I was never big into the holiday season. Most years, I put up with it, but Christmas had a way of reminding me that I didn’t have anyone to share the holiday with. The image on TV was of all these happy families sitting down to big turkey dinners, while I mostly spent the last two weeks of December sitting alone in my apartment and eating leftover Chinese food. My mother lived in the city, but she thought Christmas was a lot of materialist claptrap and was generally disinterested in making the holiday the Norman Rockwell painting that part of me yearned for.
My roommate Rex was certainly not helping matters that one Christmas a few years ago. We’d been friends for a zillion years, but he’d been trying my patience lately. See, he had this boyfriend. I was at home one night when they came in, all smiles and giggles. By my estimation, Brandon and Rex were parading arm in arm into my apartment for the 437th time, and I wanted to vomit.
Yes, Rex. After all the time I’d known him, I still didn’t know if that was his real name, but that wasn’t important. The real problem here was that Rex and Brandon were laughing and leaning on each other, headed for Rex’s bedroom, where I knew they would fuck, probably loudly. It was as if I didn’t exist, even though this was my home, too, and Rex and I made eye contact on his way by.
I didn’t know what it was about this time, but something in me snapped. I could not listen to them fuck one more time.
Unfortunately, I’d been camped out on the couch in a stretched-out T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts, hardly appropriate for the cold winter night outside. The building’s heat was turned up to sauna levels, but there was no way to adjust the old radiators, so Rex and I had taken to spending our December wearing as little as possible around the apartment. Well, Rex did that regardless of the season. The bottom line was that going outside would require going to my room to change, which required walking past Rex’s room, where he’d be fucking Brandon. Poor, sweet, adorable Brandon, who spent several nights a week with Rex but somehow still didn’t know what an asshole he was. Like the name alone wasn’t enough of a tip.
Luckily, my iPod was on the coffee table, so I picked it up, popped in my earphones, and cranked the volume up to eleven. Just as the telltale moans began to seep out from the space below Rex’s door, a good thumping beat flooded my ears and drowned them out.
I slipped into my bedroom and kicked the door closed. It took some work, but I managed to wrestle myself out of my workout clothes and into jeans and a clean shirt, only extracting my headphones when I thought I heard someone knocking on my door. (The sound turned out to be Rex’s goddamn headboard banging into the wall that separated our rooms.) I tripped and stumbled when I tried to shove my feet into a pair of sneakers and hit my knee against my dresser, sending bolts of pain through my leg.
It took me a few more minutes to track down my wallet and keys. I took my winter coat off the hook near the door and slid it on. I had no idea where I would go. I just knew I needed to get out of the apartment.
But just as I reached for the knob, Brandon tiptoed out of Rex’s room. He was wearing his coat, a pair of dark jeans, and a sheepish expression. His dark-blond hair was tousled and his face was flushed, and he was just so goddamn adorable.
“Uh, hey, Jared,” he said, walking up to the door. “You going out?”
“Yeah, I thought maybe I’d….” I let that hang there as I pointed my thumb toward the door.
He stood at the door for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to another. “Yeah, I, uh. I have to run. I have a class. I’m kinda late, actually. Rex and I had dinner, and I wasn’t even going to come over, but you know how he is.”
“Oh, I know how he is.”
“Yeah, so, here I am, but I need to be going.”
“Want me to walk you to the subway?”
His face lit up. “Would you? Yeah, that’d be great. No offense, but I hate your block after it gets dark. That park down the street totally creeps me out.”
“Sure, no problem. It’s on my way.”
So off we went, out onto the streets of Chelsea. I lived two blocks west of the A train, and my residential block did get pretty dark at night. We chatted as we walked, mostly about how cold it was outside. He seemed a little agitated. When I asked if he was okay, he just said he had an exam coming up.
I walked him to the subway entrance at Sixteenth Street. We stood there awkwardly at the top of the stairs for a moment. He said, “Thanks. I feel like such a wuss sometimes. You didn’t have to walk me here.”
“Eh, it’s not a big deal.”
He smiled. He had this completely disarming toothy grin. “You’re a good friend, Jared.” He stood on his tiptoes and kissed my cheek. Then he turned and descended the stairs to the subway. I might have stared, watching his tousled hair and narrow shoulders disappear into the station. Man, he was beautiful.
Yep. I was completely, totally, head over heels in love with my roommate’s boyfriend.
I stopped by a bodega on the way back to the apartment. The owner had tossed up some perfunctory Christmas ornaments: mangled-looking tinsel on the edge of the counter, lights strung around the cold-beverage cases. It was tacky, just like everything in New York at Christmas time. I picked up a quart of milk so it would look like I had a purpose for being outside. When I got back to the apartment, Rex was sitting on the couch in his underwear, drinking a beer and flipping through the channels.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey.” I shrugged out of my coat, and then I went into the kitchen and put the milk in the fridge. I went back to the living room and plopped down next to Rex. “So.”
Rex found an animated Christmas special on TV and seemed satisfied with that. He put the remote on the coffee table. “What did you get outside?”
“We have, like, half a quart, dude.”
“Oh. I thought we were out.”
“Did you walk Brandon to the subway again?”
I was surprised that Rex had picked up on that. “I did.”
“Man, that kid is such a scaredy cat.”
“‘Kid’? He’s only, what, six months younger than you are? And he’s your boyfriend.”
“I know. But, geez. He’s a great guy, don’t get me wrong, and he’s great in bed. But he’s so… clingy. And he follows me around like a puppy. It’s too much.”
“And yet you drag him home all the time.”
Rex shrugged. He took a sip of his beer. “So… Tony called.”
“He wants to meet up on Friday. He was really flirty on the phone. I think maybe he wants to get back together.”
“Yikes. You’re not gonna go, are you?”
Rex shot me a sidelong glance. “Well, I don’t know. I thought maybe we could make it a group thing, take some of the heat off of it. If I go meet him alone, I might do something stupid.”
“What about Brandon?”
“Well, exactly. But I thought if we got a bunch of people together and Tony happened to come, then I could talk to him and see what he wants, and my friends will make sure neither of us does something we’ll regret, you know? So you’ll come, right, Jare? It’s some holiday party thing at Rooster’s in the East Village.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Rex, who had the perfect guy at his beck and call, wanted to engineer a night so that he could go talk to his ex-boyfriend. Did he not know how great Brandon was? Was he really telling me that he was maybe losing interest in his boyfriend, whom I was in love with, and that he was thinking about cheating? Why was this wigging me out so much? Was this really what my life had become?
I wanted to scream.
“Are you inviting Brandon?” I asked with a surprising amount of calm in my voice.
Rex emptied his beer and put the bottle on the coffee table. “Yeah, I guess I have to.”
“Well, I’m sure the whole night will play out well.”