Old Man and Rent arrived first. Both of them recognized the knowing looks, the time-honored practice of being sized up, but neither much cared. When Old Man was still a priest, a place like this meant a drink in the darkest corner, hoping to hook-up quickly. Tonight he had reserved a center table where he’d proudly sit all night alongside the most gorgeous man in the room. A bawdy singer was wrapping up Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody as Old Man ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon.
On his own time, Rent never drank champagne as it went to his head, but this wasn’t his fantasy.
Boy spotted Rent the moment he and Girl entered. Without having to look any further he knew he was the most gorgeous man in the room. Boy was too much of a sapling to be subtle. “Look! Look!” he said to Girl.
“He’s so….pretty!” said Girl, not meaning a compliment.
“Just my type!” said Boy.
Boy ordered a screwdriver and Girl a Scotch and ginger ale. It was some time before Boy acknowledged there was someone sitting with Rent. “Who’s he with?” Boy asked Girl. “His father?”
“His grandfather!” Girl snorted. Boy knew Rent was out of his league, ordinarily, but Old Man made things feel relative, and Boy’s confidence swelled. Girl downed her drink too quickly and ordered another (she would end up in the ER the next morning with alcohol poisoning, Boy holding her hand).
Old Man was amused by Boy, particularly by his undisguisable naiveté. “He wants you,” Old Man told Rent. Rent smiled and nodded. “It’s cute, actually. He’s so, so young and stupid; it hasn’t even for a millisecond crossed his mind the nature of our arrangement. He’s beside himself that you appear to have very low standards.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Rent.
“Oh?” asked Old Man with a laugh. “What do you find attractive about me?”
“To start, you seem smart.”
“I am smart. But I am also hopelessly careless.” Old Man motioned for the waiter and whispered to him.
Moments later, a bottle of champagne (surely not Dom Perignon) arrived in an ice bucket stand at Boy and Girl’s table. “Compliments of the gentlemen at the center table,” said the waiter. Boy was beside himself.
“That is so cool!”
“It kind of is,” said Girl, playing along.
Sufficiently encouraged by Girl’s reaction, and overcome with a need to play out a scene as though in a movie, Boy rose from the table and approached Old Man and Rent.
“Thank you so much!”
“You’re very welcome,” said Old Man.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said to Rent. “No one’s ever sent me champagne before.” He cleared his throat to make way for what would surely pass for suave: “But I…we… could only enjoy it if we could share it with you.”
“We’d be delighted!” said Old Man. “Please, you and your friend should join us.”
“I got us invited to his table!” Boy told Girl, gathering their things for the impending move. As he began to drag the champagne stand across the room, the waiter mercifully intervened.
A shockingly thin drag queen began to sing Son of a Preacher Man as they sipped their champagne (Girl also continued ordering Scotch and ginger). When Rent excused himself, Boy followed.
Old Man smiled at Girl. “It seems our companions are about to do some navel-gazing, while we are stuck with one another.”
“He’s not gay,” said Girl.
“Just a phase?”
“And when he’s done with this phase, you’ll be there?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Depends.”
Old Man smiled. “Good for you. Never lock yourself in. Whatever you want in the end, I hope it works out for you, dear. I really do.”
Meanwhile, Boy entered the stall behind Rent.
“What are you doing?” Rent asked.
“This,” said Boy, taking a handful of Rent’s crotch.
“Don’t do that.” Utterly embarrassed, Boy released him.
“But, I thought you came in here so….”
“So I could pee. That champagne is going right through me.” Rent smiled. “I’m flattered, but I already have a date for the evening.”
“That old man? You can’t be serious!”
“He’s a lot more attractive than you right now.”
“Oh my God!” said Boy, backing out of the stall. “You’re so right. I’m being so mean! Why am I being so mean?”
“You’re what? A sophomore at NYU?”
“From the Midwest? Maybe raised Catholic? Don’t be in such a rush. These bars aren’t going anywhere, and if they do, new ones replace the old. And gay sure isn’t going away. Relax. Enjoy.”
Back at the table, Old Man proposed a toast. “To old friends,” he emphasized, “and new.”
Boy clinked glasses and smiled.
Rent put down his champagne flute without taking a sip.
Girl’s head fell forward and she told herself everything was fine, just fine.
Old Man drew the glass to his lips, and then stopped to add with a wink: “The blood of Christ.”
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. His stories have appeared in several online and print journals, including Bartleby Snopes, Bop Dead City, Crack the Spine, Johnny America, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. As a small child he thought he might like to be a priest, and went about chopping down trees in his backyard to build a church. His father was not amused. Later, he thought he might like to be an actor, which is like a priest only with sanctioned sex. He lives in Astoria, NY and Asbury Park, NJ with his husband, Mike, and their Keeshond-mix rescue, Aine. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com.
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