Hassan came back, “Hey, I’m sorry to put you through this but my girlfriend just broke up with me.”
It smelled like any other bar but this one was my oasis, where I felt no pressure to socialize and was happy to stay anonymous. Beers were under five bucks, so you could walk out with a ten-dollar tab after two drinks and a tip. It was tucked away on a quiet street corner, a neon-yellow sign beckoning its thirsty callers.
I felt embraced by the dark wood panels, a low-hanging rack of glasses, and the silent but always moving bartenders. The low din of voices and soft folk music was comforting. You wouldn’t expect it but they served a rotating tap of thirty-two local brews.
There were plenty of bars to go to for social reasons, either to get laid or at least to meet someone interesting while trying. But this place remained sacred. I never said hi to anyone or struck up a conversation. I would sit belly-up at the bar, sip on a beer, and bury my face in my phone while reading an essay. Occasionally I’d feverishly jot down an inevitable flash of inspiration. This was where I could make sense of my life and determine what my next steps would be.
“Sorry, do you have a light?”
“Sure, here you go.”
When he returned it, he asked me what I did. I told him I was in coffee sales. Turns out he was in coffee too. We exchanged numbers. Nice guy. I took a sip of my Belgian Triple and went back to reading.
“Hey buddy, can I get your lighter again? Sorry.”
“No worries man, sure.”
He returned the lighter, I paid my tab and walked towards the exit.
“Why don’t you join us?” It was the guy who kept asking me for a light. He was sitting at a table with two women calling out to me from across the room. I smiled and declined, turning towards the door. “Join us for a cigarette then?”
Couldn’t say no to that.
We stood outside in the crisp fall night, huddled around our cigarettes. His name was Hassan, his girlfriend was Marguerite, and she was with her cousin, Sarah. They were friendly and chatty. Before long, they convinced me to join them for another beer.
We sat down, took a sip of our freshly poured drinks, and then Marguerite got up for the bathroom. After a while it was clear she wasn’t coming back. Sarah got up to check on her. A moment later they stormed out, Marguerite in tears, Sarah clutching her hand. They stomped out of the bar without so much as a glance in our direction.
“I’m sorry, let me go see what’s going on.” Hassan ran after them.
I sat at the table wondering what the hell was going on. Hassan came back, “Hey, I’m so sorry to put you through this but my girlfriend just broke up with me.”
“You're apologizing to me? I’m sorry dude, that’s awful. How long have you guys been together?”
“About six months but it's been shaky for a while. I recently came out that I’m bi and it hasn’t been easy.”
“I’m sorry, that’s rough.”
“It’s ok, I’m just sorry we put you through this. I’m gonna get going.”
Not a minute after he was gone, Marguerite and Sarah walked in and sat down at the table. Marguerite was still in a full-blown panic attack; hyperventilating, sobbing, snot pouring down her face. I rushed over and tried to help her breathe. In between sobs, she repeated, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. We didn’t mean for this to happen to you.”
“Why do you keep apologizing? I’m the one who’s sorry, this is awful for you.”
“I love gay people and have nothing against them. I tried. I love him and I know he loves me. I promise I’m not a bad person. I don’t judge you.”
“You don’t judge me?” Wait. “Do you think I’m gay?”
“It’s ok, it’s ok, I promise! I just couldn’t stand how he was looking at you. I was sitting right across from him but he wouldn’t take his eyes off of you.”
“Listen, I’m not gay. It would be okay if I was but I’m not.”
That sent her into even more convulsing sobs.
Sarah thought it would be best to step outside for some air. Marguerite wanted to call Hassan but her phone was dead. Neither she nor Sarah remembered his number.
“Oh, I have it!! He gave it to me earlier.”
“Of course, he gave you his number!” The sobs continued and a helpless Sarah was at her wits end.
“Listen, I can prove to you I’m not gay.” Marguerite was already leaning her weight over me trying to steady herself. She was full-bodied with silky black hair, tight jeans accentuating her thick thighs, and heels that made everything pop. I took her hand and brought it towards my pants. “Do you still think I’m gay?”
She laughed and seemed to enjoy feeling me up. I pressed my lips against hers, keeping her fingers on me as I got harder. Sarah let us know she was leaving. We made out for a few minutes then I asked Marguerite if she wanted to go home. She said yes. I ordered an Uber and we made out in the backseat. Halfway there she fell asleep on my shoulder. I decided it was probably not a good idea to take this any further. I dropped her off and went back to my place.
The whole evening was unbelievable to me. Was I that big of a whore that I’d kiss a woman whose relationship just ended in front of my face? Being the object of both of their desire was so hot though. I felt bad for the sweet Hassan, who bolted not knowing what was about to transpire, and the cousin Sarah, who had no idea what to do with herself.
I reasoned that I was a passive participant in this whole drama. I was at the right time and place. Or the wrong time and place. Maybe both. Either way, I didn’t do anything wrong. Right? I was opportunistic and if a beautiful woman wanted to feel me up who was I to say no?
Mostly I was flattered that I was attractive enough to be the cause of a break-up. I’d come a long way from the bearded, overweight guy, who struggled to transition any interaction into a sexual one.
I tried not to make much of the fact that they were so convinced I was gay. I already developed a narrative about myself that I wasn’t manly enough. This had to be the reason that I friend zoned the women I liked. I was kind and sweet, but maybe I was too emotional, too expressive. The big, muscular guys didn’t talk much, knew how to fix things, and were generally more stoic and composed.
It sounded like a classic trope gay men dealt with. Women liked me but not in that way. The women who did like me in that way were not the women I liked. Was there any way out of this cycle?
I sent them a text the next day wishing them well. I expected at least one of them to yell at me but they were sweet and understanding. I never did find out if they ever got back together.