We’re standing outside of a late night bar, deciding what to do next. All of our friends are there but it still feels like we’re alone. I don’t know how we got onto the topic but suddenly, I feel Paul’s arm around my waist pulling me closer and he says quietly, “I’m very attracted to you.”
My head is swirling with a combination of Fernet Branca and the sweet, leathery smell of his body but I still have the audacity to play it cool. I shrug my shoulders and affect what I hope is nonchalant body language when I say “and I’m really attracted to you. So what? That happens.”
At this point, we’re standing in the street, looking for a cab but we haven’t talked about where we’re going or why. “You have a boyfriend,” he says and this is true. I shrug my shoulders again.
“And I love my boyfriend. He’s a great guy,” I tell him. “But I don’t see what that has to do with us.”
This is a conversation that I have had repeatedly since I started falling in love and the steps by now are all familiar to me. I am more cynical on the subject of sex and relationships than about any other subject, but there is still a certain type of man who can jam my heart into my throat from across a crowded room without even trying. Paul is that kind of man. Every time he walks past me, it feels like John Lee Hooker is playing guitar somewhere down inside my body, in the thigh region. Nine times out of ten, I know how to ignore that feeling, how to shove it down and down and down until my breathing goes back to normal and I can separate my brain from my hips. But then again, sometimes there’s that tenth time.
We find a cab and I dive into the back seat with Paul’s hand on my waist.
“We can’t go to my house,” he says.
“I live with my boyfriend. In a studio.”
We think about this for a while and I realize that neither one of us knows exactly what we’re doing. When we get to my place, he opens the door to get out and we decide to both just go home. I crawl into bed beside my boyfriend and we have sex, and afterwards, while we lie there, I decide to tell him what happened. He doesn’t say much about it. I’ve told him about Paul before, and one other clumsy altercation that began and ended much the same way. Though we’ve never acted upon it, our relationship status is decidedly Open and my boyfriend is well-aware that Paul is part of the reason why.
“Would it bother you if I slept with him?” I ask. My boyfriend thinks about it for a while before saying no. “If it does, I won’t do it.” He goes quiet again for a while before saying that it wouldn’t.
“But don’t you think that would create an even bigger problem than it is now?” he asks. “I mean, from everything you’ve told me, it sounds like he really likes you. I’ve seen the way he looks at you. Don’t you think if you slept with him, it might just make him more attached to you?”
“I’ve been pretty honest with him,” I say. “He knows that I love you and that we’re going to get married.”
“Just be careful,” he says and rolls over onto his side. “I know how guys are, and this could be trouble.”
I put my arm around my boyfriend’s stomach and cuddle up next to him really close, thinking about how lucky I am, and how foolish I am to even think about anybody else. I think about how much I love him and how I feel when he walks into a room, how I’d probably be dead or in jail if I didn’t have him to keep me sane. But just as I’m about to fall asleep, and I’m holding my love in my arms, listening to him breathe, there is an image in my head of Paul on the other side of town crawling into his bed, by himself. And even though I hate myself for it, even though I’m not sure how guilty I should feel, there is a very small part, deep deep down, that wishes it could be there to say good night to him.