45 A New Hope

George had given the cell phone with the business number to Jesse. At 10 a.m., it rang and Jesse let it go to voicemail, since he’d been in bed for two hours after a job the night before. Strangely, that hadn’t been a move at all, but giving guerrilla filmmakers some assistance with a fly-by-night shoot. 

He was exhausted and elated, after a conversation in front of a 7-11 in East Van with a certain Paddy Norland. She was a challenging individual with a very clear voice and direct gaze. Within ten seconds she was the most attractive woman he’d ever been this close to. She resembled one of the actors on the television show Orange is the New Black, he couldn’t remember her name¹, and immediately he promised himself that he would never acknowledge the similarity, ever, even if she brought it up.

There was a problem with the lights, and they were taking a short break while the tech wrangled with it.

“You aren’t going to ask me for my phone number?”

“We’re colleagues,” Jesse said austerely. “Not really appropriate.” It was stretching it, but he was secretly thrilled and preferred to stay calm until he had a clearer idea of her intentions. ‘You’d be perfect for my girlfriend!’ was only one conversational tripwire. There were others.

“Colleagues — yuppers,” Paddy said. “I’ve never seen you before! Can I give you my phone number?”

“I won’t take your number, not until you hear the pre-existing conditions speech.”

“You have a pre-existing condition? What, like being gay?”

Jesse realized that he’d gone Sixer; he felt the pressure of her questions in ways that seemed foreign to him.  George don’t fail me now. “Affectional and sexual orientation can change, but I’m convinced I’m straight.”

“Like, straight no pegging? — or straight no homo?”

“I’m happy to take Dan Savage’s advice to straight boys on the subject,” Jesse said, keeping his face calm as a middle path between a Cernunnos-style over the shoulder ravishing and a childish giggle. What subject, exactly, they were talking about now seemed clear. It took all of his childhood training to keep his face relaxed and open.

She absorbed his comment with an expression of thoughtful agreement. Taking a breath, she continued to throw down questions. “What do you do when muscle worshippers hit on you in clubs?”

“I say, ‘Thanks man, I play for the other team’. If they offer me money, I recommend a guy I ran into once who’s a specialist.” He reached for his wallet and extracted a card. It was a sex trade worker’s business card, all right, and rather scuffed. She looked at it, and her eyebrows popped up in surprise, and then down as she made a scowly little smile.

“You must have some clue how fucking gorgeous you are, though, eh?” She handed the card back, touching his fingers unnecessarily. 

“I wasn’t 10 years ago.  Keep telling me how gorgeous I am,” Jesse said, putting the card away and bringing his palms toward his face like a celebrity accepting plaudits, —”it don’t get boring.”

“About your pre-existing condition….”

“No, not herpes. I have solar urticaria; I’m allergic to the sun.”

“And you live in Vancouver,” she said with amusement.

“If the sun hits me, my eyes swell up and then my throat closes and I die.” He brought up his forefinger, closed and crossed out his eyes, and stuck his tongue out sideways.

“Holy shit. Do you have any other allergies?”

“Aspens, latex and bullshit.” That line of patter came out easily, after helping train all those med students.

“Your honesty is suspicious, ya know? I don’t really see a problem though.  I’m nocturnal myself – I got turned around in film school and never really came back.”

Jesse slowly allowed his happiness at this remark to command every muscle in his face. They looked at each other, smiling. A man emerged from the 7-11 and, while paused to light a smoke, said, “Get a room!” to them. 

“You paying?” Jesse said, without thinking.  The man blew a raspberry and walked away.

“Charm City North,” Paddy said.

No fun city.

Jesse smirked, and then Jesse became solemn, because another trap lay ahead.

“Dealbreaker number two: I’m poly.  Getting involved with someone new means renegotiating previously existing relationships.”

There was a short but not hostile pause.


“Roger that.”

“How do you find time?” This with envy, irritation, admiration.

“You seem like an accomplished and focussed person. I don’t have to explain it to you. “

“I’m punctual, too! – and please do explain it to me,” she said, grinning her face off. “I gotta know if you’re really polyamorous, or you’re just a dog with mad time management skills and a Plenty of Fish profile.” She was cough-laughing as she said this.

“I don’t think I feel safe talking about my partners to you,” Jesse said, after a long pause. He knew Lark would have broken into a slow clap, hearing that. “How’s this. You give me your number, I’ll text you where and when the next poly meet is. I’ll go to the meet and you can make up your mind about whether I’m poly or ‘just a dog with a calendar’.” Jesse’s tone was soft and his face unthreatening.

 “I just completely fucked over any chance of getting with you.”

Jesse was about to say something that was a Jane Austen scale masterpiece of sense and tact, and then the tech came back with his thumbs up. Their eyes met, Jesse’s expression saying, ‘Well?’ and Paddy’s saying, ‘Big oops’. Paddy sucked on her teeth and returned to their business.

Load out ran late, and he had to put his mask on, which he hated, because it stank no matter how and how often he washed it, and the sweat from his face would wick into the fabric.

Paddy reappeared in front of him, marvelling at the mask.

“I’m glad you think it looks cool.” Jesse sounded muffled.

“Here’s my number,” she said. “First beer’s on me,” and the fiery trails her ass left in his imagination as she departed kept him company on the ride home.

He was almost happy the phone had woken him up. 

He texted Paddy.

“I didn’t grow up with a cell phone and I prefer IRL so expect me to be terse, slow to respond and unclingy. Really, really, want the opportunity for anything from a balloon ride to a movie. Tell me when to show up and what gear I should bring.”

Then, because he wasn’t an idiot, he turned the business phone off, and his own phone too, so he wouldn’t be lying there with his heart pounding and the possibility of four hours’ uninterrupted sleep migrating south with the mountain jays as he listened for that fucking ping to tell him that he’d won a free plastic coating for his car, since it probably wouldn’t be her anyway.

Having acted, he could sleep.

His happiness on seeing that it was almost suppertime when he woke up — the longest stretch of sleep he’d had since he’d been possessed by a god — was snuffed when he checked for messages. There was a text on the business line from someone wanting to interview him for a local weekly.

“No — thanks!” Jesse said. He was going to erase the message, but who knew, perhaps George would see things differently, so he kept it. And nothing from Paddy.

¹ Natasha Lyonne, if anybody cares.