Stranger Than Strangers
I met Tor at happy hour. I was active duty and just comfortable enough with the distance between McGuire Air Force Base and Center City, Philadelphia (roughly 45 miles) to sit down at a quiet gay bar for an hour or two in the late afternoons when my schedule allowed.
He was disarmingly unassuming, with a gentle disposition and a conversational approach that made me feel interesting instead of interrogated. When I walked into the same bar a couple of days later he was there, sitting in front of a barely-touched Dewars on the rocks. His dark eyes and rugged face lit up when he saw me, and I smiled in return as I claimed the stool next to him. We talked until the sun went down before I left to make my way back to New Jersey.
He said, “See you next time.”
And the next time, he was indeed there with the same drink, only he also had one waiting for me. The routine went on like that, chatting like new old friends a couple of times a week before I’d realized that two months had passed. What struck me when I did realize it was that not once had Tor ever hit on me or made a sexual overture.
“You ever go out at night or are you strictly a happy hour type?”
“Not really, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to the idea.”
My guard was down. We made plans to meet at The Bike Stop on Friday night at 9. When I finally made it to the bar at around 9:30 thanks to a late train, Tor was leaning against a door frame that led to the downstairs bar. He was talking to a tall, tightly built man with closely cropped sandy brown hair and a goatee.
“Ralph, this is Michael. Michael, this is my husband Ralph.”
I smiled and shook his hand, hoping the distinct pang of unexpected disappointment didn’t show.
“Good to meet you, Ralph.”
“The pleasure is mine, sir. I’ve heard a lot about you. My husband is a hard man to impress. Well done.” His German accent was almost as strong as his grip.
I spoke before my silence betrayed my thoughts. “Well your husband is a gentleman in a world of self-important assholes.”
Tor squeezed Ralph’s shoulder. “Told you you’d like him, babe. Let’s go down and get some drinks.”
The downstairs bar filled with patrons in varying stages of undress and desire over the next couple of hours and the three of us gravitated closer. A more naive observer might think it was merely so we could hear each other over the increasing noise, but the truth was that we were so focused on each other that we barely noticed the crowd. Tor whispered something to Ralph and they both looked at me.
“He wants to kiss you. Doesn’t feel right about making the first move.”
Any possible confusion about mixed messages melted away. I took my cue.
“Then maybe he should get the fuck over here so I can.”
Tor quickly leaned in. Before our lips touched, I looked him in the eye, holding him just far enough away that he could feel my breath on his cheek when I spoke.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
He half-whispered as though he was short of breath. “Sir…yes Sir!”
I grabbed the back of his head and drew him into my orbit with the kind of kiss that exposes souls. He swallowed my breath and without breaking eye contact, pulled Ralph into the inner circle.
Seasons may have come and gone for all we knew. The crowded room was still and empty save for the three of us, our intertwined lips and bodies. And it remained exactly that way until we eventually made our way up the stairs and through the exit door.
The spell seemed to be broken and Tor spoke timidly. “We live about ten minutes away if you’d like to…”
“Nah. I want some coffee. Why don’t we walk over to the diner.”
And so we did.