Continued from Part 1
Certainty is a peculiar feeling. Many events and conversations and much reflection transpired over the next year. My interactions with Matt went from coy flirtation to intense feelings that I did not foresee.
A few weeks after Matt's virtually unannounced midnight visit, I decided to be forthright about the feelings beginning to arise in me. When he told me that he already knew how I felt but couldn't help but respond with distrust and a tempered rage, I was not at all surprised.
"Of course you knew," I replied. "Too much has happened for you not to have known I felt this way, and I've sat around thinking I'm crazy, talking myself out of believing this was something more, because I didn't want to be the crazy gay guy that can't have a guy friend without falling in love with him. I had to talk to Mia about everything to make sure I'm not making shit up in my head, and--"
"You told Mia about all of this?" he interrupted, a worried tone in his voice.
"Yeah. She already knew. She was practically around half the time. She's not a dumb girl."
"Look, none of this is your fault," he said in a tone nearly as serious as my kempt anger. "I take full responsibility, and I'm sorry. I can definitely see how everything that happened could lead you to feel the way you do, but I'm not gay, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to marry Liz one day."
"So can you look me in the face right now and tell me you have never had any romantic feelings for me at all?"
"None." He uttered the word with perfect dramatic timing -- not so quickly as to appear defensive, but not so slowly as too seem indecisive or calculating. My eyes squinted in disbelief. He continued: "Don't be hard on yourself. It's like a math problem: All your work was right, but your answer was wrong."
The simplicity of this statement offended me. I was feeling shell-shocked: My worst fear, that I'd dreamed up a nonexistent relationship in my mind, was becoming a reality. But had I really done that? No. Fuck no. I deserved answers, so I asked Matt for a play-by-play explanation of our most pressing encounters.
"Look, I love the time we spend together," he said. "I love our conversations, and I always feel like I can talk to you about anything, like that night where I just needed a break, so I came over and just wanted to chill without Liz, and I just thought it was... It just felt so natural when we were hanging out and you rested your head on my lap while we were talking that I didn't think much of it and allowed it. And the other night, when I was on E, I just couldn't come home, and I needed a place to go to come down a bit, because Liz doesn't like me doing hard drugs."
I didn't press him on the other things: the "I love you" text, the touching, and the inappropriate flirtation. I don't have it in me to beg a man to profess his love for me, and digging any deeper would have felt akin to that. The one thing I made him promise was that he would never speak of this conversation again.
A month later I met Matt for what would be our last time alone together before I was to depart for a semester abroad. Almost as soon as I walked in, I could sense something was off.
"We need to talk about something, and I don't think you're going to be happy to hear it," he said. He spat it out like a man who knows it's time to make a full disclosure, and I got the feeling that this time spent together would be markedly different from our past encounters.
"What is it?"
"I told Liz."
"You did what?!" My voice had risen, exuding shock and incredulity. "I... I don't understand why you did that. I basically begged for you to promise me not to tell anyone, and you told her, the one person I needed more than any other not to know." I sat down on the couch, slipped out of my flip-flops, pulled my feet up onto the cushions, hugged my knees, and hid my face behind them, in some feeble attempt to hide. "I can't... believe... you did that," I said, each word harder to force out than the last. I could have cried, but the tears wouldn't come, and I'd be damned if I let him see me cry.
In a forceful tone, he barked, "You are overreacting to all of this. I had to tell her. She's my girlfriend."
"No, you didn't, Matt. You fucking betrayed me. That was the one thing I begged you to promise me."
"Oh, like I didn't feel betrayed by you telling Mia. You told one person, so I told one person."
"It's not the same. Mia's my roommate."
"And Liz is my girlfriend and roommate. It's only fair."
"Bullshit!" We were yelling at each other now. "I fucking told Mia because she was around half the time you were at the house. I needed to make sure I wasn't going crazy, and that I had a reason to feel the way I felt for you. I needed to be absolved." Then I said, in a tone as accusatory and insinuating as I could elicit, "I don't get it. Why would you tell Liz unless you, too, felt like you needed to be absolved of something?"
"I felt guilty keeping anything from her, period," he replied. "You need to calm down. Everything I told her was in everyone's best interest."
"How? I need to know exactly, word for word, what you told her."
"It's fine. She laughed about it."
"She laughed? What?"
"I told her in a nonchalant, joking way, like, 'Hey, guess what Grant said the other day. He thought I was only hanging out with him because I was gay and wanted to try to get close to him and come out. How crazy!'"
I thought to myself, "You have no fucking idea 'how crazy.'" What he'd told her was wildly incomplete and inaccurate.
He continued: "I told her that if we're all in a social setting and you act a little weird, it's because of that conversation."
I could sense that he thought he'd done everyone a favor, himself most of all, as he'd ensured his own protection. I was unsettled and angry that he'd said anything at all. Needless to say, my friendship with Liz was unalterably changed.
For the next month or so, more awkward incidents occurred between me and Matt in group settings. When I returned from my semester abroad, things were noticeably different, as was I.
Matt seemed to want to pretend that we were cordial friends, likely to save face. It seemed that he wanted to forget that the summer had ever happened. Although I felt over the experience, I was certain that he was hiding his true sexuality, and this prevented me from embracing him as a friend. I ended up severing communication with him and Liz, for many reasons, but mostly because I needed the last embers of feelings I had for him to fully die. After all the interactions and questionable behavior from Matt, I figured Liz must know what kind of man she was dealing with, and if she was willing to turn a blind eye, that was her choice. I often ran into them, as we share many mutual friends, but I usually gave them the cold shoulder.
Before long, it became clear that Matt was a man who always got what he wanted. He seemed hellbent on having his cake and eating it, too, and my icy demeanor seemed to catalyze in him a desire to win back my affection. A few months after I'd completely severed ties with him and Liz, I found myself downtown, meeting up with mutual friends who hadn't mentioned who else would be in attendance.
As I ordered a drink at the bar, I found that I was standing right next to Matt, who was looking the other way. But the moment I realized it was Matt, he turned around, and our eyes met.
"Hey, you," I said cooly, determined not to make this encounter a bigger deal than it was. His eyes were glazed, and he was the picture of inebriated. He grabbed me and pulled me in for a hug. My face found that familiar spot in his neck, and my lips gave it a peck.
"You're a good friend," he blurted out. "Promise me we'll hang again." So much for not making this encounter a big deal. To boot, almost all of our mutual friends were three feet away, within earshot.
"I'm not going to promise you anything," I said. "I've been around all semester. You have my number. I'm here."
"You know, I can't believe we don't hang anymore. You're... you're my person, and there's no one else in this city I click with the way I click with you. We have to hang again."
"You didn't even know you were going to see me here tonight until two minutes ago, when I popped up, but apparently you've been in turmoil over our not hanging. You could have easily contacted me."
"Why are you so mean to me?" To my shock, he seemed genuinely confused.
"Because you fucking deserve it." No filter.
"You know, I did everything I could do; I told you some of my most intimate secrets last summer, and you don't give a fuck. You just gave up." Statements so profound had never been so vague. Was this him pouring his heart out, and if so, what the hell was I supposed to do with it, in this bar, with all our mutual friends a few feet away?
I was thrown out of my calm resolve into a stupefied silence. After a few seconds, I leaned in and whispered into his ear a truth too personal to be yelled aloud in a bar: "It hurts too much to care."
This drop of truth was like the last ingredient needed to make the cauldron boil over. He convulsed with frustration, spewing a staccato tirade of "fuck"s and "shit"s and running his hands over his fluffed frock before yelling, "I love you! I fucking love you!"
I was frozen solid, my eyes wide, my jaw clenched, my lips pursed, my heart racing. I said nothing as we stood looking at each other.
"But you don't give a fuck," he said, finally, and walked away.
All names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.