Long before my split with Charlie, I had figured out that two guys I worked with had small crushes on me. I was working at a popular restaurant in Midtown, Atlanta as the office manager. I did the schedule and expedited food during the day. I was overworked and underpaid but having a great time so it didn't really matter. The sous-chef, Kevin, had been flirting with me ever since I started working there. One of the servers, Malik, had been flirting with me ever since I had worn my little black dress to work. Both saw how bad my breakup with Charlie was for me and both took very different approaches to helping me cope. Kevin invited me to the movies, dinners out and relaxing afternoons spent in seclusion at his apartment. Malik got me drunk. I was good friends with both and appreciated all of their efforts.
Of course, I was in no condition to jump into another relationship but wasn't opposed to the idea of dating. Kevin was sweet and had his life together. He wanted to be a chef and was more passionate about cooking than anyone I had ever seen. He wasn't completely unpleasant to look at either though he couldn't dress himself to save his life. He was from Ohio and just looked like a good All-American type of guy. Malik was from Algeria and the exact opposite of Kevin. He was gorgeous and full of himself and always wore designer clothes. He had a new girlfriend every three weeks, was an insatiable flirt, and had some shady business ventures which he ran when he wasn't waiting tables.
It was Kevin who kissed me first. We were at his apartment watching TV and he actually asked me if he could kiss me.
"I know you just broke up with someone so I understand if you aren't ready."
"No. We can give it a shot," I said and smiled at his expression. I wouldn't know if I was ready until I tried and, as it turns out, I was more than ready. Kevin's kiss was exactly what I had expected it to be: sweet and gentle, just like him. He didn't try anything else that day but let me snuggle against him as we finished whatever show we were watching.
Malik kissed me shortly after Kevin. We were at some club in downtown Atlanta and I knew absolutely no one but him and he seemed to know everyone that passed our table. Malik stayed by my side the entire night and even though he didn't drink, he bought me a few glasses of champagne.
"How are you doing?" He asked after my third glass.
"I'm great. How are you?"
Malik laughed. He was always laughing and it was rather contagious. "I'm wonderful."
I smiled back and there watched as he glanced down at my lips. This made me blush and I tried to hide my face by looking in the other direction but Malik had already caught my face in his hand.
"You're beautiful when you blush," he said and then leaned in so he could kiss me.
Just like Kevin, Malik's kiss was exactly what I expected it to be. Passionate, rough, and sexy as hell. He let me spend the night at his apartment since I had been drinking and couldn't drive home. He was a gentleman and slept on the couch, woke me up the next morning and bought me breakfast.
I'm pretty sure that Malik and Kevin weren't friends before I started dating both of them so I don't think they ever talked about their dating lives with each other. I was pretty much in the clear. Plus, I had made no commitment to either of them and was free to date whomever I wanted. Okay, so I know that dating someone I worked with wasn't the best idea and dating two guys from the same restaurant was by far the dumbest idea I ever had, but I was only having fun and the guys knew I wasn't looking for anything serious.
I had been dating (please note I said dating and not sleeping with) both Malik and Kevin for a little over a month when I met Jackson. Jackson was a friend of a friend and had this unbelievably cute southern accent. The night we met, we were practically inseparable and talked about almost everything. I drove him home that night and he asked for my number, telling me how excited he was to take me out on a date. Let me tell you, I was really thrilled about this new guy. He seemed like the perfect combination of everything I liked about my other men. He had a great sense of humor, a steady job, a gorgeous face, and seemed to be really into me. Not that I wasn't having a great time with Malik and Kevin, but dating multiple people at once really allows you to analyze and judge your relationships. I could literally see where each relationship would lead if I were to start dating one of the men exclusively. With Malik, I knew I would become insanely jealous of his flirting, even if he had committed to me. And with Kevin, I knew I would become bored because even though I appreciated it at the time, we never did anything exciting. It was always dinner or his apartment for a movie. He just didn't seem to like much adventure.
My date with Jackson was set for one Friday after work. Kevin had left the restaurant at this point and was running his own place somewhere north of the city. Malik, I knew because I did the schedule, had the night off so it was safe for Jackson to pick me up at work because neither of my other guys would be there. Oh, how wrong I was. That night, that very night, Kevin decided he was going to bring some friends in for a drink. They were sitting on the patio when I got off of work and went to wait at the bar. I tried to avoid them but I knew they were there and he could obviously see me. That's when Malik walked in, gave me a hug (because we never showed anymore affection at work) and told me he was covering a shift for someone. The two guys shared an awkward glance and head nod and then Malik disappeared into the back to change. Great. Now a third would be coming to pick me up. I was fucked.
I called Jackson and requested that he just text me when he was outside so I could make a run for it and avoid an awkward situation. He agreed and thirty minutes after he was supposed to be there, he finally texted. I had just finished my second glass of champagne and ran out of there like my ass was on fire, not saying a thing to either Kevin or Malik.
Jackson took me his favorite sports bar that evening. He lived north of the Perimeter so it was a good thirty minute drive from the restaurant where my car had been parked. We walked in to the establishment and my face scowled involuntarily. It reeked of smoke and spilt beer, there were guys with cut off shorts and tank tops on playing darts, and a few too many video poker games. Damn, I thought Jackson was a classy type of guy. But I shook off my disappointment and allowed him to buy me a drink. So what if he wanted to keep things casual? I could do casual.
Jackson and I fell into easy conversation but somewhere along the way he started talking about religion.
"I just recently found Jesus again," he announced.
"Had you lost him?" I asked.
I blinked, waiting for him to explain. He took a long sip of his beer and then explained the story. Apparently Jackson had been going through a bit of a rough patch until just a few months ago. He had been sleeping around, smoking weed, and drinking. But something, I don't remember what, had opened his eyes and he had returned to his church and gotten his life back together.
"It's great that you found some direction again," I said, smiling at him genuinely.
"Have you found Jesus?"
Now, I don't mind discussing religion, I'm actually really amenable to that conversation, but is that really a first date type of question? Maybe it is, but my religious background is slightly confusing and rather fuzzy to explain so I'm not usually eager to speak about it.
"No. I haven't found Jesus," I told him honestly.
"Really?" He looked fascinated. "So you aren't a Christian? Do you believe in God?"
"Yes, I believe in God, but I'm not sure that organized religion is really my kind of thing."
"What do you mean?" Jackson was suddenly confused.
I knew I would have to explain everything. "Well, my parents never took me to church of any kind when I was young. But then they sent me to a Jewish summer camp where we had to take Jewish enrichment classes everyday so for a while that was the only religion I knew anything about. But then I went to a Jesuit college and had to take religion classes to graduate so...yeah. I'm just comfortable in my faith as is."
Jackson was frowning at this point. "But what is your faith?"
This was getting a little too deep for me. "I believe in God and I believe that he has a plan for me but I need to figure that out myself by living a productive and honest life. I know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and I just always try to be a good person. I haven't prescribed to any religion because I haven't found one that really suits me."
"My church teaches me that anyone who doesn't accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is going to hell," Jackson stated very matter-of-factly.
I set my drink on the table and stared at him. Was this guy for real? Don't get me wrong, I support faith in any form, but pushing your religion on people, especially on a first date, is just rude.
"Did you just tell me that I'm going to hell?"
Jackson shrugged. "I'm not saying, I'm just saying."
Holy shit! This was the first time I had ever heard that expression. I loved it. What a brilliant way of being passive aggressive. I didn't even mind that I had just been told I was going to hell, Jackson had opened my eyes to a whole new way of insulting people and I was slightly turned on.
"How about we just change the subject," I suggested, hoping that he would forgive my sins and still want to finish this date.
He thought this was a pretty good idea and we continued our evening. Once we had drank enough beer and watched enough sports, Jackson asked if I would like to go back to his place to see his puppy. Um, puppy? Yes, please! We got into his car and he held my hand across the console. Things seemed to be getting back on track.
Once at his house, he let me hold his little bulldog puppy and then we settled onto the couch to watch a movie. I don't remember which one it was but that really didn't matter because before the opening credits were finished, Jackson's hand was on my leg and he was leaning in for a kiss. Now, I had been pretty good about interpreting and predicting kissing styles but this one caught me completely off guard. I had expected Jackson to know what he was doing. I mean, come on, he had just finished telling me that he had been sleeping around and drinking. In my experience, those two things usually involved kissing. Apparently not. Jackson kissed me once and then opened his mouth to kiss me again. But that was it. There was no tongue, no movement of the lips, just a wide open mouth pressed against mine. I, having felt his lips part mine, had been ready to reciprocate and promptly stuck my tongue in his mouth but was met with nothing. It was like poking my tongue into an empty water glass, there was just...nothing.
I always try not to panic but to think that I hadn't noticed my date didn't have a tongue struck me as somewhat of an emergency. We had been out for at least three hours and I hadn't noticed? How terrible of me! But he had that adorable southern accent. Certainly he couldn't have created that drawl without a tongue. So I pulled away and asked him the first question that came to my mind just so I could see him speak.
"Where's your bathroom?"
Jackson smiled and I stared at his mouth. "It's just down the hall. Do you want me to show you?" There it was! I saw his tongue! And it looked to be in perfectly good condition.
"No. I'm good," I said and pulled him in for another kiss. Maybe he had just been nervous. So I kissed him again and took control this time. I opened his lips just slightly and then teased him with my tongue. He seemed to like it so I tried for a little more and was met with...nothing. I pulled away again, quicker this time because I really didn't understand what I was doing wrong.
"What's the matter?" Jackson asked, his tongue moving fluidly in his mouth.
I frowned. "Nothing."
Jackson frowned as well and took his sweet time before leaning in again. I cringed as he kissed me, still unable to keep my tongue in my own mouth - I think this was just out of habit. Damn-it! I was going to find this tongue if it took me all night! I searched and searched, feeling as if I was making out with an empty beer bottle. But there was nothing and I still, to this day, have no idea where he was hiding it. We both pulled away at the same time and tried not to look at each other.
"Did you hear that?" Jackson asked, clearly flustered at this point.
"There was a noise at the door."
"Really?" I had heard nothing but the TV.
"I should probably take you home."
"Yes, please!" I flew off the couch and grabbed my purse. I don't necessarily believe in the hell Jackson so clearly thought I was destined for, but I was assuming this was about as hellish as anything could get.
He drove me home in silence and I stared out the window, trying not to remember how his kiss had felt.
"This was fun, Jackson. Thank you," I said as I climbed out of his car and got into mine.
"Do you want to do it again some time?" He asked and I could tell he was hoping I would turn him down.
"Um, we'll see. You can call me later if you want."
"Right. Okay." And with that, he was gone.
As I drove home that night, I thought about how happy I was that I hadn't put all my eggs in one basket. Tomorrow, I could go to the gym, work off the steam from my new found hell, and then call Malik so I could kiss out the sexual frustration I now felt. Because for an ex man-whore and alcoholic, Jackson really didn't have a lot to offer. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.