When I told him where Alex and I were going, he got out a piece of paper and started writing down everything he could remember from his last trip, along with notes about pricing and what to order. He starred all his must-eats, but there’s no way we’ll get to all of them.
I met Guillermo a couple months after moving to New York. My new (first New York) friend Rachel got a request to eat at his new restaurant for free, in exchange for posting a few pictures of it on her social media. She does that kind of thing a lot, and since I’m a fellow Internet Person, we do these sorts of things together.
“Less embarrassing,” she insists. “Plus cross-promotion.”
Every time she posts a picture with me, my subscriber count goes up by hundreds. I’d been hanging around thirty-six thousand for six months, but have ballooned to fifty-five thousand through sheer association with Her Brand.
So I went with her to this restaurant, and after the meal, the chef came out to talk to us, and he was gorgeous and sweet, with soft brown eyes, dark hair swept back off his forehead. His laugh was soft and unassuming, and by that night, he’d messaged me on Instagram, before I could even post the pictures I’d taken to my account.
He found me through Rachel, and I liked the way he told me that right up front, without embarrassment. He works most nights, so on our first date, we went for breakfast instead, and he kissed me when he picked me up rather than waiting until he dropped me off afterward.
At first, I was seeing a few other people and he was too, but several weeks into it, we decided neither of us wanted to see anyone else. He laughed when he told me, and I laughed too, just because I’d gotten in the habit of giving encouraging laughter from being around him.
It’s not like it was with Julian, not all-consuming and unpredictable. We see each other two or three times a week, and it’s nice, the way this leaves space in my life for other things.
Spin classes with Rachel and long walks down the mall of Central Park with a dripping ice cream cone in hand, gallery openings and special movie nights at neighborhood bars. People in New York are friendlier than the rest of the world warned me they would be.
When I tell Rachel this, she says, “Most people here aren’t assholes. They’re just busy.”
But when I say the same thing to Guillermo, he gently cups my jaw, laughs, and says, “You are so sweet. I hope you don’t let this place change you.”
It’s sweet, but it also worries me. Like maybe the thing Gui loves best about me isn’t some essential part, but something changeable, something that could be stripped away by a few years in the right climate.
As we wander the streets of New Orleans, I think multiple times of telling Alex about what Guillermo said, but every time I catch myself. I want Alex to like Guillermo, and I worry he’d be offended on my behalf.
So I tell him other things. Like how calm Guillermo is, that he laughs easily, how passionate he is about his job, and food in general.
“You’ll like him,” I say, and I really believe it.
“I’m sure I will,” Alex insists. “If you like him, I’ll like him.”
“Good,” I say.
And then he tells me about Sarah, his unrequited college crush. He ran into her when he was up in Chicago visiting friends a few weeks ago. They grabbed a drink.
“And nothing,” he says. “She lives in Chicago.”
“It’s not Mars,” I say. “It’s not even that far from Indiana University.”
“She’s been texting me a little,” he admits.
“Of course she is,” I say. “You’re a catch.”
His smile is bashful and adorable. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe next time I’m in town we’ll meet up again.”
“You should,” I press.
I’m happy with Guillermo, and Alex deserves to be happy too. Any tension that five percent of our relationship—the what-if—let in seems to have been resolved.
While staying in the French Quarter had seemed ideal when I booked our Airbnb, it turns out the nights are pretty loud. The music goes on until three or four and starts up surprisingly early in the morning. We find ourselves venturing to the rooftop pool at the Ace Hotel, which is free on weekdays, and napping on a couple of chaise lounges in the sun.
It’s probably the best sleep I get all week, so by the time we take the cemetery tour on the last day of the trip, I’m slaphappy from fatigue. Alex and I expected haunting ghost stories. Instead we get information about how the Catholic Church cares for some graves—the ones for which people bought “perpetual care” generations ago—and lets the others crumble to dust.
It is decidedly boring, and we’re baking in the sun, and my back hurts from walking in sandals all week, and I’m exhausted from barely sleeping, and halfway through, when Alex realizes how miserable I am, he starts raising his hand every time we stop at another grave for more bland factoids and asking, “So is this grave haunted?”
At first our tour guide laughs his question off, but he’s less amused every time it happens. Finally, Alex asks about a big white marble pyramid at odds with the rest of the stacked, rectangular French- and Spanish-style graves, and the tour guide huffs, “I certainly hope not! That one belongs to Nicolas Cage!”
Alex and I deteriorate into cackles.
It turns out he’s not joking.
This was supposed to be a big reveal, probably with a built-in joke, and we ruined it. “Sorry,” Alex says, and passes him a tip as we’re leaving. I’m the one who works in a bar, but he’s the one who always has cash.
“Are you secretly a stripper?” I ask him. “Is that why you always have cash?”
“Exotic dancer,” he says.
“You’re an exotic dancer?” I say.