In some situations there’s the walk of shame, and, in the suburbs, there’s the phone-call-and-waiting-for-a-pick-up-by-your-friend-while-hoping-no-one-heading-to-work-sees-you-lurking-around-the-corner of shame. Less pithy, but equally embarrassing. I was also pretty sure that one of the all-night room service crew had seen me sneaking out of Zane’s room and into the stairwell from down the hall. Maybe, maybe he didn’t recognize me, I hoped against hope.
While waiting even I had been a bit cold in Zane’s short-sleeved shirt in the chilly damp Spring morning, but what I was most of all was tired. So when Mina’s car pulled up I was hunched up against the wall of the men’s clothing store trying not to fall asleep. Checking first to see that no one was around to see I shuffled towards her late 90’s Civic and slammed the door.
She had looked me over with very tired eyes and a cocked eyebrow, her hair untidily pulled back into a ponytail and a scuzzy black hoody on.
“Thank you Thank you Thank you.” I’m sure I sounded pretty pitiful.
“Hi.” She had squinted at me. “You still stink.”
I winced. “Sorry.”
“That’s not the shirt you were wearing last night.”
“Wasn’t that the shirt Zane was wearing on stage last night?”
“Ah.” She had then turned to the steering wheel with straight ahead eyes and pursed lips and hit the gas. “I need coffee.”
So we ended up in a scuzzy 24/7 diner called Minanda’s with tasty food and an entertaining mix of blurry-eyed patrons; those still awake from the night before and those who got up early. It was all yellow walls, green plastic seats and ancient at-your-table music ordering, and it was oddly comforting.
Mina was quiet for a good 2, 3 minutes after we ordered food and caffeine, and it wasn’t until she had her hands wrapped around a deadly cup of hot coffee that she spoke. I had mentally zombified, suspecting I was about to have a conversation I’d never had before with friends or family, and a cold sense of dread had been building since I decided to call her and not Scott. Judging by her first question in the car, she certainly suspected what had happened.
My mostly moneyed public high school had also been pretty conservative, and I’d finally felt for the first time in my life I had some good friends, and was having a good time. So even aside from my admittedly screwed-up sense that I was very attracted to my best friend since puberty, I didn’t want to fuck that up. What was the point of coming out, I justified to myself, if you’re not seeing anyone anyways? Go with the flow, go with the flow. And family… She had her own drama, my mom.
And maybe I wasn’t giving anyone enough credit.
“Soooooooooooooooooooooo.” Mina peered at me over the rim of her coffee cup. “Why are you wearing another man’s shirt at 5 in the morning?”
I smiled at her weakly. The coffee was waking me up, but I still didn’t know what to do but dance around a bit. “I wanted a souvenir?”
Unfortunately, she seemed to actually take my bad joke seriously, and blinked at me. “Oh! So, like, did you party with the band until late, and, like, stole his shirt when you left?” She smiled. “That makes sense!”
I could have run with it and lied, I know I could have, but at that moment what I really wanted was an ear for all the things I couldn’t tell anyone. Including my ridiculous night. Her palpable relief that there might be another explanation was not heartening, but I soldiered on.
“Uh, no, actually. That was a joke.” I didn’t want to meet her eyes as her facial expression changed again. “My shirt was dirty, and when I snuck out of his room this morning I had nothing else to wear.”
“Snuck out of his room. Does that also mean…” She paused. “Snuck out of his bed?”
“Yeeeaaaaahhhhh. Yeah, it does.”
And she stared at me, so intently I thought she was going to burn holes through my face, and it hit me this was probably a very, very bad idea. She’d always struck me as open minded, but, obviously, that was a bad –
“Well, SHIT.” She exploded. “I KNEW it. God, I’m SO stupid to have hoped otherwise! Stupid stupid stupid!”
“Sorry.” I said timidly.
“Oh, god, no.” She waved her hand at me dismissively. “Don’t be sorry. Really, I was starting to wonder, I really was.” She let her face fall onto her palm, and looked at me wistfully from her sideways eyes. “It’s just not FAIR, you know?”
“Did you really know?” I asked, curious and a bit horrified.
“Welllll… I’ve watched you a lot over the last couple of years, because, I really want you.” She said the last almost accusingly, and I winced again. “And you’d date bimbos for five seconds and then they’d just float away, and that never made sense to me, because you never seemed actually INVOLVED, you know? Even, like, in a lust sense. And then I started to notice the way you’d look at Scott sometimes. You’d just… well, like, look. Like a girl looks at a guy she’s crushing on. Not often, but, like a laugh, a smile. What your eyes did.”
“Oh.” I was speechless, and relieved, because she obviously wasn’t disgusted. But I was still shocked because, obviously, I wasn’t floating through my gay world unnoticed after all.
“You look surprised.” She said, and she smiled adorably, reaching out to touch my hand. “Is it because I’m not all homophobic and shit, or is it because I had you figured out?”
“I…” I thought about it, and, instinctively, put my fingers on top of hers, staring at our two hands. “I guess, I guess I called you, I’m telling you, because I had a sense you sorta knew. And you wouldn’t scream “Fag” and run for the hills, handing out announcement flyers the whole way.”
“Ooooh, I don’t know about that, Ethan.” She gave my hand a warm squeeze. “I might still hand out the flyers, you know, so you don’t break any other hearts.”
I laughed. “I’m not so good at heartbreaking, thank god.”
She patted my hand then withdrew her own. “Now that we’re talking, I want to get to that eventually. That fucking drives me nuts.”
The grumpy 60-year-old waitress dropped our food on the table from roughly five feet before shuffling away, and Mina resumed.
“So. Hooked up with Zane. I was wondering if that’s what was up. So: Spill.” She munched into a breakfast french fry, and poked what was left of it in my general direction for emphasis. “Spill, with anatomical detail.”
“If you have trouble saying it, PLEASE feel free to draw it. Actually, can I request it?” She lifted her eyebrows at me, and I laughed.
“God, Mina, it was surreal…”
And I told her the whole thing, with certain details condensed (to her chagrin), but the whole of interaction intact. I admit I gave it my spin with constant editorializing, of course, but I didn’t want to come off as much of a star struck idiot as I had felt at the time. But while Mina might have been flakey, she wasn’t at all stupid.
“Wait, what was that?” She stopped me and asked at a comment that was meant as a throwaway.
“I said I was so mad at myself, because I was totally out of control.” I said, giving up on stabbing at my uneaten pancakes. “What was I doing, hooking up with him? And, I sucked at it anyways, I fell asleep! What’s the point of that?”
“But that makes NO sense!” She said, breaking out of intent listening mode for the first time in 10 minutes. “Listen to yourself, Ethan, OMG. So you’re saying – and have been saying the whole time - that you’re both ashamed you screwed around with him, and what a whore you are for letting him get to you, but that you’re also a failure as a whore because you didn’t whore successfully?”
“Uh.” I was jolted, and also trying to ignore the fact that the sniping still-drunk blondtastic couple a couple of booths down from us had stopped their bitchy you-danced-with-that-ho bickering to listen to our conversation. Mina, in all her infinite personality, was pretty loud. “Is that actually what I’m saying?”
“Well… “I flailed, because to me, emotionally, this logic made so much sense. Until I said it to someone else. A reason not to tell anyone, really. “Just… what do I have for my pride, here, other than I was putty in his hands – “
“His, like, really hot hands.” She reminded me helpfully.
“Putty in his beautiful hands, but I also couldn’t follow through, either. There’s something wrong with me.” I rubbed my eyes. “Really wrong. What sort of gay male am I? I feel like I’ve let him take advantage of me but I didn’t follow through. I have nothing to feel I gained, or gave. Basically, I SUCK.”
”Ethan, sweetie, stop that. So he was really hot, yes?”
“And you enjoyed making out with him, you enjoyed having him touch you and touching him, at no point did he do anything that made you uncomfortable. YOU were uncomfortable because, like, you were worried about you living up. So you kept running away from him.”
“So you liked him, you liked him a lot.”
I blinked. Yes. I liked him, I liked him a lot. I would never see him again, but I had felt something I never had before, and it freaked me out. It was stupid.
“He was unbelievable.” I said quietly, feeling suddenly emotionally lost. “He was wonderful. He was, he was…”
“Unreal?” She supplied.
“Unreal.” I shrugged awkwardly, and looked up to look in her eyes. “And that was it. That’s all there was, and I didn’t want to stay. I didn’t want to feel that way, the way – as if the clock was always ticking. That I was instantly hooked on a complete charming stranger who picked up people like me all the time,” Mina got that gleam in her eye as if she was going to yell at me and I shook my head, “He told me that.”
“He did?” She was aghast.
“Not in a rude way,” I corrected hastily, “Just… he made it clear it wasn’t unusual, I guess. It seemed like it. I guess.”
“So… it sucked. It sucked knowing it had a time limit. So. Every time I could think, I thought I wanted to go. Lame, huh?”
“No.” She said quietly, almost sadly. “Just human. Maybe a smarter way of looking at it than most. Sounds like something your mom would say, though.”
I winced. Mina had met my mom several times, and like many people, found her charming and caustically entertaining. But no one else had picked up on her underlying defeatism like that before, and I was impressed.
“But it’s okay to have taken it seriously, even if he totally didn’t, even slightly. You don’t have to not give a shit, Ethan. Being, like, plugged in and turned on isn’t a weakness.”
“Girl…” I said, trying to lighten the mood, “Why the hell are you planning on getting a teaching degree? I swear your true calling is psychology.”
She snorted. “Because both my parents are psychologists, remember? And they drive me nuts. Analyze, analyze, analyze, answer for everything” She laughed. “Sins of the fathers, eh?”
We smiled at each other. The waitress cleared our plates, and Mina put her head on her arms on the table, looking thoughtful, I did the same, and we stared at each other bemusedly over our arms.
I felt so much better talking to her, like maybe I wasn’t such a loser getting attached to a beautiful ghost as I had convinced myself I was. She had always been a rare person I was completely comfortable around, and suddenly I felt relaxed. She’d hit a nerve, though, that I needed clarified.
“So do I seem like I don’t like being plugged in?” I asked quietly.
She let her head drop completely and was now looking at me out of the corner of her eyes, suddenly melancholy. “Yeah… But not in the usual asshole way. Just, like, if you’re attached, if it’s clear what you really want, you’re scared you’ll drive it away. I don’t know, it’s… weird. It’s not good, because it doesn’t make sense.”
I thought about that, and was confused. “How doesn’t it make sense?”
“Because… you’re you, people WANT to attach themselves to you.”
I snorted, sure she was kidding. “Uh huh, whatever.” There wasn’t enough to me to attach to, honestly, in any sense.
Mina’s whole body language changed as she straightened up from the table, the air seemed to change with her, and suddenly she looked downright angry. Reflectively I also pulled back. “And that, THAT’s like really annoying, Ethan, you have no idea. Why do you do that?”
And the comfort was gone. The blond couple had stomped out screeching at each other, and it was just us, a couple of stragglers and a table of waiters from some restaurant loudly playing poker in the corner. I tensed.
“Mina, what?” I stared at her. “What’d I say?”
“God, it’d be easier if it was fake! You’re so sweet but so damn dense!”
“WHAT?” Suddenly I was desperate and angry myself. She tells me, I thought angrily, that it’s sad that I don’t plug in, and I plug in and THIS happens. I fuck it all up; I fuck it all up royally.
She just made an annoyed sound, and started rustling in her purse for money. I stopped her and put down a twenty. “I’ve got it, Mina, just tell me.”
“Oh, shit, I’m going to cry, come on.”
She stood up and rushed out of the restaurant, and as I stumbled after her one of the waiters gave me a sympathetic smile. “Good luck, man.”
She was leaning against her car, looking at the cloudy morning sky over the nearby expressway with a lost look on her face.
“GOD Ethan.” She was suddenly hugging me to the point where I didn’t have any breath. “I like you so, so, so much and it’s not fair that you can’t like me but it’s even worse because you just don’t GET it. You don’t get it at all.”
“Mina…” I said helplessly. “You have no idea how much I wish I could like you like that too. I hate that I somehow hurt you. You’re beautiful, and wonderful, and I wouldn’t deserve you, and…”
“Oh, Ethan,” She looked at me in a way that made me feel like the lowest level of scum for unloading my ridiculous problems on her, and then kissed me lightly on the lips. “You’re an idiot, and I’m really not in a position right now to try to correct that. And I’m sorta angry because it’s almost insulting that you don’t get it, and it’s stupid of me to think so.”
I was at a loss for words because there was none that could help, but she didn’t really want any.
She drove me home in silence for a while, hitting the expressway and turning into my white bread neighborhood, until I couldn’t take the charged atmosphere anymore. “Thank you.” I said, seriously. “I’m so sorry to have hurt you, but thank you so much for listening. I’m sorry it’s insulting that I didn’t know, because you deserve better. I wish I had told you sooner, but I never understood that you could actually like me.”
“I asked you to stop that.”
“Okay.” I sighed, still not understanding. “Is our friendship on hold?”
“Hell to the no.” And my heart unclenched when she smiled slightly at me with a glance. “Sorry to make your problems about me, you pain in the ass.” She drove for a bit.
“How’d you get over liking Scott so much and just being his friend?”
I thought about it. “Sorting out what I could and couldn’t have, I guess, and figuring what I could was pretty cool in itself.”
She nodded. “But was it easy?”
“No.” I sighed. “Not really.”
We pulled up to my house, and she leaned over and gave me another huge hug. “Don’t feel guilty for making out with a hot rock star and liking it, Ethan. I’d kill to have been you. Well, either one of you. Connection’s rare, and even if you felt it and he was faking it, that’s still pretty cool.”
“Yeah?” I asked with a skeptical smile.
“Yeah. And promise me you’ll start trusting connecting more, like, at least try?”
“I will.” I started to shut the door, but stopped when something glaringly obvious hit me. Our conversation was not without its’ ironies, since I didn’t exactly hold the patent on cluelessness in this car. “Oh, and Mina?”
“You do know Scott wants you really, really bad, right?”
“What?” She blinked her huge eyes at me.
“Just think about it.” I smiled. “We’ll talk.”
“Shit.” Was all she said in a way less of unhappiness but of crashing comprehension, and she sat in my driveway for a good 30 seconds looking stunned when I went into the house. Hopefully that would get her mind off of me and to where it should actually be. Perhaps that was evil, but necessary.