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I was stopped on the street recently by a local YouTuber who wanted to know if I was into asian men. His shoulder bumped mine as he got himself into the shot with me, rudely targeting me with the selfie camera on his phone. I watched the tiny version of myself flounder for a few seconds.
(Those weren’t his exact words. The question he asked was: “Would you date an asian guy?” And I don’t think he was the real YouTuber, because an actual Asian guy, who looked a little more put-together and instantly struck me as the brains of this operation, stood by watching us with great interest.)
The white guy immediately to my left wouldn’t let up, literally prodding me to answer.
Annoyed, I said no.
“Because I don’t date guys.” It was unclear why he had assumed I was gay, other than for the purpose of general trolling.
“And if you did?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve never thought about it.”
“So there’s still a chance, if you were into guys, and if you thought about it?”
I was really just wanting to get the hell out of there. “No,” I repeated. “I’m just not that into asians.”
He stepped back, now alone in the frame, and said, “Damn, that’s cold.”
And then I apparently ceased to exist. They met back up, walked off together. Thinking on it a minute, I decided to chase after them. “Hey,” I said after catching up. “That’s not going on YouTube, is it?”
They both turned around, but again, only the white guy spoke. “Of course not, bud.”
(I absolutely, positively detest being called “bud” under any conceivable circumstance. And yet, I was relieved to hear his answer.)
“TikTok,” said the asian guy. His voice was low and kind of gritty. He frankly looked a little pissed at me. And then they both turned and walked away.
I’m sure I could’ve kept following them, told them I wasn’t comfortable with it, convinced them not to post. But my day had been pretty terrible already, and this just added to the pile.
I had just turned twenty-two. My dad and mom were splitting up. My girlfriend moved one state away the previous month to be with another man. In general, things just weren’t going my way.
Well, I went home that night, and I downloaded TikTok, and don’t ask me how, but I found his account pretty quickly. Maybe it’s because they give you local stuff in your feed, and his series on this particular subject matter was blowing up at the moment. (I was correct, by the way, in assuming the asian guy had been behind it all.) I found the one of me, and I watched it. At first I was horrified at how cringey it was, how rude I seemed. But then I watched some other people’s answers, and that calmed me down quite a bit. This is kind of a conservative town. Mine was far from the most egregious.
And then, I didn’t think about it anymore. Besides, I was no racist. I knew that for sure.
All that went down almost a month ago. Now, things are going a little better. I keep telling myself the same thing I told myself that night, before bed: At least I have the house. I bought it planning on starting a family. Same with my car. I sold the two-door Civic and bought a used Odyssey. People make those kind of decisions pretty young around here. But the house—that’s my pride and joy. Maybe I liked sharing it with someone, but I’m just as excited to own it alone. It was always in my name, anyway. If I could only trade the minivan back for my beloved Civic, I’d have it all. But hey, everyone wishes they could buy back their car from high school. Everyone longs for that kind of thing eventually. It just happened to me sooner rather than later. The truth is, most of the time, you can’t get it back. You can’t get any of it back.
It’s true—things are better. First, I realized the divorce is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to my parents, each in their own way. Second, I got a promotion at the bank, though they’re still paying me the same wage for six more months. And third, it turns out the minivan isn’t so bad. It’ll hustle down the road if you put your foot down.
My income is only barely enough to keep up with the mortgage, now that my girlfriend and her money are long gone. The good thing is, even though my house looks small from the road, it has a finished basement. The space is a little outdated, but there’s a kitchenette, and a bedroom and a bathroom down there, which means I can rent it out. So I put up an ad on Craigslist. There’s not a ton of vacancy this close to downtown, so I get quite a few takers.
I’m scrolling through these emails, trying to decide where to start, when I see a name: Phillip Zhou. It’s one of those moment where, even though there’s plenty of reasonable doubt involved, even though it could be a coincidence, none of that matters. I know exactly what it is I’m looking at.
The thing is, I kept going back to that guy’s TikTok profile. I started checking it at least once a day to see what new shit he was posting. That white guy disappeared at Bağdat caddesi travesti some point from his posts. Then every post that had featured him was deleted, including the one making me look like an ass. Poof, gone, just like that, forever lost in the ether. I figure maybe some kind of breakup was involved between him at the white guy, but it’s really anyone’s guess. It’s just as well, because I prefer the ones with only Phil. That’s what people call him on there. His account is called PhilZZ. He’s pretty funny, and I still watch him. His post earlier today was political in nature, but I don’t remember what side he was on. I guess I just find his face and his voice comforting for some reason. Some people might say it’s getting to the point of low-key stanning, but I wouldn’t take it that far.
Anyway, I’m looking at that batch of emails teeming with potential renters, and the name can’t possibly belong to anyone else. Sufficed to say, I never end up answering any of the others.
His message is pretty unassuming: “Looking to move out of parents’ house. Friendly, responsible, clean.” It goes on a little. Everything checks out. As I’m getting back to him, I realize just how much I relish the whole you-don’t-know-that-I-know situation.
“Hi Phillip,” I type. “Sounds like you could be a good fit. Just looking for someone who will take care of the space and pay rent on time. Sounds like that’s you. Hoping to arrange an in-person interview. Maybe coffee?”
I let him know my availability, then sent it.
He gets back almost immediately. “Hi David. I would like to move out soon. I’m actually down for today to meet, if you are. I’m out in Columbia Village, so I think the Starbucks on Apple near Parkcenter would be a good middle-ground? Let me know. Phil.”
I tell him I’ll meet him there at three.
It’s not until I’m driving that I even think about the fact that he knows who I am, too. Fuck. Not by name, of course, but I’m pretty sure he’ll recognize my face right away when he sees it. The good thing is, he doesn’t know I ever looked him up. We’ll just push through that initial awkward recognition phase, and hopefully everything works out fine.
I roll up, park the minivan and head inside. It’s a little warm, so I take off my jacket, hang it on a chair, then go and order. He walks in just as I get my drink. He stops for a second, looks at me. It’s clear he remembers my face from that day, and probably also because it sat on his TikTok account for a while. At this point, we’re both a little early, and he still doesn’t realize I’m the one he’s meeting.
“Oh hey,” he says casually.
I’m not sure what to say at first, so I just say, “It’s me.”
“I know,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
The apology catches me off guard. I brush if off. “No, it’s me from the ad.”
“Oh!” he says. “Jesus, okay.” He hesitates. “You still want to do this?”
I realized I’ve still got to play surprised. “I mean, yeah, if you do. I don’t see any reason why not.”
He looks relived. “Great, I’ll just order. Maybe you can find a seat.”
The place is empty. My jacket, the last thing on earth anyone would steal, still hangs off the chair in a back corner along the window. “Okay, yeah, I shall do that.”
(This marks probably the first time in my entire life that the word “shall” has formed on my lips.)
I stare at my phone for the next minute or two, avoiding any potential eye-contact until he joins me.
“What’d you get?” he asks.
I stare down into my plain black brewed coffee, not even a lid to block my gaze.
“Pretty basic,” he says before I can answer.
“No,” I say, pointing at his Caramel Frappuccino. “That’s basic.” And what do you know—I get a laugh already.
He pauses. “This isn’t weird, right?”
“No, why would it be weird?”
He just looks at me. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
I sip my coffee, burning my lip just a little, though I don’t let him see that. “Of course I do. It’s no big deal.”
He looks relieved once again. “Good. Jesus, I was worried when I saw your face.”
“I never got your permission to post that shit. I was just doing whatever the fuck I wanted.”
“Water under the bridge.”
“It’s deleted now.”
“That guy and I broke up. I deleted all the posts with him.”
So it turns out I’m a regular Sherlock Holmes after all. “That sucks, I’m sorry.”
“It’s for the best,” he says, breathing out in kind of an exasperated way. “He was pretty overbearing. I need my freedom and he wasn’t giving it to me.”
“Sounds like it really was for the best, then.”
He nods. “So, yeah, speaking of freedom…I need to get out of my parents’ house. They’re not really into the whole gay thing, so that’s been hard.”
Even though it’s getting a little personal, I can still tell he’s holding back. “I understand,” I say. “You’re welcome in my place, that’s for sure.”
I’ve mostly been looking away so far—anywhere but directly Bostancı travesti in his eyes, but now that I do, I see this incredible gratitude within them. It’s something that goes way beyond the basic transaction taking place.
“Thank you so much,” he says. “You won’t regret it, I promise.”
The conversation starts to dwindle pretty fast. I’m stuck not being able to talk about anything I’ve seen in his posts. So we agree to meet at my place before making anything final.
I pull into the driveway far enough so that he can pull in behind me. But instead he parks his car along the curb. It’s a big new Acura SUV, which has me wondering what he’s doing bumming around a place like mine. “Nice car,” I say.
“It’s my parents’. Mine’s in the shop so I had to borrow it.”
That makes more sense.
I hold the door open for him and follow him inside. “It’s straight down the stairs.” I’m watching him take these weird, careful steps, worried he’s getting sketched out by the place. When he gets to the bottom he immediately takes off his shoes and throws them on the concrete floor of the laundry room.
“Sorry, I hate wearing those on carpet.”
“Oh, me too,” I say. “But I’m not that careful down here.”
I show him around. He just nods quietly the whole time, and then says the place looks fine.
“It’s clean,” he says. “That’s all I was hoping for.”
I get him to sign this lease agreement I found online. And then it’s done, just like that. I feel like I’ve won some kind of prize, now that he’s officially agreed to move in. I chalk it up to being a little starstruck, since I’ve never known anyone who was semi-famous on social media before.
“Want a beer before you head out?”
He eyes me for a second. “Sure.”
So we each have a beer. It ends up being a lot less weird than it could’ve been. We sit at one end of the second-hand dining table I picked up just a few months earlier. We’re chatting about nothing in particular for a few minutes, until he says, “I needed a place to go, so I really appreciate this.”
“I can only imagine,” I say.
“My parents are old fashioned. They grew up in the Guangdong Province, not that far from Hong Kong.”
“Is it because of their religion?”
“Kind of…” he says slowly. “But that’s only part of it. It’s hard to explain.”
I’ll admit that I’ve been sizing him up a little this whole time. He’s taller than I remembered, and more so than his posts make him appear. He’s about as tall as I am, which is just under five-ten. We have almost exactly the same stature. I’m not around asian men very often, but I always picture them being shorter, and with smaller frames. That’s not what I’m looking at now.
His face is a little different, too. Maybe he’s using filters or something on all his posts, because his features stand out so much more in person. His jaw is more angular, and his features are little more austere. I would estimate that he’s more handsome than your typical male, for what it’s worth.
He finishes his beer before I do and clinks the can hard against the table. Then he rotates it in place, like he’s trying to get a look at the label. But I think maybe his mind is elsewhere.
“You want another?” I ask. I’m trying to make the question sound as casual as possible.
I go get him a second one. I grab another for myself, even though I’m only halfway through my first. I open his before I set it in front of him. That’s something I’d never do for any of my buddies, but the moment seems to call for it.
“Thanks,” he says. “So you have a girlfriend or what?”
“I did. She found someone new.”
“What was she like?”
“She was nice. Smart, funny. She was pretty—that’s for sure.” I realize how earnest I sound, telling him that last detail.
He just nods, slouched in his chair. He takes a mouthful of beer and, before swallowing, draws some air between his lips, making a sound like a chirping bird.
“That’s a cool trick,” I say. “Who taught you that?”
He looks kind of sad. I feel surprising comfortable around him, but maybe that’s because I’ve watched so many of his posts. I’m starting to make a stronger connection now. I get it—how the shape of his features, that olive skin tone and those dark eyes compose themselves into the familiar face I been enjoying on screen. I almost regret not having told him by this point. I don’t like having to hold back.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you were into guys,” I say, snapping open my next can.
“I get that sometimes.”
“You’re not that feminine.”
“We’re not all that way.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
He nods, seems to think about it, and then says, “I mean, I probably could be a little more, if I let loose a bit. I guess I’m still searching for my authentic self.”
Now that sounds like something from one of his posts.
“I want to apologize for putting you on the spot that Kartal travesti day,” he continues.
“Like I said, water under the bridge.”
“It’s not really what I’m about. It was more my ex’s idea. Plus, he thought if a white guy was doing the talking, people would be more honest.”
“Maybe he’s right.”
“I didn’t mean what I said. I just wanted to get out of there.”
“Doesn’t matter if you did,” he says. “Maybe you were just being honest.”
If only I were being honest, I think to myself. The sun’s coming in through the sliding glass door by the dining room. It feels nice on my back. I take another drink, pause for a moment to actually taste it, and suddenly I’m getting a very nice vibe from the whole situation. I look back up at him and feel a warm rush. I try to make sense of it. Mostly I’m just happy he’s sitting here at the table with me. It’s been a lonely couple of months.
I realize he’s probably getting low on that second can. I let him know he’s welcome to have as many as he wants.
“I need to drive home,” he says. “But this is turning into a quality hang.”
I laugh. “It sure is.”
He says he has a gym membership at Gold’s and asks if any are nearby. I tell him there’s one just one or two miles away. “You’re working that upper-body quite a bit, huh?” I add.
“Damn straight,” he says with a laugh. “Gotta get swole.”
“You wanna to see the rest of the place? I mean, you won’t be living up here, but I can show you around.”
He’s already finished his beer, so I gulp mine down in one smooth motion. I guide him through the rooms, showing him the bedroom and the office, which is really just a second bedroom upstairs. There’s a little alcove off the main area, connecting the two rooms. He peers into my bedroom with a look of approval.
We’re both jammed in that small alcove for an awkward moment. I’m swaying on my legs a bit. I guess it’s because I had that second beer on a mostly-empty stomach. He looks at me just as I feel a little bit of heat from his body. His expression is so kind and inviting now that his face is just a foot from mine.
I’m shaking with the obligation to step away, but for some reason I don’t. I’m doing all I can to hold on to this brief moment with him so close to me, coveting it like it’s the only chance I’ll ever get. I smile. That’s when he reaches out and grazes my arm with his fingers. He pulls back right away, but the invitation is now entirely clear.
So I gently grab his wrist, and I lead him back into my bedroom. The blinds are halfway shut and thin lines of sunlight dapple the heaped blankets and bare sheets of my unmade bed. He lies on his back, looking up at me, taking both my hands in his, our fingers interlocking. He unleashes a booming laugh as I wrestle with him. He hooks his arm up around my back and tries to overtake me. I resist at first, but I think he may be a little stronger than me, or otherwise, I’m not exactly putting up my best fight.
Soon, he’s wrestled me onto my back. He grabs my wrists and pins me there. I’m breathing hard. He’s looking down into my eyes. He’s asking me if it’s okay to keep going down this road, as clearly as if he said the words out loud. I only hope the looks in my eyes is enough to communicate my response, which is suddenly, unabashedly: Yes.
I relax the muscles in my arms and hands, which I’m certain he can sense. I’ve stopped fighting. His eyes are locked on mine. That’s when I realize I’m about to kiss another man for the first time in my life.
His lips meet mine, and the first thing to go through my mind is just how incredibly soft they are; I had assumed a man’s lips could never feel as soft as this. Next—a lighting-bolt thought—is the scratchiness of the black stubble of his upper lip. Instead of repelling me, it sends a quick wave of lust through me, downward, pulsing through my cock, which is by now undeniably hard.
Only after this second of hesitation do I kiss him back. I let go of any inhibition as we each open our mouths and I feel his tongue prod against mine. He grinds his waist into me and we kiss harder. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much raw desire in my whole life. I want him. I want him in a way that I could never have any girl. I want him inside. The urge feels so natural, so much a part of me and everything I’ve always wanted, since I was old enough to dream up thoughts like these. What lay stubbornly dormant for so long is now freshly awakened, insatiable.
I tear off his shirt and then my own. I grab for his belt, but he pushes my hand away and undoes it himself, ripping it out through the loops and throwing it aside. As he pulls down his pants and underwear, I catch a glimpse of what lies beneath. It’s fairly large—probably bigger than my own. It’s uncut, something I’m not personally familiar with. He moves aside so I can take off my own pants and underwear. He eyes my cock, wondering at it for a moment like he’s never seen one before, then moves his lips in this subtle way that indicates he wants to go down on me.
I stop him. “You ever top?” I’m shocked my own brain has the ability to string together the words. Where the fuck could I possibly have learned a phrase like that, then produce it so casually, like I’d said it a thousand times already?”
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