I don’t really know why I invite you over but when I find out my family will be out of the house on Friday night it tumbles out of me like an oversized jawbreaker. Like an oversized jawbreaker except instead of being repulsed or even concerned you put the thing straight in your mouth and who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be eating? You take off work and we make our plan and every day for the rest of the week I wake up with my heart leaking out of my ears.
Neither of us can stop talking about it, and it’s unfortunate, because we quickly run out of things to talk about. Aside from you presumably driving the hour and a half or so to my house, there aren’t really any other plans and thus no real specific events to feel excited for. This doesn’t matter, and we keep talking, neither of us willing to acknowledge or admit that the visit itself is the event.
When I wake up on Friday, I try to look pretty. I take the time to wash my hair and dry it the right way. I put on makeup, blush and lipliner, the whole shebang. I do all of my laundry so that I’m sure I’ll have something to wear. When it’s done, I hoist the basket of freshly-dried clothes onto my hip and carry it into the living room and watch Gossip Girl in a too-short dress that some part of me wants you to catch me in. Then, when you say you’re an hour away, I rush upstairs to change, thinking I can forget that version of me exists. I pick out something casual and feel proud of myself for the attempt at normalcy. Then, on my way out of the room, I check out my own ass and imagine I’m you.
By the time you pull up to the house, I feel insane. I’ll readily admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve been this eager to impress a guy who isn’t my boyfriend. It’s not even the first time the enthusiasm has been mutual. But it’s definitely the first time I’ve invited one over to my empty house with no concrete alibi to absolve me of how suspicious it all looks. Sure, I’ve told you multiple times that I’m happy in my current relationship, that I don’t want to be with you, that there’s nothing between us. But those are only words, and I’m betraying them. I’ve been betraying them since that first night we stayed up until four in the morning on Facebook Messenger, discussing poems and exchanging our most paranoid and humiliating thoughts. I’ve been betraying them since I invited you over to my house alone on a Friday night, knowing full well that you’re – to use your words – “obsessed” with me. I stave off the creeping disgust I feel at myself with a new round of mental gymnastics. I love my boyfriend. You and I are just friends. I wouldn’t want to do anything to sabotage that. I don’t have a crush on you. I just invited you here to talk.
We hug in my driveway and exchange a few unnecessary lines of small talk, standing a Standard Width Apart like two Sims characters. I feel struck by your Other Man Smell. A cologne I don’t recognize that lingers on my clothes when we let go of each other. I’ve certainly been this close to other men who weren’t my boyfriend before, but they’ve always been mutual friends or people I otherwise didn’t have the space to feel much about. But you’re different, standing in front of my house entirely divorced from context and unbeknownst to my boyfriend or anyone else. Your smell reminds me you’re someone I could actually have – you know, if I wanted to. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been this close to someone like that. For the both of us, I pretend I can handle it. Despite my breathlessness and mounting panic, I want to keep things light. I joke that I’ve been standing “eerily” in my driveway, but my voice comes out like stale air hissing out of a busted rubber duck. You laugh anyway. You reach into your backseat and pull out a twelve-pack of beer, and I feel relieved.
I lead you through the front of my house and into the kitchen, where you put your beers in the fridge and I open two of my own. I can’t tell if drinking will speed up or rescue us from the inevitable. Opening the front door and then the fridge, fussing with my beer opener, leaning against the countertop, I can feel your eyes on me through all of it. On my ass specifically, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. The fact that someone like you even finds me attractive or interesting seems absurd enough. You’re tall, broad-shouldered, hot like an evolved version of the skater kids I used to crush on in middle school. You were out of my league before we ever met in person, and I’m a far cry from my last few profile pictures. I feel sure you’ve noticed this, but you make no indication that you do. You’re not talking much – neither of us are – but you’re laughing, looking at me over the neck of your beer bottle, smiling shy smiles. You want to smoke, so I suggest we spend the evening sitting outside on my screen porch.
Only I can’t open the door. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had any occasion to lock or unlock this particular door on my own. It’s possible I’ve never actually done it myself. The door locks in two places, with one latch sitting at the top corner near the ceiling. I can barely reach it, and when I do, the closer latch won’t open. I’m jiggling the handle, my hands begin profusely sweating, and I can still feel you looking at me, or possibly my ass. I don’t know why, but my inability to open this door makes me feel like some kind of fraud or baby. Whatever rented poise I’ve managed to cling to for the first fifteen minutes of this meetup is dissolving in my hands, and I feel like an idiot. I try to diffuse the tension with humor. “I swear I really live here,” I say, “and I know how to open this door.”
“I don’t know,” you say, “I feel like this is the first time you’ve ever opened this door. I feel like you don’t actually live here. Are you trying to kill me?”
“Yes,” I say. Then I open the door.
On the porch, you smoke at least half a pack of cigarettes and we begin half-drunkenly bullshitting about our usual set of topics – poetry, Bukowski, my asshole ex-mentor who preys on girls in their early 20s and pretends to cry at the same part of his poems every time he does a reading. I don’t know why, but I’m shocked at how effortlessly the conversation is flowing. It’s just like talking online – minus the part where I can take a few seconds to craft the most exciting response to all of your messages, and maybe that’s why I find our chemistry so surprising. Talking to people in person rarely feels as exciting as talking to people online, and the discrepancy in my ability to be articulate ends up making me feel like a fraud. But you’re different, or something about us is. You’re laughing at my nervous jokes, even the ones I know you don’t get. I’m looking you straight in the eye, watching you drop butt after butt into the empty bottle in front of you. I’m still anxious, but talking to you feels easy, and I can’t remember the last time I had this much in common with another person.
An hour passes, or maybe more, and as it begins to get dark out, what I notice most is the fog. By the time the sun sets completely, it’s descended on the house and reduced our visibility to nearly zero. I can barely see the house next door through the nearly opaque grey shroud, though if there was anything happening around me to miss, it wouldn’t even matter. I’m engrossed in our conversation, in you. And the way it looks outside seems to permit all of this, like some kind of cosmic acknowledgment that nothing outside of this screen porch is relevant. Not how drunk I already am. Not the fact that in a few days, I’ll be moving into a tiny apartment 300 miles away. Not even my long-distance boyfriend, who doesn’t seem to be at all alarmed by my sporadic texting and purposely vague explanation of my plans for this evening. He trusts me. And I know I should feel worse about this, but I don’t, because for the first time in the three or so years we’ve been dating, I’m not the one sitting around like a pathetic loser waiting for a text. In other words, it’s nice to be wanted.
Eventually, we go back inside. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I’ve gotten you to take a few sips from the small bottle of Jack Daniels my boyfriend’s brother gave me a few months prior for my college graduation. Both of us are undeniably drunk by this point, sitting a Standard Distance Apart on the couch like two Sims characters who are trying not to have sex with each other.
Unsure how else to proceed, I pull up one of my favorite Bad Movies on Netflix. It’s called Food Boy, and it’s about a teenager (played by Lucas Grabeel, the Gay Coded Theater Kid from High School Musical) who discovers he has the power to materialize food out of his hands. He finally comes to terms with his powers after uncontrollably shooting lunch meat, mustard, and slices of white bread out of his hands in the middle of his campaign speech for student body president. After rushing off the stage in embarrassment, he involuntarily destroys the entire boys’ bathroom with mountains of disassembled sandwich ingredients. It’s my favorite part of the movie, and I know it’s something you’ll laugh at. But I quickly realize you’re too drunk to appreciate Food Boy right now, and we start something I can only describe as Horseplay. You roll off the couch and start crawling in front of it under my feet. I start laughing, not sure how to participate. I think back to an earlier online conversation where you said you didn’t really drink liquor anymore and start to wonder when the last time was that you’ve gotten this drunk.
Then, you get up, rush behind the couch, start petting my hair and making purring noises. My face, already warm from alcohol consumption and nerves, becomes unbearably hot. I feel a stomach-dropping sensation characteristic of only one thing, the thing I’m trying to avoid feeling, the thing I would never feel about someone who isn’t my boyfriend because I’m not a Bad Person. I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, my skin buzzing in the places where you touched me. I make some conscious vow to not let on how much I’m enjoying this, but then out of nowhere I find myself asking you, “Is it weird that I’m enjoying this?”
You don’t say anything, but you pull your hand away out of some tacit understanding that one or both of us has suddenly Gone Too Far and placed us on the brink of something dangerous and irreversible. But even without your hands on my head and neck, I’m turned on by the phantom afterimage. You move back to the couch, this time sitting slightly closer to me. We goof off for a while, messaging each other on Facebook instead of speaking in real life. It’s funny, we’re joking about it, ha-ha we’re using our original conversational medium even though we have access to each other in meatspace right now, how ironic and funny. But the reality is that it’s an act of avoidance. We’re doing this because it’s obvious what will happen if we continue interacting face-to-face, and we don’t want it, and we want it too much.
As we type, there is a moment where I feel like I’m regaining control. We’re calmly sitting beside each other, I’m not about to lunge at your neck, things are reasonably platonic. I start to think that maybe I can handle this, maybe we can be just friends. But then my mind drifts to my looming future in Pittsburgh, the one that is set to begin in a few days and will take place hundreds of miles away from you. And suddenly the notion of leaving my parents’ house to start a new job someplace so far away fills me with more dread than excitement. In just the month we’ve known each other, I’ve become attached to you, I’ve started adopting your sense of humor, I’ve been hearing your voice in my head. Without even realizing it, you’ve reminded me of parts of myself that I’d long considered dead or unimportant. When I talk to you, I feel funny and cool and interesting for the first time in years. That feeling I remember from my teens of having the whole world sprawling out in front of me, of being on the verge of doing something one-of-a-kind and meaningful within it, seems within reach again, not like some immature fantasy that poorly-written characters indulge on TV. You don’t make me feel these things on purpose, you don’t gas me up, you just bring them out in me, and I like who I am when I talk to you, I maybe even feel addicted to it, and to you, fuck it, I feel so attached to you, and I don’t want to lose that. I want my life to be this forever, howling with laughter on ugly couches with you, your blurry, buzzing fingers on my neck, trails of makeshift-ashtray empty bottles.
No denying it now, it goes beyond the physical, the way both of our skeletons seem to throb with longing.
I look up from my phone, feeling overcome, nauseous, and hot. I say, “I think this is the worst missed connection of my life.”