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It had all started out so well. But good intentions, and all that.

After days of debating — hell, weeks, ever since that kiss by the lake if he was being honest with himself — Chris finally decided he had to put these lingering...thoughts...to rest. Adam wasn't into him, the kiss had definitively proven that. And besides, Adam had Matt. So things would now go back to the way things had always been. Normal.

Or they should have. But Chris had been waiting for things to be normal for way too long. Instead, every time he hung out with Adam it was like time slowed down. His face got all hot and he was instantly confronted by the memory of the soft press of Adam's mouth to his, even though it had been all of one second and Adam had ended the moment by letting him down easy.

Well one thing was for sure — Adam, who was the most decent guy Chris knew, deserved total and utmost support and really did not need to think he'd caused Chris to have a temporary crisis of sexuality. 

Enough waiting. Chris vowed to put this confusion behind him. He would prove he was one hundred percent not into dick and then they could go back to being the best platonic bros of all time. He was doing this for them. 

So there was nothing for it. It was time to take a dip in the dude pool. 





It took some pep-talks in the mirror and not a couple fingers worth of liquid courage, so Chris was a little drunk by the time he furtively typed dudemingle into his phone. The half-empty tumbler of cheap whiskey at hand betrayed all the fortifying gulps he'd had to take to get to this point.

However, there came an immediate stumbling block in this seemingly foolproof plan.

"Three dollars!?"

To say he was outraged was an understatement. This was exploitation of the LGBTQ community for sure.

Sighing, he took out his wallet. As he put in his card info he reminded himself that he was doing this for Adam. For them.

Ok, back on track. Now purchased, the app opened onto his screen.

A pleasantly sky-blue screen loaded, then a welcome message materialized in friendly font. Welcome to Dudemingle, where dudes find dudes. Are you ready to change your life?

The last part seemed slightly ominous but it was probably just Chris's trepidation about this whole venture. He forged manfully onward. 

The app asked him to input his first name. He hesitated again at this, but then scoffed at himself. It wasn't like his cell phone provider would somehow out him to anyone he knew. This wasn't one of those apps where it suggested you friend all of your phone contacts — he knew this because Adam had been freaking out about the same thing.

Besides, he told himself, people were into all kinds of crazy shit, way worse than taking a peek into a dating site. He doubted this was of any interest to anyone, and he was totally going to delete his profile tomorrow anyway. This was just a brief foray to put his mind at ease.

He took another sip from his glass. The whiskey burned but good. He smacked his lips, and shook his head to clear it.

The next page asked for a username. He wiggled his thumbs, willing a good name to come to him, then typed BBall_Bro24

He paused, wondering if that sounded too straight. He was trying to blend in here.

He deleted it and changed course.

BBall_Bro24 SalamiFootlong

Yeah, that was more like it. It sounded a little more enticing both for its connotations and because it was a delicious snack.

Satisfied, he clicked next, which brought up a questionnaire.

"Sure, ok." This plan was proving to be a little work, but he could do it.

He clicked answers quickly without thinking too closely about it. Questions like What do you notice first in a guy? (Smile) and Would you consider yourself an honest person (Sure). It's not like he was trying to actually meet the potential love of his life, so his answers didn't actually matter. Although he did hesitate before answering the last question about whether he was here to meet hotties with great bodies or chill dudes to vibe with. He wasn't sure which answer made this not-gay-but-it's-natural-to-be-curious freakout more worrisome. He tried to submit his answers without filling that last one out but it was a required answer so he finally hit the second option and put it behind him.

Next: Upload your profile pic.

This was an easy one. He got up and flipped the light switch in his bathroom, then lifted his shirt and took a shot in the mirror for a sweet pic of his abs. Snap. He uploaded it.

Final thing was to fill out the bio, which was always the hardest part. He didn't let himself agonize about writing the most enticing and accurate one, just filled it out quickly and honestly.

 

Salamifootlong's Bio

About me: Just a regular dude living that 9 to 5 life. Seeing what's up with this gay thing, go easy on me.

Interests: poker night with the guys, bball, sampling fine brews, hanging with dogs

Favorite movie: Scarface, Diehard, Ghostbusters, the classics.

Something people might not know about you: I've always had a man crush on Dwayne the Rock Johnson

 

That last part felt a bit too close to baring his soul, but Chris kept it in. There was nothing wrong with a little anonymous honesty on the internet, was there?

Finished with his bio, he finished his whiskey.

 "Whoo. Ok, let's do this." 

He gave his profile one last look, considering what gay guys would see when they matched with him. The picture showed him from his chin downward, face out of the frame so he was unrecognizable while his pecs and abs were on full display looking great in the neon light. Just the edge of his underwear peeked out over the edge of his diesel brand skinny jeans. 

"Damn, you look good," he said. It was enough encouragement to click Finish Profile.

He sat back in his chair, tension leaving his shoulders for what felt like the first time in weeks. That was enough exploration for now. He'd taken the first step and now he deserved some wings.

His food arrived in less than twenty minutes. It was from his and Adam's favorite wings place, just down the street. Chris had picked up his phone again to keep looking at his own profile, trying to assess what an actual gay dude would think if he saw it, and was still considering the wording of his bio when he answered the door to find a tall, thirty-something guy in a tight Wings & Things polo on his front stoop.

Chris gave him a once-over, wondering if he had ever taken a dip in the dude pool. Whether he had had a similar moment (moments) of curiosity and had decided to go for it, just as a trial run, no one had to know, that kind of thing. Had everyone? Nick seemed to know some shit, although Chris had never outright asked how, and actually same with Ortu. Had everyone done this kind of soul searching except for Chris? Was he way late to the game and everyone else had their shit figured out already? Jesus.

"Uh, hi," said the delivery guy after what must have been an extended pause. Chris blinked back to reality, suddenly wondering whether he was going to be punched in the jaw for sizing up a straight dude. But the guy seemed to be looking down at the phone that was still in full view in Chris's hand, the recognizable screen of the Dudemingle app displayed plain as day. Chris quickly hid the phone behind his back, the guy's eyes darting away as well.

"Uh, here," said Chris, foisting a twenty at him. "Keep the change." He wondered then if giving him a 30% tip seemed like he was paying him off. Surely not.

"Thanks." The guy grinned and handed him the carrier bag. "And give me a call real soon."

"What?"

"Order again soon, I meant."

"Uh, yeah, you too. I mean. I will."

He shut the door decisively.

With a feeling of having taken a great leap into the abyss he stripped down to his boxers and fell onto his bed, clutching the tub of wings in his arms. Alone in the light of the TV, half drunk and now a card-carrying member of a gay dating site, he could admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, it also felt like exhilaration. Somehow that was worse.




He got his first taste of the dude-on-dude lifestyle the next morning after his workout, while he was leaning against the kitchen counter still in his running clothes. The notification You have 25 potential matches! seemed to taunt him. The regret was setting in.

He had to remind himself that no one was going to find out. Not his parents, not his bros, and definitely not Adam. Who was also just a bro.

This didn't comfort him somehow.

Sipping his peanut butter banana protein shake, he opened Dudemingle. A helpful message glowed on the screen.

Now that you've completed your profile, you're on your way!

Chris swiped to get to the next screen.

We've been able to match you with the hottest dudes in your area based on your compatibility.

An uncomfortable feeling clenched at Chris's stomach.

He swiped to the next screen.

How does it work? Swipe right if you want to start a conversation. Swipe left if you're not interested.

"Next…" 

And when you see a winky emoji, it means your guy also likes you...

"I know how a frikken dating app works."

Chris swiped past at least five more screens explaining the atmosphere of honesty and respect Dudemingle prided itself on and reminding him that if he chose to meet up with people from the app, it was at his own risk.

And that's it! Ready, set...get mingling!

The intro screen dissolved into his first potential match.

The profile showed a thin guy with frosted tips, staring down the camera with a look that was at once coy and predatory. His username in bold, masculine letters underneath the photo, read: peachseeksbanana.

Chris quickly swiped left.

The next potential match was a smirking guy in a muscle tee that read Beer-Beach-Bum. Chris's finger hovered over the screen. He was here to investigate so he should investigate. He scrolled down and saw that the profile was full of emojis. That seemed friendly. He swiped right. It didn't hurt to see what was up, right?

He leaned against the counter, swiping through the next ten or so guys, mostly left, until he looked at the microwave clock and realized what time it was.

"Oh, crap."

Chris lived downtown, so work was only an eleven minute walk away. But he had sunk like ten minutes into the app, so despite his quick shower plus the power walking he was still five minutes late for work, and he got to the tenth floor of his office building straightening his now wrinkled shirt, hoping he didn't look like he'd run the whole way.

Luckily his boss was already in a meeting so Chris was in the clear.

He hung his jacket on the back of his chair and headed to the office breakroom. Time for his morning coffee ritual, a nuanced affair that included mixing two types of the least gross Keurig pods then mixing in a packet of Swiss Miss hot chocolate. It wasn't necessarily about what you liked the most in life, it was all about making the best of what you had. That had always been his philosophy.

Back at his desk, he sipped his Jungle Java-Folgers Classic mocha, and turned on his desktop computer, preparing himself to get some research done. Gay research that is. He pulled out a notepad and pen to make it look like he was doing work-work, opened an excel spreadsheet, and then surreptitiously placed his phone next to his mousepad, out of sight to passersby.

There was a Dudemingle notification on his lockscreen. Someone had messaged him.

"Ok, you can do this." The sooner he talked to some guys, the sooner he would confirm his theory that he'd suffered merely a temporary lapse in heterosexuality due to helping Adam with his own gay stuff, and could put this all behind him.

Feeling like a guilty man, he spun slowly in his chair to make sure no one was watching, then took a calming gulp of coffee and opened his phone.

The notification brought him to a chat screen. Coming2nite, the guy with the Beer-Beach-Bums shirt that still gave Chris a laugh (That shirt would be a good present for Adam, come to think of it. Although Adam didn't like the beach that much, so maybe not.) had sent him a message.

Coming2nite: hey hot stuff ;) those skinny jeans give me all sorts of ideas. Although I'd rather see you out of them.

So alarmed was he at this forward message, Chris almost sprayed coffee all over on his computer keyboard.

He managed to keep it together enough to swallow and set his mug down. Pausing for a moment to remind himself that this was for science, he typed out hi and pushed send.

His phone dinged a second later. Then it dinged again, and again.

what u up to 2nite?

wanna meet? my place?

powerbottom, dtf

Chris may have let out a squawk of indignation. This dude was hella forward and not in a good way.

The sound of a throat clearing from the office opposite his desk brought him back to present, and he gave Maureen from Accounting a winning smile over his shoulder. She raised an eyebrow and looked back down at her paperwork.

Chris returned to his phone screen, to the very presumptuous messages. How dare he! Chris wasn't just going to hook up with some dude, just like that! He scrolled up and very decisively hit Block.






That interaction left a bad taste in his mouth, and it wasn't just the flavor of the Keurig pods (which were contributing to the giant plastic island in the middle of the ocean and which Chris should probably stop drinking). He left his phone in his desk drawer between the hours of nine and eleven, after which point he was stuck on a conference call with his director and the VP of the Eastern Seaboard division.

He listened with one ear to his boss giving an overview of their progress on their current project, and with the other half of his attention pulled out his phone again and began scrolling through his potential matches. 

He clicked on a red-headed guy who had a wad of twenties fanned over half his face, username Billionaire. The first line of his bio read: Looking for a third to spice things up for the wife. The next picture was their wedding photo. Chris quickly swiped away. Hard nope.

The next guy looked friendly in his profile pic, which showed him leaning way out over a pool table taking a corner shot, but his profile boasted I take more loads than a washer machine and Chris beat a hasty retreat. 

Chris's next potential match was a pimply guy wearing a Make America Great Again hat. ("How is that even possible?" Chris scoffed, affronted, and only realized he'd said it out loud because Maureen from Accounting cleared her throat meaningfully again at the interruption.) He swiped left.

Soon after there was someone with a Make America Gay Again hat, which gave Chris pause but also earned a ‘no' for the kind of nauseating picture of him eating one long, wet burrito. Chris swiped left.

Then there was the total neckbeard with an actual neckbeard, surrounded by hundreds of those bobblehead figurines. Not Chris's speed.

The next one, however, was surprising. Chris found himself staring down at the sweet, smiling face of his regular delivery guy. "Marco?" The guy was definitely good-looking, and Chris knew he was super chill. But that would just be awkward. Chris shook his head and moved on, swiping left and mentally wishing Marco all the best.

Honestly he was starting to question the Dudemingle algorithm until he came across a profile of a guy who listed that he loved playing paintball. Chris paused. He scrolled down and saw that the guy's profile featured a picture of himself spread eagle in the grass looking blissed out and completely splattered in paint all up his neck and over his face...which kind of made it seem like he was bad at paintball actually. But Chris wasn't here to judge. 

The point was, the guy seemed quantifiable, someone Chris felt like he would know what to expect from rather than a big question mark like many of the other profiles. Other interests were simply listed as catching (so he liked baseball!) and hot dog eating competitions (specific, but funny!) and Chris spent the better half of a minute deciding whether or not to swipe right. Finally he thought, fuck it, what did he have to lose? And took the plunge.

Immediately the guy pinged him with a stellar opening.

You look like my cousin.

Jay-sus.

Chris wasn't a prude or whatever but...he blocked him.

The scrolling was endless.

There were a surprising number of potential matches in town. Other than Marco, Chris didn't recognize any of them.

How many gay guys could there be in a town this size, anyway? Or in all of Upstate New York for that matter? Apparently a lot. The real question was, how had Chris missed out on this whole other section of society for so long?

Well, he hadn't guessed that Adam was into the D, even after spending twenty plus years standing right next to the guy.

And he hadn't known about Scott Lombardi, either.

Thinking about his high school acquaintance brought on a resurgence of dark thoughts about Scott's friend-seducing ways. Chris put down his phone, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He could barely remember what the guy looked like, other than he'd been about Chris's height when they were in school, with brown hair and decent track-and-field related muscles. Lean but also just a normal-looking guy. Boring even. Just another person Chris hadn't laid eyes on since graduation.

Even so, the imagined scenario that played out in Chris's mind seemed all too real — Adam, Scott, the windows of Scott's perfectly working Camaro steaming up. Chris remembered Adam had been supposedly "fixing" that car for over a month. He still couldn't believe he hadn't guessed.

This thought was too much for work. It was definitely time for a break, time to take a walk around the office to clear his head. Chris pocketed his cell and made to stand up, before fumbling the actual desk phone he had been holding pressed against his ear, realizing he was still on the important phone call with his boss and colleagues a few states over and that he had totally lost track of the conversation. How long had he been spacing?

He settled back in his chair carefully and downed the dregs of his mocha which had long since gone cold. But then he drew up short, aware suddenly of silence on the other end of the phone.

Then his boss said, as if one repeating himself for the third time, "Chris?"

Chris sat up straight in his chair. "Yeah?"

"Did you have something to add?"

"Sorry, the sound cut out there for a second. Could you repeat the question?"

His boss sounded a tiny bit peeved when he said, "Can you give us those numbers for July?"

"Right, the trends are looking good." He grabbed for a loose paper on his desk, thankfully finding the right one in a timely fashion. He rattled off some numbers and figures, trying to sound casual rather than caught in the midst of a revenge fantasy against a guy he hadn't laid eyes on since high school.

"Thanks, Chris. Very informative." His boss then handed the conversation smoothly over to the other team and Chris sunk down in his chair, relieved he'd managed to pull it off.

The call ended shortly after that with no more input needed from Chris, and when he hung up the phone he decided he'd done enough work for now. He took out his cell phone again and scrolled.

None of the long list of potential matches were really doing it for him, which confirmed what Chris had known from the beginning: he was definitely still not interested in dudes.

This confirmation should have come with some relief but mainly he felt a little frustration actually, like he had failed some test and wanted to contest the results.

It just didn't seem right. Like, hypothetically, if a guy was interested in dipping a toe into bisexuality, there should be a guy out there that was totally made for him. Right?

This was a stupid train of thought. Chris had gotten the answer he had been looking for. He had confirmed he was straight, once and for all, and now he could just spend his time getting things back to normal with Adam.

All this stress about whether he was being a good friend to Adam was just messing with his head obviously. He reminded himself that just because a bro's bro was gay didn't make the first bro also gay. Yah, that checked out. Chris had explored this possibility to be an openminded individual who didn't discount opportunities and possibilities just because of what society deemed 'normal'. And now that he had all the evidence, he needed to move on with his life. End of story. No harm no foul.

Chris unlocked his phone again, all set to delete the 'Mingle, when another notification popped up.

You have more potential matches in your area.

His finger hovered. He couldn't just...not look at them all, right? Now that he had made his decision to move past this experiment, he could totally look at them. Just for fun. There was something appealingly voyeuristic and kind of hilarious about reading other peoples' dating profiles. Every guy looked kind of tooly, including himself. That was part of the fun, right?

Yeah, no harm checking it out and he wasn't doing any more work now anyway. Hell, he might even find a cool dude for Adam, he thought as he opened the app.

The very next profile that popped up gave him pause. It showed a picture of a guy frowning in what was supposed to be a model pose no doubt, kind of Zoolander-esque, but it was somehow working for him. He had a strong jaw and a hint of dark stubble. Chris checked out the next picture just out of curiosity, which showed him in a similar pose except this time at the bench press at the gym, and moved on to the next one that featured him crushing a beer can in one fist, wearing a football jersey, staring down the camera like he was daring it to try him.

Chris raised an eyebrow, considering. For some reason, now that his experiment was over, he found himself really wanting to find out what this dude was about. Nothing wrong with that, right?

He swiped right.

He was going to put his phone down but hesitated. If he was going to see what was up, he should do some of the work instead of making everyone else come up with stuff to say. So he typed out a quick message. Hey, I see you like sports.

It took all of 30 seconds for Touch_Down to respond. im all about it

Chris spun in his chair. This was the first not weird response. Was he really going to talk to this guy?

He gave it a minute so he didn't seem like he was glued to his phone or desperate or something, before writing, Cool. What sports? Basketball is my jam.

football & weights

Nice. I lift sometimes.

how much can u lift 💪

They chatted a bit. It turned out Touch_Down really liked football, which made sense given his username, although it wasn't really Chris's thing. Oh well, to each his own.

They had a nice little convo though and Chris wasn't surprised when Touch_Down asked him for some pics. Feeling a little weird about leading him on but also knowing people did this kind of stuff all the time and it was totally fine to back out, Chris went through his phone gallery. He had to find the right pic that was flattering but not too recognizable for plausible deniability reasons. While he was searching there was a blip of an incoming message. When Chris opened it, his mouth went dry.

Oh sweet jesus.

Touch_Down had sent his own picture. In it he was shirtless, oiled up and glistening – more like gleaming. His strong hands gripped a football, his biceps bulged. He looked like he could break Chris in half.

Chris distantly realized he was gaping at his phone, a totally normal reaction to being sent Adult Content while at work. And it was entirely normal for guys to recognize and appreciate the work another guy had put into his body!

And it was clear Touch_Down had done a lot of work.

His phone beeped again and he read distractedly, so what are you doing 2nite?

Chris considered for a long time. He wasn't going to just up and meet some guy when he wasn't even really gay. He was only on the app to check some dudes out to prove that he wasn't into them so why should he go to all the trouble of going on a date? A fake date. That would be rude to the other dude! Chris was a gentleman!

He had just typed out Sorry, I'm looking for something else. and was about to press send when a call flashed on his screen.

Chris fumbled his phone, caught it midair, and pressed answer.

"Shit, hi." He shot up from his desk and speed walked between the cubicles to the door leading out to the stairwell.

"Uh, hi yourself," Adam laughed from the other end. "Catch you in the middle of something?"

"Nope, just work, you know." And having a crisis that may or may not be directly related to you. "Workity work." Chris winced. 

Adam paused for a beat then said, sounding uncertain, "All right. Um, I'm on break at the garage. I just...wanted to call and say hey."

Chris rubbed a hand over his jaw, feeling stupid nervous. It must have been the guilt. "Well, hey."

"Yeah. Hey."

Chris cleared his throat. He leaned against the railing, looking down the spiral of stairs that led to ground floor far below. "So what's been goin' on?"

It was a stupid question. He and Adam had hung out plenty of times since the 4th of July. Since Ortu's party, since they'd smoothed things out. His mind supplied that graphic sense memory once again: the smell of campfire smoke, the bitter fizz of beer on his tongue and the solid press of Adam's shoulder against his as they'd stayed up all night drinking around the fire, well past the time everyone else had passed out in the grass.

Adam sounded hesitant when he said, "I just wanted to make sure stuff's, uh, ok…" he trailed off. "I mean, I know stuff is ok. I just can't help but feel you're...you know...worried. Or something. And I just wanted to say..." he let out a sigh. "I was a dick, as previously established, and I wanted to apologize again for—"

"Dude you were a dick?" Chris couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I thought we established I was the dick!" Adam laughed quietly, and an awkward kind of happiness clenched in Chris's chest at the sound. "Adam you have nothing to apologize about." 

"Ok," Adam conceded. "We can both be the dick."

Chris ran a hand over his face, trying to cover the smile. "Yeah, ok. Glad that's settled."

Chris listened to Adam breathing for probably too long, wondering if he was also trying not to think about this kiss. Chris said quietly, finally, "We're good, man."

"Well if you're sure…"

"One-hundred percent sure. We're good."

"Ok." He could hear Adam smiling too, even over the phone. "Good, then. So I'll catch you at hockey night?"

"Can't wait."

After Adam hung up Chris stayed in the stairwell for five whole minutes replaying the conversation, thinking about Adam's laugh.

Chris groaned, the sound echoing down the stairwell. "Fuck me," he said, probably too loud but he didn't care.

He was seriously screwed, and all because of Adam.

Er, confused. Not screwed. And it wasn't Adam's problem. It was on Chris alone to figure his shit out and quick, because Adam didn't deserve to have all of this confusion dumped on him. Especially not now, when he was dealing with his own stuff.

Chris opened Dudemingle again right then and there by the fire escape door that went off if you accidentally leaned on it (he knew this from experience, unfortunately) and he deleted the rejection message he'd been about to send.

Instead he sent, I'm free tonight, let's meet

noice, responded Touch_Down, and sent him a time and a place.





The bar was just a nondescript dive Chris had been to once before, the drinks a dollar too expensive to make it worth the atmosphere, which was a little too grungy to be trendy, making it the perfect place for an equally non-descript meetup on a Monday night.

Touch_Down showed up in a football jersey, a different one than his picture, and was shorter than Chris had assumed. This actually made him less intimidating somehow, and he accepted with a nod when Chris offered to buy the first round.

The conversation didn't veer away from sports. And when Chris had run out of things to say about football, Touch_Down didn't offer another topic, and they lapsed into a semi-awkward moment of sipping their beers and not making eye contact. Just two dudes, having a drink. The music made it too loud to hear each other easily across the sticky table anyhow.

"So, what do you think?" Touch_Down finally said.

Chris raised a hand to his ear. "Say what?"

Touch_Down put down his beer and looked Chris dead in the eyes. "Yes or no."

"Uh," said Chris, put on his best game face, and said, "Hell yes?"

"Sweet."

They ended up at Touch_Down's place, a nice condo in the south of town.

As far as hook-ups went it was pretty par for the course. Less athletic than Chris had imagined, given the circumstances, yet somehow sweatier. Pretty decent actually, much better than with Jessica but that just made sense. Dudes obviously knew what dudes liked, that was just science.

After, Chris retrieved his jeans and took his time zipping his jacket while Touch_Down left the couch to snag a beer from the fridge. He cracked it open and wandered back over to the couch, picking up his discarded shirt from the floor only to toss it in the direction of the bedroom.

"Well, I had a great time," Chris told him, because he prided himself on being polite.

They guy raised an eyebrow. "Let's not make this gay, dude."  

"Legit." said Chris. "Well, see ya."

Touch_Down saluted him with his beer and switched on the TV.

Once back at home, Chris considered himself in the bathroom mirror as he brushed his teeth. No answers were forthcoming. In fact, the hookup had only given rise to more questions actually.

He really wanted to call Adam to ask him for advice, or just to talk, but resisted the urge for obvious reasons. It was too bad. He could really use his bro right now.

The only safe party — one who wasn't involved and who totally wouldn't judge...unless he was being an asshole of course, at which point he could count on her to call him on it — was Rachel. He scrolled down his recent texts and thumbed out a quick message.

hey Trainy.

He went over and sat at the edge of his bed. He waited a couple minutes, mainly staring at his lock screen which featured a pic of a cute dog he and Adam had met at the park.

When no reply was forthcoming he texted, u up?

Then five minutes later: never mind. goodnite.

Rachel responded five minutes after that. Hi Chris. I'm on a date, this better be good.

Chris was relieved. He immediately texted out: It's normal to be like, super straight but appreciate the finer qualities of a dude right? Like his laugh and stuff?

Har har, she texted back. Then, Oh are you serious?

like, it's possible to do stuff that's technically pretty gay but be super straight at the same time. u can be into a guy in a non gay way, i swear i've heard that exists

Do you mean...friendship?

i guess so, Chris texted back, ignoring her obvious sarcasm. He thought about Touch_Down's strong hands on his skin just earlier that evening. He though about Adam's floppy hair and that kind smile that he wanted to see every day. He wanted to be the reason for it. He texted, but also like gayer than that I guess. only a little tho

Sure, that's totally possible, but also that sounds like your internalized homophobia talking.

Chris reread this three times before texting back: Wut?

Hey sorry I gotta go. Let's talk about this later tho.

k, thanks trainy. for real.

Chris lay back on his sheets staring up at the dark ceiling. He was glad Rachel was on a date instead of with his sorry ass.

He sighed, feeling a little better now that he had talked to someone, but somehow even more confused. More research was definitely necessary.







He got right back on the horse. 

Most of the profiles the app showed him were way not his thing. Maybe once he got gayer.

If. If he ever got gayer.

He shook his head and kept scrolling, swiping left more often than not.

It was only Wednesday but it felt like weeks of mindless scrolling and he had swiped right on only a couple guys. One was a guy whose picture showed him looking pleased with himself standing under the Cockfosters Underground station sign on a trip he'd taken to London (Chris could appreciate a good innuendo) and another guy with a kind of serious businessy headshot as his profile pic that said Just in town for the weekend (which promised a definite no-strings-attached situation). 

The innuendo guy messaged him pretty quickly, but the innuendos got old pretty quickly as well, so Chris just blocked him. He was about to go back to scrolling when a friendly screen popped up from the app.

Hi, Salamifootlong! We see that you've been swiping right on only 1 out of 20 of your matches.

Chris rolled his eyes. "Maybe your algorithm just sucks," he muttered and swiped right to get out of the auto message screen. He only had an hour before hockey night and he needed to fit in some gay research before hanging with Adam.

More text glowed on the screen.

Did you know that when you swipe right more often, you increase your chances of forming real connections?

"Yeah yeah…" he swiped through.

69% of all dudes rate Dudemingle the number one app for dudes to mingle.

Chris rolled his eyes and swiped.

As you know, Dudemingle doesn't have ads. We wouldn't do that to you ;)

Chris swiped, somewhat humiliated at how annoyed he was at this interruption and how he just wanted to go back to sizing up dudes in profiles. And yet there was another screen.

But you can help us out.

Swipe.

We would love it if you would rate our app!

Swipe.

The survey should only take 5 minutes, and will help future dudes find love, lust or something in between.

Swipe.

To take the survey, go to your menu and click ‘Rate Us'

Swipe.

After just a few easy questions...

"Oh, come on!" He swiped five times until he'd finally cleared the menu. And then he swiped once again for good measure.

The next thing he knew, none other than a picture of Adam had filled up his phone, a winky face glowing boldly in the center of the screen.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhh—" But it was already too late! Chris had in actual fact swiped right on Adam's profile, the first profile after the stupid message screens! "—cccccck—" And now Adam would see that he'd swiped! And basically this was the end of his life as he knew it! "—kkkkk."

All the blood had rushed from Chris's head. He clutched his face in his hands, trying not to panic.

Ok. Ok. He had to assess the damage.

Chris clicked to his own profile, trying to see it from Adam's point of view. Ok, perfect. Adam totally couldn't recognize him from this. His picture was generic, the bio inconclusive. He was totally unrecognizable.

Flooded with relief, Chris sunk down into his couch — before sitting straight up because, hold up! Adam was still on the app? Wasn't he dating Matt?

Chris had no idea what conclusion to draw from this. 

He fell back against the couch, trying to chill the eff out after that close call. He was safe. Everything was fine. Nothing had changed.

It took a whole minute of lying back on the couch with a cool beer pressed to his forehead like he was an old-timey damsel in distress for him to realize the real kicker of the whole thing. He shot up again, gripping the arm of the sofa. There had been a winky face over Adam's picture, meaning...

They. Had. Matched.

Matched!

Which meant…

He shot upright, grabbing for his phone. "Shit!"

It meant that Adam had swiped right on him, too.

Holy shit!

Even though his profile was purposely vague and there was no way Chris could recognize him from his generic ripped bod, Adam had liked his profile. Like-liked it. Which meant Adam had like-liked him! And possibly thought he wasn't totally busted! Or at least adequately non-busted! Sweet!

A weird feeling coiled in Chris's stomach.

He gripped his phone with conviction, realizing that in no way could he talk to Adam under false pretenses. No way in hell.

Because one thing was for certain, Chris wasn't going to be that guy. You know, that guy who betrayed his bro's trust.

He was already the guy who made a move on his bro while said bro was in a vulnerable state, kissing him in the romantic firelight as the water of the lake lapped at the shore, the stars burning bright overhead as Chris breathed in the scent that was uniquely Adam. He closed his eyes for a second, biting his lip and remembering that Adam had smelled faintly of apple pie, probably from the apple brandy shots they'd taken together earlier, and kind of sweet like the barbeque sauce from Papa Ortu's famous ribs, all mixed with the aftershave that Chris'd bought Adam for his birthday, before this whole thing had imploded.

Who did that anyway? Assholes, that's who.

So he wasn't going to be the guy that put their relationship in further jeopardy by betraying his bro's trust on this safe online space. No, Chris would stay strong and not talk to him, or better yet, do what he knew was right and block Adam altogether and put this ethical quandary behind him.

But instead he just put down his phone — he was spending too much screen time anyway — and flipped on the TV.

Two minutes later when his phone dinged, he was embarrassed at how quickly he picked it up and how disappointed he was when it was just a message from the business dude he'd swiped on earlier, asking about the gay scene in town. Chris told him about the gay bar, Rocks, and recommended the vodka sodas, then went back to Bo Jack Horseman.

At least he was alone and could mope in peace, without Jess to make fun of his shows.





Soon it was time for hockey. Chris made his way along the side of Adam's parents' house with a six-pack of brews. He walked past the trash cans and into the backyard where Adam lived in the backhouse, paying his parents a little rent here and there but mostly staying rent-free while saving up for a place of his own.

Chris steeled himself for seeing Adam. Everything would be normal so long as he played it cool. Nothing had changed. Really. So Adam had swiped right on his profile, but he wasn't swiping on Chris, just a stranger.

Of course there was still the question of why Adam was still on Dudemingle now that he was seeing someone. He had probably had a fight with Matt but soon they'd be picking out rings or making joint donations to the Save the Whales foundation or some shit.

All that aside, on the phone he and Chris had agreed everything was cool, so Chris would be cool.

Done with his little pep talk, Chris straightened his jacket and knocked on the door. It was a knock they'd been doing since they were kids in the boys only tree house his dad had built for them for Adam's tenth birthday. The wooden sign had survived and Chris read it fondly where it was nailed under the doorway.

Ortu swung the door open. "What's up, what's up!"

They bumped fists and went in. Nick waved from his chair and then returned to explaining an article he was reading about agriculture and power in Ancient Mesoamerica to Adam. Chris meanwhile deposited the six-pack and his phone on the coffee table and settled into the corner of the couch. Adam glanced over and caught Chris's eye, smiling in a way that felt like it was just between them while Nick kept talking.

Chris felt his face go hot, returning the look with a furtive grin. Yeah, everything was totally normal.

"Anyway, let's order that pizza." Nick had wound down his speech to reach out for the nearest phone. Which happened to be Chris's.

The phone that had like a million Dudemingle notifications flashing up on the lockscreen. Maybe even one from Adam.

Chris saw his life flash before his eyes.

"Gaaah no!"

He dove for it in slow motion.

Nick raised his hands before he touched the phone, falling sideways off his chair to get out of Chris's way. Chris snatched the phone and shoved it in his pocket.

"Jay-sus." When Nick got up from the floor he was grinning. 

Ortu had looked up from messing with the remote. "Woah there, Chris. What you got on there, huh? Anything good?"

"Nothing. Just...uh…"

They were all looking at him, half-amused half-weirded out.

"Texts from Jessica." He winced. It was a flat-out lie. He and Jess hadn't talked since he'd taken a hockey stick to Matt's bumper and she'd sped away with his car.

"Even after that cheesecake factory shit?" Nick said. "Man, she's got you whipped."

"Nah, I was just asking for my stuff back. We're one hundred percent over."

Ortu whistled. "She still have your car man? That's rough."

"You okay man?" Adam's brown eyes were warm and worried.

Chris smiled. "Yeah. Like you said, we weren't even into each other." When Adam grimaced, Chris realized he'd brought up their fight at the 4th of July, the very night he was trying to avoid talking about, and here he was, talking about it — Chris gave him a real smile. "Seriously. We haven't seen each other, and I don't care at all. Just...never mind."

"Well, sucks about the car." Adam clapped him on the back, giving his shoulder a little squeeze which made Chris's ears feel hot. By this point he probably looked perma-tomato.

Chris cleared his throat. "Speaking of, you can give me a ride home right? The Uber over here was crazy expensive."

Ortu threw a pillow at him. "Not until after the game!"

"Of course not until after the game. Who do you think I am? I gotta watch the Ducks smash the Flyers." He settled back into the couch, looking to Adam. "Anyway now that we're talking about relationship stuff, dish about kayak dude. You haven't said a peep and it's been weeks."

Nick perked up. "Yeah, what would you say your physical versus emotional compatibility is? I'm working on a paper on intimacy for class and it would be cool to get a queer perspective."

Adam sounded offhanded when he said, "Actually we're not together. We just went on that one date." Adam had mentioned they'd gone to the same Italian restaurant he'd tried with all his other dates.

Chris tried hard for a similarly nonchalant tone, slinging an arm across the back of the couch. "What? No way? I thought you said that went well."

Adam shrugged. "Yeah, it just wasn't what I was looking for."

"Oh come on, give the guy another chance."

"What? Why?" Adam's eyebrows raised a bit.

"Because, man!"

Chris was aware he was being weird. But if Adam wasn't happy, after all this, what was the point? They couldn't both be single, him having dumped Jess and Adam having dumped Matt and things still weird between them.

"So I'm going to call for that pizza," Nick said abruptly. He left holding his own phone.

Adam didn't look away from Chris, frowning. "Why should I give him another chance?"

"It's just...After all that?"

"All what?"

Chris couldn't well tell him about vandalizing Matt's property or the hours of agonizing over Adam that he could just tuck away if he knew Adam was in a committed relationship. But the most important reason of all was, "Just…I just want to know you're happy."

Ortu, who Chris had forgotten was in the room, threw a pillow at him. "Dude, you sound like his mom. Shut up and watch the puck drop." He cranked the TV volume up high and came to sit on the couch. He shoved at Adam's shoulder. "Scoot your ass over."

He made himself comfortable in the corner while Adam moved over until he sat firmly in the center. And even though his shoulders were rigid with annoyance, he was a warm and comforting weight where his leg pressed against Chris's on the too-small sofa.

"Look, sorry if I have other things I'm looking for," Adam said quietly while the crowd roared on-screen.

"Like what?" Chris whispered back. He found he honestly wanted to know.

Matt had seemed like the whole package: good job, principled, outdoorsy, kinda hot in a yuppie way. Chris had been a little intimidated, yeah, and now hearing that even Matt wasn't good enough made him feel even worse. Like if Adam was looking for something better that meant that Chris didn't have a chance in hell.

Not that he wanted a chance. But in principle.

He shook his head and cracked open a drink. "I'm sorry man. Just forget it."

"Yeah, you've been saying that a lot." Adam grinned and gave him a pat on the chest once he'd sat back, a little too firm.

Chris rubbed his chest. "Ouch."

"Get rid of the puck!" Ortu shouted, half standing. The crowd was going crazy. Adam clinked his can against Chris's and sipped.

There were growing pains and there were things to think about. But tonight could be simple: just him and Adam watching a game with their bros. Their friendship could go back to the way it had always been — uncomplicated, awesome — so long as Chris managed to stay out of his damn head for a second.

He still had his arm slung over the back of the couch, and Adam seemed to lean back into it, hugging a pillow in his lap. They sat like this all the time, there was only one couch after all.

But halfway through the third quarter Chris realized, as he was happily finishing his fifth slice of extra cheese pizza and noticing the sweet brush of Adam's hair against his ear every time he leaned a little closer to comment on the game, that this was more than just a little problem. It had gotten very out of hand and could quickly turn into a full fledged friendship-ruining emergency.




Is it gay to want to touch another guy's hair

Hi Chris. I assume this is another poker fiasco?

What?

Did someone's sexuality ruin poker night again?

He frowned. But what the hell, right? Sort of, he admitted. Hockey.

Deets pls. I'm bored at work. Rachel was always bored at work. It was something they had in common.

There are no deets, he texted just as another Dudemingle notice popped up. He now had fifteen unread messages from guys he himself had swiped right on, and who had also swiped right on him. But no messages from Adam.

Which was a good thing.

He answered a couple emails and sipped his tepid mocha. Two minutes later his phone vibrated again. A message from Rachel that said You ok?

Just figuring some shit out.

Just be honest with him and it will b ok. Ok?

Him who? When she didn't text back immediately Chris texted again. Theres no him.

Ok Chris.

There's not.

Just... It'll be ok.

Thanks. It meant more than she would ever know.

You owe me like ten mojitos for being this cool.

I know. He probably owed her a twenty mojitos by now.






Adam messaged him that night. On the app, not by text. It was 1am and they both were still up it seemed.

Hey

Wow, what a charmer. Chris smirked despite his misgivings. How long had he and the boys tried to coach Adam on dating app etiquette?

He couldn't just not respond to Adam so he typed out quickly, trying not to think too closely that he was doing something maybe only shitty friends did: what's up dude?

Chris paused. He stared at this. Should he disguise the way he wrote? No he was overthinking this.

Adam wrote back, It looks like we have a lot of the same interests, so I thought I'd say hey.

Chris tried to come up with a response that didn't feel dangerous. Halfway through an episode of Bo Jack Adam followed up with, You catch the game? A big loss for the Ducks.

Chris sighed. A real fucking tragedy. Yeah, I was there.

Really? In Philly?

Well, I wasn't *there* there, but I witnessed it in all of its tragedy on my friend's 65-inch screen.

Yeah it was pretty brutal.

They had a safe conversation about the game. It was nice to talk to Adam, even if Chris was playing the part of a faceless stranger. Things had been tense in real life but here they could just talk with no strings attached, in a world where Chris hadn't gone and messed everything up.

He had to back off though. It was ok to have this little convo but in Chris's experience situations could escalate quickly on Dudemingle.

Chris exed out of the chat and clicked to the endless scroll of profiles.

Adam's words from last night were still running through his head. There were other things he was looking for in a relationship. It was vague but had given Chris ideas. He'd already tried hookin' it up with a dude who was totally smokin'—Chris had eyes—but there were probably other things Chris himself wanted. But what exactly?

He racked his brain for a bit. When he pictured who he wanted to meet, he thought of someone kind, definitely funny. Someone with a great smile and who was maybe good with their hands. Someone he could have a conversation with and who liked the same movies, who wanted to know him for who he really was, and who he could just shoot the shit with around the campfire or whatever and who didn't think a good date included the Cheesecake Factory.

Woah there. Chris brought that train of thought to a screeching halt. He was getting way sappy. 

But yeah, looking for something different might help Chris answer some questions.

He spent a long time on Dudemingle, finally swiping right when he came across a profile of a guy who sounded as nice as he looked, whose profile read, Looking for a connection that's not just physical.

That seemed promising.

He took a deep breath and then sent a message. Hi, I'm looking for a deep and meaningful connection that is not just about hooking up

He made a face at his phone. Too much?

Like, someone I don't immediately hook up with

And later that day, he got a message back that said, I'm looking for the same thing.

He and LabradorLuvr talked for a bit and Chris found himself being candid, more candid that he would usually be, as he typed on his phone by the copy machine, Yeah, I've spent a lot of recent years just hooking up. I'm not gonna lie it's been fun but...

You want to feel like you can trust and be honest with the person you're with?

Yeah exactly. Mostly I save that for my bros, I've never had that with a girlfriend. Shit. Chris quickly amended, *boyfriend

It's hard to find, I know. I've dated girls and guys, and it's hard in any situation.

Someone cleared their throat behind him and Chris quickly took his copies and stepped aside as Mark from Marketing took over the machine. 

When Chris got back to his desk, which was piled high with paperwork he hadn't gotten to yet, it was to a message from LabradorLuvr. Not gonna lie, it's a little weird to talk to someone who doesn't have their face in their profile.

Dang and here I thought we weren't being shallow?

This didn't get the LOL Chris had been going for. So, after some debate, he shrugged. Who was this guy going to tell? He sent a pic. He looked happy in it, a nice picture that made him smile even looking at it.

The response was not what he expected.

Weird question but do you know a guy named Adam?

Chris went a little panicky at that and he actually looked around the office, a bunch of people minding their own business, mellow and totally ignoring him. Certain that LabradorLuvr wasn't somehow in the office right now, or Adam even, playing a prank, he typed, What?

Yeah I went on a date with that guy. Also his profile has the same picture of the two of you.

Chris went over to Adam's profile and flipped through the pictures. Sure enough, one of them was the same picture of Adam with his arm around Chris's shoulders from the Ortu barbecue.

Woah small world

Yeah we were talking for a while. When we finally met up it was going well but then it went downhill in his car when we were about to hook up. He had a weird idea of foreplay is all I'm going to say about that. 

It all clicked in Chris's mind. This was the fart guy?

Chris saw red, he wasn't going to lie. Don't mess with my bros, he typed, and blocked him.

And then he added it to his profile for good measure.







It wasn't easy juggling work, fitness, and his extracurriculars, which mainly consisted of hanging with his bros and mingling with dudes on the app.

But Chris was making it work. All he had to do was keep his head on straight and not give anything away.

He thought about this as he lay stretched out on his back on a bench press in Nick's backyard. He was working on his ceps (bi-, tri-, etc.), clenching his jaw and wishing he could wipe the sweat off his forehead but his hands were occupied. Ortu and Nick grunted with effort nearby, doing intense yoga poses that were a lot harder than they might look to the casual bystander.

Adam appeared suddenly over him, blocking the sun. "Here, let me spot you."

"Ok, thanks."

Chris slowly pressed the barbell up and away from his body, arms shaking with the effort.

Adam's hands hovered under Chris's as he gently made sure he'd be there to stop the weight from crashing down on Chris's face.

Fingers brushed briefly over Chris's. He must have looked like he needed the extra help. His stress must be showing, probably as a result of mental exhaustion from all that late night scrolling.

Adam leaned down, quietly asking, "You good?"

Chris gulped, a bead of sweat rolling down his neck, and said back just as quiet, "Yeah."

He watched Adam's hands hovering near his. He had nice hands. He had nice arms, too. Strong. They made Chris feel safe. He knew he could trust that Adam would catch the barbell when the time came. Adam really was the best.

As Chris lowered the weight down to his chest at the end of the reps, letting out a slow breath, he smiled up at Adam. Shaking hair out of his eyes, Adam stepped abruptly back and away. He began stretching nearby, focusing on slowly stretching his glutes. He had decent glutes, too.

Adam looked his way, probably checking to make sure he didn't need help again. Chris was just stretching, and their eyes caught and held. Adam was the first to look away. 

"Gotta, uh, go to the bathroom," Adam muttered to no one and practically jogged to the house.

"Fuck," said Chris, rolling off his back into a sitting position. Had Adam caught him checking out his glutes? He totally had. Chris's resolve to keep things cool and normal, neutral even, to be the most supportive bro, was definitely backfiring.

Sweating, Chris chugged some water. On second thought, he poured half his water bottle over his head. It began to dry in the August sun. He picked up his phone, waving off Ortu's question of whether he was good.

He wandered away, mentally kicking himself. As he checked his messages he caught a snippet of conversation.

"Dude they so want to bone," he heard Nick whisper from Warrior pose, arms outstretched. But it was a stage whisper, not quiet enough. Chris pretend to be scrolling through his phone and sneaked a peek to catch a glimpse of Ortu trying to hold plank pose. 

"No way man," Ortu gritted out, elbows shaking as he held the position. "Adam was with that kayak guy and Chris is way straight. The deed has not been done."

Nick windmilled his arms to the ground and raised up fluidly into a pretty decent downward dog, head close to Ortu's now. "I didn't say they had boned," he whispered. "I said they want to bone. And sexuality is a spectrum, dude. You know that."

This was crazy. Super crazy. Nick had literally seen him kiss Adam and had brushed it off with a joke, like it was no big thing. And everything had gone back to normal, no more mention of it. But maybe they knew something he didn't. Maybe Chris wasn't the only one who knew something was different.

Ortu had dropped to his stomach then raised his head into cobra. "If you were a real psychologist I'd believe you," he told Nick. "Maybe. But relationship advice on Buzzfeed does not an expert make."

Chris snorted, forgetting he was eavesdropping, and then quickly ducked his head, raising his phone to his ear, pretending he was listening to his messages as Nick squawked indignantly behind him.

"Shut the hell up! I'm in a marriage psychology class right now and you know it."

"Fine, tell you what. When you finish that class maybe I'll believe you."

A door slammed, and they both fell silent as Adam came out of the house. He went to the bench press, flashing Chris a grin. "If I get on my back will you help me out?"

"Of course," Chris managed to say semi-normally.

Behind them Nick made a sound that was maybe a cough but sounded a lot like "told you!" but then Adam was in Chris's vision and that's all he could see.








So your profile. It says you're new to this gay thing.

It was Adam. Well, Dudemingle Adam messaging SalamiFootlong. Chris squeezed his eyes shut, tapping his phone against his forehead.

He wasn't going to message back. He wasn't. Once was a fluke. Once was enough. If he really wanted to hang out with Adam irl without a weird vibe he would have to make things right. Having conversations with him online under a pseudonym was at odds with his overall goal.

But then Adam messaged again and Chris, hating himself a little, read it.

Me, too. Well, not really, but I only recently told people. 

Oh yeah? Chris typed, because he couldn't just leave the guy hanging. How's that going?

This had moved well into lying territory. But he didn't want to just ditch out of the convo once Adam had opened up.

Good actually. It was rocky there for a sec but it went way better than I thought it ever could.

That's great man. Seriously I'm real happy for you

It was a long time before Adam responded. Then Chris remembered Adam saying he was going to his parents' for dinner. His mom was probably giving him an earful about how he hadn't found a boyfriend yet, which she had switched to almost seamlessly now that Adam had come out to her. His dad was probably shooting Adam warning looks across the mashed potatoes right about now, there was a serious no-phones-allowed policy at Karen's table.

Adam finally texted, Thanks man. It's weirdly nice to talk about this. I've been kind of down lately

Oh yeah?

Trying to get over someone.

Oh right, Kayak guy. Matt.

I'm sorry, man. Breakups are tough.

Nah we were never together, Adam sent. He's just really great, basically the best ever, and I'm having a hard time dealing with the idea that it's never going to happen

And there it was. Chris knew Adam had been fronting when he said he wasn't all torn up about how things had gone down with Matt.

You could always talk to him

He'd probably freak. Besides, we kissed and I ruined it

Chris wanted to be supportive but he got a sour feeling hearing this. It hit too close to home because he had not so recently experienced his own failed kiss.

But even though he'd never met Matt, if he was what Adam wanted then Chris would do anything in his power to make Adam happy. Chris took a deep breath and tried to be the better man.

Dude I'm sure he wants you back, just go find the guy and lay one on him

It's not that easy

Sure it is. 

The thing is...I think he's straight.

Chris winced. Ouch. Well...speaking from experience I guess that could be kind of flexible? At least I hope for your sake?

Nah I think it's a lost cause. Sorry man, I shouldn't be laying this all out on a complete stranger. Especially when this is an app for meeting guys, not hearing about stories of their heartbreak

Nah it's cool. But I'll back off about it, I just say you could probably have any guy you want

LOL you have no way of knowing that

Yeah I do.

Uh how? For all you know I'm a serial killer or something

Oh shit. Chris had basically forgotten he was supposed to be a complete stranger here. Uh.... he quickly typed out. I can sense these things, it's a gift.

Oh really

Yeah I'm psycho. Shit. *Psychic he amended.

You're funny. I can see why we matched.

Chris grinned at his phone. Sorry to break it to you, but this app doesn't seem to really discriminate. I've matched with a ton of weirdos.

Dang thanks for letting me down easy 

No problem :)

If Chris were talking to a girl right now there was no doubt this conversation would be verging on flirting. He had a suspicion that the same applied here. He closed the chat window and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

He told himself that he was going to stop talking to Adam online, he was going to get this gay thing out of his system. Honestly, given past interactions, he should probably stop trying to mingle with dudes period and at this point just find a girlfriend to distract himself with. This was all too confusing. In any case, he had to figure his shit out, and quick.









In desperation, Chris swiped right on someone named 86Chadillac, mostly because of the floppy hair that fell over his eyes and the kind of awkward smile. He had a brief, no-frills bio that basically listed his interests as movies and cars. A simple sentiment Chris could get behind.

As Chris sipped at his work coffee, the guy messaged him. So friends are important to you.

Yeah, he typed back. Don't mess with a guy's bros, know what I'm saying?

I feel you.

He smiled at Maureen when she walked by pretending not to notice him texting again and adjusted the ever-growing stack of paperwork on his desk. He looked down at his phone as it vibrated with another message. You at work, man?

Yeah, you?

Same, yeah. So what do you do?

Chris didn't even know himself at this point. Glorified paper pusher. But it pays the bills ya know? All I can ask.

The conversation extended into the afternoon. It wasn't mind-blowing but Chris started to think that the guy would be pretty chill to hang out with, actually. He was a good looking dude and they could hold a conversation. That was just about the whole package Chris had been looking for.

He had to tell Adam about it. He opened his texts and sent off, Dude I think I met someone

It was jumping the gun yeah but he had to let Adam know that all was going to be cool between them. Soon Chris would be otherwise occupied.

Oh yeah?

Chris grinned at his phone. Yeah, next I'll hook you back up with kayak dude

He immediately realized that Adam had only told him on the app that he wanted back with Matt. Fuck.

But Adam didn't seem to notice. He texted back, You don't have to do that, Chris

This was not the response he was going for. Yeah but I want you to 2 b happy

I'm fine with the way things are 

Adam sent him a lone eggplant emoji. Chris snorted and texted back two eggplants with a sparkly heart and fireworks. Adam texted back haha ok we'll see







The next day, feeling in good spirits, Chris did his morning yoga and then treated himself to a soak. His bathtub wasn't long enough for him but it was still a pretty sweet set up. When he came out of the bathroom toweling his hair dry it was to another message from 86Chadillac.

I saw this cute dog, he'd written, and sent a picture of a ratty little mop dog. JK it's my dog

And then later, when Chris glanced at his phone surreptitiously during a boring meeting, room lit only by the glow of a corporate Powerpoint presentation: Trapped in the office on such a nice day, where's the justice?

Chris glanced around at his coworkers, whose eyes were all glazed over as they listened to the presenter drone about market shares.

Under the table he slowly and surreptitiously typed, Hey, you wanna grab lunch?

The response didn't come until 11:30, meeting long over and Chris back at his desk. He'd tried all morning to ignore the vague feeling of being blown off until the message came.

Sure. Name the time and place.

You know the deli on Chestnut St? Fiorello's?

86Chadillac didn't so Chris sent him the address. Whenever he thought of a nice spot with good food where he felt comfortable, he thought of the deli. A place where bros could hang out and have a nice time just shooting the shit, talking about guy stuff.

And just like that Chris was going on his first official non-hookup date with a dude.

Well, it wasn't a date if it was just two guys who had a mutual interest in hanging out. Who happened to have met on a dating site.

Because it wasn't a date if it was a quick work lunch, no alcohol involved, no low lights or low music, was it? As he parked in the deli lot, checking his teeth in the mirror and deciding tie-or-no-tie (no tie, he decided, shirt unbuttoned) he decided no, no it was not.

86Chadillac had brown hair, which Chris had known from his pictures, and he was a couple inches taller than Chris when he stood up to shake his hand. "Chad," he said, fingers warm in Chris's own.

Chris nodded. "Oh, I get it. Chadillac. Chad. Yeah. I'm Chris."

He trailed off after that, still standing, but Chad's smile was genuine and still that touch self-deprecating, like he also felt like what they were doing was a little bit funny. It put Chris at ease.

"So," said Chad. "What do you normally get here?"

"Their footlong salami sub is bomb."

"Ha," Chad said. "So that was about sandwiches the whole time."

"You got me." Chris put his hands up as if to say guilty as charged, I'm a sandwich-lover.

"And here I was, thinking it was about something else."

Chris felt his face heat up under Chad's lingering gaze. Maybe they weren't on the same page after all.

Chris tugged at his shirt which suddenly felt too hot despite the open collar, and turned to the counter. "Uh, Vinnie get us two of the regular?"

It turned out both of them worked downtown. Chad had grown up in NYC but had moved up here for college and had never left.

It was going so well Chris even forgot how weird it was. That is, until Adam walked in.

He had headphones on and was clearly on lunch break from the garage because he was in his coveralls and a short sleeved shirt, grease marks seemingly artistically smeared on his biceps and one on his neck.

His face lit up when he spotted him. "Chris!"

"Oh hey. Adam." Chris could feel his face heat up. He put his sandwich down on the checkered paper and wiped his mustardy hands on a napkin, still swallowing, then stood and Adam grabbed him into a half hug.

"Dude, I didn't realize it was third Thursday! I'm glad I just really wanted a sandwich or else I would have totally ditched you! I'm sorry man."

"It's not third Thursday," said Chris. "It's second Thursday."

"Oh."

Adam looked confused until he glanced past Chris. Then he looked even more confused at seeing someone else at their table, no doubt noticing their usual order of two drinks and the two spicy salamis. He looked back to Chris and Chris shrugged a little, embarrassed.

"Oh, right." Adam moved past him and stuck out his hand. "Hey man."

Chad stood. "Hey, I'm Chad."

Adam clapped it in a brief handshake, "What's up, I'm Adam." 

He turned curious eyes back to Chris who rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. "Yeah, we're just finishing up lunch..."

It was stupid to feel guilty. They both had other friends, they hung out apart all the time. 

So why did this feel so much like betrayal?

"Yeah, no worries," Adam said. "You know, I've got that full engine rebuild on a mustang back at the garage, so…"

Chad lit up. "No way. What year?"

"68. It's taken me frickin weeks."

"Sounds awesome. I'm sort of a hobbyist, not a mechanic. Super jealous here man."

Adam lit up. "Yeah actually, it is awesome." His eyes met Chris's before his gaze skittered away. "Anyway, I was just going to grab something to go." He took the sandwich Vinnie had prepared for him, nodding. "I'll see you tonight?"

Chris nodded. "Of course. Yeah, see you."

He watched Adam go. He felt like he'd just kicked a puppy.

The bell jingled as the door slid closed and he sat down again. Chad gave him an uncomplicated smile. "He seems nice."

"Yeah," said Chris. "He's the best."








Try as he might, his issues were taking a toll on him. And his buddies were starting to notice. Ortu brought it up bluntly during poker night, when he eyed Chris across the table. Chris tried to look innocent and like he hadn't been trying to figure out whether Adam was being quiet because he was strategizing or if he was being quiet because he pissed at him. Or worse, sad.

"So..." said Ortu, breaking the extended silence. "What's new with you guys?"

Chris shrugged. Adam cleared his throat and stood, saying, "Bathroom."

Chris didn't watch him leave.

Once the bathroom door shut, Ortu leaned over the table and whispered, "Dude. I've been real patient with you two for months now but I've gotta say, you're ruining the vibe. You know we're mid-tournament and I cannot have your drama getting in the way of my win."

Nick pointed across the table and said, at normal volume, "Oh fuck you. You know I'm winning."

"Guys! Guys." When they both looked away from their fight Chris continued. "You both know I'm on the up-and-up so you might as well drop out now." He raised a hand to calm their sounds of dissent. "But if you must know, things are weird because...I may have met someone."

This got Nick and Ortu's attention. "Oh dang," said Nick.

"I mean, just as friends probably. Anyway, I think Adam is jealous."

"Well, well, well!" Ortu's tone was victorious. "Sounds like someone's theory wasn't correct after all. There's more than one bet that papa bear is winning tonight. So pay up."

Nick shoved his outstretched hand away. "This isn't conclusive evidence, the bet is still on. Anyway Chris, we are happy for you. We want you to be free to be who you truly are."

"Uh, same goes for you," said Chris uncertainly.

"So that explains the storming out."

Chris focused on organizing his chips. "Can we stop talking about this where he can hear?"

"I'm just saying, gays can be territorial."

"They're not cats."

Ortu shrugged and went back to stacking his own, larger pile of chips.

That got Chris to thinking. When Adam was back, seated across the table in the low light, looking at his cards with a carefully blank expression, Chris wondered...was Adam pissed at him for hanging out with another gay guy? Had it really bothered him that much?

Adam looked up then, catching Chris looking. Chris smoothly glanced down at his cards like he'd just been spacing out. He flicked a few chips into the center. "Raise ten."

He looked back up to find Adam was still watching him. As their eyes locked, Adam's expression took on a significance that had to be a joke.

"Nice try," Chris said. "That may have intimidated Nick but it's not gonna work on me."

Adam only smirked and raised another ten.

Ortu was in while Nick hemmed and hawed about whether he should fold. Chris meanwhile looked down at his diminishing chip stack and then snuck a glance at Adam's, eyes catching on the graceful way Adam held his cards. 

He slid some chips forward. "Call."

Cards were shown and Ortu let out a pleased chuckle and raked the chips toward himself with both arms, snickering something about "owning all them asses."

It was Adam's turn to deal. He did so with a deftness that spoke of someone who was good with his hands. He had always been good with his hands, Chris realized. He played cards, played ball, and now he was a mechanic. It was crazy how you could know a guy for your whole life and still find new ways of looking at him.

Ortu cleared his throat and Chris realized everyone was waiting on him.

"Uh, raise you five."

Adam raised ten, Chris raised another five. Ortu and Nick dropped out one by one.

"Raise," said Adam.

Nick whistled as Adam shoved a pile of chips in the center.

"Back at ya."

Adam raised again. It went like that until they were both down to a couple chips. Adam rolled one along the felt of the table, considering, while Chris considered Adam.

"You tryin' to prove something, hoss?"

Adam shrugged. "I got nothing to prove." Chris caught his gaze across the table. Caught and held.

Chris abruptly remembered the night on Adam's couch when Adam had leaned in for a kiss and Chris had jerked back on instinct, not ready to admit anything to himself. He didn't know if it was wishful thinking, how he remembered Adam swooning up toward him like he'd been ready for that moment forever. For something Chris hadn't even been able to put a name to at the time.

"Ah," said Chris, chickening out and breaking eye-contact. "Fold."

"What!" Ortu took off his visor and threw it. "It was just getting good!"

"You're just pissed because you bet it all on Chris and I knew all along he was weaker."

"Weaker? What are you talking about?"

Nick twirled an invisible mustache. "A bet within a bet, my good chap."

Ortu flicked a card at Chris. "Thanks a lot, now I'm out twenty bucks."

Chris shrugged. He had no excuse for himself. Adam looked searchingly at him, showing uncertainty for the first time all night. But Chris just pushed all his chips at Adam. "Here, these are yours."

It was drizzling when they finally left Ortu's, and he took up Adam's offer of a ride even though he knew Adam got nervous driving in the rain and the ride to Chris's would double his journey. Before they left, Nick pulled him aside.

"You know what the master Ed Norton said: Life, like poker, has an element of risk." He raised his eyebrows and said meaningfully. "It shouldn't be avoided."

"Okay…" said Chris.

"It should be faced," Nick told him, even more significantly.

Chris got the feeling he wasn't talking about poker. There were lots of things to think about, nebulous thoughts circling in Chris's mind that he didn't know how to put words to. He found himself kind of nervous actually getting into Adam's car, uncertain what the fifteen minute drive would hold for them.

But when he shut the door, the familiar smell of Adam's car, humid in the rain, and the blare of one of the mix tapes Chris himself had made set him at ease.

"So," said Adam as he reversed out of the driveway and onto the dark street.

"So."

The wheels sprayed up water as they drove through puddles.

"My mom asked me to ask you to come for dinner tomorrow." Chris looked over at him, Adam's profile flashing into relief as they passed each streetlight. Adam followed up with, "She's making your favorite scalloped potatoes. You know, the extra cheese kind?"

"Oh yeah?" It's true, they were his favorite.

"I'm not trying to freak you out or anything, but I think my mom might be in love with you."

"I'd thought as much. But don't worry about it going any further than that. I cannot be bought."

"Oh yeah?" Adam smiled, briefly looking over. "Well, my dad's making steak. So I think he might be in love with you too."

"Hm, well that changes things. Looks like I might have to join after all."

"You slut."

"You know it."

Chris grinned, slumping lower in the seat and clicking the glove compartment open. Insurance papers, some dice, a pen. When he looked over at Adam he wanted something nameless so badly it almost hurt. Chris shut the glove compartment.

"Actually you know what? I forgot I have plans."

"With Chad?"

"Uh…" Chris looked down at his phone where it was tucked into his jeans. What was he even doing? "Nah. I'm not hanging with Chad any more."

"Oh."

The rest of the ride was quiet, except for the music which unfortunately narrated the misfortunes of Chris's life pretty well. A little too on the nose.

When they pulled up to the driveway, Chris got out quick, relieved. He leaned back in the passenger window. "Hey, Adam."

Adam looked out, expectantly almost.

Chris bit his lip, deciding before saying, "You have a good weekend."

Adam smiled, but it looked somehow wistful. "Yeah, you too."

Chris went into his apartment, which felt lonely and empty with pictures of him and the guys lit up in the blue light of his desk lamp. Chris considered calling Adam and telling him everything but he took another bath instead, moving the bubbles around with his knees and exfoliating his face on autopilot.

His phone blipped, a Dudemingle message, and he glanced at his screen with resignation already building. It was Adam. Chris wasn't going to look but he opened the message anyway with the feeling of doom, of not being in control of his own actions, of being endlessly propelled toward destruction.

It's been great talking to you. I was thinking maybe we could meet up. I know a place with great nachos.

Chris smiled at the message. It was so bittersweet almost, given the situation. It was so Adam.

He sunk deeper into the bubbles, phone dangling off the side of the bath. He imagined what it would be like to be able to start fresh. If he was just a random guy meeting Adam online for the first time. Maybe things could have been different.

But he wouldn't trade what he had with Adam for a hookup or whatever. Their friendship was the best thing, it meant too much.

And he was on the brink of throwing it all away.

Oh god, he was worse than Bradstar. He was worse than a creepy, already married, much older, profile pic lying creep. Except instead of trying to lure Adam to his basement he was literally luring Adam, all-around favorite person and most decent guy he knew, into falling for a fake persona. Adam didn't fucking deserve this.

I can't do this he sent. Then he powered down his phone and threw it out the bathroom door. It landed in the pile of laundry that had been building steadily in the corner.

He soaked in the low flickering light of the stress-ease candle Adam's sister had given him as a joke but which he'd really appreciated.

He didn't think about Adam.







His phone was off for an entire hour before he turned it back on. He didn't return to Dudemingle. He scrolled through his contacts and hit call.

Rachel picked up on the first ring. "Chris?"

"You're right. I'm the one who ruined poker night."

"What?"

"This time. I ruined poker night with my gay nervous breakdown. And now I think I tricked Adam into falling in love with me."

There was muted music in the background and the sound of a crowd. Rachel sounded like she was taking a long sip out of a drink before she said, "Wow. Just…wow."

Chris knocked his forehead against the door jam, eyes pressed closed until he could see stars. "Are you at a bar?"

"Yeah, my date just stood me up." It sounded like she was taking another sip before she muttered, "Asshole."

Chris looked down at the boxers he'd been living in for the past two days and the stale sandwich he'd been picking at. "What bar?"

It was the one he'd met her at before, just down the street.

"Be there in fifteen."

He shaved and put on real clothes and jogged over. Rachel was easy to spot because her fanny pack threw rainbow sparkles under the bar lights. She waved him over. 

Chris sat on a stool next to her and Rachel nodded to the bartender who set to making them drinks.

"So," she said, looking him over and kindly not pointing out that he looked like shit even after his vague effort at cleanliness. "Please distract me with your relationship issues. The more ridiculous the better."

"Oh I can definitely deliver. So I don't know if your brother has ever mentioned Dudemingle..."

He took his time telling the story of the past couple months, starting at the 4th of July party, because the stupider and more awkward the details the more she seemed to cheer up. And it was a relief to talk to someone about this, to be around someone he didn't have to front with.

"...And that brings us to today," he finally closed with, having just related his final message to Adam and the following days he'd spent moping around his apartment.

She looked like she was trying to cover up a smile. She was on her second drink since he got here while he had only sipped his first. "Can I first just say," she began. "That was not what I was expecting."

"It's ok, you can laugh at me."

"It's entertaining of course, but also kind of sad."

"Yeah." He took a long sip of his drink and then ordered them another round of mojitos. "So...am I the asshole?"

"Yes, you're the asshole."

Chris nodded. "Thought so."

"But not irredeemably."

"Really?"

"Yeah. You gotta come clean, man. Haven't you ever heard that honesty is the best policy?"

Chris had been afraid of that. "But how would telling him everything help? Wouldn't it be better to just cancel my profile, decide it was all one big mistake, and let sleeping dogs lie?"

"If you keep this a secret forever, it could ruin everything! Don't you want to get to the part where you confess your feelings and you get the guy?"

He frowned. She was right. The idea of talking to Adam about what he'd done, how he felt (or at least how he thought he might possibly feel) wasn't half as bad as losing him completely.

"But he hasn't talked to me for days. If I tell him everything and I blow it then he might stop talking to me completely."

"Come on Chris, you gotta make it right. This is like the plot of every romcom."

He held up a hand. "Woah, woah, woah. This is not a romcom. No romance has occurred." Of that he was tragically certain.

She swirled the mint leaf around in her glass and smiled at him. "Well, you haven't gotten to that part of the movie yet."

"I'm more into action movies."

"Then ask yourself, are you a man of action? Are you the main character in your own story?"

When she put it that way, the logic seemed watertight. "Dang," he said.

She nodded wisely and said to the bartender, "Another please."

Chris owed her a hundred mojitos.




 

 

It was time for Chris to come clean. He had been pining—yes, pining—after a Adam, and it couldn't go on. He'd started this study not sure where it would lead and had ended up here at a pretty clear answer. Now he just had to know what to do with it.

And who would know better than a gay guy? He opened Dudemingle.

Hey Chad

What's up man? I had a great time the other day.

Me too.

You were right about the sub. And your friend seemed chill.

Chad was nice. He was saying all the right things. Chris had liked him. Not like, as a friend, more as a potential hookup. It was the same as when he met hot chicks.

He sunk under his bath bubbles for a minute, trying not to freak out at completely realizing this, only an echo of thoughts in his head. When he emerged he'd come to a realization. Truly taking action meant not only being honest with Adam, but being honest with other people, and honest with himself.

He dried his hands on a towel before picking his phone up again. I had a great time with you but I'm not really gay. I only realized i was bisexual like 5 minutes ago.

Dude I totally get it. Why label yourself, right?

No I mean…I'm on Dudemingle because I kissed that friend you met. I'd never kissed a dude before and I wanted to make sure I wasn't gay. Adam wasn't supposed to find out but now he knows, and now he won't talk to me. I fucking blew it!

It took over ten minutes for the reply to come. Well sounds like you got some shit to figure out.

Chris blew out a breath. That's the understatement of the year. So do you think I should go for it? Did it seem like he was into me?

Alone. I meant you have shit to figure out alone. I'm not your gay genie or whatever.

This drew Chris up short. Upon reflection, he guessed it was a little weird to expect someone you went on a date with to help you hook it up with another dude. He typed out an apology.

For some reason he couldn't send the message. He closed the app and restarted it. The message had disappeared, and when he searched for 86Chadillac the profile didn't show up.

"Well shit."

Chad had blocked him. Chris supposed he deserved that.

A text pinged from the real world. He opened it to see it was from Ortu. Party at Rocks. don't pussy out

Chris blew out a breath before texting, Adam's coming right?

Not this shit again, u 2 r going 2 kiss and make up if i have to lock u in the closet

Chris was done hiding. He simply typed, i'll be there. before splashing out of the bath.

 

 

 

There were times in a man's life where he had to man up and...well...be a man. Chris gave himself this pep-talk in front of his mirror while applying deodorant. If someone had told past-Chris he'd be here, about to go to a gay bar and nervous about talking to Adam about his feelings, he wouldn't have believed them. But he was prepared now. Prepared to totally not chicken out.

By the time he got to Rocks, his confidence had flagged considerably. He took a seat at the bar next to Nick and Ortu and ordered a drink and snacks. He hadn't eaten much over the past few days, too caught up in agonizing over decisions and thinking about what he had to do. What he wanted to do.

Eventually a jacket landed on the stool next to his. He looked up, mid-stuffing his face with french fries. 

It was Adam. He looked kind of annoyed. Sexy as hell and annoyed. Chris was glad he'd put on his best button down and nicest jeans for the occasion, and the jacket with the popped collar that Adam had asked to borrow once when he wanted to look nice, so Chris knew Adam liked it.

"Dude," said Adam as Chris tried to swallow the mouthful of fries.

Adam pulled out the stool next to him, eyebrows drawn together, worried. He had to lean in close to yell over the thump of the music, "Dude, where you been? I've been trying to get ahold of you since Saturday!" 

Chris couldn't well tell him he was literally deciding whether to change both their lives forever so he just shrugged and said, "Just uh, figuring some shit out."

"Yeah well you missed Ortu's groomsmen pre-pre-bachelor party planning sesh slash basketball doubles tournament."

Shit. That's what all those texts had been about. He'd stopped reading the group chain.

"You know how seriously he takes that. It made it really hard to play doubles, threw off the whole thing."

Chris looked over to where Ortu was engaged with Nick in what appeared to be playing a game of quarters. "I was just, uh, hanging with Rachel and shit." It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth.

Adam drew back. "Oh. Oh, I'm glad that's working out then." He finished his drink in one go and got up, not even covering up the annoyance. "I'm going to go dance."

"Adam—"

Adam smiled tightly at him but left anyway dragging Ortu away from nick and heading out to the dance floor where they were easily incorporated into a circle of girls. Adam bounced around awkwardly, a head taller than them. It was cute and made Chris's chest feel weird, tight. He was too young for a heart attack so it was probably something else equally life-altering.

He looked away, saying hey to Nick and sharing what was left of his fries. He found out Nick's marriage psychology class was finishing this week, which was a big deal because right around the time the other three of them had enrolled in college Nick had decided school was not for him.

Of course this wasn't to say education was the way or whatever. Nick had been doing just fine without a BA while Chris was doing jack with his four-year business degree.

He said as much to Nick as they leaned against the bar. Or yelled it in his ear to be heard over the club music, whatever.

"Way to be a fucking downer," Nick yelled back, but with some sympathy. "Here, you look like you need this." He shoved his vodka soda into Chris's other hand even though Chris already had one. Chris took it and drank sadly from both straws and watched Adam dancing.

Ortu eventually jostled his way back to them, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Man, it's crazy out there! I had to fend off like four dudes."

Chris nodded. "Sounds like you're killing it."

"No, I fended them off of Adam."

Chris looked between them. "Fended them off? What were they doing?"

"They were all into him, man. It's his sweet little face. He's like catnip to all those tigers."

"I thought we'd talked about this. We're here to help the guy out, he needs to meet someone."

Nick didn't make eye contact. "Well…"

Ortu raised a finger. "Nick, don't you dare."

They seemed to be having a secret conversation with their eyebrows. This wasn't new, but usually it wasn't about something Chris cared about.

"Dude, I'm fucking certified now."

"You are not, it was one class and you're not even done with it."

"One more class than you! You majored in environmental science or some shit."

"And it seemed like a good idea at the time. How was I supposed to know that I should have gotten a degree in gay relationships!"

Chris put down his drinks. "Guys, guys. Wanna clue me in? What the hell are you talking about?"

Nick widened his eyes meaningfully at Ortu, who finally sighed and made a gesture to Chris. "Fine, I give up, tell him."

Nick said, "Chris…we know ok?"

"Know?"

"Yeah, it's been pretty clear. You've been moping and shit. A classic case of GFYBF."

Nick rattled off the acronym like that was supposed to mean something. Chris just stared at him.

"Gay For Your Best Friend," Nick clarified.

Chris had finished both vodka sodas but wasn't near tipsy enough for this conversation. "You made that shit up."

"Yes, he did." Ortu sipped his drink.

Nick didn't look bothered. "Well, it doesn't mean it's not true."

"First off, I'm not gay—"

Ortu waved his hand to shut him up. "Bi, pansexual, queer, whatever. We know it. The whole world knows it. Basically everyone but Adam knows it."

Nick squeezed Chris's shoulder. "Yeah, we're here for you man."

Chris, embarrassingly, felt his eyes start to water. Thankfully they were interrupted by the bartender, who yelled at them over the music. "Hey you." He gestured to Ortu. "This is for you. Sent to you by the burly gentleman at the end of the bar."

A man in a leather jacket toasted their way with a wink.

"Speaking of catnip," Ortu said, accepting the shot of tequila furtively. "This isn't sending any gay signals or anything, is it?"  He said out of the corner of his mouth. "No offense, Chris."

"None taken," Chris said faintly.

Ortu sent a tight nod to the guy at the end of the bar and grabbed Nick's hand. "You're my boyfriend for tonight."

Nick looked affronted. "You wish. Try a little romance next time." He stalked off to the dance floor and Ortu gave Chris a look like see what I have to put up with. 

Chris nodded to the bartender for another drink. He felt like he was going to need it.

Their drinks came quickly and they drank them silently while the music bumped loud. Service was a lot better in gay bars he'd noticed. When some time had passed, Ortu said, in conversational tones, "So you bang any dudes yet?"

Luckily Chris was between sips. "What?"

"I just wanna know if I owe Nick money."

Chris didn't answer. Instead he stabbed at the lime in his drink and finally took the plunge. "I joined Dudemingle."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." He leaned back against the bar next to Ortu. "It's crazy out there man. I matched with my weed dealer."

Ortu sputtered into his drink. "Marco?"

Chris nodded.

Ortu's eyes were wide as he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm gonna say it. You gotta do it."

"No—"

"You gotta make sweet love to Marco. You gotta take one for the team."

"Dude! First of all, how would sleeping with Marco be taking one for the team? He's like, super hot—"

"Yes, exactly," said Ortu. "It's a win-win for all parties involved."

"—And number two, we already get sweet deals from Marco. He's a great guy and I would never use him like that."

"Wow, your loss man. He is fine and has the weed. If that's not what you're looking for, I don't know what's up with your standards."

"Never sleep with the hand that smokes you out," Chris said, feeling a bit wise at this observation.

Ortu easily sidestepped someone spilling his drink on the floor next to him. Another guy then grabbed the drink-spiller by the collar of his shirt and, instead of a fight breaking out like Chris expected, the men began passionately making out while dragging each other the direction of the bathrooms.

"Ok, fine, moving on," Ortu continued. "Does Dudemingle have anything to do with why Adam's pissed at you?"

"Sort of." Chris pulled out his phone, then paused. It shouldn't be this normal to talk about gay shit with Ortu, who just a few months ago had been so weird about it.

But people could change. That was a good thing.

He smiled, feeling suddenly very thankful for his friends. "You're a good guy, Ortu. You know that?"

"Oh my fucking god, can we not. I am dying to know the dirt and you are stalling so hard."

Well, he had already come this far. "So, Adam walked into Fiorello's when I was on a date." Chris paused. "Well, it was sort of a date. A non-date. But it looked like a date. So I think he's kind of hurt that I've been hanging with another gay guy without telling him. Also that I took someone to our deli. Which is kind of a weird reason to be mad, but it is a really good place so I kind of get it."

"Ok show me this dude."

"Well, he blocked me but I bet I can find him on Facebook." It took a second but soon he found the guy's page.

"Way creepy, bro," said Ortu.

"Yeah," Chris agreed. He scrolled through Chad's pictures anyway until he found one that was of him and not a car. He showed Ortu. When he looked up for a reaction, Ortu just looked at him, then looked back to the phone and then looked meaningfully up at him again.

"What?" said Chris.

"Doesn't he look a little familiar?"

Chris looked at the picture then shook his head.

Ortu whistled. "Dang. Son you dumb. He looks like Adam. Like, a lot."

"No he doesn't." He looked at the picture again, considering. "Well…you may have a point."

"Yeah."

"But why would Adam be pissed about that?"

"Hanging out with a gay guy? Who looks like him? After totally breaking his heart?"

"Wha—" Chris had no coherent response to that. "What?"

Ortu was ignoring him now, running his hands through his hair looking amazed and muttering, "I can't believe it. Nick totally called it. He called it. That boy's a genius."

"What?" said Chris again.

Ortu clapped him on the shoulder. "I gotta go tell Nick. Come on." He headed to the dance floor and Chris trailed along after him.

When they reached Nick he was with Adam, whose smiling face went guarded when he saw Chris. It was a true tragedy because Adam had the best smile in the world.

Although Chris hadn't completely figured his shit out, this had been going on long enough. He danced up to Adam in time with the Lady Gaga song, not willing to be a stick in the mud in the middle of the joyful bouncing and grinding. 

"I'm sorry," Chris yelled into his ear. Adam didn't stop dancing, just moved closer to hear, hair brushing Chris's face. Chris said it again, mouth against Adam's ear. "I'm sorry."

Adam pulled back, a smile tugging his face despite himself it seemed. "Apology accepted," Chris was almost certain he said, but it was too loud to be sure.

Chris tugged him by the wrist. "C'mere."

Thankfully Adam followed him back to the bar. Once there, Chris leaned against it and Adam mirrored his position and waiting for Chris to say what he had to say. This felt like the lake all over again. No one existed except him and Adam and the next move could change the entire course of their entire lives.

Adam looked away, gaze faltering, and  Chris felt like a dick. Again. How many times had he put Adam in this situation, doubting they were cool, having to worry? He put a hand on the bar between them. "I have some things to say."

"Ok."

He searched Adam's face for the courage to keep talking. To put it all out there, finally.

"Number one, I am not dating Rachel. Actually I think she might actually be dating Dorothy Cuda."

Adam absorbed this for a second. "Wow, ok. What else did you want to tell me?"

"Uh..." Chris felt a flash of panic. He had the horrible feeling he was about to back out.

"I will if you do."

"What?"

Then Adam put his hand on the bar too, fingers just shy of touching Chris's own. He looked suddenly very sure, like he was offering Chris a confidence Chris couldn't muster himself. "I'll say it if you will."

They stared at each other. Time to take the plunge.

Adam blurted outm "It wasn't like kissing a brother" just as Chris yelled, "I'm SalamiFootlong!"

"Ha! I knew it!" Adam clapped a hand over his mouth. "Sorry. But I did. I knew it."

They stared at each other for a beat. Another beat.

"I am the biggest asshole—" Chris started, then, "What do you mean it wasn't like kissing a brother? What was it like then?"

"It was like, everything I wanted. But I was caught off guard and freaked out that I might freak you out." His fingers crept forward an inch brushing Chris's. "And dude I already guessed."

"What? How did you—" But Chris had been so subtle about his deception, with his foolproof bio and totally anonymous profile pic. "You knew?"

"Yeah." Adam shrugged. "Everyone else on this app want to meet up. You didn't."

"Oh."

"Also I recognized your bathroom from the weird blurry profile picture. And I recognized your underwear." His face went a little red despite the colorful bar lights. "And your abs."

"Oh."

Adam poked him in the chest. "Anyway, we're going to have some serious words about this. But for now I sense you're already beating yourself up enough for for the both of us."

"I really have been." Chris laughed, and run a hand over his face and reeling from the surreal disbelief that his whole life hadn't crashed and burned around him.

They drank in silence for a bit. 

When Adam finally said, "So are we cool?" The question was almost heartbreaking.

"Yeah. Yes. We're cool," Chris told him, putting as much assurance in his voice as he could. "I mean, not that I deserve it, but if you forgive me...We will always be cool. You're, like, my guy. Or whatever."

When he got the guts to look up, the smile on Adam's face was nearly blinding.

It suddenly seemed stupid, so stupid, this whole thing. He didn't know how he'd been so confused, because sitting here with Adam across from him in a soft, striped sweater, looking at him with those baby browns, the answer had been here the whole time. Results were in, and somehow Chris was the luckiest guy in the world. And he knew what he was going to do about them.

Adam was still smiling when he kicked Chris's foot under the bar. "Seriously, you sound like the gay one now."

"Yeah, I do." Chris moved in a little closer. "You know...I wanted to. Meet up I mean. I've really missed hanging out. And also I wanted to—" He swallowed, glancing not-so-subtly to Adam's mouth then back up.

"Uh, Chris—"

Feeling like a man steeling himself for battle, he said, "I am going to do this for real now," giving Adam fair warning so they both were on the same page for once, and, "In a totally gay way."

Adam's mouth was warm under his, and his jaw scratched sandpaper-smooth under Chris's fingers as they deepened it at the same time, as if they wanted the same thing. They did want the same thing. The kiss was amazing, and way better than the one by the lake. Chris had never believed that could be possible. Adam's hair was soft where it brushed Chris's face and Chris brushed it back, finally allowed to touch it.

"You're, like, my guy too," said Adam, more than a little teasing in his voice.

Chris pulled back, punching him in the shoulder. "Shut the fuck up."

"You wish."

There had been enough confessions for one hangout sesh. Chris kicked at Adam's foot under the bar but then left it there. "You know I just want you to be happy too, right?"

Adam smiled at him, that smile Chris had missed for months, and said, "That's why this is gonna be so awesome."

And if their feet were still resting against each other as they sipped their vodka sodas in the middle of the best and only gay bar in town, only their friends and all Chris's potential matches were there to see it.