philophobia This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 15, 2018
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It was difficult, trying to find a way to describe his dilemma for outside ears. Because it was juvenile, sure, too juvenile to comfortably say the words that were rattling around in his mouth, scraping against his teeth and taste buds. But it was also complex. They were adults, they weren’t little anymore. They weren’t trying out dynamics of relationships to see how they felt, to test the waters, to ruin just because they could.
That was the ethics of his position. Sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a circle of hopeless souls, a place he thought he could escape years ago, a support group that will do nothing but exert energy into a useless cause.

He didn’t have enough time to think what he could say. There were only five other people in his situation, if they could even consider themselves that. One woman’s children didn’t appreciate her, another person felt that they had lost their motivation sometime over the holidays (perhaps under the cushions in their deceased aunt’s couch).

It came to be his turn and he sighed.

“My name is Spencer. I, um. I seem to have fallen in love with someone who can’t love me back. Well. Two someones.”
That wasn’t the truth. But it was just heartbreaking enough to be believable.

He was still giving his someone slack. That was the worst part of it. The first one he’d fallen in love with wasn’t unable or afraid to love him; he was too proud. He had too many guns and too many prestigious friends to allow himself to be that close with someone like Spencer; someone that his other friends would look down on, externally. Someone that would turn their back and immediately be gossiped about, belittled.
He agreed to that, though. That was his fault. When he was dragged into that closet last year after entering John’s house to smell expensive wine and hear old, odd laughs that he’d never heard before, pressed close against a suited man wearing cologne he’d never smelled before. And, in between embraces, the situation was explained. That he was to go upstairs and put on the suit that John had laid out on the bed, that he was to drape a towel over his arm and grab a tray. It was merely a formality. And Spencer swallowed his own pride for once and did just that.

It would have been fine. If he hadn’t learned that this would be a weekly occurrence, if he wasn’t expected to walk into work the next day and pretend like he was his sponsor’s side project and personal butler on Thursdays.

His friends noticed something was off. Those he “simply worked with” also gave him a bit of a nudge during the walk to their cars with one of those “I’ll hurt somebody” looks, but Spencer just waved them off. How embarrassing.

He allowed to it to happen for about five weeks; that was, until a tall brunette woman sauntered into the foyer with a clutch purse and linked her arm with John’s. Then she introduced herself. And John kissed her cheek. And it all became clear. Pride had transformed into something else, denial, and that was something that Spencer couldn’t handle.
So he called Aaron. Said it was an emergency, that he needed to be picked up. Gave some vague directions. Didn’t bother to change out of the stupid suit he was wearing. Disregarded Aaron’s look of humor and confusion and just sank into his seat, his fingers still cold from the pen he used to write John a note, which was then set on John’s pillow.

Spencer fumbled with the bowtie as they drove in warm silence. Aaron was clearly wondering where to even start with his questions, but the man in the passenger seat was absolutely deflated.

So Aaron kept his quandaries to himself. He dropped Spencer off at the stoop of his apartment, and with a quiet “call me if you need me,” he slowly drove away, stray bits of asphalt grinding underneath the tires as he moved.

Spencer came into work late for the first time in a good few months. Aaron said nothing. His friends gave him looks and his coworkers snickered every once in a while (as a front, they’d say), bothering the man about the smell of alcohol on his clothes.

He would get 31 calls that day. From various numbers of cellphones and payphones. All from John. Asking if he would come back, a gruff voice pleading with Spencer to let him explain. Which Spencer wouldn’t answer, thus giving his silent reply. Every time his phone would buzz, Aaron would look at him worriedly, but say nothing.

The day was wrapping up slowly, people filtering through the doors at their own volition, the day itself crawling by so somberly that it might as well have been dead.

Spencer had no intention of leaving soon. He fully expected to sleep under his desk. Particularly, the majority of the time between five o’clock and ten was spent trying to come up with an excuse to wear the same clothes twice. Clothes that smelled like alcohol, apparently.

Right at 10:01, Aaron appeared with his briefcase grasped in his hand. He descended the stairs and stood next to Spencer, either thinking of something to say or wondering when to say it.

“You can’t stay here.”

Spencer sighed. He rubbed his eyes, “Why not.”

Aaron breathed out of his nose, irritated. “Don’t act like a child. Not now. Just let me help you.”

“What is there to do? I have my own apartment, I could sleep there if I wanted to.”

“I understand that part. What I don’t understand is why you wouldn’t just say so.”

“You hadn’t asked.”

“But if I did, you would have lied.”



“Because this is embarrassing,”

Aaron made an amused noise in the back of his throat, “Spencer–”

“If it would make you feel better, I’ll go home.”

“It would.”

Spencer frowned. “Please.”

“You need to sleep in a bed.”

“If I go home, I won’t be able to sleep.”

Aaron looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “What is the issue?”

Spencer shook his head.

“Tell me.”

“John’s having people over to his house on Thursdays.”

Aaron was silent.

“And he doesn’t want them to know.”

Silence. An implied know what escapes from Aaron’s expression.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does.”

Spencer looked like he was going to cry. So Aaron backed off.

“You can sleep here, if it’s absolutely necessary. But if you want to leave, my door will always be open to you.”

Spencer gulped and nodded. Aaron took two steps backward before disappearing through the doors of the elevator.

The brunette collapsed back into his chair. He wove his fingers into the tangled roots of his hair.

Then he stood, shoved his things into his bag, and ran toward the elevator, flicking off every light he could reach as he moved.

Aaron was waiting right outside the doors, briefcase by his feet and hands in his pockets. Spencer’s shoulders slumped and he looked tiredly at the other man.

“C’mon,” Aaron said.

Spencer slept on the couch in the living room of Aaron’s house. The pillows smelled like tangible comfort and the blanket that he was given in the middle of the night was soft and woven, and everything felt like home.

And every single thought and feeling of John was wiped away. Each mental picture was snipped and folded and altered, and Aaron’s face was pasted in.

In the morning, Spencer woke up at five. He left the house quietly in his socks, tying his shoes on the front porch and walking to the nearest bus stop.

And then he went to a support group, one of the only ones that was open before working hours, the group of insomniacs that fell in love too quickly, or with the wrong people, or they had dependency issues.

Little did he know.

Aaron had been awake for awhile. He had heard some movement downstairs and looked over the railing, silently watching the brunette leave. He sat on his bed, the mattress shifting and creaking, and buried his head in his hands. There was no way he would let himself do this. Not again.

Spencer sighed as he sat in the squeaky chair in a room full of people that shared his pain. There was no way he could open himself to someone that couldn’t hold him all at once.
So he wouldn’t.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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