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    Aditus
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By All Accounts - 1. Chapter 1 Story

By All Accounts

Zane’s sweaty hands clasped the steering wheel in a white-knuckled death grip. Following Google's directions, he flipped the signal, slowed down, and turned right. Three months ago, a brain-splitting headache had forced him to leave the highway and seek out the nearest town with a store that sold painkillers. Today though, he was on the small, meandering road to Warrington deliberately. He left the highway because— He could do this.

After a while, the hardware shop with the convenient parking lot appeared in the distance. By now, his heart thudded as if it wanted to escape his chest. Hands trembling, he pulled into the bumpy drive and parked the car under the only lamp that still worked; the other flickered on and off, buzzing like an angry wasp. You’d think people working in a hardware shop would want to repair this.

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Zane climbed out of his car. Outside, he looked around first, then quickly opened the buttons of his shirt, shrugged out of it, and threw it in the back of the car. Next, he pulled his spare off the hanger behind his seat. According to the shop assistant, the color complimented his eyes and the cut accentuated his broad shoulders and flat stomach. Or had it been his slim waist? Anyway, her words had been why he, contrary to his usual style, bought the periwinkle slim-fit button-down, knowing very well the woman would have said anything to talk him into buying the ridiculously expensive shirt. Together with the new black slacks, snugger than he usually wore, he felt a little as if he was playing dress-up. Great.

Leaving his coat behind, he grabbed his wallet, phone, and keys and quickly locked the car before he chickened out. Zane scanned his surroundings. The small street from last time had to be somewhere....

When he’d tried to find the supermarket slash drug store, he’d accidentally walked down a side street and somehow landed on yet a smaller street. That was when the rainbow sticker in the lower-left corner of one of the business's windows caught his gaze. He’d found Laurie’s. A gay bar. They had an actual rainbow flag fluttering merrily in the wind.

Since that day, he’d been... some would say a bit obsessed with the place. At home, he’d checked their website. There were lots of photos. Laurie, the owner, was a burly guy with blond curls tamed by colorful bandanas. In most of the pics, he wore a tight black t-shirt with the bar’s logo, a green leaf, on his broad chest. They had two pool tables in the back, darts, and a patio. The people sitting at the wooden bar or in the booths looked happy, relaxed, as if they were having tons of fun.

He’d looked at every photo many times, sometimes picturing himself sitting at the bar, or playing pool with the guys in the pics. Here he stopped. He was feeling like a stalker.

The streets were almost empty. Most people were probably at home having dinner with their family. It was a little early for the bargoers.

The corner ahead looked familiar. When he peered down the small street, he spotted the little rainbow flag billowing in the wind. I can do this.

Finally standing in front of Laurie’s, Zane almost turned around on the spot, abandoning this ridiculous plan, when the door was suddenly pushed open and a surge of music and spent air came from the inside. The man leaving was backlit by an aura of warm yellow light. He smiled and winked at him before he passed him.

I can do this.

After running his hand through his hair once again, briefly tugging at the short strands on his neck, he pushed the door open. He would have a drink or two and then go home without any consequences.

From their website, Zane knew the wooden corner bar was straight ahead, dominating the entrance area. To the right were cozy booths, where people could tuck in and hide away in semi-darkness to talk or enjoy a slow drink. In the back were two pool tables, a dartboard, and the entrance to a patio.

Pretending he belonged, he casually climbed one of the swivel stools and leaned his elbows on the polished mahogany bar top. There were only a few patrons present at the moment. At the end of the bar sat a man in a grey knit sweater in a houndstooth pattern. He wore a dark homburg accented with a silver hatband and topped with a matching feather. In front of him stood a coffee mug and an empty shot glass.

“What can I get you, honey?” Startled, Zane looked up when he heard the question. And there was Laurie. His hair was a bit longer than in the photos, and he had a bit of a beer gut at closer look. When their gazes met, the man’s milk coffee-colored eyes twinkled. His breath hitched.

Is he flirting with me?

Zane’s gaze flickered over the mirrors and the large back bar, stocked with all sorts of liquor, until it fell on a chalkboard that announced several beers with funky names: Oopla, Twisty, Big Green in rounded writing. “A-a Dragon’s Breath?”

Laurie grinned. “Are you ordering or asking for my formidable beer matching skills?”

He was right. There had been a definite question mark after his order. Zane blushed. “Um... I’m asking?”

Now Laurie laughed out loud. “Are you sure?” Then he tipped his head and squinted his eyes at him. “Do you trust me?”

Zane shrugged. “Well, you are the expert as you just pointed out, though... yes. What do you recommend?”

Laurie turned around and grabbed a bottle from the fridge under the bar, opened it, and put it in front of Zane. “There you go.”

Zane took it in his hand and studied the label. It looked as if a child sketched a leaf with a neon green sharpie on black carton.

Trying to hide his nerves, he took a large gulp. Not bad.

“Good?”

Before he could find a witty answer, sweater-guy called and lifted his empty shot glass, demanding another. While Laurie went to the other end of the bar, Zane swiveled around, relieved the bar owner’s attention was focused elsewhere, and he perused the rest of the room. The black and white chequer-tiled floor was gleaming in the light coming from the bar.

The walls were covered in timber paneling and stucco. Mirrors in the backroom created a sense of openness and allowed Laurie to watch what was going on there. Sneaky.

Two men sat in a booth on the left, holding hands across the table. One had his head bowed down, listening intensely to his friend, nodding sometimes, while he talked to him with a serious expression.

Laurie was busy with the hissing and sputtering coffee machine. It looked as if sweater-guy ordered another coffee.

Maybe it was time to leave. Mission: Take a look accomplished.

At that moment, the door was thrown open and a large mixed group came in, laughing and shouting, shoving at each other. Three men and one woman immediately beelined for the bar and called Laurie’s name to serve them. A guy in a battered, black leather jacket backed into him, not bothering with an apology. The rest of the men, most of them in colorful biking gear, went in the direction of the pool tables. It seemed they were trying to outdo each other with ludicrous stories of their recent biking escapades.

In a short time, Zane was sandwiched between Leatherjacket and a guy in a muddy, skintight mustard-yellow t-shirt. Instinctively he spread his arms to claim his spot. When Mustard-boy jostled him, almost making him drop his bottle, he gingerly shifted away.

I should go now.

Then he caught sight of a man standing in the narrow hallway leading to the restrooms. His thick thatch of hair looked almost blue under the overhead lamp. Pirate. When he tilted his head to the side, the light glinted off his black-framed, square glasses. A subtle smile appeared on his lips as if he was thinking of some secret only he and Zane knew . A tingle ran down Zane’s spine; electricity sparked beneath his skin. He froze mid-motion. Beer half down his throat, he nearly inhaled Laurie’s special brew, narrowly avoiding spraying it over Mustard-boy’s back. His eyes watered, and he quickly set down the bottle. In his haste, he missed the bartop. Could he look any clumsier if he tried? Heart pounding, Zane looked up, trying to gauge the man’s reaction to his blunder.

The man was gone.

Disappointed, he sank back into his seat. His fingers clenched the empty bottle. One look. One skip of the heart. One glimpse at the possibilities of what could have been. If this was the reaction he got from making eye contact with a hot guy....

He kinda always knew. There was thinking and wondering, and kinda knowing and... knowing.

Of course, to KNOW, he’d have to work up enough courage to... see if he was attractive enough to attract. He was making this too complicated again, as usual.

It wasn’t so bad, being alone.

Besides, that man was probably looking at Mustard-boy in the barely-there t-shirt, or one of the two men who’d been talking in the booth. Why would he pick a clumsy loner in a too-tight shirt out of all the hot guys in here?

Well, he’d had his drink, he’d seen a guy who made his spine tingle, he’d nearly dropped his drink… Now it was time to head home. He nodded to himself. He’d done what he said he would. Time for another round of three months of he might be—

“Can I buy you another one?” Zane inhaled deeply. Sea salt and leather. He felt the presence of a hard body more than he saw it. The scent, green and sun-warmed wood, sails snapping in the wind, endless skies, reaching behind the horizon, made his skin prickle in anticipation. Briny air flooded his senses, disintegrating all his tension.

Holy shit.

His instinct told him to run and lean into the body's heat at the same time. He was frozen to his chair.

Then, someone bumped into him hard. Leatherjacket was trying to balance a large tray, overflowing with varied drinks, and bring it to his buddies. A beer bottle swayed precariously. Before it could topple off. Zane caught it reflexively.

“Thanks, man.” Leatherjacket grinned and lowered the tray. “Take what you want.” Surprised, Zane grabbed the closest drink, an obscure green goo in a tall glass.

“It’s tapioca pearls, green Chartreuse, lime Kool-Aid, and green tea, in case you wondered,” a rumbly voice sounded, and a wisp of breath touched his ear.

Zane shuddered.

“What? Swamp Frog’s Spawn isn’t your thing?” Leaning against the bar, the pirate smirked.

He was close enough for Zane to see dark hair peeking out from beneath the two top buttons of his crisp, white shirt. He was tall. Sitting on a barstool, Zane had to dip his head only a little to see into clear seafoam-green eyes.

Zane gestured to leather-guy, saying the next thing that came to mind, ”It’s gotten crazy in here all of a sudden.”

“The Knight Riders meet on Thursdays.”

“The night riders?”

“The local mountain bike club.” The man pointed at a banner hanging on the wall in one of the booths over pictures of men and women riding their bikes on different trails: some through pine forests, others jumping from rocks, through creeks, and even a small waterfall.

“The local mountain bike club meets here?”

The pirate grinned. ”The local gay mountain bike club.”

Zane instantly flushed red, wishing to melt and become absorbed by his seat.

“This isn’t your normal scene?” The pirate looked at him, his head tilted to the side.

“Not really, no.” Zane chuckled. “I wasn’t planning to stay this long.”

“I’m glad you did.” He leaned on his elbow and let his gaze wander over Zane’s entire body slowly.

He didn’t know where to look. The bar top suddenly became extremely interesting. Nervously, he ran his finger over its beveled seam. “I became distracted.”

“Oh?”

That made him look back up and meet the man’s gaze. The lights of the bar accentuated the angles of his dark stubbled cheekbones and the lines of his jaw. From the distance, he’d been piratey handsome. Up close... Zane’s stomach flip-flopped.

“Is this your first time?” The question was asked very gently.

Zane barked out a laugh, then quickly looked away again, suddenly fascinated by the many bottles on the shelves behind Laurie. For a moment, it had felt as if his heart had stopped. “Is it that obvious?”

“Well, I saw your eyes going wild when Laurie flirted with you. I thought I might have a better chance with you than he did, but... Now, I’m thinking I might be the first guy who has ever asked to buy you a drink.” He looked at Zane questioningly.

Zane swallowed, then he pushed himself to answer. “Not the first guy. The second.”

“Was my offer unwelcome?”

He’s giving me an out. Zane lifted his chin. “No. It was welcome. You’re right, though. I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing here. I’ve never done this before.”

“What did you come here for?”

How could he answer that? The question was asked with genuine curiosity. Not aggressively or pissed. “I ....” He what? Came here to meet gay men? To find out if he was attracted to men? If men were attracted to him? Could be interested in me? Inside his head, this had made perfect sense. Spoken out loud, he would probably sound like a creep. Besides, deep down, he’d already answered the first question, years ago. He knew he liked men, too?

Sometimes, when he’d seen a handsome man at a party, he’d imagined himself going over and talking to him. Giving out all those small signals he’d learned to send to an attractive woman. So many times, he’d been lying in bed later, bemoaning all the missed chances. It stole his sleep and fueled his dreams.

Had his what-if concocted a mere fantasy? Could reality measure up?

“I just wanted to know,” he said quietly.

For a long moment, time seemed suspended. Then, the man held out his hand. “My name is Fenix.” His smile turned roguish angles into gentle curves. “If you’d like, you can ignore the green glob, I’ll buy the next round, and we can chat for a while.”

Swirling pools of soothing, cool water, green glass, and a promise. He has kind eyes. Zane free-fell into Fenix’s gaze. Sudden howling and cheering from the back room pulled him back. “I’m Zane.” He took Fenix’s hand. His skin was warm, callused. His long fingers clasped his, their grip firm, reassuring. Then Zane remembered he hadn’t answered Fenix’s question. “I’d love to have a drink with you... and chat some.” He pushed the swamp drink away.

Fenix lifted himself on his toes, and looked around. ”Greg and Andy are leaving; let’s take their booth.” He grinned at him and grabbed Zane’s arm. “Before someone else snaps it up.”

For a while, they talked about everything and nothing, working through one round. Fenix loved baseball and hockey. Zane liked hockey too but admitted he wasn’t actually the sporty type. “In school, I was on the swim team. I was fairly good, but only because I didn’t want to be written off as the nerdy numbers juggler.”

“Written off by whom?”

Zane played with the corner of the label of his beer bottle. “By... It was all about being on this and that sports team at my school. If you were decent on at least one of them, you could be good at maths without being pestered or ridiculed. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t harassed or bullied, beaten up, or whatnot. It was just easier to go with the flow, I think.”

Fenix watched him, those clear green eyes focused entirely on Zane. Then he said, “You like numbers?”

“I do; I’m an accountant.”

“What?”

Zane closed his eyes. Shit! And here you go.

“I’m an accountant too. That’s why I’m here tonight. I was doing Laurie’s books and taxes!”

“Really?”

“Really.” Shaking his head and smiling, Fenix got up and gestured in the direction of the bar. “I’ll get us another round.”

During the next beer, or in Fenix’s case, scotch, the conversation veered back towards the topic of why they were talking.

“Are you, just curious, or....” Fenix’s eyebrows rose questioningly up, and he took a sip and waited while Zane stared into his bottle.

Or…’ I think. I mean, I’m curious, but it’s more than that. I think I’m... I’m finally at a point in my life where I can say I like men. Sexually, I mean.” He shrugged. “And I want to know.”

“So this isn’t new,” Fenix stated.

“No.” Zane exhaled. “I’ve been curious since I was a teenager. I shoved it away when I was younger. Coming out in high school where I lived was out of the question on several grounds.”

“A gay number juggler.”

“Something like that. Then later... Maybe I’m a coward. Maybe I shouldn’t say this out loud here. I mean you’re gay and out and you’ll think—”

“I’m not judging you. I’m genuinely curious that’s all.”

“At my first job at an ad agency, there was a guy who was fast-tracking to a top position. Everyone admired him and wanted to be his buddy. Then he came out in the middle of a pitch. He didn’t get the contract. He was out faster than you can say gay. There was talk like he wasn’t tough enough to power through, pushing the other competitors away; he was too soft, too feminine, which was total bullshit. He was tough as nails. He had several female colleagues who were extremely successful. What about their female side? It wasn’t logical. Thing was, they questioned his masculinity, even the bosses. This was utter idiocy on so many levels, but no one cared. On the contrary, they were like vultures, ripping him and his reputation apart. It had nothing to do with his professional competence. They took his sexuality and used it as a weapon against him.

“I had these plans, things I wanted to achieve, positions. What happened to Andras threw me off track. For a long time, I was sure my goals were impossible to accomplish if I were gay. I decided I wasn’t, and that was that.”

“What changed?”

“I only started thinking about finding out for sure in the last couple of months.”

“And tonight you felt it was the night to explore your sexuality? Here at Laurie’s bar? On a Thursday in Warrington?” Fenix’s lips twisted.

Zane winced. “A few months ago, I had to leave the highway when my headache was getting worse. When I got lost while looking for a shop that had painkillers, I found the bar by coincidence.

“I looked the bar up on the internet. I made a plan—”

Fenix snorted.

“I know, I know.” Zane grinned. “Make fun of my brilliant, strategic brain.” He took a sip from his bottle. “Anyway, I thought I’d grab a drink and look around, test the waters. If I was lucky, I might catch the eye of someone.” Zane averted his eyes. “Baby steps. Small steps. I know it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. Everyone has their own way and time. I wasn’t as organized as you, when I came out.”

Zane chuckled. “Organized?”

“For whatever reason, I decided Thanksgiving would be the day. I was so nervous, I ate too much and puked on my grandma’s prized flowerbed. My uncle shoveled it in the garbage bin, gave me a bitter, then a second, and got in a fight with my mother about it. Half drunk, I told the whole family I was gay; not the most sophisticated way, Iet me tell you. The most memorable Thanksgiving of all time.”

Zane snorted. “Wow.”

“Right? Your approach is much more, um—rational. Others get stupid drunk, all their inhibitions fall to the wayside, and they land in bed with a colleague or a friend, because at that time it feels safer than some random person. Next morning though, it seems like EVERYONE suddenly knows, they panic. This can ruin friendships, work relationsh—” Fenix waved his hand. “Well all kinds of -ships and a person’s mojo for a long time. I’ve seen it all.”

“Well, thank you, I guess.” He rubbed a stain on the table. “Organized is much better than... My grandmother always says I tend to overthink stuff, conjure problems. I plan and re-plan, make myself crazy with obstacles that aren’t there yet.”

“Does your family know?”

“No. No one knows.”

“Do you think they would...react badly?”

“No. They wouldn’t disown me or anything, but they wouldn’t be happy, especially my mother, and it would change their perspective on me.”

Fenix swirled his drink before taking a sip. His eyes were wide with expectancy. “How so?”

“My brother had a friend. It was as if they were under the looking glass all the time when they visited. Or an attraction at a carnival, not a mere friend. As if they were expected to show some queer quirks or something, so the others could smile knowingly. I don’t want this for myself.”

“I can see what your grandmother meant with conjuring up problems.” Fenix grinned.

“Yeah, yeah. Luckily, this brain bug of mine only appears when I wrestle with personal stuff, otherwise my boss would have probably fired me after my first week.” Zane grabbed the laminated menu and played with it. “How’s the food here?”

“Normal bar stuff. Fried everything.”

“Hm....”

Fenix set down his empty glass. “As you’re feeling this adventurous tonight—”

Zane froze.

“I know this tiny hole-in-the-wall place close by. They invented fusion food years before it became a thing. There are only a few tables, and the dishes change every day. I’m doing their books. I negotiated a meal to be part of my salary.”

“What kind of food?”

“Polish. With a dash of Korean and sprinkles of Cajun.”

Zane smiled. “I happen to like Polish food. Sounds like a wild mix, though.”

Fenix beamed, turning the full force of his breathtaking smile on Zane. “Let me take you on your first date with a man, Zane.” He held out his hand.

It was exactly how Fenix had said. Five square, wooden tables, each arranged with four chairs, all of them occupied, but one, which had a reserved sign. A tall woman named Gabbi came over immediately when she spotted Fenix, kissed him and hugged him. She snatched up the reserved sign and winked at them. “Reserved for special guests.” While they ate, Fenix told Zane the restaurant’s story. Bron emigrated from Poland together with her two children, Irena and Leo, after the war. As she was a very good cook, she got a job at a Polish restaurant. After a few years, it was hers. Irena fell in love with a Korean cook, who was promptly disowned by his family. Leo traveled the country, met Gabbi, and the menu was expanded with Cajun food. “Nowadays, Bron is eighty-nine, the matriarch of an entire clan, and great-grandmother of a bunch of children, and almost every-single one works at this restaurant.” He pointed at their table. “This is her table. She still comes down to chat with the guests every evening.”

“Wow.” Pleasantly full, Zane yawned around his last fork of poppyseed cake. “What a story. Someone should write a book about them, and the food was awesome.”

Fenix touched Zane’s hand. “You’re tired. Where are you parked?”

Zane yawned again. “Sorry.” He quickly hid his wide-open mouth behind his hand. “It’s been a long day, and the food was plenty.” He patted his stomach. “The lot in front of the hardware store.”

A few minutes later, they stood beside Zane’s car and Fenix slipped a card into the pocket of Zane’s shirt. Then he placed his hands on his shoulders and brushed his lips over Zane’s mouth. “Text me when you arrived safely?”

 

[Zane]:

I got home okay.

[Fenix]:

Thank you.

...

 

[Fenix]:

When will you be here?

[Zane]:

Sixish.

[Fenix]:

Can’t wait.

 

Copyright © 2021 Aditus; All Rights Reserved.

Thank you for reading By All Accounts. Please consider to leave a reaction and/or a comment.

A big :thankyou: goes to @Valkyrie for her expert editing and empathetic beta-reading, as well as to @Parker Owens for his wonderful suggestions. :hug:

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Chapter Comments

On 6/11/2021 at 2:58 PM, Valkyrie said:

I really enjoyed this story.  Zane's plan worked out pretty well, since he ended up meeting Fenix.  I think they'll complement each other nicely :)  And I really want to go to that restaurant!  Great job, Wolfie :) 

He was pretty lucky meeting Fenix. I would go to the restaurant with you an buy you dinner. Thank you for your help. :hug:

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23 hours ago, headtransplant said:

Your honest descriptions of Zane’s nerves and tendency to plan made him endearing and relatable.  It’s sad that so many moments in Zane’s life added up to make him feel so uncomfortable about his sexuality, but such is the world we live in. Also, I love that his first thought when he saw Fenix was Pirate. Very nice work. 

Your honest descriptions of Zane’s nerves and tendency to plan made him endearing and relatable. Thank you, this means a lot to me. :)

...but such is the world we live in.  Even in 2021, yes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

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11 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

This brought so many memories with amazing clarity, well done and very enjoyable!

Thank you, for this comment, drsawzall, I'm happy you liked my story.

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  • Site Administrator

Thank you very much for this story, Aditus :worship:

In a way this story appealed to me, but for a different reason. I am the total opposite of a planner. Although Zane talked himself into going, my crystal ball showing me everything that could go wrong more, usually has me chickening out. So I liked this story as it sort of instills a feeling of hope :)  

I’ll be honest, I’ve never walked into a gay bar alone.  Maybe this will put a good thought in my head 🙂

Thanks again. 

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5 hours ago, wildone said:

my crystal ball showing me everything that could go wrong more,

Yep, my crystal ball would explode.... I was very proud of Zane.

I'm glad you liked the story. :)

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Nice vignette of Zane’s life. I really felt for him being hemmed in at the bar. I’ve been there many times, hoping someone doesn’t spill their drink on me. I thought Zane might might bail at any moment, but I’m really the the story brought in Fenix. And I love the optimistic texts at the end, hinting at a happy ending.

Thank you for sharing.

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