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The First Date: Pt 2

“Would you like to walk or would you like me to get the powerchair out of the trunk?” Gary asked me, smiling. “There’s absolutely no judgement here, I just want you to do what's gonna be best for you.” He stared at me with an intense look of reassurance plastered on his face.

I couldn’t help but let a red hue tint my cheeks and the tip of my nose before answering. I looked down, smiling gently, quickly catching myself and forcing myself to regain eye contact.

“Um.. since I know this is going to be a long distance for me, I think that bringing the powerchair out and leaving the canes behind would be the best idea.” I replied, lowly.

“Okay, not a problem at all.” Gary nodded his head reassuringly as he softly and genuinely spoke. “You’re not embarrassed or anything right?" His eyebrows furrowed as he leaned closer to my face, a concerned expression on it.

I let out a gentle sigh. “I mean, I am a bit. But only because I have to admit this.” I paused. “The only reason I’m a bit sheepish is ’cause, I want to be able to walk with you and potentially hold hands with you like typical.. people on dates.” I made eye contact, still blushing because I was awaiting for him to tease me and relish in my revelation.

He looked in the other direction for a second, and then made eye contact with me smirking.

“Are you jus’ gon' keep staring at me like that?’ I asked as I not-too-hardly scratched the corner of my scalp.

“Nah. I just like to see you flustered over me, Ren.” he earnestly remarked

I gently bit my lip.

“I’m sure you’re anticipating my answer to the second half of your question.”

I covered my red-faced expression with the palm of my hand, my fingers barely covering my left eye.

Whatever!” I said through laughter.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” Gary replied as he slicked back his gray hair with saliva.

“Well, ya gon' have to.” I smirked, leaning my head jerkingly for emphasis.

He pierced his eyes at me, in a playfully annoyed manner.

“As I was going to say, why would you ever be embarrassed at the prospect of us holding hands Chanti? We were literally just’ discussing dancing in a very sensual way on the drive down. Do you think I’d discuss that with you and then be nervous about something so... elementary? He paused, causing me to nod my head side to side to communicate a “no”. "How about I stand on the other side of the powerchair and hold the hand that you’re not controlling it with?” Gary inquired.

“Okay.. that’s cool.” I replied, smiling gently as I nodded my head.

“Okay, great!” he smiled. Gary went around to the back of the car and popped the trunk to retrieve my chair.

“If you consider holdin' hands elementary, I wonder what your equivalent to ‘middle school’ is?” I teasingly inquired.

“Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out.” He responded, as he brought the chair around to the passenger of the car, quickly but noticeably winking at me.

I lightly laughed as I brought my canes from the side of the car and placed them on the concrete of the parking lot - the park within my peripheral vision across the street. I made sure to place my purse on my wrist, not forgetting about the item in need of return. I carefully swiveled my legs out of the car. Before I could say no, Gary took my hands, (still placed in the wrist spot of my loftsrand canes,) pulling me up. I was a bit nervous, as I don’t usually get out of the car this way when I’m on my own. However, I certainly was not upset about his hands coming into contact with mine, albeit for a brief moment. The butterflies in my stomach returned as I seated myself and we both gently let go.

I looked in his direction and lightly smiled as a silent way of saying “thank you.”

We began heading for the park as Gary slowly moved closer to the chair, taking my free hand in his.

We passed the slide and jungle gym section of the park as Gary began making conversation with me.

“So Chanti, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s your family life like?”

“Oh, no I don’t mind” I replied “We’re close, tight knit, a bit hotheaded.. but hardworking. My grandparents and great aunts immigrated from Trinidad, so they made the value of a dollar very clear.” I looked him in the eye, proceedingly going into the zipper compartment of my purse as I continued. “Which is exactly why I need to give you this back.” I faced the check toward him, waiting for him to take it.

“Chanti, you really can keep it.” Gary nodded his head, lightly pushing the check back in my direction.

“I really can’t. Although I’m confident that as you say, ‘you’ll be okay’, I don’t feel comfortable accepting this exorbitant amount of money from you. I barely let the Carsons tip me a fraction of what you gave me.” I nodded my head side to side.

Gary’s eyes turned sad almost instantaneously, he was about to let go of my hand, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. “The Carsons?” he asked.

“My regulars. The lady you heard encouraging me to go out with you the other day?" I paused McKinnon nodding his head. "Her name is Jill. She comes to the diner almost every other day with her husband Frank.” I responded as he nodded his head in understanding.

“I don’t wantchu to take it as a rejection.” I continued gently. “I really hope you understand that I don’t need you to give me money in exchange for a hangout. I’m cool spending time with you for free. I’m good with doing a lot of things with you for free.”

“What kind of things, Chanti?” Gary teasingly replied.

I paused, smiling and looking in the other direction, quickly snapping myself out of my not-so-innocent thoughts.

“Those are irrelevant right now.” I gently laughed “I jus' don’t understan' why you would think you would have to give me a gratuity expense to hang out with you. “ I looked at him with a confused expression. “I mean, you were dressed like yuh average everyman and I flirted with you presuming that you worked a 9-5 job like everyone else, and I was planning on going out with you anyway. What on Earth would make you think anything different?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.

“I hear you and I believe you.” he responded and took the check from my hand as he continued, our hands still interlocked and still moving throughout the park.

He appeared to be in deep thought as he looked away from me, eyebrows furrowed and orbits in a different direction.

“You wanna grab a hotdog and sit on the bench? It’s gonna be a long story, and I know you’re as hungry as I am right now.”

I thought for a moment before answering. “Aight, but ya not getting out of this Comb-Over” I responded.

Gary helped me up to sit on the bench as I decided to go without my canes. An electric shock seemed to flow through my body as our hands touched one again. Once close enough to the bench, I let go of his hands and adjusted myself back onto the chair. I took a bite of my relish, mustard and ketchup filled hotdog gingerly, as to prevent from ruining my glamorous 'fit.

“This glizzy is bus-i-i-i-ing!” I emphatically remarked about the taste of my hotdog. Gary just covered his mouth, trying to hold in his laughter.

“But you still haven’t answered my question Mr. McKinnon.” I said, recalling his last name from the check - smugly, but softly, making eye contact with him.

“Nothing gets past you does it Ms. Chantel?” He replied.

“I’m afraid not.” I shrugged humorously.

Taking a deep breath, his shoulders moved up and down as he lost eye contact with me for a moment - presumably pondering on what he was going to say next.

“Remember how you spoke about your family being tight knit, albeit hotheaded?” he asked me.

I nodded my head, looking directly at him.

“Well, mine wasn’t like that.. at all. My mother and father were raised to believe that the only way to show love to their children was by ensuring that they kept up their appearances for everyone else. Sure it was nice, boarding yachts for my highschool graduation party, being young and having a nicer car than most kids my age. But, at the same time, I had to attend Harvard only because my parents were alumni there. I majored in what they told me to major in. It felt as if they were only concerned about how other people saw them. I feel guilty really.." he paused "y'know discussing it because I had food in my mouth, a roof over my head, the best of everything, ya know?” He sighed and looked at me pleadingly, his eyes wondering if I understood.

I looked into his blue orbs, sympathy pouring out of my ebony brown pupils.

Of course I understand. That sounds like an awful way to grow up. Sure you were financially secure and everything, but you had to live most of your life devoid of your own identity. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I bet you had to grow up thinking your parents didn’t really love you - just the concept of you they had in their own minds.”

He stared back at me in shock, his eyes telling me he was taken aback by how much I did, in fact, understand.

“I would say you’re exactly right...” He cupped my face in his hand, voice trailing off, with his free hand holding my other. I placed my hand on his arm and after a brief moment of silence, he continued to speak. “I love the idea of the young and hungry millennial that has to struggle for the success they want to attain - the way you have had to. I used to sit and wonder why I was born into the life of wealth to begin with.”

“I completely understand.” I continued to look at him with that understanding pouring out my eyes. “I can relate to it... in a way. When I began to date girls, my family felt that I was just trying to fit into this community who wanted acceptance about what made them different. Thankfully, I didn’t get physically abused or anything but it did take some time for them to come around to it.”

“You identify as bisexual, if you don’t mind me asking?” Gary inquired.

“Pansexual.” I corrected.

“Meaning?” Gary interjected.

“Meaning,” I explained, “The gender of the person doesn’t matter. Only the chemistry I feel with them determines whether or not I am attracted to them.” Gary nodded his head in understanding, making me comfortable enough to continue. “I know it’s not exactly what you experienced but -”

“No, it’s okay, I get it. It’s similar in the way that your parents presumably gave you a hard time for being out of their box of hopes of what you were going to be like, perhaps that you would be successful and marry a financially and emotionally supportive man.”

“Yes, exactly!” I nodded my head excitedly, I wasn’t anticipating that he’d understand. “And then also, in my case, my disability was a component as well. Since my family believes in God, I had to face the question: ‘if God made me this way for a reason, perfect just the way I am, why aren’t I still considered to be made in his image?.’ Ignoring this part of my identity would be just as unhealthy as ignoring treatments for my physical condition would.” I sighed, finishing my sentence, tearing up a little.

“Aww sweetheart... “ Gary’s sentence trailed off as he tilted his face toward me, tsk-ing sympathetically, wiping the few tears that had fallen down gently with the back of his thumb .“That is very true.” he nodded his head. A few moments passed in silence as we were simply taking in each other’s energy.

“Y’know... I gave you that ‘check of gratuity’ as you called it because of unhealed trauma from my experiences with my ex - wife. Cheryl.

“How long was y’all married for?” I inquired, softly

“4 years..” his voice weakened

“Why did you guys separate?”

“I left her because she was having an affair with a man who was already married, and spending money I gave her on him.” Gary’s eyes made contact with his feet, as he looked away from me in shame. He was silent for a minute or two before continuing. “I was just trying to provide for her, and have experiences with her since I had the funds to do so.” He nodded head from side to side.

“I just don’t see what I could’ve done better - to make her happier." He regained eye contact with me, his turquoise orbits filled with sorrow.

“No.” I gently wiped his tears away with the back of my thumbs as he did for me. I cupped his chin in the palm of my hand and scooted closer to him, making us within a knee’s distance of each other now.

Listen to me,” I spoke softly as I cupped the other side of his face with the palm of my hand. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I know you loved her, but she was using you. In my book, Cheryl can kick rocks.” I said in a definite tone, hitting the back of my left hand into the palm of my other. Gary started to laugh.

“No! Deadass!" I said laughingly. "Don’t worry about her no more. Besides, you got me.” I nodded reassuringly

“Got you huh?”he smirked kindly.

“Yeah, but only if you promise that you got me too. “ I smiled.

“I promise.” Gary looked into my eyes, piercing at me once again.

“Guess what else I’ve got?” he asked, his eyes signaling he was up to something adorably mischievous.

“Your nose!” he replied, gently pressing on my columella with his two index fingers.

“My no-” I leaned forward, puzzled, ready to hit him playfully in the chest as he leaned forward and planted a passionate kiss on my mouth.

I guess he was right about the wheelchair ramp.” I thought.

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