Rob sat on the north beach of Lake Calhoun, soaking up the afternoon sun. As he lotioned his hairy chest and thighs, he envied people who tanned easily. After two months in the Minnesota summer sun, the closest match to Rob’s skin on the color wheel was light beige.
Alan had a great tan. It had been a month since Rob saw him in Dallas. He missed Alan, but knew their paths would probably never cross again. Rob felt like a fool for falling in love with a man twenty years younger. Skeptical of online romance, Rob’s friends had finally persuaded him to create a profile on gay.com. He ignored most messages, but the one from Alan caught his attention. Their first chat lasted six hours. A stream of bookmails followed. Impressed by the twenty-five-year-old Texan’s wit, charm, and good looks, Rob invested a great deal of time and energy getting to know Alan. They exchanged photos, chatted on webcam, and called each other regularly. Rob finally agreed to visit Alan in Dallas. In person, Alan was even more attractive. He was also annoying, erratic, self-centered, and thoughtless. He didn’t seem at all like the person Rob thought he knew. Still puzzled by the whole experience, Rob missed the Alan he knew before his trip to Dallas. Even though that Alan was apparently a fantasy, he still lingered in Rob’s memory.
Goldie, Rob’s three-year-old retriever, lay quietly next to him, hoping for some affection. As Rob began to massage Goldie’s ears, he spotted a jogger sipping from a fountain fifteen feet away. Tan, toned, and blond, he looked like a slightly older version of Alan. Watching the jogger lift a child for a sip of water, Rob was certain any similarity with Alan was purely physical.
Wiping a mixture of sweat and drinking water from his face, the jogger’s sweeping gaze landed on Rob and Goldie. “Beautiful dog,” he complimented Rob. “What’s her name?”
“Goldie,” Rob blushed, embarrassed he’d been caught cruising so blatantly.
Perking up at the sound of her name, Goldie glanced around anxiously.
The jogger approached, dropping to his knees beside Goldie. Her tail wagged expectantly. “Think she’ll mind if I pet her?”
“She’ll be damn disappointed if you don’t!” Rob warned the jogger.
“Had a retriever when I was growing up. By the way, I’m Matt Ramirez.”
Extending his hand, Rob introduced himself. Even though Matt didn’t look Hispanic, Rob decided it would be impolite to ask about his racial mix. “Where did you grow up?”
“Outside Fargo, a long time ago. Where’d you grow up?”
“A few miles from here,” Rob replied, “about a billion years ago.”
Pretending to be amazed, Matt asked Rob to reveal his antiaging secret.
“Not to brag, but I’ve developed my own concoction of white sugar, asbestos, lead, and rat feces. By combining the world’s most deadly substances, I’ve created a vaccine to retard aging,” Rob claimed proudly.
“That kind of logic is usually found on the walls of public toilets,” Matt smirked.
Rob nodded eagerly. “That’s where I got it!”
Matt patted Goldie’s tummy, then sparred playfully with her. Watching them, Rob realized he wouldn’t mind changing places with Goldie for an hour. With well-defined, angular features, high cheekbones, and thin lips, Matt had precisely the look Rob found most appealing.
“Your boss is not only cute, he’s funny!” Matt told Goldie.
“Usually, that kind of compliment is only found in public toilets,” Rob teased.
Matt frowned. “Hey, we’re everywhere now, not just bus depots and airports.”
“My apology,” Rob nodded graciously. “You could’ve given me some warning. A lisp, a rainbow tattoo, sequined Nikes.”
“Gay profiling?” Matt grinned. “S’pose you think I’m a waiter, hairdresser, or decorator.”
“Not at all!” Rob protested. “Gays are moving into other professions. Besides food service, personal grooming, and fashion, we’re also in architecture, financial services, and publishing. So, which is it?”
“Publishing,” Matt admitted grudgingly. “Okay, I’m a walking stereotype. Which one are you?”
“Publishing,” Rob laughed.
Pleased they had identified common ground so quickly, Matt asked, “What do you do? I’m an editor with a small publishing house.”
“I’m a writer with no publishing house, hence the modest lifestyle,” Rob replied with a sweeping gesture, claiming the beach as his domain.
“Ah, that explains why you live by the lake. Free drinking water, public restrooms, plenty of fish to eat.”
“It’s a great life,” Rob nodded, leaning back on his elbows. “Hard to find an outlet to recharge my laptop, but I manage.”
Matt mimed scribbling a note to himself. “Possible Christmas gift for Rob by the lake…extra long extension cord.”
Rob thought miming a note was cute. “Are we exchanging gifts already?”
Matt shook his head. “We’re still at the pretend-note stage of our relationship. If you don’t make your living writing, how do you pay the bills?”
“I owned a business with some partners,” Rob explained, reluctant to provide too many details. “Sold my interest to them a couple years ago so I can do the things I really enjoy.”
“How’s that going?” Matt asked.
“Pretty good so far,” Rob nodded. “What’s your publisher’s name?”
“DAM. As in Dave and Martha, the founders.”
Rob snickered. “When your IT department answers the phone, they say ‘Hello, DAM IT’?”
Matt nodded sheepishly. “Are you busy Saturday?”
“Saturday…” Rob muttered, buying some time. He wasn’t sure he was ready to date so soon after his disappointing experience with Alan. However, Matt was attractive, bright, and didn’t seem too full of himself. “There’s the usual. Coffee. Meals for me and the pooch. Coffee. Daily bike ride. More coffee. Grocery shopping. Wash the car. Coffee. Personal grooming, bath, check for bald spots, ticks, lice. Goldie, not me.”
“About a dozen trips to the bathroom after all the coffee?” Matt guessed.
Rob smiled patronizingly. “Very funny. If you add in four hours for pee breaks, I’m busy maybe eight hours on Saturday. Why?”
“Thought we could spend some time together,” Matt suggested.
“What’d you have in mind?” Rob asked coyly.
Matt inched closer. “Start with a meal at an elegant French bistro, take a leisurely stroll around one of the lakes, rent a movie we both like and curl up on your sofa to watch it.”
“You’re quite the romantic, Matt Ramirez.”
“After the movie we can rip each other’s clothes off and have hot sweaty sex,” Matt continued.
“Romantic slut,” Rob amended himself. “My kinda man.”
“For several hours,” Matt finished.
“And a dreamer,” Rob added.
“What?” Matt squawked. “Too long? I figured your Cialis was good for the whole day."
Indignant, Rob snapped, “What makes you think I have experience with Cialis or any other erectile product?”
“Just teasing….Thought it might get a rise outa you.”
Enjoying Matt’s humor, Rob looked forward to spending a day with him. “Very funny,” Rob conceded. “Let’s run the dating checklist first. Any lovers, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, transgenders, jealous exes, foreign or domestic, I should know about?”
“Nada, but I admire your thoroughness, Rob.”
“Tattoos, piercings, or other body alterations not currently visible?” Rob asked, peering more closely at Matt’s exposed flesh.
“All equipment just as it arrived from the baby factory,” Matt promised.
“Smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, felony convictions, unpaid parking tickets?”
Assuming the Boy Scout Oath position, Matt promised he was clean.
“Here’s the big one,” Rob inhaled deeply. “Have you ever been kicked out of bed for snoring, hogging the covers, jagged toenails, or chewing tobacco?”
“No,” Matt replied slowly, “but one of my boyfriends hated it when I picked his navel lint and ate it.”
“Sounds like a complainer! You’re better off without him,” Rob assured Matt.
Nodding in agreement, Matt prompted, “Next item?”
“That’s it. You’re officially suitable for dating,” Rob announced.
Matt was stunned. “You didn’t ask me the big four!”
“Big four?” Rob squinted.
“Most gays want to know top or bottom, dick size, any STDs and cut or uncut. Why didn’t you ask me any of those?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Rob shrugged. “That’s all mechanical stuff. I only asked about things that are really important to me.”
“You’re an odd gay,” Matt chuckled.
“I appreciate the compliment,” Rob grinned proudly.
“Just as it was meant,” Matt assured him, pulling a tiny cell phone from the only pocket of his navy blue running shorts. Creating a new entry for Rob, he asked, “Do you have a cell phone?”
“Yeah, but it’s one of those old wood-burning models. Want me to fire it up for ya?” Rob winked, mocking their age difference.
Matt laughed appreciatively. “Can I have your number and address or are you gonna make me scour the city’s restrooms for them?”
“I’ll tell you, but only if you promise not to let them fall into the hands of telemarketers and junk-mailers.”
Hand over heart, Matt promised to protect them, unless there was gunplay involved. He dialed Rob’s cell phone, then hung up after the first ring. “Now you have my number,” he smiled as Rob reached for his Razr phone. “Feel free to use it often. I’ll drop by around six Saturday evening.”
“Don’t you want directions to my place?” Rob asked quickly.
“Can I find it on MapQuest?” Matt asked, rising to leave.
“Yup,” Rob nodded, envying Matt’s easy use of technology.
Matt dropped down on one knee beside Rob to tie his shoe. Brushing the back of his hand across Rob’s cheek, he leaned over and kissed Rob’s lips, then jumped up again. “Preview of coming attractions,” Matt smiled as headed back to the jogging path.
Watching Matt pass other joggers, Rob was amazed by his good fortune. There were many attractive young men at the lake, but Matt possessed a magnetic quality few of them had. His inviting smile made him seem more approachable than the typical bronze god. Turning around about a hundred feet from Rob, Matt waved, waited for Rob to return the gesture, then continued jogging. Nothing impressed Rob more that day. He couldn’t imagine Alan doing something so thoughtful. He was usually too busy scouting for shiny objects to admire his reflection.
“What am I missing?” Rob muttered to himself. After being lied to so often, he figured Matt had to be hiding something.