My phone buzzes rudely one sweaty afternoon. 'Hi,' texts Seven, a Final Year Architectural undergrad who stays only a suburb away. I reply similarly. We've been at this for weeks, monosyllabic conversations that end before they begin. I am bored, and it's time to finally take the plunge. I ask him whether he wants to meet. He's busy with his dissertation thesis, and can't step out. Can I come over?
I think about it. I've never met him, and this could be a really bad idea, like the time I decided to fry an egg in the microwave. Exchanging sweet nothings through text messages is one thing, but meeting someone new in the confines of their house for the very first time? Hello, how-do-I-get-out-of-this-hot-mess? What if he turns out to be an axe murderer? What if he robs me off all my money? What if he's an imposter? Or worse, what if he's not as pretty as his pictures?
I ring his doorbell in exactly twenty minutes.
For an undergrad who's a month away from his final thesis, he looks surprisingly fresh, and smells of peaches. He's also wearing a Zara tee shirt at home. I greet him with a smile, he greets me with a tight hug. He's the quintessential early twenty-something gay boy. Likes his men older, loves his brands, and seems to know exactly what he wants with life even when he doesn't. They are effortlessly cocky and too sure of themselves , but have a flair for saying all the right things in life.
"You smell great,' he says to me. See, what did I tell you?
"I see a stack of books that I've always wanted to read but never did, and a heap of clothes on the couch that I wish I could fit into, but never would."
His apartment is sparse, filled with empty rolls of paper and scribbled drawings on tracing sheets, thick lines in marker, and landscapes in watercolor. I see a stack of books that I've always wanted to read but never did, and a heap of clothes on the couch that I wish I could fit into, but never would. There's a bar in the corner, piled with half-empty bottles of wine. He's telling me about moving to a more luxurious pad by the sea in three months. Does he have a sore point at all?
I could just ask him. But then, seeking social media subterfuge is the next best option.
It turns out he had a nervous breakdown on a reality show a couple of years ago, where he came out on national television. Was it intentional? No idea. Did it change his life? Obviously. A big family intervention and two years of therapy later, he's better now and currently trying to find himself in architectural school. Does he tell me any of this?
Why, hello Google.
Do you want fudge brownies with ice cream, he asks, snapping me out of my social network-induced reverie, holding out a bowl. He inches closer, and his therapy sessions inch away. I can see the bristles of hair on the back of his neck. Is that the smell of French vanilla or light-headed nervousness?
He talks passionately about his undergrad thesis in a sweet sing-song voice, and I am surprised that it's neither grating, nor boring. He's making a conservatory for birds on the outskirts of the city, a rehabilitation centre for injured animals. I listen in mock earnest. Do I like hearing about dissertations in general? No. Do I like hearing him? Yes.
'Am I boring you?' he asks me sheepishly. I smile. My ice cream isn't the only thing melting away.
Can I add you on Facebook, he asks me unexpectedly.
Friend request sent. Friend request accepted. He beams, and goes back inside to get us refills. I lounge about on the sofa set, and look around the room. My eyes move over the wine rack, and head over to a large tack board by the door. It's full of pictures, postcards and post-its - schedules and lists that will not be completed, takeout menus that will be lost, numbers that will never be called.
I move closer and peer at the pictures on the wall, and a picture of a boy I know peers back at me. I frown. It's Six, from two months ago. The picture looks faded, but it's not that faded. They seem to be at a Halloween party, wearing identical school uniforms, and identical smiles. Wait a minute. Are they friends? Acquaintances? Brothers? Lovers? Random-strangers-who-accidentally-got-a-photo-taken-together?
I am no Sherlock Holmes, and there's only one way to get to the end of this mystery. I swipe out my phone, and swipe through his Facebook profile. Happy photos, happier times, dated mere weeks ago. More boys I know pop up, like a bad case of overnight acne. Wait a minute. What's there right there?
There's a check-in at a movie theatre with Three, with another identical smiling picture. And another one. And another one. The pictures remain constant, and only the boys change. My heart skips multiple beats.
Ding Ding ding. Do you know what time it is? It's time for a 'Did You Know?' fun fact.
You can sort every gay man you know in either one of these four categories: An ex's ex, a friend's friend, a friend's ex or your ex's friend. It turns out he's all four. I sigh loudly, watch my ice cream melt away into milky nothingness. It's all so confusing. The only thing not confusing is the fact that I don't want him anymore. My ice cream is over and unfortunately, so is this.
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