Do you believe in love at first sight?
Jonathan Doyle sure did. Oh, he knew it was silly and naïve, but deep down he believed. He wanted to believe. Jonathan was a dyed-in-the-wool hopeless romantic. He always had been.
As a teenager, Jonathan spent hours watching old black-and-white movies on television. He was mesmerized by the chivalrous men holding doors open for their dates, taking their coats, pulling their chairs out, and all the rest of it. When other boys dreamt of growing up to be basketball players, rock stars, or firefighters, all Jonathan wanted was that head-over-heels, traditional love story. Well, almost traditional, because in his daydreams Jonathan—and not a woman—was the person sharing that endless love with Mr. Chivalrous. None of those old black-and-white movies covered that territory.
Though he was amiable and good-natured, Jonathan never could seem to keep things together. Somehow, no matter how hard he tried to stay out of trouble, trouble found him. He had a scar on the tip of his right elbow from the huge picture window he’d broken when he was learning to ride a bike and lost control. He’d put his father’s car in drive instead of reverse when he was learning to drive and ended up taking down the neighbor’s entire front fence and landing in their swimming pool. And, in an attempt to make his best friend happy, Jonathan had lost his virginity in a blaze of…disappointment and life-altering consequences.
“Is he looking at us now?”
Brown-haired, blue-eyed, petite Kathy Gromley twirled her curls around her finger and forced her eyes to remain glued to Jonathan even as her mind concentrated on her boyfriend, George Rodriguez, who was standing behind her and across the room. Technically, he had been her ex-boyfriend for about a month, but nobody thought the “ex” would stick for long. Jonathan had started to look over at George when Kathy regained his attention by clutching his arm and digging her nails into his skin.
“Don’t look at George! He’ll know we’re talking about him.”
Jonathan rubbed his sore skin and frowned at Kathy. He was frustrated with the conversation and the entire evening, frankly. Kathy was his best friend. Actually, she was one of his only friends. So he had joined her at a party to celebrate the end of high school, even though he was painfully shy and more than a little uncomfortable in social settings.
“I thought you just asked me if he was looking at us.”
Kathy kept a fake smile plastered to her face, threw her head back and let out a loud laugh, then answered Jonathan’s question in a whisper.
“I did ask you to tell me if he’s looking at us. But you need to check without him noticing that you’re checking, you know?”
Jonathan was frustrated, tired, and done with that party. He had no idea how to check whether Kathy’s boyfriend was looking at them without, well, checking.
“Kath, I want to go home. I’m tired. Why don’t you just talk to him? You’ve been with the guy since freshman year. Surely you can have a conversation with him.”
At that very moment, a pretty sophomore approached George and stroked his arm as they spoke. Being across the room, Jonathan couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when George put his arm around the girl and led her toward the door, some of Jonathan’s shock must have shown on his face, because Kathy forgot all about checking without checking and spun around just in time to see her boyfriend leaving the party with another girl. Ex-boyfriend. Whatever.
“Oh, Kath, I…I’m sure there’s a good explanation. Maybe he’s…”
Damn. Jonathan had no idea how to end that sentence. He knew nothing about relationships and he didn’t know much about George. Yeah, Kathy was Jonathan’s friend and she’d been George’s girlfriend for almost four years, but the two of them didn’t have anything in common, so they rarely spent time together.
George was a popular athlete, social, friendly, and outgoing. Jonathan was quiet, kept to himself, and hoped to get through the day avoiding taunts from classmates. He often heard people mutter that he was weird or strange under their breath. Clumsy and uncoordinated were also fan favorites. But there was one genre of taunt they liked to use most of all: queer, fag, homo, and, on a good day, gay.
Those words had trailed Jonathan down the hallways at school and in the playground since middle school. He’d never been with another guy, never even outwardly expressed an interest in another guy. But it was true. Jonathan knew it was true. He was terrified about how his family would feel about it, though, so he kept the information to himself.
“I can’t believe he just left with that slut! That cheating asshole! I knew it! I just knew it.”
Kathy was steaming mad, her fists clenched at her sides as she stomped her pink, glittery boots.
“Fine. He wants to play this game with me. I can find another guy too.”
She flicked her long hair behind her shoulder and looked around the room with a determined glint in her eyes. Jonathan had to stop her before she did something she’d regret.
“Kathy, come on. I’ll take you home and you can call him and talk. Let’s go.”
As soon as she felt Jonathan’s hand on her arm, Kathy turned on him. She opened her mouth to yell, but then her rage twisted into a frightening grin.
“Oh, this is just too perfect. Let’s go, Jon.”
Jonathan started walking toward the door, but Kathy grabbed his hand and hauled him in the opposite direction.
“Where are we going? Front door’s that way, Kath.” Jonathan pointed toward the exit.
“We’re not leaving this party. We’re going into the bedroom, we’re leaving the door open a crack, and we’re making enough damn noise that George’s boys will be sure to tell him that he’s not the only one who can have some extracurricular fun. Come on, Jonathan.”
Ten minutes later it was over. Jonathan was lying on the guest room bed with his pants and underwear shoved down to his knees, but otherwise still completely dressed. He was even wearing his shoes. Kathy climbed off him and pulled her underwear back on under her skirt. He came, so that should mean he’d enjoyed it, right? But he hadn’t. Hell, Jonathan wasn’t even sure what “it” was. Kathy had just pushed him down on the bed, ripped down his jeans and briefs, stroked his dick until it got hard, and rode him to completion.
“Pull your pants up, Jon. We can go now.”
Kathy turned to him and looked at his face. Jonathan wasn’t sure what she saw there, but for the first time, she seemed to realize that her advances might not have been welcome.
“Oh, shit. Are you okay, Jon? I didn’t think you’d mind. I mean, you’re a guy and everything. You’re all about sex, right?”
He raised his hips, pulled his underwear and pants up, and sat on the bed, cross-legged. Then Jonathan looked at his friend, cleared his throat, and spoke in a whisper.
“I, umm, I’ve never done that before, Kathy.”
He’d actually never done anything before. No sex, no hand jobs, not even a kiss. Well, the kiss hadn’t happened with Kathy, but the rest was all brand-new.
She looked shocked. Probably because she’d been having sex since she was fourteen.
Understanding and then regret passed over her pretty face. She walked over to Jonathan, sat next to him on the bed, and put her hand on his knee.
“Jon, are you…I mean, ehm, those things they say, I thought it was just because you’re so pretty, you know. But are you…”
Pretty? Guys aren’t pretty. Yeah, he had delicate features, long eyelashes, and a slender build. But still.
“Hey, I don’t look like a girl!”
Kathy giggled and looked down at her friend’s lap.
“Oh, I know you’re not a girl, Jonathan. I just experienced the evidence firsthand.”
“Yeah, no kidding. I think you just scared me gay, Kath.”
Somehow that lightened the mood and Kathy laughed. Unshed tears glistened in her eyes.
“You’re not mad at me?”
Was he mad? Jonathan thought about it. No, he couldn’t be mad at Kathy. Hell, he had a hard time staying mad at anyone. He just didn’t have it in him.
“Nah, I’m not mad. At least now I can say I’ve tried to screw myself straight. I’ll add it to my list of failures. Like when I played Little League and didn’t hit the ball a single time the entire season, even in practice. Or the time I entered the science fair in fifth grade and started a fire, so the sprinklers drenched everyone.”
Kathy put a hand on each of her friend’s cheeks and caught his eyes. Her voice was serious.
“Jonathan, there is nothing wrong with being gay. Nothing. Don’t you dare call it a failure.”
And that was just one reason she was his best friend. Even if she had mauled him in their classmate’s guest room.
“Do you think my parents will be disappointed in me?” Jonathan chewed on his bottom lip and played with a loose thread in his shirt. He didn’t want to sound like a little kid, but he hated the idea of upsetting his parents. He hated the idea of upsetting anyone.
“Nope. I really don’t think they’ll be disappointed. If you want, I’ll come over and sit with you when you tell them.”
“Thanks, Kath. I’m not ready yet, but I’ll let you know.”
Kathy scooted off the bed and walked toward the open door.
“’Kay. Let’s go, Jonny boy. We have to get up early tomorrow for the trip.”
The next day Kathy’s mother picked Jonathan up and dropped both of them off at the airport. Their theater teacher was taking the graduating seniors on a three-day trip to Broadway. Kathy had been the lead in a couple of plays and she’d played important characters in a few others. Jonathan had helped build sets.
New York was fun and Jonathan managed to steer relatively clear of trouble for almost the entire trip. On the last day, he and Kathy were sitting on the floor in her hotel room, trying to decide how to end their visit.
“We have a free morning for our last day, Jonathan. What do you wanna do? Maybe we can get into some of those crazy New York bars!”
Jonathan rolled his eyes and looked at the brochures of museums and monuments strewn all around him, flipping through each one in turn and studying it intently.
“Kathy, it’s eight o’clock in the morning. Bars probably aren’t open yet, even in New York. Besides, neither of us is old enough to get in.”
Kathy pouted and opened her mouth to answer when they both heard Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene” playing from across the room.
Well, I’m giving up on love, hey, love’s given up on me.
Jonathan raised his eyebrows at Kathy. “You changed George’s ringtone?”
She flushed. “Why’s the asshole calling me?”
Jonathan gave her an understanding smile. “He’s not an asshole, Kath. And you still love him. I’ll go see the Statute of Liberty and give you some privacy so you two can talk.”
Kathy didn’t argue. She stalked over to her phone and looked at it like a snake that might bite her. After a few seconds, she steeled her body, put on her toughest frown, and answered.
“Wadda you want?”
Jonathan walked out of the room with a few brochures clutched in his hand and waited until the door was closed before he started laughing. He didn’t understand what had been going on between his friend and her boyfriend, but he knew George loved her. Frankly, he was surprised it had taken this long for the guy to call. The only question now was how long Kathy would make him suffer before she’d let him off the hook for whatever it was he’d done wrong.
Jonathan stepped out of the hotel and made his way through the crowded New York streets. That was when his life turned upside down. Well, technically, his body turned upside down when he tripped walking down the stairs to the subway. He wasn’t seriously injured, but he had sprained his wrist, so the paramedics took him to the hospital for an X-ray. The doctor confirmed that nothing was broken, put Jonathan’s wrist in a brace, and discharged him.
Because he was already eighteen and legally an adult, the hospital didn’t need to call anybody before treating Jonathan, but he didn’t want his teacher to worry, so he called her to explain where he was. Once the sling was in place, he got into the elevator to make his way out of the hospital and back to the hotel. No surprise here, he hit the wrong button and got off on the wrong floor. By the time he realized he was in the maternity wing instead of the lobby, Jonathan was standing in front of the baby nursery, mesmerized by a man behind the glass.
The man was wearing one of those blue hospital-issued covers over his street clothes and was sitting in a rocker, holding a tiny baby wrapped in a blue-and-pink-striped blanket. His hair was a deep black color, his skin fair, and his eyes…wow, those eyes. They were beautiful, a sparkling navy-blue color that Jonathan had never before seen, never even imagined. Jonathan could drown in those eyes.
Jonathan was frozen in the hospital hallway, staring at the gorgeous man. He couldn’t hear through the glass, but it looked like the man was singing to the baby he was rocking. And there were tears streaming down that perfect, chiseled face. Jonathan wanted to walk over to the blue-eyed man, crawl into his lap, and wipe away his tears. He wanted to feel that soft black hair, lay his head on that broad chest, and hear the man’s heart beat. He wanted to take care of that man so he’d never cry again. Time stood still as Jonathan saw his future with the blue-eyed man behind the nursery window.
“Jonathan Doyle! There you are.”
Jonathan turned his head toward the elevator and saw his teacher racing toward him in a panic.
“You said you were coming right back to the hotel. When you didn’t arrive, I called the hospital, and they said you’d been discharged hours ago. Thank goodness you’re okay. What did you get yourself into this time, dear?”
His teacher looked at his arm and touched the sling tenderly. Jonathan looked up at the clock on the hospital wall and realized that three hours had passed. It’d felt like only a few seconds, but he’d been staring at his dream man for over three hours. When he looked back through the nursery window, the man was gone. It was like he had vanished into thin air. Jonathan’s heart stung with the loss, and he had trouble getting air into his lungs. Forcing himself to calm down, he answered his teacher, “Oh, sorry, Mrs. Burns. I didn’t mean to worry you. I got off on the wrong floor and I lost track of time.”
“It’s okay, dear. I understand.”
Mrs. Burns had known Jonathan since he was a freshman, so she no longer asked questions when he got himself into yet another predicament. She just took his uninjured arm and walked him into the elevator, out of the hospital, and to a cab waiting outside.
“Kathy packed your bag, Jonathan. We need to go straight to the airport to make our flight.”
He nodded, but all he could think about was that man. The one behind the nursery glass. The man with those amazing navy-blue eyes.
By the time Jonathan got back home to Emile City, he’d come up with some justification for why he should move to New York after graduation. His reasoning had something to do with finding his life’s calling in the city where anything was possible, exploring the music scene, because Jonathan loved music. Who cares? It was baloney and Jonathan knew it. He had no calling. He’d never had an interest in any particular thing. He’d always been decidedly average in every subject and every activity.
The truth was, Jonathan wanted to move to New York because that was where he lived. Jonathan wanted to meet him. He needed to know him. That lovely, striking man with the navy-blue eyes. That very clearly straight man who had just had a baby. The man whom Jonathan had fallen in love with at first sight.