“It seems like people like to keep you waiting,” the hot bartender says as he leans forward in another perfectly tight t-shirt. I’m abstaining from sex after what happened two weeks ago, but who says I can’t still indulge in some eye candy. And damn, I’ll be high on sugar tonight. “What will it be? Water while we wait, or something else?”
“I’ll take you up on that water,” I reply. I need to stay sharp tonight. I’m back at the bar where it all started. Why? I’m hoping to run into him, Ali, Alistair, Cameron – whatever name he goes by now. I want to know more. I need to know more.
Last week, after his bombshell comment – that I betrayed him – he dropped another – that he would never get any answers because I was dead! I was shocked. I had no idea what to say or how to respond. And I didn’t get the chance. At that exact moment, the pizza guy decided to show up. It was such awful timing. I went inside to grab my wallet, and when I came back, he was gone. True to his word, he didn’t come back to bike club this morning. But I wanted him to be there. I wanted to ask him what the fuck he meant! How did I betray him? That makes no fucking sense! And why the fuck does he think I’m dead!?
All week, I’ve been consumed by his comments. Some days I feel like I should just forget about it all, because clearly, he’s probably still trying to mess with me. Then, I think maybe he really is that delusional and doesn’t know who I am. At the end of the day, I need to know. But I don’t know where to find him. I figured he might come back to the bar with his douchebag friends, but so far, an hour in, and no luck.
“Another water or are we ready for something stronger?” the bartender asks as I swirl a straw in my now empty glass. I’m about to say I’m going to take off, but before I can answer I hear a familiar voice.
“Whatever you do, don’t presume to know what he wants to drink. But I can say with confidence it’s not beer.”
For the first time I’m actually relieved, or not disappointed, to hear his voice.
“Hi …” I say turning in my chair.
“Hey. Sorry, I um, I didn’t mean to interrupt. Just thought I’d say hi. I’ll go.”
“No, no, no, that’s okay, you didn’t interrupt,” I quickly respond.
“Good, I’ll um, see you around I guess.”
“Wait!” Shit, he’s leaving. “I could use some help figuring out what to get. You can pick. Anything you want.”
He looks at me quizzically. I don’t blame him. I pretty much told him last week that I don’t want anything to do with him. Yet here I am, clearly inviting him back into my life. He looks back at his friends who are waiting impatiently. “You guys go on; I’ll join you in a second.” When they leave, he turns back, eyebrow raised and says to me, “anything?”
“Then how can I say no?” He waves over the hot bartender. “He’ll take a vodka tonic.”
“And for you?” the bartender asks.
“Um, I’ll order at the table, that’s okay.”
“And leave this guy here to drink all alone?” the bartender asks. Oh, how perfect you are hot bartender.
He looks back at me, unsure what to do. “No, of course not, I’ll take a … hmm … I’ll take the same.”
“No beer this time?” I ask when the bartender is gone. He’s still standing. Clearly, he hasn’t made up his mind whether to stay or leave.
“No, I figured I tortured you enough last time.”
“True, but you saved it with your company,” I say.
Again, he looks at me quizzically. “Sorry, I’m a bit confused. Last week it seemed like you weren’t too thrilled with my company.”
“Yeah, about that, I um, I just felt it was a bit fast and I didn’t –”
“It’s fine,” he says cutting me off. “I know I was coming on a bit strong. Joining the bike club and then coming to your apartment was wrong. I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.”
“It was a bit much, which freaked me out a bit, but we’re okay.”
Alright, now how do I get him to talk? Will thinks this is a crazy plan. He thinks I should just tell him the truth, that I’m clearly not dead, and that I didn’t betray him. I could do that. It is the more sensible plan. But I’m worried that if he knows my true identity – which he may already know – I won’t get the real truth; I’ll get some made up version. I don’t like lying and playing games like him, but I feel I have no choice.
“So … um …” I start when we get our drinks, “how’s that MBA coming along?”
He just shrugs. “It’s fine, I guess.”
We both fall silent, that playful banter we enjoyed two weeks ago is gone.
Okay, so that didn’t work. My next two attempts at sparking a conversation also fall flat. Also falling, the amount of liquid in his glass.
“I should uh, get back to my friends,” he says when he finishes his drink. He places money on the table, enough to cover both drinks, before getting up. “It was um, nice to see you again.”
Fuck. I’m losing him. I really didn’t think this through.
“I was betrayed by my first love too,” I desperately blurt out as he starts to walk away. He stops and turns around.
“I was also betrayed by someone who I thought loved me when I was younger. I also never got any answers.”
“Oh … I’m sorry to hear that,” he says still standing. “Speaking from experience, I know how much that sucks.”
“It does. I still think about him a fair bit,” I add.
“Yeah, so do I.”
“I tried to forget. I got rid of most things that reminded me of him. But I see you kept that watch.” I threw out his letters, but I kept the keys to the shed and lockbox. I still don’t know why I kept those.
He looks down at his wrist. “Yeah I um … I did.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you keep it?”
He looks unsure. “I don’t know if I can answer that without a stiff drink.”
There is my opening. I gesture towards the empty bar stool he just got up from. “Next round is on me.”
He looks back at his friends, then at the bar stool, then me. He pauses for a moment. He’s clearly thinking. In the end, he chooses the bar stool. When we have our new drinks in hand, I start my inquiry in earnest.
“It’s a nice watch,” I say.
“Yeah … I thought so too. I don’t know why I kept it … I just … yeah, I don’t know.”
“You also got the tattoo,” I add hoping that will get him to talk.
“Yeah, that too.”
Guess not. He’s clearly struggling to articulate his thoughts. “Start from the beginning, how did you meet Jamie?”
He chugs down half of his drink before starting.
“It’s weird … all these years later ... I still think about him but I … I rarely talk about him. Very few people know this story … so it’s … it’s still … um … very personal … but um … I guess it all started when I was in high school …”
I know all the details already. He tells me he is from the wealthy Easton family, and grew up in Cedar Creek. He explains how the town was divided into two – the rich west, and the poor east. Jamie was his pen pal from the east. He claims he wrote Jamie all those letters (that’s not what his friends told me!). He says he told Jamie things no one else knew; he felt he’d found his first true friend. He explains that’s why he bought Jamie the watch, because growing up he was always told the way you show affection is through expensive gifts. But, he says, it all came to an end when his dad found the letters. He was forced to stop writing. A month later, he was able to meet Jamie. He tells me about riding bikes, the accident, and the kiss at the hospital.
“It was a brief kiss, but honestly, I think it was the best of my life. I was over the moon that night. I had a feeling Jamie felt the same way, but I wasn’t sure. Heck, I didn’t even know if he was gay. He didn’t know that I'm gay. But I took a chance. The moment just felt right. And when he kissed me back, fuck, it was amazing.
“But that feeling didn’t last long. I thought I would sneak back into my house, but when I got home my parents were waiting in the living room. They knew I was at the hospital because my dad had me followed. They knew everything. I got into a huge fight with my dad. My mom tried to talk some sense into him, but he wouldn’t listen. He said I could never see Jamie again.
“I was furious. The next morning, I got up early and left before anyone could stop me. I knew I couldn’t go to the hospital without my dad finding out, and I didn’t want to create any more trouble for Jamie. I thought I’d see him after he was discharged. So instead, I drove down to the city. I knew it would be harder to follow me there. I went straight to a tattoo shop and got the tattoo on my back.”
“To annoy your dad?” I ask.
“Yes and no. My dad hates tattoos and it was my way of saying fuck you to him, that I was never going to stop seeing Jamie. But also, just a way to show my appreciation to Jamie. He saved my life again, and I wanted him to know that I really cared for him, and that I meant it, when I called him my lifeline.”
This is way more difficult to hear than I thought it would be. I just thought he’d make up some dumb lie. But instead I’m starting to feel uneasy, to doubt the reality I once knew. What he just said sounds true. That kiss felt real. What I saw in his eyes that night felt real. That is the Ali I thought I knew. But it’s still so different from my lived experience. So many questions are swirling in my head. Why did he keep the tattoo? What does he mean when he says I saved his life again? But above all, how did I betray him?
I pick the simplest questions. “So, what happened next?”
“It all fell apart,” he says. “When I got back from the city, I drove to Jamie’s house, but no one was home. I risked it and went to the hospital, but he wasn’t there either. But my dad’s stupid lapdog was there and said I needed to go home. I reluctantly went back. When I walked into the family room both of my parents were there. They said we needed to talk. It was weird, my dad wasn’t angry like he was the night before. Rather he was being oddly protective, and he’s only like that when he feels like the family’s reputation is on the line. That’s how it felt then. My dad told me the full story of how he came to find out about the letters. It wasn’t just any worker who found them and gave them to my dad ... it was Jamie’s father.”
And here it seemed Ali's dad was the only villain. Maybe not. Or perhaps Ali or his dad are lying.
Also, why does Ali think Jamie is dead? Or is that too a lie?
What to believe ... who to believe ...
Leave your thoughts, theories, feedback and comments below. Until the next chapter!