John Laurens sat in a Chinese restaurant, waiting for his friend. Alexander was late, as usual. They met each week on Wednesday in a different restaurant; John chose the restaurant on first and third Wednesdays of the month, and Alexander chose it on second and fourth Wednesdays. When the rare fifth Wednesday arose, they flipped a coin for it. No matter who had chosen the restaurant or how close it was to whatever appointment Alex had immediately beforehand, he was always late.
The door opened, letting in a swirl of snow and cold air, as well as admitting one Alexander Hamilton. He waved to John, spoke quickly to the waitress, and sat down across from him. “Sorry I’m late. Work.”
John snickered. “You and your work. I swear, Alexander, you never have a spare moment.” His well-practiced joking tone was barely enough to hide the hurt in his voice. “You’ve barely got time for your wife, let alone me.”
The waitress came by. John ordered iced tea and Alexander ordered black coffee.
Alex tapped his fingers and fiddled with something in his pocket, not paying attention to his companion. John spoke up nevertheless, looking over his menu as he did so.
“I swear, it’s a wonder Eliza doesn’t leave you, with how much you neglect her. I suppose she’s got the children to think of.” He smiled, a bitter smile without humor in it. So how was your day? What exactly happened to delay you?”
When Alexander looked up, leaning forward across the table, John was expecting him to go on a tirade about idiot coworkers or bad traffic or anything else along those lines. Nothing in the world could have prepared him for the words that came out of Alex’s mouth.
“I need to have an affair.”
John stared back at him. “I’m sorry, what did you just say? I don’t think I heard you right.”
“I need to have an affair,” Alexander repeated.
“Alex, you have a wife.”
“I do. I love Eliza, so much, but, John, you don’t understand. I need to sleep with someone else, someone who isn’t Eliza, or I’ll lose my mind.”
“Seems like you’ve already lost it. You’d cheat on her for this… compulsion, whatever it is.”
Alexander leaned closer to him. “I can’t help it. I’m going insane.”
John sighed, pushing his chair back. “I can’t argue with you today, Alexander. Did you meet some pretty girl? One of those beautiful women in tall heels? Is that what brought this on?”
Alexander shook his head absentmindedly. “You’re my best friend, right?”
“...Yes?” He spoke with hesitance, not because he was unsure of his answer, but because Alexander seemed to have jumped onto an entirely new thread of conversation, and he did not want to know where he planned to take them next.
“Are you my best friend or aren’t you?”
John considered this. “I’m your best friend. You’re my best friend.” He knew this to be true; he repeated it to himself like a mantra every Wednesday while waiting for Alexander. He’s your best friend, he’s your best friend, he’s your best friend. Such a simple sentence, and yet it contained all the reasons John could never go after all the things he wanted.
It was at that moment their drinks arrived. Alexander thanked the waitress, took a sip of his coffee, and turned his gaze back to Alexander.
“So since you’re my best friend, that means something, yes?”
“People do things for their best friends. Difficult things, for their friends. Would you?”
“Of course. I’d do anything for you, you know that,” he answered with some trepidation. He was still unsure of where Alexander was trying to take this conversation, but he was quite sure he wasn’t going to like it.
“Anything? Honestly, anything?”
“I’m not asking much,” Alexander pressed. “Not much at all, really. Good friends, best friends, they keep each other’s secrets. So don’t tell anyone what I told you, about my impending affair.”
“You’ll break her heart.”
“It’s her heart or my mind. Promise me.”
“I’ll promise. I swear. But who are you even going to sleep with? You’re a catch, I know that as well as anyone, but most people wouldn't, with a married man.”
Alexander leaned towards him a bit more. “About that. You’d do anything?”
“Yes,” John answered. It was the closest thing to the truth.
“Sleep with me.”
John blinked, pausing for a moment out of sheer shock before he replied. “No.”
“Hmm. Why not, may I ask?”
“You’re going to hurt Eliza. She’s one of my closest friends, you know that. You’ve already dragged me into this mess. I’m not digging myself deeper.” There lay the lie; it would be impossible for him to dig deeper. He was already much too close to Alexander, simply because he remained friends with a man he wanted but who he could never have. “And, no offense meant, but I’m not attracted to you.”
Alexander was undeterred. “That’s an extremely blatant lie.”
John stared at him. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You’re into me. It’s obvious. You’re obvious. You hug me for too long and you stare at my mouth when I talk and you look at me for the longest time when you think I’m not looking.”
“Alex, I think you really have lost your mind.”
“For the moment, I’m completely logical.”
John sipped his drink. “You’re going insane. Seeing things that aren’t there. I’m straight, Alex. I had a wife, before she died. What other proof do you need that I’m not into you?”
“Not everyone marries for love. But let’s set that aside. What about New Year’s?”
“New Year’s?” John faked a puzzled look. He knew exactly what Alexander was referring to.
“Last year. We had a New Year’s, and I got really smashed, but you weren’t drunk at all. I remember that because you were complaining the whole time that you couldn’t drink, because of some medicine you were on at the time for that broken shoulder. It was at my place. I was throwing up, I was so drunk. Eliza was so angry. We were in the bathroom and you held my hair back and then you brought me a glass of water. I was mumbling a lot, and you said ‘you should go to sleep’.”
John’s grip tightened on the glass. “I don’t remember this.”
Alexander plowed forward. “You said I should go to sleep, and I said something incoherent in protest, and you leaned down and kissed me on the mouth.”
“I really don’t think this happened.”
“It did. I’m sure of it. You smelled like butterscotch and you kissed me on the mouth and swept my hair away from my face and then you pulled me up to my feet and helped Eliza put me to bed like nothing had happened.”
He forced out an exhale. “Alex, I definitely wouldn’t have kissed you. I might have touched your cheek or wiped your mouth, but I didn’t kiss you.”
“I felt it. I know you did.”
“Alex. Please, this is not the place to have this conversation.”
Alexander smiled thinly and reached out, grabbing John’s wrist. “Is there any place to have this conversation? You want me. You can stop denying it, yeah? I already know.”
John shook his head, then nodded, not trying to pull out of Alexander’s grasp. He continued.
“This is perfect. You want me? You can have me. I’ll get my affair.” He tightened his grip on his wrist. “I could please you. We’re good at keeping secrets, yes? Eliza doesn’t have to know. No one does. We’d both get what we want.”
There was a moment of silence. John looked into Alexander’s eyes, staring him down. Alexander gazed easily back. Finally, John blinked. Looking down, he wrenched Alex’s fingers off his wrist. “No.”
“No to what?”
“We wouldn’t both get what we want. You’d get it, like you always get everything you reach for. I still wouldn’t have what I wanted.” He sipped his tea, stalling to prepare himself. “I’m in love with you.”
For once, Alex had nothing to say. He stared dumbfoundedly at John for a moment. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I’m in love with you.” Somehow it was easier for him to say it the second time. “What did you think? Do you think I kiss drunk married men for no reason, like it’s a thing of mine? Why else would I do something like that? Despite what you might think, you’re not particularly attractive when you’re drunk out of your mind.”
“I, I don’t know. Simple attraction? A crush, maybe? I definitely didn’t think you’d… want me like that.”
“Well, I guess the famously intelligent Alex Hamilton is wrong about something for once.” He cracked a bitter smile.
Alexander didn’t rise to the bait. “I’ve got a problem. And you’ve got a problem.”
“That’s true. That’s very true. I’ve got unrequited love and you’re going to lose your mind unless you cheat on your loving wife.”
He pauses. It’s almost ironic, how much easier it had been to admit his love than to reject Alexander’s advances. For a moment, he considered accepting the offer. He would never win Alexander’s love, but he might have been able to content himself with an affair. The next moment, Eliza flashed across his mind; he envisioned the sunny smiles she gave her husband and her trust in him, and he knew he couldn’t handle lying to her. He ground out the words between gritted teeth. “I’m not going to sleep with you, if you’re still thinking that.”
“No. I wasn’t thinking that.” Alexander’s face is unreadable. “I have a problem, you have a problem. What do we do from here?”
John tapped his fingers on the table. “I think our next step is to order.”
Alexander nodded without meeting his eyes and opened his menu. John gazed out the window for a few moments before picking the menu back up and opening it to the same page he’d been on when he put it down.