No Strings Attached

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: Write a story about an afternoon picnic gone wrong.... view prompt


Funny Gay Romance

Lee fills the picnic basket with more small goods than they can possibly eat in an afternoon: a truffle-spiked duck liver parfait, olives stuffed with Spanish anchovies, venison salami, imported Brie, oat crackers, and chocolate chip cookies. He takes a chilled bottled of Chardonnay, one he'd set aside for a special occasion, and places it in the wicker picnic basket loaned to him by his boss Helen.

He changes the sheets, vacuums the carpet, scrubs the toilet, removes stray hairs from the bathroom sink, waters his houseplant and empties the dishwasher. He cleans himself, shaves, washes his hair, clips his toenails, and irons a Fred Perry polo shirt the colour of a lime milkshake. He chooses his new sky-blue Nike Air Force 1’s to adorn his feet and wears a pair of Paul Smith check cotton-linen shorts. He stands in front of his full-length mirror and is happy with what he sees; a boy about town; smart yet casual; labels but not too pretentious; fun, easy-going.

Lee surveys his one-bedroom, third-floor apartment and looks for anything misplaced. He takes another bottle of Chardonnay, this one deemed to be drunk whenever, and pops this into the fridge. He proceeds to count the bottles of red wine remaining from last month's wine club delivery: two.

On inspection, Lee sees his pantry is bare, except for a bag of organic Uncle Toby's rolled oats and a two-kilogram satchel of vanilla flavoured whey protein powder. Lee ponders then considers this acceptable for a thirty-something urban professional in a single bedroom apartment. If Carlos does come home with Lee, and Lee sees no reason why this won't happen, and they decide (later on) they need food, Lee can order delivery. He pictures feeding Carlos Pad Thai noodles in bed watching Ru Paul’s drag race. It is Sunday night.

The picnic is Helen’s idea, a suggestion she makes still gushing from Carlos’s flattering compliments spoken to her in Spanish. “Ohh, he’s gorgeous,” she gushes, underlining the last word like the editor of a Women's gossip magazine would, which Helen is. Lee was spooning a forkful of a beetroot-cured salmon and edamame salad, with a miso vinaigrette, into his mouth when Carlos, by chance, passed by.

“Guapo!” Carlos calls out, recognising Lee immediately as the guy he met online last Friday night. Carlos stops, pivots on the heel of his tanned, Hugo Boss brogues, and makes a beeline towards Lee. Lee struggles to recognise his date (for lack of a better word) from three nights ago; Carlos is suited up in grey pin-strips, his hair is greased and slicked back. A far cry from the shirtless "pick me" profile picture underneath the monicker Hot LatinoXXX Carlos uses to sell himself online.

"Oh, hi," Lee replies, racing his mind through a Rolodex of names, A, B, until bingo, he strikes with, C;“Carlos, what a surprise." Helen lifts her Christoper Esber Fontana’s and sails the toe into Lee’s shin, oblivious (intentionally or otherwise) to the pain this may cause; "Is that Carlos?" Helen is desperate to know.

“Shh, yes.”

"Well done, darl'" Helen winks. She drops her fork into the salad bowl, pushes it aside, places her elbows on the table and rests her chin on the tips of her fingers. There, she is ready for all the goss’.

Lee holds out his hand to shake Carlos's, but if Carlos sees Lee's motion, he ignores it instead stops to lean in to kiss Lee on the cheek. Carlos is from South America. Had Lee seen the incoming peck, he would have ducked and avoided the public display of affection. He didn’t, and the kiss lands somewhere between his lips and earlobe, leaving a wet patch on his cheek like a child does.

The two exchange small talk, which building each works in before Helen kicks Lee again. "Oh, this is my editor, Helen."

Helen greets Carlos in perfect Spanish, fluttering her extended eyelashes as she does. She giggles with an intended blush when he remarks how good her pronunciation is. Helen looks Carlos deep into his olive-green eyes. “Lee es lindo?” she says.

“Sis mucho!” He replies.

They both laugh.

Lee knows the giggles are at his expense and takes out his ire on a lettuce leaf he stabs with his fork, Norman Bates style. “Did I hear my name mentioned?” 

"Talking about you, not to you," Helen doesn't take her eyes off Carlos. Unbeknown to both Lee and he, she undresses Carlos slowly with her eyes, dizzy with carnal delights.

“Guapo, you want to do something Sunday afternoon. Hang out in the park perhaps?”

Does this mean he has plans for Thursday night? Friday night? Saturday day? Saturday night?

“Of course,” Lee hears himself say.


Carlos is unexpected and catches Lee by surprise. Recalling last Friday night, Lee is unsure how he had wanted the night to end: an exchange of phone numbers, which occurred or an exchange of bodily fluids, which didn’t. If Carlos was only after a hookup, Lee would have been disappointed. Yet, his preferred option, going home alone with the promise of a mid-week rendezvous, disappointed him too; Lee and Carlos left the bar and went their separate ways. Lee is looking for more than a one-night stand; he's had plenty of those. Still, Carlos left him brooding. Why didn't Carlos try, at least?

"You two should have a picnic. That would be adorable," Helen suggests. She knows she is being cheeky, a little devilish; she enjoys amusing herself with other people, especially their discomfort. It's what she does for a living. Lee is unsure of Helen's intention and wishes she would vanish, but she doesn't. "I have a basket. It has everything you need, glasses, plates, knives, forks, even napkins. Never used, Frank hates eating outdoors." Lee is trapped, yet Carlos appears genuinely thrilled at the invitation, regardless of who made it. "I gotta run, the markets don’t take lunch breaks, text me about Sunday Guapo. Sounds like fun.”

Lee examines the remains of the salad leaves wilting under the burning acidity of the vinaigrette. "Doesn't he remember my name?"

Wilted or not, Helen helps herself to the few reaming leaves. "Lee, he's adorable, and his teeth aren't big." Lee relays every detail when indulging Helen his stories of weekend escapades on a Monday after news conference, big teeth and such.

“You don’t think so?”

“Darl’s not at all.”

“He’s short right?”

“He’s not six foot. But I’ve met Tom Cruise, so trust me, Carlos isn’t short.”

Lee sees no salad left and, disappointed, reaches for the bottle of Earl Grey kombucha that remains untouched. He unscrews the lid and takes a swig. "Why did you have to say I'd go on a picnic with him? I'm not sure I like him. Could you smell Lynx?"

“Lee, what’s not to like? He’s de-light-ful.” Helen says delightful, like its three separate words, each pronounced using an over-exaggerated motion of her lips and tongue as if her mouth practises yoga.

“He’s an investment wanker.”

“A what?”

“He works in banking.”

“Lee, darl’s, the last guy you met was a school teacher and you said, and I quote, “I can’t date someone that suburban.” You wanted someone more professional, more ambitious, so it looks like you’re in luck.”

“But banking? How do I know he doesn’t invest people’s pensions into nuclear weapons or something?”

Lee finds a spot in the park, away from the central pond where too many children flock like the feathered fiends they feed and lays out the tartan blanket that comes with the basket. He stretches out for a moment, enjoys the warmth of early summer, it is still spring and the laziness of watching cumulus clouds drift on a Sunday afternoon. He imagines the date ahead. He feels hopeful; his earlier misgivings have surrendered themselves to optimism that fans him like a summer's breeze. Helen is right. Carlos is hot.

And late.

Lee checks his phone for a message at least once a minute.


He lays out the cheese, the crackers, the pate, and olives and considers opening the Chardonnay to pour himself a glass but concludes that is impolite.

Not as rude as being 10 minutes late though.


Lee meets Carlos online.

It’s Friday night.

Married At First Sight is finished, and Lee is lonely and bored. Just one look, he tells himself; pours another Chardonnay and opens the app.

Carlos’s profile is close to the top of the list. He lives within a kilometre. Not that Lee intends to message someone with the handle Hot LatinoXXX. His profile picture, shirtless, a jean button or two undone exposing a tuff of pubic hair, is too slutty for Lee’s taste. Not that Lee is uptight, far from it, he’s had his fair share of one night stands and casual sex and now prefers to look for someone with a little staying power. Carlos, in his profile, say he's up for fun, can host, no strings attached. Lee knows what that says between the lines, and it reads, Hot LatinoXXX is randy to get between the sheets. Lee is too seasoned not to spot a flake, and HotLatinoXXX can fill a cereal box.

Carlos, then still Hot LatinoXXX, surprises Lee with a message, "Hi". Not only does Carlos hit Lee up, but he does so with a word, all two letters and not an emoji or a press of the Woof button. And before Lee can reply, Carlos types more; "How's your Friday night going Guapo?”

Lee Googles Guapo, and so begins a 20-minute online chat that ends with the two agreeing to meet up in 30 minutes at a bar near where they both live.

 Lee quickly showers, readies the apartment and arrives on time.

Carlos is late.

By 20 minutes.

When Carlos finally does arrive, he flashes Lee a big smile with a rack of teeth not big enough to gnaw through a tree trunk but close. Lee takes in Carlos's attire; jeans, faded and torn; white runners, scuffed and worn; a ratty white tank top. "Sorry, I'm late, babes, my ex needed to talk. You know how it is."

No, I don't. I don't have an ex. 

Carlos has a soft Hispanic accent to match his olive skin and dark eyes. Though muscular, he is shorter than Lee imagined or had hoped for, giving him the appearance similar to that of a pit bull terrier - a nugget of muscle low to the ground. There are lines around his eyes, and Lee notices specks of grey peppered through his curly, dark hair. Carlos claims he is 28, but Lee thinks he looks in his early 30s.

Lee knows the date is already done and though disappointed, hopes to escape soon.

“Beer babes?” Carlos asks Lee.



Carlos twirls, gives him a wink and shimmies towards the bar. Lee likes how his butt looks in jeans, even though Carlos is raffish, that's to say, attractive but not Lee's type. Still, Lee thinks, waiting for his beer, at least he tried.

Still, he feels disappointed.

But what is with “babes?” He sounds as though a purse slipped from his mouth.

One beer turns to three. Carlos is from Columbia. He speaks three languages, Spanish, English and Portuguese, studied Economics at the University of Sydney and is an investment banker. Later, as they stand out in front of the bar, Carlos says, "Babes, this was fun. Can I give you my phone number?"

Lee sees Carlos across the park, the cargo shorts Carlos wears flap as he runs.

Carlos stops by the edge of the blanket, pants for breath, and see’s how well-groomed Lee is. His own attire is ragged, and he regrets not making an effort. Before him is a spread of meats and cheeses; Lee has exceeded Carlos's expectations, embarrassingly so, he thought they may grab a hotdog from a vendor by the pond. "Guapo, I’m late, I’m sorry. I was helping a friend.” Carlos leans down to kiss Lee on the cheek.

Lee moves his head back just slightly, leaving Carlos to stop mid-flight. Otherwise, he would topple over.

 “Your ex?”

“No,” Carlos wipes the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, happy he dosed his armpits with the can of Lynx he keeps in this car. “A friend needed help to move a sofa.”

“On a Sunday morning?” Lee smells the deodorant and wants to gag.

Carlos sits, and Lee sees his look of disappointment. "Is everything okay?" Carlos asks.

“I’m not sure how you expect me to feel right now, you’re 20 minutes late because you were helping a friend.”

Carlos leans across to take a cheese and cracker. “Yes, Harold, he is like 90, lives downstairs from me in my building. His son-in-law bought him a new sofa but was too lazy to help him remove the old one, so I gave him a hand. It took longer than I thought.”

Lee wants to kill himself. “Oh,” he forces a slight laugh, “Okay,” then; “You could have said that?”

Carlos thinks he did (he did) and takes another piece of Brie.

A long minute passes.

A seagull flies overhead.

Two boys nearby play ball.

“Gorgeous day,” Carlos smiles.

“Wine?” Lee offers, reaching for the bottle.

“Ah shit, I should have grabbed some beers. I don’t drink wine.”

“It’s a hundred-dollar bottle.”

“Wow, that’s expensive. Don’t open it on my behalf.”

“I already did, waiting for you.”

Carlos doesn’t want to disappoint. However, if Carlos knew Lee, if he would know Lee is. Except Lee is more disappointed with himself for not bringing beer than he is disappointed in Carlos for abstaining from wine. Though Lee's mind does foretell a future dinner party with friends where Carlos washes down the Jambon Souffle with a tepid lager followed by a rather loud belch. Lee shudders.

“Okay babes. I’ll have a glass.”

Lee winces, but not enough that Carlos notices. He doesn’t want to waste an expensive drop on someone who won't appreciate it. But he has no choice. He pours Carlos half-a-glass and watches as he takes a sip. “Pinot Gris?” Asks Carlos.

“Chardonnay,” replies Lee rolling his eyes.

“Oh, I was just guessing. I wouldn’t know. It takes like toast.”

“It’s meant too.”

Carlos takes another sip and smiles. “I can only have a one, I’ve got football practice later on.”

“What today?”

“Yes, after our picnic. Pass the pate babes, it looks delicious.”

Lee reflects upon his wasted morning, changing the sheets and removing hair from the sinkhole.

Those two kids are near. They kick a football, back and forth between each other. One of the kids goes for a big kick, connects with the ball, and sends it sailing into the air, over the head of his opponent and towards the picnic spread where it will, if allowed to, impact with the force of a meteorite from outer space, destroying Lee's arrangement. Carlos catches a glimpse of the projectile, raises his ankle to the ball and connects with it, sending it flying back towards the two boys, who cheer at his prowess. Carlos leaps to his feet, rips off his t-shirt, and chases after the ball.

He plays for 15 minutes.

He returns sweaty and smelly.

Not even the Lynx can hide his odour.

The Chardonnay is finished, and Lee, tipsy, sits and fumes silently. He hopes his face conceals his true feelings.

“You look like you were having fun.”

“I love football.”


Carlos is puzzled but stays silent.

“It’s called soccer. Football is Aussie Rules.”

Carlos looks around for his t-shirt. He is paler than Lee remembers, not as muscled now his body isn't wrapped in a too-tight tank top, that’s fraying at the edges, and though Lee knows it's not possible, he swears Carlos has shrunk.

“Everyone around the world calls soccer football,” Carlos states.

“The term football is ambiguous, it could mean any sport played with a ball,” Lee is relieved that he’ll never see Carlos again once they leave the park. He just isn’t Lee’s type, too… Lee searches for the word but fails to find one.

They finish the cheese and crackers. They eat some salami.

“Have I done something to upset you?” Carlos asks.

 Lee hates him.

“No, its just that, well, you spent more time chasing that ball around than you have with me. That's all. I thought this was a date. We should have gone out to lunch. It would have been easier."

“Babes, this is fun. I’m having a great time. And I’m sorry about the football. I got carried away. Those kids are cute. I love kids.”

Carlos sits cross-legged, reaches for his wine glass, takes a swig of what's left and forges a genuine smile of enjoyment. There is a sheen of sweat on his brow, and a small fold of fat crimps the band of his shorts like pie dough.

Lee starts to pack away the salamis and what is left of the olives.

“Are you going?” Carlos asks.

Lee looks him in the eye. “Let’s not make this too awkward, okay?”

 Carlos composes a list of what had happened and what had gone wrong. Football? He's disappointed. He was having a great time and enjoyed Lee's company. He planned skipping football practice and asking Lee if he wanted to hang out at his place; It was Sunday, they could order in Thai and watch Ru Pauls drag race. Maybe get naked under the sheets, which he had changed that morning

Lee pops the empty bottle of Chardonnay in the basket, disappointed another date has ended so badly. Still, he has wine at home, and it's Sunday; he can watch Ru Paul drag race and then, order some Thai food then afterwards, go online. Just for a look.

No strings attached.

March 25, 2022 03:20

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Zack Powell
03:48 Mar 26, 2022

Glad to see you're doing the contests more frequently, Clyde! I really enjoy reading your stories. I think my favorite thing this time around was the dialogue. Lee, Carlos, and Helen all had very distinct voices that I could practically hear. I'm super guilty of calling a lot of people "babe," so Carlos spoke to me the most (which is probably why he was my favorite too). Speaking of: Great characterization here too. We get a great idea of who Helen is and why she's so intrusive; we know about Lee's worries and his wants; and we understand Ca...


Clyde Laffan
08:31 Mar 26, 2022

Thank you! You really got it. Your reaction, not knowing which side to take, is exactly what I wanted. They were both as "bad" as each other but in very different ways. I am determined to do a prompt a week for the remainder of the year. Man, some weeks are tough. I almost gave up with Lee and Carlos and really had to sit down and just do the work.


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Michael Danyluk
07:26 Aug 25, 2022

Your a Bukowski and Hemingway boy, love the style. What I was thinking with my own writing, was Tarantino dialogue, and fast pace story, where everything is going nuts. I like your style man, and FUCK THIS WEBSITE. Fuck these losers, brother.


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Rebecca Ensign
02:24 Mar 29, 2022

This is such a great story. They sounded perfect for each other, but too stubborn and impatient to wait to find that out. Also, I am now hungry and in need of wine!


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L.M. Lydon
20:44 Mar 27, 2022

Such a fun story- it illustrates so clearly how Lee breathes out a non-reality full of impossible expectations and finds himself disappointed. I enjoyed the part where Helen and Lee converse and he calls Carlos an "investment wanker," only to be reminded that the last time he thought a teacher was "too suburban." It seems that there is nothing that will ever fully satisfy Lee. But we feel a little bad for him anyway for self-sabotage.


Clyde Laffan
00:31 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you so much for reading my story and commenting. It was a challenge to make Lee likeable despite his numerous flaws, so I'm glad you still felt a little bad for him.


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Jeannette Miller
17:06 Mar 27, 2022

Oh, the joys of dating and expectations never met because we can't express them properly :) This story reflected that sentiment perfectly. I feel like the picnic was doomed before it was even thought of. Great job!


Clyde Laffan
00:34 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It means a lot. One of my thoughts writing this was pondering the number of dates that end or go nowhere for no reason other than poor or misunderstood communication. I felt Lee and Carlos would have probably worked out fine.


Jeannette Miller
02:27 Mar 30, 2022

Given the chance, they probably would have :)


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Riel Rosehill
18:06 Mar 26, 2022

Hi! That ending...! You wrote this well, because I was just so frustrated with those guys. They basically want the same thing (sort of), and yet... but I guess it's life, I wouldn't have enjoyed that date in Lee's shoes either to be honest (poor guy, he put in so much effort!!) but I also felt sorry for Carlos who was just having a good time, he seemed a nice guy enough guy... There was a lot I liked this story ("investment wanker", for one, haha) and also the following lines: "Lee is too seasoned not to spot a flake, and HotLatinoXXX can f...


Clyde Laffan
00:39 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you much more taking the time to read my story and comment. It means a lot. I am glad you felt sorry for both of them and frustrated with both of them! It was a challenge making them both likeable despite their flaws.


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J.C. Lovero
14:58 Mar 26, 2022

Hi Clyde! Stopping in to check out your story. It was such an enjoyable read. First, I appreciate that you gave us both sides of this. I tend to be a lot like Lee (the good and the bad), so he resonated with me more closely as a character. But, Carlos had a lot of good qualities, as well. It was a good example of how someone's communication style or how they show affection doesn't match with someone else who might have a bit of insecurity going on (not sure if that's what it was but that's how I interpreted Lee). I could totally see this ...


Clyde Laffan
00:43 Mar 28, 2022

Hi JC Great insight - thank you! I also thought of a sliding door sort of story of, when the right prompt is available, having them go home together after the picnic and see if they can make a go of it. In my mind, they are perfect for each other. Again, as always thank you for reading and commenting.


J.C. Lovero
00:48 Mar 28, 2022

Can't wait to read that version! I'm a sucker for happy ever afters :)


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