I’m at an Olive Garden, sitting across the table from New Guy’s mother.
It’s the Saturday before Mother’s Day. We decided that this would be a better time than Sunday to go out, as this was a last-minute decision and reservations were impossible to come by.
As it turns out, though, this is prom night for several of the local schools, and Olive Garden is apparently the restaurant of choice for teenagers needing to carbo load before the big event. The place is packed with boys in rented tuxes and girls swathed in rhinestones and sequins. Outside, a weary-looking server leaving after her shift told me that everyone working tonight would rather be anyplace else.
I sympathize. I am apprehensive about this first meeting with New Guy’s mother, mostly because the difference in our ages is less than the number of fingers on one hand. He has pre-warned her about this, but as she sits across the table from me I can tell that whatever amount of time she has spent considering the point, it has maybe not been long enough.
Beneath the table, New Guy has his hand on my leg. He is perhaps more nervous than I am about this meeting. I’m surprised that he suggested it at all. But I am also happy, because it means things are progressing.
Then again, it’s possible that he’s simply enjoying discomfiting his mother, who I’m told has a history of doing the same to him. He’s told me to expect her to bring up his past relationships and speak fondly of his exes, one of whom she liked enough that she invited him to live in her home after their breakup.
For the first half hour, she barely looks at me, addressing her conversation to her son. This is fine with me, as it gives me time to watch the promgoers seated around us. I never attended a prom, and find the whole thing bizarrely fascinating. The young women and men seem both curiously mature and frighteningly young. At 50, I could easily be their father, or even grandfather. And yet here I am on a date of my own with someone who attended his high school prom not terribly long ago.
This age difference has, surprisingly, not been a source of much anxiety for me, despite the fact that I have never been in a relationship with someone younger than myself. My ex and I had a 12-year difference between us. I remember, in the beginning, reassuring him that this was not an issue for me. He was doubtful, but in the decade that we were together it never was.
New Guy and I have a larger age gap. Our second date was a celebration of his 31st birthday. When, early on, I raised the question of whether the 19-year difference concerned him, he said, “Well, it makes me sad that you’ll die before I do, but other than that, no.”
I am remembering this exchange when New Guy’s mother says “I ran into Beth the other day.”
Under the table, New Guy squeezes my knee. I take this as a cue to pay attention.
“Beth was New Guy’s prom date,” his mother informs me, finally glancing my way. “They made a lovely couple.”
“That was a long time ago, mom,” New Guy says.
“I still have the pictures,” his mother says, sighing.
“So,” New Guy says. “Mike has a new book out.”
The fact that I am a writer is something New Guy’s mother finds interesting. But not interesting enough to change tack. “You should call her,” she says. “I think she’d like to hear from you.”
“I haven’t spoken to her in 10 years,” New Guy says.
“Ten years is nothing,” his mother says. “It’s not like it’s 20.” She looks meaningfully at me and stabs a stuffed mushroom.
Nineteen, I think while, thankfully, the server arrives and I order another drink.
Before dinner is over, New Guy’s mother brings up both his ex-wife and his ex-boyfriend. “He was so handsome,” she informs me. “Really good looking. Whenever we went out, everyone thought he was my son.”
New Guy is gripping my leg so tightly, I know there will be bruises. But I’m actually finding his mother kind of delightful. She’s feisty. But so am I.
“I totally get that,” I say, indicating New Guy. “Whenever this one and I go out, everybody thinks he’s my son.”
New Guy’s mother stares at me for a long moment. Then she returns to her chicken alfredo. But something has changed. The mood is lighter.
Later, while we’re driving home, she texts New Guy: I LIKE HIM.
“As much as she likes Beth?” I ask.
“Probably not,” he says. “But it’s a start.” ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael online.