"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" was the song that got to me that night. Something about a truly heartfelt rendition of that particular tune always tugs on the emotions during this time of year.
The local gay bar was half empty, but it's the holidays, so I expected as much. I wasn't really there for a hook up or anything. I was mostly looking to be alone, and to get a few mixed drinks from a bartender that knew me and my tipping habits well enough to add a few 'heavy pours' to my glass. I don't want to say that I was feeling down...I just didn't see the need in feeling 'up'. My Christmas spirit has faded over the years. Little by little, the holiday blitz had lost its luster. Lost its meaning. What used to excite me and warm my heart had now become a bunch of statistics on a TV screen, end of the year corporate reports about how much money they were able to sucker the rest of us into spending on one another. TV shows and movies all hoping to cash in on an obligatory emotion that doesn't really exist anymore. I hate to say it...but the 'business' side of Christmas has watered the season down to the point where it's just hard to recognize it as anything more special than your average day off from work. It might as well be Arbor Day.
"You gonna nurse that drink for a bit longer, Ted? Or do you wanna gulp it down and have me fix you another?" The bartender asked me.
Feeling that familiar pressure in my loins, I swallowed what was left in my glass and told him, "Yeah, I'll take another. Thanks. I'm gonna hit the bathroom."
"It'll be waiting for ya when you get back, bud." He took the empty glass, and started on a carbon copy of my last drink, but I couldn't help but to wonder if his tone of voice was one of sympathy. Did I imagine that? I'm NOT depressed, dammit! What's with the idea that everybody has to be beaming with 'giggles and wiggles' twenty four hours a day to prove to the world that you're ok?
As I made my way through the dimly lit bar, I managed to briefly catch sight of a kid that almost looked like he didn't belong there. He was definitely worth a double take, but I didn't want to be caught staring. I'm a few countable months away from turning forty. The last thing I need is to reinforce the whole gay 'chicken hawk' stereotype by drooling over some pretty twink in a gay bar. I barely gave him a second thought, pretty as he was. But I did notice that he was alone. Probably waiting for a boyfriend who was even hotter than he was. Or so I would assume.
Either way...none of my business.
I passed his table, and his eyes met mine. It was very brief, but his bright brown marbles seemed to pull you in the second you made contact with them. Yikes! Eyes that pretty could be dangerous if he decided to use them for evil intent.
I just nodded, and he nodded back. A little smirk appearing on his boyish lips as I kept walking. Who's ever meeting up with him is one lucky son of a bitch. That's one of the kids in high school that you always thought was too damned CUTE to be gay, and thus...not even worth the effort of embarrassing yourself, trying. What is a guy like that doing in a gay bar? Crazy.
I did my business, washed my hands, and looked in the mirror as I suddenly felt the need to check to make sure I was well put together before exiting the bathroom again. However, despite my deliberate evasion of making eye contact with the boy I had passed before...I heard him call out to me. "Coach Alders?"
'Coach'. Wow...I hadn't been called that since I stopped working at the high school a few years back. I turned around to see those beautiful Bambi eyes staring at me with a grin. "Hello?" I said, confused.
The boy smiled wide. "Omigod! I KNEW it! I totally called it!" He grinned. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, he asked, "Do you remember me?"
I could have lied and said yes, but after taking a closer look, he was just familiar enough to make me curious. I said, "Should I?"
His pretty face was suddenly colored with a bashful blush as he said, "It's me. Jaylen. Jaylen Connors. I was on your track team. They nicknamed me 'Rocket', remember? Hehehe!"
Hearing his name suddenly gave his appearance focus. The blur of this random face in a bar had instantly come alive, my recollection bringing this young beauty back from the recesses of my mind and charging up towards the forefront. "Rocket? Oh wow! Ok, sure. I remember you. How the heck are you?"
He stood up, his height allowing him to now see me, eye to eye, when I remembered him being at least six inches smaller before. His voice much higher than the sensual bass it had adopted now. I was going to shake his hand, but he went in for a tight hug instead. He seemed really glad to see me.
"I can't believe this. Oh man...I just...I just knew it. Ugh!" He said.
"I knew that you were..." He started to say something else, but changed his mind, and recovered by saying, "...That you might be in a place like this."
With a tilted grin, I said, "A gay place like this?"
Jaylen blushed. "Yeah." Then he fidgeted for a minute, and he added, "Not to be insulting, but I just...I kind of assumed. It was always in the back of my mind, like...is he really? Hehehe!" He looked down at the floor, and giggled to himself. "Sorry."
"No need to apologize. I just didn't realize that I was giving off any signals. That's all."
"Everybody gives off signals. Whether they know it or not. You can always tell in the long run if you're paying attention."
I nodded and smiled at him. Geez, his eyes were SO inviting! I almost felt a dedicated 'crush' forming in the pit of my stomach, just from having him talk to me. Then again, he always was one of the pretty ones.
I decided to cut things short and let him get back to his normal life, as well as me getting back to my own. "It's damn good to see you, Jaylen. Happy holidays to you. I hope to see you around some time."
But he stopped me, saying, "Well...wait! I mean, do you wanna come sit with me for a little bit? Have a few drinks?"
"Won't I be intruding?" I asked.
He was confused. "Intruding? Intruding on what?"
"Aren't you...? I just assumed that you were waiting for somebody?"
"Hehehe, no. I came here by myself." He said. "It's Christmas break. I've only got one roommate in college, and he has a super clingy girlfriend and a variety of unhealthily obsessive study habits...so I've kinda gotten used to feeling like I had the dorm room all to myself. First time I've ever experienced something like that. And now I come home to both parents, my grandpa, and my two little brothers...I never knew how busy that house was until I spent a few months away from the madness." Jaylen gave me a warm smile, and he said, "I came here to get away from the noise for a while...but I'd love to have some company over here. Unless you're waiting on somebody..." He added.
"Well...no. Not necessarily."
"You're not leaving any time soon, are you?"
What was I going to say? 'I'm on my way out'...and then go back to the bar and drink right in front of him? Besides, what could it hurt to engage in a little chit chat before heading home to mindless TV reruns and solitude?
"I might stick around for a little bit longer..." I said.
Before I could fully get the words out of my mouth, he eagerly blurted out, "Great! Come sit with me, then! We can catch up!"
Well...alright. Hehehe! I guess it's better than swilling drinks alone and listening to holiday tunes about being with friends and family. "I've got a drink waiting for me at the bar, so...let me grab that first, and I'll come back and join you. Alright."
"OK!" He said, a bit more excited than I thought he should be. "Ummm...this is awesome. I'll be right here when you get back."
"Sounds like a plan." I told him, and he sat back down, his knees practically bouncing under the table as he anxiously awaited my return. I have to say, running into him tonight had brightened my mood. NOT that it needed brightening...he just...he...well, whatever.
I went up to the bar to get my drink and reached into my pocket to pay for it. That's when I noticed a wicked smirk on his face. "What?" I asked.
He snickered, and said, "Aren't WE ambitious tonight?"
"What are you talking about?" I saw him furtively nod in the direction of Jaylen's booth, and tilted my head, a slight roll of my eyes. "Oh please. It's not like that. The kid used to be on one of the track teams I coached at the high school. That's all."
"Track team, eh?"
"Look, the place is almost dead. He's by himself, I'm by myself...we're just talking. We'll have another drink or two, and go our separate ways. Nothing more."
"Alright." The bartender said. "If you say so." Then he winked at me.
"Don't. Don't do that."
"Do what???" He grinned.
"Don't wink at me when you say that. Stop it."
"I wasn't winking."
"You were CLEARLY winking at me!"
"I was merely blinking...with one eye. Hahaha!" He said.
"You're the absolute worst, you know that?"
"Whatever, man. Drinks on me. And let the cutie know he can have one too if he wants one." I could have fussed at the bartender for another minute or too...but a free drink is a free drink. Best to keep my mouth shut.
Jaylen seemed sincerely excited about having me sit there with him and just talk for a while. And while I'd like to say that I was just being friendly for the sake of being friendly, he actually made for good company. He was energetic, blessed with a sharp sense of wit, and engaging in a way that I haven't been exposed to for quite some time. I mean, what was happening here? Dear God...was I actually having fun?
As much of an asset as Jaylen was, physically, on the track team, I could always tell that he was an intellectual at heart. He wanted to study Veterinary science and help sick animals get well again. A commendable pursuit, if I do say so myself. One that takes passion and dedication, both of which he seemed to be fully capable of bringing to the table. Between my curiosity and his, we managed to strike up quite the camaraderie in a short amount of time. It's not often that it's so easy to talk and laugh with someone who was basically a few strings short of being a minor acquaintance before meeting up with them again. Jaylen was intriguing to me. And his sense of humor seemed to only enhance his personality to the point where his stunning good looks almost ceased to matter anymore.
Almost! But not quite. Don't think that I didn't notice. Jaylen was even more beautiful than he was in high school. Taller, more well defined, with a flat stomach and a deep tone that bordered on being one of the most sensual voices that I had ever heard before. Just to let my eyes wander over the glorious features of his face was an erotic experience in itself. Yikes...is that my actual heartbeat? Or did they turn up the bass of the speakers on the Christmas jukebox over there?
We talked and laughed for the better part of an hour. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just casual conversation. I hadn't even really noticed how long we had been chatting until I had to get up and go to the bathroom again. I had to look myself in the mirror and wonder what I was even doing here. It might have just been a slight pinch of denial that was tugging on my heart at the moment, but I was definitely feeling something. A twinge of excitement that I was trying to put a muzzle on for the sake of guilt. I was obviously being overly ambitious, just like the bartender said. Losing myself in memories of what it was like when cute boys like Jaylen where everywhere, and all within reach. We were having so much fun just catching up like a couple of old friends...it seemed a shame to taint it with a few naughty thoughts. I should probably wrap things up in the next ten minutes or so. Let him go back to his adorable life and live the life that I missed out on when I was his age. It would be good for him, right? I only wish I could have been so lucky.
Times change. Public perception shifts towards compassion and understanding instead of outrage and rejection. Jaylen's whole attitude and carefree aura gives me hope for the future. It really does.
When I came back to the booth, there were a couple of extra drinks waiting for us. I gave Jaylen a sideways look, and he responded with a gentle blush and a stifled flurry of giggles. "What? I can grab us a round or two, can't I?"
"I don't know. Can you?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I think I owe you a few. You were the dopest coach ever, after all. It's so cool to be able to do something like this. I mean...that was like, what? Six? Maybe seven years ago?"
I looked him in the eye, and I said, "It was more like three years ago. Three and a half, tops."
A moment of silence.
Jaylen avoided my eyes as he looked down at the table, and pretended to stir his drink with his straw. "Good memory..." He mumbled softly.
"Yeah. Good enough to know that only makes you 19." I said, getting him to bashfully peek up at me before letting his eyes search the room to see if anybody else heard me say that.
With a sigh, he smirked and said, "Busted." Soon adding, "Look...you're not gonna rat me out are you? Come on, man. It's Christmas..."
"Relax. I'm not going to rat you out. They let you in, and that's got nothing to do with me. I wouldn't make a habit out of doing this though. You're not exactly passing for 21, you know?"
"Oh no? Then how did I get us these drinks? How did I get past the guy at the door?" He grinned.
"Trust me, Jaylen...it's not because you were fooling anybody. " I chuckled. "You just happen to be really good for the 'atmosphere' in a place like this."
"Yes. An extremely cute guy like yourself brightens up the whole place. You draw attention, and therefore you're good for business. I'm sure they knew what they were doing." I said it slightly in jest, even though I'm sure that's what happened tonight. But as Jaylen giggled to himself, his face turning an even deeper shade of red than before...I realized that I might have said too much.
"You think I'm extremely cute?"
"Don't let it go to your head, kid."
"Unh unh...you said extremely cute. I heard you. Don't take it back now."
Quickly changing the subject, I asked, "So...who gave you the fake ID?"
"What do you mean?" He said, trying to put on an innocent face.
"Are we going to beat around the bush about this now?" I asked. "Come on. Show it to me. Let me see it."
He bashfully reached into his right pocket and pulled out an ID that, to be honest, looked ridiculous. Hehehe! Really? I mean, it was his face and all, but this was obviously made for cheap. Then I looked at the name. "Willie Armstrong?"
He laughed out loud at having me say it. "I came up with the name myself."
"Gee, really? I can hardly tell." I snickered. "You might as well just call yourself 'Sir Strokes-A-Lot'."
"Well, it was either that or 'Hugh G. Rection', but I thought that one might have been too obvious." He said.
"Oh sure. Best to play it subtle." I said with a sarcastic slur. He laughed again and I was happy to join him. His laughter was contagious. Something about it was so genuine. So graceful. And when the laughter died down...our eyes met for a moment, and we both felt the need to look away. Me before him...for the record.
"Can I ask you a serious question?" He said.
"I guess so. Shoot."
He seemed a little embarrassed at first, but he was determined to ask anyway. "When I was on the track team...and you were our coach...did you ever, like...'think' about any of us?"
"Think about you in what way?" I asked, causing him to send a mischievous smirk across the table.
"Are we gonna beat around the bush about this?" he asked, mimicking my previous comment. "You know what I mean."
I said, "You were 15 years old."
"That, SO, doesn't answer my question. Hehehe!"
"Yeah? Well, it should." I told him. "For most people, that would be a deal breaker."
"And for you?" He asked.
"A definite deal breaker, indeed." I said.
"Too bad." He took a sip of his illegal drink, and asked, "Do you want to know if I ever thought about you?"
"Not really important, Jaylen. It's in the past, so..."
"Because I did. A lot. I guess you would call it a boyish 'crush', but...you know...hormones and all." Immediately, the comment made things a bit awkward...but I can't say that it was in a bad way. Just...awkward.
The table fell silent again as I tried to find some way to respond to that. Not to be hurtful to Jaylen in any way...but hopefully not flirtatious enough to lead him on...and I also didn't want to ignore his feelings or his big confession as if it didn't matter. What do I say? Do I laugh it off? Do I attempt to change the subject again? Can I find a successful segue from him 'thinking about me' as a teenager on my team to maybe...I don't know...the weather?
"You know what? I've gotta hit the bathroom. Don't go anywhere, ok? I wanna talk some more." Jaylen said, and he nervously sprung up from his seat to hurry off before I could react to his offer for me to stay.
I sat there for a moment, and tried to silence the thunderous pounding of my adrenaline filled heart as fantasies of the unthinkable began to flood into my mind. I just KNOW that I'm misinterpreting this sweet and innocent admission of a past infatuation for something...'possible'. And I didn't come here for that. I'm sure Jaylen didn't either. What do I do now?
I need to wrap things up here. It's been fun, but...the reality of the situation is beginning to set in, and I should finish off this round of drinks and go home. That would be for the best.
It'll be a cool memory to relive in the future...having drinks with this hot, young, twink in a gay bar and sharing a few laughs with him over drinks that he was too young to purchase legally. But things like this are always better in theory than in practice. When he comes back, I'll start shutting down our conversation and make a calm and gradual escape. And that'll be it.
It's Christmas...and Jaylen sharing his night with me brought some of that heart and that hope that I was missing during this time of year.
I mean...that's all I wanted. Right?