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Poem: How It’s Done

How it’s Done Safe Sex Gay Poem SP Mulroy
Photo by Jacob Fuglsang Mikkelsen

how it’s done

after Sharon Olds’ “Sex Without Love”

If you’re smart, you do it safely—
you will wear the barrier, a second skin
that fits your vulnerable hungers
(and with practice) it will glide

on to you, natural as sweat
and calculated. Serpentine
the scales that you must grow
to tangle limb and teeth into another.

Fingers slither between fingers, laced
in hair and violence and in need, and this
is how the warm bridge builds itself
from wooden ritual and necessary glue.

As in sculpture, muscles swollen
to a stone intensity, and warm rain
weeping from your faces leaving
no mark. Unlike sculpture, muscles

melt, and the embrace is transient;
colossal wreck, the bare and boundless
limb and heaving chest, and sudden
strange departures. Still, no void

where nothing has been taken, nothing
filled, and if you have been listening
and careful, you’ll have worn your armor
and can rest, untouchable. Amused.

Do you believe me broken? Bitter? Vandalized?
Ask yourself, then, what is lost in lieu of risk.


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Much Ado About Stephen

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

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.

Crushed

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 19

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us back to Mason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I resisted … obviously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, no.

“I had one in Ohio last week …”

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

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

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

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

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

I desire few things in life:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romance His Pants Off

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 22

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

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

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

God how I’d matured.

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

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

Jesus I needed to get a grip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is this?” they all asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” Michelle asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendship … or dick?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could have killed him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I’m walking with you,” he explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, can I have a hug?” he asked.

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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