Parker, stretched out on the sofa, dropped the remote as he sat up. His gaze landed on his phone and the alert on the screen: “You have 1 new message!” One time, just once, he wanted the courage to ignore those damn push notifications, but this wasn’t it. He snatched his phone off the coffee table, swiping and tapping with a sniper’s precision.
He fell back into the sofa and groaned. He still hadn’t answered the message he’d received as he walked home from Octavo earlier in the day. As much as Parker wanted to hit the Delete button, he couldn’t. This time, though, he wasn’t trying to ‘guard his manners.’ On a night when he chose to stay home instead of dancing the night away at FLY, his faceless admirer was a comfort — an unexpected companion on his lonely planet.
Hi, Parker finally sent. I thought you were partying it up tonight.
LOL? Parker scrunched his eyebrows. Is that some new type of Morse code?
Laughing out loud, was the quick reply. Flattered that you remember me, or my plans.
Your plans, Parker shot back.
Parker picked up the remote, flipped through a few channels, then turned off the TV. When he looked at his phone again, a barrage of questions lit up the screen.
What part of the city? What do you do? Any plans for tomorrow? Are you still there?
Parker, feeling a knot tighten in his stomach, didn’t know how to respond.
Sorry … didn’t mean to overwhelm. Just interested.
In what? Parker asked.
In getting to know you.
Parker burst out laughing, but it wasn’t funny. Jacob, who’d been on Cuddlr longer, had warned him about the ‘stalkers’ — the guys who wanted to get married after five minutes of texting. His best plan was to shut this down. Now! It’s getting late.
Ah … so, you’re not interested.
It’s hard to… Parker bit down on his lip. Would you be excited about chatting with a picture of the CN Tower?
Because it’s all about looks.
Parker typed a response, but erased it and opted for, Given the app we’re using…
I didn’t say I was looking for sex.
Didn’t say you weren’t. Parker cringed. That wasn’t what he wanted to send, it was just a reflex.
You’re right. It’s getting late.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend, Parker texted before he could change his mind.
I was just trying to be friendly. Sorry if I offended you.
Parker felt his chest tightening. Why couldn’t he be ruthless? Why did he feel like he had to be the guy who was nice to everyone? Sorry. This app makes me suspicious, more than usual.
Especially of guys with no clear face pic, right?
There was a pause that made Parker’s heart race. Had he just crossed a line?
I may not share a face pic right off the bat, but that doesn’t make me a loser, a troll, or any less human.
At that moment, something happened that had Parker wincing at the metallic taste in his mouth. He was the guy the pretty boys ignored, which made him doubt his worth and feel almost unlovable. Now, he was doing the same thing and being a prick.
I’m the loser, Parker replied.
His response had them exchanging messages like Andy Murray and Milos Raonic battling it out on the courts of Wimbledon, yet neither of them tried for match point. They talked about the upcoming provincial election, Madonna’s fall at the Brit Awards and, to Parker’s surprise, family. At work was a will far greater than his own that chipped away at the walls around him, let him get personal. Then he saw the time. 1:18 a.m.
I guess you didn’t make it out tonight, Parker wrote. Or maybe you’ve been at the bar all this time?
Thanks for chatting.
White. Toned. Single. That limited profile description had Parker recalling Jacob’s other warning about faceless profiles. “They’re old or absolute trolls,” Jacob had said bitterly. “Don’t expect a Liam Hemsworth lookalike.” Even after three hours of chatting, he wasn’t sure he was ready to move from the virtual world into the real one.
I didn’t mean tonight. Another long pause. Still there?
Then came, Six-two with dark-brown hair, fit, cute and young at heart.
Young … at … heart. Parker weighed that up, again remembering his friend’s blunt counsel: “Young at heart equals old.” It shouldn’t have made a difference, but the next message he sent was, I don’t even know your name.
So, Parker … coffee tomorrow? Say, eleven?
It stunned Parker to find himself typing, Where?
Balzac’s in Liberty Village.
How will I recognize you?
Light-blue polo shirt, white and blue striped shorts, and a Blue Jays hat.
Parker surprised himself again with his reply. All right. Eleven. Balzac’s. Goodnight.
Parker returned his phone to the coffee table and tucked his legs under his body. He felt nauseous.
This was crazy, wasn’t it? It couldn’t possibly lead to something meaningful, right? No, not when Parker couldn’t imagine falling in love like this. And, really, what it came down to was pride. He didn’t want to look like a fool if the guy stood him up or was old enough to be his father. Then he’d cut himself off again.
Parker drew in several deep breaths. That made him feel better. For a brief moment he thought about cancelling, but he wouldn’t do that. That was something weak men did. He’d show up and let it play out because he had low expectations.
Or so he thought.