Gin and Tonic
by Jason A. Walker
We met in person for the first time on a Thursday night. The Thursday before Pride weekend in Dallas.
It had been five years since I'd come out to my family and friends, but in that five years I'd managed to work my way back into the closet. I dated briefly. It ended badly, my heart shattered, and when it did I convinced myself that it was a message from God. It was a message from the same God I'd begged for years to not make me gay. The same God who'd never answered. It was a message FROM GOD. So I packed all my baggage and moved back into the cramped and dark space I'd lived in for most of my, then, 29 years.
On that Thursday before Pride weekend, I was standing on the balcony at the Throckmorton Mining Company waiting on a man. A man I didn't know, but a man I did know--that odd reality of the digital age that allows us to meet without meeting, to see without seeing, to fall in love without....don't even go there…I was waiting on a man I'd been chatting with online for a few weeks. It took some nerve.
He told me what he'd be wearing, and I him. Still, I kept looking around at men who weren't wearing what he said he'd be wearing; at men who didn't look like the man I'd been chatting with and wondering, sometimes hoping, sometimes not. I kept looking. Each time the door opened I looked and instinctively stood straighter and smoothed my shirt and my beard and my hair. But, none of them were him. He wasn't coming and I'd crawl deeper into the dark that night.
Then, just as I was ready to write him off the way I'd written off so many others, the way I'd been written off, the door opened again and this time it was him. I knew because he was wearing what he said he'd be wearing. I froze. I forgot my blocking completely, so I would be a mess the first time he saw me because I didn't smooth my shirt or my beard or my hair.
He looked toward the other end of the balcony, away from me. I opened my mouth to call his name, but it got stuck in my throat and I couldn't speak it. Before I had the chance to breathe and try again, he turned again. This time our eyes caught and I tried to call his name, but, before I could, he said mine and what rushed past on my shallow exhale was, "Heeeyyyyy!" Sweet Jesus in Heaven, what a first impression. But, he smiled and opened his arms as he reached me.
As hugs go, it was polite and brief. A hug between friends. But, in that moment, it was the best hug I'd ever had. It was the first time I'd touched another man, and the first time another man had touched me in five years—since my heart shattered and sent me packing back into the dark. I didn't want to let go, but knew I had to. As we released, his hand drew down the back of my arm and stayed at my wrist. Every nerve in my body was firing, every hair standing on end. Every sense was fully engaged and aware of everything around me, which in that moment was only him.
He was of Slavic heritage. In the laden Texas September evening, his smooth olive skin glistened slightly with sweat that gently reflected back the colored lights above us. He was a little shorter than me, maybe 2 or 3 inches. He had a full head of silky, dark brown almost black hair cropped short on the sides and longer on top. It wasn't curly, but had just enough of a wave to it that it mimicked every move he made in flawless contagion. His beard was closely trimmed and accentuated his powerful, angular jaw. His teeth were in perfect line--exact, unwavering, and white as snow. When he smiled, his whole face smiled. And when he smiled, I smiled, too. I had to.
But, his eyes. …
His eyes were blue, but not just blue. His eyes, set deep in his face and behind long, full lashes, were the sort of blue that sees things no one else sees. When he looked at me, he didn't just look at me--and it wasn't even a clichéd look through me—that would've been too blatant. When he looked at me he saw who I was. His eyes were that sort of blue.
I don't remember most of what we talked about that night. That makes me sad. It makes me sad because, that night, I committed every word to memory no matter how unimportant they were. Maybe it's best that I don't, though. Maybe part of the sweetness of the memory is that it has faded somewhat and only the best parts remain. Still. I wish I could remember what we talked about. But, he did ask me if I wanted a drink.
"Do you want something from the bar?" He asked. His voice was a deep baritone. Smooth. Lyrical. Easy to hear and easy to listen to.
"Just water for me. I don't drink," I replied--wishing I did.
"Oh, right. I remember. You're pure." He laughed and winked at me as he walked away. My God, who was he?
I stood there on the balcony, waiting on him to return with his drink and my water. I couldn't stop smiling. He was nothing like I expected him to be, but everything all at the same time. I was surprised at how familiar he seemed, and how familiar we seemed together. The way I felt was risky. I knew it was risky because he'd told me in one of our very first conversations that his brother had come to live with him and that he was not out to his family. He didn't plan on coming out to them anytime soon. Things were different for him. His culture, his family wouldn't respond well. So, for the sake of peace, he had to stay quiet. I knew that already, so I tried not to feel it, but I couldn't stop smiling.
He returned with two glasses. "Here you go," he said, smiling still, "a 2003 Dallas tap with a twist of lime. I thought you should live a little." This time we both laughed. He started to take a drink, but stopped before the glass made it to his lips. "Do you want to try?" He asked. "It's gin-tonic. Tasty." He offered his glass to me.
"I'm sure it's good," I said, "but, no thank you. I just never developed a taste for alcohol." I rolled my own eyes at that. But, he laughed again, clinked his glass on mine and took a drink.
He didn't say anything and I couldn't say anything still, and in that awkward space he leaned in and kissed me. Everything about it was good. The way he put his hand on my cheek and neck. The way he pulled me into him. The way he didn't try to force some theatrical, daytime television version of a kiss, There was nothing put-on about it—it was honest and true. There was just enough gin and tonic left on his lips and tongue that I could taste it, and for the first time in my life, I liked the way it tasted. I liked the way he tasted.
When he pulled away I realized that he knew exactly what he was doing. "Tastes good, right?" He asked, still smiling, still laughing at me.
"Can I have another taste?" (Good God!) Yes. That actually stumbled out of my mouth, and yes it was just as clumsy then as it seems now. But, there was nothing clumsy about his response.
He took another drink, set his glass on the ledge, and leaned in again. This time, he put both of his hands on my face and, as we kissed, ran his fingers through my hair, again not as part of a performance, but genuinely and honestly. He moved his left hand to my shoulder, then to the small of my back. It was not vulgar or seductive. It was gentle and kind. I didn't feel desired, but cared for, and that was better.
We kissed longer than I'd ever kissed anyone before. And I knew what I was feeling was risky, but instead of trying not to feel it, I gave in and let myself feel every single touch, every single emotion, and I let myself think every single thought that came to me. They were all risky and I knew it.
We sat and talked and kissed for several hours that night. We left TMC and went to his apartment—his brother wasn’t home. It was quiet there, and we could hear each other and see each other. Nothing else happened, and for the first time I was ok with it. As I was leaving he kissed me again and wrapped his arms around me--tight this time--and hugged me for a long time, but not nearly long enough. As I drove away, I knew for sure that I was falling for him, and I knew just as surely that he was not. And for the first time, I was ok with it.
I cannot explain how I feel about him. To this day, now fifteen years later, no one else has ever made me feel the way he did that night, and still does, even after all this time and distance. I knew then that my feelings were risky, and that proved true. I fell for him when I knew he could not fall for me. But, unlike the other times that has happened, I never felt sad about it. I didn't pine over him. I didn't chase after him. I didn't begrudge him love when he was finally able to give and receive it, even though it wasn’t me. I never had to because he never changed. I haven't seen him in over ten years, but the goodness of that moment, that night that he made me feel something I never thought I'd feel again, is frozen in time for me because he has never changed.
I've never held him again. I've never kissed him again. But, I can still feel him. And even though I've never had another drink of it, I can still taste the gin and tonic on my lips--and on his.
About the Author
Jason A. Walker lives in Northeast Texas and is an avid reader and writer. He is currently an adjunct professor of English at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, and is a PhD student in Literature at Texas A&M University-Commerce, transferring to the University of Texas at Dallas in the fall of 2019.
Web site -- www.jasonawalker.com