Smile Upon Me...
by Winter

Chapter 4

After lunch, Nate insisted on taking me shopping, so he could replace the clothes I'd lost. I tried to talk him out of it, but it turned out to be impossible to change his mind. Like he'd said, he was persistent. I wasn't used to midday meals of that calibre, and felt too stuffed to get in the car again. Instead, we took a walk, and I set the pace for my favourite shopping centre. Again, Nate got stubborn, and led me to a place I'd never seen before. Collins and MacArthur Haberdashery had a very discreet front, but once inside, it became clear to me what kind of a store this was. What was on display was the kind of things you'd wear to the Nobel Prize ceremonies. In my t-shirt and jeans, I felt ridiculously out of place, like a pitbull terrier in a maternity ward.

"Nate," I whispered, "let's make our way calmly to the exit."

"Chill, will you? Have a look around."

"These price tags are novel length. You'd need a dozen credit cards just to buy a tiepin."

"Classy stuff, eh? This, my friend, is Quality. Capital q. Thought you wouldn't recognise it. See anything you like?"

"Once again, the exit sign. Nate, you can't be serious!"

"You'd look dashing in this grey Armani."

"Nate, it's a four digit price. The instalments would wreck my budget."

"Only if you paid for it." I had noticed that a distinguished, elderly gentleman was discreetly following us around the store, and distracted as I was, I had to ask Nate to repeat his last sentence. "You won't pay for this, Chris."

"No way! You're not telling me you're replacing my worn bluejeans with this!?"

"You prefer this dark brown one, instead? It does bring out your eyes."

"Don't change the subject! I'd look like an Italian football player."

"With a pot belly."

"With a pot b... That's beside the point!"

"What do you say, Mr Collins?" Nate turned to the slim, grizzled man. "Wouldn't he look fine in an Armani?"

"Indubitably, sir. Perhaps, if I may suggest, a discreet, lighter grey tone?"

"Chris, this is Mr Collins, the owner of this establishment."

"Nice to meet you," I automatically said. "You're the founder?"

"Ah, no," he chuckled. "That would be my forefather. I am fifth generation Collins to supply gentlemen with quality wear. The original store was on Baker Street, in London."

"So, Chris, how `bout it? Light grey?"

"Nate, please, let's go. I'm sorry, Mr Collins, but my tastes simply aren't exclusive enough for me to frequent your store."

"Understandably, sir, no offence taken. As many as would but can't, can but won't."

Bidding Collins a polite good bye, I ushered Nate out of the store, not really able to understand why he was grinning so. My hands on his shoulders, I steered him towards the shopping centre. As we walked across the half-empty parking lot, he turned around and gave me a light hug. I backed out of it, blushing slightly.

"Chris, you are one in a million!"

"Why so?" I straightened my shirt, acting as if nothing had happened. "What are you talking about?"

"You're refusing a chic new Armani suit, and now you're pushing me into a mall to buy a three-pack of t-shirts and a pair of brandless jeans."

"Don't forget socks."

"Right. Why?"

"Cultural clash. Nate, I could stand you burying me in one of those, because by then I probably won't care, but you'll never see me wear one."

"But honey..." he pleaded. "What about our wedding day?"

"Well, you wear what you like for yours," I replied, determined not to let him faze me. "Me, I'll wear a rental dress suit for mine."

"I give up! Come on."

We spent the next couple of hours at the shopping centre. Normally, I'm not overly fond of shopping for clothes, but we had a good time nevertheless. Quickly overcoming his initial qualms against low-price stores, Nate ended up buying more than I did, even excluding the clothes he bought for me. After a raid to the best bookstore of the place, we sat down at a café. My feet were tired, and if I judged his contented sigh correctly, as he sat down at the table, so were his. We sat there for well over an hour, talking as we drank our coffee. Nate told me about growing up in the middle of Chicago, about his friends and how he'd seemed to breeze through school without much concern. With grades that could have got him into any of the larger universities, he had greatly disappointed his family by choosing to study computer programming. It had worked out well, however, and he admitted that he was rich, wealthy, financially secure. As contrast, I leaped into my story of the countryside boy who went into the big city with the dreams and ambitions to become something big. I got through college on scholarships, working like a slave to keep my grades high enough, while at the same time taking a lot of side jobs. Eventually, I had graduated, and got a job more or less the day after. Getting comfortable with it, I had stayed on ever since. Perhaps not the most exciting of lives, but one I felt comfortable with. We talked about hobbies and interests, about literature and music, finding both differences and common ground. We both loved to read, but where I stuck to my favourites, he was a frequent guest at the town library, skipping from genre to genre, wading through tons of trash to find one pearl. We both loved heavy metal music, but where he was eighties-spilling-into-nineties, I was seventies-spilling-into-eighties. After I had refilled our mugs a second time, Nate let out a sigh, his fingers drawing little circles on the surface of the table.

"What's wrong?" I asked, adding sugar to my coffee. "Just realised what a proper education could've made of you?"

"No, Chris, I'm quite happy being a non-graduate millionaire."


"Heh. I just realised what's the missing x in the equation."

"Care to enlighten me?"


"Nate, we've been down that road, and it's a dead end."

"Seriously. I just told you my life's story, and it seemed so empty. If it'd been a movie, I would've wanted my money back."

"Oh..." I felt at a loss for words, just when the feeling hit me with full force. He was serious. We'd told each other everything, yet there was nothing to tell in the way of love. We were both single, neither for lack of trying. Every encounter fleeting, every relationship brief. He felt empty, and so did I. "Maybe you're just waiting for the right guy."

"And you, for the right girl? Chris, that sounds like hollow excuses." He sipped his coffee, grimacing as if it had been bitter. "I don't believe in the right guy. I just want someone I can relate to. Someone who would love me. Not my money, not the sex, just me."

"That's deep. I guess I never looked at it that way."

"No? Which is your way then, oh guru?"

"Trusting luck, I guess." I realised I was telling the truth, and it turned my coffee bitter, as well. "I'd meet girls, hoping they'd be Ms Right, then break up when they weren't. That's the opposite of deep, isn't it?"

"Well, deep or shallow, neither works, right? Drown or float everything by."

"Another deep one. Do you write poetry, Nate?"

"Yep. I'd let you read it, but some of it's quite erotic in nature."

"Don't worry, I'm a tough one to upset."

"Erotic as in male erotica."

"Try me. I watched all of Queer as Folk without cringing."

"I didn't. That show was awful! So stereotypical it made my eyes bleed! Whoever wrote that doesn't live in my world."

"Isn't that odd, Nate? I liked that show, and you hated it."

"I don't think so. I mean, I can enjoy straight romance on the screen."

"While there are romantic movies I hate. Point taken." I blushed. "I need to work on my prejudice."

"No, you don't. It's honed to perfection."

When we left the café, it was already half past five, so I invited Nate in for supper. I had some fresh vegetables in my fridge, so I made a light salad, and we ate while we watched some TV. The good mood from the morning was kind of ruined. I had never thought of myself as shallow before, but now I realised that I would be quite heartbroken, if anybody treated me like I'd treated some of my pseudo-girlfriends. Nate and I didn't talk much, and I guessed that he had similar thoughts. I had a feeling he might scare away some of the guys he wanted to get closer to, by being so serious about their relationships, but I didn't really feel like saying anything. I wasn't sure how he would react to unwanted advice. At seven, he got up and left, but not without a hearty good bye, and a promise that we'd stay in touch. I told him I'd like that, that I felt I had found a true friend in him. He smiled at me, hugging me briefly before he went home. I returned to the couch, not really watching the night's shows as I slowly but surely thought myself to sleep.

On Sunday morning, the weather was back to its usual grey clouds and rain. Last night's talks still had me a bit down, so I didn't really feel like doing anything. Instead, I turned on my computer, answered a couple of e-mails, then worked for a while on a side-project of mine; an idea I had to start an on-line based advertising agency, to specialise in advertising on the web. On a whim, I decided to look up Nate's company's website, and started a search, since I'd forgotten the name. It didn't take me long to surf in there, and I quickly found a brief biography over the founder himself. There was little there that I didn't already know, but one thing caught my eyes. It said that he had been rejected by his family, disowned because of his homosexuality. That was the one piece of information he'd held out on me last night, and I could understand if it was too painful to talk about. Poor Nate! I felt a stab in my chest when I thought about it. At seventeen, the biography stated, Nate had come out to his family, and more or less immediately got thrown out of his home. The break was total. They hadn't even allowed him to help paying for his mother's hip surgery. His openness had caused several business contracts to go down the drain, as well. No wonder, then, that he had been so happy when I accepted him as he was. I decided, then and there, that I would do everything in my power to be a good friend to him. The biography mentioned his e-mail address, so I left him a note asking him to join me for lunch on Monday, at the Italian restaurant Il Palazzo. That was my usual place for eating lunch, and it lay about halfway between our office buildings. I reminded him to bring an umbrella. After that, I felt much better, and I decided to laze the day away, huddled up in my best reading chair with a novel and a pot of coffee. I thought about calling Nate, to ask how he was feeling after all the gloominess last night, but at the same time that I wanted to be his friend, I was afraid to intrude on him. He hadn't mentioned any plans for the day, but I felt certain that he would be out on his own. He wasn't the type to sit still. Or so I thought. If I had known how upset he really was after our talk, I would have rushed over at once, to comfort him. If I had done that, I'm quite certain that things would have turned out differently. For a start, I would still be his friend.

A short chapter this time. I'm already at work with part five, so it shouldn't be too far away. Life's been kind of busy lately, while inspiration took a dive, that's the reason for the delay. As always, thoughts and comments are more than welcome, to Thanks a lot to all of you who have written and shared your thought, both by e-mail and by reviewing at Nothing so warms the heart of a writer, as to know that someone reads his stories.