For an internet date, it was going really well.
Like, really well.
Better than any of the other internet dates Joel had been on.
As he washed his hands in the bathroom, his mind drifted away from counting to twenty and instead began counting his bad times with men he found on Tinder.
There had been Damian, with the hungry eyes and the empty brain, who had insisted not ten minutes after meeting that bread and toast were not made of the same things.
Tyler, who ‘figured out he wasn’t gay’ halfway through the meal and left Joel with the bill.
That gymrat Vic who had asked way too many prying questions way too fast, like, you do not need to know my exact address before the appetizers get here, man, fuck.
And those were only the ones from the last couple of months.
“I just want someone to have a life with,” he muttered to himself in the mirror as he dried his hands. “Please tell me you sent me a normal one, this time.”
He didn’t know who he was talking to, and he didn’t much care. The man sitting out at the little two-top by the window was…well, Joel didn’t usually like talking like this, but…he was perfect.
Sherman. Cute, with short hair and an absolutely dreamy smile. Funny, charming, talkative but not too talkative. They were having an actual conversation, instead of him droning on and on about himself (too many previous to list them all) or asking normal questions and then staring directly into Joel’s eyes with the sort of intensity usually reserved for interrogations and saying absolutely nothing while Joel tried desperately to figure out how else to answer the question ‘where did you go to college’ (Garrett, three months ago). They were having fun. They were vibing.
There was a spark.
Before he went back out into the restaurant, Joel made himself take a few deep breaths. He stared at himself in the mirror again.
“Do not want this so badly you ignore the red flags,” he told himself. “They could still be there. If you see one, walk-”
The door to the bathroom swung open behind him and Joel darted out the door before he could make eye contact with whoever caught his pep talk.
All of his own good advice blew away like dandelion fluff the second he saw Sherman again. The sun was setting, and the way the light fell on his face through the window…ugh, Joel was going to melt into a puddle in the middle of this restaurant and for the rest of the night the waitstaff was going to have to direct everyone else around him.
Get it together. You’ve been burned before. Fuck.
“Hi,” Joel said, hating the way his voice squeaked.
Sherman smiled at him. “Thought maybe you fell in.”
“No, just…powdering my nose,” Joel said. He realized what that could sound like and the color drained from his face. “It was a joke. I wasn’t doing cocaine or anything. I don’t do that…I mean I did, back in college, a few times, and if you do, that’s not really a problem or anything, I-”
Sherman was laughing, but it was gentle, and as he did, he reached across the table and put his hand on Joel’s hand.
Joel died for roughly three seconds before coming back to life through sheer force of will.
“Um, anyway,” he said, opening the menu with his other hand. “Did you want dessert? They have a great pecan pie here.”
“Actually, Joel, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Happy feelings gone. The restaurant crashed down onto Joel’s head. The menu burst into flames. Joel took his hand back.
“Fuck,” he said, “You’re a republican, aren’t you?”
Genuine surprise and confusion crossed Sherman’s face. “What? No! A gay republican, how does that even work?”
“I don’t know, ask those fuckers over at the Log Cabin or whatever. Look, whatever it is just spit it out so I can order that pecan pie and eat my feelings.”
Sherman shook his head and muttered something to himself. Joel couldn’t quite hear it, but it almost sounded like it’s different every time.
“Okay,” Sherman said. He clapped his hands softly and rubbed his thighs under the table. In the way people do when they’re nervous.
Oh, fuck, this is going to be a doozy.
Joel stared at his empty wine glass.
“This is going to sound completely crazy,” Sherman said. “But, based on the way this has gone before, I think you might actually believe me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Okay?” This wasn’t going the way he thought it would.
Sherman paused, looking like he was standing on the edge of a cliff.
“Have you ever heard of the multiverse?”
Not how he thought it would go at all.
Joel shrugged. “What, like, in the MCU?”
Sherman nodded. “Something like that, yeah. Multiple versions of the universe with variations big or small stacked on top of each other over and over and over until infinity is filled and then it starts all over.”
Joel nodded like he understood. “Okay.”
“Right, well…that’s a real thing and I’m stuck in it.”
He glanced around the restaurant, hoping that maybe someone had a sign taped to the back of their chair that would explain what the fuck was going on. He found nothing. He turned back to Sherman.
Part Two on Friday