“You been there?” I ask. On the television is Las Vegas. Sports cars fly over the pavement disrupting crowds of tourists, and knocking over hot dog carts, leaving a trail of smoke in their wake. All to the backdrop of Fremont street.
“Yeah several times.” He answers me. I nod my head thinking to myself I’d rather go there with my best friend anyway.
The action film continues. It’s laughably cliché with lots of special effect explosions and cheesy one liners. For a brief moment the screen shows Hong Kong. Now it was my turn.
“I’ve been there.” I said recognizing the skyline.
I called him karaoke guy because I’d been so drunk the first time we talked I’d forgotten his name. He seemed cute. He bought me a drink and held his own amongst my friends, who are rather rough around the edges. Somebody passed around a vape pen full of the strong stuff. He held his own on that too. By the end of the night we were all cheering loudly taking shots together. Somehow I’d managed to collect a phone number through the hazy fog of drunken fun. I’d made a connection. Perhaps this could finally be an end to my year of single status. My stomach tightened with a surge of excitement staring at the screen of my cell phone. Who was this person attached to these random ten numbers?
People with guns are running down the hallway of a museum. The walls are lined with classical art. The floor is so shiny you can see a second set of gunmen running upside down. They duck behind statues to avoid the spray of bullets.
“I didn’t get to go to Italy when I went to Europe.” I say.
“Yeah I’ve not been there.” He says. I mentally add it to my list; places we will go. I think he must know I’m doing this. The way we talk about where we’ve been and where we want to go. I’d clearly stated on my Tinder account that I was tired of travelling alone. In fact, my profile mentioned travel twice. Several of my pictures were from such adventures. He’d liked them before building up the courage to message me. That shy little red heart. For a month now I’d been pressing him about California. He was a little evasive. It was maybe too soon. I’m getting ahead of myself. Try again in the Summer. Should probably meet his mom first.
My first date with Karaoke guy we took a hike around a local metro park. I’d sat in my car waiting for thirty minutes. I thought I was being stood up. I tried to be patient. The last message I’d received said he was on his way.
Karaoke guy raced around the corner and appeared before me soaked in sweat. He was on a bike. He didn’t own a car. That’s why he was late and couldn’t text me. He’d gone as fast as he could underestimating the time it would take him to cover that distance.
In daylight, sober, I could see his face more clearly now. Cute yes, but not the cool hold-his-own guy I remembered. This was a sweaty boy. He was much younger than I realized. At least five years younger than me.
He offers his hand to help me climb up over a log. He has a nice smile. He doesn’t mind our age difference. He is very honest and sweet. We talk about our families. We talk about our friends. We walk for hours.
He talks about his plans to take a big trip biking across the country. He lists off the cities and parks he will visit along the way. I think about a few friends I know who did that years ago. When they were his age. There are times during our date where I don’t feel our age difference. There are times when I do.
I called him Tinder guy at first because at the time I’d been talking to so many guys at once my friends were having a hard time keeping them all straight.
I was late for our first date. Work had been busy so I was getting out an hour later than usual. It was after midnight. He didn’t mind.
Our schedules were opposite. He worked Monday through Friday nine to six. I was a waitress so I worked evenings and weekends. We aligned on Sundays but only until kickball comes back in season. We typically have one evening together. He always stays up late because of me, goes into work tired. I get to go home and sleep more. I work less hours and I get more days off.
He doesn’t like to sleep at my house because I don’t have a real bed. I’ve got a mat on the floor. And the temperature in the attic, where I rent my room, can be abrasive. I live like a bohemian starving artist. I’m used to it. I’m comfortable. He isn’t. He lives like a well-to-do tech-job bachelor. His bed is four feet high double mattress. He has a huge smart TV, 3D printer, and the finest console of virtual reality currently available on the market. He drives a BMW. I drive a Hyundai.
At first he thought it was charming. I was different, unique. And I found him to be very different from what I was used to. I guess it was a case of opposites attract. I’d never had anyone as stable as him before. He was sure of himself and strong. He was smart and silly. He liked to pay for everything and took me to some of the nicest restaurants I’ve ever been to. We went to several raves together. Dancing in the bright colored lights, beating almost as fast as my heart, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
We had perfectly normal days where he worked on setting up a sound system in the basement while I worked on drawings for a comic. It was just me, him, and music. It was comfortable. I felt warm and safe just being in the same room as him. I must have been smiling like a moron watching him adjust the wires.
Being single for three years now I’ve gone through many guys. All of them short-lived sparks of hope that can never quite catch fire. There was Online-girlfriend-hadn’t-met-in-person guy, New Zealand guy, Wants-to-be-choked guy, Office guy, Alcoholic-mess guy, Valentine’s Day guy, Dayton guy, and Bathroom-hookup guy just to name a handful.
Sometimes I ended whatever it was. Sometimes he ended it. Many times we both just drift away messaging less and less. Whole sentences dissolved into single words, words crumbled apart breaking down until all that was left was the letter K.
And then there was nothing.
I see him across the room. Karaoke guy. He is visibly upset. He marches up to me and asks to go talk outside. He’s calling me out for ghosting him. And I deserve it. I wasn’t feeling it honestly, but I still considered seeing if time could make things grow. I’d been texting him back less and less. He’s very upset. I’m thinking we should not have had sex.
I apologize and take the blame. He warms up and gets hopeful.
“But if maybe you wanted to-” He’s giving me an opening to save the relationship. I realize I don’t want to. I have to make it clear.
He nods his head when his throat can’t form the words. Whatever it is he swallows it. And looks up with tears in his eyes. They are pink and puffy from pain.
“I’d thought if things went well, down the road, we could go on a trip together.”
Tinder guy and I have dated for four months now. That’s a new record long for the last three years. For the last month we’ve been officially coined boyfriend and girlfriend breaking my long-lasting single streak.
But I should have noticed the distance between us on the couch the night we watched that action movie. I tried to lean in a little. He shifted his weight onto the armrest. You could have fit a dead body between us.
And I’m wondering why we never held hands. How’d we skipped that part. And the excited to see you hello kisses, we never did that. We’d formed invisible bubbles around ourselves always saying hi from across the room. We never touch unless we’re drunk. Not even hugging. And I know it’s on me too, I should try. But he doesn’t give me openings where it feels appropriate. It doesn’t feel welcomed. This is a sign language I’m struggling to interpret.
And now I’m wondering if it’s too late. As I stare at the numbers on the screen wondering who is this person they’re attached to. It’s been days now will he text me back?
I think about the dreams I had. The images I saw of us together in Italy, and Hawaii holding hands at long last. Tears are welling up in my eyes dangling over the screen of my cell phone as I think about what I should tell him.
I thought we could go on a trip together.
Kate E Lore is a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. With many publications in both genres, Kate has been featured in Orsum magazine, and Longridge Review. Originally from Dayton Ohio, Kate is currently earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Miami University. Kate got her bachelor’s from The Ohio State University.
A jack-of-all-trades Kate splits her time up between fiction and nonfiction, screenplays, flash prose, full-length novels, painting, and comics.
Kate is openly queer and neurodivergent. She grew up the youngest of four scraping by on low income, raised by a single widowed mother.