It was the first time I’d ever been to the new mall. I’m really not much of a “Mall Rat” but I was home from California on leave from the Navy and desperate to get my Christmas shopping started before it got any later. Today, we would call that type of place “an upscale shopping mall” with all of the fancier, higher priced stores. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that I might have referred to it as “highfalutin”, which is pretty much how I’d prefer to one of those places even today!
Having just flown into town the previous evening and with Christmas within 10 days, I had to get on the ball whether I felt like spending much of my first day of leave in a damn mall, shopping, or not. Unfortunately, most of the malls that I become familiar with growing up in my home town were falling upon hard times back then (and have now long since closed their doors entirely and no longer exist), and that included Northwest Plaza which was where kids from just about all of the high schools in North County congregated on Friday and Saturday nights to see and be seen.
Not surprisingly at all, this new mall was located in West County, which is where all the money is located back in our part of the world. As I’ve said, I had to go somewhere and at least get a start on my Christmas shopping and the sooner I could get something for everyone on my list, the sooner I could relax and start to really enjoy my leave. What sold me on going to the new mall (not that I had much choice since I had to depend on my sister and niece for transportation) was the fact that they did have a couple of the restaurants that I’d grown familiar with and really liked out on the “left coast” which is one of the few redeeming features of those upscale malls. So, I offered to by my sister and my niece lunch at the mall as we did our shopping.
The weather was cold and there was plenty of snow on the ground, mostly plowed into drifts by the time we got started. That may not sound very good on the surface, but if you’re from the Midwest or other parts of the country where they have cold weather and snow during winter you might appreciate that it helped get me into a much better frame of mind for Christmas shopping. No matter how wonderful the California weather is most of the year, it really sucks for trying to get into the Christmas spirit!
We walked around the mall at a pretty quick pace, just so that I could get my bearings a little and have some sort of feel for what stores were available and where I might like to do some of my shopping. Then, before we could be burdened with too many packages from presents that we’d bought, we stopped for that much anticipated lunch.
After lunch, I spent a little time hanging out with my sister and her daughter as they shopped for items on my sister’s list but that grew old in a big hurry! So, we decided to separate so that I could shop for the things I wanted and needed to get. As is usually the case, I ended up not buying very many gifts on that first day of Christmas shopping. I have to admit that on that particular day I didn’t even step inside very many stores in that mall. I think I did go into a sporting goods store and found some infant sized jerseys and caps for the home town teams and I paid the exorbitant prices they wanted to get something for my newest nephew. Other than that, though, I mostly just walked around the mall, window shopping, until the girls were finished and we’d meet up and haul all of their purchases out to the car for the drive home.
I’m not sure how long I’d been standing there in front of this one window to one of the shops. I think I’d been day dreaming about something or other or maybe just letting my mind wander when I suddenly caught a glimpse of some guy’s reflection in the store window. There were two things that immediately grabbed my attention; he was hotter than hell and I could have sworn he’d just been checking me out. Now, I’m not the type of guy who is used to being “checked out” by other guys on a routine basis, especially not great looking studs like the guy standing behind me and checking out my reflection in the window.
At first I thought he was probably just taking a good look at me because of how I was dressed. Don’t ask me why, but after seeing me in my when I flew into the airport the night before, my sister thought it would be a good idea for me to wear the uniform again that day when we went shopping, and I let her talk me into it. This was a while ago and the Navy had just come out with the old style Dress Blue (winter) uniforms that we referred to as “Cracker Jacks” after having done away with those for some stupid reason for a period of time. I hadn’t even been issued that uniform a couple years earlier when I went through Boot Camp because it hadn’t been re-released yet and it was the one uniform I really didn’t mind wearing when I was out in public. So at first, I just assumed that the guy was checking out and admiring the uniform. We don’t have any Navy bases anywhere close to my home town and I thought his curiosity with the newly issued Cracker Jacks which were reminiscent of the old days was a natural reaction.
Well the more that guy stood there, checking me out in the window, the more I came to realize that he wasn’t just interested in the uniform. I was getting the distinct impression that it was me, and not my uniform, that he was looking up and down. By then I had come to admit and accept the fact that I was Gay, although I still hadn’t come out of the closet to people around me at that time, and I was flattered that a like that was so blatantly checking me out the way he was. On the other hand, I’d always been pretty introverted and still hadn’t developed any skills and wasn’t comfortable with the whole idea of cruising or being cruised. After a while longer I realized that there was something familiar about the way this guy was looking at me. He was looking mostly at my face, reflected in the window, and I came to recognize his expression as how someone looks when they think they might recognize someone but haven’t quite made up their mind yet.
I tried to discretely get a better look at that handsome stud’s face to see if maybe he was someone I should maybe recognize instead of merely drooling over him as some handsome stranger. There was this brief flash that he did look vaguely familiar but I didn’t know why and before I had long to ponder if I knew the man or where I might recognize him from he spoke.
He called me by my full first name. There was definitely a question in his voice the way he pronounced my name, indicating that he wasn’t sure it was really me. My first clue to who he might be lay in the fact that he not only knew my first name but actually called me by the full first name. My family and closest friends have always called me by the shortened version of my formal name and since joining the Navy I had picked up the nick name, “Willie” which I still go by most often. I hadn’t gone by my full first name since I got out of school, about 7 years before I enlisted in the Navy and about 13 years before that day.
At the sound of him calling me by name, I instinctively turned to face him. My mind was racing, hoping to be able to spare myself the embarrassment of having no idea who this man was. It didn’t help any that I felt a lot of extra pressure because the guy was so damn fine looking and I didn’t want to discourage him at all by not remembering who he was or where I knew him from. Fortunately, he didn’t speak again immediately after I turned to face him and just before he opened his mouth to speak again I blurted out . . .
That one word from me was more than just a question. I wondered if he’d noticed in my tone that I’d also spoken his name as if it was a hope; almost even a prayer!
We shook hands and I could only hope that he didn’t notice how my hands had started to sweat or how my voice almost threatened to crack with nervousness. I couldn’t believe that I was standing there shaking hands with “Mike S”. No wonder that stud whose reflection I had first noticed in the store window was so fucking hot! I couldn’t begin to tell you how many wet dreams Mike S had been the star of over the years. He was probably the number one man of my dreams from my old high school class despite the fact that he did not go on to graduate with my class. As a matter of fact, Mike hadn’t even completed our Sophomore year. That’s how long it had been and how much younger he had been when I’d last laid eyes on him!
We talked much too briefly about the good old days and where we’d been and what we’d been doing. I have to tell you that I was still very much blown away not only that I was standing their talking to one of the people I would have most wanted to bump into if I’d been granted the opportunity to make such a wish but by the fact that he had remembered me and recognized me even before I recognized him. I would have never in a million years dreamed that Mike S would ever remember me. I was stunned and I was excited!
Unfortunately, Mike had an appointment that he was running late for but he blew me away when he almost insisted that we get together sometime before I returned to California. He said he’d love to talk about old times and compare notes and he’d like to hear more about the Navy and California. After hastily trying to come up with a time that we could get together during the busy holiday season and failing miserably I was relieved when he asked if there was a number where he could reach me later so that we could arrange to get together before he rushed off toward the exit.
So let me tell you a little bit about Mike S as I knew him when we first met way back in Junior High School. If we weren’t the most unlikely couple of guys to ever share any kind of a relationship (friendship or even acquaintance) we couldn’t have been too far from the top of that list. If we’d had anything at all in common back in those days, I sure as hell didn’t know what that might have been.
I’ll start with myself first, because that may be the hardest part for me to explain with complete honesty. To put the face on ME back in them days, I could describe myself as a good student. I eventually went on to graduate well within the top 10% of my graduating class. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of my classmates possibly counted me among the that were thought of as Nerds or Brainiacs but if that description was warranted at all in my case, I was probably only on the fringe of that element at most. What I was back then was an over achiever who was moderately intelligent but worked very hard to make the best grades possible throughout my Junior High and High School years. Because I lived on the very edge of a geographically large school district and had to be bussed into my school, most of my friends were guys from the neighborhood who went to different schools because of the funky way the school district boundaries had been drawn up. I would never describe myself as one of the jocks back in my school days but I was actually better than average at most sports and probably better than the vast majority of my classmates in at least two sports in spite of the disappointing fact that I was often in the group of boys who was often picked last when teams were chosen during Physical Education classes. It probably didn’t help the perception much that I was a student manager for 3 teams (football, basketball, and track) my junior year and went on to manage the varsity baseball team that I should have tried out for during my Junior year.
This is based on a true story that actually happened to me, the names and exact events have been somewhat altered...
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