CHAPTER EIGHT: THE TINGLES

My friends grandma called it the tingles. The feeling when a swarm of butterflies inhabits your stomach and all you can do is think about one particular person in every little moment. He became my tingly boy and I fell hard, but this had never happened before. Previously I’d always had a giant wall up around me, and never allowed anyone in on a deep intimate level. I obviously had crushes and flings but nothing where I actually thought that “this could be the one”. But then he came along. I was going through a time where I was ready to give up dating because every guy I was interested in turned out to be an asshole or some ridiculous plot twist occurred. I was swiping through Tinder when I matched with Nathan. We had a little bit of playful banter and exchanged numbers, but then I found out that he was just visiting from Townsville, which was 1335 km away. I rolled my eyes and thought “that’s my luck”, and deleted the app because I’d had enough. We still made plans to meet up but he cancelled last minute and promised that he would make it up to me next time he was visiting. I was unsure, but we kept talking anyway. There was just something calming about him that made me instantly trust him and want to get to know everything about him. A week later he messaged me saying that it looked like he was coming back down to Brisbane for a concert the following Friday and that he would love to finally meet. Trying to keep my cool, I told him I was free that weekend so it would work well and asked what concert he was going to. He hesitated and said “don’t judge me but Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood”. I laughed and replied “No judgement at all because I’m going to the same one”. It sort of just felt like it was meant to be and that the stars were aligning for once. He was talking about flying back with his friend on Saturday afternoon, so I took a leap of faith and just said “why don’t you stay a little longer and stay with me so we can spend some proper time together?'”. I don’t know why I felt so confident when I hadn’t even met him, but it felt right. He agreed. He seemed a little nervous but so was I. I kept questioning myself, what if we didn't get along in person? What if it was awkward? Would he even like me? And clueless to myself at the time he was questioning some more pressing thoughts.

On the night of the concert we were texting excitingly and planned to meet up for a drink in the arena foyer after Carrie Underwood performed. The intermission was only 30 minutes long and as I was waiting for him to meet me in the foyer my palms went clammy, I broke into a nervous sweat and recited every possible outcome from this exchange in my head. Then I saw him. He exited the arena doors and was nervously scouting the crowd to find me. This was my last chance to run away and never message him again, but I wasn’t going to allow myself to run scared. Not this time. After what felt like five minutes he finally spotted me and as he walked over I took a deep breath in.

He was taller than me but not too tall that it was awkward when we hugged, we sort of just perfectly fitted into each other’s arms. He had mid length brown hair which was in a man bun and I surprisingly didn’t hate it. If you had asked me previously if I would date a guy with a man bun I would’ve said no to the no to the no, no no! But he was insanely cute, and by cute I mean he was very attractive. He was wearing an oversized button up shirt with blue jeans and let’s be honest, his indie look was very much my type. His voice was calm and his smile was instantly comforting and warm. The conversation flowed easily, minus the moments of word vomit where I let my nerves show, but I could sense he was feeling the same way. We talked about meeting up that night to go out clubbing and what our plans for the rest of the weekend were as he was staying with me on the Saturday and Sunday. After the very short meeting we went back into the arena and my heart was beating so fast. My friend Bree looked at me excitingly and goes “so, was he was cute?” and I just let out a little squeal of agreeance. After the show we went home to get changed and head out to the club, where I’d organised to meet Nathan. Once we got there Bree started feeling sick and progressively got worse, so we had to leave early. As we exited I ran into Nathan and explained what was happening but told him I was looking forward to tomorrow and he agreed.

With everything that I’d gone through previously with guys I assumed he was going to do the same to me and just bail. I had lost faith in guys and always assumed the worst possible outcome. But he didn’t. He came over just before lunch and while he was a tad shy he quickly became calm and open. We talked in bed, asking each other many probing questions while watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I instantly felt the connection that I had always been searching for but never knew what it would feel like. But now I did. It was a mix of familiarity, trust, and severe lust. There was a moment where we were just cuddling and staring at each other in the eye. It was that moment you see in movies and laugh at how cliche it is and complain how that never happens in real life, but it happened. In that moment I leaned in and kissed him. He smiled at me and kissed me back. It felt natural, it felt right, and we started fooling around. Our eyes were interlocked and we both had the biggest smiles on our faces, and then his smile just fell off. He collapsed onto the bed and started apologising profusely. I was confused. I asked him what was wrong and he started freaking out explaining how he was a virgin and had only come to terms with his sexuality recently. And then dropped the bombshell that I was the first guy he’d kissed. I felt awful because I remembered how confused I was when I was coming out, and knew that this was not what he needed mentally to make him more confused. So I cuddled him and reassured him that everything was going to be okay and that we would take it slow. He kissed me and thanked me for being so understanding. I was expecting that little breakdown to have a negative impact on the rest of the weekend but it just made us closer.

We ducked out to the shops to grab a few things on the Saturday afternoon, and as we were walking home some massive black clouds started to roll in. I warned Nathan that we should probably just Uber it home, but he insisted that we would be okay and would make it back to the house in time so we kept walking. We were three quarters of the way home when it started to bucket down with rain and we started running to try get out of the rain as quickly as possible. The rain got harder and harder, to the point where it didn't feel like rain anymore. “Did you feel that?” I asked before looking at the ground and seeing golf ball sized hail hitting the floor. We both started yelling and laughing while frantically running, covering our heads with our shopping bags. We finally made it back to the house and as we got inside we just looked at each other and burst into laughter as we saw how soaked we both were. We fell into each other’s arms and kept laughing at how ridiculous it was but it was one of the sweetest and most real moments from that weekend. It was as if nothing else in the world mattered, and as cheesy as that sounds it was what I needed. It was a connection I had never felt with someone before and the way he looked at me in that moment made me feel like I had finally found something special.

That night, for the first time ever, I fell asleep in his arms effortlessly. I had never done that with a guy before. I always had the most restless sleeps, and actually hated sharing a bed with anyone because of it. I woke up feeling so refreshed, and understandably confused as to why I felt like this. What I didn't know at the time was that he’d had one of the worst sleeps of his life. He was very heavily in denial about his sexuality. Previous to this moment he knew that he was attracted to guys, but believed that it was just a phase. But after kissing me and sharing that connection he realised that this was something more, that he was in fact gay. His situation wasn't easy, he was from a small country town that still had pretty backwards thinking towards equality. His dad was one of the chief police officers of Townsville and that didn’t help the idea of laying low, because everyone knew his family. His family were not supportive of the LGBTQI+ community and he knew that if he came out it probably wasn't going to be received well. He laid awake for hours trying to not cry and wake me but his head was spinning and consumed by dark thoughts. I had no idea this was how he was feeling, and once I found out he was feeling this way it legitimately broke my heart because I had been there and understood where he was coming from. For the remainder of that weekend we just relaxed in bed, went to the cinema, and explored the city. It was easy. There was no awkwardness but I wondered what would come next. When it came to Monday morning and he had to wake up for his early flight home I didn't really know what to expect. I don’t deal well with goodbyes, I don't like them. So when his alarm went off I tried not stir too much to avoid as much awkwardness as possible, I was unsure if he would ever speak to me again once he got home. After packing his stuff he walked over and kissed me goodbye and I could tell he didn't want to leave and I didn’t want him to. He stood at the doorway for a couple of minutes staring at me while I pretended to be asleep. All I wanted to do was get up and run into his arms one last time, but I resisted and he closed the door and left. I still regret not getting up. Our conversation over the next couple of days was distant and I was disappointed, but I also half expected it. After all, I was used to this from guys. They always seem to be searching for the next, better thing. But then he started telling me that he was sorry for his absent messages and that he actually had the best weekend with me. I was surprised and relieved but was still cautious.

Christmas came and we started talking about when we were going to see each other again. He mentioned flying back down while he was on university break, and we both decided the best time for him to book flights was on the Boxing Day sales. So we organised dates and he said he would stay awake until midnight and purchase them when they first go on sale. I woke up in the morning to no messages from him. I texted him and got no reply. So I left it. I felt sick and confused as to why he wasn't replying to me. When I got home from work I burst into tears because once again I’d let my emotions be played with. The next day I decided I wasn't going to let it affect me, I left my phone in my bag at work and didn't touch it until lunch time, I didn't want to be staring at it hoping he would magically send me a message. Thankfully I did that because on my lunch break I grabbed my phone and there was a message from him two minutes after I put my phone away. He explained how he just couldn't do it anymore because we lived too far away, and because he wasn't out to his family or friends it made it extremely difficult. Which I understood because coming out is single handedly one of the hardest things i’ve ever done. I was heartbroken but I sympathised with him, and reassured him that I would always be there to talk to. But our connection didn't change, again it just strengthened it.

On New Years Eve he was all I could think about. I was at a club with my friends but the whole time I just wanted to be dancing in his arms and counting down to midnight with him. It made me anxious knowing that he was at a party drinking and may end up kissing someone else that wasn't me. I tried to refrain from messaging him but as soon as midnight hit I couldn't help it. I wished him a happy New Years and explained how glad I was that I got to meet him. He quickly replied and said the same, he told me he was having a disappointing New Years and just wanted to go home. He was feeling sad and lost and just blurted out the words “I miss you”, which was the first time either one of us had said it. I confessed that I missed him too and that I was also having a really miserable New Years and just wished I was with him. Over the next week things got gooey and sickeningly cute. We started talking about when we were actually going to see each other and had to make it happen. He kept going out drinking and would get super drunk, which would then end in him being depressed and it made me worried. I hated it when he drank because I knew what was going through his mind and I just wished I was with him so I could be there for him. We started discussing another trip and a way we could get around his parents without making them too suspicious as to why he was going to Brisbane again so soon after his last visit. We came up with a plan and were ready to book it in when he freaked out again and said he couldn't do it. I didn't know how much more I could take. My emotions were all over the place and I just needed to see him one more time to really figure out if what we had was real. But he returned to his shell and we went back to the unknown. A few more weeks passed and we were having nightly phone calls and speaking to each other all day, every day. We were the closest we had been and it killed me because he wasn't mine and I didn't know when I was going to see him next, and that conversation just wasn’t worth having again. One night we were talking and he just blurted out that he missed me too much and couldn't handle not knowing when he was going to see me next, he confessed he’d looked at dates and flights and wanted to book in a trip to see me. I excitingly agreed but tried not to get my hopes up because we had already been down this road multiple times. This time he actually booked the flights and in a fortnight we were going to be reunited.

The day finally came and I woke up in a fevered sweat, I was nervous and unsure of what to expect. I knew that this trip was going to end up defining us, either in a good way or it would end what we had. I kept questioning whether he was going to hop on the plane or not, or if I had just hyped this up too much in my head. But it was midnight and his flight finally arrived. He knocked on my door and I opened it to see his nervous smile, he was just staring at me and I couldn't have been happier. His arms wrapped around me while he looked down and stared into my eyes. I just smiled and kissed him and instantly felt so calm and happy. We both couldn't believe that we were together again and just lay in each others arms talking. The moment was there. The passion was there. The emotion was real. And it naturally happened. Our bodies intertwined and he was on top of me staring into my eyes, I had never felt so connected on an emotional level with someone. We fell asleep in each others arms and I woke up to his smile staring at me. It was magical.

I questioned a lot whether this relationship was going to be the best for me. I’d always been so guarded and never let someone in this much before. I’d never been in a proper relationship, was this how I wanted my first one to be? I was okay being single because I didn’t want to have multiple relationships that didn't really mean a thing and I didn't want to settle for convenience. I knew that when I met the right person it would just feel right and this was the first time I thought I’d finally found it. I also didn't want to get hurt. I had been burned too many times from guys in the past, and I was worried that because of the distance and circumstances that this might happen again.

The banter was playful but quickly turned serious. I explained how I was planning to hold off until the end of the trip to talk about “what we were” but I was too nervous to wait. He laughed and agreed because he was just about to bring up the same conversation. We openly discussed how we made each other feel and that the connection we held was stronger than anything we had both ever felt before. We spoke logistics about how we would make it work because we knew it wouldn't be easy. But we both agreed that it was worth the struggle because after all the long distance wasn't going to be forever. From that moment on he was my boyfriend and I don't think anybody could have wiped that smile off my face. I felt ridiculous but I just loved using the word boyfriend. Boyfriend. Boyfriend. Boyfriend. It rolled so nicely off my tongue and we both couldn't stop using it. My lips couldn't stop kissing his, it was like a weird gravity pull. We confided in each other about everything and I always had his back. We were at a gay club watching a drag show one night when he suddenly started having a panic attack, we raced outside to get fresh air and we just sat on the street with my arms around him, reassuring him everything would be okay. It was a moment where his senses were overloaded by the amount of people around him, the public show of affection, and his inner demons trying to surface. It was something I had been through and I empathised because there was not much I could do except be there for him. As a early Valentines Day present I surprised him with a night at a five star hotel. I had never been able to spoil someone before and if I was going to be able to spoil anyone I wanted it to be him. But the five days we had together were quickly over and we were back at my house laying in my bed trying to figure out how we were going to say goodbye to each other. We knew that the next time we would see each other would be in two months time because I was going to America and his university schedule was going to make it hard as well, but as soon as I was back from the US we already had two long weekends together planned each month for the next four months and that made the wait worth it. I was staring into his eyes trying to enjoy every last second I had with him until his Uber pulled up. His arms were around me and neither of us wanted to let go, but we knew we had to. “It’s not goodbye” I said, “It’s just see you soon”. We kissed and hugged before I walked him down to the car because I knew that public shows of affection were off the cards at the moment while he was still closeted. But I gave him one final hug goodbye as he hopped in the car he just grabbed me and kissed me and told me he didn't want to leave. That meant so much to me, actions really do speak louder than words. He wanted to do everything he could to let me know how much I meant to him, and he was showing me that he was slowly becoming ready to come out. As the car pulled away, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was so sad he was gone but so incredibly happy for the time we had spent together. I knew the distance was going to be hard, but it was going to be worth it.

Over the next month and a half we would text everyday and then have a two to three hour phone and video chats each night, which made the long distance feel obsolete. But every day I missed his touch. I missed his kiss and I missed his arms around me. And I was just counting down until Easter when I was going to be able to wake up next to him and have his smile staring back at me. It wasn't easy, but he made it worth it. Spending my birthday without him was rough but three days later I was off to America for a couple of weeks and when I got home I was on a flight straight to Townsville to see him. Each day we would remind the other how much we missed each other and how much we meant to each other by saying one simple word; “everyday”. It was a gooey word that may seem so simple but it held so much emotion. I missed him, everyday. I thought about him, everyday. I loved him, everyday. And it was then during our long phone chats that he would remind me he would never do anything to break my heart.

He started coming out to all his friends who unsurprisingly took the news really well. But then his sister found out. She happened to find me on Instagram and saw a photo of us together as well as some comments he posted on my other photos. She put two and two together and questioned him. Nathan was freaking out but she couldn't have been more supportive which instantly calmed him. She encouraged him to come out to his parents, but he still wasn’t ready and I wasn’t going to push him even though it would've been easier for us as a couple. 

I don’t let people get too close. I build walls. But there was just something about him that saw me letting my guard down and it terrified me. And I fell for him. He was the first person that I had truly fallen in love with and it just felt right. There were a couple of times on the phone when we both went to say those three simple words, but I was waiting until we were in person because I wanted the first time we both said it to be perfect. He made me feel something that no one else had before. He was my tingly boy.