Coming, Part I

On paper, Chu seems to be a good catch. Formerly a fraternity president at a large city university, he decided to move to the Deep South post-graduation in order to work with children in some of the poorest towns in America. His coming out story is the stuff of movies: he came out just before he was elected as the leader of his brotherhood, subsequently inspiring eight other brothers to also step forward more openly with their sexuality. Blurring lines between being stereotypically gay and being a stereotypical frat boy, he’s been catching up on college ball while accompanied by a cat he owns, loves, and spoils with its own room in his house. According to those who’ve worked with him, he is organizationally crazy; he’s so on top of things that—and this is no exaggeration—he’s about a year and a half ahead of where he should be as far as work he’s accomplished. He’s close with his family, has ambitions to rule the world (or at least pursue graduate work at Harvard), and seems also, from what I hear, to be the life of the party at social events.

So when someone with such a strong personal resume enters your life in the most random and unexpected of ways, it’s a little jolting.

The first time we met was actually more than a month after we first spoke. Or really—in our case—instant messaged. In February, he found me on The Facebook, his excuse being that I worked last year for a non-profit’s summer venture, and he was in the final interview stages with the same program. He said he wanted an insider’s guide on the job I had, as my profile made it clear that I had moved upward in the organization. I was more than willing to help someone who was proactive enough to reach out.

It turns out, however, that he was interested in a little more than my job.

Our online conversation about my non-profit organization turned into a month of chatting back and forth—good conversations that provided a much-needed diversion to long, stressful days in the office, punctuated by friendly cracks and jibes that could’ve been construed as coy had I the knowledge that he was gay. It wasn’t until three weeks into our G-chat dialogues that the all-too definitive g-word surfaced in conversation, and I was able to put two and two together and realize that maybe he was flirting with me. Which, in my current drought of male-to-male gay relations, I didn’t mind.

Just as I realized he was coming on, I found out that he was coming to my city for a conference.

And so, intrigued by this work-turned-online friend-turned- flirt, I decided to give him a try. After all, we had talked for a month—hadn’t it been past time to put a face and voice to the screenname?

Unfortunately, by the time the weekend of his visit arrived, we had forgotten the most important key to actually meeting up—an exchange of our phone numbers. Oops. The meet-up did not seem to be in the cards.

On the weekend of his arrival, my friend Jen gave me a call after my Friday happy hour routine and said that a dinner event she had been organizing wasn’t going so well—only 2/5 participants had shown up to the restaurant on time. She thought she’d invite me to fill in the gaps and inject some additional conversation to the meal—and because I could get there in a jiffy; the restaurant was five minutes away. I thought: eh, why not? I enjoy meeting new people anyway. I asked if I knew either of the two folks, and she replied that I probably didn’t—a girl named Beth from Hawaii and a guy named Chu from Arkansas…

Now, if his name had been Joe or Jeff or Matt or Chris, then I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But Chu? Really? The cards were such a tease. A meet-up was apparently going to happen, whether we had set it up or not.

Despite the fact that this was anything but a first date, I somehow felt this first impression to be important. I decided to change into first date-appropriate clothes—casual, but flattering. A splash of cologne. Carefully molded hair. Ready to go.

I arrived at the dinner event and immediately found Jen, and with her, Beth and Chu. The problem of how to first greet someone you’ve been talking to for a while—the awkward handshake or hug dilemma—solved itself, as the group was busy digging its fingers into a bucket of crawfish. Over the course of dinner (and for me, two Shiner Bocks), I learned about Chu in a different way: by seeing him interact in a group setting. He’s a storyteller. The type that throws out humor and drama that either flies or fails. He’s friendly, social, and—despite being in a group setting—managed to pay some extra attention to me, referencing previous conversations we had had. Though this may have alienated the rest of the party for a few moments, for me, it showed me that he was attentive—a listener.

At the end of dinner, Jen had to take Beth and Chu back to their hotel, and closure took the form of “see you all later”; as it turns out, all of us—myself included—would be attending another conference in two weeks. Part of me wished Chu and I had one-on-one time, but I figure that the chance meeting Jen arranged was more interaction than we would’ve gotten otherwise.

Five minutes later, I turned on my computer and checked Gmail. Within a minute, a GChat beep: Chu. We talked for a bit, and though it was 11:30pm, he asked if I wanted to get some ice cream. And underneath that request, the subtext: You. Me. Midnight.

I decided to take him up on his offer.

To be continued….

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