unexpected

Thursday morning, Upstairs texts to see if I want to grab breakfast/coffee. I'm still sleeping off the night before, so I miss his message. When I wake up in the early afternoon, I bounce the invitation back, and we agree on Starbucks in fifteen minutes.

I get there first, and watch him approach. We see one another and he smiles from across the street. While he's waiting for the light to change, a huge bus passes between us; when the street clears, he's nowhere to be seen. I frown, looking around. Where the hell did he go? Then I see him, popping his head out from behind a wall on the other side of the road. He's a twenty-seven year old man, playing hide-and-go-seek on a busy downtown street corner. I laugh loudly, and some nearby cafe patrons glance at me curiously.

We have coffee and talk. It's casual, friendly, relaxed. We've been reclassified, despite lapses. I'm confident of this. I'm happy to be his friend, because I have truly grown to adore this charming young man, for all his playfulness, his wit, and his warmth. It doesn't hurt that he's so handsome, either. It's undeniably fun, and no small ego boost, to be seen with him in public.

A friend of his joins our table outside; they have plans to work together on a project, so I get up to leave them to it. As I'm going, Upstairs asks if I want to get a bite later. I tell him I've got plans. "Art Walk," I say simply, not elaborating. I've got a date, but I don't feel like telling him. Firmly in the friends camp as we are, I know him well enough to know it might sting a little bit. We're detached, but attached. We're casual, but we care. We've been skirting dangerous territory for months, and I'm about to change everything, by seeing someone else. I'm well within my rights - we are, after all, just friends/neighbors with (some) benefits. I'm just not ready to tell him yet.

Later, Dimples comes over. I cook. We eat. We drink. We joke and talk and kiss a little. We're having a great time. We head out for Art Walk. We wander, we browse, we stop for drinks at Bar 107. We start to get drunk. We kiss some more. We wander some more. We go to The Association, and nestle into a couch towards the back. We drink and talk and flirt, intensely. The place is packed, the music is great, and we're having a lot of fun. I go the bar to get us a round. On my way back, I feel a tap on my shoulder.

It's Upstairs. He's grinning as usual, clearly delighted to see me, and ready to hang out. I realize he's come here knowing it's my favorite downtown bar, and that the chances of my being here tonight are great. He has no idea I'm on a date. That is, until he takes in my surprised and slightly anxious expression, and glances downward at the two drinks in my hands. His face falls immediately. "You're on a date, aren't you?" I don't know what to say. I'm drunk, and don't trust myself to speak. I just nod. I know my face says everything: I'm sorry. I should have told you. Please don't be upset. We're cool, right? We're just friends, right? You knew this was coming, right...?

He straightens up, giving me a look I read as one part sorrowful and one part anger. "I'm out of here," he says. He turns and moves away, disappearing quickly into the throng. I'm bothered, but too drunk and preoccupied with the good time I'm having on my date to feel much more than a medium-sized pang of regret. It's awkward, yes, and a little bit painful. We have, after all, had some really good times over the past few months...but it was never going anywhere. It was just fun. We'll talk about it. It'll be ok. These are all the fragmented half-thoughts that are in my head as Dimples and I continue our evening.

We leave, briefly hitting Spring Street before starting back towards my place. We're both happily tipsy, arms linked, laughing and enjoying one another's company. Suddenly, I realize I'm looking at Sydney, Upstairs's dog, approaching us on the sidewalk. My eyes lift from leash to master: it's too late for either of us to turn away or pretend this isn't happening. Holy hell. What are the chances we'd run into one another twice on the same night. Jesus.

A small, awkward, slightly ugly scene ensues: Upstairs turns his body as we move past, walking backwards, eyes on me intently. He raises his arms in a questioning gesture, and says incredulously, "Really? This guy?" I cringe. I'm embarrassed for all three of us. I know Upstairs is lashing out because he's drunk. But I know there's some real pain there, too. I'm stammering an apology to Dimples, who's not exactly sure what just happened, when my phone rings. I pull it out of my pocket, see it's Upstairs, and stupidly decide to answer.

I don't remember what was said. Twenty seconds worth of me trying to placate my friend (my friend, right?), but also trying to enforce boundaries. I'm sympathetic but firm. I hang up. The texting starts. I'm exceedingly jealous, he writes. I don't reply. I'm busy trying to pick my way through an explanation to Dimples, of who this person is and what this drama is about. He's sporting and generous and doesn't seem overly perturbed. We've been having too great a time together for him to feel threatened.

When we get back to my place, I shut my phone off. So I'm unaware of the texts that continue to come. And I'm unaware of the email that will arrive early the next morning. And I'm certainly, at this point, utterly unaware of what the next four days are going to bring: a completely unexpected flood of emotion that will shake up the lives of two men and one woman. And that is still shaking them up, even as I write the first part of these belated, catch-up posts.

I'm unaware of anything other than my date, whom I allow to spend the night with me - something I'd never once allowed Upstairs to do.