There wasn't supposed to be a Chapter 2. This was intended as a short story, but a certain editor, who shall remain nameless, if not blameless, insisted that the self-torture of David should continue. So, it's his fault that the poor man has to suffer more anxiety attacks.
Somehow, I think it is possible that he means that it is my 'fault' that he continued. I will gladly take the blame. This really looks like this is going to be a very interesting story. Okay let's sit back and enjoy this next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
I went to work on Friday feeling pretty good. I had survived the whole week without feeling like a complete klutz. The machine shop where I work, as a bookkeeper, makes parts for big trucks, eighteen wheelers. It's not a big shop, but we do a lot of business, and the business has grown a lot, just in the years since I've been here. In fact, we've gotten so busy, that we found it was cheaper to buy some of our small parts—bolts and things—overseas than to make them in house.
We had just received a sizable shipment from Taiwan, and the first thing I had to do this morning was to go to the stock room and check them out, make sure that we had everything that was listed on the order, before I wrote the check to pay the company that shipped them to us.
I grabbed my clipboard from its hook and headed for the stockroom. On the way there, I met Mike Dorczek, the line supervisor. Mike's a big guy, and sometimes he's a little crude, but he's always been nice to me, and he's always helpful if I have trouble finding all the components of an order.
"What's up, Dave?"
"I've got to check the order of screws, bolts and washers that just came in from the company in Taiwan. The parts just arrived yesterday, and we got a call in the afternoon from their accounting department asking when they could expect payment."
"Wow, they don't waste any time, do they?"
"No, they're always like this. I've mentioned it to Mr. Wheeler, and he's looking around for another less abrasive supplier. He's not happy at all with these people, either."
"I've got a few minutes. Maybe I can help you check them in. Then you can send them a check and get them off your back."
"Thanks, Mike, I'd really appreciate the help."
With Mike's help, I had the order verified in about fifteen minutes, and I was on my way back to my office to cut the check to the company. Mike stopped me, just as I was leaving the production floor.
"Got any plans for this evening?"
"Not really. I thought I'd maybe rent a movie. I don't go out very much."
"How would you feel about going out for dinner, with me, and maybe we can go for a drink or two, afterward?"
"Gee, I don't know…I never…I don't…."
"Hey, Buddy, it's just dinner…and it's my treat! I'm bored, and I'd really like to get out of the house for a while, but I hate going out to dinner by myself."
"Well, I guess, maybe…."
"Great! You don't have a car, do you? I've seen you getting off the bus, when I'm coming in to work."
"No, I don't drive."
"Well then, why don't I just pick you up, …say, about six, and we'll go from there?"
I could feel the familiar pressure building up. What if…? What if he finds out? He'll probably tell everyone here, and then I'll have to find a new job. I'm afraid I'll say something, or do something, really stupid, and then my whole life's shot! I should tell him 'no' right now, before this goes any farther.
"OK. Do you know where I live?"
"No, but I'm guessing it's on a bus route." He chuckled.
"Actually, no. I have to walk about three blocks to the bus stop."
"OK, I'm not a mind reader. Would you give me the address?"
I did, and he whistled. "Hey, that's a pretty fancy section of town!"
"It was my folks' house. After they died, my sister and I lived there together until she got married. Now, it's just me."
"No other family, besides your sister?"
"No. Not unless you count my brother-in-law."
"So, hey, I'll be by at six, to pick you up, OK?"
"OK." He gave me a big smile and headed back down the aisle. I just stood there for a minute. What a smile! That smile was really something! I never noticed what a good-looking guy he is! All right, now, stop this! You're going out to dinner with him, not to some rendezvous in the Bahamas! Just get yourself back to work. Relax, you can worry about this later.
All day long, I had a hard time focusing on my work. They say that Mondays and Fridays are the least productive days of the week. Well, this Friday certainly was! Mr. Wheeler came into my office to ask me something, and I didn't even realize he was there, until he spoke to me. This is not good! But four thirty finally arrived, and I got out of the plant as soon as possible. I was a little late, and I almost missed my bus.
When I got home, I hurried into the bathroom to get ready. I showered, checked to see if I needed a shave. I didn't. I went into the bedroom to get dressed, and I suddenly realized I had no idea what to wear. What kind of place are we going to for dinner? What will he be wearing? What if I'm overdressed and embarrass him? What if I'm under dressed and embarrass me? I finally settled on a dress shirt, with the collar open, and casual slacks. I put on a jacket, and I stuck a tie in my jacket pocket, just in case. There, now I'm ready. And it's five thirty. I've got a half hour to kill. What can I do in half an hour to keep busy, so I don't have to think about dinner with Mike? Mike. God, he really is a good-looking guy! It's funny, I never noticed it before. I usually notice all the good-looking guys in the plant, but Mike's just there. He's friendly, he's helpful when I need help, but I guess I just never looked at him. But why did he ask me to go out to dinner with him? There are fifty guys in the plant he could have asked. Why me? Oh, I know I'm going to say something foolish, do something stupid! I always do! I don't know how to talk to people, make conversation. I just say something stupid, and they walk away. I hope I can at least make it through dinner. Then I can say I'm not feeling well and ask him to bring me home. That would work! 'Thanks, Mike. I had a great time. I'm sorry I have to leave, but I get these headaches that just about knock me out. I'll see you at work on Monday. And thanks again.' That sounds good. He'd buy that; then I wouldn't have to worry about going out for a drink. One or two drinks, and I'm sure to do something stupid. Nope, no way! I'm going to have to think of some good excuse why I can't go.
Is that the doorbell? Oh, God, he's here. What do I say to him? Should I invite him in, or just go out to meet him? What is he wearing? Will he think I look to nerdy to be seen with? Why did I ever agree to go to dinner with him?
"Hi, Mike! You're a very punctual person!"
"Well, I had to hold myself back, or I'd have been here half an hour ago. I'm really looking forward to going out to dinner."
"Me, too!" Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, like I'd look forward to brain surgery with no anesthetic!
"Well, let's go, then!" Wow! Is that his car? I'm impressed! I don't know anything about cars, but I know what they cost, and that's not a cheap model!
We got in the car and pulled into traffic. He had the radio on, or maybe it was a CD, soft music, really soothing. I needed that just then. We drove a few blocks without talking, then he turned toward me—not completely; he kept his attention on the road—and said, "Where would you like to go?"
"I don't know. I don't go out much, so I have no idea what the best place would be."
"Willing to trust my taste?"
"Why not? Anybody who drives a car like this one must have really good taste in other things, too."
He chuckled. "I hope you remember that you said that." Then he turned his full attention to his driving. It took us about ten or fifteen minutes to get where he wanted to go. He pulled into the parking lot of a place called 'The Krebs.' I had never been there, but I'd heard about it. Annie and Paul went there, when they were dating, and Annie raved about it for days! But it was so expensive! I know how much Mike makes at the plant; I cut his paychecks. I can't let him take me here for dinner. This is way out of line; I mean, if he were taking a girl friend he wanted to impress, I could understand it, but why me?
"Mike, my sister came here with her boyfriend before they were married. She told me about it. She said it's a wonderful place to eat, but it's very expensive! Are you sure you want to go here?"
"Yes, I'm sure, and don't worry about the expense. I don't get to go out to dinner with a good friend very often, and I figure it's worth going all out."
A good friend? He thinks of me as a good friend? He's friends with all the guys in the plant. Everyone likes him, but he hardly ever talks to me, and then only about work. How did we get to be 'good friends'?
We went in. The maitre d' greeted us; Mike's table was ready. Mike's table was ready? He had reservations? Oh my God, what's going on? He looked at me, as we followed the maitre d' to 'our table.' I just smiled; at least I think it was a smile. It felt more like a gas pain. It must have looked like a smile, though. He smiled back, that beautiful smile of his. Where have I been all this time? I see him almost every day, and I never noticed that wonderful smile.
The maitre d' signaled to a waiter, as he seated us. The waiter came right over to our table, and the maitre d' bowed and left to go back to the front. The waiter bowed and said, "Good evening Mr. Dorczek. What can I get you this evening?" Mr. Dorczek? The waiter knows him by name? What's going on here? I'm really getting nervous, now.
Mike had spoken to me twice, before I heard him. "Do you like prime rib? Theirs is excellent here."
"Uh, yes, I do. But, …."
"Fine. We'll have the prime rib, medium rare, baked potato, tossed salad. Oh, and what are the appetizers tonight?"
"We have our usual fresh fruit cup, or a nice lobster bisque, or…."
"I think the fruit cup would be good. Is that all right with you, Dave?"
I can't speak; I'm in total shock. All I can do is nod like one of those little dogs you see in the back windows of passing cars.
Mike laughed. "You know, you're really a funny guy! If I'd known that you have such a sense of humor, we'd have come here for dinner a long time ago."
Sense of humor? I'm about to pass out with embarrassment, and he thinks I have a sense of humor? I'm not going to survive this dinner. My Mom died of a stroke, and Dad had a massive heart attack. I'm doomed, genetically!
"A penny for your thoughts!"
"What?" Oh, great comeback! You're a real conversationalist, you are!
"I said, 'A penny for your thoughts!' You looked like you were miles away."
"I'm sorry. I was just looking around. This is such an elegant place, and I'm feeling out of place here. It's a bit beyond my social circles."
"So, tell me about your 'social circles.'"
"There's not much to tell. Actually, I don't have any social circles. I'm pretty much a loner."
"That's what I thought. And I'd like to change that, if you'd let me. You're too smart a guy, and, if you'll excuse me saying so, you're too good-looking to sit home watching movies on TV."
"Well, my sister thinks I'm good-looking, but she's my sister! And smart? What makes you think I'm smart?"
"Everyone in the plant knows how smart you are. I was talking with Mr. Wheeler the other day, and he said we all ought to be praying that you stay with us for a lot of years, because if we lose you, the plant will just go down the drain."
"Oh, come on! Mr. Wheeler?"
"Dave, I'm not kidding you. He told me that he has to make the decisions about what the plant needs to do, and what directions it needs to take, but he has to come to you for the facts and figures he needs to make those decisions. You may not know it, buddy, but you are the backbone of the whole plant."
I can feel my face burning. Why is he saying these things? Is he just trying to build up my ego? I can't believe Mr. Wheeler really said things like that. I know my job, yes. I ought to; I've been doing it long enough. But, the 'backbone of the whole plant'? Come on, Mike, you're just feeding me a line. But why? What does he want? If he wants an advancement or a raise, he can go to Mr. Wheeler. Why me?
The waiter brought our fruit cup, and conversation stopped while we ate it. Then the waiter brought our dinners, and took away the cups. We chatted a little about what was going on at the plant, the usual drivel. But for me, it was good. I didn't have to think of intelligent things to say; at least, when we talked about the plant, I knew what I was talking about. Mike drew me out with his questions, and he seemed impressed with my answers.
When we finished our dinners, the waiter came over to ask us about dessert. I think we were both too full for dessert; I knew that I was. The prime rib looked to be two inches thick. It was huge! But it was the best I ever ate, I think, so I wouldn't leave a bite on my plate. And Mike, for all he's a big man, seemed to have had enough. When the waiter brought the folder with the bill, Mike reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a check and several bills. He slipped them into the folder and thanked the waiter. He never even looked at the bill!
The waiter bowed and thanked us for coming. Mike smiled and said, "We'll probably be seeing you soon." What we? I thought this was a one-time invitation, because he was bored. What's going on here?
"Are you ready to go? I thought we'd drop into a club a friend told me about and have a drink before we go home. That OK with you?"
No, that's not OK! I don't want to go to some red neck bar and get stupid after a drink or two! I want to go home now, so I can try to figure out what this was all about. I definitely don't want to go out for a drink!
"Sure, that's fine. Tomorrow's Saturday, and I don't have anything important to do. Whatever you want to do is fine."
Why did I say something stupid like that? Now I have to go, and I'll wind up getting in trouble, if I don't get my head beat in! I've had so much fun with Mike; he's a really nice person, and I'd like to get to know him better. Fat chance of that! Now he'll find out what I'm really like, and that will be the end of it. How do I get myself into these situations? Better yet, how do I get myself out of this one?
We went out to the car and got in. Mike headed across town. Wait a minute, where's he going? I know this neighborhood. Oh, no, he's not, he's not going where I think he is! Oh, please, God! I'll be good, I'll stay home, I'll never get myself into a situation like this again! Just, please, please, don't let him be going where I think he's going!
He's slowing down, he's turning into the parking lot. No! Why would his friend tell him about this place? Was the guy playing a joke on him? Is he waiting to hear Mike's reaction, when he finds out he was sent to a gay bar?
Can't I just die now, and get it over with? Do I have to wait and be beaten to death in front of all the guys in the bar? God, why are you doing this to me? Why me?
Well, in my opinion, this is really going pretty well. I think maybe he is going to have a relationship out of this. I like both of these guys, and I am sure I am going to really enjoy this story. I am ready for a new chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher