by Julian Keys
For a short while in my young adult years, I roomed with a second-cousin and, one night, he came home from a party drunk. He talked incessantly as I tried to wrangle him into bed, making very little sense. The next morning, my hung-over cousin related back to me the conversation we’d had as he remembered it. What he thought he’d said, as compared to what he’d actually said, made me laugh.
I figured, as all writers do, that one day I’d use this in a story.
Speed ahead several years. I was writing gay-male erotica, mostly the Fancy Man Stories. I did have, however, one short, gay-male romance and those that had read it wanted me to write another. For some reason that night with my drunk cousin popped to mind. Wasn’t that the essence of romance? I mused. Living in a haze where your thoughts are clear to you, but nonsensical to others? Speaking in your own foreign tongue? Being, in short, a little bit drunk?
The opening of the story came to me then: Two friends wake up in bed. Together. Mostly naked. The one who went to bed sober is not where he expected to be. The other, who went to bed drunk, is not alone as he expected to be. And both are in a panic over what they think happened the night before.
As for why one of them had abstained from drinking…Uber wasn’t yet a thing at the time I wrote this story. Back then, groups who went to parties, bars and gatherings “designated” one of their members as the driver. He or she would steer clear of liquor and chauffeur everyone home.
This not only allowed me to pair up the clearheaded and hammered, but also explore another romantic metaphor: driver and passenger. Because sometimes we feel like we’re behind the wheel of a relationship; other times we just enjoy the ride. And, romantically speaking, heartache happens when we feel we’re in the wrong seat, or heading down the wrong road.
The story, as they say, wrote itself from there. I sent it out to some readers, and knew I’d succeeded when one wrote back: “The first part of the story made me so sad I almost cried. And then I read the second half…and laughed till I really did cry.”
That also is romance. Ups and downs, twists and turns. Tears and laughter. This is about two young men, one who drives through romance very seriously, the other who drunkenly goes off road with it. Both are hoping, however, to reach the same destination. A place where, intoxicated or not, they can love, and be loved.
Anthologies which include this story: