He followed me from aisle to aisle. Careful not to look as if that is what he was doing. He would just happen to be there. Arranging books on a lower shelf. Carrying something from one place to another. Trying not to be noticed.
He looked like a thousand other awkward teenage boys. Going about his part time job in a bookstore. Hair carefully careless. Swept forward to cover as much of his face as possible. Providing a way to hide that could easily be brushed off as fashion. Skinny, with the hunched over posture of a kid who has recently sprouted a few inches and isn’t sure yet how to carry them. The shirt was baggy, and tucked into his pants in a manner suggesting it was required by his boss. The pants were the kind meant to be worn low on the hips, or more likely, halfway below his butt. Not designed for tucking in baggy shirts at work.
A perfectly ordinary looking kid. I’d only noticed him because he seemed to be wherever I was. Each time I glanced over at him, I made the same mental note. That he was not especially good looking, and even if he were, he was far too young. There are few bigger turn offs than feeling like a pederast.
He reminded me of another teenage boy, in another bookstore, once. In Paris. I had stumbled across a quaint shop in the gay part of the city, and was standing in one of the narrow aisles, trying to determine if the book I was holding might be too advanced for my elementary French.
A dark haired, rather prep school looking boy kept walking past me. Nervous. He was extremely nervous. The poor kid must have come to that shop hoping to meet another man who was gay. A full grown man. Someone who would help him get through his fledgling phase. Perhaps he was completely without experience of any kind with another man, and was taking what must have seemed to him an enormous risk. Hesitant, but compelled by the conviction that this was his best chance at finding love.
He passed by me slowly. Brushing against the edge of the book in my hands. Trying to get my attention. The thought of statutory rape prevented me from looking up. I could empathize with him, and remember being that young myself, and not caring about an age difference of a few years. There were crushes on school teachers. Priests, even. So it wouldn’t matter to him. This shy boy in Paris. The thing is, once you are on the adult side of that fantasy, age does matter to you.
There is something kind of icky about the idea of being with a boy who is too young. He’s not yet fully developed. Unripened fruit. That, and the pressure of having to stand next to him shirtless, or lie next to him naked, and do the things young people do without thought of how they look shirtless. Or naked.
Not that I’m old. That’s the whole point. With a guy closer to my own age, I wouldn’t feel self-conscious. At least not very. I’m fit. In good shape. Grateful I can still hold a handstand, or take the stairs, or wear the same sized jeans I did in college. So who needs some mid-puberty apprentice to make me appear ready to play the dad?
That is the word. Apprentice. An important word. I can easily recall working my teenage part time shift at the supermarket. Following a handsome full grown man down the aisle. Pretending to be searching for a price on a can of whatever. Fantasizing about him. Exploring all the various scenarios in which he could lead me into the sensual world.
The announcement came over the PA system, that the store would be closing, bringing me back from Paris to the present. I grabbed the four books I had decided to buy, and headed up to the cashier. Although I was next, a line had formed behind me. The girl at the counter called for one of her co-workers to open another register.
There he was, the awkward teenage boy with carefully tousled hair. Now we were face to face, as he rang me up. No skulking behind, casting fantasies at me. He did his best to avoid what he wanted most. Then asked if I would like him to hand me the receipt, or put it in the bag.
An odd question. One I’ve never been asked by any cashier in any store, ever. Of course I wanted him to hand me the receipt.
“You can just put it in the bag.” Avoidance myself.
We locked eyes. I’d not seen his until that moment. Big and blue, and dancing with fairies and sparkling pixie dust. He positively beamed at me, and held my gaze, and why shouldn’t I give this boy the experience I never had when I was him? Why not? Who cares about age or insecurity or improbabilities? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be what he wants me to be? To take him under my wing, tell him how much he matters, how important it is for him to be loved and to feel loved and to know that he deserves to have a few dreams come true.
It would be nice, but the problem with this real life scenario is that there isn’t the chance to fit all of that in the few seconds of interaction between customer and employee. In the glass storefront, his reflection watched me walk away. I hope with everything in my heart that he saw me look back at him and smile.