This story is by Scott Paranada-Fried and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My grandson Sam is the apple of my eye – when he was sixteen, he told me he was pansexual. He’s eighteen years old now, still with gorgeous curly hair. Two years ago, he valiantly attempted to explain to me for a good half-hour what pansexual was. Finally, when he saw I wasn’t getting it, he said, “I like girls and boys.”
I said, “I hope you choose a girl, Sam. Life will be easier for you that way.” He gave me a look of exasperation, but it quickly dissipated.
“Well, Grandma, I told you my secret. Now tell me yours!”
He stared at me through his hazel eyes, expectant and loving at the same time. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I came out to him, my voice shaking from the enormity of it all. I half-expected to go to my grave without telling a soul, but Sam had just told me his truth and I would be damned if I were too scared to do the same.
I told Sam I thought I liked girls, which at first confused him because I had been married to his grandfather for a long time. He pondered the information for a couple of seconds and said, “I guess sometimes we take a while to figure things out. It’s cool.” Then he spent the next thirty minutes delivering a soliloquy on Real Housewives that I didn’t understand in the slightest. How he beamed, though, when he talked about his interests!
After the speech, Sam said, “OK, time to get to work. Let’s find you a girl.” When he said the word “girl,” I shuddered. I wondered what I was getting myself into.
Sam set me up with an account on “This is Our Year,” a dating site for well-aged folk like myself. At 65, I would be dating again for the first time in decades. I filled out the dating profile. I wrote I was interested in women and wanted a long-term relationship, though that was a bit of a misnomer at my age. I added my hobbies: racquetball, crochet, and reading. I gave him a bunch of photos of me knitting. I didn’t get a single hit.
Two years ago, Simon had just returned from a business trip. His face was speckled with brownish-red freckles, always a sure sign of his excitement. He was fired up because he had made a new deal, one that would garner us much additional income. He talked about buying a boat or a fancy new Rolex, though I didn’t really understand why he needed a third one.
Simon and I had suffered through more than our share of conflicts, but there was always pleasure in the reconciliations. Once he showed up at my office with a dozen red roses and serenaded me with “Say You Won’t Let Me Go” in front of all my colleagues. We were newlyweds then.
I don’t know why I chose that moment when Simon was so elated to come out. I sat him down by my bed and said to him, “I love you with all my heart, but I think I might be attracted to women.”
“What?” His voice jumped an octave.
“I just think I might need to explore some things about myself. ”
He was silent. After a moment I said, “Forget it. Pretend I didn’t say anything.”
“No, I heard you loud and clear.”
I gazed at him. Simon was a tall man, moderately well-built, with a whisper of a moustache growing in after a long day. With his decent good looks and successful career, my girlfriends never let me forget that I was the lucky one.
Simon stood up, his pupils of burnished jade shining clear. “I guess I’ll be going then.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?”
“I don’t know, a hotel I guess. I’ll figure something out.”
“We can still make this work.”
“No, Sylvia, we can’t make this work. This isn’t what I signed up for.”
“No, you get to be sorry about breaking a vase or being late to dinner. But I suppose I should’ve known. You never did look at me the way the other girls looked at their guys.” I wanted to add: “You’ve always had your mistress to gaze at you,” but I didn’t. Truth be told, his mistress – once a secretary at my office – had been a source of relief for me. She was able to give him what I was unable to provide.
And just like that, he left. I only saw him once more – when he came by with the divorce papers. He was generous with what he left me, but maybe he had thought about it years before and just needed the right moment to go through it. He left me the house. His parting words were: “No more good memories there.”
He was right. In two years, my ex has remarried, gotten a girl pregnant, and I still haven’t had a date. He’s been right so far.
Sam gave me a knowing look. “Hey, I’ve got a surprise for you! You got a match!”
I couldn’t make the connection for a minute.
He elaborated, “A woman. You got a hit on the dating site! I might have added some pictures of you and your girlfriends when you weren’t paying attention. It turns out all a girl needed to see was a pretty smile. Who’d have known?”
In her photos, Nancy had short, brunette hair. Her interests included hiking, camping, and mountaineering, a real outdoors girl. We chatted for a while on my phone, Sam helping me to find appropriate emojis. When I wrote that we should meet, I added a smiley face; she responded with three blue hearts. Nancy chose the day, a Thursday, and the restaurant – an Italian one in a neighborhood I didn’t know. To assuage my fears of my first girl-to-girl date, Sam googled “lesbian dating etiquette.” I said I didn’t want to go out on that day, but I didn’t explain why and Sam would hear none of it.
I took a taxi to the restaurant. I’d heard this neighborhood was the hip place to go, filled with art galleries and bistros. I was grateful the driver is behind bulletproof glass, so I could adjust my mascara which is already running. I felt for my ring, but I was afraid to take it off now, lest it disappear forever.
Nancy met me outside the restaurant. She was wearing a gray pantsuit, while I was in a black cocktail dress.
“Hi Sylvia, so good to meet you,” she said in a contralto voice.
“Hi Nancy,” I squeak.
“You don’t need to be nervous, sweetie. It’s just a first date. Come inside, the calamari with marinara sauce is to die for.”
After a moment, she added, “That face! Don’t worry, they give you bibs!” I blushed bright with embarrassment.
We ordered apps and a bottle of wine. She was sweet, funny, engaging, like Simon in the better times. Why didn’t I do this a long time ago? I mean, besides the fact that I didn’t know I was a lesbian. And what if I’m not, even now? Nancy could be a friend. Wouldn’t that be easier? Just a friendship, no sex, just like I had with Simon. Do lesbians even have sex on the first date? Would Nancy expect me to know things, to have experience?
She said, “You’re still wearing your wedding ring.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Awfully shiny for a regular ring. You must have had a nice girl before. Or was it a boy?”
I stammered, “Today would have been our anniversary.” I lifted up the marinara-laden bib and sob into it. The ring is tight on my finger. “I really do want to be here with you. My grandson told me about this place.”
“Here, let me help you, sweetie.” She grabbed a napkin and wiped my face clean of the tomato sauce. Then she pulled on the ring’s band and it flies across the table, right into a young man’s soup.
“Oh my God,” we said in unison.
Nancy said, “Waiter, I think there’s a fly in that man’s soup. Well, not a fly so much as a ring. Do diamonds melt?”
“Oh, it’s alright. It’s better off in the soup.”
The teenager fished out the ring from his bisque and brought it over. “Which one of you beautiful ladies does this belong to?” he asked.
“Hers,” I shouted, and he gave it to Nancy who gave it right back to me.
“I can’t take this, Sylvia, but you’re very sweet. You should give it to your grandson.”
“I wanted today to be so much more than this. I waited so long.”
“It’s normal for it to take a long time. You truly are a brave woman for coming out today. You’re not in a hurry to go home, are you? I’d love to buy you a piece of cheesecake.”