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Less Than Butterflies, No. 14, Pt. III

“Maybe we can be each other’s soul mates and then we can let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with.”

—Carrie Bradshaw

After picking up Sam, we headed over to Rich’s so that Sam could make some rounds and see other friends before he left. Neither Gwen nor I were much of club-goers. Gwen also wasn’t a fan of bars, in general. I simply didn’t appreciate clubs because I didn’t like having to shout to be heard or not being able to hear and often found myself overstimulated by the massive populations, intense lighting situations, and basslines of music that interrupted my already irregular heartbeat.

My good mood then became fleeting. It wasn’t necessarily because of Sam, nor the fact that I was at Rich’s, which I normally didn’t mind. It was more so the fact that Sam had begged the two of us to pick him up only to dash off to find his other friends without ever even introducing any of them to us while Gwen and I stood sweaty and alone at the outdoor bar where I chain-smoked and grew bored. We eventually made the move inside to the upstairs private room so that Sam could say hello to a DJ friend, and I took a seat on the uncomfortable white, pleather couches that lined the walls around the room. Gwen asked me several times over if I was okay, to which I could only respond in facial expressions. She knew my face when I was irritated, my face when I was melancholy, and my face when I really was fine. This face was one with which she was less familiar. It was a truly angry face.

When it came time to make an appearance at the Eagle, I had to remove myself from the narrative in order to calm down. I took to the streets of Montrose high and alone so that I could get a bit of fresh air. I eventually found myself on the patio of Houston’s JR’s, sipping a vodka and taking a tequila shot under the misters so that I could more literally cool off. I ran into several people who knew me from the magazine and from Pride Houston, but I was in no place to really engage them in lively conversation. I was too wrapped up in my own head.

A few times, as it was still relatively early, I considered texting Ezra to see what he was up to, but knew this might only make me feel worse if he didn’t respond from being asleep or too involved in something else. And in those moment, it occurred to me that I likely wasn’t all that upset with Sam at all. I was upset with myself. I was upset with myself for my hapless behavior, for not letting myself work through my feelings in a way that would be conducive to being a productive member of society again, and for being so upset over something that had long-since passed and was not a defining characteristic of how attractive or desirable I actually was. Did Ezra’s opinion matter to me? Of course it did. He was a smart, successful, gentle human being that more often than not made good decisions and was careful with my heart. And there I was beating my head with a rock of cocaine and slitting my wrists with broken wine bottles because he’d made one stupid, drug-induced mistake.

It wasn’t fair to him. I hadn’t been fair to him. Even if I’d never asked him for anything or expected anything of him, he’d disappointed me because I’d given him too much love, as Gwen had previously pointed out to me weeks before. But other than some careless behavior on my birthday, for which I still felt okay holding him accountable, I hadn’t a good reason to continue being mad at him. So, there, on the patio of JR’s, I resolved to forgive him, even if he never apologized for what happened on my birthday. He and I may never be on the same page in terms of how we loved one another, but it felt only right for me to continue our friendship to see how exactly the story ended someday. Because I knew deep down inside of me, somewhere under the pile of ash ground of pieces of my broken heart, that our story was far from being finished, and had only really just begun.

When I went back to the Eagle, I found that Brandon had joined Gwen and Sam. Sam presented me with a peace-offering, a drink, which I took without argument. If there was one thing my friend Hope had taught me, it was that you never turned down a free drink. But even with all my upset at Ezra now at least compartmentalized in order to better heal, I still found that I was, in fact, a bit irritated with Sam. This only exacerbated when I caught onto the advances he was making toward Brandon.

The feeling that swelled inside of me felt odd. It wasn’t quite jealousy — it certainly wasn’t that I wanted to sleep with either Sam or Brandon. But it also wasn’t quite not jealousy. Maybe in my own immaturity, I was angered that my friends, both of which I thought were here to spend time with me, were paying more attention to one another than they were to me. And when Sam invited all of us back to his hotel before bar’s close, I knew that Sam truly was on a drunken prowl for Brandon. This situation was a bit deplorable to me, especially despicable considering that Sam was involved at the time. But it wasn’t my place to judge and I wasn’t going to let my temporary bad mood ruin the rest of a good night.

We retreated back to the hotel, and there we smoked more weed, did tiny lines of coke, and drank our faces off with the remaining liquor Brandon had left over from Pride Galveston. In his version of flirtation, Sam continuously shot pointed remarks at Brandon, who responded with equally pointed, if not less flirtatious remarks. Although, I was certain that they weren’t completely innocent just as they were not completely innocuous. I knew Brandon’s face when he saw someone he found to be attractive, and he bore it that night with Sam. Still, the entire rapport between the two seemed to be less about getting into one another’s pants and more about proving some sort of colorless, uninspired point.

Thankfully, with enough weed clouding my brain, I was able to laugh with Gwen as we watched the two of them and took up almost the entirety of the bed with chips and snacks she’d purchased at the Walgreens I’d patronized that very morning for cigarettes as a damsel in distress. But Gwen being Gwen, she quickly tired and excused herself to retire home, which clued Brandon in, as well, that he too should leave.

My plan had been to ride back with Gwen so that I could get my car from her house, but that was before Sam announced, “Why don’t you just stay here tonight?”

“Huh?” I asked, not sure if he was actually extending an invitation for me to spend the night once more before he went back to Dallas or if my own fucked up brain was creating scenarios that weren’t actually playing out.

“Yeah,” he went on. “You can sleep here and go to breakfast with me in a few hours, then I can take you back to Gwen’s house in the morning or Lyft you back or something.” As he said this, even in my own overwhelming intoxication, I noticed a shift in his eyes. It didn’t seem 100% disingenuous, but I also wasn’t the best judge of intention at that point.

“Okay,” I shrugged as I stood to walk the others to the door. Sam seemed to invite Brandon to stay, as well, after Gwen was already out the door, but Brandon declined and I walked him to his car in the parking garage. We hugged goodbye and I made my way back to the hotel room where I found Sam lying in bed.

“Okay, so …” he began as I entered the room and took off my shoes. “I kind of only did that as a ploy to see if Brandon would stay if you were planning to stay.”

I popped right up, suddenly feeling much more sober than I had in several days. “Are you fucking serious right now?” I said. “That’s kind of the shittiest thing you’ve done this weekend. I could’ve been on my way back to Gwen’s right now!”

“I mean, you can call her before she gets too far away.”

Nuh-no,” I told him as I retreated to the bathroom with my tote bag. I pulled out my travel toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste. “You made your bed, now I’m going to lie in it so that you have to drive me back to BFE in the morning.” I told him as I brushed. “It’ll serve you right for being a dick to me.”

I spit and joined him back in bed. My eyelids were showing no signs of strength as he scrolled through his phone, halfway apologizing for doing that — it was sort of the only way he seemed to know how, so I silently accepted it.

“It’s probably a good thing he didn’t stay,” he confessed. “I would’ve had sex with him and then I would’ve felt bad because I literally have a boyfriend back home.”

And from there, I think Sam and I had the first real conversation we’d ever had in our friendship. The details would bore you, as they aren’t particularly relevant to the story. But what matters is that there, somewhere between 4 and 5 in the morning, Sam — a mostly closed-off soul that is just as “fine” as I claim to be when things trouble me — began a catharsis of sorts not unlike the one I’d been having over the last few days. He recounted friendships that had been ruined because of bad decisions made with drugs and alcohol, recalled times he could have made better choices or been a better person, and even lamented about how his heart hurt when he thought of those he’d lost or who thought less of him after their exodus from the relationships.

It was then that I finally stopped being irritated with Sam. Yeah, sure, he could be a dick. After all, he had all but used me that night as a ploy to sleep with one of my close friends. And, true, often he didn’t give much thought to what he was saying before he said it. But we were still friends, and we had been and this was the very reason: under all the coke and alcohol and messy sex he’d partaken in, he — much like myself — was just another damaged gay boy trying to conceal scars under a makeup of suppression to his heart. Like myself, he kept people at arm’s length so that they wouldn’t use him or hurt him; he dealt with his feelings by drinking; he laughed off real feeling with jokes at the expense of others and of himself.

Though vastly different in so many ways, I remembered then what had brought us to be friends in the first place: we were extremely similar in the ways that mattered, and therefore — in some strange, probably unhealthy way — understood one another like a lot of other people weren’t capable of understand us. And that was where a lot of the real loves in our lives seemed to exist. They were neither in the men with whom we partnered, nor within the families into which we were born, nor with the empty-headed drunks with whom we spent our time. No, no. The truly greats loves of our lives existed in the extremely unlikely, nearly far-fetched, and seemingly mismatched friendships that kindled between two unlikely friends. The ones that blossomed between people like Sam and myself, and Gwen and myself, and Brandon and myself, and even Ezra and myself.

So I shuffled nearer to him in the bed and laid my head nearby his shoulder for a moment, and for a little bit I listened to him talk and tried not to invalidate what he was saying with my own opinions. And at the end of it all, Sam told me the same thing he’d probably been telling himself for a very long time — the same thing I’d been telling myself and the world for as long as I could remember:

“I’m fine.”

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