Tom sat alone in the busy roadside diner, pushing his half-eaten piece of pie around his cold plate. He’d never noticed this place before tonight, but the neon sign flashed, ‘We’re always open’, as he drove past, so he took a gamble and headed inside.
There was no rush to get home. Nobody was there waiting for him. Barbara moved out the same day that the divorce papers were served and since she left, Tom had been avoiding going home altogether.
The cinnamon sweet apples smelled good, but tonight, Tom just wasn’t hungry. He just stared at his plate, lost in his own long thoughts.
“What can I help you with, Tom?” The friendly female voice echoed in the diner.
Not feeling particularly sociable, Tom kept his eyes fixed on the table, “I’ll just have another cup of coffee—Hey! How did you know my name?” His eyes shot up from the cold, uneaten dessert.
Tom gasped. Her flawless skin made it difficult to determine the woman’s age. The waitress could have been anywhere from her mid-twenties to almost fifty, he just couldn’t tell by looking at her. Blonde hair was held back with golden clips strung together resembling a halo around her head. The plastic name tag on her white lapel said, ‘Destiny.’
Giving him a gentle smile, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “You just look like a Tom. What else would you like this evening?”
Tom rubbed his fingers over his forehead and chuckled. “How about a chance to start all over again?”
“Is it really that bad?” She asked.
Nodding his dark head, “Yeah, I’ve made all the wrong choices in my life.”
Destiny refilled his cup and then placed the glass coffee-pot on the counter before settling into the chair across from him. She studied him for a second, “What if you could go back and change your past? What if you could change just one choice that you made…would you do it?”
Tom’s eyes sparkled, “Hell yes!” He blurted without hesitating.
“Are you sure, Tom? Every action in the past has a serious consequence in the future.”
“I know exactly what I would change.” Tom spoke. He had relived one particular decision, over and over in his mind for years.
“There was a boy, Brian McNalley, back in high school. I was really mean to him. If I could change one choice that I’ve made, it would be the night of the homecoming pep rally.”
Destiny suddenly grinned at Tom, appearing to be surprise by his answer. Most people today were selfish and would change something to benefit themselves, but not Tom. He was thinking about correcting an injustice he caused to someone else, in his youth.
Tom couldn’t face Destiny. Admitting that he was ‘mean’ to Brian was an understatement. He wanted to be honest with her, but he was too ashamed of what he had done.
Their senior year in high school, Tom and Brian had spent most of that eventful evening making out behind the school’s gymnasium. The autumn night was cold, but they didn’t feel the bitter chill as they got hot and heavy in the darkened corner away from prying eyes.
It was thrilling and taboo, but their brief encounter was over too soon.
Rejoining their classmates before anyone noticed that they were missing, Tom made his way up the crowed bleachers when Brian laced his fingers through Tom’s cold hand. Automatically jerking his hand away, Tom drew the attention of the entire student body.
Mouths suddenly gaped at seeing two teenage boys holding hands. The girls snickered, as guys voiced their disgust at the very sight of them. Tom panicked and pushed Brian away from him. The steep decline of the metal bleacher pitched Brian backwards as he fell into the crowd of students and tumbled down to gym floor below.
The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers of ridicule. Shouts of, ‘Faggot, and Go home queer,’ echoed off the walls.
Tears streamed down Brian’s frightened face. Before Tom could see if he was injured from the fall, trash was pelted at the already humiliated teenager. There was nothing he could do but watch as Brian picked himself up and ran out of the school.
That was the very last time Tom saw Brian McNalley. There were rumors that he moved out of state, transferred to another school, and even quit school altogether. Tom never knew the truth for sure and honestly he was too scared to ever ask.
Thinking about that night brought a familiar wave of nausea. Tom knew it well. It was that feeling that he got whenever he thought about the look in Brian’s eyes.
Lost in his own pitiful thoughts of the past, Tom didn’t notice that Destiny got up from the table. “Great,” he grumbled, “I really am the most miserable person on earth.”
She left his bill, face down, on the table beside his pie plate. He fished out a couple of dollars as he turned the slip of paper over and noticed the elegant handwriting, “Tom, your order is on the house. Some choices can be changed, Destiny.”
Tom stared at the bill, “Excuse me, ma’am?” He suddenly stood up and looked around, but the woman was gone.
The diner was cold and silent. No music played in the background. The sounds of clicking dishes disappeared. The dreary dining room looked dirty and like it hadn’t been used in ages. The bright neon signs lighting up the front windows were now missing as if the place had been abandoned years ago.
“What the hell?” Tom muttered under his breath as he quickly left the dilapidated diner.
Tom’s life was in shambles. His wife had left him, he was stuck in a dead-end job and now, he could add hallucinations to his downward spiral. Was he really losing his mind too?
Making his way through the suburbs, he steered the mini-van into the driveway of the picture perfect two-story house with a little white picket fence. Rows of identical homes flanked by perfectly manicured lawns, if it was the American dream then why did every day feel like he was trapped in some unstoppable nightmare?
Barbara never understood how hard Tom tried to make it work. She was the one who insisted that he find a ‘real’ job right after college instead of trying to pursue his artwork. When she wanted to buy a minivan, he traded in his Mustang to keep her happy, but nothing he did could make him change the way he felt inside.
Tom confessed his darkest secret to Barbara almost a year ago and life was never the same again.
The house was dark. Tom dropped his briefcase beside the door and left it where it landed. There was no point in turning on the lights as he made his way up to the bedroom. He was the only person home.
All he wanted to do was sleep. He convinced himself that his delusions were the result of stress and sleep deprivation. A couple of hours rest would do him good. Kicking his shoes off before flopping onto the cold unmade bed, Tom quickly drifted off to sleep.
Bacon! The delicious smell of bacon and coffee filled the morning air. Rubbing his blurry eyes, Tom tried to focus. The sheets felt silky against his bare skin.
“Wait a second,” he mumbled, realizing that he hadn’t bothered getting undressed when he crawled into bed last night. Glancing down at his boxer clad waist, he realized that not only were his clothes gone, but someone had changed the sheets too.
Barbara’s stark white sheets and comforter had been replaced with rich brown bedding with threads of gold, spun into the fabric.
“What is going on?”
Music was playing from somewhere beyond the door way, and that was when Tom noticed that the bedroom, where he’d just woken up, was not his own. Panicking, he jumped out of bed and ran his fingers through his hair. It felt shaggy and unfamiliar. Barbara would have a fit it he went too long between haircuts. How had his hair grown so fast overnight?
A sexy baritone voice joined the music at the chorus.
Tom shook his head. “Where am I?” he whispered. Unsure of what was happening, Tom pulled on the flannel pajama bottoms and t-shirt that were draped over the wooden footboard of the big bed. They fit his body perfectly as if they were his own.
The singing continued. He followed the sound down to the kitchen in the center of the loft apartment. The wide open space looked as if it had been converted from a warehouse into upscale living space.
He didn’t know where he was, but it was definitely an artist’s loft. Several large comic book sketches, in various levels of completion, were displayed around the side of the apartment used as an art studio. The cels looked familiar. They were identical to the doodles that he drew, up until Barbara made him give up his dreams of becoming an artist.
Tom suddenly froze.
The man standing at the stove, crumbling bacon into a large omelet, was Brian McNalley! His pajama pants hung loosely from his trim hips. Tom watched the muscles flex across his bare back as he tended to the pan.
“Brian?” Tom breathed his name on trembling lips. The man glanced over his shoulder and smiled. It really was him.
Struggling to catch his breath, Tom felt lightheaded, but Brian didn’t notice. “Good morning sleepy head. Why don’t you have a seat while I finish this up?”
The table was set for two. Tall glasses of orange juice, coffee, a bowl of mixed berries with nuts, as well as a stack of buttered toast, were already on the table waiting.
Tom couldn’t sit. His heart raced…his fingers twitched…he had to see if he was hallucinating again. Stepping behind Brian, he ran his hands over his broad shoulders. His skin was warm and tanned with a sprinkling of light brown freckles. The touch must have felt good because Brian moaned and leaned back into Tom’s touch.
It was amazing. The boy had become a man and he was really here, just inches away from him. Tom trembled with excitement as his hands slipped around Brian’s waist and he nuzzled his nose into the silky brown hair at the nape of his neck.
Feeling Tom’s erection pressing into his behind, Brian moaned, “Oh babe,” he gasped, “Keep that up and I just might have to call in sick today.” He removed the pan from the burner and set it aside. Breakfast would have to wait.
“Brian…” Tom was breathless, “I need you.”
Turning in his lovers arms, their lips met in a passionate kiss. Tom opened up to Brian, deepening their kiss, pressing their bodies closer together. Brian tried to pull back, to break their connection, but Tom wouldn’t let him go.
When Tom’s hungry lips trailed from Brian’s mouth to nibble along his neck and jaw, the throaty chuckles caused him to pause. “What has gotten into you this morning?” Brian asked. “You’re acting like a horny teenager getting laid for the first time.”
Tom didn’t want to lose the magic of the moment, but he had to know what had brought about this wonderful change to his life. “Do you remember that night back in high school, at the pep rally?”
Brian frowned at him for a second, confused by Tom’s questions. “Yeah, Tom, I’ll never forget what you did…”
Pulling him close, Tom started to beg for forgiveness.
“…that was the night you held my hand in front of the entire school.” Brian’s handsome face beamed as he smiled at Tom. “That simple choice changed my whole life.”
Gasping for air, Tom stood there trembling and unable to speak. Brian touched his cheek then ran his fingers through Tom’s dark hair, bringing his mouth back to Tom’s eager lips for another kiss.
** This short story was part of the
Spring 2012 Anthology
Spring 2012 Anthology
Collection at GayAuthors.org.
The theme was 'Choices'**