I wish that my story with G was different.

I wish that he had never contracted HIV, never had to deal with doctors and meds and stigma. I wish I asked questions when he told me he was undetectable. I wish I asked him on a second date.

I wish I wasn’t the character that was afraid to be with someone because they’re HIV positive. I wish I was the character that was understanding, and loving, and smart.

We all have regrets. These are mine.

It took me completely by surprise when, six months later, I got a message from him wanting to meet up. This is it, I told myself. He wants to hear me out; he wants to give me a second chance. I may not deserve it, but hell, I’m going to run with it.

I got to the bar an hour early: When he arrived, I tried to hide my merlot-red tongue. “Hey,” I said quietly.

“Hey, you.” I tried to read his inflection, calm and cool, tried to read his smile—longing? Forced? Mostly, I just thought he looked tired. “I’m sorry it’s been so hard for us to get together. Work has been really nuts.”

“It’s fine.” My chest felt tight: I wanted to say I was sorry, I wanted to leap across the table and kiss him and hold him and beg him to give me another chance. “Really. You don’t have to make up any excuses.”

“Excuses? No, I’m serious!” He went on to tell me about the last six months, how he grew to hate his work, how every day became a chore, how he could barely get out of bed some days. Then there was a new job prospect, the interviews, the offer, and finally they pulled out at the last minute, after he’d quit the last job. And, recently, there was the new job, one that paid better, one that finally made him happy. “I have a lot more power over the online content I put together for them, and I want you to write for me.”

I couldn’t process the information. “What?”

“It’s not creative, and they’ll tax the hell out of you for freelance work, but it’s a paying job and another credit on your resume.”

“That’s why you wanted to meet up?”

“Yeah! I’ve been thinking of ways to get you to write for me since we met, it just never came through at my last job.”

He wasn’t interested in dating me—but he clearly cared about me in some capacity. I’m not want to turn down a friendship, not from someone like G.

I took the job, and started seeing him at least every month to catch up. G made me look at myself, see my ignorance, and helped me grow. I only hope I can be better for the next boy that comes my way.