In midsummer 2012, I was sitting in my doctor’s office, scratching my ankles and arms anxiously as I waited for Brenda, the nurse, to call me in. We had spoken on the phone and she immediately diagnosed my symptoms as scabies. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “It’s not an STD, though a lot of adults get it from a sex partner, so it’s kind of like… a sexually transmitted parasite. Totally different.” As I sat in the waiting room, she emerged from her office behind a tall, handsome, baby-faced man. “Eric, good to see you,” Brenda exclaimed. “Oh, gosh, do you know Peter here? He has scabies too! Maybe you both got it from the same guy!” Peter and I looked at each other, instantly bonded and together mortified. The man in the chair next to me moved over one spot.

After I left my appointment, I found Peter waiting outside the office. “Brenda isn’t the best with privacy, is she?” he joked. “No, yet I continue giving her my business,” I said in good humor. “Anyway, sounds like we’ve got a shared nightmare on our hands. Or, on our arms and legs.” “And stomach,” Peter added. “And back. And ass.” I grimaced for a second, before realizing I was in no place to judge. “Let’s go fill our prescriptions, then get a coffee?” I suggested. “Only if we’re quick,” he said. “I can’t take one more minute of this going untreated, so I need to hurry home and get a start on avoiding intimacy for the next few weeks as I purify. I feel revolting.” I’ve no better story for meeting a friend than this one, and I’ve met no better friend than darling Peter.

“Do you know how you got…scabies?” I asked Peter over coffee. I was whispering, embarrassed obviously. He shrugged: “Brenda assumes it was from a sexual partner. I’ve only had two recently. One is a guy I’ve been seeing for a couple months—Dale, this total sweetheart, potential boyfriend material. The other was a guy I hooked up with last month, complete meathead. Hottest guy I’ve had sex with, hands down. Let me show you a pic…” He took out his phone and sure enough, there was the guy I had been sleeping with as well. “Drew Rieger,” I said smiling. “I think I know where we both got these bugs.” I showed him photos of Drew on my own phone. “Unbelievable,” Peter said. “This town is too small. Send me that naked one, will you? For my memories.” Over the next weeks, we spoke everyday as we both got rid of our unwanted guests, growing too close to fall out of touch. How lucky that this town is so small.

Peter, Tyler, and I were out in the Village one Saturday while Bart worked a concert. Peter, who was wearing a full Miss Walnut Creek ensemble, had recently leveraged a job offer at Condé Nast for a promotion at his current publishing house. It was timed nicely with the departure of an associate publisher. At 30 years old, he was young for the role, and his boss routinely reminded him of his “dumb luck” that had him in such a senior position. “He can be an ass if he wants,” Peter said at the bar as he stirred his vodka tonic. “He’s 55, is still completely married to print, wears pleated pants, and questions why someone so young is creeping up on him. I’m getting paid real nice, too, so I’m happy to take his punches for the time being.” He paused. “But most days, I would really love to break his nose.” I imagined 7-feet-tall-in-heels Peter punching his boss in Miss Walnut Creek drag, all in the name of respect. I guessed it would be terrifying to be on the receiving end of that fury.

Tyler and Miss Walnut Creek were a couple drinks deep and doing this funny sing-along bit at the bar, when the bartender set three tequila shots in front of us. “You’ve all got a fan,” he said. I refused mine politely, as was my obvious custom. A voice from the other end of the bar yelled out to me: “Don’t you know it’s rude to turn down free drinks?” …Sam. “This town is too small,” I uttered as Tyler and I turned away from him. “Cowards,” he said sternly as he walked over. “Both of you. Traitors. Ingrates. Trying to tear me down, when I’m the very thing that built you up.” I could smell whiskey on his breath, and I knew it wasn’t worth trying to debate him on any accusations. I just wished he would disappear, forever.

Sam honed in on me: “You stole James Thurston, too. You took my calling cards, my best clients, you twat. And you—” he pointed at Tyler. “Biggest mistake of your career.” “What,” Tyler barked back. “You mean getting the lead in a blockbuster franchise?” People started to notice the commotion. “I’ll take my chances with Eric.” “Oh, right, it’s Eric now,” Sam wailed. “Seems you’ve got a healthy case of dissociation as you set my whole career up in flames.” Then, he got real close into my ear, to whisper: “You know, whenever I’m inside of Jack, I think of you and smile. Then he smiles back as he moans my name.” Just as I felt a swelling in my head—this intensity and pain and anger and sadness and heartbreak—a fist flew past my face and clocked Sam square between the eyes. And suddenly, Sam had a 7-foot drag queen atop him, punching him over and over and over and over and over.

An ambulance took Sam away, and the NYPD took Miss Walnut Creek for questioning. “I’m not sorry,” Peter told me as they ushered him out. “I love you, Eric. Nobody treats you like that. Not if I can help it.” Tyler and I got kicked out of the bar too, which was fine because Tyler was drunk and confused. I sent him home in a cab and texted Bart to meet Tyler soon. I walked slowly to the police station so that I could collect darling Peter once he was free. I knew I also had to help Sam somehow, or at least show him I wasn’t the enemy he wanted me to be. My reputation would be at stake, too, as would Tyler’s if anybody caught wind of this. I finally got to the police station and they said it would be another hour. I was tired of all the questions circling in my brain, so I decided to get a couple answers instead. I took out my phone and called Jack.

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