I’m not totally keen on hanging out tonight. I’m the only one in my friend group who’s in grad school, so none of them really understand how much time goes into getting a PhD. Being a chemist, I have my work cut out for me. I’m either researching in the lab, nose-deep in the thickest textbooks the library has to offer, being underpaid as a teaching assistant, or weaning myself away from a mental breakdown. To be fair, I manage to take plenty of time for myself. That’s important. And I really, truly love what I do, which is as important as it is lucky. But lately, I’ve been neglecting my friends. That’s what happens when I feel like I’m on the verge of a breakthrough in my research.
“Okay, but when’s the last time you just relaxed for a night?” Liv asks me over the phone. I can almost envision her fluttering her eyes, her way of trying to sway someone to her side. She has a point, though — and I rarely get a chance to see my buddy Bruce since he doesn’t live in Boston anymore, so maybe it’d be worth hanging out for a little while.
“Only a couple hours,” I say, trying to compromise.
But she’s not having it. “Are you kidding?”
“What? A couple of hours is plenty of time.”
“A couple of hours is fucking nothing,” she says. “We miss you.”
“This could be my big break,” I say with a slight grin, knowing she hates when I use my research as an excuse to bail on plans.
“Nuh uh. Not gonna work this time, Jackie,” she says, and then she sighs. “Please? How often do we get the whole gang together?”
I rub my temple lightly before relenting. “Fine. I’ll come,” I say, and Liv squeals with joy.
I do end up arriving late, though. I get sidetracked with finishing up the end-of-the-week report for my PI, so once that’s complete, I rush over to Liv’s apartment. I knock and let myself in, smiling at the sight of everyone sitting on the floor around the coffee table in her living room.
“God, *there* you are!” Liv says, standing up and rushing over to hug me. “I was afraid you just weren’t gonna come.”
“I promised, didn’t I?” I tease, smiling at the rest of them. Bruce is closest, so he’s the first one I approach. “How you been, man?” I say as we run through our handshake.
But Liv interrupts. “You can catch up later. It’s game time.”
I raise my eyebrow, but Bruce just grins at me. “You’re just in time for Spin the Bottle,” he says with a grimace.
I snort, looking at Liv. “Spin the bottle? Seriously?”
“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun,” she says, grabbing my shoulder and trying to push me towards the floor next to Bruce. “Sit down.”
I resist for a moment. “But–“
“Sit!” she insists, and I give in, sighing and sitting right between Bruce and Sasha, who I kiss on the cheek. I briefly look around and see the rest of the familiar crowd: Corbin (who we just call Corb), Trish, and our favorite twins Kyle and Kayla. All of them I’ve seen fairly recently, so we don’t need excitable hellos. There are, however, a few new faces. There’s a girl on the other side of Bruce, but I assume she’s someone he’s “involved with” considering the way they’re leaning into each other. The other mystery person is a guy sitting next to Liv, almost directly across from me. He seems familiar, but how? I’m not sure.
Before I can even ask for introductions, though, Liv rolls an empty bottle across the table towards me. “You first, Casanova,” she says.
“First of all, I take offense to that,” I say with a grin, and I’m met with laughs from my friends. That’s been a running joke between us for a while because I’ve been elected as the heartbreaker of the group. Honestly, I don’t think of myself as particularly charming, but I’m lucky enough to have been blessed with pretty good looks: a chiseled jawline, a coy smile, narrow eyes, and a perfect set of teeth (thanks, braces). “Second of all, I literally just sat down.”
“Perfect timing, then.”
“God, you’re annoying,” I groan. Forcing everyone to play some middle-school game like Spin the Bottle is extremely on-brand for Liv, but I take the bottle anyway. “I haven’t played this since I was hairless, by the way,” I say, and Bruce snickers next to me.
“It’ll be fuuuun,” she keeps insisting, telling me the rules. I spin. Whoever it lands on, I kiss for ten seconds. Simple enough. Is everyone drunk already? Is that why we’re playing this? Seems like almost everyone has one of those stupid, red solo cups near them. “Spin!”
I look around before sighing and giving the bottle a good spin. As I watch it spin, I wonder who it’ll land on. To be fair, I’ve either kissed or made out with most of my friends already, even a couple of the guys (usually as a result of drunken dares), and it’s not like I’m afraid of or totally opposed to kissing anyone. This is just silly. We’ll see how this goes, I guess.
Interestingly enough, though, it lands on someone I haven’t kissed: the mystery guy. As soon as it stops spinning, there’s a bunch of laughter. Liv says, “Ooo, I’d love to see this,” and the girls all giggle in response. Pretty sure istanbul travesti I hear Trish say something like, “Of course it’s the two hottest guys in the room.”
Kyle, though, doesn’t seem to find this amusing. “Wait wait wait,” he says, holding his hand up. “No guy-on-guy stuff.”
“Why not?” Sasha asks, cocking her eyebrow.
“Because. Guy-girl only. Or, girl-on-girl,” he adds, and he’s immediately met with fervent opposition from the girls about his (admittedly idiotic) comment. I, however, start to tune them out, because I make eye contact with the guy fate has chosen for me. He smiles a little, and I smile back. He doesn’t seem too bothered by it. In fact, he gives me a look and then shrugs. Fuck it, then. Plus, I’m not in the mood to listen to Kyle drone on about his mild homophobia.
I stand up. “Kyle, shut up,” I interject, and all of them stop arguing. “You,” I say, pointing to the guy. “C’mere.”
Kyle looks defeated, but everyone else is watching in anticipation, some of them trying hard to hold in their laughter. The new guy stands up and walks around to my side of the table. I wonder what his name is. Greg? Tony? Hugo? No idea. I’m just bullshitting here. As he gets closer though, I realize Trish was definitely right. Honestly, of all the guys I could have been paired with, I’m glad it’s him. I love my friends dearly, but some of them aren’t exactly the best-looking dudes. This guy is at least handsome: clean, auburn beard; docile eyes; shy-but-winning smile.
I can sense the tension in the room. I hear some whispers, and I can feel all their eyes on us. Me, I don’t care. This guy looks mildly uncomfortable, though. He’s smiling slightly, but I can tell he doesn’t want to be the center of attention, especially for something like this. Well, sorry, big guy, but here we are. I snake my arm around his waist playfully, putting a hand on the small of his back and pulling him right into me. No time to waste. He grunts in surprise and I hear a few laughs before our lips make contact — and then, it’s quiet again. In fact, it’s quite silent.
At first, we’re going at it slow, and both of us are playing our parts very well. If I’m doing something for show, I like to go all out, so I quickly implement my tongue — and he follows suit, sliding his tongue right back against mine. I’m happy he’s playing along.
But then I get distracted by the texture of his lips. How are they this soft? Damn. I start to forget what the point of this kiss was. How long have we been going at it? I know the rules are ten seconds, but we must have been kissing for a little longer than that… Not that I mind, really. It’s… pretty nice. And he feels so different from anyone else I’ve kissed. This guy is fit and muscular, like me, but even more built than I am, it seems like. His body feels strong, sturdy, present — and I find myself suddenly very aware of what’s going on between his legs. I can feel his bulge right against mine and… Wait… Does this dude have a boner right now?
He breaks the kiss, pulling back slightly, and when I open my eyes, I can see how red his face is. It’s still quiet in the room, and I’m sure everyone isn’t batting an eye in case they miss something. I just smile at him before stepping back slightly and offering my hand. “Nice to meet you, by the way.”
The tension in the room breaks and everyone bursts into laughter. Even the guy I just made out with chuckles a bit. Like a true sport, he takes my hand and nods with a smile spread wide across his face. He has one of those infectious smiles, so I find myself laughing along with everyone else.
We play more rounds of Spin the Bottle while having a few group conversations, which are all spotted with me teasing the new guy (“Pray you land on him, he’s a good kisser”). Admittedly, I’m intrigued by this guy, and I don’t totally know in what way yet. Is it just in a friendly, “I want to know more about him” way, or in a sexual way? Maybe a mix of both. Although historically I’ve only been actively heterosexual, I’ve had my fair share of curiosities about the other side of the fence, so this wouldn’t be surprising, even though it has rarely been about specific guys. Plus, there *is* something kind of sexy about him. He’s slightly unpolished, clearly athletic, shy but is quick to offer up jokes and initiates appropriate conversation, and has a killer smile. I can’t deny that I’m drawn to him a little bit.
Eventually we call it quits with Spin the Bottle and decide to break out the drinks. As the token bartender, I handle the alcohol and mixers and get everyone the drink they request as they line up in the kitchen. Once finished, I bring back the rest of the vodka into the living room in case anyone needs a spritz and notice the new guy is still sitting at the coffee table. I sit on the side of the table adjacent to him, offering to whip him something up, but he declines.
“I don’t drink,” he says.
“Really?” I ask, raising my eyebrows. When he nods, I shrug, deciding not to pester him. “Well, I won’t drink istanbul travestileri either.”
He looks surprised. “You don’t have to–“
“Trust me, I know how it feels to be the only sober one in the room,” I say with a laugh before offering my hand out to him again. “Also, proper introduction time,” I say. “I’m Jackie.”
He smiles as he shakes my hand. “Yeah, Liv told me your name. Might have said something Jackie-Chan-related when she mentioned you.”
“Yeah, I’ll never live that down,” I say, and he laughs. “My parents — my adoptive parents — they’re obsessed with Jackie Chan.”
“Before or after they got you?” he asks.
I chuckle. “Before,” I murmur — hence why they were so hellbent on snagging an Asian baby. “It’s been a long-established fixation.”
“I don’t know whether I should laugh or be offended for you,” he says with an amused grin.
“Go ahead and laugh,” I say with a chuckle of my own.
“Jackie’s not a bad name. Me, on the other hand… Angus?” He grimaces a bit.
“Ouch,” I say, snorting.
He blushes. “You could at least pretend you don’t think it’s ugly,” he says with a grin.
I laugh. “It’s not that bad, I promise,” I tell him. “I just think of those raw beef patties.”
“Christ,” he whispers, and I try not to laugh again.
“We’ll find you a better nickname,” I say. “What’s your middle name?”
“Nonexistent,” he says.
“God, you’re making this difficult,” I say with a laugh.
He shrugs. “Everyone calls me Gus. How’s that?”
“Much better,” I say with a smile. “Nice to meet you, Gus.”
He just smiles. “We’ve actually met once before.”
I blink. So I was right about him being familiar. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. It was for two seconds though, and it wasn’t anything official.” I give him a look that urges him to continue. “You were visiting my campus for whatever reason, and you stopped me and asked me where Dr. Lyman’s office was.”
I squint a bit before it dawns on me. The nice thing about the Boston area is that it’s littered with colleges, so if I need something (or someone) outside of my own university, I can easily look to others. Dr. Lyman offered to help me with some of my research last year. “Oh shit! I knew I recognized you,” I say, though I’m surprised he remembers this. Suddenly, the memory comes back to me. “You had a huge black eye though, didn’t you?”
He laughs. “Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Rugby.”
“Playing rugby was your first mistake,” I say with a snicker. “You still in school?”
“Nah, I graduated in the spring,” he says.
“Congratulations,” I say. I want to ask what he majored in, or what he’s up to now, but I get roped into a playful argument between Bruce and his alleged girlfriend Lucy. They’re arguing about the pretentiousness of Bruce’s music tastes, and he asks me to butt in on his behalf. For me, there’s no argument about it: he’s pretentious. He’s the type of guy that will only listen to albums that were originally on vinyl and vehemently opposes current hits and yadda yadda yadda. Lucky for him I still enjoy his company, but he makes car rides miserable.
After we branch off into separate conversations, I start to realize everyone’s getting a bit on the drunker side, and I’m still painfully sober. People can be funny when they’re drunk, but it borders on irritation unless you’re drunk right alongside them. At least I’m not the *only* sober guy. When I turn back to Gus, I see that he’s just smiling and observing everyone. It’s been about a half-hour since our conversation was cut short, so I come sit next to him.
“Are you *sure* you don’t want to drink?” I ask.
Gus laughs. “You can drink if you want to.”
“You sure? I’d hate to leave you hanging.”
“Consider it a gift,” he says with a chuckle.
Say no more, Gus. I grab the vodka, twist off the cap, and take a swig straight from the bottle. This brand isn’t that bad. Goes down pretty easily, actually, which means I need to be careful. “I never asked why you’re here,” I ask when I look at him. Then I wince when I see his expression. “Did that sound dickish?”
“No, no,” he assures me with a laugh. “Liv invited me.”
“Yeah? Have you guys been friends long?” I ask, taking another swig.
“A few months. Met at one of her dance recitals. She was friends with my girlfriend at the time. The whole nine yards.”
I chuckle. “That’s cool. Liv’s one of the good ones,” I say, glancing over at her. She’s in an animated conversation with the twins.
“I gotta ask…” Gus starts to say, and when I turn my head, I see that he’s looking at me with a curious little smile. “Are you two…?”
“Us?” I laugh. “No. Liv and me, we’re just friends.”
“Really?” he says, looking skeptical. “She talks about you a lot.”
I shrug. “I’m worth the conversation, I guess,” I tease as I take another sip.
He just laughs, shaking his head. “Guess I was wrong then. I just figured you two were at least… you know… doing it.”
I shake my head, glancing back towards Liv. “Surprisingly, travesti istanbul we never have.”
“Would you?” I hear him say.
I turn back to him with a slight grin. What guy wouldn’t? She’s an absolute bombshell. “I mean, yeah, but don’t tell her I said that.”
“Right,” he says, nodding a bit with a strangely contemplative expression. “So you’re at least somewhat straight.”
I cock my eyebrow. “What’s that?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. After that kiss, I wasn’t sure where you stood.”
I burst out laughing. This kid’s got jokes, huh? “Oh, Angus thinks he’s funny,” I say, which makes him laugh, blowing his “serious boy” cover. “Yes, I’m straight,” I tell him. “Well… straight for now, but open to the possibilities.”
“Yeah?” He looks intrigued.
I say what’s always been my philosophy: “You never know what’s gonna happen.” I punctuate my words with a grin, remembering how he chubbed up during our kiss.
He nods, the slightest smile on his lips. “I can respect that.”
I smirk at him for a few moments before speaking again. “Would your girl be pissed if she found out or is she one of those chicks that finds dudes kissing hot?”
He blushes and laughs a bit. “Definitely the latter,” he says. “But mostly because she’s not my girl anymore.”
I blink. “I thought you said you have a girlfriend.”
“I did, up until last week.”
Whoops. “Damn. Sorry, man,” I say.
But he waves me off. “It’s fine,” he says, even though he looks upset by it.
He shrugs. “Only because I’m low-key a serial monogamist.”
I chuckle. “And now you’re in limbo.”
“Exactly!” he says, running his fingers over his head. “It’s lame, and I know it’s lame, but I’m all out of whack when I’m not in a relationship.”
I can’t say the same. I haven’t dated in years. Fucked around, sure. I’ve done that plenty. But dated? Nope. The last girlfriend I had was in my undergrad years, and we only lasted a few months. It’s not like I don’t want something. It’s that I don’t need it. I’ve never been the type to seek out a relationship. If something is meant to be, things will fall into place. I always make fun of people who can’t exist without being in a relationship, but I like this guy, so I play nice.
“But it’s something I’m working on,” he says. Then, he laughs to himself. “Whatever that means.”
“How are you coping?” I ask, trying not to smile.
“Weed and video games,” he says with a grimace. “How corny is that?”
I chuckle. At least he’s self-aware. “Depends on the video games,” I comment, taking a hefty swig of the bottle.
I perk up. “Seriously?” I’m not a gamer by any means, but the Zelda franchise is near and dear to my heart. “I grew up on Zelda.”
“Yeah?” he says, grinning. “Those games are killer. Some of the best.”
Not that my opinion is valid since I don’t play many video games, but I nod because I totally agree with him. “Absolutely. Have you played the new one?”
“That’s all I’ve been playing, dude,” he says with a chuckle.
I groan. “Fuuuck. I’ve been dying to check it out but I don’t have the new console.” Pretty sure the Nintendo Switch is upwards of three-hundred dollars. Not to mention that the game itself is another sixty bucks. A boy’s gotta pay his rent.
“Wanna come over?” he asks.
His offer catches me off guard. “Right now?”
He laughs. “Well, maybe after this whole thing dies down,” he says, gesturing to the room.
“Right,” I say, nodding and laughing before I smile at him. “I’m down.”
We force ourselves to mingle with everyone for a bit, but I’m antsy. The thought of getting my hands on the new Zelda game is all I can think about. Plus, there’s that part of me that’s kind of excited to get to know Gus a little more. It’s rare that I make new friends nowadays. I’ve had the same social circle for years, and (coming from someone who can’t keep a relationship to save his life) I need to be refreshed constantly. Maybe this is my shot at meeting a new pal — especially someone who lives in town. I love Bruce, but he lives across the state, and Liv is great, but she exhausts me if I see her too often. The rest of my friends are fine, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I could live without them.
Soon, after everyone’s had their fill of drinks, Sasha is the first one to say she’s going to leave, and she starts making the rounds of goodbyes. Just as I’m wondering if this is a good time to gracefully exit, Gus pats me on the back and asks, “You wanna head out?”
Bless this boy. I hug all my friends goodbye (even Bruce’s new squeeze), ignoring Liv’s attempts to rope me into another conversation. I tell her to just call me tomorrow before finally slipping out of her apartment and heading out with Gus.
“Not one for social events?” Gus asks with a grin, noticing my eagerness to leave.
“Me?” I scratch my head. “Honestly, I love social stuff, but I’m a slut for Zelda, and that’s all I’ve been thinking about since you mentioned it.”
Gus lets out a hearty laugh. “Totally understandable.”
I smile a little as we walk together towards wherever he lives. “Alright,” I say, standing up a little straighter. “I’m feeling a tiny bit drunk so forgive me, but I gotta ask all the basic get-to-know-you questions.”