Just Shy of Heaven
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
“So…I’ve talked about myself for twenty minutes,” Tobias said drolly. “What about you, Zander? Do you think that you could talk about yourself now?”
He started, then clutched at his coffee cup nervously. “T-There’s not much to tell,” he began softly. “I live by myself except for my cat…”
“You have a cat? What kind?” Tobias sounded genuinely interested.
Zander perked up. He was always willing to talk about his cat; he thought that Bearclaw was the best cat in the entire world. “She’s a tabby. Her name is Bearclaw, and she’s really sweet,” he said earnestly.
Tobias smiled. “Kinda like her owner, huh?” he remarked with a twinkle in his eyes.
His face flamed, and he had the sudden urge to dive under the table. His coffee cup fell on its side when his hands jerked nervously, and a small brown puddle pooled on the tabletop. He moaned a little and grabbed a handful of napkins to sop it up. He was startled when Tobias spoke to him in a gentle voice: “Sorry about that, Zander. I shouldn’t have flirted with you, since I can see how nervous and shy you are. My bad.”
He looked up, seeing the serious expression on the other man’s handsome face. The fact that the Man in the Suit - the man of his every dream for the last six months - had actually flirted with HIM! And had then apologized for doing it because of his reaction. Zander felt suddenly depressed. This was so typical - he couldn’t even handle mild flirtation. It was ridiculous. He felt tears gathering in his eyes.
Tobias looked startled, then concerned. “Are you okay, Zander?” he asked worriedly.
He brushed ineffectually at the tears. “I-I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “I just…” miserably he looked down at the tabletop. “Nobody else ever seems to have a problem with talking to people,” he said softly, sadly. “Just me.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Tobias replied quietly. “It might seem like that to you, but you’re not the only person in this world afflicted with shyness. And there are plenty of people with what they call ’social effective disorders’ like Aspberger’s Syndrome and things like that, who don’t know how to act around other people or pick up on social cues. You’re not alone, Zander. Besides, to tell you the truth your shyness is kind of cute. At least I think so, anyway,” he added.
Zander looked up at him in shock. His shyness was cute?! Tobias’ eyes were settled on his face. “You blush in the most adorable way,” he said, his voice faintly teasing.
Zander felt his face going hot again at these words. But at the same time, he felt a sort of fluttering in his abdomen. Tobias thought he was cute. Tobias thought his blushing was adorable, not annoying. He was torn between delight and the worst case of shyness that he’d ever had, and wanted to hide his burning face in his hands.
“So…does Bearclaw have your tongue?” Tobias said, still smiling at him in that way that made the butterflies in Zander’s stomach go a little mad.
But his words made Zander laugh in spite of himself. Tobias seemed suddenly entranced by his face. “Wow. Somebody who actually likes my silly jokes,” he marveled.
Zander blinked. He hadn’t thought it was silly. Tobias cocked his head. “What were we talking about?” he asked. “Oh, yes. Before I put you off track, you were going to tell me something about yourself.”
“I just…there really isn’t much to tell,” Zander said helplessly. “I go to work, I go home, I take care of Bearclaw and I hang out with my friend Jake.”
“Succinct. I like it,” Tobias remarked. “What’s this friend of yours like?”
“He’s really cool. I’ve known him since we were in the sixth grade together,” Zander told him. “I was being picked on by some bigger kids because they thought I was weird - because I didn’t talk much,” he explained. “Jake came along and drove them off. He climbed into the jungle gym and started talking to me. It turned out that he lives a few blocks from me, and he’d seen me out playing in my yard when he rode by on his bike. He was curious about me, because when I’m alone I’m different. When I played by myself I was never shy or anything. I didn’t say anything to him at first, but after awhile I just started talking to him. We’ve been friends ever since. The first pie I ever made for him was a mud pie in his yard,” he went on with a small smile.
Tobias chuckled. “He does sound like a good friend. Is he…? Oh, hell,” he added, running a hand through his hair, “What I really want to know is…are you gay, Zander?”
His mouth opened, but no sound came out. This direct question was making him freeze. Desperately he struggled to speak, but Tobias forestalled him by saying gently: “Just nod if the answer is ‘yes’, Zander. Don’t try to force yourself.”
His head moved up and down, and Tobias looked satisfied. “Okay, great,” he said. “And is your friend Jake gay too?”
Zander shook his head. “He has a girlfriend,” he managed to choke.
Tobias looked as pleased as Bearclaw did when he gave her a can of tuna. “In that case, I’d like to ask you out on a date,” he said to a shocked Zander. “How about next Saturday? There’s this great new restaurant that just opened up, and I really want to try their food. Will you go with me? Please?”
Zander felt like he was in some kind of strange, alternate universe. Perhaps this was some very good dream that he’d wake up from at any moment? The Man in the Suit had NOT just asked him out! He felt close to fainting, because he’d literally forgotten to breathe. Tobias said firmly: “Breathe, Zander. And nod if you’ll go out with me.”
He gasped in a long breath, and somehow managed to nod his head even though the rest of his body seemed to be seizing up. Tobias also drew in a long breath, looking even more satisfied. “Great. Here,” he pulled out a pen and wrote a number on a napkin, sliding it across the tabletop to Zander. “This is my cell phone number,” he explained. “You can call me whenever you want, or text me if you’re feeling too shy to actually talk. Would you give me your number too?” he held out the pen.
He took the pen with fingers that were trembling so badly that he had a hard time making the numbers legible. But somehow he managed to write his phone number down on a napkin, and he pushed it toward Tobias. The other man took it, folding the napkin in half and tenderly tucking it into his pocket. “I promise not to call you just to chatter frivolously,” he told Zander with a smile. “But I will call you about our date sometime this week. Is that okay?”
He nodded again. Tobias looked at his watch. “Sadly, I’ve got to go,” he said regretfully. “But I’ll definitely see you on Monday morning. Will you come out of the back when I come into the bakery?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Zander said softly.
“Then you’ll make my day. See you Monday, Zander,” he rose to his feet and tossed some money on the table for a tip, smiling at Zander before he walked away.
He sat at the table for a long time, staring at nothing. None of this seemed in the least bit real. Never mind that he napkin sitting in front of him had Tobias’ phone number written on it in his bold handwriting…
“So you actually have a DATE with somebody?!” Jake yelped in disbelief.
Zander nodded. He was in his tiny kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the German chocolate cake. “Yes,” he replied aloud. “And not just anyone, Jake. This is THE MAN IN THE SUIT.”
“Yeah. I remember the first time you told me about him,” Jake remarked, draping himself over the back of Zander’s small couch. “You were so excited you could barely talk. I know that you’ve had the hots for him ever since. He really asked you out? I mean, how’d he do that? Knowing you, I don’t see how he could get you to talk.”
“He didn’t,” Zander said ruefully. He explained about the entire meeting and conversation, and Jake listened intently.
When he was done, Jake shook his head. “My God. You actually found a guy who understands,” he mused. “It’s a miracle. You’re really lucky, Zander.”
“I know,” he replied, spreading the homemade coconut-pecan frosting on top of the cake expertly. “I never expected it. I was shocked when he even talked to me in the supermarket, and then when he asked me to get coffee with him in the parking lot…I couldn’t believe it. It still feels like some kind of strange dream. But I can show you his cell phone number,” he patted his pocket happily. “I’ve checked it ten times in the last hour, just to make sure that it’s real. And it’s still there every time. I’m totally psyched.”
Jake studied his face, which was alight. “You know, if he could see you like this then he’d really lose it over you,” he said affectionately. “It’s too bad that you can’t talk to him more easily like you do with me.”
“I know,” Zander sighed. “But it took me months to be able to talk to you like this. If you’d decided during that time that I wasn’t worth the trouble, I would have been out of luck. I just hope that Tobias has the same kind of patience with me.”
“Well, if he’s smart he will,” Jake replied firmly. “Because its definitely worth it to get to know you better. You’re a great guy, Zander. Everybody should have a best friend like you.”
He felt himself blushing a little at this praise. “Thanks, Jake,” he said softly, gratefully.
His friend lifted his brows. “Hey, I’m just telling you the truth, man,” he said. “And I hope that this works out for you, I really do. Nobody deserves it more than you do.”