should drop by sometime!”
“Will do, and I’ll talk to her to see when she can visit,” he paused as he heard Alice opening the door of the apartment, “Listen, I’ll drop by for dinner. Is that okay?”
“Oh, that is perfect! Ask Alice if she wants to join!”
“I’ll ask her. I have to go now, but I’ll be there around 6 pm.”
“Alright, see you later!”
As soon as Theo hung up he heard Alice banging on his door and yelling, “Open up, Theo!”
Theo opened the door and looked at his displeased friend. “Why didn’t you reply to my messages?” She was glaring at Theo and pointing at the phone in his hand.
“I took a shower and then talked to my mom. She’s inviting us for dinner, if you’d like to join us, by the way,” Theo tried to divert the conversation to a different topic, but Alice didn’t take his bait.
“Pause on that conversation and let’s get back to what I really want to know. What happened after you left D2 last night?” Alice could be pretty ruthless when she wanted to be to Theo’s dismay.
“I fucked up,” he saw no point in beating around the bush as he sat down on his bed, “I went to his house, he started talking about wanting something more and I just wanted to get laid, so we ended up fucking, but I couldn’t come so I basically told him to finish it up himself,” Theo looked up at Alice trying to read her reaction, but she remained expressionless, wanting to hear what happened after.
“After that, he told me we were done. He told me to get out and to never contact him again,” Theo’s shoulders slumped as he finished his story. He looked at the floor, evading Alice’s eyes.
“Oh, Theo. Well, can’t say it surprises me. I did warn you about leading him on. You really shouldn’t have gone there, but no point crying over spilled milk. How are you feeling now?” Alice may be cold with her words, but her eyes showed a hint of concern.
“I’m better now. A shower helped. I don’t know what came over me last night... I was just pissed off because a guy on Grindr saw my message but didn’t reply and he wasn’t at D2 either... I was feeling like... like I wasn’t good enough. Again. And I know it’s no excuse for acting like a complete dickhead, but I wasn’t thinking straight...” Theo knew it was all in his head, but he couldn’t help but think that way at times.
“Is it that dancer you showed me on Friday?” Alice sat down next to Theo on his bed, leaning her back on his headboard.
“Yeah... It’s pathetic. I don’t even know him, but I can’t stop thinking about him. I don’t understand why it bothers me so much...”
“Hey,” Theo turned to face Alice and hear what she had to say, “I won’t sit here and tell you that it will all work out in the end. As you said, you don’t even know him,” Theo nodded at her statement, “What I do know is that you should keep an open mind about guys. It’s because you’re still hung up on the past that you’re closed off to the idea of starting something new. That’s why you always kept Flávio within an arm’s reach of your heart.”
It pained Theo to admit that Alice was right. He still compared every guy he met to Jason. When he first met Jason in the ninth grade, he’d felt an intense spark. He found out his feelings were mutual when he was in the eleventh grade and Jason asked him to be his boyfriend. He had been there for Theo when Theo came out to his friends and family and had been very supportive and loving for the first two years of the relationship. At least until the second year of university, when they moved in together and things started going downhill...
“I know you’re right. I will try to do that, but it is hard,” Theo looked at the floor again, “I have already moved on from Jason, but deep down I still compare every guy to him. I know I can’t really expect myself to feel that intense connection from the get-go, but I think that’s why I am so bothered about Noah not replying. I can’t really explain why, but I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time when I saw him onstage. Not since Jason.”
“Is Noah the dancer?” Alice asked and Theo nodded his head, “Well, he was pretty hot, so it is normal that you felt a strong attraction to him. He might still reply, you never know. He might have been busy last night.”
“Is it weird that I am feeling this way?” Theo looked up at Alice, needing some sort of validation from her for his emotional turmoil.
“Well, I did feel instantly attracted to every single one of my exes, so I can’t blame you for feeling that way, but it could just be an attraction. You won’t know unless you talk to him.”
“That’s why I wanted to go to D2. I wanted to talk to him, but he wasn’t there...”
“Well, who knows? Maybe next time you go there you’ll see him... But keep an open mind,” Theo nodded his head, “Anyway, let’s go back to your invitation for dinner at your parents’. Jamie and I are already having dinner together, so I can’t come along this time, but tell your parents I appreciate their invitation.”
“Will do. And Alice?” He gave Alice a small smile before saying, “Thank you.”
“No worries. You know you can count on me. Now, I gotta do some lesson planning before I meet up with Jamie for dinner. If you need me, I’ll be in my room,” she got up from Theo’s bed and ruffled his hair a bit, before leaving a glaring Theo alone in his room.
Theo lied down on his bed, feeling better after having talked to Alice. He reached out to his phone which was on his bed to his right. He logged onto Grindr and noticed he had a new message. Hoping it was from Noah, he clicked on the message notification.
To his disappointment, it wasn’t Noah, but his disappointment quickly disappeared when he saw the profile photo of the guy who had messaged him. The guy was called Liam and his profile photo showed a handsome man wearing a grey pinstripe suit, probably at a formal event. His side-parted short black hair framed his prominent jawline and contrasted with his bright smile. He’s hot, Theo thought. He looked at the message Liam had sent him.
Liam [3:15 pm]: ”Hey there, how are you today?"
Theo was surprised at how the guy was not using abbreviations. He was probably new to Grindr. His photo was a stark contrast to most of the more provocative displays he had encountered on the app. Hopefully he wasn’t catfishing. He thought back to his conversation with Alice. Keep an open mind. With that thought in mind, he typed out his reply.
Theo [3:35 pm]: ”Hey, I’m good. And you?"
Liam appeared to be online because he replied instantly.
Liam [3:35 pm]: ”I’m good as well."
Liam [3:35 pm]: ”Though I’m not exactly sure how to use this app. It’s my first time using it."
Theo smiled at Liam’s messages and typed out his reply.
Theo [3:36 pm]: ”Welcome to the all you can eat sex buffet that is Grindr [laughing emoji]"
Liam [3:36 pm]: ”Should I be afraid?"
Theo [3:37 pm]: ”Nah, I won’t bite. Unless you want me to ;)"
Liam [3:37 pm]: ”Oh, is that an invitation?"
Theo [3:37 pm]: ”Maybe...if you ask nicely ;)"
Theo was feeling amused by the conversation, but he wanted to know what the guy’s intentions were. He looked at Liam’s profile before typing his next message.
Theo [3:38 pm]: ”Anyway, what are you looking for on this app?"
Liam [3:39 pm]: ”Would it be a surprise if I said sex?"
Theo [3:39 pm]: ”Not really. I think that’s why most guys use this app haha"
Liam [3:40 pm]: ”Well, can’t blame them. I’m here for the same reasons [laughing emoji]. How about you?"
Theo [3:40 pm]: ”I’m always up for some fun."
Theo was already starting to forget his foul mood, growing excited about the prospect of meeting up with someone who seemed reasonably interesting.
Liam [3:41 pm]: ”I’ve got some work to do tonight, but do you wanna meet up tomorrow night?"
Theo [3:42 pm]: ”Sure, I’m free tomorrow night. Where do you want to meet?"
Liam [3:43 pm]: ”Wanna come over to my place?"
Theo [3:43 pm]: ”Perfect."
After the fiasco with Flávio, Theo was looking forward to meeting up with Liam. He rarely interacted with guys on that app who didn’t send photos of their penises or abs as their only form of communication. As if their body parts were the only things they could offer to compensate for their lack of personality. Liam appeared to have gone offline shortly after having sent his message.
Theo decided to go for a walk outside, as it looked like a lovely day outside. He didn’t want to think about having to go to work the next day. Weekends always felt so short, when he worked at an office. He worked in the procurement department at the Venetian Hotel. Theo knew he was fairly lucky as it was a relatively stress-free nine to six job and it paid fairly well. He had been working there for three years, having found the job shortly after graduating from university.
He grabbed his pack of cigarettes, keys, and phone and headed out of his room. He knocked on Alice’s door and said, “I’m going out for a walk. I’ll be back after dinner.”
“Send your parents my regards!” Alice yelled from her room, as Theo put on his shoes.
Theo stepped out of the apartment and locked the door, before calling the elevator. He looked at his pack of cigarettes and realized he had already smoked a couple when he got back from Flávio’s place. He knew it was a nasty habit and he wanted to stop smoking, but it was hard. He started smoking while he was studying at university to cope with the stress of the exams as well as his failing relationship. Every year he would make the same resolution to quit smoking and every year he would fail. Maybe next year I’ll succeed, he thought.
Theo stopped in at Starbucks, where he bought himself a mocha frappuccino, before heading to the Carmo Garden area. His parents lived at the Nova Taipa buildings, so he had a lot of time to kill before heading to their place. He enjoyed walking around the Carmo Garden because it was usually very quiet and peaceful when there weren’t any events or festivals taking place in that area. When he was younger, he and his high school friends would hang out on the steps in front of the amphitheater, drinking whatever alcoholic beverages they managed to buy at 7-eleven or the San Miu supermarket.
Most of his friends had moved abroad, except for Joel, a friend of his who had decided to pursue a career in law in Macau after graduating from high school the same year as Theo. He had recently become a lawyer and decided to travel to Malaysia to celebrate his achievement. Theo made a mental note to call Joel upon his arrival. They hadn’t seen each other in a while.
Theo sat down on those steps and took in the view of the Cotai Strip skyline as he finished his drink. Though his inner turmoil had started to settle and even shift to a more positive state due to the prospect of an exciting date the following night, Theo still couldn’t help but think about what he had done earlier that morning.
He would respect Flávio’s wishes and not contact him again, as it was the least he could do after having treated the other man the way he did, but he decided he would never do the same thing ever again. He knew he was still going to engage in casual sex, but he would no longer lead anyone on. He would either be open to pursuing a serious relationship with the person or, if he were to pursue friendships with benefits, he would break off the affair if one-sided feelings were to arise from either party.
After being lost in his musings for a while, he noticed he’d already finished his drink. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting in that spot, but he was sure it’d been more than thirty minutes. He looked at the time on his phone. It was already a quarter past five. He only needed about twenty minutes to get to his parents’ place, so he still had some time. He looked back at the view of the Cotai Strip skyline. It looked beautiful with the blue skies in the background, so he decided to take a photograph with his phone. Maybe he would post it onto his Instagram afterward.
After exiting the camera app, he logged onto the Grindr app and noticed he had a message from Liam.
Liam [4:18 pm]: ”What time are you free to meet up tomorrow?"
Liam [4:19 pm]: ”Sorry for taking a while to reply. I was sorting some stuff out."
Theo smiled at the message. Liam seemed different from the guys he had talked to in the past.
Theo [5:19 pm]: ”No worries. I actually went out for a walk, so I was also afk."
Theo mentally calculated the amount of time he would need to get home from work, shower, get dressed, and have dinner.
Theo [5:20 pm]: ”I should be free after 8:30 pm."
Liam was online, so waiting for a reply didn’t take long.
Liam [5:21 pm]: ”Okay, cool. I should be free around that time too. I live close to the Stadium."
Theo sighed in relief, knowing that Liam was within walking distance. It would make the logistics of getting to his place easier.
Theo [5:21 pm]: ”Great, I also live in Taipa. Should I meet you at the roundabout or should I go straight to your place?"
Liam [5:22 pm]: ”We can meet at the roundabout, that way we can drop by 7-eleven to get some drinks. What do you think?"
Theo [5:22 pm]: ”Sounds good. I can be there at 9 pm."
Liam [5:23 pm]: ”9 pm tomorrow it is!"
Theo [5:24 pm]: “Definitely excited about tomorrow ;)"
Liam [5:24 pm]: ”Likewise :)"
Liam [5:24 pm]: ”See you tomorrow"
After seeing Liam’s reply, Theo got up and started making his way to the Nova Taipa Gardens. He had a good feeling about the date the next day. Liam seemed like an interesting guy. Theo wasn’t one for talking much online, but from his brief interactions with the attractive man, his gut was telling him that he and Liam would get along well.
He stopped in at a 7-eleven on the way to buy some Eclipse breath fresheners before arriving at his parents’ building with fifteen minutes to spare - just enough time to smoke a cigarette before heading into the building. After putting the cigarette out and throwing the butt into the closest trash can, he clicked on the buzzer so that his mom or dad could let him in.
“Theo, is it you?” He heard his mom’s voice coming from the buzzer.
“Yeah, open the door.”
He heard the clicking sound coming from the door, which meant that it was unlocked.
“Is it open?” His mom’s voice rang again through the speakers of the buzzer.
“Yeah, going in now. I’ll see you in a bit!”
Theo stepped into the lobby of the building and called an elevator. As he waited for the elevator to arrive, which sometimes took a while because there were only three elevators for all thirty-seven floors of the building, he took out some breath fresheners and put them into his mouth. He didn’t want his mouth to smell like an ashtray when he greeted his mom and dad.
After the mints had disintegrated in his mouth and he had finally reached his parents’ floor, he stepped out of the elevator and noticed that his parents’ door was already unlocked. He stepped into the apartment and shut the door before saying, “Mom, I’m here!”
“Theo! I missed you! Come here and give me a hug!” His mom was in the kitchen, probably adding some final touches to the meal she was preparing. Theo took his shoes off and walked into the kitchen, where his mom was cooking what appeared to be some sort of meat stew. Theo hugged his mom from behind and kissed her cheek.
“Hey mom, I missed you too. What’s for dinner? It smells delicious!” Theo breathed in the smell of spices that lingered in the air.
“I decided to make some shrimp gumbo because your dad was craving some. You know he loves gumbo,” his mom said as she grabbed a spoon and prepared a sample, before handing it to her son, “Here, taste it and tell me what you think.”
Theo tasted it and immediately hummed in satisfaction as he closed his eyes, savoring the delicious blend of flavors.
His mom, Lily, was from New Orleans, while his dad, Nathan, was from Colorado. It had been more than thirty years since Lily and Nathan first met. Nathan was on a road trip with some friends after graduating from university. They met at a Mardi Gras celebration and according to his mom it had been love at first sight. To Theo, their story almost felt like a sappy cliché romantic movie plot.
Theo had visited both of his parents’ hometowns and though he loved the landscapes of Colorado, he much preferred the food in his mom’s hometown. He absolutely loved his mom’s cooking but he’d sadly not inherited his mom’s skills in the kitchen.
“By the looks of it, I’m guessing it’s delicious,” his mom teased Theo.
“Have I told you how much I missed your cooking?”
“It almost seems like you come over more for the food rather than for your own mother.”
Theo laughed and said, “No, you know I love spending time with you and dad. But you have to admit that food’s also a valid reason.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Go and say hi to your dad. He’s in the living room,” his mom nodded her head towards the living room, where his dad was setting up a table for dinner.
“Hey dad,” Theo said as he stepped into the living room.
“Hey, son, how are you doing?” Theo hugged his dad. Ever since he was little, his parents had always physically demonstrated affection with hugs and kisses on the cheek.
“I’m good. How about you? How was Japan?”
“It was wonderful! We went to Kyoto and Osaka and ate a lot of delicious food. Your mom took a bunch of photos, she can show you later, but you should definitely go there one day!”
“Sounds like you had a great time,” Theo smiled. He loved seeing his parents happy.
“We did. How about you? Any news?”
“Not really, just been working a lot. I went out with Alice and the gang last night and got up pretty late today.”
“I know, your mom told me. Well, letting loose once in a while is good,” Theo nodded in agreement.
“Dinner’s ready,” his mom suddenly announced, as she carried the large pot of gumbo from the kitchen to the table, “Nate, can you place a trivet on the table for the pot?”
“Sure thing, honey,” his dad grabbed a trivet from a small drawer underneath the dining table and placed it at the center of the small dining room table, which could seat six people in a pinch. Lily and Nathan sat on one side of the table whereas Theo sat on the opposite side.
“Would you like some wine, Theo?” His dad asked him.
“Sure, I’ll have a glass.”
“I’ll have one too,” his mom said.
Lily gave Theo a generous serving of gumbo and rice, before doing the same for Nathan and herself. They sat in silence for a short while, simply savoring the delicious food Lily had prepared.
“Honey, even after all of the delicious food we ate in Japan, I still prefer your gumbo,” his dad was almost moaning with satisfaction at the delicious food.
“You’d better,” his mom playfully nudged him with her elbow. Even after all these years, his parents still had great chemistry with one another, constantly engaging in light-hearted banter.
“It’s so good! You have to give me the recipe, mom. Or at least show me how to do it, because I’ll probably butcher the recipe if I do it on my own,” Theo’s mom laughed at Theo’s remark.
“Come over next time I prepare gumbo and I’ll teach ya how to make it. Maybe you can even cook it for a nice fella one day,” just like Alice, Lily thoroughly enjoyed teasing her son and making him blush.
“Well, it may be a while before that happens, as there is no fella in my life at the moment,” he retorted.
“Theo, you should keep an open mind and open your heart to someone new.”
“Alice said the same thing.”
“And Alice is a very smart young lady. You should listen to her.”
“Duly noted. Anyway, how was Japan?” Theo asked in an attempt to divert the subject of the conversation to something other than his love life. Unlike Alice though, his mom took the bait and started rambling about her and Nathan’s trip to Japan, talking about the temples, the food, the clothes, the landscapes...
Theo always loved hearing about his parents’ adventures, feeling completely at ease as Lily spoke enthusiastically about the places and things they had seen, using gestures and showing photos on her phone. Nathan would occasionally interject with his own comments on the experience.
Lily and Nathan had moved to Macau when Theo was young, partly because they were offered great teaching positions at an international school, but mostly because they also wanted to travel around Asia, which was a bit hard to do from the US. After moving to Macau, they had visited almost every country in Asia at least once. Theo had only gone on some of those adventures, as his parents began traveling even more after Theo and Katie had graduated from high school and moved out from their family house.
After sitting through a pleasant dinner and looking at some more photos his mom had taken on her camera, Theo looked at the time and noticed that it was already almost ten o’clock. As much as he enjoyed spending time with his parents, he knew he was a responsible adult with duties to perform the next morning. Duties that required a full eight hours of sleep after the weekend he’d had.
“I have to get going... It’s getting late and I have to be up by 7:30 tomorrow morning.”
“Oh wow, I didn’t know it was already this late,” his mom also noticed the time, “Thank you so much for coming, Theo. Tell Alice to come over next time you visit.”
“Will do. Thanks for the dinner, mom. It was delicious, as always,” he hugged his mom and kissed her on the cheek, before turning to his dad, “It was nice seeing you again, dad. I might drop by again next week if I’m not busy.”
He hugged his dad as well, before bidding his parents good night and exiting their apartment. Seeing his parents had been the cherry on top of a lovely day that had started on a sour note. It had been a long weekend and Theo was longing to collapse into his bed and feeling tempted to sleep through Monday until it was time for his date.
Sadly, he knew he had to get up early for work the next day.
Such is the life of a responsible adult.