Less Than Butterflies

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Romance His Pants Off

Less Than Butterflies Anthony Ramirez See Ya’ Later Masturbator Masturbate Love

Less Than Butterflies, No. 22

Let’s get real about something: my love life has all the weirdness of a Wes Anderson film. Like … from falling in love with an asexual, to realizing I had feelings for one of my best friends that I kind of always just thought I hated and everything in between, things were nothing short of fucking ridiculous in that arena. So with all the abberance of emotion, I’d decided that it was probably time to figure out the one situation in my life that had been happening in a relatively normal way. I was finally ready to see where this thing with Mason is going. I know, I know. I literally just said that I wasn’t going to rush anything with him and that I’d let everything happen organically a few weeks ago. But here’s the thing about letting shit grow organically: if you water it too much or let it sit in the sun too long, it can die. All organic matter dies. Add into that my slight tryst and realization of my feelings for Sam, I figured it might be in everyone’s best interest to see which of those feelings carried more weight so that I didn’t invest myself into something that wasn’t going anywhere. So, before this little organic spark with Mason died, I’d resolved to push the envelope a bit more.

Therefore, in doing what I’d been trying to do all along, I mapped out a plan. Well … maybe not “mapped out”. But I had certainly conceived a plan; it just … hadn’t exactly incubated long. I figured that since I was already going to a party at Mason’s house that night, I’d have a few drinks (read: many, many drinks), wait until everyone left to go home, and then politely bring up the conversation in a cool and casual way.

“So, I don’t want to be weird,” I’d tell him as I poured us both a glass of Two Buck Chuck and made my way back to the couch. “But I thought you should know something just so that if you feel similarly about it, there isn’t hesitation to be upfront about those feelings.” That sounded cool. Right? Like someone who really had his shit together and couldn’t be bothered by the fact that this boy might potentially not like him. “I have really enjoyed spending time with you these last few months; and I think I’m growing to like you a great deal. So if ever you are interested, here lies an open invitation for an actual date.”

God how I’d matured.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows me could attest to the fact that the aforementioned example isn’t exactly how that conversation would end up going. In fact, it would likely be more along the lines of something like this:

Ahhh,” [blowing a puff of air]. “All right. Okay. I can do this. I’m a grown-up. Mason, I have feelings for you and if you don’t have them for me that’s totally cool. Fine. I get it. Why would anyone want to date me? Look at me. I have the personality of a 10, sure, but the face of a 6 and the body type of a circus freak.” [More air]. “This is weird. Right? I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go home and cry my eyes out and probably never talk to you again, but post less-than-vague Facebook statuses about how awful men are.” [Standing up]. “Then again, I’ve also had way too much to drink to drive. So would you kindly order and pay for a Lyft home for me, because I am poor after spending so much money on you last weekend.”

Jesus I needed to get a grip.

I explained all of this to my friend Hope while she was off of work one night, under the stupid impression that in her fifty years of life, she might have some insight into this.

“Well, have y’all had sex yet?” she asked. “Cause if so, I don’t think it’s really necessary to say anything at all.”

“No, we have not had sex yet,” I told her as if offended by the question. “I’m trying to get through one phase of this at a time.” That being said, I did want to have sex with him. God I wanted to have sex with him so badly that it nearly killed me. I’d been thinking about it quite a bit, wondering if it’d be like one of those sweeter, Davey Wavey-style porn videos where the two guys are really invested in making each other cry out in joy. But I also wondered if it’d just be like … hot. You know the kind that gets really loud and sweaty and you wish someone were recording it, but unfortunately no one actually wants to see what you look like when you’re having sex?

“Wait …” Hope stopped me as we sipped vodka from the bottle on the patio outside her apartment. “You two haven’t had sex yet?”

“No!” I exclaimed as I took another swig of the vodka. “We’re not even dating. And I am a lady about these things.”

“Oh, hoookay,” Hope told me as she lit a cigarette and then handed one to me.

“I am!” Why did everyone assume I was such a classless slut? I mean, a slut, yes; but classless? No. “I like this guy!” I whined with a stomp of my foot. “And if it happens, I want it to be romantic.” I lit my cigarette and spewed smoke into Hope’s face. “I’ma look real hot and romance his pants off.”

And looking hot I did. Whenever there was a man at stake, I made sure that the clothing options I had were anything but limited. I took a moment before picking out clothes to pray to God (read: Carrie Bradshaw) that I could find something in my closet that Mason hadn’t already seen me in and that would appear not only classy, but sexual. I donned my favorite black button-up from Express with its sleeves rolled up to the middle of my upper-arms — Mason had a thing for guys with biceps; I didn’t have biceps, mind you, but the tightness of the rolled sleeves gave the illusion that I did. I then slipped on a pair of Marc Anthony white linen pants and my nicest black dress shoes. I could tell something about the outfit was off. I looked … puffy.

It took someone else pointing out to me that my clothes were getting too loose from the slight weight that made everything look big. So I made the bold choice of pulling my hair back in an effort to accentuate what few vague, squint-worthy structural features my face had. Then I tucked my shirt into the linen pants — only to find that linen pants apparently don’t have belt loops — and pinned a silk, black scarf around my waist as if it were a belt. I left open all but the three lowest buttons to show off a little skin and the fact that my stomach was finally, after many years of not trying that hard at the gym, flat. I found a new, black umbrella to match the outfit, and glided off to Michelle’s car in the rain when she arrived to pick me up.

Damn,” Michelle said when I got into the car. “Look at you and your outfit!” She smiled. “C’mon, outfit!”

“Man trapping requires a little more effort than usual,” I said with a coy smile. Michelle and I had known one another since high school. It was amazing to watch her grow up and to get to be a part of that. Since high school – and especially so in the years after – Michelle had become an activist for POC queer people and was even currently working in politics for the Democratic Party. She’d also adopted a certain spirituality in that time, which included tarot card readings and speaking to her ancestors. That’s why I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I thought I smelled incense burning and asked about it.

“Uh-uh,” she told me, reaching for something from her cup holder and holding it up to show me. “Sage. I need a little purification if I’m gonna be around all these white people.”

“You know that you won’t be the only Black girl there, right?” I asked her as I checked my hair in the mirror. “Mason has quite a few Black friends. This is not an Affirmative Action invite.”

Hmm,” she muttered as if she doubted me while I giggled in the passenger’s seat. “Where the hell are we even supposed to park?” she then said as we stared down Center Street parallel to Washington Avenue where Mason lived. He’d instructed us to park on Center Street once we’d arrived, but from what I could tell, there was no street parking to be seen. We must have circled the block five or six times before finally finding a spot a little ways up.

“Can we park here?” I asked, looking around for a fire hydrant or a sign saying otherwise, but none were in sight.

“Yeah, I think so. I just saw someone else pull out of this spot,” she said as she put the car in park.

“God, I wish I had cocaine,” I muttered as I stepped out of the car. “I’m not even sure how to get into his building.” That alone proved to be a nightmare. If it hadn’t been for running into our friend Lana on the way up to the door and a girl who lived there letting us in past the gate, we might not have ever made it. “See,” I told Michelle as I pointed to Lana. “I told you there’d be other Black people here.”

Michelle actually seemed relieved, which I could understand to an extent. It’s hard enough being the gay person out in a pack of straight people – the longing to be around people like yourself. Now dissect that into being the only Black, gay person in a crowd. Understandably it could be uncomfortable. And thankfully, from the beginning, Lana and Michelle hit it off, which was good for me. That meant that I’d have one less pair of people distracting Mason from our inevitable conversation he was not yet aware we’d be having.

When we finally found his fourth-floor apartment, there was already a handful of people in the apartment spread around chatting and eating finger foods. Mason opened the door and smiled at all of us, hugging first Lana, then Michelle, and then myself. He looked nice, too, in his pale blue button-up and dress pants. Hearing his voice and watching him smile, I could hear the music in the back of my head, my insides swaying from side-to-side with it while my exterior tried to lock its feet solidly to the floor without visibly swooning.

He had the apartment of a real grown-up. His room was tidy and uncluttered, his laundry in a hamper tucked away in his closet – yes, I was snooping – his living room complete with a couch and a TV, and a bathroom that didn’t reek with the scent of boy or the rogue hairs to be found in any given place there.

As in any situation that required me to move at all, I was sweating my ass off, which, of course, noticed.

“The bathroom is right around the corner if you need to pat down a bit,” he said with a smile, handing me a paper towel. I jerked the towel from his hand and patted myself down right there in the kitchen – from my forehead to my neck to my chest and inside the openings of my shirt.

“I’m okay,” I told him with a smile. “Your new place is niiice,” I told him with a smile as I began putting beer in the fridge that I’d brought, as well as a bottle of champagne that Michelle had made a point of bringing.

“Thanks,” he told me as he pulled some large, frozen pizzas out of the oven to cook for everyone. “I really like it. I’m exhausted though. I pretty much did all of this today.”

The small talk was – to say the least – killing me. If it had just been the two of us, we could have been talking about anything. Anything. Our past hookups, embarrassing shit we’d done while we were drunk, his depression, my mania – the options were limitless. But around all these people – many of them straight – the topics were not allowed to be quite as broad. So, like a lady, I politely took four Solo cups, opened a giant bottle of tequila, and immediately began pouring four shots for Michelle, Lana, Mason, and me.

“To your new place,” I told Mason, holding up my cup and handing each of them theirs.

“What is this?” they all asked.

“Shut up and fucking drink it,” I said with a roll of my eyes, each of them pouring a bit of their shots into my cup. “Pussies.” Nevertheless, we took our shots – all their faces contorting to something reminiscent of Picassos.  And if that hadn’t set the precedent for the rest of the evening, I’m not sure what would. Michelle and Lana played games with some new friends they made – from Jenga to Spades and more – while I watched in the corner and laughed along with them. A few times, I had to take work calls out in the hall, which gave me an excuse to step out and smoke cigarettes.

Social settings always stressed me out far beyond what people would believe. Put me on a stage and give me a microphone and tell me to talk, okay; I’m fine. But stick me in a room full of people engaging socially and wanting to get one another – noooo, sir. I never know what to say or what information to share; and when I do it always comes off so braggy. “Hello! I’m Anthony. I run one of the largest LGBTQ magazines in the state and I have four published novels. What inferiority would you like to share?”

Nevertheless, having had already so many not-so-wonderful experiences around Mason’s friends, I felt it bet to ingratiate myself into their pods so as to get on their good sides. Nothing irritated me more than when two people began dating, and one of those people tried to push away the other’s friends. Well, one thing did … when the person’s whose friends were getting pushed away let their friends be shoved out of the picture. It was silly to me. After all, these are the people who helped sculpt you into the person that your partner fell in love with. Why would you alienate them? Whether or not something more came from my friendship with Mason, I wasn’t going to let that ever be the case between us. If I wanted my friends to be important to him, I had to give him and his friends the same respect.

So the next few hours were filled with uncomfortable small talk, forced laughter, and two invisible hot air balloons holding up either side of my mouth into a smile. But the longer that I participated, the more I watched Mason at ease around his friends, the more comfortable I became, and the more I was able to finally enjoy myself. When most of the crowd had cleared out, the only people left were Lana, Michelle, and two of Mason’s other friends whose names I hadn’t caught – Alexis and Monica, for all intents and purposes.

We’d resorted to playing beer pong – or, at least in the case of Mason and I, because we’re gay, rosé pong. The two of us battled it out against Michelle and Alexis across the table. From what I could gather about Alexis, she was a personal trainer and a lesbian who left no question as to whether or not she was flirting with Michelle. In my head I encouraged this coupling — Yas, queer girls! Couple up! Present and mate! Meanwhile, Mason and I sat on the other end of the table watching as the pair of them suffered through a couple of long rounds of the game.

I’d forgotten how good I was at beer pong until I was actually put into the position of utilizing my skills. The game was a heated match, Mason and I vs. two very competitive and short-tempered lesbians. Beating them would prove to be difficult; but my years of extensive beer pong tutelage under many lesbians before them had led me to that moment and prepared me for it. And as it turned out … I was pretty fucking good. It seemed as though Alexis – who was built like a professional athlete and probably was one – might have the athleticism and hand-eye coordination only attainable by women who have sex with women to beat us; but at every turn she seemed to be just a bit off her game. Cup-after-cup, I managed to get most of the balls to land where I wanted them to, and Mason even made a few lucky shots himself. We gave each other double-handed high-fives, whooping and hollering anytime either of us made a cup, trash talking the lesbians and pretending to jinx the cups before they took their shots.

And when it came down to the final cup, the hardest shot in the entire game to make, we were both so drunk that I was certain neither of us would be able to score the winning goal. I took a step back from the table, drunkenly eyed the glass and measured out the degree of the bend of my elbow, but haphazardly let the ball go too soon. I swore to the gods and stomped my foot loud enough to wake the apartment below us. But then Mason – as if none of it mattered to him in his flippant, careless form – tossed his ball like a 5-year-old playing under-handed tee ball.

I couldn’t look.

Sure, if he missed the cup, we still had plenty of chances to make it up. The girls were far behind us and there was no end on their side in sight for quite a while. But now my competitiveness was getting the best of me. If he were to miss the shot, I would summon the level of anger not seen in sports since earlier that day when Serena Williams was wrongly fouled at the US Open. Still, my own nosiness couldn’t keep my eyes away from that last shot. And as I turned to look, I dug my fingernails into the skin of his biceps while the world and game around us seemed to carry on in slow motion.

HOLY SHIT!” we both shouted when the ball somehow managed to land in the cup. “Holy fucking shit we won!” I yelped as I excitedly turned around and slipped my fingers between his in the air.

And, yes, it was stupid … but after winning that second game of rosé pong, all I wanted to do – even if drunkenly so – was kiss Mason.

I didn’t, for what it’s worth. That would have been moronic and uncalled for. Still as we stood their with our hands gripped in the air, smiling and staring at each other as Michelle and Alexis cursed and playfully accused one another of not pulling through, I had never been more attracted to him in the entire time we’d known one another.

I wiggled my fingers loose a bit, but Mason clung for a second longer. I’d turned away from him, afraid that if I met his eyes, he’d see my lips turning up and the blush splotching across my cheeks. Then a moment later, he let go, and Michelle and Alexis individually prepared to leave.

“Do you want me to take you back to your house?” Michelle asked me as she gathered her things.

I turned and watched Lana, Monica, and Mason gabbing in the corner.

Nah,” I told her while trying to pretend to be a little sober. “I’ll Lyft home or something,” I said with a smile.

Michelle raised her eyebrows and pointed at me with a wagging finger. “I see you,” she said with a laugh.

“Hey,” I called to the others, “I’m gonna walk Michelle down to the street where she parked real quick,” I told them before heading out the door behind her. And that’s exactly what I did. I did not go any further than the sidewalk – mostly for fear that someone might remove my shoe from beneath the gate and lock me out of the building – before bidding her adieu and heading back up the four flights of stairs (I was far too impatient to wait on the slow ass elevator in Mason’s building). And as I traced up them, I began to talk myself through all the red wine and tequila and vodka and rosé that I would make myself have this conversation with Mason I’d been planning to have with him. After all, by now we were both sufficiently drunk enough to at least not be awkward about it. And if worse came to worst, I’d at least mustered up the courage to do something I’d not been able to do properly with so many men before him. It wouldn’t kill me not to be dating Mason. Sure, I liked him. But I wasn’t in quite deep enough to catapult myself down into ruin if he broke my heart. In fact … I wasn’t even sure that I had the feelings for him to do that.

When I walked back up to Mason’s apartment – which was gaily decorated with a papier-mâché ‘M’ attached to the wall and a row of tiny, colorful, donkey-shaped piñatas that lined the ground along the threshold – I could hear him talking to someone, pausing where there was no response, and talking again. I pushed the unclosed door open and found him sitting in the window seat overlooking the street as Lana stood and rushed past me to head downstairs.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“It’s Michelle,” Mason told me. “She can’t find her car.”

“What do you mean she can’t find her car?” I asked. “I just walked her down to the block where she parked.”

“She says it’s not where y’all left it,” he told me with a shrug. He then covered the phone with his hand, “She was a little drunk. Maybe you should go help her find it,” he suggested.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered, turning around and flying back down the stairs. I stuck my shoe in the gate again to hold the door open, then trotted down Center Street with a limp toward Michelle, who I found standing on the corner nearest to where we had parked her car. “Are you serious?” I asked her, looking around and realizing that her car, in fact, was not where we’d left it.

“It must have been towed!” she shouted to the empty street around us. “I knew this wasn’t a parking spot!” she went on as I walked into the empty space where her car had been, then backed up toward her without turning around.

“How could it not be?” I asked, still facing the street and walking backward. “There’s no tow-away sign or anything—”

As I was saying it, I’d backed into something hard, cold, and sturdy. When I whipped around to see the street sign before me, I looked up a few feet to realize that there was, indeed, a sign at the top indicating that this was not a parking spot.

“Well, shit,” I muttered as I stared up at it. “How the fuck did we miss that?” I asked. “We weren’t even drunk yet …”

Traversing back to the fourth floor, we met Lana along the way, who reported that her car, too, had been towed away before reentering Mason’s apartment. The realization that everyone’s cars were missing laid upon me an even thicker realization:

I was not going to get my talk with Mason tonight.

I drew in a heavy breath and relinquished a sigh just as great, grabbed a marker and a paper plate, then handed them to Michelle while asking Lana to come to the counter.

“Write your license plate numbers down,” I told them with a roll of my eyes as I reached across the counter to pour another glass of wine. “I’ll find your cars,” I told them.

“Are you sure?” Michelle asked.

“Yeah,” I told her as I took a giant gulp of Shiraz. “My car’s been towed so many fucking times in my life that I ought to know how.”

I spent the next thirty minutes calling the Houston Police Department, and in turn numerous tow yards, in order to find out where exactly their cars were before returning with answers. I pulled Michelle outside the apartment.

“Okay, listen,” I told her, sipping my wine. “It’s going to be $235 to get the car out of impound. Do you have it?” I asked. It wouldn’t have been the first time I had to get someone’s car out of impound, but I certainly was not as financially prepared to bail hers out as I had been before if she didn’t’ have the money. Luckily, she did. My next question pertained more specifically to myself than it did to Michelle, but I asked anyway. “Do you want to wait here a minute to sober up before we do this?”

Michelle’s shoulders dropped and her head tilted to one side. “I am sober. You on the other hand—”

“Hey, hey, hey!” I interjected. “I may be drunk, but I was still able to successfully locate your cars. Was I not?”

Michelle shrugged, then shoved past me to get back into Mason’s apartment. If nothing else, Michelle and Lana could still go to their respective vehicles and I might still have a shot at having this conversation with Mason. Still … part of me would’ve felt like a shitty friend had I let Michelle and Lana go to some dark ass tow yard in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods in Houston at 2 AM to retrieve their vehicles.

Therein laid the dichotomy that had been haunting me since I was old enough to start dating:

Friendship … or dick?

“Lana, do you want to share an Uber down there,” Michelle asked, sort of making the decision for me.

 

“No, no, no!” Mason – also drunk – interjected – as he stood up and began fumbling around his apartment for his shoes and keys. “I’ll drive y’all down there.”

Jesusfuckingchrist,” I muttered under my breath, downing the rest of my wine and then pouring another. I rolled my eyes and reached across the kitchen for my umbrella. “Well, let me get my things, considering I probably won’t be coming back here.” I reached for the recyclable grocery bag I’d also brought with me that had previously held beers I never planned to drink from my own house. Feeling silly for taking the bag with nothing to put inside of it, I – for no real reason – reached across the bar and grabbed two bananas off a bunch and tossing them down inside.

“Why are you stealing my bananas?” Mason asked me with a roll of his eyes.

“I’m a kleptomaniac!” I shouted as I made my way – Solo cup full of wine in hand – out the door and toward Mason’s parking garage. I jumped into the front seat and placed my wine down in the cup holder as the girls in the back chatted and Mason did his best to maintain enough composure to not be caught driving drunk. After taking a sip of my wine and placing it back in the cup holder, I felt Mason’s hand brush against mine, although not in the drunk, romantic way he might normally to hold mine. As my hand came up, his continued to go down until his fingers wrapped around the rim of my cup and pulled it up chest-level.

“What are you doing?” I asked him, unsure as to whether he was going to drink it, which I’d not have minded.

“I don’t want it to spill,” he told me, clinging to it a bit tighter.

“It’s not going to spill in the cup holder,” I told him. “It’s not even half-full.”

“It’s fine,” he told me, sighing as if exasperated. “I don’t mind holding it.”

Ill hold it,” I told him as I jerked the cup out of his hands and back into my own. I took another swig from it just as Mason was approaching a railroad track before us. Most people, when approaching a railroad track, might take the time to slow down enough as to not sending all their passengers flying across the cabin. Most people, however, were not as drunk as Mason. And when he haphazardly flew over the railroad tracks without coming to a slow, the cup did fly out of my hands and spilled all over my lap … onto my very expensive white linen pants.

I’ve had a lot of men do a lot of shitty things to me, a lot who have made mistakes I was able to let go of and move on from. But in my short dating life as an adult gay man, I’d never had a man inadvertently ruin my favorite and most expensive pair of pants while driving drunk.

I could have killed him.

At the impound lot, I did my best to continue unreactive, but could not help myself. More than once, I reminded everyone how much those pants had cost, and I could see the guilt of it all squirming across Mason’s face. And it wasn’t just the matter of my pants … it was everything, most important of which was the situation with the cars. Here was the awkward, flirty, tactile 25-year-old who’d wanted nothing more than to have his closest friends over to celebrate his move into his brand new, very-adult apartment. Meanwhile, two of the attendees had found themselves $235 poorer after bailing their cars out of vehicle and me – arguably one of his closer friends – throwing a fit over a pair of pants that probably wouldn’t have even been ruined to begin with if I’d just let him hold the stupid cup like he’d said.

The ride back to his apartment was … awkward at best. Michelle and Lana had made their ways home, Monica had been dropped off outside of her apartment building, and Mason and I sat silently in his near-empty vehicle trying not to make things any weirder than they already were. When we parked back in the parking garage, I stumbled out of the car and inadvertently dropped the bananas on the cement ground. When I reached down for them to toss them back in my bag, Mason stopped me and reminded me that there were more bananas in his house – which was not the point. Still, I was willing to forgo them if I was going to get to have this weird conversation with Mason upstairs. But the closer we drew from the garage to his apartment, the more of a bad idea that seemed to be. After all, the poor guy had just had to take his friends to the impound to free their cars, and I had just bitched him out about ruining my favorite pants. Say this conversation weren’t to go the way I’d hoped. Then we’d just both be drunk and Mason would have yet another awkward weight sitting on his shoulders to burden after the catastrophic close to an otherwise successful night.

So by the time we reached the hall, I stopped in my tracks and threw my arms down beside me.

“I’m gonna go home and let you get some rest,” I told him with an intonation that wasn’t necessarily sympathetic, but rather one that resonated my own irritation at the futility of my plans to define the relationship.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you want to stay here?” he asked.

“No,” I told him with a shake of my head, looking around to see if I could navigate myself through the halls to get back down to the street.

“Do you want me to pay for your Lyft?” he asked. “It’s the least I can do considering that I ruined your pants.”

I rolled my eyes. “No,” I replied even more aggravated by this guilt-trippy suggestion.

“Well, why don’t you give me your address and let me take you home?” he asked.

No,” I impressed again upon him. Jesus. What was up with this guy? Couldn’t he just take no for an answer? What was all of this annoying, gentleman bullshit? Chivalry is dead, dude! I found my inner-monologue shouting at him. Annoyed, I turned away from him and began walking in what I thought was the right direction. Less than a second later, however, Mason was grabbing me by the shoulder and dragging me in the opposite direction.

“Well, let me at least walk you down to the street,” he told me, leading the way to the nearest staircase and out the gate. When we reached the ground level and I began to trek away from him without saying goodbye, I could still hear his footsteps right behind me.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I’m walking with you,” he explained.

“I’m just going to the front of the building so the Lyft can find me,” I lied. I had no plans of catching a Lyft. My only plans at that point were to stomp off by foot down toward Pearl Bar a few blocks down and get sufficiently drunk with the lesbians before last call. I wasn’t going to tell him that, though.

“Okay, well then I’m walking you to the front of the building and waiting with you,” he told me.

I rolled my eyes and groaned. Why, oh why did this man have to choose now to be a gentleman? Where was the guy who touched me somewhat inappropriately when we were drunk and who sent me embarrassing Snapchat videos of himself when he was browsing the aisles of CVS when he certainly shouldn’t have even been driving? Where was the cute boy who laid back on the weird, boot-shaped bench outside Neon Boots and inched his hand nearer and nearer to me to be held?

“You don’t have to do that,” I told him, still sounding aggravated as ever.

“Okay,” he sighed, defeated, though probably just ready to get into his own bed and go to sleep.

“You really don’t want me to walk with you?” he asked.

“No,” I told him again – a broken record.

“Well, can I have a hug?” he asked.

“No,” I muttered out in a way that wasn’t even slightly capable of stifling my irritation anymore.

He hugged me anyway – not a long hug, not the kind that might have made my heart skip a beat on any other occasion. It was just a hug. Plain. Dry. Routine.

“I love you,” he said as I pulled away from my already unenthusiastic reciprocation.

No.

I turned away from him and walking down Center Street toward the intersection to head back to Washington Ave. And when I knew he was no longer watching, I bolted in the opposite direction toward Pearl Bar. A large part of me wanted to cry – and later I would. But for the time being, I was going to drink at the bar where the doorman knew who I was and let me bypass him without checking my ID. I was going to get lost in my own, unnecessary, drunk thoughts wondering why on earth every little thing I tried to carry out with this guy always went awry. I was going to let all those memories of Ezra and my father and every other man I’d ever loved remind me that maybe this was just the soft end of a much more difficult blow I wasn’t quite ready to suffer. I was going to have Gwen come and pick me up from the bar – but only because she offered – and get mad at my friend Sam simply because he was a man – and cry silently on the way back to my house. And it wasn’t because Mason had done anything or said anything – it wasn’t even really because I hadn’t gotten the chance to have the conversation with him I had finally mustered up enough courage to entertain having.

It was just that everything that I’d been waiting for – all the gratification I wasn’t even yet sure would come – had been, once again, delayed. I was tired of delaying my happiness because of other people. Whether it have been a year of my love life gone because I was too hung up on Ezra or years of my childhood squandered waiting for just one adult to look at me and see something in me that they thought was special, I was tired of waiting. I liked Mason, godddamnit. I liked him a lot. And he was the first man in a very long time to make me think he might actually like me a little bit, too. And certainly, I had no one to blame for the fact that I hadn’t had this conversation with him tonight but myself. I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk, and I should have paid closer attention to the street signs around Michelle’s car and I shouldn’t have gotten irritated when I finally did have the chance to talk to him.

And I knew the opportunity would come again soon – we were, after all, going to be spending a weekend out of town together for a conference in Austin just two weeks after. And I knew that at that time, I’d finally manage to have him alone long enough and that we’d both have a drink or two to take the edge off in the event that things did turn awkward. But even that latter thought frustrated me. Why did I feel I had to be drunk to have this conversation with him? What was that going to help really? It wasn’t going to really dull the pain I may feel if he said he didn’t like me, too. It might prolong some of it, but it was all certain to come regardless. And my dumb, drunken acts tonight were clear indication that this was not a conversation I needed to have with him when I was under the influence of alcohol. I couldn’t realistically romance Mason’s pants off if I were too drunk to function. And that’s what I wanted from this:

If it were going to go the way I’d been hoping, I at least wanted it to be mildly romantic. I didn’t want it to be the ramblings of a drunken homo trying to settle down with a well-to-do man before I ran out of all other options. My feelings for Mason were sweet and affectionate.

I wanted to present them in a way that was representative of that fact.

 

I just still didn’t know if they were greater than those I had for Sam.

Still, in the three days that followed that party, I wasn’t sure if I’d quite have the nerve to bring it up again then. If only I’d known then as I was beating myself up that the return of a man I’d long-since given up on holding out my affections for would soon galvanize me into a place where I would be forced to confront the status of my relationship with not only Mason, but Sam, as well. This little trifecta was only going to complicate itself by spiraling into insanity because another man — and then another — would soon shake things up and make me reconsider everything.

The first of those two men, ladies and gentleman, was a certain fellow I’d once known from the Room Bar by the name of Taylor Kyle.

Tap-Tap, Motherfucker, Pt. I

Less Than Butterflies Anthony Ramirez See Ya’ Later Masturbator Masturbate Love

Less Than Butterflies, No. 21, Pt. I

I wanted to tell this story without crying.

I wanted to.

But I’ve been bawling my fucking eyes out all day and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I wanted to tell this story with some fanciful, Carrie Bradshaw-like beginning, where I pose an existential question. Then, throughout the course of the journey, as I foray from scene-to-scene, things get easier to understand a clarity sets in and I don’t feel like crying anymore.

I wanted to.

I wanted to tell this story without hating myself. I wanted to look back in retrospect and learn a lesson and not feel stupid and not lose a friend and I wanted to feel nothing and none of that seems to matter anymore.

Because that’s the trouble with wanting things to work out a certain way — and in turn it is the depleting moral of this tale: we don’t always get what we want.

So now I’m crying, and I’m hating myself, and I’m feeling stupid, and I don’t have a pretty, prose-like way to tell this story, and I will likely lose my friend.


It was the night before the upfront table reading of our new TV show we would be presenting to potential advertisers. The Bible of scripts, schedules, and speeches was compiled, my assistant Morgan was finishing up the slide show to run in the background to set the scenes and thank our sponsors, the voice over clips had been recorded in Gwen’s studio, and my friend Sam was coming into town to help finish the production side of things.

I was excited to see him. He lived out of town and though he, and Gwen, and I talked every day, we didn’t get to spend much time together because we lived so far apart. The last time Sam had been in Houston, we’d spend three consecutive days doing hoodrat shit — lines of coke and parties til morning at townhouses in EaDo and after hours clubs until we were nearly dead from our blood turning to foam right in our veins. This weekend, there was work to do, but we were going to turn the fuck up the moment it was over, to celebrate what was hopefully going to be a successful event that Saturday.

I was stressing myself to the brink of suicide trying to get everything done leading up to the event, and it was Sam who quelled my terror by telling me that whatever I didn’t finish before he got there, we would finish together that night st the hotel one of our sponsors had booked for us for the next couple of nights.

And that was helpful. Knowing I had someone on my side was helpful. I knew that there were others on my side; I knew that I wasn’t really alone. Gwen and Morgan and the rest of our team — a cast of thirteen and a team of ten writers — had been busting their balls to make sure everything accorded to the plan, as well. But Sam’s reassurance was nicer somehow; maybe because I wasn’t used to getting it.

Sam and I met through a Pride Houston dinner sometime back, and by god did he look good in a suit. A PR manager for a handful of select celebrities across the country, San had started his career young and was somewhat known throughout the community based on the many people with whom he worked. I was nobody. I was nothing but a columnist at a gossip rag magazine who was there to help make sure the show ran smoothly who’d taken way too much Adderall that night and downed a water bottle full of vodka to try to take some of the edge off. We said hello in passing, and then we didn’t speak again for quite some time, at which point Gwen would introduce us and I would be a somebody.

At the beginning of our friendship, Sam still looked good in a suit, and he and his on-again-off-again boyfriend, Tucker, had taken a hiatus from their relationship after a series of events I never asked about because it was really none of my goddamn business. I can’t lie here: in the beginning, I’d had a crush on him and it was probably because he’d looked so good in that suit. But that door closed just as quickly as I’d opened it, as Gwen put it. Aside from the fact that I was emotionally involved — in whatever weird, convoluted capacity — with Ezra, Sam often it made it apparent without prompt that I was not someone in whom he could ever take a romantic or sexual interest. It started off as jokes — jokes about my weight, jokes about the way I looked, jokes that hurt more than I could have expressed to him. And those jokes made it much easier for me to close that door and to never open it again.

I locked it. Dead bolted it. Melted the frame into the door itself. Sam was my friend — as mean as he was to me — and I never saw him as anything but that ever again.

Until Saturday. The day of the upfront. And it wasn’t on purpose. And I didn’t plan for it. Hell … I’m not even the one who opened the door.


Sam was in such a hurry to get out and see his other friends on Saturday night that before I’d even had time to put my bags down in the hotel room, he was nearly halfway out the door. I should’ve known then that things weren’t going to go the way they should’ve, but I tried not to get too upset. Mason called me, sensing my upset and asked me what color flowers I wanted him to bring me to the show the next day, and my heart swelled and I felt those butterflies he’d been giving me for the last few weeks and my mood improved. But Sam went out into Montrose to meet his friends, and Morgan and I joined my cousin and another friend at Neon Boots for a few drinks, and by the time one o’clock rolled around, I knew Sam wasn’t going to get his work done before the show started at 11 AM the next day.

I could feel my anger surging out of my body and into the air around me. Other people felt it, too. But what was even more evident was the supreme amount of disappointment I felt for my friend that I’d trusted to do a job for a show I had created and that told my story.

Sam called and called, texted and texted, and a few times I made myself answer. By the last time we talked, I was shouting at him. It was well past two and I was back in the hotel and Morgan was asleep and my friend — my best friend, really — had betrayed my trust. To his defense, he was in the process of trying to complete a task after leaving the bar; but he was so wrapped up in spending time with of the obnoxious and air-headed thinks he’d fucked around with in the past that the work I’d poured my heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears into came out to be the second best matter in his opinion.

That really hurt.

I was so fucking tired of being second best.


The next morning, Sam rolled over in the bed next to me and grabbed me by the shoulder and whispered, “You’ve gotta get up.”

“I am,” I mumbled sleepily as I rolled away from him and heard him shuffling out from underneath the covers and into the bathroom. I closed my eyes a moment more, doing my best not to be angry at him any longer. I’d woken up throughout the night and heard him working; I’d see him grab his things and leave the room to go to the copy store to print the Bibles. He’d tried. That was good enough for now.

When I opened my eyes again, Sam was crouched down in front of me, an Adderall in one hand and a glass of water in the other. I did my best not to let him see me smile, then I took the pill, asked Morgan for my laptop, and got to work finishing preparations for the day, which was to start in just a few hours. We finished our work, and we drove to Rich’s to put on our show; we got on the stage and performed for a small crowd, and I smoked somewhere between 10-15 cigarettes in a very short time from my nerves; Sam went to get his haircut down the street, and I joined Hope and my friend Connor for a late lunch at BB’s in the Heights with Morgan.

Sam’s haircut didn’t take long, and soon he was with us at BB’s before we’d all go back to the hotel and rest and before he’d go see his family. As everyone ate and chatted amongst themselves, I dozed off a bit into my own little world. I thought about the show, how Mason had dressed up and brought me flowers, how the audience had laughed, how I was so nervous during the song I was supposed to sing that my pitch was all over the place. And as I was trailing off in my own little world, my phone vibrated in my lap and revealed a text from Hope.

iphone-CCcm Tap-Tap, Motherfucker, Pt. IMy head popped back up and my eyes darted toward Sam across the table who was now looking at his own phone. I hadn’t heard a single word he’d said; and a part of me was glad that I hadn’t. It’d been a long enough day without anything new or bizarre coming up this late.


When we went out that night, I was in a shitty mood. For one, I was not the biggest fan of Sam’s vapid, shallow, twinky friends; but that much I could have gotten past after a few drinks. More than anything, I’d spent a little time scrolling through Snapchat stories and had stumbled upon a few photos Mason had shared captioned with the words ‘date night’ from what appeared to be a very nice restaurant I was not present at, followed by a visit to see Les Miserables at the Hobby Center. I wanted to cry or be angry or to murder him or something; but all I could do was sit trying to be angry and growing more and more furious with myself for not being.

What was the deal with that? This dude was like the perfect guy for me and I really liked him and here he was out on a date with someone else and I felt nothing.

We headed to Rich’s with Twink #1 and my friend Courtney where my mood only got worse. Walking in the doors, Courtney and I headed to the restroom where we each did a bump of coke, then were met by Twink #1 and Sam at the door and led up to a booth upstairs where we were met by our friend Chance and his boyfriend Aaron. Upon seeing us, Chance pulled from his pocket two small capsules, handing one to me and another to Sam, which I inspected only to realize that it was Molly. Without even thinking twice, I popped the fucker in my mouth sipped a bit of Chance’s drink that sat on the table and wait oh-so impatiently for the roll to begin.

“Do you feel it yet?” Sam asked me loudly over the music about fifteen minutes later before leaning in closer and lightly tapping me on the shoulder with his onomatopoeia, “Tap-tap.”

Chance ran to my other said and did the same with one of his index fingers while saying, “Tap-tap.” I shrugged and pulled away from the both of them. I was not feeling my tap-tap just yet; but I sure as fuck could not wait for it to hit.

Everything that night happened so fast and in such a blur. Chance and Aaron were gone before we knew and the remainder of us were dancing downstairs — me rhythmless, Sam like a dad, and Courtney like a fanny-pack wearing lesbian. It wasn’t until we were outside standing under a fan, however, that the roll really began to kick in. I noticed it as the fan overhead blew down on me and the wind it produced seemed to be wrapping its arms around me in a hug. But what really set it off was the moment that Sam reached over when I was looking, clasp two of his fingers around my nipple, and tugged.  

Hoooooly shit, I remember thinking while at the same time trying to keep my mouth from hanging open.

Several more times he did this throughout the night, and I could feel a stir inside my pants that I should not have been experiencing at the hands of dear old Sam. But each time that he did it and pulled and squeezed just a little bit harder, things downtown got … well … a little bit harder. At one point I had to swat him away with my hands because I was not wearing underwear and there was no way I’d be able to conceal an erection in the pants that I was wearing.

“Not here!” I shouted as i jumped and giggled a bit.

Was that the thing I chose to say? “Not here”?

Then where?

I should have known then that the things would go downhill soon, but I chose to ride my roll instead and have a good time with my friend that I almost never got to see in person. So the partying at Rich’s led to an after party at some rando couple’s townhouse on Sutton St. in Midtown. I smoked a cigarette and waited for a Lyft Sam had ordered Courtney to arrive, all the while wondering how the fuck I’d gotten there in the first place; and finally joining him upstairs in the kitchen. Around the counter stood a pack of seemingly judgmental — albeit nice — 30-something-year-old gays that were mostly coupled up and drinking wine from large, Olivia Pope-esque glasses who were clearly not rolling on Molly like we were.

I could feel my roll depleting after we took a tour of the house and Sam and I lounged snuggly on the couch with Chance and Aaron a little while later. Chance and Sam had not been speaking for quite a long time, and so the fact that they weren’t killing one another and were actually friends again was quite the relief to me. I loved them both a great deal and it sucked not being able to spend time with the both of them with Sam was in town. Besides that, I could see how happy it made Sam; and that was something beautiful all on its own.

Sam got another Molly capsule and we split it in half to keep our high going just a little bit longer. As Sam laid back against the couch and I rested my head on his shoulder and my hand on his exposed thigh, I knew already that it was not a good idea. Twink #1 had danced off into the abyss that was Rich’s dance floor sometime ago, and all the other gays in the room looked not only tired, but coupled-up and not looking for guests; which concerned me simply because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when the new Molly hit our systems. Oddly enough, however, after another half hour of chatting with Chance and Aaron and strangers I didn’t know any better than the other friends of Sam’s we’d met throughout the night, I was kind of exhausted, and it seemed as though he was, as well.

“You ready to go back to the hotel?” I remember him asking, to which I for some reason chose to reply, “I’m up for whatever you want.”

Fucking idiot, I scolded myself.

We waited downstairs for a moment for the Lyft to arrive and take us back to the hotel, and Sam played with my nipple again while he cautioned me that the car ride may make the roll a lot worse. I’d never had that problem with Molly before, but figured he knew his body’s reaction to chemicals far better than I did. As it happened, the car ride didn’t bother me at all, but Sam did, in fact, have an intensified reaction to the drugs once the car began speeding us from Midtown to the Galleria somewhere near three or four o’clock that morning.

What happened next is hard for me; and the spaces between getting out of the car and returning to the hotel room are sort of fuzzy. I remember going upstairs, peeing, changing into a pair of volleyball shorts and a t-shirt. I remember lying down in bed and watching as Sam tried to dance off some of his roll to music that only existed in his own head. I remember smiling because of how silly he looked, but asking him to sit down and to be still because he was making me anxious with all the movement. I remember him turning off the lights and getting under the covers with me; and I remember inching in closer to him, lying my head on his chest, and telling him, “I’m still rolling pretty hard, so I’m gonna lay my head on you.”

The rest is pretty clear in my memory, though; because I hadn’t been rolling that hard by that point. I still felt the Molly in me and I knew I was still high. It just wasn’t as intense as I wanted to believe it was. Sam shuffled a bit and told me, “Let me readjust,” after which I sat up, as did he, and he took his shirt off, and he extended his right arm outward and invited me back to lay my head against him as he wrapped his arm around me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I snaked my right arm over his stomach and clasped it upon his side, and then traced my fingers in funny patterns along his skin, and he did the same against my shoulder.

Tap-tap was putting it lightly at that point. I wanted to be tap-tapped.

In all the time that we’d been actual friends, I’d never found myself attracted to Sam. I knew that others had been, and I’d been guilty of my little schoolgirl crush when we’d first met. But the door had long since closed. He’d closed it; and I’d been walked away and back to Ezra and then onto Mason, but now another door was opening. Only, I wasn’t the one turning the knob. I was sitting in a lobby waiting for my name to be called by some man — any man — would take the first step and open it for me. And there he was, Sam the PR Man and my best friend. His skin was warm, and it smelled like his cologne I recognized any time I smelled it anywhere else. His fingers were scratching my shoulder and mine were tracing his tummy, then his chest, and then his nipples. I twined my legs into his own, and I ran my fingers into that ticklish spot under his arms that made him jump and giggle. I kissed his chest when all I wanted to do was reach up and kiss his neck, and the space beneath his ears, and his lips. But I didn’t do that.

I couldn’t do that. We were already crossing the line.

But when I kissed him, he writhed and moaned, and I panted out little high-pitched breaths of submission, but stopped myself from going any further. I knew then how bad I wanted it … how bad I wanted him. Even if I’d never wanted him like that before, I could feel my body — whether it be from the Molly or not — aching to let him inside me, to make me cry out his name, to whisper daddy in his ear as he fucked me into another dimension. And I could feel he might have wanted it, too. After all, he was hard and his penis was pitching a tent under the comforter and if I’d cared less about myself, less about him, even less about his boyfriend back home, I’d have taken it further.

But I knew that once I did it, it couldn’t be undone. And the sex would have been great; and yes, I’d wanted it. For fuck’s sake, when I went home the next night and masturbated thinking about it for an hour, I’d have an orgasm like I’d never had before and half to smoke six cigarettes to get enough nicotine in my body to stop the shaking. But what felt better than all of that — the sex that hadn’t been, the fountainous ejaculation after jacking off, the way his skin smelled and how soft it was against my lips — was how comfortable and how safe I felt with his arm around me.

I’d never felt that before. I was being cradled by a man I genuinely did love, in one capacity or another, and who I told my secrets to, who knew as much about my life as I could remember in one sitting, and who made me feel secure and cared for.

I’d never had that before.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled as I pulled half an inch away.

But Sam kept his clasp around me and said, “Don’t be sorry,” and hugged me a bit tighter.

And I could have stayed there like that forever. I don’t know why. I don’t know where it came from. But I could have stayed there like that and been okay, because I felt safe.

I wasn’t sure quite what it meant just yet, and maybe when the Molly wore off and I was clear-headed again, I’d feel differently. But what I did know was when I woke the next day, nothing between Sam and I would ever be quite the same again, no matter how hard either of us tried to keep it the same. It was evident when my soot slid beneath his while he was sleeping, waking me up, and I gave a gentle tap-tap to the bottom of his foot with the top of mine; and a few moments later, I felt one reciprocal return.

Tap-tap.

Continue to Part II

Special 20th Column: Take My Hand

Anthony Ramirez Gay Love Dating Less Than Butterflies

Less Than Butterflies, No. 20

I think when you’re dating someone, there are certain universal signs that are easy to identify, but difficult to translate. Although, when you’re not dating someone but are spending time with them on the frequent, the interpretations can be much more difficult to ascertain. For instance, if someone puts an arm around you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they like you, but it also could mean that they do like you. Or just because someone you like is talking about another person that’s cute or that they’ve slept with could be their way of telling you that they’re interested in someone else. Then again, it could also just be that person gauging your reaction and interest to see how you feel about them. Humans are funny creatures, and each little quirk makes us unique, which is why pairing two people together on a romantic level can be not only overwhelming, but seemingly impossible.

That being said, when one person does meet another with whom they actually click, trying to maneuver from the ‘I like you’ stage into the ‘let’s settle down and adopt a corgi together’ stage can be just as confusing. That’s because at that time, when you’re first infatuated with someone, everything is looked at through rose-colored glasses. Everything looks like a sign that the other person may like you, but rare is it that they actually do. For years, I had this problem on the frequent. In spite of having had (and broken up with) numerous men between the ages of twenty and twenty-three, nothing ever quite satiated my need for affection; and I found that I was tricking myself into falling in love with men who would never love me quite as much as I loved them, some of which not even in the same way. I thought that the more I loved them, the more they’d love me, and the closer we’d get.

Twenty-four presented me with a new set of obstacles, true; but more so it provided me with the clarity to know when I was being foolish and how to see things as they were. I owe a lot of that to Ezra, with whom I fell in love and hoped he’d someday love me just as much and the same way, too. At twenty-four, I’ve found myself thinner than I’ve been since high school, more hard-working than ever before, and less terrified by the things that once scared me shitless … even when it comes to boys. I realize now that after having had my heart ripped out and stomped on more times than a few, I don’t really have much left to lose.

It’s been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

All that being said, reading the signs is no less difficult than it was in years past. Learning to like a guy the way I have Mason these last few weeks has been a new and uncharted experience for me, simply because I’m learning to have these feelings without the anxiety of worrying about what’s going to go wrong. If he likes me, great; he should. I’m tall and cute and well-dressed and hygienic and educated and successful and I have an ass that just won’t quit. But if Mason doesn’t feel the same way, that’s fine, too. He’s a great friend to have and we get along really well together. I don’t foresee heartbreak and misery in the way I experienced those things with other men.

So last week as I reflected on our last quasi-date together, I made a plan to see if he felt the same way I did without coming out and asking him. I decided to see that through to the best of my drunken ability.

The plan was set for the two of us to go out on Saturday a week ahead of time and for once, I was not going to let anything get in the way of me enjoying my evening and following through with my scheme. I didn’t care who tagged along this time or where we went out drinking, and I wasn’t going to let myself spill a Gatorade bottle of urine on myself this time. I had $200 set aside to blow on the evening and $40 worth of cocaine to keep me awake and functioning. I was going to spend several drunken hours with Mason in which we were going to have an amazing time, goddamnit.

First, however, I was going to check on my friend, Courtney, who had just broken up with her girlfriend, Jennifer, of nearly a year. Courtney wanted to get out of the house for a while, so I suggested she tag along with us in order to keep her from crying at home alone into a cheap bottle of beer. We met at Kirby Ice House where — even in the rain — white, straight people were reveling in drunken merry through the crowded bar. I walked up to the door, where a short line of people were waiting to show their IDs and the doorman — whom I knew from somewhere — let me through and past the line.

I walked to the bar and paid $14 for a shot of Patron and a glass of Cabernet before locating Courtney on the patio laughing with a troop of straight boys who had no idea she was gay or that she’d just broken up with her girlfriend. She greeted me and introduced me to her new friends, the names of each I’d forget just moments later and whom I’d probably never see again. Not one for the straight experience, I downed my shot, my wine, and three beers from the bucket Courtney had bought for the table. It was evident to me that she’d been crying before, as her eyes were puffy and her face looked tired, so I pulled her aside to smoke a cigarette and to see how she was holding up.

“I think I want to sleep with men again,” she told me as she took a drag off a cigarette — a habit she’d kicked almost a year ago. I nearly spit out my beer. “What?” she asked me as I wiped my face. “Don’t judge me.”

“I’m not judging you! I want to sleep with men again, too,” I told her. “I just didn’t realize it was something you thought about.” It wasn’t a secret that Courtney had had relationships with men in the past, even having an affair with a married, straight couple a little over a year ago. Still, it hadn’t occurred to me that she was wanting to play exclusively for the other team. I’d always thought of her as more of a free agent. (Being in straight bars clearly has affected how I draw analogies).

“I mean, I’m not as gay as you are. I like men a little,” she told me as she drank more beer.

“You do what you want to do,” I said as I put my cigarette out and led the way back to our table. The straight boys looked a bit disheartened when they heard that Courtney wasn’t straight, but felt better knowing she was at least straight-adjacent. One of them was even lucky enough to get her number — although a part of me wondered if that had something to do with the fact that they knew she and I had coke. I drank fast as I wanted to be drunk enough by the time I saw Mason to carry out my plan, and Courtney was already drunk upon my arrival. Nevertheless, we toasted our new acquaintances and laughed at bad jokes they told. One of them flirted with Courtney and she flirted back while another was being somewhat flirtatious with me, which I did not understand but to which I was receptive.

“Where are y’all going after this?” Straight Man #1 — Court’s flirt — inquired.

“A gay bar,” she told them. “RJ’s or something.”

“JR’s,” I corrected with a laugh.

“Where’s that?” #2 — my flirt — asked.

Courtney shrugged while I said, “About a mile from here. In Montrose.” It almost seemed as though they were inviting themselves to tag along, which I wouldn’t have minded, but led me to say, “it’s a gay bar.”

“Do y’all wanna come?” Courtney asked.

Each of them shrugged and nodded, one adding that he loved gay bars, but I knew that we probably wouldn’t see them again. We soon left them behind, me heading over to Mason’s to pick him up and Courtney to get a head start toward JR’s.

Mason lived near my old house in Washington Heights. His apartment building was just off of Washington Ave. before Pearl Bar which would have been the perfect location to get drunk together on the frequent was I still living in his neighborhood. It made me wish I’d spent a little less time worrying about Ezra and more time getting to know Mason when we’d first met. But that was then, when I was still trying to read the signs I thought I was getting from Ezra.

We all know how that turned out.

I took note of how nice Mason’s apartment building was. Even when I’d been living there I’d never noticed it before. When he hopped in the car with me downstairs, I could tell that he had not been drinking like I had leading up to that moment. It was already nine, and I’d already drank more than most people could handle. Nevertheless, I’d had a rough week and I still hadn’t quite worked up the nerve to go digging for the information that I wanted. Still, now that I was with Mason, the plan had to be put into action. It was a simple plan, but still one that could go horribly wrong: toss out a little bait — drop flirty hints, get a little tactile — and see how he responded. Give him signs; read his signs.

I texted Courtney several times while parking in Montrose before we headed over to JR’s, but didn’t receive any replies, which worried me to a certain degree considering that Courtney was known for making irrational decisions when she was drunk and sad. However, Mason and I proceeded to JR’s, where I handed him a twenty dollar bill and asked him to get us drinks at the patio bar while I dashed off to the restroom. All the alcohol was hitting at once and I was not going to have any more urine-related incidents while out with this man. And considering the fact that I donned pastel pink pants, an accident might have been a little bit harder to conceal. We drank and wandered inside to escape Houston’s notorious humidity and ran into several people around the bar that I knew from work and such, but none as familiar to me as the woman sitting at a fold-up table at the front of the bar with clipboards lined out in front of her in the hopes of registering people to vote.

I approached the table from behind and her, “Hello, I need to register to vote so that I can make sure Donald Trump gets a second term.” Laughing and turning to face me, Michelle gave me a hug and smiled as I introduced her to Mason.

Michelle and I had been friends since we were freshmen in high school, and she’d recently moved back to Houston from Austin and Atlanta before that after getting both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Unbeknownst to many people that went to high school with us, in that time, Michelle had come out of the closet and spent her time advocating for the rights of people of color and on the LGBTQ spectrum. Recently, she’d begun writing for our magazine in addition to working as a coordinator for Battleground Texas, a Democratic organization dedicated to getting people registered to vote.

Thankfully, Michelle was nearly done with her work and had agreed to join us afterward to go out into Montrose for more fun and drinks. To that end, I resolved to smoke a cigarette and to get us all another drink — Mason a Long Island, Michelle an Old Fashioned, and myself a vodka cranberry. On the patio where I was smoking, Mason and I chatted with some friends I’d run into and played an oversized game of Jenga before heading to the bar for drinks where I also ordered us shots of Fireball.

“Shots,” I told Mason as I presented him with one of them.

“What are these?” he asked as he sniffed the inside of the glass. “Ugh. Fireball,” he said with a grimace.“Oh, please. It’s like 80% sugar and I need you to be on my level,” I told him as I clinked my glass to his, touched it against countertop, and then downed the Fireball.

As it turned out, Mason’s ‘ugh’ had been right on point. As of late I’d been drinking a lot less than I was used to and I’d forgotten exactly how Fireball tasted. More importantly, I’d forgotten how Fireball felt going down. A chilled, spicy beverage followed by heartburn? Gross. Why did I ever even drink this stuff?

We found Michelle, gave her the Old Fashioned, and then retired to the back patio to drink under a cabana where a gaggle of misfits missing a few of their front teeth joined us without asking if they could do so. I was sitting on the arm of a patio chair when one of them plopped his methed out ass down into the seat, prompting me to move as quick as a vampire from garlic or a good narrative.

“You can still sit there,” the seemingly homeless man said.

“No, that’s fine.” I told him as I lifted my straw to my mouth. “Nothing I love more than standing.”

At the next bar — Ripcord, I think? — I began spending even more money that I did not have to spend by ordering everyone tequila shots and drinks before we retreated to the patio. Once finding an open table, I couldn’t help but notice that right before us there were two bearish men at a bench, both shirtless, one standing over the bench, and the other sitting on it sucking the former’s dick.

“Classy,” I said as I took a drink before pulling out a tiny bag of coke to do a bump before God and everyone else.

It was probably all of the alcohol, but for about an hour the three of us fell down a rabbit hole of complimentary remarks about one another in which Michelle and I looked back fondly on high school and Mason and Michelle grew to like one another quite a bit. That was a nice feeling for me, although I’m not entirely sure why. Somewhere between them both telling one another what a good friend I was — that part I knew had to be due to the alcohol — my phone began to ring.

“Where the fuck have you been?” I barked at Courtney into the phone.

“Relax,” she huffed out. “I was on the phone with my dad.”

“I will not relax! You’re sad and you just had a break up and you aren’t exactly known for making good decisions when you’re drinking through your feelings.”

“I’m fine. I’m walking up to JR’s. Where are y’all?”

“Oh.” I’d forgotten to mention to her that we’d since moved to Ripcord. She joined us about ten minutes later, greeting Michelle kindly and saying hi to Mason, whom she’d met once before at a Pride event when we’d worked there together — we’d both since left on not-so-lovely terms. Just as she arrived, my phone rang again; and I looked down to see that this time the person calling was my friend Carter I hadn’t really spent time with since the Halloween before when we’d made out in his car by mistake. I sent it to voicemail, as Carter only typically called in the middle of the night when he was drunk or stoned and wanted to lament about some boy he’d been pining over. Except just a few seconds after the phone quit ringing, Carter sent me a text that I could see from glancing down at my screen had to do with Courtney.

“Do you know where Courtney is?” the first message read. “She hasn’t been responding to me or Jennifer all day,” said the second. I rolled my eyes and turned my phone just enough so that Courtney couldn’t read it.

“She’s out with me. She’s fine.” I told him before setting my phone back down. While the latter statement may not have been entirely true, she certainly wasn’t in any danger and I wasn’t going to let her do anything stupid.

Aside from that, Courtney was pretty good at taking care of herself and had elected to quit drinking, as she was still drunk from Kirby Ice House and already wasn’t sure where she’d parked her car in the never-ending expanse that was Montrose. The rest of us drank more-and-more; although by the time that I was ready to cruise along from Ripcord down the street to Crocker, Mason was already a bit drunk and Michelle was feeling hungry.

Walking down the street toward Crocker, I felt someone reach for my hand. It made me nervous at first, as I’ve always been a bit weird about being touched, but especially so since I was raped back in June. Yet when I jerked my head around to see who it was, I was genuinely surprised and delighted to find that it was Mason. I smiled at him for a moment, trying to wade through the confluence of feelings rushing over me and coating my drunkenness. But as though this were something that happened all the time, he never even stopped and looked back as if it were all routine.

I didn’t want to think too much of it at the time, as I knew Mason to be an extremely tactile drunk. Still there was something inside of me that was so taken aback by that one, drunken gesture that I wasn’t quite able to assess it in the grown-up, non-obsessive way I’d been conditioning myself to look at things. But what it was at the time, I couldn’t quite put a finger on.

At Crocker, I felt myself ease up some. Even when I’d thought my anxiety had gone and I wasn’t stressing about this evening, it seemed I actually had been just a bit. But the hand-holding — whether drunken tactility or a sweet gesture (and the first unreadable sign) — had lifted my spirits some that hadn’t really been down to begin with. It lifted them so much, actually, that by the time we had our drinks, Michelle and Mason were on the dance floor in a crowd of people and I was actually encouraging them. Courtney walked up next to me after using the restroom and said, “Go dance with him.”

“I don’t dance,” I told her, with a roll of my eyes. I may have been a glass of Cab, two Patron shots, two Fireball shots, four (I’d shotgunned one of Michelle’s at Ripcord) beers, six vodka cranberries, and half of one of Mason’s Long Islands in, but I certainly wasn’t drunk enough to be dancing.

Courtney shifted her weight to one hip, looked me in the eyes with that same, cold stare she’d been giving me over the last few years anytime I did anything stupid, and said, “If you don’t dance with him tonight, you will regret it.”

My lifted spirits and I decided she was right. My story with Mason thus far had been a lot of things, but easy wasn’t one of them. And while it was a short story, and one I hoped might play out longer, I knew that whether it did or did not depended solely upon the signs that I was willing to demonstrate as well. And if Courtney had learned anything lately that she was capable of teaching me, it was that these things — whether we win, lose, or draw in the end — don’t work without the effort.

So, I danced with them. Badly, mind you. I’m a terrible dancer, especially when I’m drunk. But I danced with them, because that’s what you do when you’re with your friends and when the boy you think is cute is dancing right in front of you and you want to make sure he’s having a good time and that you’re a part of it. So we danced and then we didn’t, then we went outside and got hot; we drank and then we danced some more; and we all chatted about the people we’d slept with as of late and the bad dates or romances gone awry. And then, just as we were getting comfortable dancing in a way that likely would have made everyone else around us uncomfortable, someone had to come and shit on everything.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered as my body fell immobile at the sight of Carter crossing the dance floor with Jennifer toward us.

“Anthony!” he shouted over the music in that overzealous, faggy way he did that had always annoyed me. Carter wrapped me in a hug, as did Jennifer, only for them to both say hi to Courtney and turn away to some other friends they seemed to be with.

“Let’s go outside,” I said, grabbing Courtney by the wrist and dragging her out the front door through a line of people trying to get inside.

It only took seconds from the time that we made it out onto the patio for Courtney to fall into my now rather sweaty chest bawling her eyes out. Seeing her like that — vulnerable and in such heartache — was difficult. Of all the friends I’d made over the years, Court was without even an inkling of a doubt the most put-together, self-assured, and unwavered by emotion that I’d ever known. I could sit here and say it was all a wall built up by a bad childhood or a string of heartbreaks that had left her callous. But that’d be undermining to her character, I think. Courtney was — and continues to be — one of the most kind-hearted and true people I’d met as an adult; but she was still a human being who needed to be loved.

She’d been lacking a lot of that love as of late, I think.

I went on a hunt for Michelle and Mason, both of whom I’d lost somewhere between the run-in with Carter and Jennifer and calming Courtney down. Finding Michelle dancing alone and Mason talking to a group of men on the patio, I ushered them both away from the bar and back toward the street to find somewhere else to drink away Courtney’s feelings. As we moseyed through the neighborhood toward the Eagle, I was happy to see that my car was still parked safely and untouched, but even more so pleased when Mason reached for my hand, again.

Mind you … he was also definitely holding Michelle’s hand for a brief while, which could be seen as detracting from the fact that he was holding mine, too. But when he let her go as we drew nearer to the bar, his hand stayed wrapped in mine. And I’m not sure why I did it — maybe it was just me trying to still flesh out these signals I’d been getting from him — I slowed my pace and looked at him and smiled, and I squeezed his hand a little to say something I couldn’t quite put into words. And, yeah, for a moment, I wondered what I was doing and whether or not I was being a total fucking freak, but I caught Mason looking at me, too. And as he giggled and pulled me along with him, he squeezed my hand, too.

Oh, God. Was that overwhelming.

At the Eagle, I handed Mason some cash to run to the bar and grab drinks for us while I darted down into the bathroom to pee. Once in the stall, I sat down and tried to clear away some of the fog from inside my head so that I could see this stupid goddamn plan through and remember some of it the next day. I was blacking out — I could tell because I’d not been able to recall leaving Crocker and ending up at the Eagle for quite a while. But on the whole, I was still functioning, although probably not enough to be driving if we were to leave anytime soon. So I took out the remainder of my cocaine, cut a line on the toilet paper dispenser, and snorted it up quickly.

I exited the stall and checked my nose in the mirror to make sure I wasn’t leaving behind anything I wouldn’t want found on my person. But standing there — as other men undoubtedly wondered how drunk I was and why I wouldn’t let them use the sink — I found something in the hollows of my cheeks and the bags under my eyes I’d not seen in a while — other than … you know … hollows, as that came with weight loss. There were these little lines around my eyes and near the corners of my mouth. And just to see if I was right about where they’d come from, how I’d gotten them, I found myself smiling by force, but then organically as they creased with my smile.

I probably looked like a fucking idiot, but I could see something in me I’d not seen in a long time:

Happiness.

So like any good, coke-snorting, godless fag would do at one in the morning while blacking out drunk, I decided to stick a knife in that happiness.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket, opened my text messages, typed out the words, “Hi. I miss you,” and sent the note to Ezra.

Courtney went home at one point, and as two o’clock drew nearer, Mason, Michelle, and I Ubered to Velvet Taco on Westheimer, where the restaurant was packed and a few cops kept their eyes on everyone. I sat patiently and watched as Mason and Michelle ate — I’d lost my appetite after doing so much coke — although Mason tried to shove his tacos into my mouth on more than one occasion. The night was quelling quietly and for that I was grateful. There’s something about doing hoodrat shit with your friends and getting way too drunk and laughing your ass off and dancing like fools and finally coming together for food and silence that really rounds off an evening in the perfect way. We were all tired — Michelle had been working that entire night right up until ten o’clock and Mason was a sleepy creature of habit, who was now leaning his head against my shoulder while we waited for Michelle to finish eating. And as I laid my head down atop his for a moment, I was smiling again like I had in the mirror at the Eagle. I felt happy … and that was something I wasn’t so sure that I’d felt in a really long time.

Ezra had given me happiness, although I’m not sure that I would ever be completely happy with us just being friends. I’m not so sure that Mason really gave me happiness, although I did feel happy when I was around him. And as we walked back to the car hand-in-hand once Michelle had parted ways with us, my slowly sobering mind started to piece together exactly what it was that I was getting so elated about.

When Mason had reached for my hand that first time — whether it had  been brought on by too much to drink or an actual feeling — when he’d acted as though it was nothing or something that was as routine as brushing his teeth or putting gas in his car, it reminded me how long it had been since I’d been out in public with a man who wanted to hold my hand. I’d gone so long without affection of any sort from any person that I was at first shocked to be receiving it, but then excited to dig deeper into this affection like a child seeing if there’s anything left at the bottom of a gift bag on his birthday. And when I had this realization, I didn’t want it to stop. I didn’t want him to let go and I certainly didn’t want him to not like me.

The forays I’d journeyed with the men in my life — the ones I’d dated like Parker who had made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for them to spend the rest of their lives with; the ones who’d torn away my humanity by taking my body into their hands and using it like some sort of garage tool; the ones I’d slept with but never really known any more than in a corporeal sense like Dylan; the ones I’d fallen in love with but weren’t capable of loving me, too, like Ezra — all of those relationships, for better or for worse, had led me to this very moment. This strange, giddy, catalytic, seemingly-perennial moment in which I woke up giggling and smiling the morning after having seen him and feeling a hand inside my own from where it had been hours before. I was basking in these feelings, enamoured by them, aroused by them — even orgasming to them when I got really swept up in them. I didn’t want them to end; and yet … I also didn’t fear that they would anytime soon. And I think that’s because I knew that this was it. This was thing I’d been writing about my search for, crying over losing.

This was a feeling that was nothing less than butterflies.

And all those other men, all those other bad experiences in love had been teaching me all the ways I was not supposed to feel at the beginning and end and every step of the way of the middle when I found myself liking someone. All the anxieties and insecurities I’d obsessed over weren’t normal, healthy avenues of getting to know myself, let alone another person I might someday love. They were teaching me that when these feelings came — and God did I know they probably would again over the course of my life — the signs before me were there not to give me the answers to each of my silly, stupid problems. Rather, they were there to help me understand what loves were worth the pain and heartache I’d put myself through over the years.

All of those sleepless nights of me crying into a pillow, reciting what I’d never say to those men in mirrors that shone back to me the face of someone I did not want to accept as myself, they were preparing me for this very moment. The moment when I met a man that I genuinely was attracted to and liked and laughed with and missed when he was away. A man that locked his fingers in between mine and squeezed tighter when I squeezed his to make sure he hadn’t let me go in the streets of Montrose. And that wasn’t to say that it was going to work out or that this was going to be my happily ever after. But it did give me the reassurance that not every relationship or friendship has to go down in a heap of fire and agony. It gave me the forethought to know that no matter what I was feeling, I always had an out if I needed it.

It gave me the confidence to look at myself in the mirror that night at home, when I disrobed to change for bed and pulled my hair down out of its sweat-matted ponytail and see no reason Mason wouldn’t like me.

I was a catch. I was smart, educated and funnier than most other people I knew, and not bad to look at. I was nearly as thin as I was in high school — the days when I’d actually been athletic — and I had wisdom and wit well beyond my years. I had the job of my dreams and the status people in Montrose often find unattainable even after decades of work toward it. I had an ass that didn’t quit, the mouth and willpower of someone who didn’t have anything to lose, and the true and honest love in my heart that people often don’t have the self-awareness to realize they not only have but deserve from others.

Eventually, when the time is right and when the stars align, I’ll get around to finding out exactly how he feels. These things can’t be rushed too much — and certainly not so in our mid-twenties — because feelings are supposed to be organic. And just as I’d organically come into mine for him a year after we’d met, I needed to make sure that he had a little bit more time to figure out if he had any for me. Besides, he wasn’t going anywhere right this second. I mean, for chrissakes, I’m seeing him both next weekend and the weekend after that. But when it comes down to it, even if he doesn’t like me and we don’t run off into the sunset or become a power couple or adopt Syrian refugee babies, I’m gonna be okay.

Because Mason isn’t the only man in the world who isn’t afraid to hold my hand in public. But for right now, I believe that all signs are pointing to the fact that he’s the one whose hand I want to hold.

God, I feel good.

Crushed

Less Than Butterflies Anthony Ramirez See Ya’ Later Masturbator Masturbate Love

Less Than Butterflies, No. 19

My very first crush that I ever had was on … wait for it … a girl. At my elementary school in the North Houston suburb of Spring, I was in Mrs. Nevitt’s Kindergarten class, and the room in which the class was held was divided in half by a long row of storage cubbies. On the opposite side of the cubbies, an older teacher named Mrs. Burns had a class of her own. To put it frankly, Mrs. Nevitt was kind of a bitch and the all of the Kindergarten-aged children knew this. On the playground, it was rumored that Mrs. Nevitt would take the children who misbehaved home with her and lock them in her attic until they’d learned their lessons. In reality and in retrospect, Mrs. Nevitt wasn’t that bad, especially when you consider that twenty-five five-year-olds ran around her class screaming and knocking each other over for purple crayons and glue sticks. She never locked anyone in her attic, although when we got too rowdy, she would make us all sit silently on the storytime rug and stare at the clock for one full minute. Those minutes always seemed like the longest spans of time we’d ever suffered.

On the opposite side of the wall, a more patient Mrs. Burns was warm and sweet to her class. She let them use the large, block-like computers to play educational games, watch The Land Before Time on a near-weekly basis, and sometimes even took her class out for an extra recess at the end of the week if they’d been particularly good. I had a few friends in her class, and one girl in particular drew my attention away when I’d see her on either side of the cubbies on the computers or practicing flashcards at the table by the wall to the next room.

Her name was Daphne, and she always wore a headband in her hair somewhat like the character from Scooby-Doo. I’m not sure that I really thought she was cute at 5 and 6-years-old, but I definitely remember the euphoria I’d get when we’d run into one another on the playground or she’d say hi in the hallways. I don’t think she was all that cute, now that I’m recollecting upon it, and it’s possible that this “crush” was nominal only due to the fact that she did share a name with the Scooby-Doo character whom I adored as a child. That said, one thing that stuck out to me about her that entire year was never that she had a cute face or even that she was nice to me. Rather, it was the ugly-ass beige shoes that she wore every single day, which caused me to wonder who had dressed her and let her think that they matched anything.

I guess you could say that the signs were always there.

Growing up, I remember having lots of crushes. As my crushes on boys became less frightening to me, some of them even spiraled into deeper feelings (maybe you’ve read about these somewhere). But it always seemed as though I bypassed the stage of just liking someone quite quickly and fell head-over-heels in love with them after it was too late to slow myself down. Parker and I had only been together three weeks before we’d exchanged ‘I love yous’. Ezra I liked, quit liking due to the fact that he’d never date me, and then realized I’d been in love with the entire time after one night together to help him get away from his depression. And every man in between and every man before had all been the same. Sure I’d not fallen right into love with them. But I certainly didn’t give due time to savor the crush and infatuation for what it was.

Which brings us back to Mason.

Mason and I had now hung out a few times over the summer. He traveled a great deal for work and I worked nonstop, which made hanging out particularly difficult for the both of us. The first time, we’d hung out with a group of people we’d known in common, and the second time we’d plan to have a nice time alone, but ended up spending the entire night with people I didn’t know — you may remember this as the night I inadvertently peed myself. Most recently, my good friend Gwen and I — who had since become my business partner in the magazine where I served as editor-in-chief — had been invited as special guests to the fifth anniversary party of the gay, country bar Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon.

A gay bar that’s also a country bar may not at first sound terribly appealing to everyone, but in fact the club as a whole kind of is for everyone. It’s the kind of bar that caters to many diverse people. There are dance classes, concerts on the beautiful back patio that has a large stage, and karaoke almost every single night. There’s always something to do there, and the bar owners make a point of getting to know pretty much every newcomer that passes through their doors.

Gwen picked me up at six that evening donning an outfit of pink that coordinated a bit with my own outfit of mostly pink. We swung by to pick up our friend Jackson, who walked out of his apartment building on Washington also wearing pink. While Gwen was perennially single, Jackson was the sort that never seemed to not have a boyfriend. I’d known him a little less than a year, and in that time he’d had two long-time boyfriends. The first of which he’d been with for a few years before breaking up with one night seemingly out-of-the-blue. The second he’d begun dating a few weeks after that, with whom he’d just split — a matter with which he was having a hard time. I’d suggested to Gwen that she invite him out as her plus-one because we knew that he could use the break from thinking about boys. Problematically, I’d forgotten that this could mean Jackson would be looking for someone to hook up with and had invited Mason as my plus-one. As dumb as it may sound, or maybe just paranoid to a fault, I didn’t want to risk my very attractive friend — Jackson had notoriously good looks, as well as a dick the size of California — moving in on Mason.

We took our seats at a table set for four and chatted as people entered the bar in droves to find their tables and respective seats. The show was preparing to begin when Mason entered … also wearing a pink shirt.

“Jesus, did someone send out a memo or something?” I asked.

“On Saturdays, we wear pink,” Jackson teased.

Gwen had been teasing me as of late about the fact that she probably would not like Mason when she finally got to meet him. The entire thing was in jest, of course, and I knew each of them well enough to know that they actually would get along quite well. It was just something she did to rattle me, pointing out that his nose was too pointed from a picture I’d shown her of him or making a remark about his intelligence to mimic the one Ezra had made — which was ridiculous as he had a Master’s degree. She only did this because she knew I assumed she’d hate any man I brought around, which also was not true and simply another side effect of my own paranoia. Still, we all laughed at Jackson’s Mean Girls joke as Mason looked at both Gwen and Jackson whom he’d never met to introduce himself. He turned first to Gwen and smiled and shook her hand, then to Jackson to do the same.

Jackson. Jackson. Newly-single Jackson. On the prowl looking for someone to fuck until next Sunday Jackson. It may have been silly, but I could not stop picturing how to best keep them away from one another.

I’m sorry if it sounds stupid or like the babble of someone who doesn’t know his friends well enough to maintain even the crumbs of trust, but this is just how it was. Jackson was one of the most attractive men I know. Young face, tall, lean, well-dressed — he was a catch. The 29-year-old owned his own company and worked with celebrity musicians doing their sound and lighting for performances, even contracted by the Country Music Awards just this past summer. And I loved Jackson a great deal as my friend. After his break-up, I felt for him as I watched his heart break and as he talked to me on the phone at four in the morning about the pain it was causing him. He was a lot like me in a lot of ways. He presented as fun-loving and spry, but didn’t let a lot of people in past his guard. He worked his ass off doing what he loved because he loved doing it and made something out of himself from a time in his life when he had nothing; he drank to get through the things he didn’t want to deal with, but reeled himself in when he needed to do so. And in just as many ways, we were dissimilar — I was not the slight, attenuated beauty that he was; I was not one of the boys that could go out and get into the gay club scene and enjoy myself; I was less known in the community than he was; and I certainly was not the the person of which men were lining up to be the next boyfriend.

To be as dramatic as I am and to live in the exaggerated reality that I do, I — even then — still am a very self-aware person. I was thick — although I’d lost a significant amount of weight over the past year; I was effeminate; and I was not the natural, herculean, conventional beauty that many of the gays at clubs and bars in Montrose were. It had taken me a long time to get comfortable with my outwardly appearances, but it happened after a lot of effort. I mean, if this column has proven anything it’s that I can catch a dick whenever the hell I wanted — even forty pounds ago. Still, I never stopped seeing the beautiful gays as a threat when I was approached by them around guys I liked. Jackson was no different in this situation, even as someone I cared for in a greater way.

That said, I forced myself to let my guard down, because he was my friend. I may not have known him as long as many of his other friends, but I could almost bet that as someone who had been a player in seeing him through his breakup — even if just a small part of that — he wouldn’t move in on Mason. The part that worried me much was that I hadn’t let him know about these feelings.

Nevertheless, it was quite obvious that Jackson’s mind was elsewhere. Our friend Kara Dion — a drag queen royal — was performing at Neon Boots after suffering a sciatic injury, and we were excited to see her perform. She always put on a great show and — even after a crippling injury — never was one to forgo entertaining her fans for comfortability. After she performed — to audience members literally forming a line from one end of the dance floor to the next to tip her — Mason wanted to grab a drink at the bar and I wanted to have a cigarette, both activities we participated in one-after-the-next. As we smoked outside, Mason and I caught up after not having seen one another the past few weeks.He worried that his shirt made him look fat, which was ridiculous because he was actually quite lean and I thought the shirt hugged him just right. We joked and bantered a bit before returning inside to finish seeing the show. Near the bar, one of my magazine’s photographers snapped a photo of the two us, which I would see later and find that I appeared terrified. Then we returned to our seats with Jackson and Gwen and watched number-after-number of drag queens taking turns doing the songs of pop icons of the past few decades.

The evening of drag was punctuated by jokes and laughter. Mason had a couple of drinks, but I abstained due to the fact that I was going to have to review the show and needed to not have holes in my memory. And as we sat there and laughed and handed ones to the queens, Mason leaned back in his seat and over to the left against me some.

It was funny when it happened, because I’m always talking about how I never get the feeling of butterflies and that the only person who’d given them to me over the last year was really Ezra. But when Mason leaned against me and relaxed, I relaxed a little bit, too. At least … I relaxed on the outside. Inside, the butterflies were swirling around and making me smile so stupidly that I was grateful he was facing away from me. But the butterflies didn’t feel quite like the ones Ezra had given me; and maybe `that’s just because Ezra and I had never really been terribly tactile people with one another. Mason was a tactile person. But I’d always just sort of chalked that up to him being drunk. Here he was not; and that came as something of a relief to me. I didn’t want to be the guy whose hand he only held when he was shitty drunk off of ten Long Islands.

Maybe they were different because I had been able to set aside my worry about Mason unlike I ever had been able to do with Ezra. Anytime Ezra and I were together — especially after my birthday — I always seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop — for him to tell me he’d fallen in love with someone else or for his house to smell of sex when I went over to watch movies with him. With Mason things were easier. We could talk about sex and the people we’d been with and I didn’t feel pangs of jealousy and my mood didn’t shift in a way that sharpened my words and made them cut. And I wondered if maybe that was what having crushes on people as a grown-up was like. Not the talking about having had sex with other people, but being able to smile and laugh rather than get jealous and angry about every little infraction. Maybe it was about enjoying the person you were with, knowing that you liked them for no truly evident reason, and hoping — maybe even sensing a little bit — that there was something that they liked about you, too.

After the show, we retired to the patio again so I could smoke and found seats on a giant, boot-shaped, cushioned ottoman of sorts. I’m not sure why I sat so far away from him, but I pretty much sat on the opposite side away from Mason. I think this is is something I still just do around men I like because I got so used to trying to respect Ezra’s space, but it often comes off as me not wanting to be near them. Mason laid out on his back, his hands resting on his tummy while he complained about how fat he felt, still.

“I fucking hate you,” I told him after he’d whined about this.

“Do you hate me because I’m fat?” he asked, moving one hand off of himself and extending across the bench toward me. I looked down at it and smiled, anxious to slide over, lie down next to him, lay my head against his shoulder, and take that hand into my own.

I resisted … obviously.

“You aren’t fat. That shirt looks really good on you. Shut up.” It wasn’t irritating me as much as I let on, but he had to know that he wasn’t actually fat. Mason was in good shape, for what it’s worth — better than I was, anyway. As I smoked my cigarette he talked to me more about how he hated his job — a story I’d heard a few times from him before — and how he’d been looking for a new one. I nodded along, listening to all of it, but mostly watching his hand get just a little bit closer to me out of my peripheral. It was cute in its way. I wasn’t exactly sure that he’d put it there for me to hold, although that had been the case the last time he’d done this — snaking his arm around me slowly while we were drunk on the patio of JR’s before placing his hand just an inch over mine and finally taking it. I could at the very least suspect that he liked me a little. As uncomfortable and insecure as I was about myself most of the time, I was no fool. There were plenty of men all across Houston that would gladly dick me down and a few that might even date me. I just hoped that Mason would turn out to be the latter.

Well … okay … sure, I also hoped he’d want to dick me down, but dating seemed nice, too.

As I was lost in my pink cloud of thought about whether or not Mason might actually feel something for me, too, I nearly missed it when he said to me.

“I’ve been interviewing for other jobs,” he told me.

I turned around to look interested, which I genuinely was. I just didn’t want him knowing that I’d been day dreaming through that much of the conversation.

“Where at?” I asked in a way that I thought he’d understand to mean ‘which companies?’”

No, no.

“I had one in Ohio last week …”

Well, if I hadn’t been paying attention before …

“What?!” I squealed after he’d said it.

“Yeah,” he went on. “Well I had two up there. One was in Columbus, and the other was in this little bum-fuck-nowhere town. It’s like away from everything.”

I’d known that he’d been wanting a new job for a while, but I always assumed he meant like … I don’t know, man … later?

In true fashion to who I am as a person, my inner-monologue immediately made the fact that Mason hated his job and was looking for a new one at which he might be happy all about me. Because, in a way, it was. I liked this guy! I at least had a little crush on him. For chrissakes, I finally find a guy whom I like and who is tactile in person where people can see it — disproving that myth that I am, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster — and he’s going to up and leave me for Ohio? Like … the most boring state in the north save for Minnesota)? What the actual fuck was that about? I was way more exciting than Ohio! Sure, okay, his family did live up there and he would probably would do well because he was white enough to get whatever he wants in corporate America, but Ohio isn’t going to be a nice housewife like I would be. Ohio isn’t going to adopt Syrian refugee babies with him and raise them to learn weird spells and useless trivia about 90s television sitcoms like I would. Ohio isn’t going to hit the bed like a hooker on tax-free weekend the way that I would.

I desire few things in life:

  1. A job where I can work from home and still be the boss [check].
  2. A husband who loves me way more than I love him and likes being tactile in public [not really a check yet, but okay we’re working in the right direction here].
  3. A kid or two whom I can use to get more money back on my taxes [no check yet].
  4. A pet raven [working on it].

This nonsense of moving to Ohio for work was really putting a damper on those plans.

And as I thought of how shitty it would be if he did move to Ohio and I never saw him again, I realized that my crush on him was taking over me and I was suddenly just left being crushed because that’s the thing: this is not what adult crushes are like. There are no adult crushes. You either like someone and immediately think about your future together and how soon you can attain it as your mortality quickly sets upon you, or you have sex with them and try to forget that you didn’t take your PrEP that morning. There is no in between.

Yes, sure, some of us are in less of a rush to settle down and get married than others. And that’s fine. I’m not one of the people that is in a rush. But I am one of the people that loves the idea of having a partner. And for those who don’t, there aren’t crushes because the amount of attention paid to people is fleeting. I know this because I’ve been both people. The people who don’t care live lives that are in the moment, in the setting, in the moment of what is actually happening. When they see someone they think is attractive, they go in for it. And if they hook up, awesome. If they don’t, that’s okay, too, because they’re still going to have fun. Those of us who want a boyfriend to come home to and bitch about our bad day at work are always imagining that exact same scenario in our heads. We aren’t sizing anybody up and wondering what they’re like in bed. We’re hoping that they aren’t an asshole while trying to figure out what colors look good with their skin tones so we can start picking out the colors for our wedding planner. And that may sound stupid, but it’s true. We’re adults. And especially in adults like myself who never stop being busy, we don’t have the time to waste crushing on people. We have stressful jobs and crazy families and incessant, neurotic thought patterns that medication can’t ever quite completely quell.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy the ride or want to stop and look at the landscape. We just want someone special to do it with us.

And was Mason supposed to be that person to me? Who fucking knows? That remains to be seen. But when we stood in the karaoke room just moments later, and Gwen sang Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”, and I bumped into Mason a little bit from behind by accident and he leaned his head back on my shoulder to look up at me, I kind of hoped so. Because even with all the panic that was happening inside of me, I had never been so at ease on the outside around someone I liked in my entire life. There wasn’t any pretense, no silly worry that he might not like me for me. If he liked me, great. If he didn’t, I’d be fine.

But as the butterflies floated around in me and as he leaned back against me, there was one thing I did know:

If it wasn’t going to be him, I needed to find out soon.

I’d spent a year doing this with Ezra, and I’d spent plenty of time on a chain of plenty of other fools. I liked Mason enough and felt comfortable enough around him to know that I wasn’t going to waste my time “crushing” on him only to really get crushed in the end. Better to find out now before the feelings dug too deep.

There in the karaoke room, his back against me, me watching Gwen sing, I resolved to do the grown-up thing about this grown-up crush, in spite of the fact that I didn’t believe the grown-up crush to something that was real:

I was going to find out if he liked me; and I even had a plan as to how I’d do it.