From the Archives: A First (Platonic) Night With Chris
Chris and I were friends for well over a year before I thought it could be something more. Though we’d met years prior, I’d never talked to him for more than a few minutes at a time, usually when I was dropping off a kid for a playdate at his sister Becky’s house and he happened to be in town. But about a year after Shawn died, I was flying through Atlanta, where he lived, and I had a day-long layover. Becky suggested I stay with Chris, and before I had the chance to ask for his number, he texted me. Hi Marjorie—it’s Becky’s brother, Chris. I hear you’ll be rolling through Atlanta in December—let’s hang out.
We did. He picked me up at the airport, and when I texted Becky that it was such a nice thing for him to do for a relative stranger, she wrote back, That’s how Chris rolls. His truck was a beat-up old Ford Ranger, one with crank windows and tiny cracks in the cab that made the wind whip in from the outside so forcefully that it was hard to hear everything he was saying. He smiled broadly as I told him about my flight, something that wasn’t interesting, but he was the type that made me feel like what I was saying was very important. He didn’t know that in the airport I had gone to the bathroom to put on a bit of makeup and some perfume, which felt silly because I didn’t know much about him at all. But he was hot and I was spending the night at his house. Yes, I’d be in the guestroom, but there was no need to look frumpy.
Air poured in from the outside of the truck, creating a strange breeze within the car, one that made goosebumps appear on my arms. When we drove under the streetlights I could make out his profile, and I stole glances at him for the next few miles. He had a softness to his eyes and dark features, and his salt-and-pepper hair was cut short. I wasn’t sure if his scruffy beard was how he liked to wear it, or merely a product of not shaving for a few days, but I thought it fit him.
We went downtown to a funky restaurant where the bartenders knew him and we sat in the back at a table by the wall, just far enough from the crowds that it felt intimate. Christmas lights were still up on the wall, though maybe they were there all year—it was that kind of place. He asked me right away if I ate mussels, which I had only eaten a few times and honestly couldn’t remember if I liked. “Absolutely!” I said, as though late night seafood was exactly what I did every night. The lights were low in the restaurant and we ordered a half-dozen tiny plates of food to share, and when the waitress came over and asked how our night was going, he said, “Really great, actually. How has your night been?”
I watched how he talked with her as she told him about her night. It was the kind of question I often asked servers when I was out on dates while the guys stayed silent. After we ordered and she left, I said, “Do you know her?” It seemed like he must have.
“No,” he said, and then he asked about my kids. He knew them a little bit, but I still thought it was strange. None of the men I’d gone out with at that point ever really wanted to hear about them. Maybe, I figured, it was because my kids were friends with his niece and nephew.
When we finally got up to leave, it was after midnight. We walked around the corner to get back in his old truck and found that it had been booted. “Damn,” he said, though he wasn’t angry. He laughed, called the number on the sign and then we got in the cab of his truck to wait for someone to come and take off the boot. We chatted as we waited, and though the heater gave off little actual heat, it felt warm under the glare of the streetlight. The old dirt lot smelled sweet, somehow, though I told myself it wasn’t anything but the alcohol that was making me think the world was charmed.
It took a while but eventually the boot was removed. We drove back to the house. It was after one in the morning when we got in, and he made me a drink. His kitchen was one of those tiny ones from a century ago, restored somewhat but still full of funny knobs and an old stove. He had his back to me as he went through the cupboards, and I took in the little bit of skin I could see on his neck, somehow tanned, maybe from his cycling races. I liked the way his arms looked under his tight shirt, and I only realized I was looking at him for a bit too long when he glanced back and I forced myself to look at the counter rather than him. He had a girlfriend, and he lived in Atlanta, and he was my friend’s brother, who was simply being nice to me because he loved his sister.
He handed me the drink and I looked up. “Thank you,” I said, and I took a sip of the drink, too sugary-sweet for my taste, but I was never going to complain. I set it down. “It’s too sweet for you, isn’t it?” he said, remembering that I’d mentioned that I didn’t like sweet cocktails. I admitted it was, but said I didn’t care. Quickly, he picked up the glass and went back to his cupboard. “This one will be better,” he promised. It was.
And then we talked. I told him about trying to date again and we talked about what we really wanted out of life and by two am I felt drunk not from the liquor, but from a different kind of intoxication. I made myself go to bed, finally, and as I laid in his guest bedroom and felt the warm sheets around me, I let myself recall what it felt like to be so focused on a man. It was hard to sleep, and my chest felt tight with excitement as I thought about him moving around his kitchen. I sighed, and turned over, knowing that it was a silly thing to lust after someone who wasn’t lusting after me.
I left the next day.
Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.