I’m From Merced, CA.

by Nicole Parker

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

I was that girl. I still am. One of the few kids excited to return to classes because it meant that I got to go back-to-school shopping. Oh, the decisions it involved! Pick warmer clothes so that I could sport a new wardrobe in late October, or get the leftover summer items, ensuring a grand entrance on the first day of classes.

Not much has changed. I draw inspiration from those around me, internally tweaking other people’s outfits, deciding how I would wear them (better). Thinking about patterns – which ones push the lines of couture, and which simply clash. While many people love shopping or clothes, I rarely find others who share this passion with me – someone who goes back and forth between a black and brown belt in the morning – “Do I match my shoes? Or live on the edge and combine the two colors!”

I work at a university, and needless to say, the staff doesn’t really push the edge on fashion trends. At least that’s what I thought.

One day while walking into my office with a coworker, I looked up the stairs to see a gorgeous man. The subtlety of the red undershirt he used. The printed belt. It was one of those outfits that could completely go overlooked. Brilliance. And my coworker knows him! We were introduced, although I felt an odd sense of recognition. “I think I know you. Did you go here for undergrad?” He did. “What was your major?” It was dance. “I was always the only guy in the dance classes,” he replied. I guess that should have been my first warning sign.

We became quick friends through our daily run-ins in the hallway between our offices. It started as general compliments on our outfits – we both share this love of clothing – but turned into more personal subjects. We talked about our jobs, families, travel plans for the holidays. He would come in to visit my coworker, and end up chatting with me. I was so excited. Going through a breakup is so much easier when you have eye candy to admire.

My infatuation continued for the next month or so, but something was off. Oh no. My poor taste usually involves choosing assholes, not… yes, it was confirmed. Brian is gay. Could he see my heart skip a beat when he mentioned a breakup with his boyfriend? Half disappointed, but half hoping he realized his heart ached for women.

I brought my infatuation up to my coworker. “Nicole. You need to stop this. It is not healthy.” I responded, “No, have you seen the way he looks at me? I think it’s going to happen.” I always follow this sentiment with a, “Just kidding,” but we all know I’m not. The odd thing is, knowing I can never have him, has made me more outgoing with my affection. We all win. And the best part is, our friendship has continued to grow.

Everyone knows about my feelings for Brian, but instead of creating an awkward situation, it has become a fun joke. I was looking at a friend’s engagement pictures with my coworker, and without thinking, exclaimed, “Omigosh! Brian and I would be so cute in these! Think about the outfits we could create!” In an effort to embarrass me, he notified Brian, and instead of denying this fact, Brian agreed, and decided that in addition to the engagement photos, we could actually get married, and find a situation that worked for both of us. Such a tease. But one can always hope!

Our path to friendship hasn’t taken the most direct path, but has led to a unique understanding of each other. He is one of those people that can lift you up when you’re down. An impromptu bottle of wine paired with a cheese plate can turn the evening around as we turn our misfortunes in love into laughable matters. A brief visit to his office can turn into a 20 minute gab fest about the books we are reading. And a hug on a bad day can turn everything around.

See? It’s the little things too. He’s perfect.

RELATED STORIES – The two related stories are authored by people mentioned in Nicole’s story — the well-dressed dancer and object of her desire, Brian Schaefer, and the unnamed coworker confidant, Seth Klonsky.

Brian’s Story: “You know, sometimes its okay to feel uncomfortable. Everybody feels uncomfortable in new situations. Being uncomfortable is sometimes how we grow.” David looked up at me with big brown eyes. He thought about this for a while and then rested his chin on his knees and sighed.

“But I still miss my mom.”

“I know, buddy. And I know she misses you, too. She’s probably also uncomfortable without you at home. But you know what? That means you’re both growing and becoming stronger. That’s exciting, isn’t it? You seem like a strong guy to me. I think you’ll be just fine. You willing to give it a try?” He looked at me again, sighed again, and nodded. I put my arm around his shoulders and gave a little squeeze.

Seth’s Story: “Hi!” I barely squeaked out the word, and my 16-year-old voice betrayed my feigned masculinity. Of course he recognized me, but was it obvious that I had been waiting for him? Did he sense what I was about to ask him? Could he see my body shaking?

“Hey Seth,” he said without stopping. He said my name! Why is he in a hurry? Does he have a date? Is he avoiding me? Does he think I’m stalking him?

The questions were spinning around nonstop in my head.

“Hey, well, I know you must be in a rush. And so…” I stopped talking because he stopped walking. He looked at me. “Here’s my pager number. We could get coffee or something.”

Sharing your story can change someone's life. Interested in learning more?