Coming, Part II

A half hour from midnight, I peered into the back seat of my Toyota Camry and thought that if anything could be more of a turn-off to a hyper-organized, almost-OCD workaholic like Chu, it’d be this: a portable dump of file folders, broken backpacks, old Playbills and magazines (with the occasional scattering of uncapped pens and—more dangerously—markers). I could not let that be my first impression. I scrammed into my bedroom and stole a sheet to cover the whole thing up.

Ten minutes later, I pulled alongside our local Holiday Inn and called him down. In the next minute of waiting time, I set the scene I wanted him to see: I looked away—out my window—instead of waiting to see him at my passenger side door (so that I didn’t look too eager); I programmed my iPod to a playlist of a mellow Sufjan Stevens selection (his Facebook page claimed he was a fan); and I checked my back seat one more time for anything that remotely gave away my messiness (just in case the sheet shifted). All was ready.

As I was looking in the other direction, he arrived at my passenger door. I acted sufficiently surprised that he was there. I unlocked the door, he sat down, and we pulled away from the hotel..

On his part: Small talk. Hesitant eye contact. Nervous laughter. At the time, I didn’t know whether to attribute the awkwardness to him, to me, or to the overall furtive aura of our rendezvous; it even could’ve been the reasonable shakiness of a first live date from an online friend. Heck, the probable truth was that this was a case involving all of the above. All I knew, as I searched for a place to get midnight ice cream, was that we needed to get out of the car, get something to eat, and shake the shakiness off. ASAP.

And then we got caught by a train at a railroad crossing. Stuck in my car. For a good—oh—ten minutes.

And in those ten minutes, he spilled.

“So… is this a date?”

I froze. What was I supposed to say? I laughed out loud, while my mind screamed, “WHO SAYS THAT?!”

I continued with my shrugging, and he continued: Over the past month and a half of conversations, he found himself getting more and more attracted to me. He clearly had been thinking about it: he knew he’d be working in my area this summer; our professional goals were very much aligned; and the conversations we had in the past—although they were online—flowed quick-wittedly. It was a good match to at least explore. His intentions for this random late night ice cream trip: to gauge whether or not the chemistry he perceived online carried over into reality.

With this out of the way, the balloon of tension and unease deflated. His bout of transparency pointed out what should’ve been obvious: our earlier awkwardness was because we had never acknowledged an attraction between us. The lack of definition in whatever it was we were doing—talking online without direction, then meeting up in real life without explicit purpose—left us to inferences. Yes, it was fun to flirt on the internet without relenting to pressure or worrying about risk, but when our LOLs became audible, when there were physical consequences that couldn’t be clicked away, the need for honesty became not only necessary, but also palpable. His confession—as abrupt and forward as it was—was what we needed to get anywhere.

The railroad crossing gate lifted, and with some of the weight removed from the whys of our late night meeting, we had a more comfortable ride to my nearest 24-hour Starbucks (decidedly the closest thing to ice cream). There, I neatly evaded answering his earlier question of whether or not this was a date, deflecting discussion instead to my newly-acquired knowledge of his interest. His willingness to be open opened the door to my own: How long have you been thinking about this? What experience do you have meeting relative strangers on the internet? How do I know you just need an outlet for your homosexuality—something you clearly don’t have in rural Arkansas?

After our drinks were ready, we couldn’t find a seat at Starbucks, so we brought our conversation to the next most convenient place: my apartment. And there, on a loveseat across a table from me, he returned to his question: “Is this a date?”

“Well… I paid for you drink.” As much as I had learned about the evil of forcing inferences, I couldn’t help—out of nervousness or fear or lack of clarity of thought—but be indirect.

He probed further. He was very clear about being interested in me, but what did I think about him?

And I had to admit: I enjoyed this—the back and forth banter, the surreptitiousness of whatever it was we were doing, the interest of someone who actually was pretty much on the same page as me as far as work ethic and goals.

There was a smile of satisfaction.

“So… would I be crossing the line if I kissed you?”

As I did earlier, I laughed and shrugged. But this time, I was able to utter out a small, secretly-confident, “No.”

And as he came over to my couch, I thought about the junk in my car, our awkwardness at the railroad tracks, and the Java Chip Frappucino in my breath. And when he leaned closer, it made sense that I didn’t need to make sense of any of those things at all. He wanted me. He wanted the me that he got to know and not the circumstances surrounding it all.

A half hour after midnight, within hours of meeting Chu for the first time, there it was—our first kiss.

To be continued…

Creative Commons License