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The Rights of Man

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Laurens would not, by any stretch of the imagination, call himself lonely.

I mean, sure. He gets those pangs of existentialism sometimes, when night creeps in between the slats of the blinds, plunging a room into a dusky-mauve stopped from being pitch only by the too-bright, artificial glow of a side lamp. Staying up too late watching Netflix, keeping one ear trained on the noises outside – car wheels on wet asphalt, drunken bar brawls, animals clawing for garbage – if only to detract from the maddening static buzz of silence behind the tinny speakers that might, if tuned in, only serve to amplify the doubts circulating round his skull: What’s the point? What does it all mean? What are any of us truly doing here?

But everyone gets that. To be human is to get that. We’re born alone, we die alone – nothing morbid about it. Besides, to be ‘lonely’ implies to some degree that one is no longer satisfied with one’s own company, and Laurens is. Laurens is plenty satisfied.

Or at least, he will be once he gets this video to load.

“Come on, fuck,” Laurens mutters, shivering a little in the cold of the room. Despite it being well into October, his roommate still refuses to increase the thermostat setting. Laurens would take the fall and pay for the heating himself, only he doesn’t want to give Ben the satisfaction of admitting he could afford to do that if he wanted to. His room is on the ground floor though, and it gets pretty freezing in the evenings. Also Laurens is only wearing boxers.

Also, Laurens’ hands are down them.

“Hey! Laurens man,” an urgent knock at the door just as the buffering sign stutters and drops.

Laurens swears, falling off his chair in his haste to pause the video. The door clatters open, revealing the perplexed face of Mulligan as he takes in the sight of Laurens rolling around on the floor, struggling to turn the screen of the laptop away from his line of vision and one hand still…yeah, you guessed it.

“Oh shit,” Mulligan says, at least having the decency to look embarrassed. “Sorry, man.”

Lafayette’s tiny face pops up behind Mulligan’s shoulder. His eyes widen as he clasps a hand over his mouth, letting out a scandalised giggle between his fingers.

Laurens gets gingerly to his feet, scowling at the pair of them with as much dignity as he can muster. “You’re supposed to wait,” he snarls. “Until I say ‘come in’.”

Lafayette pulls a face. “I do not want to wait until you are comin’.”

Laurens sticks a middle finger up at him. Squawking with laughter, Mulligan makes for his desk. “What are you looking at?”

“Don’t-” Laurens makes a lunge for the laptop but it’s too late – in just two swift strides Mulligan has already crossed the tiny space and scooped it out of Laurens’ reach. He squints at the screen, ignoring his feeble protests as he reads the title of the video.

“A Room with a View nude bathing scene,” Mulligan wrinkles his nose, appalled. “What the hell is wrong with you? You can’t even watch real porn?”

“Give it back,” Laurens bats at him, clawing for his laptop. “Leave me alone.”

“John,” Lafayette sinks down on the bed, fixing him with the kind of look old people give their delinquent grandchildren. “It’s Friday night.”

“Yeah, and what?” Laurens retorts which, ok, was maybe not his best answer but whatever, it wasn’t a real question.

“So, you’re making me sad.” Lafayette gingerly nudges the debris of an empty packet of Cheese puffs out the way with his foot. “Put some clothes on. Come out with us.”

“Um,” Laurens appears to consider for approximately half a second. “No. Sorry.”

“Why not?”

“Because I hate both of you,” Laurens supplies. “And because you’re going on a double date, which if I third wheeled, would be even more pathetic than what I was just doing now.”

“Nothing is more pathetic than what you were just doing now,” Mulligan pulls a face at the laptop where Rupert Graves’ dick is still on full display.

“The girls would not mind,” Lafayette insists. “We can go to Stars and Stripes after dinner.”

“Is that a gay bar? That sounds like a gay bar.”

“Why are you so afraid of gay people?” Mulligan demands challengingly.

“I’m afraid of anywhere that’s called ‘Stars and Stripes’.”

“Please Laurens,” Lafayette tugs on the hem of Laurens’ boxer briefs so that he has to dart away. “Let us set you up. Adrienne is a very good wing-person.”

“No thanks.”

“You can’t just sit here on you own.”

“I’m not on my own,” Laurens curses inwardly upon having to go to his last resort. “…Ben is here.”

Mulligan and Lafayette share a bored look, which, like, fair enough. The two of them have cohabited the same space since first year, and they can still go days on end without catching sight of each other. Weeks, even.

“Ben is with his boyfriend,” Mulligan tells him.

“So? I can hang out with him. It’s my house too,” Laurens sulks, crossing his arms over his chest. “De plus the thermostat. You need to check the tenancy.”

“You need to quit cockblocking your roommate, and get some cock of your own,” Mulligan picks up Laurens’ phone from the desk. “Man-up, and download Tinder.”

Mulligan throws the phone at Laurens. It bounces off his chest and lands limply on the mattress. Laurens lets it lie, frowning up at Mulligan in affront. “Sexist.”

Mulligan points his finger at him. “Coward.”

“Hey,” Lafayette whacks Mulligan on the arm. “No name calling. We must be supportive. It is very embarrassing for Laurens to be scared of gay people.”

“I’m not scared of gay people!”

“You’re jerking off to literary film adaptations!”

“I like the narrative,” Laurens snarls through gritted teeth.

Mulligan seems to wrestle with himself briefly deciding whether he’s going to respond to that before finally settling on another aggressive finger-wag.  

“Whatever,” he says childishly, turning away from the door. “Sort yourself out.”

“We will be back by 2!” Lafayette waves chirpily in parting, closing the door behind him on Laurens’ unenthusiastic grunt.

The silence rings heavy once their footsteps die away, the slam of the door reverberating through the walls, and Laurens feels something (not loneliness) tighten in his chest. Whatever, no matter, Lord Jesus, we have peace at last. Dignified in his victory, Laurens decides to celebrate the restoration of calm by reaching once again for his laptop, settling back against the bed for some well-deserved me time.

For some reason or other however, the video just…isn’t doing it for him. Nor are any of the others he has bookmarked, and categorised neatly in chronological order. Instead there’s only the tightening in his chest, growing tauter and tauter like the translucent stretch of a plastic bag. Thwarted, Laurens leans back into the pillows, letting his arm dangle frustratedly over the side. His fingers brush the edge of his bedside table, moving instinctively for his phone. He picks it up, scrolls through the aps. Hesitates.

Fuck it.

It downloads fast. Scarily fast. Laurens barely has time to elaborately plan his bio before the nauseous pink flame is blossoming on his screen, commanding him to enter his details. He does so, heart thumping in his throat.

Name:

Well, that in itself is tricky. Only acquaintances call him John, and friends only in their tenderest moments. Would a Tinder date qualify as an acquaintance, or a friend? What’s the naming code for sexy-friends? Probably not surnames.

He puts ‘John’ down.

Gender:

Easier.

Age:

21 and still a virgin shout it from the rooftops

Show me:

Oh God Oh God Oh God. His hand actually shakes on the phone as he selects ‘Men’.

Bio:

Laurens chews his lip, thinking just a second before typing.

90% lotr refs. i’ll give u a ring if u catch my eye

Nice. Smart. Quirky guy with a good sense of humour and sound knowledge of pop-culture with just the right balance between smug and self-aware. Smashed it.

Now for the pictures. Searching through his library proves this part isn’t actually nearly as difficult as he had envisioned, on account of the fact that there are very few photos where he genuinely looks like a working human being. He selects a sizable close-up of his face so that people know what they’re getting into, one where he’s playing keyboard and one with Turtle because that’s what his past girlfriend seemed to be into and everyone likes musicians and dogs, right? Like that’s a thing?? It’s not gender-specific??

Fuck what if only girls like musicians and dogs

Whatever, no matter. Profile complete, Laurens breathes out a sigh of relief. The hard part is over. Now for the even harder part. He starts tentatively, trying to peer deep into the soul of each profile and gather some sense of their individual aura before deciding to swipe left or right. It isn’t long before he figures out this isn’t the most economical use of his time. His thumb movements increase, figuring out from just a quick glance what he likes or doesn’t like from this tiny snippet of information. It’s pretty disillusioning pretty quickly, particularly as it dawns on him he’s much more superficial than he thought. Feeling a little grossed out, he narrows it down to three rules: No sunglasses. No rifles. No bare chests.

Ok, maybe some bare chests.

It isn’t long before he starts getting matches. When the icon first appears on his screen, Laurens almost drops his phone with shock. The novelty wears off disappointingly quickly however upon first sight of some of the ice-breaking messages.

> Hola! pretty boy i bet you taste like caramel chocolate:)

> Have you considered voting in the 2018 election? Brad Wenstrup is the best House candidate for the state of Ohio, click here to see his stance on important issues

> sit on my face

“Oh WOW,” exclaims Laurens, resisting the temptation to turn his phone into the mattress. “Ok…yep. That is a penis…made from punctuation. Huh. Inventive.”

Inventive though it may be, it isn't exactly fertile ground for conversation and Laurens turns away to answer some of his less forward messages. He's matched with quite a few nice-looking guys, some of whom had introduced themselves with fairly normal greetings, and sends back equally normal, if bland and uninspired, replies.

Feeling rather like he's just accomplished a tremendous milestone, Laurens, content with the days’ work, is just about to switch off his phone and await the morning’s responses when a blue glow shoots across his screen.

You’ve been Super-Liked.

“What in the-?” Perplexed, Laurens opens the notification, scrolling obsessively through the various profiles until he finds one bordered with the same blue glow.

Name: Alexander

Age: 20

Education: Columbia University

Laurens peers at the first pic. It looks like a photo used for the front page of a college magazine, or a dentistry pamphlet. A preppy-looking kid with floppy hair in a 70s afro-mullet thing traipsing down the steps of the portico, face turned away from the camera and blazer thrown over one shoulder in a mock-candid pose. The caption reads:

Virgin Islands-> NYC. aspiring law student. 5”6. sorry if that scares you.

Hit me up for some fun (no strings pls its all wireless these days)

“Haha,” says Laurens out loud. “That’s quite funny.”

He swipes through the other photos. A close up, displaying nice eyes, and a rather prominent nose. The next – a picture of him at a party, surrounded by girls. Looking at their arms, looped adoringly round his shoulders, Laurens wonders what his preference settings are.

The last one is a topless selfie. Laurens almost swipes left on principle, however something at the last moment holds him back. Maybe it's the angle of the camera, or the self-conscious way his chin tilts into the light, but there 's something about this particular display of unapologetic narcissism that doesn't cause the instinctive flicker of revulsion. Perhaps it's the slight curve above the boxers, symptomatic of a confidence Laurens can't help but admire.

Whatever. The guy's just Super-Liked him after all. All potential embarrassment is on him.

Laurens swipes right.

Five minutes later, he has a new message.

Alexander: Ok so, Im just gonna tell you now

I have been staring at ur bio for about 20 minutes and am still no closer to understanding what it means and I super-liked you in the hope that u would explain.

Wtf is a lotr? ring? Eye? Is that a joke

Illogically, Laurens feels something deflate in his stomach. It's nothing but his pride, still he feels a little betrayed. Like the universe had got his hopes up making him think he was above-averagely desirable, only to make the come down all the more disheartening.

John: its lord of the rings. u never heard of the eye of Sauron?

Alexander: OH

Uh no. Sorry. my bad, Im not big with pop culture

John: haha its cool

It is so NOT COOL.

John: im new to this. havent really figured out all the social kinks yet

Alexander: Mmm. well cute pics anyway. Makes up for the super nerdy caption

John: cant go wrong with a snap of a dog

Alexander: I mean, maybe for some. I’m more of a cat person. Anyway I was talking about you.

Warmth rushes into Laurens’ cheeks despite himself. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, seeking to displace the smile.

John: not a waste of ur super-like?

Alexander: Not at all. Besides I have more. Tinder plus babyyy!!

John: wow. u rly must be a pro

Alexander: I rly must

So…..

Im bored af. Wanna do sth?

Laurens stares at the screen, heart hammering so hard he can feel it in his thumb. He looks at the door his friends has just left through. He looks at his laptop, now blank. He looks back at the screen.

He types: y not