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Finally … Butterflies (… Now What?)

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 8

Dear Friend,

You know who you are, and I know that you’re reading this, as you often make a point of telling me that you read this column. Actually, it’s less so a point that you’re keeping up with my sexual escapades and more so getting in your digs. But I appreciate it, regardless. Anyway, I’m going to tell you a story and explain something to you here that I would never have the nerve to explain to you in person. But before I do, let me just say one thing:

This is not in any way a grand gesture.

Please don’t mistake it for one. I just have things I need to say that I don’t think we could discuss in person. And truthfully … what’s the point? It’s not like any of it changes anything … not like it really matters. But I think at this point, you know me well enough to know that there are some things that stick with me until I say them aloud—or, until I put them in writing, in this case. It’s not about spinning an outcome. It’s not about needing or wanting anything. It’s just one of those things that I can’t fully process or make sense of (if there’s any sense to be made) until I can organize my thoughts in writing. 

I also want to say that I know this is extremely unfair and selfish of me to do right now. And, for that, I really am sorry. You have enough going on. But the real point I want to impress upon you is that this (again) isn’t about any normal crazy white girl shit. It’s not about expectation or anything like that.

I just believe that omission is as bad as being dishonest. So, instead of writing a story here the way that I normally do, I figured I’d just address you. Because, like I said, you’re going to read it anyway, and at least this way it doesn’t seem so much like just another story. But, for the sake of being friends, and having a friendship that I truly enjoy, it does need to be said. And I know that that’s literally the exact opposite of how you deal with things. So, as helpful as this may be for me personally, I am (again) sorry that it’s a selfish thing to do.

So, here’s the story. Don’t freak out. It’s literally just me needing a catharsis. And since you’re gonna read this anyway, I may as well just address you. 

Once upon a time, there was a young man named Anthony who dreamed of what his life what the man he was going to marry would be like, and what it would feel like to be so in love with someone that loved him back just as much. For years, he spent his time acquiring deep infatuation for men that would inevitably treat him like shit and leave him hanging out to dry. And all the while, through all the bad dates and late night booty calls, Anthony found that with each unwarranted dick pic or it’s-not-you-it’s-me, he died just a little bit on the inside. For you see, only one time in his life had he ever been with anyone who made him feel the thing he’d been imagining the feeling of his entire life:

Butterflies.

Each time the person who caused this would come near, or hold his hand, or kiss him atop the head, he could feel wings fluttering inside his tummy. Just that boy’s very smile could wake them up and set them bouncing about inside of him until it nearly tickled. And in his journey to recreate that feeling, Young Anthony found that this seemed less-and-less possible.

However, the days of longing stares and nervous smiles have ceased. It wasn’t all at once. Fast, yes; but like a quick decrescendo more than an abrupt slam on the brakes. In the place of those stares and smiles now were only filthy messages on Grindr and unwelcome hands grazing his body in bars he didn’t really want to be in. And while, for the purposes of getting off, he often welcomed these substitutions, it was never what he truly longed for.

But Young Anthony is a different person now.

I am a different person now. I’m cynical, at times; and I know that butterflies are just scientifically a symptom of the body’s fight-or-flight reaction; and I’m drunk a lot; and I am tired—no. Exhausted, really. I feel like Sex and the City’s Charlotte sitting at a cafe table as she kvetched to her friends, “I’ve been dating since I was fifteen! I’m exhausted. Where is he?” That’s how many men I’ve been through looking for one decent one who isn’t going to pee on me, or tie me up (that story is for next week), or fetishize my weight, or kiss me and then never speak to me, again. 

… and that’s just a few.

Still, I guess somewhere along the way, through all of the white noise that Tinder pings have faded into, I’ve lost sight of the butterflies. And it isn’t because I don’t want them. It isn’t because I don’t miss the feeling. It’s almost as though they just seem so far away that I’m not sure I quite remember what they felt like when I had them. It’s a bit like not being able to see the light at the end of a tunnel, but feeling the heat the entire trek through. Recognizing that feeling now would be hard … or, at least, that’s what I thought.

Then, when I least expected them—maybe even forgot about them—as I was lying there still as I could be while watching a movie with you—someone I’d long-since given up on—those tiny little butterfly feet began to dance around inside of me. From a long dormancy they woke and, as if no time had past since their last adventure, they began to flutter around inside of me.

And it wasn’t a special occasion. It was just us hanging out like we do. You needed a friend, and I was happy to be that friend for you.

It was shocking, at first. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be sick or if I’d eaten too much. But as the movie played over us, you, Ezra recited every last word in broken tandem with the cast. All the while, those butterflies flew around overzealously. It felt like the first day of school mixed with getting a birthday present sprinkled with the relief that follows a sneeze.

But I couldn’t help it. And I wanted to. I really fucking wanted to be in control of what was happening inside of me. Yet, it was endearing and cute and you seemed really comfortable. Which, for the record, I think is really saying something considering how uncomfortable you pretty much always are. And, if I’m being honest (after all, I’m already past the point of no return), all of that scared the living shit out of me.

Why? Well … you’re like one of my closest friends. I have a lot of friends, but not a lot of close ones. Certainly not ones that are easy to be around, that aren’t after something I have, that are almost completely free of drama and histrionics.

Ezra, you came into my life as a Tinder match-turned-friend that not only rejected me, but then had the nerve to be my friend afterward. Granted, that was my doing, which is why, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t mad about that. I embraced it, actually. Because for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bad habit of catching feelings for my friends. My first love was my oldest friend in the world; and now I have to be the best man at his wedding … to a woman. But in order to settle the flames that burned when he inadvertently broke my heart, I had to put space between us. Hell. Most of my boyfriends have been people that started off as friends; and in each case, when the page has turned and that chapter has ended, I’ve never been enough of a grown-up to keep the friendship going after.

And that’s another reason I’m not totally uncomfortable saying all of this. It is a bit different with you. I like being your friend a lot, and I haven’t yet behaved that way in this situation. And trust me when I say that the timeline for that has come and gone. And maybe that’s because I barely knew you when you told me you weren’t ready to date anyone (the nicest of the rejections I’ve received in my life). Or maybe it was because you’re actually just a really good person who I think makes me a better person with your friendship. Maybe I’m just drunk too much and have a nasty habit of self-sabotaging. (Truthfully, I think we both know that it’s that last one). Whatever the case, I have somehow gotten really comfortable with just being your friend. And even that freaks me out.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and for me to launch into hysterics. And, yet, that moment has not yet manifested. Granted, some might argue that I’m having a mental breakdown now, and that this column is me going is symptomatic of that. After all, how many sane people use their platform of 12,000 people to have a discussion with their best friend about their feelings? But the fact of the matter is that to be as freaked out as I am, I’m not actually freaking out. 

…do you see the difference? Does that make sense?

Yes, I’m insane. Like … the real kind. And for a while, I couldn’t figure out why I’ve been behaving so rationally to something I—even just a year ago—would normally be devastated over. But then I did figure it out. And it was that night, after eating lukewarm takeout and singing along to a musical we’ve both seen more times than we can remember.

It’s just that I actually think you’re a really special person.

I know, I know. That’s not exactly the most eloquent way to put it. But I’m not sure how else to put it. Because I realize that the things I seem to like most about you as my friend are all the opposite things of all the opposite people I’ve ever felt something for. Because as I sit here thinking about all those opposite people—exes and sex partners and unrequited emotions and best friends and even strangers in bars who tell me I have a beautiful voice and then don’t speak to me for nearly a year after (not bitter, Taylor Kyle)—I cannot even think of a single reason as to why I had feelings for them in the first place.

But, I do know what I like about you. You’re smart; and you don’t take my shit; and you are kind of wonderfully weird. But you also are a person who doesn’t do things they don’t want to do. And despite the fact that I, yes, forced my friendship on you (you’re welcome), you saw it through anyway. And even now you are taking the time to get to know me without my normal, habitual forcefulness playing much of a factor into it. And you don’t write me off as vapid or high-maintenance (although, I know that you do acknowledge the latter) or annoying and loud. You just let me be me. No pretense. No show. No facade. Just me.

That, too, frightens me. I’ve never been someone who waltzes around in their ‘eat me’ short shorts with their hair up and scarfs down chicken tenders and cookies and white wine in front of someone I like—or even my closest friends—and yet there I was the other day doing just that.

I’m comfortable. Probably too comfortable. Which, not to sound like a broken record here, is saying something for someone who—like you—is generally uncomfortable.

Because I live my life in front of people. With my job, with Pride, with my books, even with this column. And some of those people really like me, and some of them cannot stand me. And both of those things are okay, because I’m not playing a role in front of them. I am the person they see. I’m just not always up to being that volume of that person at all times. And you provide a very lovely respite from playing that part. No makeup. No watching how much I eat or drink. No worrying that I’m bitching too much about boys or my mother. And that level of comfort for me is very difficult to come by.

We’re different people in a lot of ways—like … vastly different. You are quiet and like to be alone and you don’t have the sort of highs and lows that I do. You’re walled up. And as much as I may not understand entirely why, that’s who you are. I wouldn’t change that or anything else about you (except your profile picture. It’s not your best. But I’m digressing). But it’s that part of you that somehow brings me down to ground zero (or, at least, my version of ground zero, which is still well above sea level). It’s that part of you that reminds me of how much joy there is to be had in just lying around in short shorts, scarfing down carbs, and talking through the entirety of a movie with someone who doesn’t expect anything of you—that just enjoys your company.

It’s that part of you that brought back my butterflies. So, thank you for that.

And here I am trying to tell you about why you’re great, and I’m simultaneously finding some way to tell you why I think you’re great. I don’t try to be this self-involved, but it always seems to be the case. I’d like to chalk that up to anxiety, honestly. Regardless, I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry that you are having to get all this weird honesty seemingly out of nowhere and while you’re dealing with your own problems. But I promise I’m almost done. I just want to say a little more.

All the men I’d ever fallen into bed with shared one thing in common:

I’d never fallen for them.

On my quest to revive that feeling of butterflies in my tummy, I’d always come up short. It had always been just that: less than butterflies.

We never did that, thankfully and for lots of different reasons that don’t require reiteration here. And in not doing so, I came to yet another realization.

Maybe the secret to letting those beautiful creatures loose inside me was to not fall in bed with someone at all, but to let them get to know me well enough so that the butterflies felt comfortable enough to take flight.

So, thank you for taking the time to get to know me, in spite of how different we are and in spite of how much I can be at first glance. And thank you for the cookies and the laughter and, of course, the butterflies. And know that this isn’t me expecting anything of you or trying to change anything. I adore our friendship because you are one of the only people in my life who is pretty much down to do whatever I want to do because we have very similar interests (and then some that are not so similar).

But most importantly, thank you for helping me grow up some; and thank you for the lesson that continues to accompany that progress.

You’re going to make someone very happy someday—I don’t need tarot cards to tell me that. And I’ll be so happy for you then. I won’t be surprised, though. Because, it’s as I said before … I just think that you’re a really special person. And sometimes I think that you don’t know how extraordinary you are. Especially now. And a lot of this is coming from that place that I think you deserve the reminder. Granted, I probably won’t remind you that often, because that’s not who I am as a person, but I’m doing it now. You deserve to know. And you deserve to hear some nice things about yourself that maybe not enough people tell you (although that could just be me being presumptuous). Mind you, now I’m just kind of like, “Okay … soooo … now what? I gotta do this all over again with some other dude?” Like … that’s a lot of work. I may just become celibate. Or at least feelings-ibate. I’m too slutty to be celibate.

So, again: I’m sorry to drop all this on you. I don’t really need or want anything. I really didn’t mean to make you feel out of place or weird or put you in an uncomfortable position. I don’t want there to be any sort of rift in our friendship, and I certainly don’t want it to become cumbersome. All of this is coming from a really positive place, and I feel like if we’re going to maintain this wonderful friendship we have, you have a right to not just know (because we both know that you know), but to understand it. And also, it’s kind of just like Paulette says: I just felt like it had to be said.

So, don’t be fucking awkward about it. Jesus. Face value, babe. Face value. And, if you take anything away from this, I hope it’s the reminder that you are cared for, and that there are plenty of people in this world whom you make smile, and some (“for better or worse”) whom you give butterflies. 

Anyway, that’s it. Sorry this was so fucking long. I’ve never been able to say anything succinctly in my life. 

Love ya long time.

Anthony + the Butterflies (#dibsonbandname)

P.S. Please don’t hate me until after we see Hamilton, please.

The Next Five Years

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 11

Most of my bad decisions start the same way … most.

“I have goodies,” Hope told Derek and me as she handed us a bag of mushrooms at the bar one evening. I immediately popped one in my mouth.

“Thank God,” I said as I chewed. “I really need to be high.”

“Ezra stuff?” Hope asked as she poured me a drink.

“The least of it all, yes. Work stuff, household stuff, I-haven’t-had-sex-in-over-a-week stuff.” I put another into my mouth. “Nothing new.”

“How did your grand gesture go?” she inquired.

“First of all, it was not a grand gesture. Secondly, it’s fine. I mean … I haven’t cried yet, so that’s good.”

Derek, as well, pushed a mushroom stem between his lips. “You’re self-medicating.”

“Only because my primary care physician got busted by the DEA.” I looked around the bar. Soon, the year-round decorative Christmas lights would dance like pixies and the music would take a visual manifestation right before me. The problem was that it wasn’t happening quickly enough.

“So, I take it that means you won’t be planning a honeymoon anytime soon,” Hope said.

“Or ever,” I shrugged.

The clocked ticked for an hour, and in that time I’d managed to indulge in half the bag of mushrooms, as compared to Derek’s three or four. As the effects began to strike him, I grew increasingly jealous that I was still feeling absolutely nothing. In spite of the fact that I often participated in taking recreational drugs, I wasn’t willing to confess to myself that my tolerance might just be building up. It’s not like hallucinogens were favorites of mine. Stimulants were more my speed (no pun intended).

But as the hours went on, the mushrooms began to work their way into me. Looking down at my hands a few times, I swore I could see them growing right in front of me. As the bar partook in karaoke, I began to witness colors coming from the speakers, a different hue for a different pitch. The giggling was the next giveaway. I giggled at any and everything from the controversial drunk girl at the bar who sang “Before He Cheats” in the key of stop singing to Derek fooling with some sort of magnetic, top toy that spun around and around on rails, which I proved incapable of operating.

Soon enough, I realized I needed to go home before the mushrooms hit any harder. Derek pressed the bag into my hand and asked me to take the rest of them and sent me on my way.

Ubering home, I dozed off quietly in the backseat as the driver hummed along to Tejano music and asked questions I ineffectively answered through sleepy lips.

Act One

EXT. DENVER, CO – DOG PARK – AFTERNOON – 2020

It was chilly outside, as the weather usually goes in Colorado. What would probably be an 89° April day in Houston turned out to be a harsh 65° afternoon in Denver. Dorito clung to my side after using the restroom and I clicked away at the keys on my laptop. I was trying to meet a book deadline that was only a month away, but my progress had been … minimal, to say the very least.

Chapter One: read the top of the page. Sitting there as housewives jogged with their pups and canines sniffed one another for safety, ideas were fleeting.

Moving to Denver had been a demonstrative effort on my part to show Ezra just how much I cared about him. It wasn’t necessarily futile, as you had to have established expectations in order to fail. And if I’d learned anything since being with Ezra, it was that expectations were wastrel. Not in a practical sense, of course. There were sweet little things he did that often elated the heart or at least proved that those giddy feelings I’d first felt for him three years prior were still alive and well. He might stop on his way home from teaching and pick out peanut butter cookies from a local bakery or order tickets to a traveling musical that was coming through the city.

But, as we’d established oh-so long ago, our relationship would always lack that which other couples did not. There wasn’t any sex, nor was there much cuddling or hand-holding. For all intents and purposes, we may as well have been roommates that shared a bed and, now, a dog.

But I’d known since the first time we’d hung out that this was his plan. Ezra wanted to leave Houston behind—a city for which he’d never developed a great affinity—and move to Denver to teach math. It was ironic, in some sense, considering how much he despised children and that any time I even so much as brought up the subject of them, he all but shut down and receded into some internal well he’d dug for himself.

Or maybe I’d dug it for him. With my pushiness and my willingness to follow him wherever he went so that he wouldn’t ever suffer the loneliness I’d faced in the past. But even in doing so, I knew it would have been no bother to him. Ezra enjoyed the solitude. Welcomed it, even. He was a creature of habit and one that required time to himself—something I took no issue with giving him. Still, I wondered back them if he’d adjust well to being in Denver alone the way he’d come to and existed in Houston for so very long.

We’d been there for six months, and not much was happening for me. Not even a year before, I’d been running a popular magazine in my city and releasing my sixth book into the world. My agent had pestered me for months to write another; and despite the lies I fed her from across the country, no lightning bolts of inspiration had struck. They say that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but the truth of the matter was that, in Houston, it had struck me at least those six times.

Why hadn’t lightning struck Denver?

Chapter One: … I’m Out of Fucking Ideas.

INT. EZRA & ANTHONY’S APARTMENT – LATER

“Hey, babe,” I called as I knocked the door open with my foot—groceries piled into one arm and Dorito’s leash bound to the other.

“Hey,” he replied with a smile from the couch where he played some video game about which I knew nothing. That was sort of the routine, then. I spent the mornings cleaning the house and tending to the laundry while Ezra went to teaching high school mathematics. In the afternoons, I went out with the dog to either a coffee shop or the dog park or to run errands while I made efforts to spur out some kind of idea for the next great American novel. Meanwhile, this gave Ezra a few hours of alone time to decompress after spending his day combating the heathens he preached equations and arithmetic to all day long. “Write anything today?”

“Absolutely not,” I replied, stepping into the kitchen as I put away vegetables and bottled water. “It’s like my brain threw the kind of fit a petulant child throws when it finds out it has to move and decided to give me the silent treatment.”

“When’s the deadline?” he asked, getting up and taking a seat on a barstool at the island.

“A month from today,” I sighed, grabbing a bottle of Ozarka and popping off the lid. “Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m a pretty good writer … but I’m not that good.”

“What happens if you don’t meet it?”

“Eh,” I told him, gulping down some water. “I can always ask for a slight extension, if I can actually come up with an idea and prove that I’m nearly done. But the advance from the publisher paid for this apartment, and if I don’t come up with something, we’re going to have to sell it to pay it back.”

“I doubt it will come to that,” he said reassuringly. “You’re pretty good at what you do.”

“I like to think so,” I told him as a flutter took place inside my abdomen.

There they were: the butterflies that kept me here. Kept me by his side. It was true that I now tended to follow in stride behind him, that he took the front seat while I sat in the shadowy back seat waiting for my turn to drive again (a poor analogy considering that Ezra hates driving). It was nice, the relief of the pressure; don’t get me wrong. Still, it was an adjustment. It was nothing like what I’d built myself up to over my near decade of adulthood.

“Maybe you just need to get out of the house for a bit,” he suggested, reaching for a bag of chips on the counter and opening it.

“I’ve been out of the house every day since we got here. I could probably map out all the Starbuckses and dog parks in Denver.”

He laughed, then crunched on, “I mean like … go out. You haven’t been to a single bar since we got here. Which, to be honest, troubles me considering how much you like to drink.”

“I do love drinking,” I replied. “It’s my third favorite thing to do after eating and being mad at people for attention.”

“So, go make some friends,” he told me.

I nodded and sipped my water some more. Maybe he was right. Maybe if I got out and saw … well … people, it may actually inspire me to write about them. A theatre teacher I had in high school gave us an assignment once that required the class to separately go out in public and listen casually in on conversations happening around us. The objective was to take one line or exchange and build a scene and characters around it.

Maybe that would pull me out of Comarado.

“Maybe I will …” I muttered, biting a lip and staring past him out the window. You could see the downtown skyline from our living room window. The adjacent side of the house faced rows of mountains, but the city had always been so much more inspiring to me than anything in nature.

“Well, I have something for you that might make you feel better,” he told me as he stood up and walked over to his briefcase that sat on the coffee table. He popped it open and reached inside for a plain, white envelope before handing it across the island to me.

I stared at it for a moment with a familiar queerness in my eyes. I ripped open the side with little care, then hit the open end against the granite countertop until two tickets fell out before me. I flipped them over so that they were right-side-up and pushed my glasses up on my nose to read them.

Wicked: A New Musical, they read across the top. Almost twenty years on Broadway later, Wicked was anything but new. The date was several months away and the seats were in the front mezzanine, but what took me was that they weren’t for a national tour. They were, in fact, printed from the Gershwin Theater in New York City.

“Omigod!” I shouted. “Seriously?”

“Happy birthday.”

It was April the 22nd, and it was, in fact, my birthday.

I’d nearly forgotten.

I ran around the counter and embraced Ezra. “Thank you so much! I’m so excited.” I told him. I pulled away, arms still draped over his shoulders and around his neck. It was instinctive to want to kiss him, but as my forehead pressed against his and I could feel his breath slithering past me, I stopped myself and stared into his eyes for a moment.

Ezra was an asexual and aromantic person. This was the person I’d signed up to spend the rest of my life with. This was the life I had chosen and that he hadn’t asked me to choose. So, instead, I pecked him on the cheek, hoping to alleviate some of the pressure, then slid the tickets back into their envelope.

“I love you,” I told him.

“I love you, too.”

“So, do you want to go out with me?” I asked, as I began walking toward the bedroom.

“I think I’ll hang here with Dorito. Go make friends for your birthday,” he told me as I traced into the closet to find an outfit to wear. Fifteen minutes later, my hair was done, my makeup was on, and I was wearing clothes I hadn’t touched since buying them when we first arrived. An outfit of all black accented with a Versace scarf weaving through my hair.

“Okay, well I’m going to that bar Pride & Swagger. I hear it’s pretty lowkey.” I picked up my wallet off the bar and slid it in my back pocket. “Text me if you change your mind.”

I knew he wouldn’t.

INT. PRIDE & SWAGGER – LATER

The bar was quiet, but it was still early. I’d had a few drinks and sat with my laptop perched atop the bar probably looking like an idiot. The bartender, Charlie, checked on me every few minutes and chatted with me about my move from Houston. He’d even bought me a birthday shot when he checked my ID.

“I just met another guy from Houston last night. He said he’d be stopping back in after some conference he’s in town for,” Charlie went on as I stared down at that empty Word document on my laptop screen.

“Maybe I know him,” I teased.

The door behind me chimed, and Charlie simply said, “Speak of the devil,” as he checked the time on his iPhone 34. Those things seemed to be regenerating faster than ever in 2020. I didn’t bother to turn to see the mysterious man from Houston, but focused on the details of the bar around me. Hopefully, if I could paint the picture, I could write the scene.

“Welcome back,” Charlie said with a smile as the barstool next to mine pulled out.

“Good to be back,” the replying voice cooed, sending chills down my spine.

It couldn’t be

I looked up to my left and found that it actually was. Not yet seated in the stool next to me stood Dylan—the most attractive man I’d ever had sex with in my entire life.

The first man I ever told my rape story to.

“Oh, my big, fat, Jewish God,” I mumbled as my mouth gaped stupidly at him.

“I thought that was you,” he told me with a smile. He looked good—better, if that was possible. His beard was more neatly trimmed and his clothes clung to each cut of his Adonis-like figure.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him, standing up to hug him.

“So, it looks like you two do know each other,” Charlie laughed as he reached for my glass to refill it.

Dylan regaled me with the story of how he’d gotten to Denver. An attempt at making it big in Nashville had started off full of hope and spry, but had ultimately become too much. Bills had mounted, food was more and more scarce, and his tricky habit for alcohol had all but bankrupted him. So, he’d moved to Colorado Springs to be with family while he got back on his feet, and eventually ended up here were the dispensaries weren’t so far apart.

“What brought you here?” he asked.

“Oh, my boyfriend,” I told him with a roll of my eyes. “He always wanted to move here. Finally did. I followed.” I shrugged. I felt safer mentioning Ezra to him. It established boundaries, I thought. True, Ezra had been clear with me long ago that he was not opposed to being in an open relationship since his sexual prowess was virtually nonexistent, it still felt like something we needed to discuss before I pursued it. Still, as the night went on-and-on, the drinks seemed stronger-and-stronger. And as the lights went down in the bar, they all seemed to land on Dylan as he lamented tales of Nashville and failed relationships and sex and travels.

My phone vibrated a few times, but I was either too intoxicated in the conversation to look at it or I was getting a little too drunk to care.

“You look amazing,” Dylan told me. His head leaned against the palm of his hand, which had the connecting elbow placed on the bar. “You look younger, somehow.”

“I stopped snorting coke,” I told him. It may have seemed like a joke, but it wasn’t entirely false. Then his hand ran across my thigh, and his emerald eyes stared into mine with piercing intensity. “I wonder a lot why we stopped hooking up,” he laughed.

“I fell in love with someone else …” I told him.

“Do you still love him?” he asked, leaning in just a bit, his other hand trailing up my side with his fingertips toward the back of my neck.

“Of course I do,” I confessed. And I did. Nothing could change that.

“Answer me after this,” he whispered as he pulled gently on the back of my neck into a kiss.

It was weird.

You know, after not having sex in … Jesus I don’t even remember how long it had been at that point. Regardless, I expected something like fireworks or sparks or … butterflies.

But none. None at all.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” a voice came from behind.

I pulled away from Dylan and whipped around on my barstool. Standing there, expressionless and pale as copy paper, was Ezra.

“Ezra … wait …”

But he was gone. Just that quick, he had whipped out the door.

“Don’t worry about h—” Dylan tugged at my wrist.

“I have to go …”

“Your tab is still open,” Charlie said. “Your credit card is here.”

“Just run it. I’ll come back for it.”

I dashed out the door and onto the sidewalk, looking left and then right for Ezra. From afar, I caught a glimpse of him hailing a cab at the street corner.

“Ezra!” I yelled, running toward him. He looked up and then opened the cab door. “Ezra, don’t leave!” I approached just in time to slam the door shut. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know he was going to do that. I didn’t even know he’d be here. He just … he just showed up there. One minute the bartender was telling me another guy from Houston had been there, and the next he was there again.”

“Oh, right. You had no idea that he’d be there tonight.”

“You’re the one who told me to go out tonight! I didn’t plan this!”

“When I said go out and have a drink, I meant vodka or wine, not ejaculate or spit.”

“I did not sleep with him, Ezra. That’s not fair.”

“You don’t sleep with me, either. That doesn’t mean it’s not cheating.”

I slapped my palm against my forehead. “You’re asexual, Ezra. You told me years ago that you’d be okay with an open relationship.”

“We were drunk. I didn’t even remember saying that until you wrote about it in your slut column.”

I took a step back. My mouth fell open and my arms dropped to my side. He’d never spoken to me like that. In fact, he’d never actually said a mean word to me in the years we’d known one another.

“Slut?” I huffed out. “Isn’t that what you think I am? A slut? Because if I remember correctly, I gave up sex to be with you and then to come to this godforsaken city with you where I have no friends, an unfinished book, a dog who only likes me when the takeout is delivered, and a boyfriend who thinks I’m a slut.”

“I DIDN’T ASK YOU TO MOVE HERE WITH ME.”

And there it was—the well I’d dug not just for him, but for me, as well. The one I’d pushed him down into, then jumped behind him in because I didn’t want to be without him. And now? It was all being thrown in my face. All being spit back at me. And why? What had I done wrong before this one thing? Loved him? Cared for him? Since we’d been together, he’d at least been eating real meals and not combination Pizza Rolls and frozen fish sticks. At least the house stayed tidy and the dog didn’t have to spend the day in a kennel. At least someone had wanted to be there to cheer him on when he gave up his amazing job in accounting to teach math to some prepubescent brats. Wasn’t it ironic that the person who once told me I experienced feelings with an intensity he may never feel was now shouting at me out of hurt in the middle of the street?

I felt like a fool.

And as he opened the cab door and jumped inside, my knees wobbled, and then they gave. I fell to the concrete crying. Wailing. Drunk and wailing in the middle of downtown because I fucked up the best thing in my life.

And then it began to rain.


“Hey, buddy,” the Uber driver’s voice called. My eyes opened in quick, irritable flutters. I looked around the back seat and realized we were parked outside my house.

“Shit,” I muttered. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” I muttered somewhere between apologetically and groggily.

The Uber driver only shrugged and said, “Better in my car on the way home from the bar than in yours.”

He had a point there.

I walked into the house, the mushrooms still very much alive inside of me. I was suddenly famished, but the light inside the refrigerator was too distracting for me to find anything to eat. Instead, I laid down on the couch, visions of Ezra screaming at me swimming around in my head. I wondered briefly if it were possible to go back to that dream if I closed my eyes. Just to find resolve to the story. Just to see how it ended.

Act Two

INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – 2021

The Julia Ideson building was absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Standing inside of it, with its marble columns and its perfectly polished wooden floors and its arched windows, it finally dawned on me for the very first time:

In less than twenty-four hours … I would be getting married here.

And this man, this beautiful, beautiful man was standing on his feet before all our family and friends inside this gorgeous building toasting my family, my friends, and me. And in less than twenty-four hours, in this historic homage to Houston’s very first head librarian, Julia Bedford Ideson, I would marry this man.

He stood there, so brave, and tall, and sure, and sweet, holding up his champagne flute and smiled from his mother to mine and then back to me.

And I’d never been happier.

“And to my fiance’s friends,” he said with certainty typically reserved for lying politicians and Amazon customer representatives, “Thank you for making this man the man that he is today. Thank you for letting him crack all the jokes he’s cracked about you, and for letting him cry all the tears he’s cried over men like me. Thank you for never turning him away. Thank you for being here and handing him off to me. Without you, he would not be the person I fell in love with.”

With that, my wonderful would-be groom took his seat next to me, leaned in, and kissed me in front of everyone as the crowd clapped and cheered. Then, when the kiss was over, he leaned in, ever-smiling, and whispered into my ear, “What the actual fuck is he doing here?” before cutting his eyes away from me and looking directly at Ezra, who sat on the opposite side of the room.

“Can we not do this now?” I asked as I continued smiling and turned back to the face the others who sat at the spread of tables before us.

“You told me you weren’t inviting him,” Matt Kersey said through gritted teeth.

“No, you told me not to invite him, and I invited him anyway, because he’s my friend,” I responded in similar fashion. “Jesus, Matthew. It’s not like I made him my best man.”

“And who the hell shows up without a date to a wedding rehearsal dinner?”

“Someone who doesn’t date because he’s asexual,” I replied.

“Or someone who has feelings for you and knows you’ve been in love with him for years,” he snipped.

“I promise you, that has never been an issue. He has never had feelings for me, and I have never been in love with him,” I reassured him as I downed my entire glass of champagne. “Can we please talk about this when we get home?” I asked.

“No, actually, we can’t,” he informed me as he sipped his own champagne.

“And why not?”

Just then, a pair of hands grabbed me by either shoulder and yanked me back in my seat. As I tossed my head up to see who was there, I found myself looking directly into Stephen’s eyes. He smiled down—drunkenly, mind you—at me with all his teeth exposed and the faint scent of vodka dripping into my nose.

“Guess what!”

“No. NO! Not tonight. I have to get married tomorrow,” I told him as I did my best to pull from his clutches.

“That’s too bad,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he squatted down behind me and placed his head on my shoulder. “Matt already said we could have you for the night,” he went on. “Besides, isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the other groom before the wedding?”

“I’m not sure that’s how that particular superstition goes—”

“Let’s go,” he told me as he pulled me up under the shoulder. I reached for Matt’s champagne flute and drank what was left inside of it. “We’re having a girls’ night.”

“Okay, okay,” I told him as I found my footing and pulled out of his clasp. “Let me tell my fiancé goodbye, first, please,” I all but implored.

With that, I reached for Matt’s hand and pulled him up, as well, pulling him in close to me. Chest-to-chest. Pelvis-to-pelvis. Nose-to-nose.

“You don’t need to worry about Ezra,” I mumbled. “I love you. This is it. This is how our fairy tale ends. Me and you. That’s it.”

Matt smiled and leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled back. For a moment, in typical Anthony fashion, I nearly lost my balance and fell to the floor. But Matt Kersey being Matt Kersey, his arms weaved around my waist and kept me from toppling over into what—with my bad luck—would have probably resulted in a major concussion.

“Tell me you believe me,” I ordered.

“I do believe you,” he agreed, smiling and kissing me in a long, swoon-worthy embrace. “And I love you, too,” he told me.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket.

11:59.

“Perfect. Now stop looking at me,” I told him as I pressed my hand in his face and pushed him away. “It’s midnight. I don’t want to jinx anything.”

INT. THE ROOM BAR – LATER

They were all there. Every single one of the people who had made the last few years so memorable, so wonderful, were all there with me celebrating my engagement. Stephen, Lauren, Courtney, Hope, Alice, Derek, Jeremy, and … yes … Ezra.

‘”It’s weird. Right?” Stephen asked as he ordered us shots from Hope at the bar.

“Which part?” I asked with a laugh.

“This is what you’ve wanted as long as I’ve known you.”

Which part?” I reiterated with a laugh.

“All of it. The books, the job, the fame, the man. And now you’re getting married. Shit, you’re getting married before me and Leo, and we’ve been saying that we’re going to for years.”

“You’re next,” I told him as Hope handed us our shots.

“For the soon-to-be-groom and his best man,” she said with a wink. “On me.”

“You’re so sweet,” I told her as I smiled and blew her a kiss. “You’re the best.”

“Actually,” Stephen said as he raised his glass. “I’m the best … best man.” I raised my glass up and clinked his.

“Don’t make me regret that decision,” I told him with a wink and a smile.

We took our shots and smiled at one another. There was that earnest, honest look in Stephen’s eyes I’d only seen one other time before. It was years ago, the night he’d been heartbroken at Rich’s when I’d rushed home from Galveston to console him.

“Let’s do it,” he said with his toothy smile, shaking his head once from one side to the next. “For old time’s sake,” he went on.

“Stephen, no,” I said with a laugh.

“C’mon,” he said. “You aren’t married, yet.” And without missing another beat, without waiting for another moment to conjure itself and beget stagnation, Stephen wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me in close, and kissed me for the second time in our long friendship.

It was a nice kiss. And while the similarity was present in its sweetness, that’s where it ended. Because without him even knowing it, Stephen had reminded me that this would be my very last kiss as an unmarried person to a man I was uninvolved with. It was warm and soft and exciting. There was magic there. And a part of me wondered, as our lips stayed locked together, and our breaths kick-boxed in the narrow space between our noses, if I wasn’t a little sad that Stephen and I had never tried a relationship. After all, he was kind, and hyper-intelligent, and funny to a fault. In every zodiac and tarot spread and prophecy, we were 100% compatible. Again … to a fault. But the stars had missed their alignment by just a fragment of an inch, and that destiny had never quite come to fruition.

“Am I interrupting something?” a voice echoed behind us.

Without pulling apart at first, our eyes opened and our lips stayed pressed together while we smiled and enjoyed a lasting look at each other one last time.

“Not at all,” I said as I turned, blushing, to face Ezra.

“I um … I was about to head out, so I wanted to tell you goodbye,” he said with a smile.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” I offered, stepping toward him. I turned back to Stephen, “I’ll catch you in a minute.”

“Call me Amelia Earhart, because I feel like I am about to get lost in a triangle!” he cackled at his own joke. I waved him off and led Ezra outside by the hand.

It took only seconds to traverse to his car, and there was silence for a long moment as I smiled at him and he looked around the sky curiously.

“Say something,” I finally told him as I let out a small laugh and lightly kicked him in his shin.

“There’s nothing to say,” he chuckled. “Well, I mean, except for congratulations and that I’m happy for you, and that I love you.”

I smiled and opened my arms to him.

“I love you, too,” I told him as I wrapped him in a hug that lasted probably a moment longer than he was comfortable with. But being the friend that he was, he didn’t pull away until I’d drained him of every last drop of affection he had inside him.

He stepped into his car, and I leaned against that of some stranger. He waved as he ducked inside, and I blew him a kiss. He put the car in reverse, and I never let my eyes leave him.

That was the man I had developed the most beautiful friendship with years after telling him I might love him. That was the man who had confessed how he’d loved me, too, but that his own body had failed him when it came to romance and sex—that those sorts of emotions didn’t exist within him and that he couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. That was the man I was convinced, for a short while, that I might spend the rest of my life with.

And he was driving away, now. And I was happy to have him as my friend. And I watched him as he took off down FM 2920. And I shed a single tear knowing that he’d made me a better person, prepared me for the big love I was soon to stumble upon.

INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – WEDDING DAY

Stephen, Alice, Derek, and Lauren all look down the aisle before me. They were linked arm-in-arm by Matthew’s own party of groomsman and women. And when the wedding march began to play, and the large, double doors opened before me, I do believe that I stopped breathing.

I was about to give my entire life away to a man—a man I could see like an ant upon the ground on the other end of the library. And he loved me, and I him. And someday we would raise children together, and maybe move into some inner-loop suburb on some fancy side of Houston. But today, we would stand before those we loved more than anyone else in the world, and we would profess our love, and then we would go home to our tiny apartment, and pack our bags, and fly out to New York City the very next day where we’d spend time seeing musicals and drinking with locals and shopping in barrios. We’d do our best not to seem too touristy, but the glee and love would be evidence enough.

So, in my custom-made wedding attire—inspired by Hindu wedding garbs with a touch of couture and a Dolce & Gabbana scarf holding my hair back—I marched down the aisle all dressed in white—ironic, considering my sexcapades—and forced myself not to look at anyone I passed along the way.

Then, when I made it to the very front of the room, I stood across from him, a minister going through the motions and us reciting our vows. And when asked if he took me to be his lawfully wedded husband, Matt, crying, said, “I do.”

And when the minister asked the very same of me … I froze.

My force to not look around at everyone evaded me, and I looked around the room to see who all sat before me with smiles and teary eyes. My mouth fell open, and I suddenly needed a drink. And my eyes, they bounced from Hope, to Derek, to my mother. And they landed once on Stephen, and I was reminded of that 11th-hour kiss. Then they washed over man after man I’d fallen for or fallen into bed with. And when they hit Ezra, who looked impatient and was also somehow crying joyfully, I turned back to Matt.

His eyes widened. His hands clenched around mine. The room was silent.

“I … I …”

One last look. One last look at all of them.

“I have to pee.”


What would certainly end up being a urinary tract infection woke me from my slumber. I sat straight up and ran to the restroom, where I sat and peed for nearly five minutes. But at that point, I realized my high was gone, and I knew if I didn’t get it back, neither of my stories would get their happy ending.

So, without washing my hands, I dashed back into the kitchen, grabbed the remaining mushrooms in the bag, and shoved them in my mouth before running up to my bedroom and getting back into bed.

The thoughts, however, the questions that accompanied my ridiculously realistic dreams, kept me up for another hour. Before I could fall back asleep, the sun had begun to rise.

But the moment that I did, I was nearly certain that what I’d been looking for was coming.

Act Three

INT. BABA YEGA – BRUNCH – 2023

I began each morning by telling myself that being single at 29 was perfectly normal and that being alone was more a state of mind than a level of existence.

I was full of shit.

Now home from his honeymoon and resettled back into his life, Stephen droned on and on about the beauty of Spain and all the Spanish gay orgies he and Leo had been to while in Madrid. I guessed every couple should be left to begin their own traditions. Leo and Stephen’s idea of a honeymoon, as if it could get no gayer after factoring in the orgies, was a two-week-long trip across most of Western Europe, in which they visited every city known for its fashion imaginable. From Paris to Milan to Madrid and, of course, Amsterdam (because in 2023, leather was fashionable again), the couple celebrated their open-relationship-turned-open-marriage, Donald Trump no longer being the president, and the child they’d soon be adopting from China now that their lives were more intact and they’d moved out of their shitty, one-bedroom, Avondale apartment.

Gag me.

“So, what have you been up to? What’s new with you?” Stephen asked as we rounded into our third carafe. Being drunk now, I wasn’t even sure why I’d bother to tell him, as I knew he’d spend most of the time formulating something else to say and inevitably interrupting me mid-sentence one hundred times.

“Nothing really,” I confessed as I popped a grape into my mouth.

“What? We haven’t seen each other since my wedding and that was almost a month ago.” Stephen guzzled mimosa. “You have to have had something new happen. A new book? A new boy?”

“My life does entail more than books and boys, you know,” I sighed, a bit annoyed. I shook it off. “No, nothing really. Everything is just as it was when you left.”

“What about the guy you brought to the wedding? What was his name? Jake?”

“Jake is nothing more than my ex that I sometimes have sex with and take to events because we’re both single.”

“Then why not try getting back together with him?”

I laughed. Stephen had been around throughout the entire Jake situation. He knew that there was really no going back there. Often, I wondered if he asked such questions because the older that we got, the less we had to talk about. Our similarities never changed, but priorities often did.

“Nah,” I went on. “It’s not worth going through all that shit again. He’s very spiteful when he shoulders bad feelings for someone. Any little fight we had always turned into histrionics the likes of which I can’t even verbalize.”

Stephen looked across the table at me as he forked waffle into his mouth. He gave that seductive little smile of his. “Sounds perfect for you.”

I laughed, though it was forced. “Oh, fuck off.” I pushed my plate away, full somehow from just the small portion of fruit I’d eaten. “So, are we still on for Legally Blonde on Friday?”

Stephen looked up from his plate. “Is that this Friday?” he asked, scrolling through the calendar on his phone. “Shit. I totally forgot and that’s the day we’re supposed to leave to pick up the baby.”

“Seriously, Stephen? You’re blowing me off for your dumb baby? You never even wanted kids!”

“First of all, my kid is Asian, so I doubt she’ll be dumb. Secondly, things change. Now, I want kids. Is that so bad?”

“Yes, actually, it is. It especially is when it interferes with my plans to see Legally Blonde: The Musical.

“Take Courtney! She’s been to musicals with you before,” he optioned.

“Only because Ezra and I were going and she wanted a lowkey first date with Jennifer.” I picked up the carafe to refill my champagne flute.

“Well, then take Ezra!”

The carafe fell out of my hand and hit the ground with a clatter. Had I not just emptied it into my glass, I might be more upset. “Ezra has not spoken to me in five years.” My voice was squeezing between my gritted teeth.

“No, you have not spoken to Ezra in five years,” Stephen went on as he scarfed down bacon. He’d gained a little weight over the last few years, but he carried it well. Long gone were the days of the lanky Stephen I’d first met at Pride Houston in 2016. 35-year-old Stephen actually looked better than ever. He was one of those people who only got better-looking as they aged. I despised that about him. Still, he was my best friend through-and-through. Certainly we fought like all other friends, sometimes not speaking for months when that happened. But somehow, some way, through all our own hubris and stubbornness, Stephen and I always went back to being friends. There weren’t a lot of others to be had, it seemed. “And you only haven’t spoken to him because you don’t handle rejection well.”

“I handle rejection the best way I know how. And that’s not why I stopped speaking to him. I’m no child,” I pressed. “It was never the fact that he rejected me. It was the fact that he rejected me and chalked it up to his asexuality, then months later went out and met some Asian Jew and didn’t have time for his friends anymore. And what’s so special about an Asian Jew anyway? I’m Jewish, too. A Mexican Jew, which is far more interesting if you ask me.”

“Have the Asians done something specific to you that’s made you so bitter toward them?”

“It’s not all Asians. Just the ones who are taking all my people away from me.”

It was a cutting remark, certainly, regardless of the intent of it being a joke. In truth, it had nothing to do with Asians, but rather was due to a supreme feeling of once again never being good enough for anyone to consider dating seriously.

With Jake, our entire relationship had been real, even if it had initiated as a means of me helping him complete his dissertation. But the ultimate and final battle had been the same as so many before it: he couldn’t see spending the rest of his life with me. Adam, a man I’d dated for only a few short weeks, and I had broken up in similar fashion. True, our relationship had only happened because I was thick and Adam fetishized that. Still, when he and I broke up, it all came down to the future he had pictured and how I didn’t fit into it. Dylan was another problem, but the same in theme and tone: he didn’t want to settle down. He wanted to hook up without strings attached, which I was able to at some point stray away from. Matt Kersey may have been the sweetest prospect, but he and I never dated. Jeremy and I probably could have been something–his mother and Hope had both certainly hoped so. But Jeremy’s feelings for me only surfaced when he was shitty drunk, which to me felt like a bit of a deal breaker. And every man before or after or in between had been nothing but a meaningless sex partner with whom there had been no spark.

And of all the men in Houston–and a handful abroad–I’d met few whom ever brought me that warm feeling for which I so desperately yearned. And the older I got, as I began to flirt with thirty and as the fleeting moments of joy and euphoria brought on by cocaine and mushrooms and drunken karaoke nights at bars became fewer and further between, I couldn’t help but wonder if it really was me. Maybe there was something about me that just repelled men away … that made them think I wasn’t good enough. In the last five years, I’d become more successful, sure. My face reflected my age more, of course. My body had changed and then hadn’t. But other than those few things, little was different about me. I was still loud, still crass, still intimidating, still funny, still hard-working, still kind. And the still to steal them all was still the same, as well:

Still single.

“I’ll go alone,” I told Stephen as the waiter came by to present our checks. I pulled a credit card from my wallet as Stephen reached for his own. “I’ve got it,” I told him, curling one side of my mouth up to resemble something adjacent of a smile. “Happy baby week.”

We were gone moments later. And as much as hated to admit it to myself, as much as I tried to wish away the feeling, I knew that would be the last time Stephen and I spent time together uninterrupted by shrill, baby cries or PTA meetings or book tours or a traverse outside the loop where he and Leo would eventually settle down in a suburb and raise their new child and the two more they’d have in the three years to follow.

We weren’t different. In fact, we were still very much the same. The only difference was that Stephen had gotten his happily ever after. Mine, however, was somewhere far from sight.

EXT. THE MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE – THAT FRIDAY

I’d seen the same production of Legally Blonde on that same stage seven or so years ago. The cast was comprised of amateurs, though none that were out of their league in terms of talent. Only this time, instead of being joined by Alice and Max, I found myself sitting on the hill alone, humming the tunes along as the company belted out one after the next.

I’d arrived early enough to pick out the perfect spot at the foot of the hill, dead center. I’d learned after years and years that planning was important when attending a performance, as the crowds came in droves and never left any good seating even half an hour before curtain.

I’d brought a box of cabernet, but that was gone by intermission. I tossed the box into the recycling bin and made my way down to the concession stands, picking up the blanket I’d brought to sit upon as the grass was damp from the previous day’s shower. I ordered two glasses of white zinfandel—the only wine left behind the counter, to my own disgust—from the concession stand, feeling it necessary to lie to the clerk and say one was for my friend back on the hill. The blanket over my shoulder should have been giveaway enough that I was making things up, but she neither questioned me nor seemed to care.

I went back to the hill to take my spot back. Only, when I arrived at the foot of the hill, a young woman and her suitor were laying their blanket down and taking their seats in my spot. The moment the blanket hit the grass, a chirpy little dog ran atop it and plopped down in front of a bag of popcorn.

“What the fuck?” I shouted–and I mean shouted.

The man turned around. “Excuse me?”

“I said ‘what the fuck’ … as in, ‘What the fuck are you doing in my spot?’” Clearly their response required that I reiterate the point.

“You moved. We thought you’d left,” the woman told me without making an effort to get up and move back to her original place.

“I went to get wine, you classless cunt.”

“Wow,” her boyfriend uttered. “I don’t know what’s sadder about you: the fact that you’re about to double-fist wine, because we all know you’ve been here alone this whole time, or that your alcoholism and loneliness have made you so bitter that you’re harassing strangers in a park.”

For the first time in my entire life, I was without a quick-witted remark to fire back at them.

I mean … they weren’t wrong. I was behaving like a crazy person. Sure, I was drunk, but I’d never been belligerent in my entire life until that very moment. And I was bitter … in more than one sense of the word. Bitter that Stephen blew me off to go adopt a baby. Bitter that I didn’t have a boyfriend to enjoy doing things with me and that all my other friends were either married or so infatuated with their lovers that they hadn’t the time to spend with their friends. Bitter that I’d forgone love and a relationship for my career and that all the men I’d ever loved or at the very least trusted found me unlovable.

Jesus fucking Christ … who had I become?

“There’s room over here,” a familiar voice called to me from a few feet away. Turning my head, I spotted Ezra sitting alone on his own blanket with his own dog curled up nervously in his lap. He nodded down toward the empty space on the blanket.

“Ha!” I said up to the sky. “You have a really fucked up sense of humor. You know that?”

“Who are you talking to?” the woman asked.

“God, dumbass,” I told her as I downed one of the plastic cups of wine before chunking it at her. “I hope your dog dies.”

I moseyed over toward Ezra, left without any options. I took a seat down without looking at him, though I could somehow see in my mind, nonetheless. He looked relatively the same. His features were a bit more defined, as happens in the early thirties. He still smelled like that Rue 21 cologne he’d worn when I knew him. And he still didn’t have that much to say unless prompted.

“Still classy, I see,” he muttered, which—whether from drunkenness or actual humor—made me laugh loudly.

“Well, you know me.” A moment of silence passed. “You look good.”

“You’ve not even looked at me,” he pointed out. “But thank you, anyway. You do, as well,” he said. “You actually look younger somehow.”

“Yeah, well I had to stop smoking cigarettes and snorting coke,” I confessed. That being said, there was nothing about this awkward encounter that didn’t make me want to do a bump and smoke a cigarette. “How’s the depression?” I asked him.

“Managed,” he replied. “And your bipolar disorder?”

“I think that my little sketch comedy down there is sufficient enough an answer to that.”

Finally, I did turn and look at him. And he did look good. “I figured you would have moved away by now,” I admitted.

“I thought about it,” he said. “I still think about it. I just haven’t.”

“Staying behind for a boy?” I asked, partly to poke fun and partly because I was nosy.

“Oh, please. I haven’t dated anybody in years.”

As everyone took their seats down in the pavilion, the crowd on the hill got quiet and the lights went down. Moments later, the curtain rose and the cast of jump-roping actors and actresses began singing the act two opener.

“This is a really good production for what it is,” Ezra said.

“It really is. I saw it here years ago, and I was impressed then, too.”

Shhh!” the woman from my original seat hissed.

I turned to look at her. “I will literally kill your boyfriend in front of you, and then make you watch as your dog eats his carcass.”

She fell silent.

“Some things really never do change,” Ezra mumbled, taking the cup of white zin out of my hand and taking a swig before handing it back to me.

I smiled.

“Guess not.” 


The days that followed those mushroom dreams were … confusing, to say the least. Discerning reality from them was difficult, but proved to be manageable. Each ending fit the course life could have taken, but each was tragic in their own right. I feared them … really feared them. Pushing too hard, loving being loved more than loving the person who loved me, and being alone. After all, as someone told me lately, I experience emotions intensely … maybe in a way most other people don’t. But another sex writer, I believe her name was Carrie Bradshaw, once said, “Some people are settling down. Some people are settling. And some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”

I fell into the latter category.

A year to the day has passed since I sat down and wrote the first story in this series of tales about my sex life and my “love” life. In that year, I have been peed on, I have been objectified for my size, I have survived an orgy, and I have had my heart ripped out, and stepped on, and broken. But also in that time, I have danced with my friends, and had some amazing sex, and—as I once put it—fucked a frog or two, even when none of them turned out to be the prince I was hoping they’d be.

Still, through all the drugs and alcohol and parties and bad dates and not-dates, I did find the thing that I sought out to find in the first place:

Butterflies.

But what I’ve learned about butterflies is that they’re just like anything else that lives—like all organic matter. They are born, and they transform, and they live. And, ultimately, they die. But soon, if we’re lucky, someone comes along that impregnates you with them again. Even when they start off as caterpillars and slowly transfigure themselves into that feeling that makes you want to burst from the inside out. Sometimes they have to be caterpillars and cocoons, because they can never become butterflies without going through those phases. And that’s what life is all about: …phases. The relationships, the good times, the bad, the drama, the joy … none of it is constant.

And, if we’re still lucky, we get to go through some phases—like the butterfly phase—much longer than we have to wait for the chrysalis to crack.

However, therein lies the true beauty, at least I think:

Nothing lives without nurture, and if someone you love nurtures those feelings, nurtures those butterflies properly, they can live a very, very long time.

I’m lucky enough to say that I have someone who nurtures that feeling without even knowing it. Lots of people, actually. My Stephens, my Alices, my Laurens, my Courtneys, my Hopes, my Dereks, and even my Ezras. Without me, true, their worlds would go on turning. Still, each of them has had such a pivotal part in making me who I am, today, that I’m not so sure mine would without each of them.

They are true love, because there is no friendship if there is no love.

As for Ezra … well, nothing new is happening there. Nor with any man, for that matter. But he has taught me something quite unique about love from nearly the beginning of these stories; and that’s that love is just that … unique.

I’ll stand beside him and up for him and with him as long as he needs, and I will be his friend as long as we are both able—which hopefully will be a very long time. But I’ll never forget how he was the first man in a very long time to remind me what the butterflies felt like. And that’s the best gift anyone could have ever given me. And, as I said before, if the worst thing that happens is that he continues giving me those and I get to keep feeling them as his friend, that’s not such a bad place to be with someone.

I may not have ridden off into the sunset on the back of his noble steed, nor did we skip through fields of poppies into the sun. But the friendship I get to have with him since those letters is so much more fulfilling. It exists without illusion, without grandeur. And that’s something that I’ve needed more than anything for a very long time—long before these stories: something real. Anything real.

I don’t know what stories I’ll tell next, nor do I know which men will inspire them. I don’t know how soon they’ll come or what I’ll feel when I write them. But one thing is for certain:

I still have so much love to give.

Let’s Talk About Consent, Baby

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 7

I was in Indianapolis for a conference the same weekend that Mike Pence was attending for the 49ers v. Colts game he left after witnessing the players kneeling during the National Anthem. Of all the things I associate with that weekend, Pence being in townand subsequently delaying my flight home due to his abrupt departurestands out the most to me. The second thing that stands out to me about that weekend most is being in a gay bar (I believe it was called Metro) where nearly everyone from the conference had gathered on our last night in town for last drinks before we all parted back to our separate citiesHouston, Coppenhagen, Chicago, Denver, Athens, and so many more.

As I stood at the bar after drinks with new friendsTamara from D.C. and Micah from St. Petersburg, and hand touched my shoulder. I flinched. It was a natural reaction, as I’m not a person who likes to be touchedodd, given my sex-positive lifestyle, but true nonetheless. Even being in bed with another man I want to sleep with always leaves me with an initial full-body tension and sensitivity to even the slightest touch. So, when I whipped around to see whose hand was on my shoulder, I was confused to see a face I didn’t recognize staring drunkenly at me.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

The man was older than me, maybe in his mid-thirties, and not bad to look at. Still, I held my vodka-cranberry up to his eye-level and said, “Thank you, but I’m okay,” before turning back to Tamara and Micah.

We chatted a bit more, laughing and drinking as we celebrated a mildly successful conference and several nights of good times drinking and eating and dancing. Still, the feeling of eyes piercing the backside of my body never evaded me. I could feel them like a hand under a lightbulb over my neck, the small of my back, my ass. Then, when the hand returned to my bodythis time on my waistI froze. I took in a heavy breath and I could feel my pupils dilate and my eyelids race apart. And for what felt like the longest time, I couldn’t let the breath out of my lungs, nor could I draw in another. Not as the stranger’s hand ran down my backside and over my slacks. Not as he put the other hand back on the shoulder he’d initially targeted. Not as his fingers crawled like a spider’s legs up just over my waistline and down inside my pants.

I was frozen and I was afraid.

It wasn’t until someone snapped, “Hey!” at the stranger that I was able to finally exhale. Maybe it was Micah from St. Petersburg, or Tamara from D.C. or one of the other new friends I’d made that week in Indianapolis. I couldn’t tell. Everything sounded the same, like being underwater and not knowing how to come up for air, vision blurred and eardrum pounds drowning out sound. But the call had been enough to scare the man away. His hand left my body, but still my muscles could not loosen from their tension and the hairs on the back of my neck refused to lie down.

And of all the pieces I remember about Indianapolismy phone crashing, buying a plush souvenir for my friend, Ezra, the party at an old church called the Sanctuarythe two things I remember most about that entire week are Mike Pence and that moment in the bar called Metro.

Because that’s how you remember sexual assaultin pieces. You’re so struck, so frozen, that the detailsthe sights, the sounds, the smellsthey all turn to grey and bleed together like melted wax until they fall over you, hot and thick, and begin to solidify around you, trapping you in a chrysalis you enter into as a butterfly but leave as a caterpillar.

And if it had been the first time it had happened, maybe I would have been able to fight his hand away. If it had been the first time, maybe I would have run, or screamed at him, or thrown my drink in his face.

But it wasn’t the first time some stranger had touched me without asking, my body nothing more than something with which they could entertain themselves.

It wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wasn’t the worst of it. This singular occurrence may have seemed like nothing to some people, may have been some begotten result of decades of blurred lines and gay bar culture or a misinterpretation of me not being clear enough. But for me, it was a reminder of a much darker moment in my lifeone in which no one had been there to shout, “Hey!”. One in which the hand hadn’t pulled back. One in which I’d not frozen, but woken from one nightmare into another.


Dylan and I had been participating in some very spur-of-the-moment Tuesday afternoon sex about a week back. And while we were neither a couple nor dating, sex with Dylan was always an intimate experience. He was gentle and giving, the type that whispered to you and took his time. He even did this thing that I would have laughed at had I seen any other two people doing it in which he traced the tip of his nose around mine, then down around my lips before he would kiss me. He was a hand-holder almost every step of the way, except, of course, where hands were required. He had an ass that begged for faces to fall into it and shoulders so strong you couldn’t help but believe he was so gentle. He was Adonis, a man’s man, a remarkable beauty that was downright intimidating, yet somehow inviting.

But as he pushed my legs apart and glided in between them, the tension it had taken me so long to get rid of around him returned. My shoulders tensed. My back arched like a frightened cat. My fingernails clawed into the back of his hands. And my ass shut down for business.

A flash flew past my eyes. Dylan was gone, and replacing him was nothing but darkness and a blurred light coming from my peripheral.

Something dinged in the background, and that sound was followed by something like a cartoon bird, chirping, “Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

Uh-uh,” I cooed as my legs tightened around him.

He stopped, never too persistent.

I could hear him, his breath slowing; and I could almost feel his eyes looking into mine, though mine had gone off into the distance, searching to see where that now-imaginary light was coming from. And when they shifted back up to face him, Dylan was gone. There instead was the pale, sweating face of a memory I’d tried to forget. It was something I hadn’t revisited in a while, something I’d found a way to live without, at least recently.

There, where Dylan should have beenwhere I knew he was—stared down the face of a man long gone from my life, but one that for so long had stood in the darkest corners of any place I’d ever been.


I was nineteen-years-old, and at the time I was not yet out of the closet.

I knew who I was—what I wasbut a long history of homophobia and bigotry that ran rampant in my family would keep me in the closet for another two years.

I was spending time with an old friend, someone I’d known from school, and we had been drinking alcohol he’d bought at the corner store near where we’d grown up that hadn’t carded us since we were seniors in high school. As far as I knew, Joseph wasn’t gay. Still, in all the time we’d known one another, there had been a certain attraction between the two of us that had been nearly undeniable. Joseph was the first boy I’d ever kissed, but that was the extent of how far I was willing to let things go. After all, I may have been gay, but I was neither out nor comfortable enough with my body nor my sexuality to participate in anything more than that.

Joseph had obtained a good job out of high school. Without a degree, he went into oil and gas, and was living alone not far from the house I’d lived in my senior year. I don’t remember a great deal about the way his apartment looked, other than the fact that it was mostly bare with nothing on the wall near the kitchen but an old, wooden cuckoo clock that had gone off a few times since I’d been there without pattern. And I was there because I missed my friend whom I rarely got to see due to the demands of his new job. But at a certain point, I had to stop drinking. I was only nineteen, after all, and I couldn’t get into the car shitfaced to drive the forty minutes back to my own house in the middle of the night. I knew better than that.

Still, as Joseph regaled me with tales of the women he’d most recently slept withconquests, in his way of telling ithe tried again-and-again to get me to drink more.

And this, my friends, is where the story begins to break into pieces.

I remember yawning, though I’m not sure why that particular yawn sticks out so much in my mind. Maybe it’s the dialogue that it sparked, with Joseph saying something to the effect of, “You can spend the night here, if you’re too tired to drive home.”

I considered it for a moment. The drive was very long; and despite the fact that I didn’t feel drunk, I was feeling very tired.

And then Joseph stood on his knees from the floor where he sat across from me, crawled toward me, and kissed me on the mouth.

It was a nice feeling, about that I cannot lie; yet my body still tensed when he did it.

“I’ll get us one more drink; then when we’re done, we can go to bed. I’m pretty tired, too.”

I think I may have nodded.

I can’t recall how long he was gone, as the clock on the wall clearly wasn’t working, but Joseph seemed to be gone just a moment too long. I stood to my feet, and tiredly trailed into the kitchen to find him. There, I found him standing over two fresh glasses of gas station pinot grigio, texting someone on his phone. He must have heard me, as he looked up and said, “Sorry,” flashing his phone to my face. “I got distracted.”

I think I chuckled and turned to walk back to the living room.

I don’t remember finishing the wine.

I remember seeing the bottom of the glass as I finished the last of it.

I remember because my mouth was so fucking dry.

I remember standing up to find the restroom, because I felt like I was going to vomit, and then tripping over my own feet.

I remember nearly falling asleep as I sat down to pee.

If I’m not mistaken, Joseph might have said, “I’ll be in the bed.”

I do remember fishing around on the wall for the lightswitch, but inevitably leaving the light on as I walked through the door.


The sound that brought me back to consciousness was unmistakable.

Cuckoo. Cuckoo.”

I don’t think the pain set in immediately, but when it did, it was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was like someone was tearing me apart from front to back. And the feeling kept changing. With each thrust came a new wave of it. In or out, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Out of the peripheral of my eyesight, I could see a light glancing through a partially-closed door. But my eyes turned the moment something wet dripped down on my forehead. I wanted to reach my hand to see what it was, but my arms didn’t move when my brain told them to do so. My eyes, however, did. And as I stared up over me, I found Joseph, pale and sweating, veins bulging in his shoulders and forehead.

I became nauseated again, but when my mind told my body to fight him off of meI was bigger than he, after allI couldn’t move. I wanted to shove him. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to scream. But all I could do was lie there, waiting until it was over.

Waiting until Joseph finally passed out on top of me.

Waiting for tears which never came.

I was nineteen-years-old; and I was being raped.


“I fell back asleep; then I woke up again the next time I heard that clock; and then I left.”

Dylan looked down at the bed on which we sat.

“I’ve never told anyone that before,” I muttered.

He reached for my hand. He didn’t say anything, which was probably for the best. After all, what does one really say? Instead, he laid back down, and he tugged at my hand inside of his. Then he let me go as I began to lie down on an outstretched arm against the pillow for me to rest in.

I didn’t mind it when he held me, or when he kissed me nurturingly atop my head. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t shaking the way that I used to when I thought about that night with Joseph. Instead, I just laid there, letting this man do the only thing he knew how to comfort me. And it was working. I felt safe, not pressured, not judged.

I mean, to be honest, I’ve heard other stories from other survivors. I’ve listened and hugged them. And I have kept myself from saying a word about my own experience in the hopes to not minimize what that person has gone through. And maybe that’s wrong. Maybe those others needed to hear that someone else had been through it. But this sort of pain, this sort of torment, it’s incomparable from one experience to the next. While all sexual assault is wrong, you never want to make a victim feel like they are less than they already feel they are by accidentally making their situation about you.

So, you hesitate. And you wait. And you extend to them your love as best you can.

And Dylan didn’t ask me why I’d never told anyone. He didn’t ask me why I hadn’t gone to the police. He didn’t go on about statistics or studies or court cases. He was silent. He listened, and he seemed to be understanding of what had stopped our sex so quickly. And not for a second did I take for granted what a rarity that actually was.

I wasn’t sure if it was the sex that had brought the memory rushing back. After all, I’d bottomed with him before. Maybe it was all the stories I’d been hearing over the last few months about these disgusting men in Hollywood taking advantage of young actresses and actors. Maybe it was just seated so deeply inside of me, like a volcano lying dormant for too long, that it finally erupted at the hand of the slightest irritation.

Regardless of why it came about, the memory had; and I had laid out all my crap on the table for Dylana man I was neither coupled with nor datingto see.

And in the time that had passed since Joseph, I’d had men put their hands down my pants like the one did in Indianapolis, and grab me by the wrist and pull me into an unwanted embrace, and kiss me without asking, and try to bed me after buying me a drink or engaging me in meaningless conversation.

And that’s the problem with these men. They think that the people they want to sleep withand most of the time, those people are women (whether they be trans or cis)are objects. They think that they are born with some right to put their filthy, disgusting hands on us and fuck us for the three minutes they can keep from ejaculating while they strip us not just of our clothing, but of our dignity and our self-worth.

And while I will never endure the kind of sexual harassment on a day-to-day basis that women endure, I can sympathize.

Because I am a survivor of rape.

And the life that follows is one stained and tainted by something that can’t be simplified down to an ugly memory, because it’s so much more than that. It’s a piece of your soul that is not lost, but that is stolen from you and hidden away in the hopes that you never find it. It’s a chunk of your life’s timeline that is ripped out and scattered into pieces that you try and try to put back together, but only feel sick over as the bigger picture becomes more clear. It’s a loss of self-worth that is unprompted and unwarranted as you watch some stranger run into the foggy night with something as valuable to you as your arm or your leg, except that it’s your heart and your soul.

And though no survivor is lucky given the circumstances, I am fortunate enough that I have been able to reclaim my sexuality and use it the way that I want to when I consent to do so. That does not make me exempt from the eyes that follow me around the bars. It doesn’t exclude me from the unwarranted dick pictures I get on Grindr. It doesn’t make men any less disgusting and it certainly doesn’t change the way they speak to me for the first time or the intentions they have.

But not everyone has gotten there yet. And that’s okay. And, yes, women, cis and trans, have it harder than gay men do. They walk into it at work. Stand behind it in line at the grocery. Drink across from it at the bar. It’s on television and in the movies. It’s in the lyrics to some of the world’s most popular music. Sexual assault is prevalent and alive. And I am so very fortunate to be alive in a time where so many strong peopleagain, namely womenare standing up and saying that this sort of behavior is not okay. Because without them, no matter their celebrity status or who their assailant are, I may not have been strong enough to sit down and tell this story.

To you or to Dylan. I easily could have run out of his apartment and never looked back and let him think I was insane or damaged or dramatic. I mean, I am all of those things. But not for this reason.

Because my rape story does not define me. I am not comprised of the pieces of this one particular moment in my life. I am many things, and while a survivor is one of them, it is not the only one.

So, yeah. Me too.

And time’s up.

Because, while this memory, this horrible, awful thing is remembered to me in pieceswhether those pieces be cuckoo clocks or Mike Pence, the time for sexual assaultfor me and so may othersreally is up.

And to all the filthy, vile, loathsome, evil little men out there who have perpetuated it and taken part in it and who have victimized innumerable innocent people and then tried to turn it against those victims, you should be afraid.

Because we aren’t putting up with it anymore.

Gay Sex, Straight Guy

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

Less Than Butterflies, No. 25

Here’s the thing about having gay sex with men who say they’re “straight” …

I gasped as he ran his hand ever so gently across the nape of my neck and pulled not me in, but himself into me before he laid his lips upon mine.

… not even just “straight” men; maybe just men

The kisses were long and slow, but not the suffocating kind that makes you wonder when you’re going to be able to come back up for air. The kind you sink into — no — the kind you melt into.

… You know, men who are just a little older than you, men who pay attention to you, men who aren’t only concerned with getting off, but making sure that you get off, too …

He ran his hand down from my neck, but not the entire hand. His palms raised up like the trunk of a car and his fingertips slid down the outside of my shirt and over my underwear just above my penis before they just … stopped.

… These men open doors for you; and they walk close by you in public; and they let you finish a thought without cutting you off mid-sentence …

He pressed just their tips — those tiny zones of flesh just halfway down the fingernails on the opposite side — between the elastic of my briefs and the the skin of my pubis. Then he swayed them from side-to-side, teasing me — making me wonder whether or not he was going to take them off. And as his hand pressed back down firmly over their fabric and the fingertips came out from beneath, he edged his hand down and around what was waiting for him, and brushed his knuckles against the inside of my thigh.

I gasped.

… they are so good with their hands.

He leaned in, hot breath hitting the exposed skin between my shirt and underwear; and as he removed my clothing with the ease of a sea mammal leaping out of the water and diving back inside like a subtle decrescendo, he whispered, “You are absolutely breathtaking.”

I could have come right then and there.


Lovesickness does something to me. As it cracks the shell of my heart before my soul slides into the skillet to be stabbed at and scrambled, it absorbs the heat of the fire that cooks it. Although not always at first, like it seemed to do this time. Usually I have to get through all the crying, eating, drinking, depressive stages of my heartache before I can even look at another man with whom I might want to have sex — even it it’s just sex. I think that’s how I knew my tears brought on by Pistachio breaking my heart weighed a bit more than those before it. I was so crippled by my own hurt that I couldn’t bear to feel that way for long. It was all-consuming. It was as though I was actually afraid for the night to fall because being alone with no one else in the world to suffer through this with was a sort of loneliness I’d never experienced before. But when I’d finally fall asleep and the sun would come up shortly after, I’d be tearful just as my eyes began to open that I didn’t want to get up and be amongst people. I wanted to stay there and be alone until this famished melancholy inside of me had finally gone away.

It didn’t leave, however. I’m not sure it ever will leave. Just when I think I’ve vacated its presence, I’m overwhelmed with a heaviness in my chest and the feeling of someone making a fist around my stomach. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t even enjoy drinking, because it only brings the emotions out stronger. The only thing that seems to be letting me forget, even if just for a short time, is sex.

I know, I know. That is an extremely unhealthy coping mechanism. It’s no better than lines of cocaine — done that — or drinking myself into a coma — that, as well. It’s not really replacing the feeling of loneliness, the one of a broken heart. It’s just replacing them emotional feelings with heightened physical ones that are so overwhelming in the moment that it provides respite, even if just long enough for me to close my eyes during climax.

Just in the week following me finally getting out of bed, I had successfully blown a man in the bar parking lot, had sex with another man in the bed of his pick-up truck behind a gas station, orally serviced a dad in his bathroom while his girlfriend slept in the next room, and gotten out of sleeping with a guy who looked nothing like his profile picture on Grindr by telling him a half-lie about being too devastated to sleep with anyone after I’d recently had my heart broken. As far as sex went, I was sort of killing it, now racking up my grand total of men to 106. It seemed impossible that there was anyone left I hadn’t slept with, although I knew this wasn’t true as most of the annoying, twinkier fellows I could hardly stand speaking to, let alone having sex with. But what I did realize was that the man who would be my 107th sexcapade was much closer than I could have ever imagined. Five houses down from my mother’s, in fact. But no matter how the adage goes, not everything is about location, location, location. Although if the sex is as good as the location, it may have just proved that this man wasn’t just my 107 … he was Lucky Number 107.

His name was Grayson — although I didn’t learn that until later — and goddamn was this man a motherfucking man. He was one of those Texas men that — even as a Texan — I believed only existed in Southern mythology. He stood 6’4” weighing 220 pounds of pure, cut, and tight muscle. Or at least — that’s what I could ascertain from his Grindr profile that I grazed over while staying at my mother’s house for a few nights while her husband was out of town. And almost as if he could feel me staring at the details of his profile, my phone hummed that ribbit-like alert notifying me that the 35-year-old jock had just sent me a message.

“I think you might be my neighbor,” he wrote, followed by, “It says you’re only 300 feet away.” That much was true, and I’d honestly been thinking of going around the neighborhood to see how close I could realistically get to him in an effort to fish out which house the man lived in and, in turn, his identity.

“Seems like it,” I wrote back with a winking emoji. I was going full-Samantha Jones on this guy. If a man of his build was at all interested in pressing his body against mine, I was all for it.

“Well,” he typed out. “Either that or you’re hiding in my pantry … because you look like a goddamn snacc.”

I loved when men called me a snacc. It combined my two favorite things: sex with boys … and junk food.

“You are correct about that,” I told this man who was so far removed from my league that I might as well have been playing softball with a pack of moving lesbians while he was winning the World Series — this baseball analogy will seem more fitting later. “And you are a very attractive man,” I added with an upside-down smiley face.

The banter continued, but we didn’t end up sleeping together that night. In fact, I’m nearly certain that I fell asleep while talking to him, or maybe he had. Either way, another day passed and I didn’t hear from this man. It wasn’t until I was leaving my office in the wee hours of the morning to go home and get some rest — although I knew I’d never be able to sleep, as I’d just taken an Adderall at 10 PM to keep myself awake long enough to get things done for the next workday — when I heard that annoying Grindr notification on my phone.

“You up?” he asked me.

I smirked. I was somewhat impressed by this guy. He had never once asked me to send him nudes, and he hadn’t sent any to me either. He had revealed to me only photos of his face and body — both of which were more than aesthetically pleasing — and he had actively engaged me in conversation that wasn’t laced with propositions for blowjobs or sexual innuendo. Even when I’d asked him what it was he was into, he’d replied with such naive sweetness, “I like going to the gym, catching games, concerts, etc. You?” I probably hadn’t laughed as hard as I did at that message since before things had really gone downhill with Pistachio. And in an effort to not make him feel dumb — which I could tell by his impeccable grammar that he was not — I replied that I too liked concerts, that I hadn’t been to the gym in a while, but needed to go back, and that I enjoyed the theatre and writing. It felt too soon to tell him exactly what I might be writing next, however. This guy, who I only knew by his headline of “Houston Jock”, was, as far as I could tell, actually a nice guy.  And as it turned out, we were, in fact, neighbors — sort of.

He lived five houses down from my mother’s where I often was to see my siblings or to help her with one menial and underappreciated task or another. So as I sped to my mother’s from the office without telling her I’d be spending the night at what was nearly three in the morning, I was certain this guy was going to be one of two things: 1. closeted and inexperienced to a fault, or 2. a total fucking creep. Still, I was horny and had emotions to suppress with sex, and I therefore elected to at least meet the guy.

Having not showered since I’d left to go to the office the morning before, I broke into my mother’s house — which was unlocked for god only knows what reason — ran up the stairs, jumped in the shower, blew out my hair, found an old varsity-style t-shirt that was just a bit too big for me and a pair of nice underwear I’d left there a long time before that really made my ass pop, and then put my hair up into a messy, sexy ponytail. I grabbed beer — which I almost never drink — from the garage refrigerator, downed two, tossed two more into my arm, and ran out to the driveway to have a cigarette before he came over. I even put on cologne — something I don’t normally even do for the men I’m dating.

I let this man know where I was, and he asked me if I could hear a truck running from where I stood. In the silence of the early morn, I could hear it and saw a red pick-up flash its lights a few streets down.

“Are we gonna fuck in your truck?” I asked him — unsure as to why we wouldn’t just go inside his house.

“Well, yeah,” he replied. “Didn’t you say that that was your mother’s house?”

I laughed loud enough so that he probably heard me five houses down.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have sex in there. The second floor is completely vacant. Granted, we probably can’t get away with like … full-on anal because it would be really loud and the bed is creaky.”

“I’m cool with that,” he told me before confessing, “I’m just a little nervous. I’m kind of new to this.”

And there it was! The answer to my question about why we couldn’t just have sex inside his house. I knew even before I asked the question — though I should have been tipped off by the part of his responses that included “watching games” — that I was about to have sex with a man who identified as straight. And if we weren’t going into his house, that meant he was likely also married, or he had children whom he did not wish to wake from their slumber.

“So … you’re not … gay?” I asked him.

He answered back with great haste.

“No.”

Uhhhh-huh.

“Are you married?” I asked him. “Like … I’m not judging and it probably won’t stop me from sleeping with you because as you can see, I’m the kind of THOT that stands in his mother’s driveway in his underwear smoking a cigarette and drinking Blue Moon before he invites a stranger to have sex with him in his little brother’s old bedroom. But I would just like to know exactly what I’m getting myself into.”

He was quick to respond, “I’m going through a divorce. We can talk about it more in a second. Do you have anything to drink?”

I downed the rest of the third Blue Moon and opened the last one that had been in the fridge.

Noooope!” I typed. “Just opened the last beer.”

As he approached the house from a few houses down, I noticed he was carrying a few beers in his hand himself. But that wasn’t all that I noticed. In fact, that was probably the least of what I noticed about him. The man was not only taller than me — a rare gem of a man that is incredibly hard to come by — but he wore the best fitting jeans I’d ever seen in my life and looked like a model for a Cavender’s catalog in his sparkling cowboy boots. His t-shirt was snug around his clearly well-cut body and I immediately began to question whether or not he would see me and run home to find someone far more attractive to have sex with.

But he didn’t. In fact, if there was a way for someone to like … super not do something, that was what he did. He super didn’t run from me. Instead, he reached for my hand, bowed down a little before me, and planted a kiss on the back of it.

“You are somehow even sexier in person.”

I felt my eyes turning into hearts like an emoji and it took everything inside of me not to yelp, “HUBBA! HUBBA!” at the sight of this godlike man. Even for so early in the morning, he smelled so fresh and looked so clean and I was just this sort of still kind of wet from the shower bog monster that only really washed his taint because this man had quite enthusiastically said he’d eat my ass without any hesitation. And by the looks of him — by the way he held the door open for me to my own mother’s house and squeezed my hand just the gentlest bit as he followed me up the dark stairway — he was the kind of guy who was really going to put those straight, pussy-eating skills to the test around my now very-hungry butthole.

He took off his shoes, then took his wallet and cell phone out of his front pocket while I scrambled to the restroom to brush the cigarette ick out of my mouth. When I returned, he was still clothed, but he’d made himself quite comfortable and asked me to sit with him so that we could get to know each other.

“Are you sure we won’t wake anyone up?” he asked as he leaned his head back against an arm pressed against the wooden headboard.

“Ha! No,” I told him. “But what are they gonna do? Ground me? I don’t live here. I’m 24 and hot. Why wouldn’t I be having sex with the even hotter stranger from down the lane?”

He laughed and shared, “Grayson. My name is Grayson.”

I smiled. “Anthony,” I told him.

And from there, he told me a little more about himself — what he did for work, how his divorce had come about, the time his wife almost caught him surfing the now-defunct Craigslists personals to hook-up with a man. As it turned out, the cowboy-country thing wasn’t a charade. He’d grown up in Lubbock — gag me — and had moved here for college when he’d gotten a baseball scholarship to some Baptist university I’d forgotten as soon as he’d said it. A Baptist, it turned out, he was not. A baseball player, on the other hand, he definitely was — and he had the body to prove it.

For an hour we just talked — he’d told me how he’d lived in the area where I’d grown up for a while and how he’d met his wife and how they’d fallen apart. When he asked me how well connected I was in the LGBTQ community, I told him about the magazine and that I had served as the volunteer coordinator for Pride Houston for a couple of years — two things he was shocked to realize. And at the end of it all, he’d asked me if I was comfortable — I wasn’t, but I was trying to give him space as his nervousness was quite palpable — on the other end of the bed. And like a gentleman — albeit, again, one in my mother’s home — he arranged a few pillows for me to lie beside him and rest my head on his chest while his fingers grazed that very same shoulder another man’s had not so long ago.

I put Pistachio out of my mind, looking up to focus on the man before me. It was one thing that I’d already called out his name while having sex with someone else — another story for later — but I certainly would not be distracted by him while I was lying in bed with a man who actually did want to be with me.

We drank some more and talked and touched and tickled. After a while, we both had to pee, and I waltzed toward the bathroom to go first, fearful that when I returned he might be preparing himself to make an escape. But when I exited the bathroom, I had to hold my breath as I saw him coming down the stairs, as well. Only, I noticed immediately that neither of his boots were on, and the pocket that had previously held his wallet and cell phone lay flat against his thigh.

“What’s wrong?” he asked in a whisper, my mother’s room just feet away.

I chuckled nervously and played with a loose strand of my hair while looking down at the ground.

“Nothing, nothing,” I said with another nervous laugh while looking down at the ground. But as I did so, I noticed two other feet step toe-to-toe with my own, then felt a hand gently press my chin up to face the man before me.

He whispered, “I’m not going anywhere,” before leaning down just a tad and planting a kiss on my forehead.

As he peed, I had to smoke my anxiety away through a Marlboro on the porch. I was completely and totally unprepared to have sex with this gorgeous man. And why did he want to have sex with me anyway? Mind you, I was in much better shape than I had been in at any point in time since high school. And as of late, men were trying to scoop me up left-and-right. But they weren’t men — not a man like this, anyway. And even the cute or hot ones held no candles Grayson. Physically and at this point in my life, he is the most attractive man I have ever had sex with. He had a cute face, a hot body-ody, and from what I could tell through those Levi’s, likely a perfect penis.

What is it about men? Like … how is it that sometimes the most gorgeous men in the entire world can turn out to also be the nicest, but the ones who are still kind of cute, but not cuter than you by any stretch of the imagination, feel like they have the right to do as they please with you, toss you aside, and then make you feel like shit about yourself? And don’t get me wrong — the gorgeous men can do that, too. All men can. All people can. But something about men and their baseless superiority over my lifetime — most recently so and maybe even most significantly so with Pistachio — had left me feeling like I was something less than I am. In turn, when a man who was literally created in God’s image decides he wants to bless me with his sex, I’m left wondering why the fuck that could possibly be — suspecting an ulterior motive.

But goddamn … bless me with his sex did he ever.

For nearly the next three hours, Grayson and I fucked like we might never fuck again. His hands left me trembling and his mouth closing around any part of me sent mine flying open into sounds of ecstasy. There was no chance in hell that we were going to be quiet. We were so involved with one another, so rhythmically in sync and so lost in not only our own pleasures, but those of the other that we couldn’t have stopped even if we had woken everyone in my mother’s house and his soon-to-be ex-wife five houses down. And when he said that to me at the beginning, called me breath-taking after my glasses were off and the pudge of my stomach was noticeable even in the darkness, I really could have orgasmed right then and there. He hadn’t called me hot or sexy or cute. He had even bypassed beautiful and gorgeous, passed Go, collected $200 dollars, and spent that money on the sweetest compliment any man has ever given me in my life:

Breathtaking.

And just as certain as I could have ejaculated then, I could have also begun to cry had I not been reveling in the most pure state of absolute rapture I’d ever known. This was a man — again, a man — who didn’t know me, who didn’t know my faults and bad habits, who didn’t know I could be a raging cunt or that I fell in love too easily or that I had just had my heart broken. And while the attraction to the personality is an absolutely integral part of any relationship, it was so validating after having to hear Pistachio tell me that I’m not attractive to hear a man far more attractive than he tell me I was breathtaking.

I didn’t need the validation, mind you. But I’m certainly glad that I got it. Because I think that had I not heard that word come from that man — maybe just some sex angel sent down by God to get me out of my feelings — I might not have found the confidence I needed to get up the next day and dress myself in an adorable outfit with hair and makeup completely done the wedding of two of my dear friends. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to expose my midriff while wearing the shirt I’m wearing right now through the Galleria earlier tonight. I don’t think I would have had the strength to tell Pistachio last night that something he’d said to me was not okay and to give myself the space from him for a few days to decide how I felt about it until he was ready to apologize and until I was ready to accept that apology.

I am a strong fucking person. Willful, determined, talented, and a motherfucking snacc.

Breathtaking, even.

And if this man could see that natural beauty in my messy ponytail, with my glasses off somewhere on the floor, without any makeup, and with all my physical imperfections on display, there were going to be plenty of other men who could do the very same thing. And I pity my friend, the man who broke my heart, for having to miss out on those things and all the other incredibles parts of me this man who called me breathtaking didn’t even know.

When the sex was over, he pulled me in, and he held me. I’d come three times, as had he, and the room smelled of sex and sweat and the sheets were drenched and I knew in the days to come that muscles I didn’t even know I had would ache. He kissed me and he laced his fingers between mine again and I told him that since it was now just minutes before seven AM, he probably should get going — even though a really big part of me wanted to stay in his arms and fall asleep.

“Yeah, I know,” he told me with a smile and another kiss. “Just a few more minutes, though.” He played with my fingers and ran his toes up-and-down across my calves. “You really are gorgeous,” he told me, this time. “I have no idea how you’re single.”

“Well you really are good at having sex with men,” I said with a laugh. “I have no idea how you’re married to a woman–”

Divorcing a woman,” he corrected me with a laugh before kissing my neck and turning me right back on.

I gasped a little. “Are you sure you aren’t gay?” I asked him.

He pulled up some and looked at me.

“No,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m straight.”

“I don’t know, man,” I told him as I rolled over, cracked the window, and then lit a cigarette. I inhaled. “That was some pretty gay shit we just did.”

It was disappointing to hear, but I didn’t let it bother me. It was his life. If he had to live unhappily in a closet, that was his business. I wasn’t going to burden him with questions and self-doubt. As confusing as it was, I figured he probably was a little gay, but that he just couldn’t be open about that for whatever reason. I had to respect it. That said, I’d happily fuck him six ways to Sunday any other chance I got.

As I led him out of the house again, he pressed me up against the brick wall of the front porch and kissed me again and I could feel myself growing erect, as I could he through his jeans. It was such a powerful kiss — even for it to have just been with a stranger. I knew I’d see this guy again, and certainly I’d fuck him again, but if we never again traversed those five separating houses, I at least had the memory of those four hours we spent together, that electrifying kiss, and the sound of him calling me breathtaking resounding against the walls of my mind.

What. A. Man