I was sitting in the bar a few weeks later, killing time and waiting for Brad, when Jake walked in again. He didn't look so good. But he seemed almost relieved to see me. I should have wanted to run when I saw him, but for some reason I stayed put. He was emotionally draining, and he had asked a lot from me considering I was basically a stranger. But something in me cared. I felt for the guy. I really did. Sure, he'd done some dick things, but no one was beating him up worse about it than he was.
I'd been where we was. I never took it as far as he did, but I'd told the same lies, hurt people I loved in the same way. I wanted to help him. I wanted to see him figure it out. So I let him pull up a stool next to me.
"Jesus, Bob. I'm surprised to see you here," he started. "Actually, I'm not. Not really. But Bob, I can't believe I'm seeing you again right now. Can I just thank you for -- well, can I buy you a beer? Do you have some time?" I nodded. Brad wouldn't be off work for another hour or so.
"Listen, thanks for keeping everything I said the other night quiet. It really means a lot to me. Really... Well, shit. When I asked if I could buy you a beer, what I really meant was, can I buy your ear for a bit more? You can say no. I know it's a lot to ask, but something's come up since we last spoke. Something, well, something only you would understand." I could only nod again.
"I broke up with Claire today. Just now actually. That's why it's weird that I'm seeing you. I just came down to the bar to get out of the apartment for a while. She didn't want to look at me, and I couldn't bear being around her. So I left, and here you are. Strange coincidence.
"I never really believed in coincidences before. You know, like the power of coincidences? Like maybe they're the universe trying to tell you something. Do you believe in that kind of shit, Bob? I know it sounds stupid. I used to not believe in any of that stuff. But lately, I've been thinking there's maybe something to it. Not just because of right now, of you being here, but because of everything that's happened lately.
"I bumped into Peter. Can you believe that? Not a week after we last sat here talking. Isn't that weird? That's weird. I hadn't seen the guy in three years, hadn't even really let myself think about him for more than a second. And then I start thinking about him all the time, and I open up about him for the first time to anyone, and a few days later the universe puts him in my path.
"I don't even know why I spilled my guts out to you that night. What happened? How did we end up talking like that? I guess Pete had been popping up in my mind more often than usual. So that's probably why it finally came out. But believe me Bob, the way I've been talking to you, that's really out of character for me. I normally keep everything locked down tight. Maybe I'm tired of that, I don't know. Maybe I'm finally ready to confront reality or something. I feel a bit older than I used to. Maybe the universe saw that and decided I was ready to have Peter back in my life again. Or maybe it's all just a cruel joke.
"I was out to dinner with Claire at this little place called the Blue Garden. Have you ever been there? It's good, a little kitschy, but good. Greek fusion. The calamari's amazing. Anyway, Claire and I go, or I guess I should say used to go, fairly regularly. I've never bumped into anyone there before that night.
"I didn't even know Pete was living in town. But sure enough, just as I was finishing up my mousaka, in the midst of having a completely pleasant time with Claire, I looked up across the room to see this couple of guys being seated. The blonde hair caught my eye first, and the tall frame. It was unmistakably Peter. I knew it before I even got a clear look at his face. I couldn't keep my eyes off him. I was definitely staring when he finally settled in and looked up. Our eyes locked. I know that sounds cliched, but it happened. It always happens with the two of us, like we can't possibly ever get enough of each other.
"The feeling's so strange. It's like the whole world melts away, and it's just him and me. Just like back when we were teenagers on that basement couch of his. When I saw him there that night, Claire was gone, his date was gone, the whole restaurant was gone. All there was was him and me and my pulse and my breath and the little hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
"He broke the gaze first, and then stood up quickly from the table, heading off in the direction of the bathroom. I can't really explain it, but it was like I was compelled to follow. I couldn't help it. I didn't want to miss another chance with him. I'm sure Claire must have notice something was up. I mean, first I freeze, and I then bolt without a word. That's not exactly usual behaviour for me.
"I arrived at the bathroom a few seconds after him. The Blue Garden has single room bathrooms, you know? Just for one. No stalls. Just a small room with a toilet and a sink. I got there as the door was closing behind him. I don't know why, but I couldn't help it. I pushed it open and went right in after him, locking the door behind me. I had to be near him. When that door closed, it was just the two of us again. He looked kind of pissed at first, for a second. He didn't want to see me there. I think he'd slipped away to the bathroom with the hopes of composing himself or something. My presence there was certainly not going to help him do that.
"I thought he might to yell at me, lose it on me. He looked ready to, and I was ready to take it. But he didn't say a word. I'm sure he had plenty of things he wanted to say. I mean, I certainly did. But no words came. We just moved past them, like we understood each other with only a look. I knew how he was feeling. I think he knew what was going on in my mind. We were locked on to each other. It was completely unavoidable, just as it had always been. We were on each other in a matter of seconds, kissing lips and faces and necks. I was on fire. My whole body was ignited. I'd forgotten how alive he makes me feel.
"But good sense kicked in after a couple of minutes. Actually, I don't know if it was good. But it was some kind of sense. I remembered Claire sitting upstairs at that table, alone. I remembered our apartment and her small hands, and I cut it off. I had to. It physically hurt to do it, but I had to. I couldn't stay like that with him forever. Not like that. I mumbled something about my girlfriend waiting for me and excused myself. He looked pissed again, and I don't blame him. It's not like it was the first time I'd left him hanging for some girl. What can I say? I'm a dick.
"I went back to Claire, apologized, told her I was suddenly feeling a bit sick. Pete followed me out a few minutes later. I tried to ignore him as we paid the bill and quickly left, but I couldn't help but shoot glances at him from across the room on my way out. He looked tense. He was visibly trying to pretend I wasn't there. I hate that I left him like that. I didn't want to, but I had to deal with Claire.
"I wish I could have talked to him, told him how sorry I was about the way that I treated him all those years ago. But the timing was wrong. I couldn't do that in the bathroom of the Blue Garden. But it sucks that I once again had to push him away. I'm so stupid. I didn't even think to get his number or give him mine. I just ran away.
"I guess in the grand scheme of things, the situation's no worse now than it's ever been between the two of us. It's just fresher than it's been in a while. I mean, I didn't create any new problems. I just pulled the same shit I always used to pull, the same shit he would expect from me. There's nothing I can do about that. I do feel a bit guilty about ruining his date, though. The guy was pretty cute. He should be allowed to date cute guys without me getting in the way.
"When Claire and I got home that night, she rubbed my head and made me tea and generally took care of me. She thought I was sick. I let her carry on that way. I shouldn't have, but I needed some kind of comfort. Wasn't that horrible of me? Letting my girlfriend comfort me because I was heartbroken over someone else.
"After that night, I could barely look Claire in the eye. I realized then that I would have to leave her. Not because I wanted to. Really, if I could choose who I loved, I would choose Claire. I want the life I could have with her. I want that future. But I care about her too much to use her like that. She's great, you know? I could never be the husband she deserves. I could only ever love her second best, and that's not fair. That's not right.
"It's frightening thinking about what I've essentially just given up. I don't mean Claire specifically. I mean the whole idea of me having a normal, straight life. I see now that I'll never find a woman who is enough for me. When I was in Peter's arms again, I realized that I would never love a woman the way that I still love him. But I'm confused, because I don't know if it's just Peter that gets me going like that, or if another man could fill his shoes. I mean, I've never been with another man other than him. I don't know what it's like. It'd probably be alright, you know. The sex would be good. The idea of fucking a guy turns me on.
"But I don't want another guy. I just want Pete. Maybe it's not fair. I've probably idealized him a lot over the years. But he's the only person I want to be with. I genuinely think he's the love of my life. I wish I hadn't been too stupid to see it back when I still had him.
"So I ended things with Claire. It was actually a lot easier for me than I thought it would be. I thought that maybe I'd regret it. But I don't feel any regret right now. I feel free. I feel relieved. I feel like I finally managed to get off a train with broken brakes or something, like I was barreling towards disaster until now. The ironic thing is I used to think that with Claire I was choosing the safe route. I hated hurting her like that, though. Knowing that she couldn't really understand what I meant when I told her I couldn't love her properly. How could she? I didn't tell her the whole truth. I couldn't. Not yet. I don't really know what the whole truth is.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do to be honest, where to go from here. I'm scared. I don't know what these decisions mean. I'm certainly not ready to run down the street screaming for all the world to hear that I'm gay. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I have to go after Peter. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied until our relationship gets given an honest go. Maybe it won't work out. I don't know what I'll do then. Shit, maybe I'll end up alone for the rest of my life. I still think that might be better than living a lie. I hope Peter's willing to give me a chance. I've fucked up pretty bad when it comes to him. I think I may have blown it. But maybe not. Maybe this is our time. Maybe I'm grasping my chance. What do you think?"
I just stared him, not really sure what to say. I'm a romantic at heart. I really wanted to believe in the true love he thought he has with this Peter guy. It was easy to believe in it, the way he talked about it. But the guy seemed like such a mess. I couldn't help but think he was just the type of person who gets easily caught up emotionally. Anyway, I told him I thought he should go after Peter. Mostly because I didn't want the story to be over. I felt for him, and I wanted the two of them to end up together. It seemed right.
After a while, he shook his head at me in disbelief. I don't think he could believe what he had just told me. Or quite what was happening to him inside his head.
"Jesus Bob, you know more about me than my own mother. I'm sorry to lay all this shit on you. I mean, you hardly know me at all. But it's good to share all this. It's like saying it makes it realer. Which I need. I need it to be real, to be out there. I can't keep hiding inside my own head forever. Man, it's been a really weird month. Listen, Bob if you ever need anything, here's my card. Seriously, man. I think I might owe you my life." I took the card he offered and slid it across the table. Jacob Myers, C.A. I slipped the card into my wallet.
We sat and talked for a while longer. Not about anything important really. Mostly just about how he was feeling. Excited, but scared about being rejected. And scared that he wouldn't even be able to find Peter. And sad about hurting Claire.
We downed a couple more beers and I tried to act encouraging. In some ways, I felt like I was maybe betraying Claire. I knew her first after all. But I barely knew her, and something about Jake just made me want him to find happiness. I was beginning to feel very invested in his search. So involved that Brad surprised me when he showed up. I'd forgotten that I was waiting for him.
"Hey babe," Brad said as he slipped a protective arm around me and kissed me on the forehead. "Sorry I'm late."
"No problem, bubz," I said. I hoped he didn't notice my surprise. He sat down next to me on the wooden bench of the bar booth. I motioned towards Jake.
"I've just been talking to Jake, here. Jake, this is my boyfriend, Brad." They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, assessing each other from across the table. I knew Brad well. He was checking to see if this guy posed a threat. I hoped that it was obvious he didn't.
Jake was visibly shaken by Brad's sudden appearance. I guess he didn't like the idea that he might have been overheard or something. He had, after all, just been sharing his deepest secrets. He left pretty quickly afterward, placing enough money on the table to cover the drinks we'd each had, and thanking me again for listening to him. I didn't envy what he was going back home to.
"Who was that? He looked kind of familiar." Brad didn't seem to be on the offensive, just mildly curious. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had started acting jealous. Jake was a really good-looking guy.
I explained to Brad that he couldn't know him, that Jake was just an acquaintance, that I'd only just met him a few weeks ago. The information seemed to appease Brad, although I don't think he was entirely convinced that he hadn't met Jake before.
"Oh, by the way, I think PJ might be dropping by in a bit," Brad piped up after we had finished talking about Jake. I was glad to hear it, actually. I hadn't seen PJ in a while, and I worried about the guy sometimes. He was the type of person that just made you want to take care of him. Besides, he was like family to Brad. He was always welcome as far as I was concerned.
"It'll be good to see PJ. How's he doing, lately?"
"I don't know, actually. I haven't seen him since we went out for dinner a few weeks ago. And he was kind of acting strange all night. Real quiet. I don't know. I worry about that boy sometimes."
Deep down, Brad had a good heart. A lot of people didn't really see it in him, and sometimes wondered what I was doing wasting my time dating a guy like that. He could come off as a real asshole. And sometimes, I guess he was. But for things that mattered, his heart was always in the right place.
PJ was like a little brother to him. Actually, he was his best friend Dale's little brother. But he and Dale had grown up together and considered each other family, so that made PJ family too.
Brad took PJ under his wing when he moved to Toronto to go to school. Being 5 years older, he was already established in the city and was able to take the kid out, show him the town. The fact that they ended up having the whole gay thing in common really cemented their bond. Brad was there for him when he came out, and took him to meet other guys to help him get over the high school boyfriend who had broken his heart.
Brad really cared about him, and to be honest, I found it incredibly endearing. Of course, PJ was the type of person who was easy to care about. He had big, vulnerable brown eyes and a sweet disposition. He was handsome too. He was always a bit of a mystery, though. He should have had guys biting at his heels. But he was single a lot, didn't date much. To be honest, I think he was always a bit lonely.
PJ showed up about half an hour after Brad did. He seemed quieter than usual, like he had a lot of things on his mind. There seemed to be a lot of that going around today, guys in this bar with heavy things going on between their ears. PJ didn't really say much until Brad started to prod the words out of him.
"So how you doing lately?" he started. "You seemed really quiet that night when we went out to dinner." PJ blushed a little when he said that. He embarrassed easily. I guess there really was something up with him.
"Oh. That..." he trailed off for a moment before continuing. "I just -- I just saw a someone I hadn't seen in a while. It brought back some old memories." Brad was ready to back off after that. PJ had had a hard time for a while when he was in university. He'd had his heart broken really badly, and had partied a bit too hard for a while when he was trying to get over it. I guess he had been depressed. It had taken a couple of years, but he eventually got his head screwed back on tight. I think he was embarrassed about that period of his life. He didn't much like to talk about it.
I could see Brad accepting that it was those same old issues that had surfaced again, and deciding not to push. Something was starting to click in my brain, though. Something that seemed a little impossible. I knew I was probably wrong, but I had to ask.
"Where did you guys go out for dinner that night, anyway?" I asked. Innocent enough question.
"That Greek place I'm always telling you about, baby," Brad piped up.
"The one who's name you can never remember?" I said with a smirk. Brad was terrible with names.
"Ya, that one. Help me out, here, Peej. What's that place called?"
"Oh, The Blue Garden."
I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I never really knew what that felt like until that moment. I'd always just taken it as a figure of speech. But it's a real feeling. And it was one I couldn't help experiencing as I was overwhelmed by the strange coincidences that my whole night seemed to be wrapped up in.
I needed to know something else. Something I was actually embarrassed to realize I didn't already know, considering how long I'd known PJ for. Over two years. I felt stupid asking it, but I had to be sure.
"Hey, PJ, random question. But I just realized something. I don't actually know your real name. What does PJ stand for?" Brad seem a little incredulous, maybe a little embarrassed that I was asking the question, that I didn't know. But all I knew about PJ was what Brad had told me. I guess he'd just never mention that.
"That was a bit of a non sequitur, Bob. I'm not too sure how we got from spanakopita to my name," PJ said with a laugh. I just shook my head and smiled. How could I explain it?
"I know Peej. You know I'm a bit of a ditz sometimes. But it just popped into my head."
"My name's Peter, Bob. Peter Johnson." The world started feeling really small right there in that second. Ridiculously, incredibly small. Little pieces started fitting together. PJ's lost high school love. His wild time in college after getting his heart broken. The Blue Garden. His name. His big brown eyes. It all fit in with Jake, with what he had told me.
"You okay there, Bob? Bob?" It took me a second to register what Brad was saying to me. I must have zoned out or something.
"Ya, I'm fine, bubz. Out of beer though." I gave my empty glass a shake. Brad's always had a chivalrous streak. He got up and went to get me a new one, leaving me alone with PJ. With Peter. All I could think was that if he had showed up half an hour earlier, he would have found me sitting with Jake. It was all so strange.
I remembered what Jake had said earlier about coincidences. About how he had never believed in them until recently. I was beginning to agree with him. It was almost like I was supposed to have met Jake.
"PJ, I have something I want to give you, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea." I knew it was maybe for the best if I didn't interfere. I knew Jake had the ability to do a number on PJ, to fuck him up. But I also believed that it was possible neither of them would ever be fully happy unless they were together.
"What is it, Bob?" I hesitated for a moment then fished out my wallet, found the small white rectangle in the card pocket where I'd slipped it just an hour earlier. My hands were shaking a little as I handed it to him. I was worried what he might say, worried that I might be wrong, worried that Jake would break his heart again.
"A business card, Bob?" He said it with a glint in his eye, laughing. Like he thought I was just being strange. But he became visibly paler as his eyes scanned over the small bits of print.
"Where did you get this, Bob?"
"He gave it to me. An hour ago. He was sitting just where you are." PJ just stared at the card in silence for a moment. Then he slipped the card into his pocket, wrapped his scarf around his neck, and shrugged on his coat.
"I have to go." He brushed passed Brad as he was arriving back at the table with a fresh pitcher of beer. "Sorry," he added quietly. And then he was gone.
"What happened?" Brad asked. I just shrugged. What could I say?