Bridesmaid, Part 9

Synopsis:

Another BigCloset TopShelf story. The saga continues. I'm back from Paris, alone and unsure. I find hope. Is it real or false? I need help.

Story:

I took the red-eye back Sunday night, and landed at JFK 7:00 AM Monday morning. Quite frankly, since my trip was not quite what I expected, I would’ve left earlier but, when I called Continental, they couldn’t guarantee me a seat. Rather than spending eight hours at De Gaulle, I spent the day wandering the streets, just checking things out. It wasn’t much fun, however. I kept expecting to see Kenny and I just wasn’t in the mood for his shit. Especially since I was dressed in my new pink bohemian skirt, black top and black 2" platform slides. I would’ve worn a nicer shoe but, as Julia had pointed out, walking in 4" heels for an extended period of time loses its appeal very quickly.

Anyway, I cleared customs. I was dressed in my traveling clothes, jacket, khakis and polo shirt, so as not to arouse suspicion. Ironically, I think I probably got more scrutiny that way. This time, the customs agent felt the need to say “Brian Rosen? You’re Brian Rosen?” Unlike the last time, I kept my mouth shut and said, “I know. I know. But, yes, I am. Would you like to see my driver’s license?” I came home to find eight messages on my voice mail. I took a deep breath, figuring this couldn’t be good since I was only gone two days.

First message. “Hi, Brian. It’s Steve Kroenke...” OK, client call. Dodged one bullet.

Second message. “Hi, you’ve been selected to receive a free...” Never has a telemarketer sounded so good.

Third message. “Brian, it’s Kenny. I assume you’re alive. If so, I think you owe me a phone call after the way you behaved...” ‘I owe you a phone call?’ I thought. ‘I. Owe. You? After the way that I behaved? Why? So you can play out some more self-loathing? Or maybe you’ll announce that you’ve come out to all the people who’ve already guessed? Oh yeah, when that happens, the temperature in hell will be a brisk 32. That’s really fucking priceless. Delete this one. Expunge it. Erase it from human history.’ ‘Well, whatever’s next can’t be so bad,’ I thought.

“Hi, Brian. It’s Lisa. Please call me and let me know you made it. I’m worried. So’s Ken...” Note to self, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ “I’ll deal with this at some point,” I sighed to no one in particular. “Not now. Not today. I need to say something, but I want to be calm and formulate it. Not fly off the handle.” ‘Well, what’s next,’ I thought. ‘Dentist saying I need root canal? Audit?’

“Hey, Jessica. It’s Adam.” I grinned from ear to ear. “Wanted to see how you were doing. You were pretty broken up on Saturday, so I just wanted to make sure you were OK. That guy’s an asshole. Anyway,” he said, laughing. “I wanted to make sure we were still on for Tuesday. Since you’re treating, I’ve been starving myself. Be prepared to pay. Call me.” That made me feel great. It was so nice to hear from someone without an agenda. Someone who just liked me. Then I felt like crap. He didn’t like me. He liked Jessica. I was bad as everyone else. I was manipulating someone who didn’t deserve it.

The last three calls were from clients, including Melissa.

After I was done, I unpacked. I stared at all the clothing I bought. I loved all my new outfits, but then I wondered. Why am I doing this? I’m going to stop in June. I certainly don’t need this. But, Dress for Success can use it to help poor women on interviews. But, is a pink and white floral print, spaghetti-strap sundress work clothing? I took off my traveling clothes and slipped it on. I don’t know about work clothes, but I did look cute. It was so light and flirty. I twirled around, loving the way it felt. OK, maybe everyone is right. Maybe I’m deluding myself. Maybe this is what I want. No, wait, Maybe, I bought all of these clothes to piss off Kenny. Like, he liked ‘Mademoiselle’ in public but not in private, so I was forcing his hand. That sounded convincing. Or it did, until I fished out my breast forms and slipped them in. Damn, I looked adorable.

Enough of that. I had work to catch up on. I took it off an put on my work clothes. A buttondown shirt and a pair of khakis. I know it sounds ridiculous on so many levels. Putting aside Jessica, I worked at home. People never understood why I dressed in office clothes to work at home. They also said I could wear whatever I wanted, which was true. But someone how I felt like if you treat it like a real office, you’ll get more done. And I did. Of course, since I was now 36-24-31, I had to wear a woman’s blouse and khakis. Nonetheless, I was dressed for work, and so I sat down to return calls. First call, Melissa.

“Hey, Melissa. It’s Brian.”

“Hey, how are you?” she said brightly. “So, what happened on the trip?”

“Let’s just leave it at nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“Lisa called me and told me part of the story...”

“I said, ‘Let’s just leave it at nothing ventured, nothing gained.’”

“Look, if I’m crossing a line, let me know. She was pretty freaked and...”

“Melissa, off limits. Nothing personal, but I don’t want to go there.”

“If you say so. It’s just that I thought...”

“I understand. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know. But, I’m still processing. Also, while we’re friends, you’re a client, and this is not really something that helps me professionally...”

“And buying skirts in Barney’s does?” she laughed.

“Oh, god. I should’ve held my ground and pretended....”

She interrupted. “Kidding, Brian, kidding. I’ve said it before. You’re the golden gi..you’re golden. I don’t care what or who you do, or what you wear. Speaking of which, buy anything interesting?”

I blushed. “A few things.”

“No more paisley, I hope.”

“I like that skirt.”

“You’re about it. What did you buy?”

“A few skirts. A very cute pink sundress. Some shoes.”

“A quote ‘very cute’ pink sundress? You are such a girly girl, Miss Brian. But this is only until June 25th?”

“Line crossing.”

“I’ll stop on one condition.”

“Which is?”

“I come over for a fashion show. I’m tired of you in pants.”

“Fine. Can we cover work now?”

“If you want, Princess.”

“Line crossing. Sexual harassment, actually.” I laughed.

“Yeah, OK. Call legal,” she sighed. “That should be interesting. Anyway, the project..”

I won’t bore you with work talk. We talked for half an hour, and then worked for another four. You know me, sublimate issues with work. Sublimate, huh? I’ve been seeing Julia for too long.

At 1:30, I took a break and called Adam.

“Dr. Connolly’s office. Gina speaking.”

“May I speak to him please?”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Uh..” I paused, almost stumbling over the name. “Jessica Rosen.”

“Oh,” Gina said, her voice brightening. “He’s told me about you. Hold on..”

‘He’s told me about you? Oh god,’ I thought. ‘What does that mean?’ I’m, as a former president once said, in deep doo doo.

“Hey, Jess, how are you?”

“Fine. How about you. How was your weekend?”

“Boring. Uneventful.”

“Better than mine then.”

“Are you OK? You didn’t talk to him again, did you? By the way, the offer still stands. I’ll fly there and kick his ass for you.”

I grinned. “My knight in shining armor. That’s actually the best offer I’ve had in a long time, but it’s not necessary. Appreciated, but not necessary.”

“You’re welcome. Are we still on for tomorrow?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I said, grinning from ear to ear.

“Me either. I mean, a free meal’s a free meal...”

“Stop it,” I giggled. ‘I am such a loser,’ I thought. ‘I sound like a 16 year old. Girl.’

“Plus, the company’s not so bad...”

“Thank you SO much, Adam. Nice to know where I stand.”

“Wherever you want,” he said. “Sorry, that was rude.”

“Again, Adam, it’s not rude. It’s flirting. Women like that.”

“Sorry. It’s just...”

“You need more confidence. We’ll work on that.”

“That’s what Gina says, too.”

“She’s right. You are one hell of a catch.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled. “I’m embarrassed.”

“Don’t be. We can get a man on the moon. We’ll get a girl on you.”

“Uh, thank you. Sure it can’t be you?”

“Adam,” I sighed. “We’ve covered this. Not me. Someone less fucked up.”

“You’re not fucked up.”

“Thank you. But you deserve better. And I’m going to get her.”

“If you say so. Anyway, 7:30 tomorrow?”

“Meet me here,” and I gave him the address. “You better not stand me up.”

“Me? You better not stand ME up.”

“See you tomorrow,” I giggled. ‘Stop it, you girl,’ I chided myself.

“Done and done.” he laughed.

I got off the phone and tried to focus on work. But I couldn’t. I was focused on Adam. ‘This isn’t right,’ I thought. ‘He’s straight. You’re not. You..are..a...guy. Not much of one. But a guy, nonetheless. So, get back to work. Besides you have bills to pay.’ This worked for about half a minute. ‘OK,’ I thought. ‘Decide what you’re going to wear tomorrow night. If you do that, you’ll be finished and you’ll be able to work.’ I went to my closet and looked around.

First, I tried on a baby doll top, a pair of jeans and my black 3" boots. I looked cute, but decided (a) jeans required me to tuck, which was really unpleasant and (b) I wanted to show off my legs. ‘Show off my legs?’ I thought. ‘Melissa’s right. I am such a girly girl.’

I wanted to wear the sundress, but it was still too cool. Next up, a black spaghetti strapped dress. No, too dressy for a ‘just friends’ dinner. Note to self: Put down Cosmo. Read a trade journal.

Next up, my black cotton wrap around dress and black heels. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought. ‘I look good, but I’m not overdressed.’ I put it aside for future consideration.

I decided it needed to be a skirt or dress. Everyone kept telling me how great my legs were. Why not show them off? ‘OK,’ I thought, ‘you need to stop this. Stop this now. You’re a man...but, Adam’s looking for Jessica. And Jessica likes skirts and dresses. And heels. So, it’s not you. It’s Jessica. It’s the role, not the actor.’

I finally found the perfect outfit. My white t-shirt and a skirt with a cartoon print that ended about 2" above my knees. I put on my black platform slides and twirled. I looked really cute. Friendly but not like I was trying to lead him on. I needed help. Bad. Psychotropic drug bad.

I put the outfit aside. If nothing else, I was able to get back to work. I worked until 6:30 when the phone rang. The caller i.d. read, “Lisa.”

“Hey,” I grunted. “What’s up?”

“You’re alive,” she said sarcastically.

I still wasn’t in the mood for her. “I’m swamped with work. Projects on deadline. Can I call you back.”

“Uh, sure. Are you OK?” she said meekly.

“Yeah, fine. I’ll call you back. It’s just ‘leave for two days and have four days work when you get back,’ you know?”

“Uh sure, Bri. Call me.”

“Uh huh,” I grunted. “Later.”

“Later? OK, speak to you soon.”

I was too absorbed in myself to hear the hurt in her voice. When I thought about it, I thought, ‘Good. Now she knows how it feels.’ Once again, keeping in character, I threw myself into my work. I stopped at 1:30 AM and passed out.

I woke up the next morning at 8:30 and did more work. It was hard to focus, though. I was really looking forward to dinner with Adam. I liked the fact that he knew nothing about the whole Lisa-Kenny-Jim debacle. I mean, he knew about Kenny, but not really. Then, I felt guilty. Again, this poor guy thought I was Jessica. If he knew I was Brian, he would cut me off at the knees, I’m sure. I needed to forget about it. So, guess what I did? If you said, “work,” you made the right call. Other than ten minutes for lunch, I worked through until 6:00 PM, when I stopped to shower. It felt so good to get into a hot shower. I lathered myself up and let the water run over me. I felt my legs and even though I barely had hair (even before I started this), I decided to shave them. I’m not sure why, though. It’s not like Adam was going to run his hands over them. Involuntarily, the image of Adam running his hands over my legs started to get me excited. He kept going up and down, further and further up. I avoided picturing him reaching the point of no return, but he kept going further up my thighs until just before then. Then, I pictured him using his chiropractic skills to give me a massage, and then kissing my neck, and I started to get hard. I decided, to avoid any problems later on, to masturbate. I figured that, if he could get me excited without even being present in any way, who knew what would happen at dinner.

I got out of the shower, attached my breast forms and got dressed. I then put on my make up. Not too much though. While it was evening, this wasn’t a date. We were just friends and a friend wouldn’t get all made up, I decided. After I was finished, I went to my full length mirror. I looked really cute. I gave myself a smile and a little twirl. I loved watching my skirt fly in the air, and hated that I loved it. Since Paris, I was having a hard time determining who I was. On the one hand, unlike Adam, I knew I was a gay man and didn’t hide that from anyone. But, on the other hand, maybe everyone was right. I was playing the role of a woman a little too well. I knew I didn’t want a sex change but I was beginning to wonder what I wanted. Did I want to be Jessica, a she-male Brian or was this just until June 25? I did know one thing for sure. I was giving my self a head ache. I looked at the clock - 7:20. At 7:25, the buzzer rang.

“Hi, Jess. It’s Adam.”

I smiled. “Come on up.” I buzzed him in, and was giddy with expectation. ‘I am so lame,’ I thought. ‘He’s a friend. Who doesn’t know that you have a penis. Calm down, you girl.’

I opened the door. “Wow,” he said, “you look great.”

I blushed. “Thanks.” He, however, didn’t. He was wearing the uniform of the defeated thirty-something straight male in New York. A blue golf shirt, tan Dockers pants - with pleats! - and brown Timberland loafers.

“Uh, nice place,” he said, looking around.

“I know, it’s a mess.” It was. Plus, my decor was, charitably put, Spartan. I had a couch, coffee table and TV. In one corner, I had my computer and files. Other than a Jasper Johns print on the wall, it was pretty much empty. When it came to interior decorating, I was one pathetic queer. I almost got drummed out of the union.

He laughed. “No, it’s just nice to see someplace where you’re not perfect. Actually, I like it. Most girls’ places are too fussy.”

“Adam, I am not perfect. Believe me, I am far from it. Besides, what you call fussy, a woman would call homey. Remember that. Besides, once you’re in, you don’t get a choice in decor anyway.”

He laughed. “Thanks for the heads up. Ready to go?”

“Sure, how is it outside? I haven’t been outside all day.”

“Really?”

“Work. When I get on a project, I get OCD.”

“Are you OK to go now?”

“Don’t even try and back out. I’ve been waiting all day for this.” That sounded pathetic and needy. Both of which, I excelled at.

He grinned slyly. “Really?”

“Shut up,” I said. “How is it out?”

“60s.”

“Let me grab my coat.” I went into the bedroom, put on my denim jacket and ran my fingers through my hair. I couldn’t help it. I looked good.

We left and went downstairs. Unfortunately, of all the lobbies in all the apartments in the world, she had to walk into mine. In other words, we ran into Lisa and Jim.

“She walks! She lives! She has returned!” said Lisa mockingly.

“Ha ha,” I said flaty, “I’ve been busy.”

Jim gave me a sideways glance. “Hey,” he paused momentarily “Jessica.”

“Hi.”

Adam stuck out his hand. “Adam Connolly.”

“Jim Goldberg,” he said, shaking and giving Adam a strange look.

Adam looked at me with a ‘what’s up here?’ look. I held up one hand, in the universal, “don’t worry” mode.

Lisa stuck out her hand. “Since both Jess and Jim are so rude, Lisa Wasserman.”

Adam laughed. “Ah, the bride. Congratulations.”

“I see Jess has acknowledged my existence recently to someone.”

“I’ve been busy. Hey, Jim, Adam’s a Yankee fan.”

Jim laughed. “Maybe you can do something with her.”

“She’s hopeless.”

“Actually,” Jim laughed. “All she has is hope. No likelihood of ever winning. But, hope nonetheless.”

“That’s enough, you two.”

“Where are you two off to?” Lisa said, with a smarmy grin.

“Beyoglu, on 2nd,” I said.

“A date? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s not a date. We’re friends,” I said defensively. Adam looked a little disappointed. Jim shot me another sideways glance.

“You never treat me to dinner.”

“(A) I have. (B) You never help me at the gym.”

“So, you two met at the gym,” Jim said.

Adam brightened up. “She was using the machines wrong. I showed her what to do,” he said proudly.

“You showed her, huh?” Jim said, putting an emphasis, infinitesimal but emphasis nonetheless, on her.

“Yes, he did. He used to be a trainer.”

“Cool. Must’ve met a lot of women.”

Lisa punched him. “Jim...”

“What? I can’t live vicariously now?”

Adam laughed. “They have policies on that.”

“Don’t ruin it for me,” Jim laughed. “Lie.”

“OK, it was constant women. Just throwing themselves at you. I barely had energy to do my job. That’s why I stopped training....”

“Thank you.”

“This conversation is degenerating,” I said. “We’ve got to go.”

Lisa smiled. “Call me, and let me know how the non-date went.”

“Me too,” Jim chimed. “I’m curious.”

“Goodbye, you two,” I said.

We started walking. “They seemed nice,” Adam said. “What’s up?”

“What’s up with what?”

“You and Lisa seemed tense around each other.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“They introduced me to Kenny.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, the wound’s still raw. I need to cool down before I deal with her.”

“I understand. Nice skirt, by the way. Milton Canniff?”

“Huh? No, I forget who the designer is, but I know it’s not Milton Canniff. I’ve never heard of him.”

“Not the designer. The cartoons on the skirt. They’re by Milton Canniff. From his comic strip, ‘Terry and the Pirates.’”

I laughed. “Oh, god. You’re not a comic book guy, are you? I have an X-Men, Series 2 in mint condition,” I said, affecting a wheezy voice.

“How do you know comic book guy?”

“I was an engineering major, remember?”

He laughed. “No, I was not comic book guy. I was worse.”

“What could possibly be worse?”

“Cartoon guy.”

“What is cartoon guy, and how is he worse?”

“Comic book guy collects comic books. Cartoon guy knows every comic strip and cartoon ever, and can discuss them at length.”

“OK, so how is it worse?”

“Cartoon guy is lonely. There’s always that group of five or six comic book guys in every school. There’s maybe one or two cartoon guys. And they don’t know each other. Or they don’t know that the other’s one cartoon guy, I mean.”

“That is so sad,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

He turned beet red. “Stop it.”

“It’s cute, Adam. How do you become cartoon guy?”

“I drew all the time when I was a kid. I wanted to be a cartoonist.”

“No kidding.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, that’s really cool. I think it’s cool that you can draw. I can’t draw a bath. Creative people are amazing.” This whole line of discussion was making me fall for him. I needed to stop. Unless he wanted a chick with a dick, this was not happening.

“OK, seriously stop. I’m embarrassed.”

“Don’t be. It’s nice.”

“What about you? What did you want to be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ballerina?”

OK, think fast. Do I agree and play along? No, go another way. “Nice stereotype. Actually no, I guess I wanted to be Steve Wozniak.” Which was true.

“Who?”

“The guy who founded Apple Computer.”

“I thought that was Steve Jobs.”

“Wozniak was the hard-core programmer. He kept in the background more and left after Apple’s first big wave, so no one remembers him much.”

“Interesting,” he said. “I guess you stuck with it. More than me.”

“How did you end up doing this?”

“I don’t know. At some point, somewhere around ninth grade, I gave up the cartooning dream.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” he said sadly. “It just stopped being the dream. No reason. Or no good one that I can come up with. I think about though, every once in a while.”

“Why not try now?”

“My mind doesn’t think that way anymore.”

“That’s a cop out. I bet you’re still creative. Lots of people have done it. Gaugin, for one.”

He laughed. “That’s quite a comparison, thank you. It’s not creativity. It’s thinking in four panels. Set up, set up, set up, joke. You have to be in that mindset. Plus, my guess is I wasn’t that funny.”

I touched his arm which, I realized immediately, was a bad signal to send. “I’d like to see your old strips.”

He blushed. “I think they’re at my mom’s. If she didn’t throw them out.”

“Well, if you’d let me, I’d like to see them.”

He kept blushing, then mumbled, “I’ll check next time I’m there.”

I don’t know why, but I felt so comfortable around him. Maybe, it was that he seemed as vulnerable as me. Or maybe it was his sweetness. He was the first person I told the Steve Wozniak story, too. My female friends didn’t understand, and gay guys would’ve thought it was bizarre. It always felt like I should say Elton John or Kim Richards in “Escape from Witch Mountain.” Even when things were good, and I use that term very loosely, with Kenny, I never felt open. I always felt like I was hiding something. But, I felt like I could be myself with Adam. Which is ironic, since I wasn’t. I was Jessica.

I must’ve seemed out of it, because he said, “Penny for your thoughts.”

“Nothing. Just thinking about something.”

“What, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Nothing. Just some work stuff,” I lied.

He smiled, “You’re a workaholic. Tonight, you relax.”

“Deal,” I laughed. Just then, a woman with a bulldog puppy walked past. She, the woman that is, was cute, about 28, dark hair, greenish-brownish eyes, 5'4" and 140 lbs.

Adam bent down. “Hey puppy,” he said, rubbing the puppy’s belly. “Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl?”

The woman smiled at me. “He’s a keeper. She usually doesn’t like men that much. That tells you something.”

“I know. But, we’re not a couple.”

“Really?”

“Nope. Just friends.”

“Why? Is Ginger,” she said, pointing at the dog, “a bad judge of character?”

“No, it’s me. I’m still in my asshole phase, apparently.” She smiled. Adam was, during all of this, blithely unaware. He kept playing with the dog.

“Hey, Adam. Stand up. Adam, this is?”

“Denise,” she said, with a smile. Adam stood there, looking embarrassed.

“Hi Denise. I’m Jessica,” which came out surprisingly easily, which made me feel uncertain. “Now, Adam, here’s where you introduce yourself.” He blushed. Denise smiled.

“Hi, uh, I’m Adam. This is a great dog.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he stammered. “Um, nice to meet you. Jessica, don’t we have to get to dinner?”

“Where are you headed?” Denise said, throwing me a “boy, he’s shy” look.

“Beyoglu, on 2nd.”

“Ooh, that’s good. Try the doner kebab. Also, they make great hummus.”

“Thanks, Denise. Oh, by the way, since Adam here seems to have lost the power of speech, maybe we could all get together some time.”

She rolled her eyes. “Sure,” she said, giving me a sly grin. “That’d be fun.” She fished through her bag. “Here’s my card. E-mail me.”

“Great, either Adam or I will do that. Right, Adam?”

“Sure,” he mumbled. “OK. Nice meeting you. Bye, puppy,” he said, as the dog jumped on him.

“Bye,” she said, walking off. “By the way, cute skirt.”

I slapped him on his head.

“Ouch. What’d I do?”

“She was so into you. And you stood there like a statute.”

“Really? She was? You think so?”

“You are so dense. Did she have to hold up a sign? Even that, you’d probably stand there and say, ‘I want to fu...fu...what?”

He laughed. “I’m not that bad, am I?”

“You’re a work in progress. So, you’ll e-mail her, right?”

“Um...”

“Adam, Adam, Adam. You are a great guy. You just need to realize it.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“It’s a compliment. Take it as one.”

“OK. If I’m so great, why aren’t you interested?”

“You really want to be rebound guy?”

He smiled. “No. I guess she was cute.”

“We’re working on you. Fix you up and then sell you.”

He theatrically turned away. “I feel like such a piece of meat.”

“You love it, you big ham,” I said, punching him lightly. I was sending off such mixed signals. I needed to stop. But it felt so natural.

We got to the restaurant and ate dinner. Denise was right. The hummus was delicious. Adam had the doner kebab. I had striped bass. It was great. But, what was really the best was the conversation. We talked about work, our hobbies, our families.

“So, tell me about your family,” I said.

“Not much too say. Generic Irish family. Grew up in Pelham. Mom stayed home, dad’s a VP at Chase. I have two older brothers and a younger sister.”

“That sounds good. Tell me about them.”

“One brother’s a doctor, the other’s a mortgage trader. My sister’s in law school.”

“Wow, that’s quite an accomplished bunch. How do you all get along?”

“OK, I guess. We fought as kids, but who doesn’t?”

“True. What about now?”

“I mean, we see each other every couple of months. Talk every week or so.”

I laughed. “That’s amazing.”

“Why?”

“You all have the right idea.”

“Who’s you all? And the right idea about what?”

“Non-Jews. Jews are on top of each other. Lisa goes to the bathroom, her mom knows. You get to have lives.”

He sighed. “But, you’re much closer. My house, you had a problem, no one really talked about it. My Jewish friends always seemed much closer. You could talk to your parents. Like, I bet you and your family are really close.”

“There’s an exception to every rule,” I said.

“Why? You seem like you’d be on the phone with your mom all the time.”

“I wish. Unfortunately, she’s been dead for eleven years.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”

“You couldn’t.”

“Brothers, sisters?”

“One sister. After my mom died, she found Jesus. She moved to Texas with her husband, and we don’t talk much.”

“Why?”

“She’s really rigid. She doesn’t approve of me,” I said, regretting it the minute I said it.

“What’s not to approve of?”

“She’s really into, ‘Men are men. And women are women. And everyone has his or her place. No divergence from the norm.’”

“Wow,” he said. “What’s so bad about you? Like you should be married with four kids and home-schooling?”

“Something like that. My one regret is she has kids that I’ve never met.”

“That’s a shame. You’d be a great aunt, I bet.”

I looked down. “I’d like to try, but it’s not happening.” I started to tear up.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to open a wound.”

“Actually, it feels good, sort of, to talk about it. But, it’s depressing dinner conversation.”

“No, it’s not. I mean, it’s not shits and giggles. But, it’s OK. You’ve listened to me.”

“You’re easy.”

“So are you. What about your father?”

“We don’t speak at all. Let’s just say, he and I don’t see eye-to-eye. The last few times we spoke, we really had it out, so we don’t speak. I’m happier, and I hope he is.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, your family’s ridiculous. You’re beautiful, successful, kind, sweet and caring....”

Now, it was my turn to blush. “And I stand up straight on the Stairmaster.”

He laughed. “Hey posture’s important. That way, you won’t be one of those hunched over old ladies.”

I blushed. “I don’t think that’s a risk....anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about you.”

“We have, I thought.”

“Not your family. You. We need to do something about you.”

“What? What’s wrong with me?”

“Well, number one, shyness. Women send out subtle signals, not flares.”

“I know,” he mumbled. “I just hate getting shot down.”

“And, so what if you do? It’s not high school, where you have to face her every day. You move on, her loss.”

“Easier said than done. What else is wrong with me, he says with trepidation” he said, with a smile.

“Since we’re on the topic, your clothes.”

“What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“When you sell a car, you clean it up. You’re my used car...”

“That’s so sweet. I prefer pre-owned, thank you. So, what’s wrong?”

“I’m ignoring you. Number one, pleats. Pleats are for fat guys with something to hide. You have a great body, show it. Flat front pants.”

“OK. Flat front pants. What else?”

“The shirt. Are we playing golf?”

“No,” he said, uncertainly.

“Then, why are you wearing a golf shirt?”

“I guess, it’s comfortable is out....”

“Look at what women wear. Do you think heels are comfortable? Or pantyhose?”

“Um, no, I guess.”

“No. We wear them for you.” We? I need help. “So, you can wear a button down shirt, which is not that uncomfortable.”

“Uh huh...boy, this is quite the lesson.”

“It’s not done. Lose the shoes.”

“Can I keep my underwear?”

“Boxers or briefs?”

“Boxer briefs.”

I smiled at the thought of him in just boxer briefs. “They can stay.”

“That was close. Clearly, I need help.”

“You do. And I’m just the person to do it. What are you doing Saturday? Working?”

“Yep. Downside to the job. Sunday OK?”

“It’s a date. To Barney’s.”

“Isn’t that a little gay?”

I almost choked. “Why is stylish gay?”

“You’re in charge, but my ex took me there once. It scared me.”

“Oh, you baby. It’s not Bergdorf Men’s. THAT is gay. But, we’ll build slowly. How about Bloomingdale’s?”

“How about Banana Republic?”

“Where did you get those pants?”

He looked down. “Banana Republic.”

“Bloomingdale’s.”

“You’re in charge.”

“Is that what you like?” I said coyly. Stop it. Just stop it, BRIAN.

“Depends.”

“Adam, Adam, Adam. If I wasn’t so messed up.” I’m serious. Stop it, BRIAN. You are BRIAN. With a B. As in boy. Not much of one, but a penis makes the man.

“I know, I know. Besides, that Denise is much cuter than you...”

“Hey! Take that back!”

“I’m kidding. But, I like the dog.”

“Just what every woman wants to hear,” I said, clutching my hands to my heart.

The rest of the dinner continued on like that. It’s funny. Jerry Seinfeld once said that you don’t make new friends in your 30s, but it seemed like I was. And what made it great was there was no past baggage nor were there external forces. I mean, Melissa and I were friendly enough, but work was the basis, so there would always be certain topics, like my family, that I couldn’t discuss. And even before Jessica, Lisa and I had known each other so long. That’s good, in that you could speak in shorthand, but it’s bad because, on some level, you know too much. She knew too much of my backstory and would interject her own take. Finally, this wasn’t a date. On dates, we all perform a sort of striptease. Show enough to keep them interested, but not so much that they run. Adam was just a friend. And a good one. I only wished I could be honest. But, some things always remain a striptease.

We walked home. We stopped for ice cream.

“Mint chocolate chip,” he ordered.

“Interesting. They say you can tell a lot about someone by the flavor they choose.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh, this should be interesting. Do tell me, Miss Jessica, the great psychic...”

“It tells me you like to be different. That you like variety...That...”

“I have two older brothers and the only way I’d get ice cream to myself was to order something no one else liked...”

“You are no fun,” I pouted. Pouting, touching his arm, talking about control. I was acting like such a girl. And the scary thing was I did it reflexively. I was losing it.

“And you, miss?” said the counter clerk.

“Biscotti, please.”

“Biscotti, huh?” he said. He started making crystal ball motions. “You are a woman who likes adventure. Travel. Swarthy men with bad accents...”

I laughed and pushed his cone onto his nose. “You’re right about the swarthy men,” I said, backing away.

He lightly grabbed my arm, and said with a smile. “Oh no you don’t! Not so fast.” He looked into my eyes. ‘Please kiss me,’ I thought. ‘Please don’t kiss me.’ I was confused. Then, he smushed my ice cream onto my nose. “Now, we’re even,” he said with a grin. It broke the tension, but I was a little sad too. I wanted him to kiss me so badly, but I knew it wouldn’t work. One misplaced hand and I was a goner.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?”

“The ice cream. I’ve ruined your makeup.”

“Oh stop, Adam. It was cute. Besides, I started. Any woman who’d get upset about that is a Class A bitch.”

“That’s my ex....”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No, it’s OK...”

“I’m all ears...”

“And all legs.”

“Why, Adam? Are you staring at my legs?” I said flirtatiously. I had officially crossed into the abyss.

“I’m your friend. I’m not dead. Can I offer a fashion tip?”

“This should be good.”

“Don’t ever wear pants again. You should always wear skirts.”

I turned bright red. “Thank you,” I mumbled.

“Kenny’s a jackass.”

“Agreed. What about your ex?”

“She would’ve tripped on me if I had pushed ice cream on her nose. Her idea of fun was shopping. Or belittling me.”

“About what?”

“My job. My hair. Everything. I think it made her feel better.”

“And you?”

“It made me feel worse.”

“Why did you put up with her?”

“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t very successful with women as a kid. So, the first woman to show me attention, I went for. I guess I should’ve seen the signs...”

“Don’t beat yourself up. We all wish we had a time machine. But we don’t. So we move on and try our best in the future. Plus, at least, you didn’t marry her...”

He let out a breath. “Thank god for that.”

We got back to my place. “I had a great time.”

“Me too,” he said, shuffling his foot in a circle. We were in that awkward place, where we didn’t know what to do. I mean, gay guys didn’t really have this problem. Either we had sex, or one or the other (in my case, usually the other) would cut it off. But, straight people seemed much more awkward about this. And, I guess, for the purposes of this interaction, I was a girl. A straight girl.

I leaned forward and kissed him on the nose. “I wanted the ice cream,” I said cutely. I was such a tease, and I resented myself for it.

He blushed. Maybe, he needed to see someone. “Um, ah, um, ah...”

“See you Sunday,” I said.

“Can I speak to you beforehand?”

“I’d be upset if you didn’t. Several times, in fact.”

“I’m going to be a pest.”

“I’m looking forward to that.” I fished in my purse. “Here’s Denise’s card. E-mail her.”

“I don’t know. What do I say?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go out. How’s Ginger? Let’s go Yankees. You’re smart. You’ll come up with something.” That made me feel better. Like I was sending him to someone else.

“Right,” he said, snapping his heels and saluting. “You’re in charge. You speak. I obey.”

“See, you know the secret to a successful relationship already.”

He stuck out his tongue. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Good night. Ask Gina about your shoes. She’ll back me up.”

“Good night, Jessica,” he said. “I’m not listening anymore,” he said, walking away with his fingers in his ears.

I laughed and went upstairs. I felt light as a feather and like I had the weight of the world on me. I was falling for Adam, but couldn’t do anything about it. I never felt more like myself than I did tonight, but it wasn’t me. It was Jessica. The flirting, the pouting, the ice cream. Everything felt natural. From getting dressed to saying, ‘Good night,’ I felt completely relaxed and at peace. I always felt guarded before, like I had to hide. And, with him, I felt free. But, I wasn’t. Because however I felt, I knew he didn’t have the whole story. And there was no way he’d ever accept the real me. Dress or dress. Shoes or no shoes. I was a man. And so was he. And that was that.
Needlessly to say, I barely slept. I’d love to say I had a dream, where he and I lived happily ever after, but I didn’t. Instead, I tossed and turned. I can’t even remember what I dreamt about. I just know I woke up the next morning feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I poured myself some coffee, and started to work. Coding was therapeutic. There’s a right way and a wrong way, and that was that. Java didn’t look like Unix, but was actually Java. It just was. That’s why I liked programming. No gray areas. No relativism. Just objective truth.

At 11:00 AM, my phone rang. The caller i.d. read, “SGT Design Partners.” I had no idea who that was. I didn’t usually take cold calls, but figured it could be a new client referral.

“Rosen Consulting.”

“Brian, it’s Jim. Or should I say Jessica?”

“Hi, Jim. What’s up? What did I do to her this time?”

“This isn’t about her....”

“Is everything OK? Did something happen?”

“No, relax. Everything’s fine. This is about that guy last night...”

“Adam?”

“Yeah, Adam. We need to talk.”

“About what?”

“About you and him.”

“Um, what about us?”

“What’s the deal with you two?”

“Why are you so concerned?” I said defensively. “I didn’t realize this was any of your business.”

“Fuck you very much, Brian. I’ve watched this whole circus for several months now, and I think I’ve been pretty cool about it, all things considered.”

I felt ashamed. “You have...”

“So, you know what, it is my business.”

“Agreed.”

“So, what’s the deal? Does he know who you are?”

“Does any of us truly know?”

“Cut the fucking comedy. Does he?”

“No.”

“OK, that is un-fucking-acceptable, Brian.”

“Why?” I said, a little too quickly. “We’re just friends.”

“Look,” he said. “I know you were wearing a dress and all, but unless I missed something, you still have a dick, right?”

“And?”

“You know as well as I do. You may be his friend, but he’s not yours...’

“Yes, he is.”

“Come on, think like a guy. The clothes haven’t sapped your brain, have they? He may be your friend, but what I mean is anyone can tell, even dense ol’ me, that he likes you. I mean he wants inside your skirt. Or he thinks he does.”

“He knows we’re just friends, Jim.”

“Let me ask you a question.”

“Shoot.”

“You think, if you said, ‘Adam, I want you,’ he’d say no?’

I moaned. “I know. I know. I don’t know what happened. What do I do?”

“I don’t know. I’d say tell him. But that’ll freak him out, and...”

“What?”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You really think he’d do something?”

“No, I guess not. But, I think he’s entitled to know.”

“Why are you so concerned about him? You didn’t feel that way about Kenny.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I dropped the ball on that one. I guess I just feel sorry for this guy. Like he looked so happy last night, and he’s part of this big lie. And he doesn’t deserve it.”

“Wow. That’s really sweet of you. So out of character.”

“Bros before hos.”

‘That’s the Jim I know. I know he has a right to know. It’s just...never mind.”

“What?”

“It’s emotional shit. Girly-like.”

“Don’t go to the dark side,” he said, in a Darth Vader voice. “Don’t do it. Nah, seriously, what?”

“Nothing. It’s nice to have a friend.”

“You have friends. Lisa, for one.”

“Things have changed, Jim.”

“She’s still your friend.”

“She is, but this has changed things.”

“Things, or you?”

“Both. Me. Her. Us. Like, we’re addressing shit we never have...sorry, I know you don’t like emotions and feelings.”

“It’s OK. I think you and she both have a lot of shit to deal with. And maybe, for once, you can’t talk to each other. That’s got to be tough.”

“You’re right. It’s sad, but you’re right. You’re also right about Adam. I don’t like it, but you are. It’s just that, with him, I feel comfortable. Like I’m not being judged. Like Kenny, all the politics got in the way. But, now they don’t. Like I can just relax. I haven’t felt that way with Lisa in a while.”

“She can be tough. She does care about you.”

“Does she? Then, why did she do this to me?”

“Do what?”

“Jessica.”

“She didn’t do Jessica to you. She may have handed you the ball. But, you ran with it. More than anyone thought. Maybe more than you did, too. But, what I saw last night, no offense, is not Lisa. It’s you. You chose to do it.”

“Hey, you yourself said I couldn’t say no.”

“Not saying no is one thing. Like you could’ve been in the wedding, but have been Brian the rest of the time. But, I haven’t seen Brian in a long time.”

“I was just being a good friend. This is done June 25.”

“Tell yourself what you want. Quite frankly, believe or it not, I hope whatever you do makes you happy.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Why did she start this? Was it some sort of way of dealing with me.”

“Julia is a quack. We all know it. So should you. I’ve actually given a lot of thought to this. I really don’t think she thought about it. I think she just thought it would be fun.”

“What about Kenny?”

“She has a very simplistic view sometimes. Like gay-gay, hey! I should’ve stopped her, but figured you and he would deal with it in your own way.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Ain’t it though? You have to do what works for you, Brian. Not for me. Not for Lisa. Not for your old man. You. I just think you need to tell Adam, before it gets too deep. He’s an innocent bystander. And a Yankee fan.”

I laughed. “That’s it, isn’t it. Can’t you give me an easy one? Like world peace.”

“Or the Mets winning.”

“Just wait and see.”

“What do I know you, ten years? Just give up already. It’s sad.”

“Ha ha. Thanks, Jim. You know you’re not so bad...”

“I know. Everyone thinks I’m a one dimensional asshole. I’m actually a multi-dimensional asshole.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

“Don’t think this conversation means I won’t make you be a French Maid.”

“You are my...endless love.”

“Later. Do the right thing.”

“I’ll try. This is between you and me, right.”

“You and her have to figure this out. I’m here for both of

Jim was right. I’d discovered over time that he was right about a lot of things. Even so, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of this mess. I got up and went to my closet. I put on a pair of jeans and a tight T-shirt. It sounds ridiculous, but I figured if I dressed the right way, the male way, the gay way, I’d be able to think clearly and find a solution. I looked at myself in the mirror and began to cry. Not just tear up, but bawl like I hadn’t since my mom died. I looked like a fool. I was trying to trick myself. I had lost all sense of who I was. Was I Brian the bottom? Jessica? Some freak condemned to go through life alone and pitied? I went into the bathroom and threw up. Then, I just laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling for an hour.

I was lost for the rest of the day. For once, I couldn’t work. I tried to, but I couldn’t focus. I tried to read, but the words blurred. I just watched TV. I watched the Game Show Channel. “Press Your Luck.” “Match Game.” Anything mindless.

At 5:30 PM, I heard my door unlock. After I pulled myself from the ceiling, I looked over. It was Lisa.

“Knock knock,” I said, nastily.

“Well, look who it is. It’s Brian or it’s Jessica. I don’t know who.” Lisa had a master’s degree in catty. “Whoever you are, you look like shit.”

“Did you come here to be a bitch, or for a reason?”

“Have you been dodging me?”

“I’ve been bus...you know what, I have been avoiding you. I’m pissed. And before I did anything stupid, I thought I’d cool down. Thanks for respecting my space, by the way.”

“I didn’t realize we ‘respected each other’s space.’ But I don’t know a whole lot anymore, I guess.”

“Don’t play the victim. Not this time.”

“I’m not playing the victim. But I am entitled to know why you’re avoiding me.”

“I just wanted to know who to believe....” I said, in a snotty little sing-song voice.

“Oh god, that still? I said I’m sorry. I’ll say it ten times. A thousand. You misunderstood me.”

“You and I both hate that expression, Lisa, come on. I understood you perfectly. You believed Kenny over me. Which is fine. You’re entitled to an opinion, misinformed as it may be. But you can believe who you want. But, I understood you perfectly. Don’t insult me by trying to convince me this had any other meaning.”

“Fine. You’re right. I did believe him...”

“Bitch. You would.”

“Excuse me?” she said angrily. “You’ve made this whole speech about Brian, and being Brian. Then Kenny tells me you come back with an armload of bags wearing a dress. So who should I believe?”

“He’s a closeted freak. I was dressed that way because his friends thought I was a girl. What was I supposed to do, out him? Huh?”

“Oh,” she said sarcastically. “So, his friends made you wear a dress. And buy stuff. Like a ‘cute pink sundress’ I didn’t think the French had it in them.”

“Fuck you. There’s the door. And fuck Melissa too. I guess it’s just work from now on.”

“No, fuck you. I’m not going anywhere. We have to cover this. You wore a dress. You seem to like doing it. So do it. But don’t pretend it’s something else...”

“You made me.”

“Oh, poor little Brian. Poor sad Brian. Poor passive sad little Brian. Everyone makes him do things. Take some responsibility for your life. Don’t always be the victim. You like it. Just admit it. No one cares.”

“So you have no responsibility for this? My life is fucked up beyond recognition, and you bear no responsibility. Nice try, Lisa, but no dice.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I ever asked you to be a bridesmaid....”

“Fine,” I snapped. “Done. I’m out. Good luck to you and Jim. Nice to know what you think. I’m sorry I wasted sixteen years of your time. Mazel tov for life. Tell Jim the same.”

She started to cry and then snarled. “Let me finish, and then I’ll be gone. What I was saying was I’m sorry I ever asked you, because of what’s happened. I thought it would be fun. You’d wear a dress, you’d come to my bachelorette party, we’d play with it. Now, look at us, we don’t talk to each other anymore. We talk AT each other. Maybe, we have some nice polite conversations about the wedding, but I feel like you’re angry at me. I don’t know what for. You seem to like being Jessica...”

“Stop it. Stop it NOW!” I yelled.

“Sorry,” she said meekly. “All I was going to say is you seem to like it. If you do, do what makes you happy. If you don’t, then stop. If I started this process and you’re only doing it for me, then we’ll stop it now. I didn’t want a bridesmaid. I wanted my best friend to share my wedding with me as much as possible. But if this is killing that, then this stops now. All in all, I’d like to get my friend back, however he wants it. I understand that they may not be a choice anymore. But, if being out of the wedding would make it better, then quit. Or you’re fired. Whatever. I just don’t want to live like this anymore. It hurts too much...” and she started crying again.

I started to bawl too. “Lisa, I’m scared....”

“Of what?”

“Of everything. Like I don’t know anything anymore. Before all of this, I had a life. It may not have been a great one, but it was what it was. I made a good living, I had a best friend, once in a rare while, I had a boyfriend. I had a nice existence. Now, I feel lost....” and I bawled again.

She came over and held me. “Let it out. What’s lost?”

“Me. Brian. What the hell am I? I flounce around in heels and skirts. Kenny was right...”

“No, he was not right,” she snapped. “He was wrong. And I’m sorry about that too. I shouldn’t have done it, but I didn’t know better. But, once he showed his true colors, I should’ve put my foot down then and there. I should never have let you two go out...”

I smiled weakly. “Let us? Thanks, mom.”

“Shut up! Yes, let you. You were so hard up, you let that asshole crap all over you. So, if being your mom would’ve stopped it, I should’ve been your mom. I blame myself. But, I still want to know what’s going on.”

I started to cry again. “I don’t know. I feel lost.”

She held me and rubbed my back like my mom used to. “You’re a good person. And I love you.”

“One day, you’ll have kids and things will change. And then where will I be?”

“Brian, you’re a good person. You need to do what makes you happy...”

“That’s just it. I don’t know anymore what makes me happy.”

“You looked happy last night. He’s cute.”

“Yeah, but he thinks I’m Jessica.”

“If he likes you....”

“Stop. That’s not true. And you know it.”

She sighed. “I know. I wish it was true, but it’s not. But, you still looked happier yesterday than I’ve seen in a long time.”

“I’m not cutting off my penis.”

“Whoa, hold on, who said anything about that? Other than you, of course.”

“A psych minor doesn’t make you a shrink.”

“Ha ha. All I know is you looked happy. Whatever will make you happy makes me happy. Seriously. And, you know what, Jessica comments are off the table from now on. Whatever you do, you do. I’ll miss her if I never see her again, but I’ll respect that.”

“Thank you. I don’t where she’s going.”

“OK. I won’t miss the paisley though.”

“I like it.”

“You and the store that palmed it off on you,” she said. “OK, what now?”

“I’m sorry if I’ve been distant. You’ve been going through a lot.”

“Don’t apologize. I’ve been planning a party, that’s it. You’ve been dealing with 34 years of shit, your father, society, plus all of human history about men and women and gays and straights. I haven’t been there for you, and I’m sorry. I’ve been caught up in floral arrangements. As Jim would say, ‘they’re flowers. Get some roses and move on.’” Then we both cried.

I stopped first and she said, “Can I ask one thing?”

“Anything. You’re my friend.”

“Can I see the cute pink sun dress?”

Notes:

Readers, Please Remember to Leave a Comment

Want to comment but don't want to open an account?
Anyone can log in as Guest Reader -- password topshelf to leave a comment.



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
68 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 9540 words long.