21.6 Back in the Game

John wiped his clammy hands on his pants as he approached the bar. The cool night air refreshed his heating body. He didn’t use to be so cautious. Imagine… John Meyers, a mere peasant in the eyes of the elite, pursued and wooed Mary Jones, the most sought after snob of them all, with little thought. A blind-ish date with another woman out of his league should have been easy.

His coworkers congratulated him on getting back in the game, but was he ever in the game? Did his affairs count as dating? If not, it would explain why he was so nervous; dating was new. Before Mary, only one girl caught his interests. In a perfect world, she would have been the one despite never considering marriage. She was better suited for him. They were both outcasts because of their economic status and shared mutual interests. He could be himself around her. She was his best friend. But, as the teenage hormones waged war on John’s young body, it became clear that he and his friend were not on the same page. She had traditional values and did not want their friendship to escalate at that point. John respected her enough to back off. They remained close until his first affair. Whether it was the emotional connection they shared, or that forbidden kiss they both enjoyed, some would consider her the first.

In the beginning, this woman was the third layer of complication in his decision to marry Mary. The most compelling reason was the child. John didn’t love Mary, but he cared enough to not want to see her dragged through the mud in scandal. But, if he married her, exploring the possibilities with his friend would never be, and that bothered him a great deal. After the wedding, the stalwart friend encouraged him during the pregnancy, saying he would be a great dad and everything would work out. Tim was born, and life got busy so he and the friend spoke less. Besides, motherhood suited Mary, and he liked getting to know that new side of her. Family life was something new he never experienced, and he enjoyed it. They got closer, and Mary slowly became someone he thought he could love. Susie was born, and soon things went south. John needed the comfort of his friend and sought her out. She was seeing someone, and it was serious. After the stolen kiss, she suggested they never see each other again, and he agreed. It broke his heart. That’s when the affairs began.

So, when answering the question “what is your type?” he didn’t have an answer. He liked women. All women. Any woman who wasn’t Mary. Easy on the eyes. No blondes, snobs, materialistic, or jealous types. And, no one who wanted kids or to get married in the near future. Or, maybe ever.

He spotted his date almost instantly. She was taller than she appeared in her pictures. Audra Coulter was her name, and John admired her cheerful smile and large blue eyes many times before gaining the courage to swipe right. She seemed so serious. John knew she was way out of his league, but he had to swipe. Little did he know, she swiped on him first.

John had concerns about dating within his own age group. Waistlines expanded, and things sagged. Lines sprouted from random places, dissecting the face into less equal parts. Call him shallow if you’d like, but he enjoyed looking at beautiful women. Audra had aged well. She had a great build and could be on the cover of swimsuit magazines even at her age. Dating a younger woman would have been amazing. She would have the energy to keep up with his drive and wouldn’t be serious at first. But, in the end, she would always want what he wasn’t willing to give her. A woman his own age would have similar life experiences and might want the same things. It would be risky, but he never backed down from a challenge.

The person crooning on stage had captured her attention. She wasn’t even looking for him, but he didn’t mind admiring her swaying hips for a moment. He walked behind her and said, “If only we all could sing like that.”

She turned around with that radiant smile that caught his eye the first time. And, her eyes! They were even more stunning in person. So blue and soft. They told so many stories about her.

“John?”

“In the flesh.”

She smiled nervously as if she were in the presence of her celebrity crush. “It’s good to meet you… In real life, I mean.”

They shared a nervous laugh, and John felt the weight of his decision. She was totally into him. He couldn’t mess it up. “Can I get you a drink? Or, do you want to sit and talk?”

He chose Planet Honey Pop for specific reasons despite karaoke not being his thing. Although he and Audra communicated on Simder, he didn’t know her well. The karaoke bar provided a great environment for different outcomes. If she was the fun loving type, they could sing. If she was a talker, they could sit to the side and yammer on about whatever she wanted. If she loved juice, they could hang out at the bar. If none of the above suited her, they could go for a more intimate, quiet night and walk around the fashion district.

“Uhh… Yeah, let’s talk.”

John escorted her to a table farthest from the stage and pulled out a chair for her. “At the risk of sounding insensitive and rude, I have to know something, Audra.”

Her smile fell. “What’s that?”

“How is it that someone as amazing as you needs a dating app? You’re so kind and incredibly beautiful. Surely you have suitors beating down your door.”

She blinked a few times and plastered a smile on her face. “Well, John, perhaps I do not enjoy the type of company who would beat down my door.”

He could have kicked himself. Dating was harder than he thought. Men and women were so different. A man would gladly entertain every woman who came to his door. But, women had to be guarded. In the past, John was so reckless, he would have been the type she’d find at her door. He had to change.

“I’ve been divorced longer than you have,” she said. “After a while, one tires of the same old thing.”

Now he really had to be different. Not just because he liked her, but because he needed to be. Though he was no longer married, he had to stop playing around. That was a young man’s game. “I understand. I didn’t mean to offend you. I simply meant, whoever let you go, well… I think he’s a fool.”

Her smile returned, and he sighed in relief.

“Well, once you’ve realized you’re trapped in a prison of your own creation, the only thing you can do is free yourself.”

John’s head dropped into his chest to hide his flushed cheeks. “Touché. I promise I will attempt to keep my foot out of my mouth for the rest of this conversation.”

She laughed. “It’s cute there.”

Her eyes were like a calm ocean. Like anything that falls into water, she intenerated his heart. If staring into each other’s eyes was the only activity of the night, he wouldn’t mind. “I need to take one more risk before you throw me out of here.”

Her eyes widened in anticipation.

“I realize I may sound like a stalker, but I noticed something in one of your pictures. I thought I saw a Llama Man action figure…”

It was blurry in the background and partially hidden as if she didn’t realize it was there or she failed to cover it up.

Her cheeks got red that time. “You saw that?”

“Of course. I had to swipe right when I saw it.” He winked at her.

Her chest deflated. “So, you’re a fan?”

“Oh yes. I haven’t watched it in years, but it still holds a special place in my heart.”

Her smile was as bright as it had been all night. “I’m so relieved! I’m a total geek on the inside, but people don’t understand. I have to hide my fangirl side all the time.”

He was in good company, and it felt amazing. “I understand completely, trust me. I wasn’t allowed to enjoy what I liked in my former life.”

John caught himself gazing into her eyes again. As gorgeous as they were, he and Audra had so many new things to discuss now. He said goodbye to them as he shook himself out of the trance. “Gosh, Audra. I haven’t had someone I could talk with about this in so long. Where have you been all my life?”

There was that sweet laugh again.

“I realize this may be a bit premature, but do you think you would want to attend a movie with me? My children are not into science fiction and fantasy and going alone isn’t something I’m comfortable doing.”

“I’d like that. You’re my fan friend now.”

Hopefully, in the future, she’d want more than friendship because her lips had been teasing him all night. He desired to taste them. But, for now, being her fan friend was enough.

21.5 Old John
21.7 Talent

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