SATURDAY, 7TH NOVEMBER, 2009
By the time I had finished taking a shower, it was already dark outside. It was Saturday night, and Mykhaylo and I had a date, the details of which I had not been privy to. As I towelled off, I wondered what would happen. Where would we have dinner? Would dancing be involved? Would Mykhaylo want me to put out? But I had two bigger concerns. I hadn’t been out on the town in a long time, and this would be the first significant time that I spent with Mykhaylo outside of school. I never even went to his house. By the same token, he never visited my home, either. (Thank heaven for that.) Perhaps he was thinking the exact same thing as he was getting ready.
As I looked through the closet, Brandon walked in. “When is he picking you up?” he asked.
“Seven o’clock,” I said, not looking at him. “I don’t know what to wear. I have no idea where he’s taking me.”
I backed out of the closet and let Brandon sort through my clothes. “You’ve got a lot of blues and blacks,” he said. “You’re Italian. Don’t you guys like colour?”
I chuckled. “Just the shirts, ties, and underwear.”
“One of these days, I should drag you to the mall and find you something nice. You’re going through a big change in your life, Graziano; your clothes should follow suit.” After a few moments, he pulled out a pair of khakis and a cream-coloured dress shirt. I didn’t even know that I had those. Brandon examined the clothes against me and nodded.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Just try them on.”
A few minutes later, I came out of my bathroom wearing the clothes that Brandon had picked out. I looked in the mirror, and was pleasantly surprised. Everything not only fit me liked a glove, but they looked good on me as well.
“I told you,” Brandon said with a smile. “And now… accessories. Do you have some ties?”
I pointed out my ties in the closet, and he took them out. I was hoping that he’d choose my red tie, my favourite one. And sure enough, he did. I nodded enthusiastically.
“Would you like me to put it on you?”
“Yeah.” I watched in the mirror as Brandon gently put the tie on me. It was something that was completely foreign to me. Joseph never did that, and neither Nonno Pietro nor Nonno Raimondo did, but that was on account of their arthritis. I basically taught myself to put on a tie. Still, it was nice and comforting that someone would do this for me. And when he was finished, I looked at myself and felt something akin to pride for the first time in a while.
“If this doesn’t make him want to fuck you before the dessert cart comes wheeling around, nothing will,” Brandon said.
Half an hour later, Mykhaylo picked me up in his Toyota Prius and we rode along Yonge Street. Now, I’ve lived in and around Toronto my entire life; I’ve gone up and down Yonge Street countless times; and I still am amazed at how long it is. Just one continuous stretch of asphalt, concrete, and buildings. There are times when I actually have to pinch myself because I get so lost in its length, its grandeur, its magnificence.
We arrived 20 minutes later… at North 44. The moment that I saw the restaurant, I got wistful. This was the restaurant where I was supposed to celebrate my 28th birthday, until you-know-what happened. Rather than go valet, Mykhaylo parked around the corner. “I do not trust anyone else with this car,” he said.
I personally wouldn’t have minded doing the valet thing. But that probably means that I’m too trusting.
Inside, I nearly ordered the exact same menu that I had planned for my birthday: APPETIZER: pink snapper tartare with ruby grapefruit and spiked avocado; MAIN COURSE: grilled USDA prime strip (I wanted the rib-eye, but I changed my mind after looking at the price); and DESSERT: a tart of chocolate peanut butter marquise, burnt caramel, crisp feuilletine, lillokai parfait, and crisp meringue.
Mykhaylo ordered the following: APPETIZER: butternut squash ravioli with oxtail ragout and sage; MAIN COURSE: pan-roasted Dover sole, sauté of roe and chanterelles with lemon slivers, caper berries, and butter sauce; and DESSERT: strawberry and vanilla “shortcake” tower with Chantilly froth and strawberry consommé.
When our server, a dorky blonde cutie named Jimmy, presented us with the wine options, Mykhaylo looked my way almost immediately.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” I said.
“Ummm…” Mykhaylo began to say something, and then-
“You’re driving, remember?”
“Well, what’s it going to be?” Jimmy asked.
“No wine for us,” Mykhaylo said. “We’ll stick with the Diet Cokes.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Sounds good. I’ll have your appetizers coming up,” Jimmy said, and he scampered off towards the kitchen.
“Why don’t you drink alcohol?” Mykhaylo asked me.
“Because my mom is an alcoholic bitch.”
“An Italian who doesn’t drink wine,” I said. “Sometimes I can’t help but laugh.”
A few minutes later, our appetizers came before us. We both stared at our plates for a few moments, unaware of what we had ordered. The pink snapper tartine looked good, but the ravioli looked amazing. I could tell that Mykhaylo was feeling the same way about his dish.
“Can I try some of your ravioli?” I asked him.
“If you’ll let me have some snapper.”
At the same time, we took fork-fulls of each other’s dish. I’m not really into butternut squash, but it tasted really good. And the ravioli was cooked just perfectly. No soggy noodles here. I even sneaked in a bit of the oxtail ragout. I’ve never eaten oxtail before. The name alone just sounds nasty in culinary terms. But the meat was tender and juicy.
I downed my portion with some Diet Coke. “How’s the snapper?” I asked Mykhaylo.
“I like it. It’s flaky and spicy and refreshing. The portion’s a bit small for my taste.”
“Because it’s an appetizer, Mykhaylo!” I laughed.
He laughed too. And then we finished our own plates. The snapper was everything that Mykhaylo had said, even though I don’t like grapefruit as a stand-alone fruit.
Our main courses came along, and as before, we sampled each other’s plates. The fish was delicious, but I LOVED the butter sauce. I’m a big fan of anything with butter. And Mykhaylo enjoyed the strip steak, too.
After we finished, a few minutes passed before dessert arrived. “What do you usually do on a Saturday night?” I asked Mykhaylo.
“I read, and if I have the patience, I’ll go to Woody’s.”
“I’ve been to Woody’s once, and that was enough for me.”
“You don’t like the club scene?”
I shook my head. “It does a number on my hearing. That, and all the drugs and shit. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to dance at a circuit party. The money was good, and there were plenty of hot guys… but the experience was too much for me to do it again.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. You know, when I was living with my parents, my Saturday nights consisted of crying in bed and eating copious amounts of food to dull the pain.”
“What about when you were with Evan?”
“Most of our weekends were busy. Homework, training, rehearsals… when our schedules were free, we’d spend Saturdays walking around the neighbourhood, talking, eating, and when we’d get back, we’d fuck.”
Mykhaylo chuckled. “You’re an old soul, you know that?”
I rolled my eyes. “Goddess on a wheel, I hate that term. It wasn’t cute when Simon Cowell said that to Diana DeGarmo five years ago on American Idol, and it’s not cute now. No offence, Mykhaylo.”
“None taken,” he said.
“I’m not opposed to going out and have a good time; I just operate on a completely different wavelength from every other gay guy in the GTA.”
“I understand. Sometimes, I don’t get why there is this constitutional imperative for us fags to go out and get blitzed while fucking Lady Gaga or Beyoncé or Taylor Swift is blaring from the speakers. Not that the alternatives are any better.”
“I like Lady Gaga!” I interjected. “As for Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, well, they can fuck off and die in a fire. I’m sick of those bitches.”
“My sister Oksana worships at their altars. She’d kill you if she heard that.”
We chuckled for a few moments, and then our desserts arrived. As usual, we bummed off each other’s plates. At the end of the meal, the cheque came to somewhere in the vicinity of $100. Mykhaylo paid for the whole thing. I would have gladly split the check with him anyway. We left the restaurant sated and satisfied, particularly me. No, it’s wasn’t the birthday meal that I had envisioned a month earlier, but I was glad that I eventually got to North 44.
“Where to?” I asked Mykhaylo in the car.
“The night’s still young, Graziano. The next stop is a place that almost no one gets to see.”
Before we go further, I have to make this disclaimer: What Mykhaylo and I did is something that is pretty much illegal. Even after the fact, I am amazed that we were able to get away with it. What exactly was this illicit thing that we did? Well, let me show you:
The car finally stopped in front of the Canada Life Building on University Avenue. “What are we doing here?” I asked.
“We’ve done dinner,” Mykhaylo said. “How about the dancing? And with a beautiful view at our feet.”
I put two and two together and realized that we were going to break into the Tower Room at the Canada Life Building. Dear friends, the Tower Room is only open on ONE FUCKING DAY each year, during the Doors Open Toronto weekend (on the last weekend in May). During this festival, 150 buildings of note throughout Toronto are open to the public for free. I’ve been to the Tower Room several times over the years, and the line to get in on the Doors Open weekend is SCARY.
“How did you pull this off?” I asked.
“I have a friend who works here. I did her a favour once, and she’s doing me this favour. Come on, Twinkle-toes. Let’s boogie.”
We sneaked in through the back of the building, and in a matter of minutes, we were in the Tower Room on the 17th floor. Immediately, my eyes widened at the view. This wasn’t the most prolific view in the city (you’d have to go to CN Tower for that), but this was perhaps the most special. The lights of downtown Toronto, if you’ll pardon the cliché, sparkled like jewels on a black silk background. The room itself was Beaux Arts and softly lit. Mykhaylo took out his iPod and plugged it into a portable speaker, which he in turn plugged into an available power socket. After some time, he found the perfect tune: Mahler’s Symphony, No. 5: the 4th Movement.
Mykhaylo stood up and extended his hand to me. “Care to dance?” he asked.
I couldn’t say no. I took his hand, and for the next nine minutes or thereabouts, we slowly waltzed around the room. At least, I think it was a waltz. Up to that point, I hadn’t danced with anyone in a similar vein since Evan died. Okay, so we weren’t Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Hell, we weren’t even good enough for So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Still, the way Mykhaylo held me in his arms… the floral but masculine smell of his cologne… how smooth his Slavic skin felt against my cheek… this was a feeling that was coming back from the inside of my being, a feeling that I had thought that I had forgotten. That we were doing this in a place that, normally, no one had any right to be in 364 days of the year, only added to the excitement of the moment.
An hour and a half later, Mykhaylo escorted me not only back to 600 Queens Quay West, but up to my apartment door. “Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I did. How do you say ‘thank you’ in Ukrainian?”
“Dyakuyu,” he replied. “’You’re welcome’ is proshu.”
After thinking about it for a moment, I said, “Dyakuyu.”
“Proshu.” We hugged for a few moments, and then he kissed me on the cheek. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t ready to part my lips for him just yet, but he seemed to know. “And how do you say it in Italian?”
“’Thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’.”
“Grazie and prego,” I reeled off casually.
Mykhaylo thought about it for a moment, and then said, “Grazie” with the cutest smile ever.
“Prego. Good night, Mykhaylo.”
“Good night, Graziano.” As he headed for the elevator, I turned around and went inside the apartment. I could hear Brandon snoring in his bedroom. Britney jumped into my arms from the couch, meowing softly.
“Hey, sweetie,” I said, stroking her fur. “Guess who had a great night?”
We went into my bedroom. I sat her down on the carpet and collapsed onto the bed. As if by chance, the moon was shining right onto my bed. It was so beautiful. I looked at it until I dozed off, happy as I could be.