The following fictional narrative is about gay men. If you shouldn't be reading this, please move on.
The author retains all rights. No reproductions or links to other sites are allowed without the author's consent.
As always, thanks to my Nifty Six colleagues for their love and encouragement.
Even though it was Saturday morning, the mall wasn't particularly crowded, at least not like it would have been back in Nutley. It wasn't like I had anywhere to go or anything to do, so I bought one of those hot, soft pretzels and a Coke. There were benches under the palm trees all along the main concourse, so I found an empty one and flopped on it. I set down the bag from Dillard's, where I'd just bought some new shorts and tees. After all, it's summertime all year long in Lake Polk, Florida, and I needed more stuff to wear to school.
I guess I'd better explain. Mom, Ned (her new husband), and I had moved here during the summer. Ned is a chemist, and he got a job with a big oj factory in town. Mom is an RN, and she got a job at Lake Polk Community Hospital. And, of course, they dragged me along. I wasn't quite kicking and screaming, but I sure as fuck didn't want to come. The few friends I had were back in New Jersey.
What made it worse was that I was out at my high school there, and I had some gay friends. And I didn't take a lot of shit for being gay. Oh, sometimes there were remarks, but bullying wasn't tolerated and most of the kids were pretty decent. To make everything worse, I'd had to leave Ben, my boyfriend.
And now I was at homophobe central. The high school here didn't even have a club for gay and lesbian kids. My folks (it's hard to think of Ned as family, but I guess he is) kept talking about how friendly everybody is in Florida. Maybe it's that way with the adults, but no one rushed to be my friend at the high school. If you were a guy and didn't play football, you didn't count for much. And if you were new, after the first week, everybody pretty much ignored you.
I'd played basketball at Nutley, and I planned to go out for basketball at LPHS. But I couldn't go around saying to everyone, "Hey, I'm going out for basketball in a couple of months." And I guess being 6'4' and 17 doesn't automatically say basketball anymore.
So, here I am, the new guy. The new gay guy if they only knew. And nobody to talk to or even just hang with. Which is why I was buying clothes on a friggin' Saturday morning. I mean, I woulda been happy just to have some other gay guy to talk with, even if he wasn't hot and we didn't do anything physical. You know, just somebody who knew what it's like to be gay.
Lake Polk has 12K people, they say. Doesn't that mean there should have been 1200 gay people? If so, they were all hiding deep in their closets, for around here everybody was so blatantly anti-gay you'd be crazy to come out. You heard remarks at school, at church, at the barber shop, on the street. Everywhere. Man, it was scary!
Mom and Ned both knew I was gay. Mom was okay with it. I think Ned wasn't, but he knew he'd have to accept me or Mom would have a conniption, so I think he managed to tolerate me.
But, like I said, there was just no one to talk to.
While I was sitting there eating my pretzel, I saw several groups of kids from the high school. Always four or five, usually all male or all female. None of them acted as if they recognized me, though I had classes with some of them.
I still had half my Coke left when I finished the pretzel, so I went back and got another. I had just sat down on the same bench when this old guy came walking toward me, talking on his cell. He looked around at the other benches, which were all taken, mostly with really old men who were probably waiting while their wives shopped.
I said this guy was old, but he wasn't REALLY old, you know?. He was wearing a short-sleeve polo with khaki shorts and Birks. He had a great tan. His hair was gray and he had a gray 'stache and goatee, but his legs were covered with black hair. And his calves were great. In fact, he was in fantastic shape for a guy who had to be in his fifties.
When he sat down, he looked at me, nodded, and smiled, but he went on talking on the phone. I heard him say, "I'm sitting near the pretzel stand, just a little way from Dillard's. I'll wait here for you." Then he paused while the person on the other end said something. He grinned. "Yeah, I miss you too. Get here quick, okay? Love ya, babe!"
He flipped his phone shut and stuck it in his pocket. So much for my gaydar. I'd felt almost instantly that this guy was gay. I wasn't thinking about making out with him or anything like that. Yuk! He was old, after all. But if he was "family," it would have been sooo nice just to talk with him. Oh well. I got up, picked up the bag with the clothes, and went to throw away my cola cup and the wax paper from the pretzels. I had to walk past the guy again to go to the music store where I planned to kill a little more time by checking out the new cd's.
As I passed him, he looked up, grinned, and nodded. He had the sexiest smile. His eyes were intense blue and I just felt like he'd be a really nice guy to know. Even if he was an old guy. Just someone to have as a friend, you know? I walked on down the mall toward FYE.
Doug flopped down on the bench beside me. We'd learned to avoid open displays of affection in Lake Polk, but he put his hand on mine briefly. My cock lurched, as usual, at his touch.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting, hon," he said. "But what are you doing at this end of the mall? The Wooden Spoon is down by the food court at the other end, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but I saw this bench and there was space on it, so I grabbed it."
"Sure there wasn't some hot guy on it?"
I stood up, so Doug did, too. We began to walk toward the kitchen store where we were going to shop for a sauté pan. By the time we got to the Hallmark store, I said, "Well, yeah, there was."
"Was what, babe?"
"A hot guy on the bench."
Doug grinned. "Yeah, what was he like?"
"Oh, just a high school kid, I'd guess. And he was cute."
"So you've said. So, go on . . . ."
"Well, he was tall, 6'4' or 6'5," I'd guess. He had nice, wavy, light brown hair. It covered the tops of his ears and was full all the way to his collar in the back. It flopped on his forehead, so he pushed it back once in a while. He had a pretzel in his hand most of the time, though, so mostly the hair just hung down. His eyes were sort of gray-blue, and he had a cute face. When I smiled at him he seemed embarrassed, but he returned my smile. He had dimples just like Mark's." (Mark is my son, who's going to law school at Yale.)
"Okay, hon, so he was cute. But you seem preoccupied by him. What else was there about him?"
"I've been trying to figure that out ever since he left the bench."
"Well, tell me this. Was he gay?"
I grinned. "Oh, yeah. If my gaydar hasn't conked out entirely, he was gay."
Doug chuckled. "I thought so. You wouldn't have been this concerned about him if he were straight, probably."
"Maybe not. And maybe that's what his problem was. He seemed sad. Maybe more like lonely. There were other kids his age walking past in groups. I saw him watching them, but they never paid any attention to him. If he lives around here, he must go to Lake Polk High, and that's not a big school. They'd be bound to know one another."
"Maybe he's just visiting Florida."
"Possible, I suppose. I know I'm guessing, imagining if you will, but I just feel as if I should have reached out to him somehow. I think he needed a hug."
"Come on, Stan. You know if you'd said anything to him, he'd have automatically thought you were a dirty old man coming on to him. Especially here in Bumfuck, Florida."
"And that's exactly why I didn't say anything to him."
I did a quick tour through FYE but didn't see anything I wanted. As I came out of the store into the mall, I saw that old guy from the bench. He was with another guy, maybe just a little younger than he was. They were going into a kitchen store. I was wrong about the older guy being straight. Though they didn't touch each other, there was no question from their body language that they were a couple. As I walked back to my car, I wondered how they had met. I thought how lucky they were to have each other in this place where it was not only unpopular but even dangerous to be openly gay. And I envied them so much I had tears in my eyes as I walked from the air conditioned mall into the blast furnace of Florida heat and looked around to see where I'd left my car.