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Dare to Dream

By Graeme

I sat at my desk, working my way through pages of numbers, comparing paper to screen. It was mind-deadening work, and not the sort of thing I really wanted to be doing late on a Friday, but it was the end of the financial year and the suits upstairs were insisting. Of course, they had already gone home to their families, but the figures were due early Monday and I knew they wouldnít accept the weekend as an excuse for my being late. Iíd managed to put myself into a trance-like state where the work proceeded almost automatically, allowing me to ignore the incredibly mundane nature of what I was doing.

>I was surprised when a hand fell on my shoulder.

>“Mark! By the look of you, I think youíve had enough. Itís time to put the books away and come out for a drink.”

>I stared at my desk for a moment, not really taking in what was in front of me, and then twisted the chair around to look up at my fellow worker, Jared Steeler.

> “Wh...what do you mean?” I asked, trying to return my mind to the real world.

>“Itís almost seven on a Friday night. Iíve had enough and I think you have, too. Letís go down to the Young and Jackson for a couple of beers to relax. After the week weíve had, I think we deserve a break.”

>I didnít know if Jared was just being friendly, but he mustíve known that I donít normally mix after work. Iíve been a loner for most of my life, and sitting in a cubicle by myself suits me. I couldnít recall having said more than a couple of words to Jared before that night. Looking up at his smiling face with the Hollywood-style perfect teeth and the deep green eyes, I felt something loosen inside me.

>“Okay, Jared, that sounds great. I really could do with a drink.”

>I stared down at the work scattered over my desk and grimaced at the mess.

>“Just give me a few minutes to tidy up, and Iíll be with you.”

>I started moving papers into neat piles, ready for Monday, while continuing to wonder about Jared. He was right about the week; itíd been flat out every day, with long hours the norm. I suspected he was meeting with some friends later and just needed to fill in some time until then. Everyone else mustíve left, so heíd come to me as the last resort.

>“Iím going to stand here to make sure you donít go back to work. Iíve heard about you and how you never seem to stop, and Iím not going to let you get away with it.”

>I looked over my shoulder and gave him a grin. “I promise Iíll be quick.”

>While I tidied up, Jared continued to chat, or more accurately, give a monologue.

>“We really need to find better jobs. Our twenties should be spent having a good time, enjoying ourselves, getting to know people—not grinding away day after day, week after week, as faceless drones in the corporate machine. Thereíll be time enough for that when weíre old, like in our thirties.”

>“From that, Iíd say youíre no older than twenty-four,” I said, as I closed the folder on the last few pieces of paper.

> “Twenty-two.”

>I stood up and turned to face him, grinning broadly. In less than a minute, Iíd found myself enjoying listening to him. His voice just rolled through me, smoothing out all the kinks and knots from a week of solid work.

>“Youíre only a baby, then.”

>“Well, how old are you? Iím guessing youíre only a year or two older than me.”

>I started to pick up my backpack, but then changed my mind and kicked it under my desk. I decided I could either collect it later that night or just leave it there for the weekend.

>“Spot on. I turned twenty-four last month.”

>“Well, happy birthday for last month. Why wasnít there a cake or something? Everyone else here has one.”

>We started walking towards the lift. The only other people around were the cleaners. I was surprised that I hadnít noticed the sounds of the vacuum cleaner earlier.

>“I didnít tell anyone. I donít see the need to make a big deal of it, and I hate having to make speeches.”

>He laughed in an easy, relaxed way that was so unlike my normal, nervous chuckle.

>“I, on the other hand, love the sound of my own voice. If I start getting on your nerves, just let me know. My sister thinks I was made to talk, and keeps telling me to shut up. Seriously, I know what you mean, though. Everyone in the office comes along and wishes the birthday boy or girl all the best, but you can tell that at least half of them have no ideas who it is that theyíre talking to.”

>I used my pass to unlock the security door between the office and the lift foyer. Before I could open the door for Jared, he pushed it open and stepped through and to the side. He then held it for me.

>“Thanks.”

>“My pleasure. I was raised to be polite and hold doors open for people. Anyway, you might have to do the same for me later. After Iíve had a few, I mightnít be able to open doors by myself.”

>I snorted, not being brave enough to actually laugh at his self-deprecating attitude.

>“So, thatís why you invited me along as a drinking partner? So I can open doors for you afterwards?” I asked as I stepped forward to summon the lift. I didnít look at him as I asked the question.

>“Well, thatís one reason.”

>The silence after that short statement was such a contrast to the verboseness that preceded it that I had to turn to look at him. I caught him staring at me, an odd look on his face. Before I could work out what it meant, he looked away.

>“I donít know about you, but Iím planning on having a few beers tonight. This week has been a shocker for me. Iím not used to putting in ten-plus hour days, every day. Iím very much the type of guy who works to live, not lives to work. The job is a means to earn me enough money to do what I want.”

>“Iím more the Ďlive to workí sort, I guess, but I donít like the long hours,” I said, though I knew I was lying. The only reason I live to work is because I donít have much of a life outside of my job. I donít have much of a life at work, either, but it keeps me occupied.

>“Why do you live to work? Thereís way too many things I want to do for me to want to spend more time than I need to in the office.”

>I was spared from answering by the arrival of the lift. I didnít think he would be able to understand how someone could have nothing to do on weekends.

“What sort of things do you like doing?” I asked once we were descending. I wasnít that interested, but I just wanted to keep him talking, so I could enjoy the sound of his rich baritone.

>“In summer, itís the beach. In winter, itís the snow. Apart from those big items, I like to party, ride my bike, have coffee with friends, go out for dinner, and generally enjoy myself. What about you?”

>I froze for a moment while I tried to work out how to answer that. Our arrival at the ground floor gave me a few seconds to think.

>“Oh, not much, really. TV, books and the Internet are pretty well it.”

>Jared paused after we stepped out onto Flinders Street. He gave me another odd look. Not the same as the one Iíd caught before, but more as if I was some strange creature that he was having trouble understanding. I could appreciate that. We were poles apart in our interests as well as personalities. I was getting ready for him to withdraw the offer for drinks, when he grinned.

>“Sounds like we have lots to talk about, then. Come along, Iím going to need a beer before I start getting all the details. Youíve already gotten all my interesting stuff.”

>Heíd taken a couple of steps before I reacted. Jogging, I caught up with him and then settled down to a quick walk next to him.

>“My sisterís a big reader and sheís tried to get me interested in things, but the books she reads just bore me to tears,” Jared said.

>He gave me a sidewise glance when we stopped at the corner of Elizabeth Street to wait for the lights to change. “Youíre not into Jane Austen, are you?”

>I chuckled, then blushed as I realised how awkward Iíd sounded. “No.”

>“A man of few words. My sister wouldíve given me a thirty-minute diatribe for what I just said, and all you say is ĎNoí. So, what sort of books are you into? No, wait. Tell me once weíre at the pub. Weíll be there in a sec.”

>There were still plenty of people around. Besides the late workers going home, the Friday night drinkers, the earlier moviegoers, and late night shoppers were all mingling on the street. It wasnít so dense that we had to force our way through, but there was a general hum of humanity around us.

>As we stepped into the historic pub, Jared leant over and spoke into my ear. “Iíll get the first round. You find us somewhere to sit.”

>I looked around and wondered how we were going to be able to hold a conversation with all the noise. Yelling seemed like the only option, apart from speaking directly into each otherís ears as Jared had just done. The idea of Jared standing or sitting close enough to hold his head by mine gave me a nervous shiver. I was moving through the room, squeezing my way behind chatting groups, when I saw three girls leaving a table nearby. Before anyone else could grab it, I sat down in one of the chairs and waited for Jared to find me.

>I could feel that I was the centre of attention to everyone in the vicinity, as the young guy in a suit sitting by himself in a crowded bar. I could imagine them laughing at how it was obvious that I had no friends. My eyes were fixed on the tabletop as I wondered if Iíd made a big mistake by agreeing to go there.

>“Here you are!” A schooner of beer appeared in front of me.

>I looked up as Jared sat down. A glance around showed no one staring, but I still felt uncomfortable, so I dropped my eyes again.

>“Now, you were going to tell me what sorts of books and TV shows you like. I watch a bit of TV, but not a lot.”

>Heíd put his chair right next to mine, so our legs kept knocking into each other. His head was almost on my shoulder when he spoke to me.

>“Well, I mainly like to read...”

>He put an arm across my shoulders and spoke into my ear. “Youíll have to speak louder or come closer, Mark. I canít hear you over all the noise.”

>I raised my eyes and saw him watching me. I felt intimidated by his proximity, but I also felt safe. He mustíve sensed my confusion, because he squeezed my shoulders while letting those perfect teeth of his shine through. I tried again.

>“Well, I mainly like to read science fiction, thrillers and murder mysteries. I like TV shows like that, too.”

>“You mean, like the Star Trek series and Battlestar Galatica?”

>“And CSI and Law and Order. The ABC has got some great mysteries at times, too.”

>He showed his interest by gently prompting me whenever I fell silent, with comments that indicated heíd been paying attention. I found myself doing most of the talking, interrupted only occasionally by tales from my drinking companion and breaks to order more drinks. When my stomach started rumbling, I looked at my watch to see that it was almost eight oíclock. Jared checked his, too.

>“Eight oíclock? That sounds like itís time to get something to eat,” Jared said.

>“Probably time for me to head home,” I said, not really wanting the night to end.

>“Why donít you stay? I told you I like going out for dinner, but I hate eating alone.”

>I hesitated, not believing he was really asking me to spend more time with him. He just stared at me with those sea-green eyes of his, and I capitulated. “Okay.”

>We stood up. He started to move towards the door, but stopped when I grabbed his arm.

>“Before we go, whereís Chloe?”

>He looked surprised, then grinned. “Havenít you been here before?”

>I shook my head.

>“Well, come with me. Sheís upstairs.”

>He took me up an old fashioned broad staircase. As the din from downstairs faded, music could be heard coming from up ahead. It sounded like Jazz. Not my favourite type of music, but one I enjoy at times.

>“Sheís in here.”

>I followed Jared into what felt like a 19th century waiting room outside a small restaurant. There were a number of other people there, talking quietly. The atmosphere was so different to that of the bar below. I could see a band playing to a group of clearly appreciative diners, but my attention was on the painting on the wall.

>“So thatís Chloe,” I said to myself, looking at Melbourneís most famous nude.

>“Yep, thatís her,” Jared said. “Sheís a beauty, isnít she?”

>As a painting, I thought she was excellent, but she wasnít the type of person I like to ogle. I was still staring a few minutes later, when I felt a tug on my suit jacket.

>“Since weíre here, Iíve got us a table for two. We can look out over towards the station while we eat. I havenít been here for a few months, but I know that itís a great place for people watching. You just look out the window and watch them under the clocks.”

>Staying silent so that I could absorb the old-time aura of the place, I followed Jared and the waiter to our table. Looking out the window, I saw the clocks out the front of Flinders Street Station. They no longer work, but theyíre still one of Melbourneís iconic places to meet. Even as I sat down, I saw two small groups of young people greeting each other.

>When I turned my attention back to the room, I found Jared with his elbows on the table, and his chin resting in his hands. He was smiling at me.

>“You like?”

>I grinned. “I like.”

>Jared mustíve reached the limits of his patience, because he did most of the talking over dinner. I didnít mind. Between the surroundings, the view out of the window, and his pleasant company, I enjoyed myself. I realized I was having one of the best times I could remember.

>It was over coffee that I reluctantly drew myself together and prepared to end my night.

>“Thanks for a wonderful time, Jared. Iíve really enjoyed myself, but I think itís about time I headed home. Youíre probably going out clubbing with your other friends now, I suppose.”

>He frowned at me. He opened his mouth to say something, but then looked out the window. I stared, wondering why he was suddenly having trouble speaking. It was a few seconds before he said anything, his head still turned away.

>“I was hoping youíd come clubbing with me.”

>It was my turn to be flustered. I went from flustered to frantic when he looked back at me. The naked emotion in his face was frightening. Iíd never met anyone who liked me for being me, and Iíd always thought I never would. My mouth was opening and closing without my conscious control. I started to rise, but stopped when he reached out and placed a hand on top of mine.

>“Or, we could just go back to my place and watch TV. Whatever youíd like to do. I only live ten minutes from here.”

>“But why?” I whispered.

>“Just because,” he whispered back, eyes locked on mine.

>I closed my eyes and dropped my head onto the table. I was suddenly both weary and relieved. Something was happening to me as fear was pushed aside by something new. I didnít know if it would last, but I liked what I was feeling—the hope for a future I hadnít expected.

>I was surprised when a hand fell on my shoulder.

>“Mark! By the look of you, I think youíve had enough. Itís time to put the books away and come out for a drink.”

>I jerked upright and stared at my desk for a moment, not really taking in what was in front of me, and then twisted the chair around to look up at Jared.

> “Wh...what do you mean?” I asked, trying to return my mind to the real world.

>“Itís almost seven on a Friday night. Iíve had enough, and by the way you were snoring, I think you have, too. Letís go down to the Young and Jackson for a couple of beers to relax. After the week weíve had, I think we deserve a break.”

>Looking up at his smiling face with the Hollywood-style perfect teeth and the deep green eyes, I recalled my dream. I wondered if it had been prophetic or just wish fulfillment, but I decided to hope.

>“Okay, Jared, that sounds great. I really could do with a drink.”

Copyright Notice - Copyright © February 2006 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form Ė† physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise—without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.

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