Philadelphia, PA, USA
Seeking men 40-60 within 20 miles of Philadelphia, PA
Relationship Status: Single
Have Kids: No
Want Kids: This is a complicated question.
Body type: Expert couch surfer.
Height: 1.8161m (This is not a test. Not really.)
Faith: I have some.
Movie: The Dark Knight
Book: The Lost World (Professor Challenger FTW)
The most interesting thing about you…
My sock collection. I never throw away the lost socks, the laundry orphans, the singular but proud refugees who migrate from someone else’s basket to mine, the war veterans, the random keepers who only want a family and a home. I keep them all. I wear them, too. Matching them as closely as I can to another sock, forming new pairs, thus ensuring each and every sock in my possession has at least a chance of finding their happy ever after.
Your desert isle keepers are (you get two):
You. We’ll either a) kill each other (and let’s not talk about what we’d do with the body—we’ll assume there’s another food source on the island. Actually, wait, let’s talk about the body. I’d like to think I’d give you a decent burial. I’d compose a poem for your funeral. I’d be sorry I killed you.) or b) get to know each other really, really well. Where else would we find the time and space to talk? Not at a bar, that’s for sure. For the record? I prefer option b.
A perfect date is…
You’re probably expecting me to say Hawaii, and you’re probably expecting me to be wearing my mismatched socks and a soulful smile. Or maybe you’re thinking I’m a stay-at-home guy. That I’m going to offer to cook for you and invite you to watch a movie afterward. Only we’d never get to the movie because I’ve got condoms and lube in a drawer under the coffee table. Better yet, you’re imagining I’m a fancy-restaurant kind of guy. That I want to meet you somewhere that has a balcony from where we can watch the sun set and assess each other in the most flattering light.
I’m not a nightclub guy. I’m not the guy who will meet you outside a bar. I’m not going to suggest something different but cute, like going to the zoo or checking out the latest exhibit at the Franklin Institute.
Here’s where I’m going to be honest, and here’s where you’re going to decide whether or not we’ll connect. I’ve been hurt before. You have too. So, all we’re going to do is talk. Me at my place, you at yours. We’re going to attempt to connect, in the truest sense of the word. Maybe we’ll watch a movie together one night, me on my couch, you on yours. Let’s pick a language and practice speaking to each other using all the wrong words. Let’s play Scrabble online, using our own rules. All of your words have to be things in your house. Mine will be the same.
What do you want to do on our date?
The Front Door
At first, the new requests lighting up the Let’s Connect chat app were flattering. Now that Robin had replaced the small bird he’d been using as an avatar with an actual photo of himself, people wanted to talk to him! But as he scrolled through the shortish list, his spirits dipped, dragged along the floor, and finally slipped between the cracks. It wasn’t the sameness of the dating profiles attached to each request—though they were startlingly similar. It was that he’d been waiting eight hours for one particular person to comment.
A confirmed citizen of the digital world, Robin had learned not to read too much into online communication. Text didn’t always convey the same meaning as face-to-face conversation. Internet connections dropped. Phones broke. But… damn. It’d been eight hours since he’d uploaded the photo, and Dan had yet to respond.
Had Dan’s connection dropped? Was his phone broken? A foot of snow covered the ground outside. Dan couldn’t possibly have gone out, could he? Maybe he had, and had forgotten his phone?
Or the roof of his shop or whatever had fallen in.
Or he’d been caught out during the snow and now had hypothermia.
Maybe this was what ghosting felt like.
With an imaginary rope tying anxious knots in his gut, Robin flipped back to his profile on the app to check out his picture. Small, at first, then full size.
He looked… okay. He’d thought about taking his glasses off, but figured that since he quite literally could not see his hand in front of his face without them—not to count the fingers, anyway—he should leave them on. His eyes didn’t appear too myopic behind the lenses. Or weirdly small. The brown of his irises showed well. It was a nice color, wasn’t it?
Robin flashed back to the time he’d wanted green eyes, because green eyes were different. Exciting? He’d ordered colored contacts and gone out to face the world through a haze of green—not that the contacts colored his vision, just his perception. Feeling new, or reinvented, he’d met someone and gone home with him—only to be booted to the curb before the wet spot had dried in the sheets they’d tangled together.
But, hey, he’d managed to have sex with someone real. That should have counted as a win.
The jury was still out. So were the lenses, which remained boxed and stacked in the darkest corner of a cupboard in the bathroom.
Eyes refocused on his photo, Robin brushed a hand over the top of his head. His hair was necessarily short (the explanation for which he probably wouldn’t be getting into), his beard neat, both liberally sprinkled with gray. He was forty-nine and lucky to have any brown left at all.
Was it his nose? At eight, his mother had assured him that God had given him the nose he’d needed to hold his glasses in place. Neither the size of his schnoz nor the weight of his new glasses had seemed particularly holy.
At eighteen, Robin had still been growing into his nose.
At twenty-eight, he’d felt he had. Or, at the very least, that the angularity of the beak in the middle of his face matched the gawkiness of the rest of his frame.
At thirty-eight, Robin had wondered, briefly, whether the date who’d booted him to the curb had lied about liking his nose.
At forty-nine, he barely thought about it—or he hadn’t until now.
His phone trilled a bright cadence of notes, snapping Robin back to the present. He checked the new notification and nearly dropped the phone. Dan had finally messaged him—which of course meant Robin had to spend the next sixty seconds thinking about anything else… and failing.
The rope in Robin’s gut rolled and tightened, pulling all of his intestines into a confused bundle as he swiped down and read the text.
Dan: So, guess what? You look like you. I didn’t have a complete mental picture, not a physical one, anyway. But your photo totally matched who I thought I was talking to. I’m going to say that’s a win. I’m also going to say that I get being shy. Honestly, I do. But this picture is going to make a huge difference to your profile. I bet you’ve already had a bunch of new connection requests.
Text didn’t always convey the same meaning as face-to-face conversation—but Dan’s tone was pretty clear. That last line? Not actually in bold text, but Robin had a hard time seeing anything before it, because that last line meant whatever they’d been building together was about to come down.
The rope inside Robin’s gut fell loose, leaving him disconcerted and slightly nauseated. But he managed a response.
Robin: Uploading an actual picture of myself turned out to be a low-key event.
Sort of, except for the almost panic attack.
Robin: I spent all night tossing and turning—
A fact he apparently had to share with Dan?
Robin:—and then I posted it and the world didn’t explode. Funny about that. And, yes, I did get new connection requests today. Guess I’m not paper bag material after all.
Dan wanted to know whether he truly thought he was, and Robin had to admit he didn’t, not really, but it was a thing people said, wasn’t it? When they didn’t know what else to say. When they’d figured out a conversation was going one way, even though they’d sort of hoped it might go another.
Robin’s conversation with Dan went the one way.
Dan was kind, as he always was, but he had a confession to make. One Robin had been expecting ever since the first mention of Dan’s BFF, Trevor, during an early chat. Last night, while Robin took and retook his picture, trying to find an expression that said approachable but not needy, Dan and Trevor had figured out their differences.
Now they were together.
Robin tried to be gracious about it. He kept his replies upbeat, his tone light. But inside, his loosed innards were withering and dying. Nausea was no longer a concern. Instead, the fatigue that shrouded the end of an anxious episode descended, wrapping his shoulders in a heavy embrace. The phone in his palm turned into a ten-pound weight. The light cascading through the window became a flash of horror in a dark world.
Dan ended the chat with his phone number and an invitation to coffee.
Every instinct Robin had urged him to ignore both. It would be easier to become the ghost.
Then he made himself switch from the Let’s Connect app to his phone’s text app. Whether it was a desire to put a mark on Dan’s phone that might send a prick of guilt in Dan’s direction every time he saw it, a need to preserve what had started to feel like a friendship, a jibe at himself, or a call to action no one but Robin might understand, he entered Dan’s number and typed:
This is me being brave. Now I need to go sleep it off.
The sun interrupted Robin’s backward slump into naptime. He’d lifted his feet from the floor with the intent of nestling his toes into the blanket bunched at the far end of the couch. He’d tilted his head toward his favorite pillow.
The sun, careless of his plans for an afternoon nap, hit him full in the face.
Robin squinted toward the window. Stupidly, he’d drawn the curtains back to peer out at the snow, and now the sun had moved far enough west to peek out from behind the houses on the opposite side of the street.
Uttering a cross between a sigh and a moan, Robin pushed up off the couch, slid his feet into slippers, and went to close the curtains. Before dragging them across the window, though, he peered out. Cold radiated from the glass, reflecting the snow blanketing his small front yard. Higher piles of snow to either side hid the shrubs marking the borders between his house and his neighbors’. The walk was clear, and beyond the three steps leading down to the street, the snow had been pushed away from the sidewalk to form a long battlement between him and Kerper Street.
Being a Sunday afternoon, it was quiet out. Robin studied the wall of snow along the street and the narrow passage across his front yard.
The last words he’d texted to Dan drifted across his mind.
This is me being brave.
He could go out there. The space was limited. Contained.
He could… He could go out there. Turn his face into the sun, breathe in the scent of snow.
Robin was squinting toward the far end of the street, when a shadow bounced into the corner of the front window. Swallowing a yelp, Robin stumbled backward. The coffee table met his calves and he sat. At the window, a pair of hands framed a curious face topped by a crown of dark fluffy hair. Kaleb, the son of his next-door neighbor, was growing his curls into an afro and spent more time fussing with his hair than breathing.
Spying Robin, Kaleb grinned and waved. He then pulled out his pick.
Robin put a hand to his heart. It could have been worse. The man in the window could have been Kaleb’s father, Sean.
Robin couldn’t handle Sean today. Not with ropes and things slithering around inside him.
Kaleb knocked on the glass and pointed toward the door. Then, perhaps assuming Robin hadn’t gotten the message, he knocked on the door.
Robin got up again and opened the door. Kaleb’s smile—as bright as the snow bunched around the stoop—lent Robin the strength to curve his own lips for a minute or two. For long enough to see what Kaleb wanted.
Hand out, palm upward, Kaleb got to the point. “Got any cash? I know we usually settle up on Mondays, but there’s this drum set on sale, and Dad’s in project mode and Herc and I want to go see it and if we have all the money with us, we could buy it today.” Kaleb glanced down. “Floor looks good.” He cocked his head. Fussed with his hair. “Can I use your car?”
Robin watched as Kaleb teased out a few curls and patted them into place, before he asked, “How much do I owe you?”
Kaleb indicated the small piles of snow to either side of the door. “Including the shoveling? Say, fifty?”
He could ask for three times that and Robin would pay. For services rendered, Kaleb was worth his weight in green paper.
Robin went in search of his wallet. Kaleb trailed him into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him. The front door whispered closed a second later, followed by the sound of someone who wasn’t quite an adult but who wanted to sound like one slapping his hands together and saying, “Sure is a cold one out there today.”
Robin grunted in acknowledgment. His wallet was where it usually was—with his mail, keys, and other pocket detritus, all lined up along the counter-height pass-through between the dining room and the kitchen, both of which faced the living room, making the first floor of his town house both cozy and functional.
“How much do you need for the drums?”
As though the house next-door didn’t produce enough sound. Sean was a mosaic artist and kept a kiln in a shed out back. It wasn’t the baking part of the process that made noise, though. It was the tink, tink, tink, of Sean’s tools as he carved shapes into and out of the tiles he made. And the curious thumps at odd hours Robin hadn’t quite identified. The music while he worked. Plus the sounds of two people going about their day.
They apologized once a year, on Thanksgiving.
Sean and Kaleb had arrived next door about a year before Robin’s ex had departed. Robin’s ex had been more social than Robin, and a plan for Thanksgiving had cropped up between the four of them—seeing as none of them apparently had anywhere else to go or anyone else to celebrate with.
When they’d shown up the second year with a dish of something and a bottle of something, Robin had been surprised. He wasn’t completely antisocial, but it often took him a while to work up to being talkative. And friendly. Normal? Sociable.
Robin glanced up from his wallet at the boy standing in front of him. At the young man who was old enough to drive. “Where are these drums?”
“Oxford Avenue. Over by the cemetery.”
Nodding absently, Robin pulled out the single twenty hidden in his billfold. “Is this going to be enough? I can Venmo the rest, but I don’t know how long a transfer takes on a weekend.”
“Nah, this is good.” The twenty disappeared and the hand reappeared. “Keys?”
Robin passed them over. “You might want to warm her up a bit before you go out.”
“Okay. So, what’s next?” Kaleb was studying the floor again. He shifted his attention to the kitchen nook. “Are you going to do in there?”
Robin followed Kaleb’s gaze and curled his lip at the cracked and stained linoleum. All things considered, the town houses in the Oxford Circle neighborhood of Philadelphia had weathered their years pretty well—on the outside. Inside was a different story, and mostly dependent upon the decorating decisions of previous owners and tenants. Robin had owned his place for close to ten years, and over the past three he’d been slowly updating the floors and fixtures, starting with the basement and working his way upward. He’d nearly finished the first floor. He only had the kitchen floor and cabinets to go. Then he’d paint the walls and move his tools upstairs.
“Should I do the cabinets first, do you think?” he asked. “That way if I drop a door, I won’t damage a new floor.”
Kaleb shrugged. “Like, how heavy is a cabinet door? Or are you going to do the counters too? Maybe some of that marble stuff or concrete or whatever?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Energy for his years-long project came in fits and starts. Inspiration too.
“Let me know. Whatever I can pick up for you, I will.”
Robin found another smile. “Thanks.”
“Whatever.” Taken out of context, Kaleb’s reply might seem callous. Robin knew better. Kaleb was Robin’s window on the world. Without Kaleb… Well, they both knew the score.
“Did you text me a grocery list yet?” Kaleb asked, pulling out his phone.
“Sorry, no. I’ve been busy.”
“New game or are you still working on Wyrmkind?”
“That. Yes.” Much easier to let Kaleb think all Robin had on his mind was work. “I’ll text you a list in the morning.” Robin grasped for a different conversational straw. “How’s school?”
Kaleb shrugged one shoulder. “It’s school.”
“Any more thoughts on what you’re going to do next year?”
“Maybe the band will make it big.” Kaleb’s grin was full of the optimism only a seventeen-year-old could muster.
“The band.” There was going to be more than drums?
Also, would this band mean Kaleb would have less time to be Robin’s window on the world?
Kaleb jerked his head toward the basement stairs. “Mind if I head out this way? I’ll get the car started before I run back home for my keys and stuff.”
Robin followed Kaleb downstairs to the half-basement he used as an office and workshop. He’d spent the better part of a year renovating the space, and loved how it made him feel: safe, nested, and yet still professional.
He’d constructed all the furniture (minus the chair) himself. After months of scanning catalogs for exactly what he’d wanted, building the desk-height countertops had proven easier and less expensive. They ran the length of two of the walls, meeting in one corner. Robin designated that corner the nerve center, but computers and monitors crowded both counters. He’d also built the bookshelves hugging the remaining two walls. The middle of the room had been left clear for the chair that had cost about the same as a fully upgraded gaming rig. Damn good chair, though. Robin had been rolling along the length of both counters in it for about six months now with no complaints.
Sometimes Kaleb hung out with him in the basement, Robin at one computer Kaleb at another (using a kitchen chair and complaining about the fact he never got to drive the “Porsche”). They’d game until Sean realized no one had interrupted him from wherever he was or until Robin realized no one had interrupted him and Kaleb from wherever they were. Sometimes Kaleb was the one who remembered humans needed to eat and sleep and all of that.
It was an amicable arrangement.
Today, Kaleb bypassed all of the computers without a glance—obviously following the siren beat of his “new” drums. He disappeared into the garage. Robin followed and smacked the door release. The door groaned as it rose along the tracks. Once it was open, he nodded at Kaleb, who was already behind the wheel of Robin’s twenty-year-old Toyota hatchback. The car only Kaleb ever drove.
The engine coughed and caught.
“Watch for ice!” Robin called.
Kaleb gave him a wave.
Robin ducked back inside the house and climbed the stairs. In the living room, he peeked at the couch, but his momentum had been broken. His fatigue had disappeared. If he tried for a nap, he’d only lie on the couch thinking about Dan. Or Sean.
He considered the window instead and thought about the wall of snow bordering the street. The apparent safety of the front yard.
Turning about, Robin jogged back downstairs and started turning on monitors. He wanted snow and sunshine? He could sketch out some ideas for a new environment for Wyrmkind. Or, just, you know, play for a while. Spend long enough in a virtual world and it often started to feel real.
That was what he told himself, anyway.