Chapter 8: Victor's Plan
Victor couldn't sleep. He couldn't get what Patricia had said off of his mind. The more he tried, the more it would just come creeping back. She was right. Of course Victor loved him. He always had. Who wouldn't love Ray Salazar? He was the kindest, most caring person Victor had ever met. And he was straight. Victor knew fully well that Ray would never love him back. Not in the same way. He couldn't. He had even said so himself. Victor remembered the very words Ray spoke at the bar: "Victor, you're my best friend, you're beautiful, and I love you, just not in that way." It was something that no one had the power to change, and Victor had accepted that long ago. It wasn't that he had been in denial all this time about his feelings for Ray, he had simply made a decision to settle for things the way they were and not think about it any further, because a close friendship with Ray was better than no kind of relationship at all.
Now, thanks to Patricia, not only was he thinking about it for the first time in years, he was also beginning to wonder if he could ever find true happiness with anyone who wasn't Ray. How could anyone else compare? And how would he feel when Ray inevitably found happiness with someone else? How would he deal with the pain of losing the man he loved to another person, because that person was the correct gender?
Victor had been excited about going bowling with Ray on Friday. Now he was actually dreading it. He had always loved it when the two of them would do things together, but this time would be different. He already knew it. Something would seem off. He'd be so distracted by his own thoughts and feelings that his bowling would suck, and Ray would notice. He'd ask what was the matter, and Victor would have to tell him. There had never been any secrets between them, or not since Victor had come out to him anyway. Ray was fine with him being gay, but what would he think of Victor being in love with him? Would he understand? Would he know just the right thing to say to make everything better? Or would that be the final straw, the final boundary that should never have been crossed, resulting in Ray feeling alienated and their friendship becoming awkward and strained, never to be the same again?
Victor went to work in the morning feeling exhausted. The day crawled along so slowly that it seemed like it would never end. He felt like thanking everything that was holy and sacred when it finally did. He wanted nothing more than to go home and take a nice, long nap. He stood at his register, counting the money in the drawer to ensure the correct amount was there, as was customary to do right before the end of any shift in which a PetCenter employee was assigned to run register. Patricia approached him, having just shown up for her closing shift.
"Hey. I'm counting."
"Listen, about what I was saying the other day, about Ray—"
"Just drop it."
"You don't even know what I'm going to say. The point is, I didn't know you guys weren't together, but now that I know you're single…you are single, right?"
"Yes," Victor said, with the slightest hissing sound in the 's' of the word.
"Good, because I actually know somebody who you might be into."
Oh, this oughta be good, Victor thought.
"As a matter of fact, you already know him. Remember that guy, Chris, that you met at the party?"
"What?" Victor said, nearly dropping all of the quarters in his hand. "He's gay?"
Patricia nodded. "At least as gay as you are. Anyway, if you're interested, just let Sheila know. She'll give you his phone number."
Victor sighed. "Great, I lost count. Thanks a lot."
"You're welcome," Patricia said, then turned and walked away.
After sleeping on it some, Victor got to thinking: That guy, Chris, is pretty cute. If I invited him to go bowling with us, it might be a nice distraction. It might get my mind off of what I'm feeling about Ray, and with another person there, Ray probably won't notice that my behavior is any different. Plus, it'd probably make a pretty good ice-breaker.
Victor logged on to Facebook, clicked on Sheila's profile, and sent her a message:
That guy, Chris, who was at the party with you…you have his phone number?
A little while later he got a response:
Yeah. You want it?
Yes, please. But ask him first if it's okay for you to give it to me.
Almost as soon as he clicked send, however, he began to have second thoughts. He really wanted to invite Chris along, but he was worried. From what he could remember from the party, Chris seemed a little quiet and shy. What if he ended up seeming like a third wheel, a tagalong on their "friend date"? What if his presence made no difference at all?
I should probably invite at least one other person, Victor thought. Just to be safe. But who could he invite that already knew everybody? He certainly wasn't inviting Patricia, that was for sure. Even Sheila seemed too close by association to Patricia and her audaciousness.
Victor navigated to Chris' Facebook page, finding it through Sheila's, and sent him a friend request. Then he noticed that they had three mutual friends. Two of them were Sheila and Patricia, of course. The other one was Paul Curtis.
"Perfect," Victor said.