What’s Allowed by Ariel Leigh Hoffmaier

They met at the train station two hours ago, and Matt feels the edges of what’s allowed in flux around him.

Ethan’s different in person. But then again it’s not exactly fair to think that, because until today he’s only ever experienced a half-Ethan, a version of him diluted by pixels and distance. This beautiful boy—smiling at him over their shared Starbucks order, glancing around before he lets himself be hugged—is the real Ethan.

Maybe Matt was wrong. All the progress of months online has been erased in a moment of the tangible, and forwardness is easy behind a screen but now Matt’s back to nervous laughter and accidental hand brushes and wondering if the boy likes him back. They’re friends. God, they’re the best of friends, and the day feels like divine confirmation. But Matt can’t be sure about the rest of it.

They’re almost at the top of the Ferris wheel and looking out at the skyline and Matt’s making a joke about Godzilla when Ethan kisses him. Kissing is allowed, it turns out, and possibilities soar like a tidal wave in Matt’s stomach. Here, where no one can see, Matt’s allowed to know the feel of Ethan’s lips on his—slightly too dry and so warm and perfect.

Before the year is up, the boundaries renegotiate themselves a dozen times—each time a new means to the end of closer.




They’ve been together over two years and there are few things that aren’t allowed these days.

Matt kisses Ethan awake with morning breath. He pretty much pushes him off the bed if that doesn’t work and they really need to be somewhere. He pees with the bathroom door open more often than not, and they don’t buy condoms any more, and nowhere in the apartment is untouched by the word ours.

Their apartment is safe. Outside, so many things are not allowed. Sometimes Ethan devotes the five minutes before they leave to pressing Matt up against the front door and kissing him breathless. Nothing public can be trusted, Ethan believes, but Matt sometimes misses being careless.

They’re friends and that’s not a lie. But it’s also such a dull fragment of the truth that saying so feels like a sly jab to their reality. It’s truth so removed from the truth that it becomes a lie dressed up nicely in technicalities.

Most people on the outside know or sense enough between them to steer clear, but occasionally one or the other of them still gets propositioned—by boys, girls, friends, people they’ve fooled. These are the nights when Ethan takes him slow, Matt holding tight enough to bruise where the bruises will never show.




The photo has circumnavigated the Internet at least three times, and what’s allowed is redefining quickly enough to make Matt dizzy.

Matt has taken to avoiding all social media, friends and family and far-off acquaintances alike clamoring to brag that they’d known all along, that it was obvious. But he can’t pull Ethan away from it all. Ethan’s face flashes and colors upon each new discovery of the same. Ethan sends messages: it was manipulated, it was posed, it was some shallow joke. His furious typing at two a.m. leads Matt into restlessness, and when he does finally come to bed it’s with his back turned away.

They don’t talk about it. When they meet mutual friends, Ethan sits a foot away so their arms never touch. He stops holding eye contact for long.

It’s late and Matt hears Ethan sniffling in the lounge. His instinct is to comfort, to soothe, but he also hasn’t been allowed to kiss Ethan in three days. What was meant to be Are you okay comes out as Is this what you want. And so they talk.

The whole room’s between them and Matt is half-crying and all he wants to do is snatch back every word that fills that space. He wants to replace them with I love you, breathed I love you’s over and over into Ethan’s skin. But Matt feels a door closing and they’re too far gone to stop it.




They’ve been broken up for almost a year and Matt knows what he can get away with.

Most days, they’re friends and they’re fine. Ethan locks the door when he showers, and Matt glances away when he exits dripping in his towel. A pat on the shoulder is allowed, a bit of casual innuendo in mixed company, a hug of two to six seconds. They can mention being attracted to other people but not having intentions. They can discuss their bond but never their past.

There are times when the boundaries are looser. Ethan’s fallen asleep on his shoulder after watching a film, and Matt pretends to sleep because moving away and waking him are equally poor options.

A speeding car narrowly misses them and Matt is alive with shock and fear and crushing relief and suddenly he’s got his arms full of Ethan. Even when Matt says I love you, even when he means it in a million different ways, Ethan doesn’t let go.

They’ve drunk a bit too much and Ethan’s head is pillowed on his lap. Matt doesn’t want to take advantage. He doesn’t want to flout those lifeboat behavior checks that have kept them afloat. But still Matt strokes his fingers through Ethan’s hair, brushes a thumb across his cheek, and smiles. He does what’s allowed, even if it’s only allowed for this moment.




Ariel Leigh Hoffmaier recently graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She works as a communications assistant and videographer for a non-profit in New York City.



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