This is Chapter 12 for my attempt at National Novel Writing Month. Enjoy.
Zoee had dance rehearsal on Friday, so their first date would be on Saturday.
Collin picked up his boys Friday night. They spent time with him. Then he took them back to their mother’s the next day. Every time he dropped his boys off, he would get out of the car and give them a hug. He continued this ritual.
He watched his boys race to their mom’s house. They were excited because they were going to probably have a sleep over with some friends. They ran past Tony’s rusted Mercury Sable that was parked in the driveway.
The garage to the house was open. It was packed with kicking bags and training equipment. That seemed odd. It didn’t bode well for Tony’s Taekwondo studio if the equipment was being stored in Lyla’s garage.
Seeing the reminders of Tony and recalling Lyla’s deceit still made Collin angry, but that anger had dampened. Now he was concerned with the financial viability of Lyla’s household. Lyla was going to school and working part-time. Tony’s business situation seemed inexact. At best, a martial art studio breaks even, and the instructor is able to make a living with a part-time job. At worst, he is operating at a loss and needs to work another full-time job to keep the studio afloat until student enrollment picks up. Collin was guessing the latter was the likely situation.
Collin took a breath and thought, this is Lyla’s problem. She made her choice. Collin got into his car and drove back to Wanetta to prepare for his date.
– – – –
Zoee had driven over to Collin’s place. They then took his car to the seafood place on the other side of the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side. They chatted casually during the drive. It was clear that two of them were excited but nervous. Collin had reserved a table for the both of them because he heard the place got busy. When they arrived, it wasn’t too busy, and a server in formal attire seated the couple.
Collin was wearing a new outfit that he bought earlier in the week. A black long-sleeve shirt with a pair of dark jeans. Zoee was wearing a blue form-fitting dress with a pair of leggings. She wanted to look cute, but it was still January.
The server asked the couple if they would like to start off with any wine and appetizers.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” Collin asked Zoee. She did. Then Collin spied frog legs on the menu and wanted to see how adventurous Zoee was. “How do you feel about frog legs?”
Zoe thought for a moment and said that she would try them. That seemed like a good sign to Collin. She seemed open to new things.
“May I see your drivers licenses?” The server asked. Collin handed her his licenses. Then Zoee hand the server her license. When the server compared the two birth dates and was privy to the variance, she exclaimed, “Oh ho ho!”
“What?” Collin said, but the server didn’t comment anymore on the age difference of the two for the rest of the dinner.
“So, I have a confession to make.” Zoee said when the two of them were alone again. “Renzo came over this morning and helped me pick out an outfit. Then we practiced conversation topics.”
Collin thought that was really sweet. “All that for me? Why?”
“I don’t know. You’re older, you were married, you have kids. I didn’t want you to think I was some silly girl.”
“I have a confession to make too. I was nervous as well. I didn’t want you to think that I was some weird old guy who was not over his ex.”
“How long has it been since you two have been separated?” Zoee asked. Here it was. The frog legs were his test for Zoee, and the discussion about his ex was Zoee’s test for Collin.
“Since mid-August.” Collin said flatly like he was trying to beat a polygraph test.
“And what are your feelings about her?” Zoee continued her interrogation. Collin understood her motives. She was genuinely curious but might also be concerned about Collin’s emotional wellbeing.
“I’m not happy with her. She betrayed me and broke up our relationship. But I’ve done my best to move on. To focus on my sons. I’m a better father now, then when we were together.”
This made Zoee curious. “Really? Why do you say that?”
“Because when we were together, we had different ideas about what was right for our sons. Now that it’s just me, I’m not butting heads with her, trying to please her. I parent the boys the way that I want, and I’m happier with the time that we spend together.”
Zoee listened and considered what Collin was saying.
“What about you? Are you over your ex?” Collin asked.
“How did you know I had been seeing someone?” Zoee asked a little defensively.
“I did a little snooping in your Facebook photos.”
“Ah. Makes sense. No, we broke up last year. We had been dating since high school. I thought that we were going to get married after college, as silly as that sounds now. But, we had grown apart. He wanted to stay in Wisconsin, and I didn’t. He didn’t understand why I was interested in going to Japan, and he was putting a lot of pressure on me—to get me to do the things that he wanted. I wouldn’t call our relationship abusive, but I didn’t feel good about it towards the end. So, yes, I’m over my ex. I’ve gone out on some dates since then, but the guys feel like boys to me.”
Collin listened intently to what Zoee said. “And what does this feel like?” He asked.
“You are very calm. You are very serious too. You can also take care of yourself. The meal that you made for Sam and me was amazing. But I also like your taste in music and the fact that you dance. You’re an interesting combination of old and young.”
“That’s really kind of you to say.” Collin responded. “Can I add that you look amazing tonight. Does the credit go to Renzo or you for this ensemble?”
“Hey,” Zoee said playfully. “I picked the outfits. Renzo just told me what he thought.”
“Well,” Collin said, “I think that every woman should have a gay best friend to help them choose outfits for a date.”
“Agreed.” Zoee replied. She was silent for a second and then asked, “Can I ask you one more question about your ex? And you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want.” Collin shrugged why not. “How come you two never got married?”
Zoee zeroed in on something that Collin didn’t usually discuss forthright. There was a lot of shame and complicated feeling tied up in the answer.
“So, before my ex became pregnant. Our relationship wasn’t going well. It was my last year of college, and maybe we were both staying in the relationship longer than we should have. Well, my ex became interested in her boss at work. He was an older man with a wife and kids. We broke up, and I should have walked away. But I fought to get her back. Maybe she realized that the situation with the older man wasn’t really viable, so we got back together. Soon afterwards, she found out she was pregnant.”
Zoee listened with wide eyes.
“I didn’t know 100% if the child was mine. Lyla said that the child was, but I didn’t know. I wanted her to get an abortion, but she said that she couldn’t do that. So, I supported her decision and prepared to become a father without any certainty that the child was mine or not.”
“Oh my god. So, Zak is not your son.” Zoee said in a manner that indicated and admiration for Collin.
“No, he’s mine. After he was older and his personality took shape, I became confident that he was my son. We’re too similar for that not to be genetics. Still, that was something that I came to accept years later. Before that time, I was ashamed, angry, and resentful of the situation that I blamed Lyla for creating. I would do the right thing and make the necessary sacrifices to be a father, but I wouldn’t reward her or validate what she had done by marrying her. I told her that we should focus on being parents first and then work on us. I guess we never got around to working on us.”
Collin had tried to answer Zoee’s question as candidly and honestly as he could. He wanted to be truthful, but not bitter. She had asked a fair question, but she was trying to see what unresolved skeletons Collin might be sheltering from his past.
“I’m sorry about what you went through,” Zoee said softly, “but I’m glad you supported your ex and didn’t force her to have an abortion. My biological mom put me up adoption. If she didn’t make that choice, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I’m glad she was strong enough to go through the pregnancy.” Collin said.
The two of them looked at each other considering the gravity of what had been shared. Their contemplation was interrupted when the server brought them a basket of fried frog legs.
“Ready to try some frog legs?” Collin said animatedly.
Zoee looked a leery, but she was willing to trust Collin and his choices. So, she grabbed the smallest frog leg in the basket and took a bite.
– – – –
Zoee and Collin shared a seafood dinner. It was the perfect amount of food between them. Collin was careful not to eat too much, and Zoee was always one or two bites behind him. Once they had discussed Collin’s divorce, the dinner topics became less serious-minded. They discussed their interest and dreams, funny stories from their past.
Zoee told Collin about how him asking her to dance in his living room reminded her of when she was in junior high, and she went to dance, but no one asked her to dance. Collin said that he would have asked her to dance, but he would have been 24. He laughed at the absurdity of that hypothetical. Zoee didn’t think it was that funny.
After dinner, they headed back to Collin’s place. Raf didn’t have his kids this weekend, so he had gone to see a movie with Sam. Collin and Zoee had the place to themselves, for now. He asked her if she wanted a drink. She said that she water would be fine. She had two glasses of wine with dinner, and it was starting to go to her head. Ok. Not a problem.
Zoee used the bathroom, and Collin poured her a glass of water. He was feeling fine, so he got himself a bottle of beer. He put turned on the stereo and waited for Zoee. Raf must have been listening to MGMT because that what started playing.
A little later, Zoee came out of the bathroom. It was now Collin’s turn. He had to pee badly. When he came out, “Electric Feel” started to play.
All along the western front…People line up to receive…She got the current in her hand…Just shock you like you won’t believe…
Zoee must have known the song, she was dancing and singing along with her cup of water in her hand. Zoee’s gaze met Collin’s, and he could hear her whispering the lyrics, “Sun in the amazon… With the voltage running through her skin… Standing there with nothing on… She gonna teach me how to swim.”
Collin was entranced with Zoee and her movement. He moved towards her. She smiled but was a little afraid of what he was going to do next. He came close and spun her around. One hand grabbed her hand, the other wrapped around her stomach. He started to dance with her against him.
I said ooh girl… Shock me like an electric eel… Baby girl… Turn me on with your electric feel
Zoee moved with Collin and continued to sing, “I said ooh girl… Shock me like an electric eel… Baby girl… Turn me on with your electric feel.” She swayed her hips with the chorus and relaxed in his embrace. She put her glass on the nearby kitchen table, and her free had dropped and grabbed his thigh. Collin felt her stomach. God, her core was tight. You could bounce a quarter on her abs. The two moved like this for most of the song.
Then Collin turned her around, and she looked up at him. He pushed her chin up and held her head up. He waited to see what she would do next, and she closed her eyes. Collin leaned in and kissed Zoee. She shuddered and her hands wrapped around his back. They continued to kiss. She was shorter than him, so he picked her up and sat her on the kitchen table. He placed his hands on her seated butt, and she placed her arms over his shoulders as they continued to make out.
Do what you feel now… Electric feel now… Do what you feel now… Electric feel now
The song came to an end. Collin pulled his lips away from Zoee’s. He leaned his forehead against hers.
“That was really nice.” Collin remarked. “Did you brush your teeth while you were in the bathroom?”
“That was nice.” Zoee smiled. “And maybe I did brush my teeth.”
Collin kissed her again. “You did brush your teeth.”
“I didn’t want are first kiss to taste like seafood.” She ran her hands against his arms. Collin placed his hands on Zoee’s thighs.
“Well, you should have told me because I would have brushed my teeth too.”
“Your breath is fine,” Zoee said, and she kissed him. Her hands squeezed his arms. Collin wrapped his hands around her waist and kissed her back.
After they stopped, Zoee apologized, “Sorry if I’m a bit handsy. The wine is getting to me.”
“Do you want to go upstairs?” Collin asked.
“Yes.” Zoee said, “But I’m not going to sleep with you tonight.” She looked at Collin to gauge his reaction.
“That’s fine.” He answered. “We don’t have to do anything that you’re not ready to do.” Then he added, “You’re not a virgin, are you?”
“No. I’m not a virgin.” Zoee answered. “I just don’t want things to go too fast.”
“That’s fine.” Collin said and kissed Zoee’s neck. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You tell me when you’ve had enough.”
Collin grabbed Zoee’s hands, and she hopped off the table. She followed him up to his room. The MGMT album continue to play until the last song.
The kitchen went silent then.