Less Than Butterflies

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When It Pees, It Pours

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 16

As made evident by the fact that I’m writing my sixteenth consecutive column in this series, I have had some not-so-wonderful experiences with men. Whether it have been because they’re Trump supporters, because they turned out to be asexual, because they couldn’t commit, because I was incapable of getting my dick hard, or because they were just flat-out stupid, my Rolodex of men was quickly eliminating card-after-card for one reason or another. The worst of which, at least in terms of trauma, was certainly the man from long ago that took it upon himself to shower me in his urine after ejaculating in my mouth. Not only was it just downright disgusting and putrid in smell, it was humiliating in a way I’d never experienced before in my life. Still, that didn’t mean that the cake couldn’t still be taken — even if in part because I had contributed to it.

Following up on Mason’s suggestion that we should hang out the following weekend, only to realize he’d be out of town for work for a week to follow (and, yes, this is an actual fact — something that could be confirmed by photos on Facebook and Snapchat — not just some lame excuse to not spend time with me), we’d finally nailed a day down to go out drinking, or spend a night at home watching movies, or to have dinner and journey out onto some adventure into the city. And to be quite honest … I was really excited. I was excited in a way I hadn’t been since the anticipation of seeing Freaky Friday: The Musical for our first non-Pride-related time together almost exactly a year ago. (As an aside, I need to stop spacing my romantic interests so far apart; but I digress).

Those entire two weeks between rescheduling and the actual event, I went through the typical motions day-after-day, tired and bored and distracted from my work. I kept telling myself as I laid in bed each night, “Just [insert number] more days until you get to see him again.” Even the night before, I found myself at Gwen’s house, downing wine and doing my best not to vocally obsess over the fact that we’d be spending time together. It was safe to say that at that point, and after what had happened at JR’s, I’d developed a bit of a crush. And that, my friends, was a very foreign and strange concept for me. Typically my relationships or not-relationships happened so quickly that they bypassed that step, catapulting me down into a free fall of love instead of being able to enjoy the simple, giddy descent that a crush was supposed to be. Unfortunately the catapult typically resulted in me being met at the bottom by some man who inscribed on my tombstone beside me, “Sorry, bro. I don’t feel that way.”

This was different though. All throughout those two weeks, we texted every day, sent drunk pictures to one another from where we’d spent time with our friends, and got to know one another just a little bit better. In fact, on one particular night when Mason had gotten a little drunker than he might normally allow himself to get while out with coworkers, our conversation had begun to delve a bit deeper into his psyche.

“I feel like I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told me on the phone as I sat in my backyard smoking a Marlboro and he laid in bed eating Whataburger he’d picked up on his way home.

I took a drag off my cigarette. “What do you mean?”

It took him a moment to respond, although that could have been assimilated to the chewing I heard on his end of the phone. “With work, with friends,” he began. “… with guys.”

I struggled to understand completely and wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. That tended to be how I handled other people’s emotions when they confessed them to me. We did resolve to keep things chill over the weekend, not too much drinking, something low-key. And without berating him for more information, I ended all of this with, “Well … I think you’re pretty great. And there will be plenty of time for us to kvetch and be introspective in person on Saturday. But for tonight, get some rest and try your best not to worry.”

Only, as I’d soon come to find, there wouldn’t be plenty of time for any of that.

***

Alice and Ezra were hanging out at my house the next night the way all fag hags and gay boys do — by applying face masks and drinking cheap wine the hags had inherited from their grandmother who’d ordered them from QVC and watching reruns of American Horror Story on Netflix. In the midst of all of this, I’d moseyed outside to smoke a cigarette while still in the face mask that made me, a Latino, appear to be doing some sort of protest white-face. Alice and Ezra both—for no reason in particular—had followed me outside and began chatting away.

Ezra had only had one glass of wine, but Alice and I had each terminated a bottle apiece. As sweet and mild-mannered as Alice was, one thing that never fails is that when she gets drunk she becomes two things: tactile (a number of confusing hand-holding instances with me has attested to this) and talkative.

“So what happened with you and Mason last weekend?”

Like … for fuck’s sake, Alice! Why on earth would you bring that up in front of Ezra? Of all the things to say in front of the man I was doing my best to fall out of love with, and of all the people to bring it up to, why would you bring my weird, touchy, drunken incident with a very cute boy up in front of the man I was just now starting to get over? Did I think he would care? No. Hell no. That wasn’t the problem in the slightest. The problem was that I might have wanted him to care. And since he wasn’t going to care, all this would do was open up the possibility of him thinking it okay to bring up boys he may or may not be seeing around me. And I was not about to have that. After the Molly-induced incident on my birthday, if he were to ever put me through that again, I might actually punch him in his face.

“Nothing …” I said through gritted teeth.

It obviously had not been nothing.

“It was something,” she said with a knowing look on her face.

“The guy from [redacted]?” Ezra asked. Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m still not quite ready to spill all the details about Mason or where I’d met him. Sadly, Ezra wanted to know for one reason or another, and I didn’t feel like I had a good enough excuse (or, at least, not one that was explicable without running the risk of sounding insane) to use now.

“Yes, that guy,” I answered.

“Hmm,” Ezra hummed with no particular expression on his face. At least … not at first. That changed the moment his next comment flew out of his mouth to something completely unreadable. “He doesn’t seem very smart to me.”

“He’s very smart. He has a PhD,” I snapped. Why was it necessary for Ezra to say something like that? What right had he? This guy—regardless of where these feelings he felt he needed to share were coming from—had no right to condescend anyone I was interested in. I’d given him a year. A year. That’s longer than a full-term pregnancy and I still got nothing out of it except a published book.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s smart,” Ezra replied.

What the fuck is his problem? I thought to myself. If I could at least make sense of the look on his face when he said these things, I’d at least have some slight indication as to why he was saying this. But the problem was—like with most things when it came to Ezra—he was completely unreadable. Sure, it probably was nothing more than him just saying what he was thinking without any true malice behind it, let alone care about what the situation was as a whole. But for fuck’s sake, I really was starting to like this guy.

“Well,” I told him with a sort of dead look in my eyes, “He’s very intelligent. I’ve had several conversations with him and can attest to that. Plus …” I took a drag off my cigarette and spewed smoke toward him, “he makes more money than you.”

I hoped he knew I wasn’t trying to be a dick … but I also hoped I’d gotten my point across.

***
The day I was set to hang out with Mason had come. And let me tell you … I was so fucking excited. I’m not even 100% sure why I was so excited. Like … were we going to fall madly in love and run off into the sunset? No. Was he going to present me with a blood diamond ring (the only acceptable kind of diamond, in my mind), tell me I was the boy he’d always been looking for, then ask me to marry him so that I could give up my job at the magazine, then run off into the sunset (read: Nordstrom) so that I could spend all his money and never have to work again? Unlikely. Were we going to make love on the second story balcony of the Eagle and eat marshmallow cream off of one another while I picked the pocket of his pants lying nearby to steal his credit card so that I could quit my job at the magazine and ride off into the sunset (read: Mexico) and never have to work again? Not … like … totally unlikely, but probably not. Was he going to ask me to co-father Syrian refugee babies with him before running off into the [… you know what goes here …] so that I’d never have to work again? … No. Nevertheless, I was excited. And oddly enough … so was my penis.

Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking. “Why is that odd? You’re a dude. Don’t you always think with your penis?”

Ummmm … no.

In fact, I believe I stated before that over the course of the last year, one of the headspaces I had to get myself to was thinking less about sex. Drawing an emphasis away from it made it easier for me to focus on and sort through my feelings for Ezra, who just so happened to be asexual. So, the fact that I was going to get to spend time with a guy that I actually sort of had sexual thoughts about wasn’t just exciting. It felt … well … new.

It started off with dreams. Vast and many and plentiful, I dreamed about the amazing, catatonia-inducing sex we would have in great and glorious detail. And every single dream started the exact same way: with that fateful night at JR’s. His pelvis pressed against mine; him leaning in to kiss me, but not doing so; me holding my breath just so that I wasn’t so distracted as to miss a single touch he made against my body. Only in the dreams, I went after him. Or maybe he came back for me. Maybe it was different each time. Who knows? It’s what follows that matters. The sudden appearance in a bedroom. The nervous and shaky undressing. The touch of my nose against the outer part of his underwear and the feeling of what lay beneath.

Phew. If I take that any further, I may not be able to finish this story. I digress …

The orgasms at the thought of it were even different than what I was used to experiencing. These were full-body mechanisms that drew parts of me into my core and held them there until something like a light bulb inside my chest exploded and sent shockwaves all throughout me. Eyes moving in different directions. Toes in spasm.

So, yes. I was extremely hopeful I’d be getting dicked down that night. But I still wasn’t expecting anything. I could enjoy just the sweetness of it for as long as possible. That was still something that had been absent as of late that I didn’t mind taking the time to learn again.

When my phone rang that Saturday afternoon, I was an Adderall deep and typing away at some edits for the magazine with ten other tasks to try to complete before we went out. I picked up the phone without even looking to see who was calling, eyes never leaving the computer screen before me.

“This is Anthony,” I answered the way I always do in the event that the phone call is work-related.

“Hey.” His voice was soft. It almost seemed nervous—although I don’t think it was so because of me. In 2018, everyone gets nervous when they make a phone call to someone else because we’ve evolved past them for the most part. That aside, my fingers stopped pedaling keys and I melted just a bit on the inside.

“Oh, hi,” I gushed. “What’re you up to?”

“Just hanging out at home,” he told me before a long pause. “So … we still good for tonight?”

Good God, it seemed to have been forever since I’d done this. The last guy I think I spoke on the phone to was my ex-boyfriend Parker, who’d been 37 at the time and still favored the voice-to-voice call he’d probably grown accustomed to when he’d been younger.

“All good with me. What’d you have in mind?” I noticed the difference in my voice when I spoke to him vs. how I’d have spoken to a client or one of my employees. There was a softness there. It was equal parts trying to sound innocent and innocuous.

“I don’t know. Do you know of anything good going on in the neighborhood?”

That meant the gayborhood. Montrose.

“Not in Montrose specifically, but my friend Gwen is having a concert at Neon Boots. We could go there for a bit and then head somewhere else.”

“That sounds like fun,” he told me. “Text me when you’re done working and we’ll go from there.”

“How do you know I’m working?” I asked him, one side of my lips curling up into a smile.

He paused, then took a breath and chuckled. “You’re always working.”

Damn.

***

At 6 o’clock, I hadn’t realized that I was already running late. In between yelling at a video editor and trying to clean up the mess he’d left behind for some emergency—his mother had died or something. I’m not sure. It was inconvenient, nonetheless—I had neglected to realize that I’d neither washed anything cute to wear nor taken a shower. We’d decided earlier to meet closer to 7, but after I alerted him that I’d been running late, we’d switched that up for 8. In lieu of having dinner with me because of my workaholic nature, he’d calmly told me he’d have dinner with some friends who had been asking him for a while and would meet me at Neon Boots after.

That saved me a little time. I managed to find a cute outfit in my closet, iron it, take a shower, blow out my hair, put on makeup, and hit the highway before 7:15. But I had to admit to myself that by the time I was riding the loop for the 290 exit, I was already exhausted. I’d worked all day, hadn’t eaten anything, and was about to go hang out with a guy I was really beginning to like. And in all of that, I had established some vague expectations for how this evening was going to go. We’d meet at Neon Boots for a while, sitting on the patio while Gwen sang a few sets and sipping vodkas. I’d introduce him to Gwen and get her reaction as to gauge how I was to feel about him after, we’d part her company, and then head into Montrose to have some drinks amongst our gay brethren. And hopefully, if I was lucky, we’d both be a little drunk by the time it was all over but not ready to say goodnight just yet, and one of us would invite the other back over for a few more drinks, turn on a movie or a Netflix show we’d both seen a dozen times, and in our drunk and tactile state we’d doze off holding hands or spooning.

I, admittedly, was already too tired for sex. But the sweetness I could get down with. And, at that point, I was determined to see this all through in spite of my exhaustion. I’d been excited about this night for weeks and I was going to let nothing ruin it for me.

Or … so I thought …

I arrived at Neon Boots just as Gwen had begun her set, waving to her between songs and taking a seat with her parents at a table up front.

“Oh, hey, Anthony,” she uttered into the microphone from on the stage. “My best friend just walked in, y’all,” she said with a nod of her head toward me. “He’s the editor-in-chief of About Magazine.” People clapped at her shameless plug and I gave an embarrassed wave without looking at all the faces I was sure I knew from around the city. And for a little while, I got so caught up enjoying Gwen’s show that I forgot about awaiting Mason’s arrival. It wasn’t until Gwen announced her intermission that it occurred to me. Even then, the moment I reached for my phone, I was shocked into setting it back down.

“I’ll be back here in just a bit,” Gwen told the audience as she began to make her way down the stairs. “C’mon dep—”

Before she could spit out the words ‘depth perception,’ Gwen’s failed her and slid ass-first down the remaining few steps. I dropped my phone on the table and did a half-enthusiastic lunge out of my seat. But as soon as I saw her laughing, I was able to forgo the effort and fall back into my seat (with twice the grace she’d fallen down the stairs).

When my phone chimed a moment later, I was suddenly reminded that I’d never seen through my previous task. I picked it up, noticed that it had been alerting me that my battery was down to 5%, then darted out to my car to charge it and check my messages.

There were … a few from Mason.

“So, my friends want to know if it’s okay to join us. It’s totally okay if it’s not, but we haven’t left the restaurant yet because they got a little drunk.”

This was quite the dichotomy for me. Did I want to be that guy who immediately came off as not liking the friends of the man I’d been masturbating to for the last two weeks? No. But did I want the first time we got to spend time alone together to include a bunch of randos I’d never met before?

Hell no.

Then there was the next text.

“So, they’re really drunk and it’s taking a little longer to get to Neon Boots while I’m wrangling them.”

And the next one.

“Do you want to just meet in Montrose?”

And the last.

“If not, it’s totally fine. I’ll come there.”

Oy gevalt.

Believe it or not, I do this thing when I want everything to run smoothly and no one to be put out where I actually will forgo whatever it is that is going to make me happy and go with what’s easier for everyone else. Yeah, you heard it here. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I, Markus Anthony Ramirez (yes, that is actually my first name) … am a people pleaser.

But for the sake of all the men to come after Mason, for the men like him and Ezra and Parker who had no earthly idea that they’d need Google Translate to communicate with me at maximum efficacy upon meeting me, I’m going to here break down and translate exactly what I mean when I say the things that I said to Mason in that text message.

“It’s fine.” It absolutely is not fine; and how could you for a second think that is was?

“I’m sure your friends are a lot of fun.” You tell those cock-blocking sons of bitches that I will kill myself and come back as a ghost that ruins each and every one of their sexual experiences in the future if they fuck this up for me.

“Give me just a few minutes and then I’ll head that way.” I will take my goddamn time getting there because now my allusions about this night have been crushed under the weight of one thousand polar bears.

“Just let me know where to meet you.” I hope you get hit by a car while crossing Westheimer.

* * *
In Houston gay culture, when someone asks you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the bars from Fairview down to Westheimer on the eastern side of Montrose Blvd.” When white, straight people who have zero interest in going to gay bars because none of them are celebrating bachelorette parties or wanting to see a drag show for the first time in their lives tell you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the gentrified, over-priced bars on Westheimer on the western side of Montrose Blvd.”

So why the literal fuck was I on the western side of Montrose Blvd?

Montrose is a historically gay neighborhood. And for decades, that queerness canvased it in its entirety. But since the early 2000s, that canvas has shrunk significantly over time as hipsters with bad haircuts and ghost frame, unnecessary eyewear have moved in and erected tattoo shops in historic old homes, bars that cost $25 cash to valet, and hookah bars that look as sketchy as they smell.

The western side of Montrose Blvd, yes, is technically still Montrose. There are even a few gay bars still in existence there (see: Michael’s Outpost). But Montrose, at its heart, has dwindled down to a refined area where queerness has been preserved.

The bar at which we were supposed to be meeting was brand new. Like … opening weekend new, and that was already a tall order for someone with social anxiety and that is constantly afraid of what people are thinking about him as their eyes glare over when he crosses their paths. But what was worse was than the aforementioned valet charge, was the fact that I had no cash on my person, and that I had had to pee since well before leaving Neon Boots and well after six vodka cranberries while there.

To make matters worse, the only non-valet parking on that side of the neighborhood that I could find without running the risk of being towed was ten blocks away. So, I had made the decision to park and run to the new bar in order to get into the restroom before I pissed all through the cute outfit I’d picked out specifically for this occasion. Ten blocks wasn’t that far—at least it hadn’t been when I was living my first year of college in New York. But in reality, ten Houston blocks were a helluva lot longer than ten Manhattan blocks.

I reached the bar at last only to find that the line at the door was wrapped around the corner. To my advantage it was moving relatively quick, but I still couldn’t stop moving due to the fact that I could feel fissures opening up along the walls of my bladder. At last, I made it to the front of the line and reached into my pocket for my wallet to show my ID at the door. Now, mind you, in Montrose proper I would not have had the issue I’m preparing to mention. On rare occasion am I asked to present an ID or to pay a cover charge for that matter. But that night, being on the straight side of Montrose, I was out of my element. None of these people knew me. I wasn’t shit here. Which is exactly why realizing that I had left my wallet in the car nearly sent me into hysterics.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered as I spun around on one heel without any explanation and bolted back to the car.

I became convinced that the tears welling up in my eyes were actually urine looking for an emergency exit route. That was not the case, however. A genuinely sensitive soul, when I am frustrated about anything, I tend to release my upset in tears if there’s nothing around I can break or into which I can scream. By now, I was sweating from the 95-degree heat and absurd humidity. My makeup was rolling into my eyes and my shirt (thankfully white) was becoming spotted with perspiration along my chest and under my arms.

Nothing was going right; and yet, there I was, Anthony the People Pleaser, trying to make sure that it was rectified in some way.

When I reached my car, I flung open the passenger’s side door and began fumbling around for my wallet. My phone chimed in my pocket; and I reached for it and threw it into the middle console to check a moment later. Unfortunately I knew that if I didn’t pee right then and there, I was going to wet myself or risk a major UTI. So, I hopped into the passenger’s side of the car, found a Gatorade bottle without a lid that was lying on the floor, whipped out my dick, and pissed into the bottle.

Oh, sweet relief, I thought to myself as one thing about the night finally began to ease some of my tension. I wasn’t done when the bottle was nearly full, but figured I could hold it long enough to make it back to the new bar and finish my business. So, in a hurry, I grabbed my wallet from the floor and stuck in my pocket, pushed the automatic window control so that I could pour the piss out into the grass and not leave behind an acrid stench in the car, then raised the Gatorade bottle to thrust the fluid out into the grass.

Only, in getting ahead of myself and pursuing a rush to get back to the bar, I neglected to realize that the window hadn’t completely rolled down. And when the bottom of the Gatorade bottle capsized from my hand, my entire lap was showered with my own urinary discharge.

I don’t think I’ve ever screamed the word ‘fuck’ so loudly or for so long in my entire life.

In that brief moment, I somehow was still not ready to acquiesce to the fact that maybe this was the universe sending me signs that this was all over or that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was still so determined to have this one thing that I’d been looking forward to—probably way more so than Mason—that I actually found a container of baby wipes in the backseat and gave myself a ho bath in my car so that I could see it through.

No, I did not have a change of pants in my car.

No, I did not have the means to at least run water over the pants to rinse some of the urine from them.

No, I was not giving up that easily.

My only saving graces were the fact that I only ever drank copious amounts of water when I wasn’t drinking liquor and a stack of Johnson & Johnson’s baby wipes I kept in my car to clean ashes off the dash. So, I took off my (luckily navy blue) pants, scrubbed them down with the baby wipes until they were foaming and I was certain there was no odor, put them back on, reapplied some powder and fixed my melting face, ran a brush through all the fly-aways in my hair, doused myself in cheap cologne my mother had gotten me for Christmas the year before, got out of the car, and proceeded back to the bar.

When I finally checked that message from before, it was Mason asking if everything was all right. I couldn’t even hide the fact that it wasn’t, but I certainly was not going to disclose the fact that in an effort to not piss myself, I had inadvertently (albeit not so literally) done the very thing I was trying to avoid the entire time. Luckily for me, he and his friends were kind of over that bar and were ready to move along.

We met outside as I did my best to act as though everything was still okay. At this point, I wasn’t even sure I looked presentable anymore. And I didn’t know if I really cared. As we walked from bar-to-bar in Straight Montrose, each one more crowded than the next (not to mention more expensive) I was losing energy that I probably had on loan, for it wasn’t mine. And as much as I wanted to try and be fun and gracious and sweet, those qualities had fled with my dignity ten blocks away from where we stood.

At another straight bar, I excused myself to go and smoke a cigarette a couple of times, each time with Mason trailing after me out of the bar to make sure that I was okay.

“I’m fine,” I lied each time. “Go have fun with your friends. I’m gonna be back in just a second.”

And so he did, which, for the record, is always the wrong move, gentlemen.

At last I’d at least gotten a few drinks in me and was doing my best to try to smile at these people I didn’t know as they carried on conversations that were no business of mine. Once, a young, straight woman began dancing on me without prompt and then grew frustrated when I refused to dance with her.

“Why won’t you dance with me?” the blonde bimbette asked me in drunk, ripe anger.

“Honey, you are barking up the wrong tree,” I told her as I scooted away and a little closer toward Mason. A second later, I felt someone’s fingers wrapping around my wrist, and then a jerk of my arm, and suddenly I was being pulled down the stairs and out to the patio once again. Mason took a seat at a picnic table, and then instructed me to do the same.

“You aren’t having fun,” he told me as if I were somehow incognizant of this.

“I’m fine.”

Lies and slander.

“I tried to get them to go to Montrose proper but they didn’t want to.”

“It’s fine. As long as they’re having fun, everything is fine.”

MORE LIES! What the actual fuck was going on with me that made me incapable of telling this guy how poorly this entire night was going and how badly I wanted to go home and get in bed and never speak to him again?

“We can go somewhere else, Anthony,” he told me. “I already told them earlier we would probably end up doing our own thing.”

Mind you, Mason was only now just telling me this at one o’clock in the morning. Like … dude … then why did I have to go through the process of walking the length of the Galleria from my car to a bar, back to the car, piss myself, and back to a bar I didn’t even go inside of only to end up at yet another straight bar? And by the way, what happened to drunk Mason from the other day who was going on-and-on about how he wanted to do something chill and low-key because he felt like nothing in his life was going right? Where was that guy? I liked that guy. He was depressed and I could cuddle him and make him feel better. (Okay, that’s terrible, I know. But the fact remained).

“It’s fine, Mason.” LIESSSSSSSSSSS. “If everyone is having fun here, then we can stay here.”

“But you’re not having fun.”

“Yes, but your people are and they are the majority here. I’m not gonna be that person who ruins it for your people.”

“But you’re my people, too!” he almost shouted. “This was supposed to be our thing and I feel like I screwed it up.”

Now I was getting pissed off—which, in retrospect, was nearly as bad as just hours before when I’d gotten pissed on. I wanted to slap him in the face, or at the very least throw a drink it. I didn’t understand why he was asking me what to do to make the situation better when he knew what was wrong. Why wouldn’t he just do it? Why was he being such a little bitch baby about it? Why couldn’t he just man up, grab me by the wrist like he had upstairs, and drag me out somewhere else? Why hadn’t he just kissed me that night at JR’s so that I would have at least had something else that I could’ve used to get me through this—to know that this wasn’t all for not?

“You know what, Mason,” I told him as I tried to keep myself from crying. “I am exhausted. I am the victim of a bad day, which hasn’t been entirely your fault. I am out of my element. I am not the biggest fan of straight people. And I’m not going to lie to you … this is so not what I was expecting tonight. And, given my track record with men, I’m not someone who really has that high of expectations.”

The tears were coming. I could feel it. I had to shut this all down before he caught me in a moment of weakness. The me of what could have been that night might have been okay with a bit of vulnerability. The me of what actually had happened that night couldn’t let that happen. I’d already lost. I wasn’t the type to let him also see me be a sore loser.

I stood up at the table grabbed my cigarettes.

“So, I’m going to go into Montrose proper and probably have a drink—”

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked softly. I could hear his regret in his voice, but I wasn’t going to let that sway me from my frustration.

“I’m not going to ask you to do anything, actually. You can do whatever you want. I just need to—I don’t know … get out of here.”

And so I did.

It took me a while to find the car, because at that point, I’d lost track of where we even were. It probably took another thirty minutes—time that I lent to Mason to call or text me and ask where I was heading, to tell me that he would be right there, to come after me like Prince Charming with Cinderella’s shoe. But he didn’t do any of those things. And when I reached the gas station at Westheimer and Montrose, I got out to buy a pack of Marlboros, threw some cash at a homeless man, and got back into my car sobbing.

The one thing I’d been excited about for the first time in what felt like forever had ended just the way things always had with Ezra and every man before him dating all the way back to my very own father:

in disappointment.

* * *

It’s worth noting that Prince Charming didn’t follow Cinderella home that night, either. He waited until the next morning to hunt her down, going cottage-to-cottage trying to slip the glass shoe onto the right foot. And though even in my delusion Mason was no Prince Charming, I had to give it to him, he had at least tried to make things right the next day.

Depressed and mournful over what was supposed to be something bordering magical, I kept in bed until the late afternoon. I told Gwen how everything had gone down, and she sympathized, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to it. It might have seemed silly or even downright naïve, but it didn’t change the fact that I was a little heartbroken over it. I was beginning to like this guy so much and I had this weird, palpable chemistry with him I hadn’t felt in a really long time. And all of that just got … well … pissed on.

I cried a little more, and I posted some vague, angry Facebook statuses about how my life was over and I was never leaving my bedroom again.

Then, around noon that day, I checked my phone to find a message from Mason. In that same thread, I saw that he’d texted me to tell me he’d left when I had and I even found he had texted me apologizing the night before. I guess I was too upset to read them or maybe I just hadn’t heard my phone alerting me to them. But below all that was a genuine apology, one that—no matter how upset I still was or would continue to be—I knew he meant.

“Hey,” it began. “I’m really sorry about last night. There were a lot of things I should have done differently, and I apologize for not doing so. I value what we have, but last night wasn’t reflective of that. And, if you’re willing, I’d really like the opportunity to make that up to you.”

I started bawling again—only this time, I wasn’t even sure why. And then there was like … I don’t know, man … guilt or something bubbling up in me. Like … had I really made him feel that bad about what had happened? Yes? Okay. Good. But also, why was I feeling guilty about that? Maybe it was because I did like him a lot and when you like someone a lot and they feel bad, you feel bad, too. It’s especially true if you’re the reason they felt bad.

So I did something I know now that I really shouldn’t have done.

I, Anthony the People Pleaser, began to placate the boy I liked and put aside my own feelings so that he wouldn’t be upset. And why? Because I knew he was already having a hard time with things. Because I knew that—even if he only had admitted it while he was drunk—somewhere deep down inside of him, he was hurting and needed someone to be a friend if nothing else to him. Because I’d been there before and had known I’d fucked up and inadvertently hurt people and knew that having it thrown back in your face when you already know that you’re wrong only makes things worse.

So, I placated him. Because I didn’t want him to be sad or to hurt anymore. And because there was a part of me that genuinely wanted to get to know him better and to see if maybe in all of his brokenness and in mine, there were places for one another to at least fill the holes.

“I honestly didn’t mean to ruin your fun or make you feel bad,” I told him at least half-honestly. “And we can discuss more later about why I was so pissy because it really is a whole thing, and it wasn’t just that situation; but you were at least trying to be sweet and you were trying to be considerate given the circumstances.” That much was true. He wasn’t being a dick about anything. And he’d paid for at least two of my drinks. Granted, I think I only had three after Neon Boots. “But honestly …” this next part was hard to even type out.

My overwhelming fear of rejection and being vulnerable and honest about my feelings gets me into more unforeseen trouble than it would if I’d just be upfront about things. But, unfortunately, expressing my feelings doesn’t usually ever help the situation, either (enter: rejection). Still, I chose to be at least a little honest with him about it.

“I was just expecting something different, I guess. Not like I had … like … a whole thing in my head about it.” Lies and slander. “It just seemed like it was gonna be more low-key and wasn’t going to involve other people. And I didn’t mean to be a dick to your friends, and especially not to you. So, I’m sorry if I was. Alas,” (who the fuck says alas? Like … what? … Pirates?), “I appreciate you saying all of this, and yeah … I’ll let you do that [make it up to me].”

“Thank you for letting me give it another go.”

But here’s the thing, guys. Where I was excited the last time we’d made these very same plans, I was anxious now. And true, what was to come was still to be seen and it certainly couldn’t have been as bad as getting piss all over myself, but there was so much I didn’t know now.

Was I doing the thing? The thing where I dive so deep into the pool to reach something at the bottom that by the time I realize it’s not down there, it’s too late to come up for air because I’ve already begun to drown?

All my life I’ve been rejected and dejected by this incomparable track record of men going as far back as my father who walked out on me and came back only as it suited his fancy (and none too often, nor in great longevity), only before turning me loose as an adult for good. And each one I was so ready to have be the person who made up for the first that I leapt from the highest mountains into pools of the smallest circumferences. And if I don’t splatter next to it because of poor aim, I shoot down to the very bottom, looking for that treasure chest everyone else seems to be able to find, but that never really seems to be there. Another x (or, rather, ex) just marking an unremarkable spot. Only, the more pools I dive into, the deeper and darker they get much more quickly. And as I was free-falling down toward this one, I was beginning to wish I hadn’t ever left the diving board at all.

I’d been asking this question since my birthday when Ezra had torn a piece of me I’d even then not quite gotten back, but with the recurrence of my heart’s erasure from some different man, that feeling only began to swell:

What if there really was something wrong with me?

Why was it I kept diving into these pools of piss and letting myself suffocate before I learned my lesson … or at least reached for the life preserver?

Much Ado About Stephen

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 17

The funny thing about friendships–especially close friendships that are intense and that challenge us–is that you get so swept up in their euphorias that it never crosses your mind that they might someday end. Whether it be a silly disagreement, a change in location that puts space between you, walking down different paths that cause you to drift apart, or another loved one coming between you and your friend, these conflicts–or maybe just these changes–are typically unexpected, seemingly inexplicable, and lightning fast.

A person–someone you speak to daily and care about with great propensity–can out of nowhere be removed from your life without you ever having expected it. And more often than not, the situation, even if the fault is partly ours, is out of our hands. That’s because, no matter how we feel about what someone else did to us or how our behaviors affected them, other people’s feelings matter, too, and just as much as ours do. Unfortunately, when we’re so caught up in those feelings, when we are blinded by tears or rage, we act just as blindly. We speak before we think. We thrust power into the universe that–once cast out of our persons–is often irreversible and irreparable.

That said, this is not a story solely about how my once-best friend Stephen hurt me, but instead one about how I hurt him, even if in a small and stupid way that in the grand scheme of things really played no part into our demise. More so, it’s a story about two people who cared about so many of the same things so much that, at some point, they lost sight of how much they cared about one another.

It is, like most things in this column, a story about love and about heartbreak.


The friendship of Stephen and I began in a similar way to most of my relationships with men. At first, neither of us really knew what to make of the other; it wasn’t that we disliked one another, but we weren’t sure that we needed to be friends; we discovered our similar interests, and we fell quickly into each other as friends. Our dynamic was anything but simple. Together, it always made sense. We were both intelligent, thoughtful, educated, successful, gay, creative, and goal-oriented. But our differences often made that dynamic all the more exciting. Stephen was seven years my senior and had been out of the closet his entire adult life. He had experiences I hadn’t lived. He was social, charismatic, serious, and loved sex. I, on the other hand, was not a people person, joked around too much, and had sex less so because I enjoyed it and more so because I loved the feeling of being desired. And in a lot of ways, that made the time we spent together more fun. It was nice to talk to someone I considered an intellectual equal and could someone who could show me a unique perspective. A lot of people had a tendency to hide those perspectives from me when we had conversations, but not Stephen. He was, much like I, assertive with his opinions and wanted to make sure they were accounted for by others.

But the one thing that we shared in common with one another that made us most alike—and maybe the one thing that to which we clung ourselves so tightly as if to make it another layer of skin, an outwardly part of us we wanted everyone to see—was how deeply impassioned we were. It didn’t matter if it was with our work, with the people we loved, or with the topics we cared about. We were creatures of deep and heavy-flowing care. And for a great time, that made us a truly dynamic duo. We were a super hero team that could have accomplished anything together, could have ruled empires if we were careful to play off one another’s strengths correctly. Even once, during a discussion at Michael’s Outpost over many glasses of wine, Stephen looked at me in the eyes, smiled that big, sweet, knowing smile, and said to me, “You know … if we really wanted to and if we work together, in a few years, we could run this city.”

I don’t think I ever realized how right he was about that until lately.

I did, however, take it into consideration, and I let it galvanize me to work harder.

Unfortunately, and I won’t say why or what it related to, the vision Stephen and I shared blurred a bit for both of us. And in the process of trying to adjust our focuses, our heads had turned just enough away from one another so that the bigger picture was a bit different for each of us. In truth, and this never stopped being true, the image I saw never stopped including Stephen. While he may have shifted a bit to the side and sometimes into my peripheral, he was always still there. That much never changed. And to be completely fair and honest, I’d like to think that the same was still true of me when it came to Stephen’s perspective. Although, in the process of trying to get to certain places, trying to make changes in the community that we both felt needed to be changed, our paths branched apart a bit, and our relationship as friends changed because of it.

Gone were the nights that Stephen’s boyfriend, Leo, would be out of town leaving Stephen and I to drink an entire bottle of vodka alone, talking politics, boys, and work. No longer were there dinners at Barnaby’s upon which we sat on the patio drinking wine until after the restaurant inside had closed and the wait staff had to come and ask us to leave so that they could lock up the back gate. The nights of walking into bars in Montrose as if we owned them and everyone around us were just our loyal subjects had become just distant memories—dreams that turned difficult to recall.

Stephen and I were no longer Stephen and I.

And that hurt me a little bit. A lot, actually. And it may have hurt him, too, or maybe he just didn’t notice how different things had become between us the way that I had. That didn’t mean that I hadn’t noticed, or that I didn’t want to try to fix things. But I guess if one half of a whole hasn’t realized that the whole is different, or that maybe its even a little broken, it’s difficult to mend it. Acclimation, natural and inherent, takes over, and because the new perspective is just that, one has a hard time realizing that the new has pushed aside some of the old.

I took it hard for a lot of reasons, the most evident of which was that Stephen was really the only gay, male friend I’d made—Ezra aside—that had never tried to sleep with me, to date me, and that had never expected anything of me in a sexual or romantic sense. Sure, he’d kissed me on my lips once when he was drunk and upset at Rich’s when another friend had treated him poorly. But we were both drunk that night—or, at least, he was. I’d been drunk earlier in the day, but sobered quickly in an effort to go and help my friend. And Drunk Stephen and Sober Stephen were never necessarily the same person. So, maybe the kiss was meaningless. Maybe it was one of gratitude. Maybe it was simply that we did love each other as much as two friends could without crossing a line, and that particular moment was the approach of a precipice neither of us needed to cross. Or maybe Stephen was just drunk. [Shrugging woman emoji]

It didn’t matter to me why it happened, because something about that kiss changed the dynamic of my relationship with Stephen from then on until its close. I couldn’t quite explain it to myself then, but a part of me was taken by him and from myself in those few seconds our lips had locked. It was, after all, a really nice kiss. To this day, it was probably one of the best I’ve had in my life. And that could just be because it was from someone that I’d never had anything other than a platonic relationship with that I really did love and care about, and that I knew cared about me. Still, a part of me—maybe the part that trusted others—slipped out from between my lips and into his and stayed there for him to do with what he pleased. And in losing it, whether it had been taken away or I’d given it to him willingly or I’d wanted him to take it away, my feelings about him transfigured a bit. Not changed necessarily. It was sort of like I said before. The focus had shifted to inspect different parts of them. I still looked at him fondly and thought, I’m lucky that this is my best friend, long after the fact. But the view I took in was somehow different than before.


Working with Pride Houston meant that I went to a handful of Pride-related conferences throughout my time with them. The most recent of which was a conference of select Prides from cities across the country that made up larger organizations across the country that made up CAPI, or the Consolidated Association of Pride. There were two other regional Pride organizations that made up the rest of the country, and each breaking down into smaller, citywide nonprofits. CAPI, however, was the organization to which Pride Houston subscribed.

We met in Austin in the spring for the weekend conference amongst our peers we only saw sparsely throughout the year; and before we’d even gotten to the car the morning before to head there from Houston, Stephen and I had spent the evening before at Barnaby’s discussing our expectations, what we hoped to learn, and, of course, that we were going to make a point of rooming together at the hotel. However, I’d stayed up the remainder of the night before trying to get work done and found myself exhausted that entire morning.

The ride there was a bit irritating in my sleepiness. Stephen and our friend Johnny gabbed most of the ride in the front seat to themselves, excluding Courtney, Graham, and I in the back at many times. I found myself a little jealous, I’ll admit. I didn’t like my best friend possibly making a new best friend. Still, Stephen stole Graham’s seat beside me in the back later and I decided to let it go. I was just tired, I though.

“I’m going to eat,” I told Stephen when we arrived at the hotel in Austin. “And then I’m going to put my things in our room and take a nap.”

“I think I am, too,” he told me. We’d had a few bottles of wine the night before, so it was unsurprising that he was tired, as well. Still, I’d been through a phentermine, an Adderall, and a little cocaine and still wasn’t getting that pep in my step I needed. Still, I figured a nap would serve me well considering all the after parties these conferences had a habit of hosting and the fact that we were planning to do rails of coke later. Aside from that, I’d brought with me a $150 dollar of champagne to drink in case there was cause for celebration at all, which I was sure we’d create even if there wasn’t.

After lunch, Stephen retreated to the hotel room before I could, where upon my return I found him flailing around in his bed wailing like a baby.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him as I crawled into my bed and closed my eyes. I was so comfortable I could have fallen asleep right then and there. Working overnight was one of the downfalls of being the boss, but it often proved necessary when there were things to be done before you left town for a full weekend.

But just as I was dozing off, the achy cries of Stephen only got louder.

“Damn it, Stephen,” I muttered, my blood-shot eyes flying open. “What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” he groaned. “It’s my stomach.”

“Jesus,” I said, sitting erect and sliding over to stand up. I slipped on my shoes, found my wallet, and said, “I’m going to get you some medicine. I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t have to—ohhh!” he cried out again.

Mhmm,” I mumbled, walking out the door and leaving him to die. I ran down to the little market in the hotel, found some Pepto Bismol, charged it to the room, then ran back toward the elevators. As I passed a bar, it occurred to me that maybe having a drink would help me sooth myself to sleep.

I walked in and found that my friends Courtney and Graham were sitting there drinking in the middle of the day.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be drinking before the panels?” I asked them as I pulled a chair up next to Courtney and ordered a drink.

“Who gives a fuck?” she asked.

“Yeah. We’re fucking adults. We can do whatever we want,” Graham said as he ordered another beer. I shrugged and ordered both a drink and a shot.

“I need to get a little sleep. I may skip this afternoon’s panels and just do the ones tomorrow and Sunday,” I told them as I downed my shot and followed it up with a drink. “I’m so tired.”

“Why don’t you go take a nap while nothing’s going on?” Graham asked. I flashed him the Pepto. “Stephen is sick. And like a typical man, he’s whining like a little bitch baby. So I’m going to shove these so far down him I’m going to literally lay hands on his stomach ache.”

Courtney kind of looked at me funny for a moment, then said, “Did … did you come down here to get him medicine … and then stop at the bar on the way back while he’s upstairs in pain?”

I slurped down the rest of my drink.

“Blow me,” I said before tossing some cash onto the bar and rushing back up to our room. Inside, Stephen was snoring loudly, which normally wouldn’t have bothered me. However, since I’d probably begin snoring when I fell asleep, too, I elected to just let him get some rest. I set the Pepto down on the table next to his bed and slipped out, sending him a text to let him know it was there when he woke.

I wouldn’t end up taking a nap that day. I’d try to make sure Stephen didn’t die, go to my panels, get distracted by work calls from Houston, go to dinner and have margaritas, pop open that bottle of champagne with Stephen, and pretty much everything else I could have done. But I wouldn’t fall asleep.


After Mexican food at Uncle Julio’s in Downtown Austin, Johnny, Courtney, Graham,  and Stephen—who had made a miraculous recovery at the sound of the word ‘margaritas’—all of us but Johnny were doing bump-after-bump of coke in the bathroom before going out. We had gone through the champagne and had a few drinks at dinner and were now bouncing off the walls for an after party hosted by Deep Eddie’s Vodka and Austin Pride. My lack of sleep, however, was turning me into a raging cunt monster from hell.

We made our way down to Fourth St. onto Austin’s gay strip stopping at Sellers Underground for the Deep Eddie’s party and then the traveled next door to the nightclub Rain for the after-after party. Graham, as he normally was at these sorts of functions, was silly drunk and had gone MIA. Courtney was being harassed by a girl from Austin who had grown infatuated with her in the ten minutes they’d known one another. Johnny was carrying on with Stephen as annoyingly as before while the latter was awaiting the arrival of Leo. At Rain we sat in a cabana, laughing with friends from Prides far and wide. The girl from Austin Pride and Johnny were working my exhausted, drunken nerves and I was without filter the entire evening. I didn’t mean to be hateful to them, but it was almost as though there was a pitching machine shooting hate baseballs at them every time either opened their mouths. At one point, Johnny even looked at me and asked, “You don’t like me very much. Do you?”

It was untrue. I adored Johnny. He was just … I don’t know … on my nerves. Even when the very-attractive bar manager approached me at a table, complimented my hair, bought me a drink, and gave me his phone number, I was a few smiles shy of charming.

Everyone sort of went their separate ways, and I was too tired to continue by one o’clock. When I went into the bathroom to do another bump of coke before walking back to the hotel, I found that it was gone from my cigarette pack, which was enough to send me back to the room alone. I entered the room just before two and locked the deadbolt behind me. I then crawled into my bed and grabbed my leftovers from Uncle Julio’s where I had barely eaten, ate them, watched something on Netflix and began to doze off.

Anyone who would’ve found me probably would’ve assumed I was dead.


I woke to the sound of the room door slamming around 7:30 AM. I peered through my eyelids to find Stephen stomping around the hotel room. I took note of the time on the alarm clock and then looked over toward him, “Where have you been?”

“Oh, I’ve been here,” Stephen snapped.

Stephen continued around the room in some sort of fit as I rolled around over something grainy in the bed beneath me. I reached between the sheets and grabbed a handful of what I was rolling over.

Rice. Mexican rice.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him.

“Are you serious?” he yelled, spinning around on one heel to face me. “You locked me out of the room last night. I tried calling you like twenty times, beat on the door, had Graham and Johnny call you, and finally had to go downstairs to the desk to ask the management to let me in. But because you had the deadbolt locked, they had to break the door in.”

Whaaaaaaaaaat? is pretty much all I remember thinking to myself. It made sense though. A force of habit I’d practiced since I was a young seventeen-year-old living alone was always to lock the deadbolt. I flew out of bed and looked at the door, which had, in fact, been beaten in.

“Omigod, Stephen.” I said as both my hands flew up to my mouth. “I am so sorry.” I wasn’t even sure what else to say. I went back to the bed and pulled back the covers. Beneath them lay my Uncle Julio’s to-go box and the sheets were accented by yellow grains of rice. “What the fuck did I do last night?” I asked, trying to remember anything about what had gone on.

“I don’t know. You were in a bad mood. You left the club before any of us. And then this.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “God, I knew I should’ve taken a nap. I’m so sorry, Stephen. I don’t know how I can make this better but I am so sorry.”

“It’s whatever,” he told me as he rushed out of the room.

He’d come to get over it as the day went on, even laugh about it later on in our friendship. But what I felt about disappointing Stephen and putting him through that cut deeper than I’d expected it might. Part of me wanted to cry about it, another part of me wanted to go and find him in the hotel and beg for his forgiveness. Instead, I flopped back down into my ricey bed and thought about what I’d done. Stephen and I had gotten incredibly close over the last year. The idea of losing his friendship over one stupid night was like getting punched in the gut and having the wind knocked out of me. And while that wasn’t what would happen, or at least not why it would happen later, the guilt ate me alive for a long time to come.


That story is the one I always think about when I try to rationalize why Stephen and I couldn’t be friends any longer. It’s not the reason—not even close. But somehow remembering that first time Stephen was just sort of mad at me over something I’d done is a lot easier than thinking about the other times when I watched anger swell in his eyes and the veins on his neck stick out like snakes sliding under bed sheets.

The ‘why’ isn’t irrelevant, but it may be the one thing that’s too personal to share here. And that’s because I took it a lot harder than I did any sort of breakup or bad date. It probably wasn’t harder, but it was certainly different, just like our friendship after that kiss. The reason for that could be because Stephen and I only ever had a platonic relationship. But it could also be because he was—for better or worse—the one person in the world I really trusted for a very long time. But within that, we’d lost one another at some point. We’d fixated on goals that were important to us; I’d slumped into a depression I couldn’t seem to find my way out of for a very long time; and Stephen had taken on more responsibility than he’d had when we’d first become friends. We split like a hair and continued to split until we reached up to the root and all that held us together was the follicle from which we both stemmed. And even that part seemed temporary. Soon the head would molt, and we’d fall away and hit the ground or catch the wind and part ways forever.

I said and did things that I know hurt Stephen. I did them in reaction to things that Stephen had done to me—or, at least, that’s how I justified them to myself. Because Stephen was doing things to hurt me, too. And whether or not he was doing them on purpose, I was more comfortable telling myself I was standing up for myself—which, in truth, I was—than admitting that I was wrong. But even in defense of myself, I was still hurting someone that I loved very much. Someone I may have even been in love with a little. I don’t know. When I think about it now, it sure sounds like I might have been. The jealousy, the fixation on that kiss, the deep concern as to whether or not he’d hate me for locking him out of that hotel room. But if that were the case, I didn’t understand it then—wasn’t cognizant of it. Although it would’ve made sense, considering our friendship’s genesis did come from a crush I had on him that I thought had fled when we’d gotten close. Or maybe it wasn’t even that. Maybe I was so caught up in my shit with Ezra at the time that I clung to Stephen because he was the only man who had ever come into my life expecting nothing of me, stuck around for what felt like a long time, then left just when I’d convinced myself another shoe wasn’t going to drop. That said, it could have been something like both of those things. Not quite in love, not quite because he was the only consistent man in my life, but maybe in love with the fact that that’s what made our friendship so special. Maybe I was in love with our friendship.

All I know now is the moment that I noticed the change was that night that Stephen kissed me. And it’s funny to me to consider that, because I’m sure that if you asked him, Stephen might only vaguely remember it happening and laugh it off as drunken silliness. But it wasn’t silly to me. Because somewhere in that short-lived, somewhat uncomfortable, but nevertheless sweet kiss, I’d lost the part of me that trusted people. And after that, something I worked for years and years to gain, I’d gotten back. Maybe it didn’t change the friendship as much as I thought it had. Maybe it just changed me.

I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure. And Stephen and I will never—probably can never—go back to being who we were before. And whether I was in love with him or I loved who he was to me is irrelevant. What matters is that the end of our friendship was a heartbreaking thing for me, because it meant that that love—at least to some extent—had to be over. Even if I still felt it for him when I saw him, holding back the urge to ask if he wanted to go drink wine at Barnaby’s or gossip about our other friends, the sharing of it was over. And it must have been for Stephen, too, which I guess I have to understand. Because I did hurt him. I was a dick. He was a dick, too, don’t get me wrong. But there was more than enough blame to share and I didn’t do anything to fix it when I had the chance.

So, yeah. This is a story about love. And it’s a story about heartbreak. And somehow it might be one of the saddest ones for me to write, because I still do love Stephen, and I think about him every day. But as I’ve grown distant from the situation and from Stephen, I’ve learned something more important:

Loving someone sometimes means letting them be happy without you, because sometimes your own feelings stand in the way of their happiness and of yours.

Like Thelma & Louise

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 6

(for “Stephen”)

platonic love

noun, often capitalized P

1: love conceived by Plato as ascending from passion for the individual to contemplation of the universal and ideal

2: a close relationship between two persons in which sexual desire is nonexistent or has been suppressed or sublimated 


Of all the stereotypes that exist and are for the most part unfounded and untrue about the culture of gay men, there is one that has stood the test of time because of its extreme accuracy. That is that amongst gay men, platonic love is nearly nonexistent. Maybe it has something to do with the hormones of a person who is biologically male, or maybe it’s just simply due to the fact that sex has never been more accessible than it is today. After all, people—whether gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, or otherwise—are complicated machines. To presumptuously agree that all gay men have had sex with most of their gay male friends would be to generalize, and therefore further perpetuate the stereotype. Still, it’s kind of true. Furthermore, Plato’s actual theory of Platonism delves much deeper into philosophy than just human emotion—extending into ideas, numerical values, and much more. With that in mind, it only makes sense that even one facet of his theory—that which regards love and lust—would be difficult to reason.

But it is that complication—and that of all great philosophers and their ideas—that makes life interesting. It’s the whys and the hows and—more often than not—the what-the-fucks. It’s these little idiosyncrasies that keep us, as humans, on our toes and allow us to experience emotion, whether that be love, hate, elation, and often just downright anxiety.

Still, as much as I hate to say it and to therefore presume a generalization, there’s little deniability regarding the fact that gay men don’t often have meaningful—or even unmeaningful—relationships that don’t, at some point, involve sex. I say ‘little,’ of course, because a gay man will often meet another gay man that they are in no way sexually attracted to and for whom they retain no romantic feelings. And every now and then, once in a blue moon—if the men in question have not written off one another due to the aforementioned fact—those two gay men will begin to converse and find that they do have ideas and ambitions and personality traits in common that will bring them together again. They may be forced to do this by work, or brought together by a mutual friend. But if that seemingly mythical rarity holds true, the two might go for coffee at Siphon or a $10 bottle of wine at Barnaby’s. And there, they might spark a kinship and see one another again, and then again after that. All the while, and as sparsely as the occasion may arise, those two gay men might become friends and maintain that Platonism throughout their friendship over a long period of time.

I have had this experience once or twice, but most significantly with my best friend, Stephen. I call Stephen my best friend, not entirely sure whether or not he realizes we kind of are best friends at this point. Although, even the story of our friendship rests just on the border of this theory as a whole, considering that when Stephen and I met, I was attracted to him. He was cute and smart and hardworking, a chairman for Pride Houston. For a while, Alice and I even exclusively referred to him as ‘Hot Stephen.’ My affinity for him, after meeting him all of two times, led me to join the nonprofit as a chairman, as well. Although, it was our time there together that quashed that affection for him. He never became less attractive or any dumber—quite the contrary, he actually only got better looking and his intelligence revealed itself more as we spent time together.

Yet somehow, my romantic interest in Stephen extinguished naturally (and quite quickly at that), and the two of us grew close as friends over the course of nearly two years. And after a while, I had settled into the resolve that Stephen had become my best friend—my best friend for whose boyfriend I also came to care dearly; my best friend I shared secrets with that I was often scared to admit to myself; my best friend with whom I discussed our sex lives and our families; my best friend who became a part of not just my personal life, but my work life, as well.

Stephen was my best friend—or at least, my best gay male friend—regardless of whether or not I was his. And just as quickly as I’d romanticized him after only meeting those fateful two times, any feelings of sexual ardor I ever had for him—no matter how short a time they may have existed—evaporated from me.

That is until the day that Stephen had to go and fuck that up for the both of us.


I was making the short trip down to Galveston to meet with some advertisers for the magazine and to have a Sunday Funday, as we gays love to do. With me was an entourage of friends, which included, but was not limited to, Ezra, Alice, my friend Derek and his partner (also named Derrick), and a few others. The day had not gone by without event, nor without sobriety after a fair share of drinks for all of us. What started out as a handful of quick meetings at the gay bar Rumors on the Seawall turned into several handfuls of alcohol, another meeting at Lafitte’s, margaritas at Salsas, more meetings and drinks back at Rumors, and one final meeting (and more drinks) at 23rd Street Station.

Yes, we’d hit all the gay bars, attended about eight meetings with drag show directors, bar owners, Pride celebration leadership, Galveston socialites, and many others like them. And due to the fact that I’d popped a few prescription pills that morning, had a handful of tequila shots, drank my weight in vodka, and paid for virtually none of it, I was drunk before we’d even made it to our second location.

My buzz had lightened some by the time we’d made our way to 23rd, but the last two meetings proved difficult for me to get through, as retention and communication were not two of my strong suits at that particular moment in time. Still, I flew through them just before 9 PM, and checked my phone to see when we’d need to start heading back to Houston.

Upon doing so, I discovered the inevitable text from Stephen, who had also gone out that night back in Houston. Originally planning to come with us for Sunday Funday with his boyfriend, Leo, Stephen had at the last minute decided he’d stay in Houston to do some work, as he was doing his best not to drink for a full month. The text, however, was a clear indicator to me that he’d slipped through the cracks of his four week plan and had been drinking. That’s sort of the beauty of having a platonic friend, you’re so undistracted by lust and desire that you pay more attention to their mannerisms and personality quirks.

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And I knew that if Stephen was asking my location, it meant he either was or needed to be drinking.

No sooner than I’d hit the ‘SEND’ button on the text, Stephen was calling to drunkenly lament about a fight he’d had with one of his few other platonic, gay friends. It was a nasty debacle, one that I knew—even in my own drunkenness and without hyperbole—could be potentially damaging to their friendship.

“I just feel like I really need to be around my real friends right now, and around people who don’t treat me this way and that care about me and appreciate me and that I care about and appreciate.” Stephen was the king of run-on sentences when he was drunk. Meanwhile, I’d stepped up to a urinal to pee while he went on about the situation.

“All right. We’ll be there in 30 minutes,” I told him, zipping my scrotum by mistake into my jeans. “Ouch! Fuck!”

“No! No, don’t let me take you away from your day in Galveston. Stay there. I’ll be fine.”

“No, it’s okay. I just got out of my last meeting. We were about to leave anyway.”

That part was no lie. We’d been drinking since noon, and everyone had all but hit their walls. I, on the other hand, didn’t mind going to Stephen, due simply to my own social anxiety that was nearly symptomatic of being around so many people for such a long period of time. It would be a nice change of pace and a good way to decompress before going home—or so I thought.

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I rounded the herds and we left the island. I explained to Ezra, Alice, and Jared (another friend who’d come along with us, and the magazine’s photographer) the situation and the urgency to return home. So, we made our way back to the city hastily, and I returned Jared and Ezra to their cars before Alice and I made our way to Rich’s.

Upon entering, I was faced with the reminder that Bunnies on the Bayou was having their annual Snow Bunnies event that night, which led to me having to pay a cover charge despite the fact that it was only just 9 o’clock on a Sunday. “Fuckers,” I mumbled under my breath as I handed over $10 for both Alice and I to the Bunny who also happened to be my former co-chair at Pride. I wasn’t his biggest fan.

We found Stephen on the patio. I approached him from behind and grabbed him by both sides of his waist, which resulted in him jumping off the ground and nearly knocking over another person’s drink.

“So, I see that your month without alcohol has come to a crashing halt,” I teased.

“Girl, you started this. You gave me Prosecco yesterday.” That much was true. But it was less than a full glass and it was lunchtime, after all.

“Thank you for coming,” he told me with eyes that were not only glassy from being drunk, but red and puffy from having, at the very least, fought back tears. Stephen ordered the two of us a drink, and Alice sat tiredly on a bench against the back wall while he went back into his spiel about the argument between he and his friend. I could see almost the entire thing playing out in my head. His friend, Mike, had probably been taken aback as a drunk, hurt Stephen launched into a diatribe about how Mike had been a shitty friend. Sad as it may be, the argument was almost the perfect centerpiece to any night out amongst the gays.

All I did was listen to Stephen. It didn’t feel like he really wanted my advice; and in being friends for the short time we had been, I’d learned when he was looking for advice and when he wasn’t. This was one of those opportunities I was meant to learn from in the art of listening and empathy—not two of my strong suits. Once he’d calmed down some, Stephen and I discussed Pride and our lives and things that let his mind wander away from the showdown with Mike. Truthfully, Stephen probably wasn’t much drunker than I was. In fact, I’d seen him far more drunk at many times during our friendship. Something about him, however, was different than anything I’d ever seen in Stephen before.

Certainly, I’d seen Stephen disappointed and angry and upset. But as I watched him talk and tried my best to keep up, I could sense something about him to which I hadn’t before bore witness.

He was wounded. There he was, after two weeks of not drinking (and that’s just wine; he hadn’t had liquor in nearly three months), alone in a busy club where he’d just taken an emblematic blow to the head and to the heart. The only friend he’d come there with had abandoned him for the very people they’d been fighting about in the first place, and he had no one else.

I was glad to be there for him. I was glad to be his friend when there weren’t any others within reach—or maybe even when there weren’t any others willing to extend their capacities to his emotional needs. Stephen was not a reactionary, nor was he terribly emotional. He was one of those grown-up, gay men who dealt with his issues by taking a reasonable, pragmatic approach to them. This Stephen—the one who had obviously cried a bit and had been left to feel the humiliation and exile of feeling as though no one wants you around—was new to me. And though I wasn’t glad to see him melancholy, I did accept and appreciate the fact that I was the friend he’d called to his side.

Soon enough, Leo arrived, and Alice and I prepared to leave the couple at Rich’s to enjoy themselves. As we parted ways, Stephen leaned in to hug me, planting a soft and sisterly kiss on the cheek, then turned to Alice, who—devoid of all social skills—awkwardly offered her hand to him for a nice, sturdy shake. I then hugged Leo, after which Stephen intercepted yet another hug from me.

Only this time, as I pulled away at the close, Stephen clasped his hands around my what-should-be biceps, and firmly gripped me in a momentary pause. The world seemed to slow down then, and I found a genuine confusion invading my mind as to what he was doing. Although, before I could generate any logic or reason, Stephen leaned forward and kissed me right on the mouth, right in front of God, Alice, his boyfriend, and half the Houston gay community standing around.

And for a moment, there was a flutter inside my chest. It was the kind that comes when those butterflies inside of you take flight, and their wings tickle your insides as they bounce from wall-to-wall looking for a way out. It was exactly as I’d have imagined it to be back when I was interested in Stephen. Scruffy from his beard. Soft from his lips. And somehow tranquil, in spite of the anxiety that was building at a lightning-quick speed inside of me. I mean, this was Stephen, my now-best friend, but someone we’d also formerly and affectionately referred to as Hot Stephen when Alice and I first met him. But there was another part of me that was much louder and much less unprecedented. It was a voice in my head and my heart that screamed, “No! We’re sisters! Sisters don’t do this! Sis, stop! Sis! Sissy!”

Then, although it seemed to last a lifetime, it was over. Stephen relinquished me and without another word, Alice and I silently trudged back through Rich’s toward the door, my freshly-kissed mouth agape the entire time. Both Alice and I decided against speaking of it on the ride home, but we both knew what had just happened.

Anthony Ramirez had been kissed on the mouth by Hot Stephen. If you’d told him this about two years prior, he would have called you a liar, but also jumped for joy. Now? Not so much. 

But Anthony Ramirez—me, that is—wasn’t jumping for joy. Instead, I just stood around confused as to why that had happened. Sure, I could chalk it up to the fact that Stephen was very, very drunk. But it didn’t account for all the times I’d seen him much drunker and how he’d not ever put his lips on me then. I could also argue that we’d just shared an intimate moment where Stephen was feeling a great deal of pain, and I was the only person who’d arrived to help—making it not a kiss of romance, but one of gratitude and kinship. It was the type of kiss Thelma and Louise shared before they took their fateful dive off the cliff at the end of the film. And truthfully, wasn’t that what we were? Thelma and Louise? Ride-or-dies? Laverne and Shirley? Tia and Tamera? 

And maybe that’s all that it was. After all, the American culture is one of the very few that equates all lip-to-lip kissing to a signifier of romance. Around the world, a kiss is nothing more than a symbol of many kinds of affection. Certainly it was nothing more than a one-off thing executed only after the culmination of many drinks and many more feelings of sorrow and closeness.

Still, it begged the question in my mind for days after: was that all it was?

I mean, while very different people, there were many medians in which Stephen and I met due to similar interests, likes, dislikes, and opinions. We were both educated gay men who were informed and cultured and enjoyed the arts and talking about sex and boys and drinking wine at virtually no cost to either of us. Was it possible that if Stephen and I had met at another time in our lives—had he not been involved and had I been a couple of years older—that the Platonism Plato so convolutedly posited may not have existed?

To be clear, I knew then and know now that Stephen isn’t attracted to me. But at the height of emotions, whether it be sadness or gratitude or lust or fear or joy, our perceptions as humans tend to change. And, as discussed before, humans are not simple creatures. We’re ruled by those emotions—even the most unemotional of us, like Stephen. Could it be that under different circumstances, though circumstances that would have still started our relationship as just friends, our friendship might have forged another path on the road?

Possibly, though not probably. Our entire lives would have required revision, from time of birth to college applications to the cars we drove to how much we drank on any particular Sunday night.

One thing is for certain, though Stephen and I haven’t discussed this since it occurred, as he probably doesn’t remember doing it:

I got closer to my friend that night. Nothing came of that silly kiss, as I knew it wouldn’t because neither of us wanted anything more from one another than a friend who could be at Rich’s when the other heartbroken and drunk by 9 PM to tell you they love you and that you’re worth more. And that’s the beauty of what Stephen and I continue to have.

Even in the moments of gentle brushes of hands against thighs, or of fingers locking together in a moment of intensity, or even those times rarer still than platonic love between gay men when you kiss on the mouth, true friendship supersedes and remains palpable and pure and true. Even when the Platonism is called into question and Plato momentarily begins to turn over in his grave, the reality sets back in and you remember exactly what your place is in that person’s life, and theirs in yours … even if you find yourself questioning it from time-to-time.

But that’s the beauty of real platonic loves. They’re insightful, and introspective, and rare like fossils. And just like fossils, just like Thelma and Louise, just like Plato, those loves teach us things we absolutely have to learn.

And if we’re lucky enough to have even one of those sorts of relationships in our entire lives, that’s magic.

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Shot Me in the Heart

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 3

Here it is as best as I can explain it:

Love is something that happens when someone becomes so overwhelmed by the good in someone else that they can’t get enough of it. They crave it in their life at almost all times. At first, it creates a sensation of being high. It’s euphoric. It’s magical. After that, it’s something different. Like smoking several cigarettes in the car. Or biting your nails when you’re deep in thought. It’s habitual. Love, like all things, changes based on necessity and familiarity. That’s not to say that the emotion has changed. The care felt for another doesn’t go away. Sure, it takes a little more effort to make the heart swell or for the butterflies to take flight. But it is – all the same – now a habit.

That’s because being in such deep infatuation – like biting your nails or smoking cigarettes or drinking in the early afternoon – is an addiction. It’s a compulsion. A preoccupancy. And like all addictions, once the snag is hit – the part that causes great pain – it becomes difficult not to love or feel great fondness. That’s because it is habitual, just like taking a pain pill every six hours or drinking eight cups of coffee every day. At a certain point, you forget what you did before you were initially so shot in the heart by Baby Cupid’s arrow.

I was not in love – although I did feel a great fondness – but I had hit my snag.

Like so many other things, it started over a $10 bottle of wine at Barnaby’s.

“So,” my friend, Hayden, began as he took a sip of his wine. “You met someone?”

My eyes darted up from the menu.

“He met someone,” Stephen answered for me.

“I have not met anyone. I mean … I did meet someone. But we aren’t dating,” I corrected.

“Do you like him?” Hayden asked.

Stephen nearly spit out his wine. “More than he likes these $10 bottles of wine.”

I choked on the cabernet and spit some of it back into my glass. “Fuck you!” I told him before looking back to Hayden. It was just after two o’clock and Stephen and I were fresh out of a Pride function. Hayden was there to drink with me after lunch, but that hadn’t prevented us from starting at lunch.

“What’s his name?”

“It doesn’t matter what his name is,” I replied, shooting my nose back down toward the menu I really had no intention of ordering from. In only its first moments, the conversation had already caused me to lose my appetite.

“His name is Ezra,” Stephen answered, again.

I slapped my menu down. “Could you please stop speaking for me?”

“Have you asked him out?” Hayden asked me.

“It doesn’t matter, because he’s just a friend and we aren’t going to date,” I tell the both. “Now, could we talk about something else?”

“Why don’t you want to date him?” Hayden inquired.

“He does,” Stephen chimed back in.

“Enough!”

“Why are you being so weird about this?” Hayden went on, pouring himself more wine and then ordering another bottle.

“I’m not being weird about anything. Ezra is just a friend. We hang out like friends. We talk like friends. We are literally not going to be anything more than friends, regardless of whether or not I want that, because he does not want it. And I’m being a grown-up and continuing to be his friend because he has very few other friends in the city and I like being his friend because we have very similar interests. Now, if neither of you would mind, I am going to the restroom.”

Anyone who has ever sat on the patio at the original Barnaby’s in Montrose may be able to tell you that one of the supporting beams that stands near the door alleged to be holding up the patio ceiling is actually of no use whatsoever. It’s screwed into the ceiling, but the bottom actually is raised about two inches off of the ground. It was a bit like my friends in that moment – appearing supportive, but providing no support at all.

As I stood up and downed the remainder of the wine in my glass, I whipped around to face the door and accidentally ran face-first into that very beam.

There it was. The corporeal manifestation of my snag.  


Hayden was the type of friend who truly wanted what was best for you, and was happy to do anything to help you get it. If it were sex you were desperately in need of, he’d happily take you to a bar, get you shit-face drunk, and poach out potential partners for the evening. If you needed to unwind and get everything off your chest, he would be there to listen, and then to take you out to a bar, get you shit-face drunk, and finally poach out potential partners. In reality, Hayden was nothing like that levitating beam at Barnaby’s. He’d do anything for anyone he cared about.

I returned to the table and poured more wine. “I’m having a party next weekend,” I said after a few moments of silence. “Bring booze,” I instructed.

“Who’s all coming?” Hayden asked.

“I can’t,” Stephen said. “Leo and I are going to see my parents.”

“Will Ezra be there?”

“What is your obsession with this thing with Ezra and me? Which, by the way, is not even a thing. You’re just insatiably obsessed with it.”

“Oh, honey,” he went on it. “It’s gonna be a thing.”

“What-the-fuck-ever.”

“I’ll help you,” Hayden said.

“I don’t need help!” I nearly screamed. It was fortunate that no one else was on the patio, otherwise I may have turned a few heads. So, I took a deep breath and downed the entire glass of wine before very quietly leaning in to say, “I just got out of a relationship with a man this summer, and I’m not looking for another one right now. And I most certainly am not in a place to set up expectations from a man that does not want to be with me and go through the same pitiful spiral of rejection I’ve gone through a dozen other times with a dozen other men.”

“Ezra is not other men,” Hayden insisted.

“That well may be,” I snapped. “But if he doesn’t have feelings for me, then I am perfectly content with remaining friends. I may be a jaded, hopeless romantic who’s been screwed over more times than I can count by men, but that does not make me a fool.”

Stephen’s eyes shot to and fro between Hayden and me throughout the entire exchange. I knew Hayden meant well. I knew he wanted good things for me. This, however, was something I’d come to learn was not going to change. I had accepted that.

“Well,” Hayden went on, seeking the last word. “You know how it goes. You say you’re fine with it. You get in a little too deep. You don’t say what you’re feeling. You go crazy. You self-medicate with alcohol.”

I huffed out a shot of hot air from my nose, completely over the conversation.  But instead of getting upset or irritated, I settled back into my chair properly, grabbed the open bottle of cabernet, and poured myself another glass. Then, as I lit a cigarette, I fumed the smoke over our heads and told him, “I’ll have you know that I drink regardless of how I’m feeling.”


By 8 o’clock the night of the party, I was royally fucked up. It was the kind of drunk you could really only get if you were having a party in your own home where you didn’t have to drive or try to navigate your Lyft app. I wasn’t quite sloppy drunk, but I knew I wasn’t far from it. There were about fifteen of us gathered at the house, though at varying times, and each of us had had more than our fair share to drink amongst other recreational proclivities. Someone had brought weed, which had never really been my thing. But the fact that I had so many people around me all at once had heightened my anxiety, and I hoped it would take the edge off.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the fact that I might, at some point, begin to cross-fade between being drunk and being high.

At a certain point, the entire group was pretty heavy in conversation of which I had little-to-no interest. All I remember is listening to Ezra make a point next to me as we all stood around the island in my kitchen and my phone suddenly dinging in my hand. I turned down to look at it, seeing a text from Hayden, who stood just across the room.

Oh, girl. You’ve got it bad.

I whipped my head back up to look at Hayden so quickly that I feared the affliction of whiplash. I moseyed around the island, put my arms around his waist, rested my chin on his shoulder, and whispered into his ear, “I will kill you.” He laughed it off, not even humoring me.

“You should have seen the way you were staring at him,” he told me with another chuckle. “And you can, because I took pictures,” he went on as he held his phone up to show me.

“I’m stoned out of my mind. If a Southern Baptist minister were talking to me I’d be looking at him like that,” I told him as he scrolled through the photos on his phone. “And stop being such a creep.”

I turned around and dashed up the stairs of my house to the second floor, opened the door to my bedroom, and locked myself inside. I needed a moment.

Having just moved, nothing in my room was assembled or put away, so I fell to the floor onto the mattress I’d be sleeping on that night. I watched as the ceiling fan slowly spun around over my head, mesmerized in all my highness. It wasn’t long before one of the ceiling fan blades transfigured into the image of Ezra, running around in circles. Another one shifted into the shape of my ex-boyfriend, Parker, whom I’d only been out of a relationship with for a few months. A third blade morphed into a man named Taylor I’d once been quite enamored by, and the fourth and fifth turned into myself and a bow-and-arrow with which I chased the three men around in circles, shooting little red arrows at them like Baby Cupid.

Parker and I had little in common other than the fact that we were both staunch liberals who had amazing sex. Taylor, on the other hand, I’d only met a few times and developed a weird crush on because of our short yet impressionable interaction. Ezra was a little bit different than both of them.

If I listened closely enough, I could almost hear them screaming for me to leave them alone.

I think what I’d found so devastatingly attractive about Ezra was how much unalike we were. I mean, certainly, he and I had more in common than almost any of the people in my life interest-wise. But that didn’t mean everything about us or our likes and dislikes was entirely congruent. For instance, Ezra could be found eating Panda Express at 7 o’clock in the morning at an airport lounge if he’d missed a flight. I, on the other hand, found Panda Express to remind my palate of hot dog water. Ezra was nerdier than I, though I found that to be endearing. I was much more emotionally driven than Ezra, who at times could come off as devoid of any emotion at all, despite the fact that I knew there to be some in him. We were bred of different genera, and no one who knew us well enough would say otherwise.

But it was that about him – coupled with the fact that he was constantly unimpressed by me – that I found most compelling. He didn’t applaud my every triumph nor did he boast of me to others. And although the attraction to those qualities could simply be traced to having a childhood exclusive of a father, it made sense to me.

Ezra was, to the say the least, a pastiche of incongruities. A mosaic of non-matching tiles. He had a way of surprising me with the words he said and the things he did. Like showing up unexpectedly when I performed onstage, or taking up for me when I was backed into a corner. It was the culmination of things that you don’t notice about a person when you first meet them, but that come with time and friendship. And true, it did sadden me that he didn’t have feelings for me. But I wasn’t going to be devastated by it, either.

Rejection is one thing. It’s hard, but manageable.

The humiliation of letting someone see how they can affect you – that’s a dragon much more difficult to slay.

The sound of the door opening distracted me, and I turned to see my friend Iris standing in the doorway looking down at me.

“You good?” she asked me, just as our other friend, Miranda, popped up behind her at the door.

“Never better,” I replied, looking back toward the ceiling fan to watch myself shooting at those boys. Only now we were all gone. The ceiling fan was just a ceiling fan, and I had been better than I was in that moment.

Back downstairs, the number of people was slowly decreasing. We drank a little more, smoked a little more, but soon the only people left were Hayden (who was mostly sober, but leaving soon to go to the bar), Ezra (who was just as cross-faded as I was), and myself. Hayden was washing the dishes, of which Ezra was extremely complimentary.

“He’s doing your dishes for you. You’re going to owe him big time,” he told me at one point.

I could only roll my eyes and say, “If only you had any idea how many of his messes I’ve had to clean up.”

“Can’t you just put some kind of spell on these dishes to make them clean themselves?” Hayden asked me as he stuck a wine glass into the dishwasher.

“I don’t cast spells on dishes. I only cast them on boys,” I mumbled, drinking more.

“As long as you aren’t casting them on me,” Ezra muttered.

In my life, I’ve probably only been left speechless a handful of times. I’ve got one of the quickest wits of anyone that I know, and my flair for histrionics only amplifies this when I need it most. But sitting there at the island, looking at Ezra with his sleepy eyes and his foot bobbing up and down, I couldn’t quite summon my ingenuity. And maybe that’s because Ezra had done it again. He’d found something to say that had taken me by such surprise that I wasn’t sure how to react. Sure, I knew he didn’t like me. What was shocking was that this normally kind creature had the sharpness of tongue to bring up the subject with such little sensitivity.

I looked away, finally muttering, “Don’t be such a narcissist,” before walking away.

Soon Hayden dismissed himself, but Ezra was still too far gone to be driving anywhere. Instead, he ate, and we found something to watch on TV while we rested on separate ends of the couch. I think I may have tried talking to him about nothing in particular, and a few times, I think he even mumbled something back. But when I looked over at him, he’d fallen asleep. So, I leaned over a little onto the cushion behind me, still a safe distance away, and did the same.

As my eyes fluttered open and then closed over-and-over for the next few minutes, I kept them glued to him. There he was, the maker of the snag just resting on the couch next to me without any idea of the complication in my mind. He was complicated, which – as much as I may have hated to say it – only intrigued me more. Still, I had been right when I told Hayden that nothing would ever be between Ezra and me but a good friendship. And even if I’d not doubted it for a second, he had made that vocally clear tonight.

So, I fell asleep, still high enough to dream of chasing a boy with a bow and arrow. Only, this time as I shot the arrow, it hit the boy directly in the back, then he tripped over a root in the ground and fell on his face. And when I finally caught up to him and stood there to try and help him up, it became quite clear that the boy I was chasing was neither Taylor, nor Parker, nor Ezra.

It was me.

It was me having been struck in the heart, having hit my snag, and finally crying about something I’d told myself I’d be okay with because I hadn’t been in love.

Just great fondness.