It's Been a While
Their eyes met just yards apart on the dance floor; both of them had a young lady in their arms. For a moment it appeared as if each was using the women to shield them from the world, or each other. Their gaze held for quite some time, both looking deep for a memory that existed a time long ago of a love and friendship that would never end. Since their falling out fifteen years earlier when they were in their very early twenties, their paths had crossed only a few times in their small Kansan city, but neither had acknowledged the other, more out of awkwardness than anything else. Tonight, however, there was something different, their eyes locked in gentle yielding.
Jason, with dark blond hair and perfectly kept four-day stubble, had married and divorced within two years, and was determined never to get married again. So, he was content with the occasional date (and hopefully sex) with one of the office assistants that would come and go in the fuel oil company he worked for as a driver. Nobody knew he belonged to an online book club, sipped cream sherry, or that he was a closet Democrat.
Ben, whose dark, shaggy hair always made him look younger, had married his college sweetheart, moved back to his small Kansan city where they had two kids, and divorced after six years. She took the kids and moved to the same neighborhood in Wichita where her parents lived. Now teenagers, he saw his son and daughter monthly. He was an office manager for a large software company with offices around the globe.
The music swayed, and so did they, as each shifted their partner to the left, and eye contact became impossible, their eyes dropping to the floor in absent longing. Shortly after, the music stopped, and the two were lost in the crowed of dancers heading back to their tables. Jason sat with his date, scanning the large hall looking for Ben. Had he looked behind him, he would have seen Ben sitting with the cute blonde he had only met that night, at a table in a dark corner, silently staring at the back of his head.
Ben's heart ached in a way it hadn't for a decade and a half. How could this be? How could Jason still have that effect on him? Everything disappeared at that moment, the room, his date, the crowd. All he saw, and all he was aware of at that moment, was the back of the head of the only man he could ever love. A deep shudder went through his being, and a voice in his head that sounded very much like his father's shouted "Faggot!"
After a few minutes at the table, Jason's date asked him to walk her to her car because she was feeling sick. Crap, he thought to himself, no sex tonight, but he could tell by her color, and how warm she was against him when they danced, the poor thing must have been pretty sick. He slid his arm to the small of her back and with the other hand took her wrist and walked her towards one of the several exits. As they walked he scanned the room for Ben, but couldn't see him. He got Jennifer to her car, told her he'd call her in the morning to check in on her, and walked in the direction of his car. After he heard her car drive away, he changed direction, and walked back up to the club, which had a wrap around porch with comfortable chairs and tables. Jason lit a cigarette and leaned over, his forearms on the railing of the porch.
Ben needed air. He felt suffocated in the smoke-ridden air of the dance hall. As his date was already in a deep conversation with the woman next to her, he excused himself and headed to the nearest exit. Walking down a hall he came to the first pair of French doors he found and pushed them open, stepped out onto the porch, and froze, doorknob still in his hand. Jason turned around to see who was coming out.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to inter..."
"Stop," Jason gently said, "It's just me, myself, and I, and the three of us are only having a cigarette."
"That was actually pretty funny."
Ben walked over to the porch's railing and leaned his back against a column at the top of the stairs. Knowing Jason was watching him, he bent his knee, pulling his foot up and placing it flat against the column, while at the same time looking up at the stars and down at the ground in a motion that was seductively masculine. It worked.
"Do you remember the time I fell in the ice at Thomson's Creek, and you had to fish me out," Jason asked.
"You scared the shit out of me," Ben said, looking into Jason's crystal blue eyes.
"You think you were scared," Jason responded.
"If I had consumed even one more vodka that afternoon, I don't know if you'd be here today."
"I knew I was in good hands," Jason flirted. He noticed that Ben's hairstyle hadn't changed at all, and wondered if it still had that masculine, woodsy smell, too.
Both men fell into a comfortable silence, as Jason took a drag from his cigarette. There was an electricity in the air that neither man missed; each knew the other was feeling it, too.
"You know, we have some catching up to do," Jason finally said softly, "but this is the last place I want to do it. My date left sick, and I know you gotta get back to yours, so..."
"What makes you think I gotta get back to her?" Ben interrupted. "To be honest with you, I only met that girl tonight, and by the way she's been flirting with most other guys, I don't think I need to worry about being missed."
"What are you saying?"
"It's only nine o'clock in the fucking evening, and the night is young," Ben said looking at his watch, and then at Jason with a smile.
"Nah, too loud. I was thinking maybe Teddy's, which has a jukebox that never works. We might have to talk over the guys from the factory, but we'd at least be able to hear each other."
"Good, I like Teddy's. My car is that way," Jason said gesturing with his thumb, "and so I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."