Upside Down N.R. Walker
Publication date: March 21st 2019
Genres: Adult, LGBTQ+, Romance
Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But he when he realises adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.
Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.
A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.
Context: Jordan is attending his first asexual support meeting, along with his best friend Merry, where Jordan finds the guy from his bus, whom he’s admired from afar and dubbed ‘Headphones Guy’ (Hennessy) is running the meetings.
I didn’t even notice that the room had cleared out. Merry had pulled up a chair at my side, but Hennessy sat with his knees between mine, holding my hand while I cried.
I fucking cried.
Through my stupid, traitorous tears, I caught the end of a silent conversation between Merry and him, my Headphones Guy.
And then Merry rubbed my back before she walked out, and Hennessy squeezed my hand. “She’s just gone to get you a drink of water,” he said gently.
“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I said, wiping my face with my free hand.
“Because it can be overwhelming,” he said. His voice was calm and soft. “Because it can be life-affirming and scary as hell, all at the same time.”
I nodded. “I don’t want another label, you know? Because I have enough. I have more than enough. Too many, probably, you know for a geeky book-nerd gay man with so many levels of social awkwardness Freud would need an elevator, but the labels fit. And I hate that they fit. Everything that was said here tonight was like it was said for me, like I was saying those things. I didn’t want this to happen,” I said, shaking my head, fighting more tears. “I wanted to come here and, well, that’s not exactly true. I didn’t want to come here at all; it was Merry’s idea. She suggested that I look into what being asexual meant. After my 683rd failed attempt at a relationship, she thought maybe I should see if I ticked any boxes on the ‘How To See If You Could Be Asexual’ questionnaire on Teen Vogue, and after I realised that I could almost tick all the boxes, I decided I didn’t want or need another label. So then I had to come here tonight to shut her up. I was going to prove her wrong and then I could go on living my best life being not asexual but just a gay man who didn’t actually want to have sex. A socially awkward, geeky book-nerd gay man,” I amended through more tears, “who doesn’t actually want to have sex. I’m sorry for crying. I wasn’t expecting the emotional dump, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so… lost and found. Like I once was lost but now I’m found, kind of like the song, which is cheesy as fuck and I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I just didn’t realise how hard I’d been trying to fit in with the real world, trying to be normal, when my normal was here all along. Because I really am asexual and it hit me like a metric fuckton of bricks that there’s actually nothing wrong with me.”
And then there were more tears.
“Because that’s my truth, even if I thought there was something wrong with me, and fuck knows I’ve been told there was, many times,” I said, wiping my face. “But there’s not. I’m asexual, and that’s my motherfucking truth whether I like it or not.”
Hennessy smiled at me. With his perfect lips and perfect teeth, his pretty blue eyes, and three-day scruff. He looked so different without his headphones, like seeing someone who normally wears glasses without them. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” he said, still smiling, still holding my hand.
“I’m sorry, were you not here for the geeky book-nerd gay man with so many levels of social awkwardness Freud would need an elevator conversation?”
He laughed at that. “I believe I was, yeah.”
“Sorry about that. I tend to babble a lot when I’m nervous. And swear. Well, I say fuck a lot even when I’m not nervous. I don’t have Tourette’s or anything, I just like the word fuck. The noun and adverb, even the adjective, not the verb obviously because I’m asexual. Apparently. So there is definitely no actioning of the word.”
Hennessy chuckled. “No actioning of the word, got it.” He still had a hold of my hand, and I liked it. As in, really liked it. My Headphones Guy was holding my hand, and he was smiling at me, in what I think was not in a bad way. I mean, his smile was kind and his eyes were smiling too, if that was even possible. I mean, no it wasn’t possible—eyes could not physically smile, I got that—but damn, they sure looked happy.
“How are you feeling now?” he asked.
“A little weirded out,” I answered. “Not gonna lie. I didn’t want to admit the asexual thing to myself for a long time, and I’m thinking it will take some getting used to. Like breaking in a pair of Doc Martens, ya know? Like they’re uncomfortable and tight and basically kill your feet until they’re the most comfortable shoes you’ll ever wear. They become like a second skin, and I’m pretty sure this whole asexual thing will be like that.”
He made a thoughtful face. “I like that analogy.”
“And it’s even weirder, because you’re my Headphones Guy and I had no idea you’d be here, but here you are and now you’re holding my hand and I cried in front of you, which is not how I wanted our first meeting to go. Believe me. I had visions of it involving me not being so… well, so me. And doing all the talking, because I tend to talk a lot when I’m nervous, which I think I’ve said already—”
“I’m your Headphones Guy?”
Oh fucking fuckity motherfucker. “I said that out loud, didn’t I? To your perfect face, and what kind of perfect name is Hennessy, by the way? Because—”
A loud peal of laughter broke through the door when a couple, a guy and girl, stumbled into the backroom, their arms around each other, obviously intoxicated and handsy and half kissing, half laughing, until they realised the room wasn’t empty.
I shot to my feet and pulled my hand away from Hennessy’s.
“Oh, sorry guys,” the girl said.
“Didn’t mean to interrupt,” the guy said. He took his hand off her arse to wave it. “Keep doing what you’re doing. We don’t mind. We thought this room was empty.”
“We weren’t doing anything,” I said quickly.
“Excuse me,” Merry said, sliding in around the drunk couple. She held three bottles of water. “Sorry, it took forever to get served. They’re really busy.”
I’d never been happier to see her. “Oh, thank God.” I grabbed her arm and turned her back toward the door. “We need to leave. I called him my Headphones Guy to his perfect fucking face.”
Merry shot Hennessy a look and held out a bottle of water for him. He took it, still smiling, though somewhat confused. Then Merry looked up at me as I dragged her to the door. “To his face?”
“What was I supposed to do? You left me unsupervised!” I stopped at the couple who were still standing in the doorway, and only just then I realised what the guy had meant when he said they thought the room was empty… “Oh praise baby motherfucking Jesus, I hope you have antibacterial wipes.”
Now Merry was hauling me out through the crowded pub. I yelled back at the couple, hoping they’d hear, “At least wipe it down afterwards, we have meetings in there!”
We burst through the crowd onto the street and Merry looked up at me and sighed. “What else did you say?”
“What didn’t I say?” I answered. “I was a mess, crying all over him because of the whole asexual thing, thank you very much. Then I was nervous and we both know how well that ends. And I think I might have told him that he was my Headphones Guy, that he had a perfect face and a perfect name, because who the fuck calls their kid Hennessy, and now he thinks I’m a raving lunatic because you. Left. Me. Un. Supervised.”
Merry cracked her bottle of water, took a long drink, sighed, then hooked her arm around my elbow. “He really is very good looking,” she said as we began the walk back to my flat. “I can see why you’ve been crushing on him forever.”
I took a swig of my water. “Fucking hell, I wish this was wine. Where is Jesus when you need him?”
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance.
She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things… but likes it even more when they fall in love.
She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.