I watched as Claire and Rebecca got up from the table, smiling and wishing me luck as they pushed through the crowd to the bar. Their long hair was the last thing I saw before I felt panicked. The liquid courage must not have been courageous enough, as I could quickly feel its effects leaving me. Every bit of haze in my judgment was gone, and the tilting world came back to center. I just kept wishing the world had stayed fuzzy.

Bars that weren’t specifically for gay people usually meant I would avoid situations like this. But lo and behold, I somehow always let my friends sucker me into another night of my sexuality being erased and getting to watch everyone enjoy their privileged place in society. The country bar full of sweaty twenty-something-year olds was a hot spot for my friends and I, and it was our time to celebrate our last days of school. Drinking and dancing the night away was on the agenda.

What wasn’t on the agenda was seeing him. Seeing that bouncer with dark scruff so perfectly set around a chiseled jaw line, frost-colored eyes, and biceps hand-crafted by the gods. I had seen him before, and I hoped I’d never see him again. Opportunities I couldn’t take were the worst ones to have dangled in my view, and I didn’t make room on my agenda for throwing all caution to the wind.

And I could have kicked myself for letting my friends know he was there. Hearing the chorus of “Blake, go talk to him!” with their widened and naïve eyes, as if I’ve never found a straight man attractive before. And though they only had good intentions, it sent me further into my own mind than any of us were expecting. Further into that part that tells you that what you’re about to do is the worst idea imaginable. Too far to come out of.

So I said what any reasonable twenty-something would say. “Get me a few more drinks, and maybe I’ll talk to him!”

But they didn’t know. As far as I knew, they didn’t know a god damn thing. The fear, the anxiety, and the burning feeling that explodes through your body when you’re a person in my position who doesn’t want a man to assume that you think he was hand-crafted by ethereal beings. Because those assumptions could put you in danger, when you’re a person like me It can mean anything from a furrowed, disapproving brow to a flurry of fists when you least expect it. It beckons the crippling desire to run as fast as you can to avoid even something as small as that judgmental glance, even if it would mean stumbling over every dancing body in that bar to make my escape.

But I still managed to hold up my made-up bargain. The drinks kept coming, and they came strong, the fires of the alcohol raging as it tore down my throat, making the world unsteady and my judgment dissolve away. Maybe it was a blessing that at that point. The thought of talking to him didn’t bring an explosion of fiery anxiety through my veins. Maybe it was the best thing that could have happened that night, and then my friend Claire, an optimist whose smile could make you believe pessimism never existed, offered to tell him that I wanted to talk to him. It was then that I realized that this “blessing” was just a sharp, stinging curse in a vodka-lemonade disguise.

So when they managed to get him to agree, they hustled away to leave me to it, like a ringmaster against a lion, but this lion wasn’t trained and no one gave me a whip to fend it off. My body became a war-zone of nerves, some saying it would be okay, some saying that it wouldn’t be okay and that he would laugh and call me a faggot and punch me in the face and that none of it would work and just god dammit why did I even drink that second vodka lemonade after the first giant-ass drink I had and—

Every hair-brained thought halted when he slid into the booth seats across from me, his arms folded and his face implying that he was ready for me to condemn myself. I felt like I was supposed to be reciting what I’d be telling him. As if I was even supposed to expect that he’d be across the booth from me, anyway.

“Hi,” was all I could manage. I hated myself for it.

“Hey,” he said. “Word on the street is that you wanted to talk to me.”

My body ignored the thudding vibrations from the bass that filled the whole club. As far as my mind knew, we were the only two people who existed in the world. As far as I knew, I was still lurking in my own mind, but this time, I stumbled into whatever side of it only felt optimism.

To tell him, or not to tell him? That was the question. If I had the time for a Hamlet-like soliloquy of questioning every aspect of my painful situation, oh boy, would I have taken it. But the only thing my absent brain could muster up was to take a chance. I’d already wasted enough of his time, and I already wasted too many fiery nerves for that night to end on a normal note.

“I just,” I said, trying so hard to force the words out, even with my brain was trying to shut my vocal cords down. “I wanted to say that I find you very attractive. That…that was it.”

And I was expecting it. The furrowed brow, the immediate reflex to jump out of the booth and run, to assert his obvious masculinity and send his fist right across the table into my nose, but he smiled. He smiled just enough to wordlessly thank me, but it wasn’t the kind of smile you hope for when you make a confession like that.

“Was that seriously it?”

I nodded. I was so burned up on the inside; I could hardly do anything else. The war-zone turned from blasts and explosions to a wasteland of things too lifeless to fight.

“If guys were my thing, maybe this would be different,” he said. “But thanks. I’m flattered.”

He got up from the seat across from me, and gave me a pat on my back before he became another face in the crowd.

But he wasn’t just another face in the mess of sweaty, stumbling bar-goers. He was a face I’d remember. Not because it was perfect, but because it didn’t let me feel like anything less than that.

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