After a few weeks Marty was still fully committed to his return to being gay. He and Vince were still in the infatuation stage of their romance and Marty couldn’t have possibly spent another minute in his arms without quitting work. The relationship began to encounter its first hurdles when Vince found out that Marty had spent so much of his life in the closet. Vince just didn’t understand the sort of environment that Marty had grown up in.
Vince had grown up in Cuspidor. Although it wasn’t the most progressive city in the world, it at least offered some amenities to its gay community. He had no understanding of how dangerous it would have been for Marty to out himself in Humbug at an early age, and how dangerous it still was for Marty to be in the process of outing himself while living so nearby such an anachronistic village. Vince demanded to come out and inspect the town for himself, and this terrified Marty. Over all of Marty’s protests, Vince managed to convince him that the two of them had to spend a weekend together in the country in order for Vince to understand Marty’s lengthy stay in the closet.
There was no way for Marty to take Vince home so they agreed to stay in the Humbug Hotel for a night. Vince was going to drive out after work on a Saturday, spend the evening and night, and then head back sometime on Sunday that would be dependent on how comfortable or uncomfortable he felt in the company of Humbuggers. Marty made sure that he understood that any public displays of affection could easily result in them both being physically harmed and Vince solemnly agreed to keep things very low key.
In the week leading up to the big date, Marty’s mind was everywhere but on his work. He set the coffee machine to brew and forgot to put a coffee urn underneath to collect the dark liquid that pooled across the counter, destroying an open bag of napkins. He made lattes when customers ordered mochas and vice versa - even his waffle making skills had fallen prey to his wandering thoughts. I began to grow frustrated with him and I finally called him back to the kitchen for a little chat.
“For fuck sakes, Marty, get your shit together. You’re spending almost all your pay on gas to go see him every night. This weekend isn’t that big of a deal. What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m scared,” he moaned.
“Scared of what?”
“I don’t know where we can go out for dinner,” he whined.
“Damn it - just order a pizza and stay in the hotel!”
“I can’t,” he whined, “He wants to go out for dinner. He wants to sit in public with me. He wants to experience the town and stuff like that.”
“Well then go someplace with booths. If you sit across from each other in a booth, no one will even know you are there.”
“You don’t understand,” he groaned, “I just can’t act straight when I’m around him. I love him. When I’m around him I just melt. I just get all gushy and shit and I can’t keep my hands still. If the waitress picks up on it then she’ll bust us for sure. I don’t want to let him down but I don’t think I can go through with this.”
He almost began to weep. He was terrified and I was uncomfortable. I just wasn’t designed to be supportive – not in any emotional way. I considered giving him a hug or something but I began to choke just thinking about it. I realized that in the process of learning of this poor kid’s alienation, I had come to love him like a son - and I began to get so damn angry that there was any place in the world that could make him feel so twisted up. Anger worked for me, though, and I decided to take matters into my own hands.
“You’ll eat here,” I said.
“Yeah, you’ll eat here.”
“But you’re closed on Saturday at five.”
“Closed to the general public but after that I can do whatever the fuck I want. We’ll just close the front blinds, set a high table near the front windows, light some candles and put slow music on – all that crap.”
“But he said he wants to be out in public with me.”
“Once you tell him that you’ll be having a candle lit dinner in a restaurant that has been reserved exclusively for the two of you, with soft music and the chef serving you personally – what do you think he’s going to say?”
“Damn, when you put it that way…he really can’t say no to that.”
His eyes began to light up again and it seemed that we had a real solution. How could anyone possibly turn down the opportunity to receive private service in a restaurant? If there was any doubt then I decided to allay it with one hell of a menu. I still had a bottle of Dom Pérignon from some New Year’s Eve plans that had fallen through years earlier. I decided to open with a camembert baked with chopped pecans and demerara sugar, served with some crostinis. For a salad course I could just stick with the Caesar salad I made for the bistro since I already had all the ingredients and a good parmigiano on hand. I couldn’t do much for seafood on the prairies, but felt I could prepare some frozen shrimp well enough to toss into the salad. For the entrée, the best I could prepare for on such short notice was a chicken and spinach lasagna baked in a ricotta béchamel. If I could find some fresh strawberries then perhaps I could include a chocolate fondue for dessert. As I described my menu ideas to Marty, he literally shrieked.
I couldn’t help but shake my head once in a while as I realized what was going to happen on Saturday night. I had seen things like this in movies and whatnot, but to actually be seeing it first hand was so incredibly cool. I didn’t know if the restaurant was ever going to make it, but no matter what happened I knew that this was going to be the story that would make it all worth while. Marty just glided around on a cushion of air for the rest of the week.
When Saturday finally arrived we had a big surge in customers. It was way busier than I had expected and we were scrambling like chipmunks to keep up with the customers and the dishes. We needed to keep up as best as possible so we could get the place closed and cleaned up in time for Vince’s arrival. Marty was moving faster than I had ever seen him go, and he was one hell of a worker to start with. He was still a bit nervous about Vince because he had opted to keep our plans as a surprise.
When we finally got everything closed and cleaned up I started rushing around like a maniac to prepare the second meal for Saturday. I may have only had two customers coming but there were still just as many steps required – only the volumes made things easier. Marty raced out to book the hotel room and then used it to take a shower. He was a mess after the pile of dishes he had done that day and definitely wanted to be at his best for the big date.
When he finally returned I couldn’t believe the transformation. He dressed very well for work but he typically kept things rather casual. Seeing him in a sharply ironed shirt, polished shoes and a tie was very strange. He looked ten years older and I couldn’t help but feel some pride. He waited for Vince to call so he could go meet him on the highway and guide him to the unmarked Main Street. When the call came he just answered with, “I’m on my way,” and then hung up and headed for the door. I stopped him to straighten his tie, and just then I had a crazy idea.
“How much do you talk about me with Vince?” I asked
“What do you mean?”
“I mean does Vince know anything about me?”
“Not really. I mean I’ve told him that you are really supportive and stuff, I guess, but that’s about it.”
“But do you talk about our conversations specifically?”
“No. What’s this about?” he said, getting frustrated.
“I don’t speak English.”
“What?” he exclaimed.
“I don’t speak English, barely a word at all. I only speak French. It will be way more cool if I only speak French and he thinks I barely understand English. That way he’ll be more comfortable talking openly with you. It will be as though you two are completely alone together and I’m just this crazy French lady that can’t understand a damn word that you two are saying.”
“For real?” he asked, skeptically.
“For real.” I confirmed.
“Ok, this night is already crazy – what the hell!” he agreed.
While he was gone I lit the candles and set out the champagne in an ice bucket. I set the table and folded the linens as best as I could – I really never had much experience in table service before having my own bistro. I selected a Tony Bennett CD and then played with the lights to find that sort of balance one hopes to find in situations like these but that never seems quite attainable.
The back door swung open and Marty came running through the kitchen, explaining he had Vince parked out front and had to go let him in.
“Vous oubliez - Je ne parle pas l'anglais!” I scolded
“What?” he exclaimed.
“I don’t speak English tonight!”
“Well I don’t speak French – how the fuck do I talk to you?”
“Speak slow, don’t use complex grammer, and throw in what French you DO know!”
“The only French I know is, ‘Guy est à la bibliothèque!’” he said, waving his hands around as though that were part of his French accent.
“Well how much does he know?”
“I don’t think he knows any.”
“Then that’ll do! Small words, simple grammer, and whatever French sounding words you can throw in.”
“This is fucking crazy,” he exclaimed.
“The whole thing is fucking crazy – how is this making it crazier?”
“Fine, fine. I gotta go let him in!”
And with that he ran off to open the front and let Vince in. I was quite surprised when I saw Vince. I had no idea what I had expected and then I realized that Marty hadn’t actually described him to me at all. He was really the total opposite of Marty but at the same time just as handsome. He was a rather short, stocky, dark complexioned man who looked a lot more mature than Marty. He was dressed just as sharply as Marty but since this was the first time I was seeing him he just looked as though he always dressed that way and I thought of him as a very distinguished professional. I began to worry that our little French prank might not work – I had been expecting another kid like Marty.
“Bienvenue à la mon bistro, monsieur. Asseyez-vous, si vous plait,” I said nervously, motioning for him to take a seat.
“Uhm, Merci Beaucoup, Madame,” he said, a little too well for my comfort, but with enough hesitation that I gained a little confidence.
As they sat down I opened the Dom Pérignon and poured them each a glass. The faster I could get him drunk the easier it would be to keep the ruse going.
“J'espère que rencontre le votre satisfaction,” I said, bowing slightly as I backed away from the table, turning to run and get the camembert before it turned into ‘SUPE’.
I stammered through announcing the dinner courses as best as I could - and kept plying him with the champagne. As awkward as I felt, he really did seem to take comfort in feeling that they were alone in their own oasis of English. Both of them were very relaxed and enjoyed feeding each other the crostinis, and then the shrimps from their Caesar salads. Vince’s eyes nearly popped out when he saw the green and white layers of the baked lasagna and I could tell he was very impressed.
During the entire meal I kept taking shots of Southern Comfort in the kitchen. To my delight, I found that that my French vocabulary seemed to double with every three or four shots. By the time I brought out the sliced strawberries and chocolate fondue I was so fluent in French that I couldn’t understand a single word that I was saying. Marty began to stare at me in wonder and just kept replying with phrases like, “Ah, oui! Mungie go ate a la biblio-teck!” I thought that Vince was astonished by our French conversation, but I couldn’t tell which if us was drunker.
Finally it was time to prepare them some after dinner coffees. I decided to use up the Amaretto I had left over from Christmas to make them some spiked mochas. They decided to take their coffees on the dining room sofa and as I delivered them I said, “J'ai une question pour vous, Vince.” I said it slowly and anglicized the pronunciation enough for Vince to understand. He replied, “Ok. I will try to understand you,” very slowly so as to ensure I would understand him. Then I said, “Didn’t you ever wonder how the heck Marty worked for me if I didn’t speak a word of English?”
His eyes bulged and then he burst into laughter. Marty was horrified that I had broken character but then he began to laugh as well. I just slumped into the loveseat and sighed, “Damn, all that French was starting to make my mouth hurt.”
After the laughter subsided we had a chance to talk. I was really glad to get to know Vince better. I had been worried with all of Marty’s flip flops that he might have jumped into a relationship with a less than respectable fellow. As it turned out, Vince was more than I could have hoped for. I tried very hard to not sound like a parent interrogating the new boyfriend but apparently I failed because Marty started giving me stern expressions with every question that I asked.
I finally reigned in my urge to learn more about Vince and let the two of them talk about their relationship. We had a few more drinks as I listened to them describe their hopes and dreams for the future. It was so comforting to listen to two young people with their entire lives ahead of them talking about spending those lives together. As I listened I slumped more and more into the loveseat, eventually nodding off.
I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to find that Marty had retrieved a blanket from my office and covered me up before leaving. His thoughtfulness touched me as I walked over to the table where they had enjoyed their big date. I dipped a strawberry into the thickened chocolate and as I savoured it I stared across the silent dining room wondering if this had been the entire reason for my experience in Humbug. If so, it was all worth it.