Then, out of the blue, a call.
"How are you?"
"I'm good. And you?"
"Good. Good. Work's great."
I don't ask anymore. I know the drill.
We meet where we always meet. A cozy little East Village pizzeria. Exposed brick, brown leather booths, soft lighting. A dive of a place that somehow always makes me feel comfortable. It has character. New York before the Giulianis and the Bloombergs.
We say hi, take our coats off, order food. It's become somewhat of a ritual. Big thin crust pizza with countless toppings, cold blond-amber beer and stories. I like his stories. They're peppered with soul. This time I hear about his folks, his sister, his childhood in South Australia. More beer, more talking. It's nice. He grew up on a farm, wonderful folks. Godparents who stopped speaking to him after he came out. I'm listening. Intently. Not because it's polite but because he's interesting.
This isn’t a date. It’s a dinner. It’s the most fun non-date dinner I’ve had in a long time.
At one point he gets up, goes to the jukebox. From my seat I watch him flip through an endless list of songs. A light coming from inside the box settles on his face. It flickers. Blue then red then green back to blue. A mesmerizing dance of colors that produces a smile on my lips. I catch myself then quickly erase it.
He sits down. Starts talking, then stops.
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
“What are we doing?”
Smile on his face, gone.
“Seriously man, what are we doing? Are we friends? Are we more than friends? What are we?”
“Really? Because this doesn’t feel very friendly.”
I don’t know why I’m upset, why I’m here. Maybe it’s because I like his company. Maybe it’s cause deep down I know every time he calls me, meets with me, he’s cheating on Seth a little. And not just with anyone but with me, the ex.
“Do you have a crush on me? I ask. Are you angry with Seth? Is this your way of hurting him back?”
"I could ask you the same thing."
There's no going back now. The words come rushing out. A broken dam.
“Can we really be friends? With our history, our past? How does that work? The way it is now? We get together when Seth’s out of town. Is that what our ‘friendship’ will look like? A dirty little secret you have to hide from the man you’re supposed to be sharing your life with? And if this isn’t really about friendship, if this is in fact more than that, could we really have a relationship? Are you going to date your lover’s ex-lover? The man you cheated on him with. The man he’s cheated on with you? This is all so Maury Povich.”
“Besides, as beautiful as you are, as smart, as eloquent, how am I supposed to ignore the fact that you’ve not only cheated on your boyfriend, you did it with his ex. That’s got to be pretty high on the ‘Lowest Of the Low’ list.”
He looks down. I’ve said too much.
“Seriously man. What are we doing?”
No need to answer that.
“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m just trying to understand. This is a dangerous road we’re on. Thought it might be wise to stop, take a deep breath, talk.”
I want to get up, give him a kiss on his forehead like they do in the movies when they’re about to make a grand exit. I want to leave with my dignity still intact.
But I don’t.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
We have another beer. Then go to a different bar for a nightcap because that’s what “friends” do. It’s dark, nothing but candlelight and red wine.
I look at him from across the table and wonder how it is that of all the men in the world, I find this one attractive, interesting. I must be one fucked up dude.
At the end of the night, I hop into a cab, go home. I probably won’t hear from him until the next time.
Maybe then I’ll finally say it. Out loud.