Was on my way to Rio last week to visit my friend Josh. As I walked through a maze of holiday travelers at JFK, I bumped into Seth. It’s something I’ve almost come to expect. Keep running into him in the weirdest places. Of all the flights, airports and airlines, his plane, scheduled to leave within minutes of mine, a gate away.
“So, where are you headed?" I asked after a cordial greeting.
Torture. It’s been more than four years since we went our separate ways. Our conversations used to be so easy, interesting, full of magic. Now talking to him is like giving birth, a slow and painful experience.
I look at him, months since I’ve seen him last. His hairline’s receding a bit, more salt in his pepper. Still, there’s no denying it, the boy is handsome. He talks about his trip but my mind’s elsewhere, trying to guess what he’s thinking underneath all that small talk. Can’t tell whether he’s annoyed by this impromptu meeting, indifferent? No doubt uncomfortable.
I tell Josh about my little run in with my ex.
“Again?” he asks. “You guys have a strange way of finding each other. You’re not done yet, there are more chapters to be written.”
“I hope not. This story is over. Has been for a while.”
“Whatever you say dear.”
I hate when he says that. It almost always precedes an “I told you so.” Josh is my Cassandra. Can tell my future, but I never listen.
Two days later, at a pool party, as I’m ordering my fifth Caipirinha, Josh’s words ringing in my ears. Seth’s boyfriend, Zach, making his way towards me.
“What do you know? Ethan Gray. How are you man?”
Sometimes life can surprise you, then there are moments that blow you away.
Last year I had sex with Zach. Sounds awful, I know, but it’s more complicated than that. Seth cheated on me with Zach. Add to that a bruised ego and way too many margaritas and you got yourself a freak-show love triangle worthy of a Mexican telenovela.
It was a one-time deal carefully rationalized with some good old-fashioned denial. I filed the whole thing under karma, Seth’s. It wasn’t a matter of payback or vengeance (maybe just a little). This was (mostly) cosmic justice. In a twisted way (emphasis on “twisted”), it brought back balance to the universe (mainly mine). Seth cheated on me with Zach, Zach cheated on him with me. Made sense at the time.
Now Zach’s standing in front of me in a bathing suit, at a pool party in Rio. God must be extra bored.
We’re hanging out, me, him, his best friend Jeremy and cachacas with lime, a sure recipe for disaster. I’m a pyromaniac, playing with fire, perfectly aware of the danger, unable to stop.
We’re talking, dancing, having a good time. He tells me he’s still with Seth, though they’ve had their share of problems. Then it starts raining, heavy, cold drops.
“Let’s get out of here, grab a bite somewhere,” he says.
Three Americans hop into a cab, headed towards Ipanema. We’re all pretty drunk, though I’m on the plastered side. My hands, a mind of their own. His shoulder, his knee, the small of his back, his butt, a line, crossed.
At this point the world gets a little fuzzy. Don’t remember much. All of a sudden I’m standing alone on a corner, outside Josh’s apartment. I wake up the next day with a splitting headache and a terrible feeling in my gut. Flashback of a conversation roaming my mind. I’m Clarence. Clarence Thomas. Mortified. I’ve gone too far.
I’ve done some stupid things in my life, but this one tops the list. I need to apologize but have no way of reaching him, no idea where he’s staying.
For two days, it’s all I can think of. I tell Josh about the cab ride, my roaming hands. There’s no need to say it, we both know. His prophecy, the chapter, the story, not over.
I try to have fun but it’s no use. Snapshots of humiliation, exploding, flashing inside my brain like a Polaroid camera. Agony, can’t stand the thought there’s someone out there who thinks I’m a perv.
Then just as I’ve given up hope, Zach and Jeremy on the beach. I walk over, an apologetic smile on my face. I hold my hands up in the air, then slowly move them behind my back.
“I promise I won’t touch. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
“Hey, we were looking all over for you.”
“Yeah, how are you?”
“Don’t be. I was actually quite flattered. We had a fantastic time with you, it’s the most fun we had this week.”
“Hey let’s get together in New York this weekend. Dinner Saturday?”
Fire, burns, walk away Gray, a perfect time end this novel.
“Sure, sounds great.”
Three days later, Zach, Jeremy and me, at an Italian restaurant in the East Village. Good food, great conversation, flowing red wine. I’m not really drinking, haven’t yet recovered from that night. We go to a couple of bars in the neighborhood, then hop into a cab, head west to Secret. Now it’s Zach who is drunk. Squinty eyes, words a bit slurry. Dante’s Divine Irony.
“Are you okay?” Jeremy asks.
“I’m fine.” He says. “I’m just meditating.” He's a funny drunk.
“I think it’s time to go home.”
“Maybe Ethan wants to join us?” Says Zach, a smirk on his face.
“Oh, I think that’s a chapter we don’t want to write tonight,” comes the answer from Jeremy.
I take a deep breath. Of all the words in the English language, all the possible expressions, he chose that one, “chapter.”
That's my cue, time to go. The story may not be over. But this episode ends now.
“Nope.” I say, “Not tonight.”