Traveling for a conference, Josh meets a distractly handsome and very well-built man with a few secrets hidden in his past.
I must have sat there for a full five minutes, just staring at the ID and trying to wrap my brain around what it would mean. And then another five minutes, trying to figure out what to do about it.
I still hadn’t decided when the shower shut off, so I put the licenses back in his wallet, and slid it back into his pants pocket. When he popped out of the bathroom, in just a towel, steam in his wake, I just nodded and walked in like a zombie.
The shower did little to defragment my jumbled up thoughts, but scrubbing up with nice hotel soap distracted me somewhat. The scent I associated with Gabriel was at least partly this soap. Herbal rather than flowery.
Think, Josh. It has to be some kind of gag, it can’t possibly be real. He barely looks like he’s in his 30s, much less 40s. No way is that guy pushing 90!
I really wanted to ask him about it, but if I did, he’d know I saw his wallet. Guilt lurked in waiting, though I’d only seen it by accident. No, I’d either have to ask him directly or find some reason to take another look.
I frowned at my reflection in the mirror. I could use a shave, but what the hell, it was Saturday, and I was already in my “walk of shame” outfit from last night. Though I supposed I’d really only worn those things for a few hours around dinnertime.
“Help yourself to my stuff if you need it. I even have a spare toothbrush,” he said, peeking in from the room. “I picked up a replacement before I went on this trip, but I haven’t switched over to it, so you’re in luck there. Just use the new one.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled. That much at least was a relief; between dinner and the various other activities, my breath was probably pretty bad. Plus, at my age, you’re happy to have your own teeth.
While I was brushing, I was taking stock. At 45, I was by most measures okay looking. Pretty average, a little thicker around the middle than I’d like, and a little silver beginning to show itself in my beard and dark blond hair. The crow’s feet were slowly going from faint lines to more deeply etched creases. But the teeth and hair were all present, accounted for, and natural, an increasing rarity among my peer group.
Maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Maybe I confused some dreamlike state for reality. Maybe I was just convinced I was batting above my level with Gabriel.
Somehow, I put it out of my mind, and off we went in search of breakfast.
Breakfast was lavish and included a few bloody marys, and then a quick stop at my hotel to change clothes.
We were flirty and giggling like kids on a first date. There was something about Gabriel that immediately put me at ease, and we chatted through all of breakfast, and then as we walked around town doing touristy stuff. I found myself talking about work and family as well as geek stuff and food and movies and TV.
It was going ridiculously well, if I’m honest. We found ourselves holding hands as we walked between Smithsonian buildings; We even stole a lengthy kiss on the bus, mostly to annoy the grumpy guy in the ill-fitting suit who kept trying not to stare disapprovingly over his tablet.
It had been ages since I’d hit it off so well with someone. And even if he lived on the other coast, I found myself considering that it might be worth making an attempt to make it work.
I was smitten, for sure.
So when he suggested we swing by the Korean War memorial, I agreed, having never been. I was eager to see the Lincoln Memorial anyway.
That particular memorial is mostly composed of a bunch of larger-than-life statues of servicemen of various races but they recently added a wall with over 40,000 names of armed forces folks who lost their lives in a war I knew mostly from M*A*S*H. I snapped a few respectful photos as we approached—it’s a striking piece—but Gabriel made a beeline for the remembrance wall and began reading it.
“Looking for anyone in particular?” I said, quietly.
“Maybe?” he answered. “A few names. Friends—well, friends of the family, I guess.”
“Your dad’s army buddies?”
“Something like that,” he replied. He seemed pensive, and I didn’t want to get in the way of whatever he was thinking, so I sauntered down a little ways. A few Korean families milled about, as well as a handful of veterans. I was about halfway down it, and I idly scanned the names. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything.
But there, amongst the members of the Army signal corps, was the name Gabriel Lucas.
It must be his father, I thought. Right?
I snapped a photo, and then resumed my wandering. Places like that always leave me a bit pensive, and there were dozens of people with a deep connection milling about, lost in emotions. So I found a bench and waited.
Gabriel moved slowly, taking things in. He was obviously feeling something strong, and a couple of times I saw him appear to bow his head in prayer, or thought, or something. Then he got to the far end of the wall, blew his nose, and began scanning the area for me. I stood and caught his eye, and he walked over toward me. I met him about a third of the way there.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think so.” But he was quiet.
“You want to sit for a minute? Or maybe go up to see Abe?”
We did a quick tour through the Lincoln memorial, which is impressive but was packed that day, so by unspoken agreement, we wandered toward the road after about twenty minutes. Gabriel hadn’t said much, and seemed still lost in thought—though if I’m honest he was sexy even when mournful.
“Let’s go find lunch,” I said.
“When did food trucks get so expensive?” I asked rhetorically. “Oh well, what will it be?”
“Maybe just a hot dog.”
“It’s D.C.—you want to try a half smoke. Trust me on this,” I said. A few minutes later we’d found a place to sit and tucked into our late lunch.
“Penny for your thoughts, Gabe,” I said.
“What? Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t suppose I’m too entertaining to be around right now.”
“I think it’s nice to see real emotion in a man,” I said honestly. “Forgive me. Were you close to your dad?”
He shrugged. “I suppose. It was a long time ago. Mostly I was thinking about his buddies. Great guys.”
“Did you find the names?”
“Yeah. One of them was spelled wrong, though. I’ll have to request a correction. Do they do that?”
“Probably? I can check the website…”
“Nah, it can wait,” he said, seeming to collect himself. “Man, this sausage thing is great, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah. Depends on the stand, but I had this guy’s the last time I was out here.” I smiled. “Looks like a little food helped your mood, no?”
“I’m sorry, Josh. I don’t mean to be a downer. I didn’t expect it to hit me this hard.”
“I told you, no worries,” I said. Then I gave him a hug, and a peck on the cheek.. “Finish your lunch while I ogle cute boys.”
He glanced around. He raised an eyebrow on realizing the area behind him was pretty empty.
“Especially the sensitive hottie eating a half smoke. It reminds me of something.”
It took him a moment before he realized I meant *him*.
The mood seemed to brighten after that, and he was more smiling and talkative as we headed toward the White House. I’d lost my taste for it after Trump, but he hadn’t seen it, so off we went.
“How much time do we have?”
“The website says they aren’t doing tours today. I was able to check on this amazing steak place a few blocks away. It’s a little pricey, but as long as they let us in dressed like this, I’m game. We have until maybe 5:30?”
We waded around the usual gaggle of protestors, and took a few photos before it was time to hit the steak house.
I’ll ask him after dinner, I thought.
Because as we drank our martinis with the good olives, and ate some bread, I’d begun to do the math. And there was no way those dates made sense. The Gabriel from the wall had died 65 years ago.
Share your fantasy at submit.metabods.com (Credit: Artofphoto)
Share your upgraded-guy story at submit.metabods.com