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All my followers know I’m in mourning. Lloyd follows me, so he probably knows. I’m banking on this. I feel like I’m going to act weird tonight, not because I’m in mourning but because I’m nervous and won’t know anyone there besides Lloyd and my friend Rae, whom I’ve manipulated into coming along. I don’t actually even know Lloyd. Our entire relationship history amounts to one retweet.

Rae calls us a car because I don’t have a phone, but if I did have a phone I would’ve arranged for the car to drop us off a block away from the venue, so we could walk up to it like specters emerging from the night, and not like overdressed adolescents too moneyed and stupid to figure out public transportation. We’re not moneyed, we’re just running late. The car pulls up and everyone’s standing outside smoking and drinking. We exit the black SUV like actors on Gossip Girl, in the worst possible way. I’m shaking with fear as the driver leaves. Nobody looks at us. Nobody gives a shit.

Rae doesn’t give a shit either because she doesn’t know Lloyd, even though I’ve showed her his profile photo, and anyway Rae has a serious girlfriend and they’re probably getting engaged soon so her brain’s already halfway to Virginia, picking out shelves and shrubs. Her detachment could make her the perfect companion tonight, except that it serves to highlight my own attachment, namely to the scenario in which I successfully mingle with a few people who aren’t Lloyd, then sit through all the readings without taking my eyes off the stage, then turn around at the end, all dazed like I wish I could stay in the words forever, and in this scenario I bump into Lloyd then apologize impersonally, then say, Wait a minute, do I know you? to which Lloyd replies, as if christening me, You’re August. In this scenario, I then slip off to talk to the host of the evening, this dykey woman in her 40s who’s so taken by my turns-of-phrase that she asks if I’m a writer and bashfully I say yes, and she puts me on the line-up for the next event right then and there, after which I say, I’m sure you’re in high demand tonight so I’m gonna let you mingle, but it was lovely meeting you, let’s be in touch. I can tell from the host’s face that she wants me to stay longer, that her ideal scenario involves me monopolizing her time and attention until all the other guests give up and go home. Maybe I kind of want this too, but only because it’d make me feel chosen, which is really all I ever want from other people, and in the scenario I’m tempted to stay with the host, but I wrench myself out of this desire, thinking about the Virginia suburbs to calm myself down, like a guy who’s about to nut but doesn’t want to. In this scenario, I touch the host on her forearm one more time just so she can have a fresh memory of skin contact, then I go back to Lloyd, who’s right where I left him, unmoving and unwanted, like a piece of pasta that fell off the fork.

In real life, Rae and I are still on the sidewalk. We walk into the venue where everyone is drinking beer but all the beers have different vessels and labels, and it hits me that this is a BYOB event, and because we didn’t think to B anything, we’re gonna have to stand here with our arms at our sides, which sucks because one time a guy told me I could be a hand model. I see Lloyd and Rae sees Lloyd and she turns to me and says, It’s Lloyd, and I say, If you humiliate me, I’m never talking to you again, and Rae says, Introduce yourself, but Rae is a pointer, that’s her downfall, so as she says this she’s pointing at Lloyd, and he looks over, and I start to whisper angrily at Rae, and then I realize it’s probably really obvious to Lloyd what’s happening, which is that I’m too nervous to talk to him, so I transition the angry whisper into a sad whisper, and I go in for a hug and I say quietly in Rae’s ear, Just pretend I’m mourning, just pretend you’re comforting me, and she starts smoothing my hair, and I say, Too gay, and she says, Guys love lesbians, they love a challenge, and now I’m actually crying because it’s super easy to cry these days, I probably could’ve been an actor if only my dad had died earlier in my development, I would’ve been able to call up that memory literally whenever I wanted. I pull away and wipe my eyes and look back at Lloyd and he’s definitely not looking at me, which is good and bad. Fuck, I say to Rae, I knew he was gonna be hot but not that hot, that’s insane hot, I don’t understand how you can be a writer and look like that, like where do you get your material, where do you find the time? Rae says, He’s not out of your league, and I say, I never said he was out my league, and she says, No, yeah, but just in case you were thinking that.

The reading starts and everyone gets shuffled around and then Lloyd is standing right in front of me, which is unlucky because if he turns around he might think I’m staking him out, like a spider on a bedroom ceiling. I try to think of how I’ll explain to Lloyd why I’m here once we get talking. I try to think of every person I know in New York City and whose name I could reasonably invoke in conversation, someone who might plausibly have something to do with this event, but who would also not be at this event, because I can’t actually pick out my online literary acquaintances in a crowd, because like Lloyd I only know them as avatars and long, unreadable essays. I decide that if pressed I’ll mention Rae’s ex-boyfriend, who used to send out this unreadable newsletter every week, and who verifiably frequented readings like this before he ran out of money and moved back to Alabama. I’ll mention him and if Lloyd hasn’t heard of him, all the better, my network will strike Lloyd as deeper and broader than his own. It’s important to use a real name though, in case Lloyd looks him up afterward, which is what I do when anyone mentions anyone it seems like I should know.

The first reader is this woman whose writing I can’t really describe because it doesn’t seem to have any clear setting or narrative or characters, even though there are a few names scattered throughout the story. In the end the story announces itself as “not true” which is weird because every story is not true and also true, you don’t need to say that, it kills the trust, sort of like when a person says mid-conversation, You and I don’t know each other very well, and the illusion of intimacy is gone, and in its place there’s this weird distance that’s more difficult to cross than ever.

Next, some guy plays an instrumental guitar piece, and the lack of words makes room for thoughts about my dad, and I start crying again, but I take comfort in the fact that I have a sexy post-cry face according to all my exes who’ve initiated sex right after making me cry, so I’m not worried about how I’ll look when I get talking to Lloyd. The guitar guy finishes and Lloyd turns around and we lock eyes for a second and I do this weird politician nod and say silently, Hey, but he turns back around without really acknowledging me, and I feel flat and small like something you’d slip into a wallet unthinkingly and then throw away months later when you’re decluttering. I regret wearing a bra because visible nips can be pretty persuasive when a face falls short.

Some poet guy reads something about something. Then the host is back on stage, thanking everyone for coming, and I’m gearing up to talk to Lloyd, my armpits releasing a fresh spritz of terror, when the host says, I’ve actually got one more reader, if you guys can spare the time, and honestly I can’t really spare the time, but the host insists it’ll be short. Please welcome to the stage, Lloyd Perry. Only then does it hit me that Lloyd’s name sounds like it manufactures button-downs. Lloyd takes so long to move that I wonder if he’s as caught off guard as I am. Maybe he didn’t know he’d be called up, maybe he and the host are better acquainted than I realized, and the host is half-pranking him while also giving him an opportunity to strut his stuff. I’m looking at Lloyd’s back but it doesn’t move and I start to panic for him and then I look up to the stage and there’s this little chubby guy in a pin-stripe suit with a band t-shirt underneath, and he starts reading this story I’ve already heard because I’ve been skimming Lloyd’s blog, and I look back to the Lloyd who’s still sitting in front of me, and I look up at the Lloyd who’s on stage, and nothing makes sense and I listen to the story and it’s good and everything makes sense—this is not the writing of an attractive man, this is the writing of someone who’s been ignored, even maligned by women all his life, someone who’s had way too much time to think, and no one to share his thoughts with.

Lloyd finishes reading and Rae turns to me and says, Who was that guy, did you know him? And I say, Dude, that was Lloyd. And she says, What the fuck, that was Lloyd? And I say, That was Lloyd. And she says, Oh fuck, that was Lloyd, I’m so sorry, and then she goes off to steal a beer and leave me alone in my disappointment. The crowd starts to mingle and now I’m keeping my head down, hoping the real Lloyd doesn’t see me, and that’s when the other Lloyd, the hot one, turns around and we’re facing each other for a few seconds so we kind of have to say hi, and I ask him if he’s a writer because that’s the only thing I care about besides my dead dad, and I can’t even pretend otherwise, and he says no, he just lives in the area and saw a flyer, which annoys me because apparently they let anyone in here, you don’t need to be in the scene. He asks if I’m also local and I say, No, I’m just in New York because my dad died last week. And he says, How old are you? And I say, Why, so you can gauge how tragic it is? which I actually think is a fun and spicy reply, and I’m proud of myself and ready to continue our dark little flirtation when he says, It’s not a competition. I immediately know we can’t date because in order for me to suppress jokes like that, I’ll have to switch off at least half my personality. Then the non-writer non-Lloyd guy tells me his dad also died a few years ago and I’m back in it because maybe this guy can be my grief lover, someone to have teary sex with in the coming weeks until I’m fully over my dad’s death and can go back to dating guys who haven’t experienced loss or really anything interesting or transformative in their lives.

We talk for a long time and I cry a bunch and the crowd disperses and after like half an hour I allow myself a look around the room and I don’t see the real, writer Lloyd anymore. I’m safe. I notice the host and I make an excuse to hot Lloyd and I go over to introduce myself. Hi, I’m August, I say with emphasis, so she will know that regardless of whether or not she knows me, I am someone she should know. I touch her forearm. I just had to tell you how special this evening was, I say, and she says, Thanks for coming out, like I’m just a person and not a writer. Fuck you, I think, but instead I say something about the guitarist and how moved I was, even though it was mostly grief that did the moving, the flamenco was just a backdrop. Then some other girl who’s hotter and probably smarter than me comes over and touches the host on the shoulder and I think, Shoulder was an option? Why did I go for forearm when shoulder was an option? I ask the hot girl her name so I can look her up later and see how many magazine publications and book deals and famous friends she has. Quickly I cease to be relevant to the conversation. I look for hot Lloyd again and what do you know, he’s talking to Rae. I’m walking over to them when I see him touch Rae’s shoulder. I’m suddenly tired. I’m planning to sleep at Rae’s place and I don’t have my own phone to order a car so I come up to Rae and put my arm around her and say, Babe, let’s go, I’m super tired and we have sunrise yoga tomorrow. As if doing penance for her earlier pointing, she plays along and says, Aw, okay honey, I was just having a nice chat with this guy—she says this like she’s never sucked a dick—I’m sorry, she says, what was your name again? I don’t listen to the guy’s name.

I go home with Rae and lock myself in the guest room and take off all my clothes and think about a faceless and nameless man who writes killer essays, and the guy is Jewish even though neither of the Lloyds are Jewish, and I lie there naked and the man descends from the ceiling like a spider and I fall asleep and in the night I get cold and pull a blanket over my nips and in the morning I see a tweet from Lloyd saying, Thanks everyone for coming out last night, and I heart the tweet. Already I feel impatient for our next interaction.