I first met HM on Halloween when I ran to my friend’s neighbor’s house to ask for some scotch tape to fix my “God’s Gift To Man” costume. Basically I had just wrapped myself in tissue thin wrapping paper, tied it together with ribbons and attached an oversized tag reading “To: Men, From: God.” I patted myself on the back for being so clever but my pride was short-lived when I realized that the outfit would shred upon the smallest movement (hence the need for adhesive reinforcements). HM answered the door, we flirted long enough to warrant an exchange of goods. Mostly my mind was preoccupied with blueprints for re-engineering the costume.
Two weeks later I got a text from HM, who had gotten my number from my friend, accompanied by a black and white glamour shot for refrence. Apparently HM did some hair modeling when he wasn’t saving lives at the local hospital’s emergency room… I became intrigued. We would occasionally text each other a flirty message; he would ask me out; I would be busy. This went on for two months until, a week or two before Christmas, HM decided he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Unfortunately I really did have plans, a Christmas Tree lighting event at a nearby shopping center with my Study Abroad mate, a girl I had also been shafting. Emily and I had attended the lighting of Oxford Street in London for Christmas while we were abroad and had made it a tradition to attend a Christmas lights ceremony each year since. “Bro’s before hoes” was instated and we decided that I would call him after my lady date. HM turned out to have a friend dinner that he could go to to kill time so it worked out nicely.
Emily picked me up at 7:30 and we commenced some long overdue girl talk about her summer love interest who had recently been showing some confusing signs. I traded her the summer romance for some stories about Professor Brian, who had recently made a comeback. Emily commented on my assertiveness, a quality she wanted to develop. I assigned her some assertiveness homework as we pulled up to the Christmas lighting sight, encouraging her to speak up to the summer romance guy and any other guy she was interested in; Emily had a tendency to be shy so maybe the mixed signals were a result of the boy misinterpreting her feelings. Emily agreed to the task and we made our way to the center of the lighting. The lights did not disappoint; piercing blues guided the cobblestone paths to arrays of melting snowflake lights. Every strand of every branch of every tree was cloaked in fresh LED’s of red, green and white. It was magical.
After a couple minutes of admiring the lights Emily informed me that two other girls from our Study Abroad program were in the area, eating to celebrate Allie’s new internship in Los Angeles. They invited us and we joined them at the restaurant. After placing our order Emily and I volunteered to go stake our claim at one of the larger booths so that the whole party could fit. Once we found a booth, Emily and I sat down, me on the edge of the booth and her towards the middle. Emily’s phone buzzed and she excitedly relayed the message: summer romance boy was coming to dinner! I reminded her to be confident and told her that I would act as wing-woman for the evening. Since Emily 1.) had the tendency to date down and 2.) never let herself get worked up about boys, I was eager to meet the guy. I was on my phone, updating HM on my whereabouts when Emily giddily tugged my arm, announced summer lover’s arrival and told me to act cool. As I looked up I saw a group of three guys approaching the table. Behind them was HM! I laughed to myself thinking of all the places, what were the odds of him coming to this restaurant for his friend’s dinner and I accidentally said, “What is HM doing here?” aloud.
“Wait. You’re friends with HM?!,” Emily asked animatedly. My quizzical look quickly turned to horror as a ray of understanding dawned on me. My eyes were wide in disbelief. No. No. No. No. HM cannot be summer romance. No. No. No. I nodded my head waiting for the other foot to drop.
“Perfect! You HAVE to tell me how to make him like me!” Emily finished and with that my heart dropped. The eagerness in her eyes caught me off guard. This super great guy who was very handsome and quietly funny was the same person who was giving mixed signals to my long time friend (who I had previously screwed over by dating her brother in secret) who NEVER got giddy about a guy. But here she was, giddy and excited to try out the new flirting advice I gave her to lure in the guy I had a date with later that night. Awesome.
For a split second I realized that I should tell her about the whole situation and that if I told her then, she wouldn’t get hurt. I like to tell myself that I was about to tell her, to make me feel like less of a skeezeball, when the group of guys in front of HM parted and he emerged to find the girl he was pursuing and the girl he was currently blowing off sitting right next to each other, where his friends were supposed to be. If ever there was a perfect Kodak moment, this was it. HM’s confused smile at my presence became plastered to his face when he noticed who was accompanying me. I’m pretty sure my eyes read something like “DO NOT SAY ANYTHING TO EMILY. PRETEND LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” Emily was smiling like a fool, oblivious to the underlying humorous situation that was this trio. Before anything could be said, the rest of the group arrived and piled into the booth forcing me and HM, who I was pretending to not like and to not be going out with later that night, to sit almost on top of each other, a joke that was lost on everyone else but HM and I.
The rest of the night was a shifting tide of moods, ebbing and flowing from torturous to mildly uncomfortable. One moment it would be so tense and awkward that I was afraid to even look at HM; he spent the majority of the evening wandering around by himself into different shops, I assume for the same reason. The next moment I would want to burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, so very surreal and cinematic with the perfect romantic comedy conflict and timing. Every now and then Emily would pull me aside and comment on HM’s behavior as she perceived it pertaining to their situation. I reassured her that maybe he was just having an off night or thinking about other things, to not worry about him. The evening ended at Emily’s apartment were they had set up a variety of desserts for Allie’s going away dinner group. I sat on the couch, feeling stifled by the situation, forcing myself to appear to be enjoying the company and cupcakes. HM was pacing in the kitchen on the opposite side of the apartment. I suggested that Emily take me home because I had been invited to watch a movie with a boy in my apartment complex (Truth) when I felt like I couldn’t take any more.
When I got home I checked my phone. HM had texted me saying we needed to talk. I said I didn’t want to talk to him, that I knew that he was Emily’s summer romance and that I couldn’t be seen with him. This was the first time that I used that bro-code rule, and I hated myself for it. It wasn’t HM’s fault that Emily and I had turned out to be friends and that he didn’t like-like Emily.
HM’s next texts mirrored my thoughts. I had no argument. I had been victim to the bro code before and had stood on my soapbox one too many times to use that as an excuse. But still I felt guilty. He suggested that I come over to his apartment and talk to him. Once again my brain kicked in…”If you go over there he will convince you with his wry smile and his lush hair. Don’t do it! There are enough boys in the world that you don’t need to date the one your friend likes…”
“I can’t heeeeaaarrr youuuuu” I yelled at my brain as I dashed through the snow to my car.
“Cait!” I heard a male voice say, a familiar male voice, a male voice I had just spoken to on the phone to while at Emily’s apartment… Crap. I had forgotten to call off my alibi. “Add his heart to the list,” I mumbled as I slowed down to crush Kevin’s snuggle dreams for the night.
On a heart stomping spree I drove mildly cautiously to my forbidden lover-to-be’s house, still unsure who’s heart was next on the chopping block: his or Emily’s.
At his apartment HM and I sat on opposite couches watching the golf network, awkwardly trying to approach the subject and failing to do so. With every conversation turn I learned more things that I liked about him (he grew up on a farm, he played clarinet in band, he skyped with his parents every day) and the less I wanted to honor the bro code. Every so often HM would sigh and say “this sucks” or his roommate would chime in “HM, she was on the golf team? She is the girl of your dreams!,” twisting the knife in further. We had almost gotten around to the issue at hand when my phone started going crazy. I received four full text messages from Emily starting with “I know you lied to me and that you are at HM’s house,” and ending with “I hope that our friendship means more to you than going behind my back to steal the boys I like.” I responded accordingly… aka I FREAKED out. I checked the windows expecting her to be outside the apartments with a baseball bat, obliterating my VW Bug and then coming for my kneecaps. HM protested as I snatched my bag, pushed through the front door, shoes in hand, and repeated three phrases, not unlike a schizo, about how I should have never come over and how I’m an awful friend and how I am going to hell. I got in my car hurriedly, yelling, “I’m sorry” out of the window as I hauled-ass back home.
Once my hands were stable enough to type I responded to Emily saying that nothing happened; he is just my friend’s neighbor who I occasionally talk to and that I wont talk to him if it makes her upset. She calmed down and said we’re good. I told myself that I should be relieved, but in the back of my mind was the picture of the neighbor who, even though I had a lot in common with, I could never see again to appease a friend. And that bothered me.
Over the next week HM texted me relentlessly variations of the same message: It’s unfair; I don’t like Emily; just get to know me. I stood my ground fervently until one night I was reading in my old journals and came across a rude thing Emily had said to me. Armed with this ammunition, I justified to myself that we weren’t THAT good of friends. A quick call to my mom reassured me of my decision: “If he’s your future husband then it doesn’t matter what friends you lose!”
The following evening I agreed to hot chocolate and looking at Christmas lights. I agreed to a “Tosh.O” marathon and Belgium wafer cookies. I agreed to midterm study sessions and light cuddling. I agreed to endless hours of golf network. He was witty and calm and interesting and a complete gentleman the whole time. I couldn’t stop smiling as he escorted me back to my apartment after each date, giggling as I begged him to tell me about his prize-winning hogs again. Eventually I agreed to a kiss. After a month or so I agreed to not do long distance and instead see other people. So he wasn’t my future husband (to my mom’s dismay). I think the point of this story is that I found out that I could do shady things to middle-tier friends if I really was interested in a certain guy. I think I can live with that.