Playing games

When I was 19 or so, I worked a part time job at a mall store called The Game Keeper. I don’t think they’re around anymore, but it was your typical retail shop full of board games. I loved working retail. I’m not afraid to talk to people, I’m very service minded, and who doesn’t like playing games all day? It was a decent store, but part of a dying breed. We didn’t sell anything electronic, so you can imagine where that went.

After I’d been there about a week, this guy came into the store. He was about six feet tall, blond (but in the hot ash blond kind of way, not the surfer dude way), and dressed head-to-toe in black leather. Black boots with laces and buckles, black jeans, black tee shirt, and black leather jacket, the kind that looked badass in 1998, and damn it, they look pretty badass now. Let me see if I can find an image of the kind of look I’m talking about.

Okay, I can’t. And here’s a little tip for you: don’t do a Google Image Search for things like “hot guy,” “hot biker,” or “Val Kilmer.”

(Unless you’re gay, a guy, or want to be disillusioned that hot actors keep their looks forever, respectively.)

But seriously, if you can imagine Val Kilmer when he was playing Ice Man in Top Gun, then you know what I’m talking about. Here was little 19 year old me, writing vampire novels and working retail, and this guy walks in the store, and my jaw frigging drops. He was about 21 or 22, and my little self went hustling to that end of the counter, all, “Can I help you?”

But then he walked past the counter. He walked to the back of the store.

He walked into the back room.

And then I realized he was a fellow employee.

His name was Michael. I wish I remembered his last name, because I’d be internet stalking him in a New York minute. (Sorry, hon.) I flirted with this guy like crazy. He was clearly into me, because he flirted back, in a dark, broody kind of way that is only really sexy when you’re 19 and don’t know any better.

When he found out I rode horses, he asked if he could come riding. At the time, I was also working part time at a horse farm, so I invited him out. He showed up early, while I was still working, and he offered to help. I will never forget leading him into the barn where we stacked the hay bales, and saying we needed to move about ten to the other barn. Then I turned around to get the wheelbarrow (because hay bales weigh about 60 lbs). When I turned back around, he had a hay bale in each hand.

He raised an eyebrow and said, “Just tell me where you want these.”

God, I’m just about falling off the couch remembering this. One in each hand! It’s a miracle I didn’t tear all my clothes off right there in the barn.

Here’s why I didn’t: I was a virgin.

Yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing with this guy. With any guy. I didn’t really know how to flirt. I was still learning courtship, and body language, and sexual cues, and all those kinds of things that people stumble through in their teens and early twenties.

Michael and I went out several times. Almost every time was in a crowd of people, like after work, or with a few of my friends. But one night, his car was in the shop, and we worked the same shift. I offered to drive him home, and he accepted. We sat in his kitchen and talked for the longest time — it was well after midnight. Maybe after 1am. Our conversation turned slightly racy, and I began to wing it.

Then somehow we started talking about sex. I hadn’t even kissed this guy yet, but it felt strongly like it was heading in that direction. Hell, not just heading in that direction, it was probably on the freeway. I knew he had to be experienced (I mean, come on), and I wasn’t sure how to handle that. I told a funny story about a friend’s first time. Then he told a funny story about his own first time.

Then he asked me about my first time.

I told the truth. I said, “I’m still a virgin.”

It was like flipping a switch. The mood was gone, the chemistry was gone. He sent me home. Not rudely, but definitely not warmly. I tried to call him two days later, and another guy answered the phone. I heard Michael in the background say, “Tell her I’m out.” And at work, he was always cordial, even friendly, but there was a definite distance between us.

At the time, I was hurt, for sure. Devastated. Confused. And I was too young to ask him about it.

But now I know he was doing me a favor. A guy like that wasn’t looking for a relationship. I probably would have slept with him that night, and he probably would have forgotten my name within three weeks. At the time, I thought he was being a jerk, but he wasn’t. He was being the opposite. He was acting with honor and chivalry, and for a guy of 22, that’s saying a lot.

So Michael-whatever-your-name-is, thanks for being a gentleman. I hope you’re doing well.

And I hope you haven’t let yourself go.

Like Val Kilmer.


6 thoughts on “Playing games

  1. Just hopped over from Bobbie’s blog and this post just sucked me in. The hay bales – seriously who gets a romance novel moment like that?!As soon as he shut you down I wanted to cheer, not because he shut you down, but because in his weird way he was respecting you.

    Completely unrelated, but I remember the Game Keeper in our mall.

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