“You have 1 new message!” flashed on the screen.
Parker Wright, his eyes locked on the words, went rigid. He didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to open it. Yet even as his index finger hovered over the Delete button, he couldn’t stop himself. He tapped on View Message.
Parker hit the Profile icon, groaning as he read the description. White. Toned. Single. “Like that narrows it down,” he grunted, scrolling back to the photo of the CN Tower. And that didn’t impress as much as it made him suspicious. It wasn’t 1950, so why couldn’t he show his face? Was he hiding … from his wife? Parker had no interest in married men or learning about the guy’s intentions. He was done and deleted the message.
Despite being a late convert to apps like Cuddlr, Parker accepted and appreciated the ‘unspoken’ rules. Especially the golden rule: No face pic, no chat. And profile photos of headless torsos and cityscapes made it hard for him to believe that true love was only a tap away. He wasn’t car shopping, wasn’t trying to build and price it online. But there were similarities. He could choose the make and model, new or used, and select the finishes. Unlike most guys, he wasn’t paying that close attention to ‘legroom.’
He groaned. Another new message. He knew he should delete it, but his curiosity got the better of him.
No face pic, no chat, right?
Seated on the brown leather sofa, Parker tucked his legs under his body. He set the phone on his thigh, then ran his hand over his face. ‘No face pic, no chat’ was a line of defense against the online trolls. The ones he couldn’t seem to avoid since joining Cuddlr two weeks ago. The faceless chatters who asked him the all-important questions: ‘Looking?’ or ‘Into?’ or ‘Hung?’ They were never the first to volunteer their own stats or what they were looking for. There were others, with completely blank profiles, who claimed to be ‘around’ his age. He tried to be civil and not block them outright, but it wasn’t easy. Not when they finally sent a photo that proved they were old enough to be his father. Parker didn’t want a ‘daddy.’ He already had one useless father in his life, and he wasn’t looking to be kept.
Parker stared blankly at his phone. What was he trying to prove by not answering? That he could serve up the ruthlessness online dating sometimes required. Then he caught himself thinking about his mother and holding her frail hand in his. Her sunken eyes were fixed on him and, in between her shallow breaths, she’d said to him, “Guard your character and your manners.” What would she think if she saw him now? The answer made him nauseous: Disappointed.
Parker picked up his phone and typed his message. Hi. How are you?
The silence didn’t surprise him. Experience had shown that most guys wanted instantaneity. And protocol demanded a quick exchange of stats and other photos. After that, if there was interest, the next step was to meet — soon, ergo now — to see what could happen. Sexually. No time-wasters allowed. Parker wasn’t in any rush. He’d rushed three years ago, moving in with a guy after only dating for four months. They’d been living together two months when his boyfriend announced he was leaving. No explanation. No hint of another man. No hint of being unhappy. That left Parker broken and determined to lead a solitary life. Like a proud gay male spinster. But he was a man … with needs. His membership on Cuddlr was a test to see if he could, one more time, open himself up to love. He yawned and checked the time. 11:36 p.m. Just then another ding.
Hey, sorry. Phone call. I’m well, thanks. You?
Parker typed quickly. Good to hear. I’m fine, thanks.
Not going out tonight?
No, Parker sent back. Quiet night at home. You?
Resting up. Will party hard tomorrow.
Parker cringed. He wasn’t interested, either, in guys who lived for the bar scene. Cool. I’ll let you rest. Night.
Parker powered off his phone and got ready for bed. He lay in the darkness, his frustration simmering and set to boil over. What was he doing on the app? Was he really open to love? Or had he already convinced himself that he was meant for a solitary life? He didn’t want to believe that, but it was Friday night and he was alone. Like always. He rolled onto his side and curled into the foetal position. He felt like a man with few connections in the world, without direction, without a real sense of purpose. He was unsure of where he was going and no memory of being happy. What was wrong with him? Since the end of his last relationship, he’d built up walls — fortified and impenetrable — around him. It was the only way not to be disappointed, to not let himself be hurt again.
He closed his eyes, almost instantly transported him to a dream world where he wasn’t alone and where love had the power to make him sing … until he woke up.