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Author’s Note: Thanks so much to those who have left feedback so far! It means a lot to hear that people are enjoying the story. I know it’s a little light on sex for this site, but there will be some more later. Feel free to send me an email. I love communicating with readers. Hope you continue to enjoy.
I did not wake until close to noon. Marie had left already to satisfy a prior obligation. I drank two brimming glasses of water, locked the door behind me and slept through much of the transit back home. By the time the 40B shuddered to a stop down the street from my apartment I no longer felt any nausea, but just a lingering and unspecific lethargy.
I willed myself up the gradient street, passing a cluster of pines that still retained some overnight rainwater and dripped steadily in the sunlight. The deep blue of my suit jacket drew in the sun’s rays and my face was met with a constant, cold breeze that moaned down the hillside. Nature’s dichotomy refreshed me in a moment when I had been feeling extremely unrefreshed, and would carry me through to the hot shower for which I was currently clamoring.
I stopped suddenly before unlocking the front door; a small, folded and tucked triangle of paper was wedged into the doorframe. I took care not to tear it when coaxing it open and found a message penciled in deliberate and unadorned handwriting:
“Hey, I couldn’t find you through the usual technological avenues. Sorry for stalking you at your place of residence and in general. I spoke rashly on the bus yesterday. This experience is new to me and confusing. Thank you for being patient. I will be home all day tomorrow if you would still like to talk. Please come by if you have time.”
The note concluded with the street address for his building and apartment number. Flipping it over, I discovered a small sketch of a chickadee, minutely cartoonish in its glowing face but otherwise precise, like the artifact of some ornithological study. It bowed slightly on needle-like legs and its tiny feet gripped the suggestion of a spindly branch.
I stood there in the breezeway staring at the drawing long enough to feel chilly in the absence of direct sunlight. It was a creation that reflected admirable artistic skill, especially because it had probably been done in haste. I refolded the paper, careful to obey the exact pattern, a relic of my childhood reeled in from the fringes of memory, and entered my apartment.
I completed a few sets of upper-body exercises on the floor between the bed and living room, then took my long-awaited shower. I ate lunch and watched two episodes of a show. Eventually I fell into a very long novel chronicling the lives of several families in 1950s India, at which I’d been etching away for the past few months. The evening carried on in much the same way, with only a brief call from my mom to break up the languid scene.
I’d hardly given any thought to whether or not I would visit Mikey. There was nothing to consider. If the sun rose in the east the next morning, if the earth had managed to heave itself one more time around, I would go see him.
One these terms, I found myself standing before his building’s intercom sometime before one o’clock the following day. I pressed the button to ring his apartment, anticipating some sort of interaction, but instead the door to the stairwell emitted a metallic clack and I hurried through. I did not rush up the stairs to the fourth floor; being short of breath would certainly not calm any of the nerves now bouncing off the walls of my stomach.
His building was at least a few decades older than mine, but had been meticulously preserved, and exuded the refinement and class of something that is not of this time, but has surrendered none of its relevance to the passing years.
I waited a very short time after knocking on his door. It swung inward and there he stood, barefoot, white cotton t-shirt, slim flat-blue pants and hair restored to its wild midnight glory. His skin appeared slightly darker now that more of it was visible, especially where upper arm met soft, white sleeve.
“So glad you decided to come over,” he said energetically. “Come in. Sorry it’s a little warm; I don’t have any control over the heat.”
I followed him silently into the living area, removing my coat.
“These old radiators…they’re all kind of connected,” he continued. “Sometimes I even have to open a window. We should be okay today, but let me know if you’re too warm.”
“It feels nice,” I said, looking around the room.
“Good,” he said. “Please make yourself at home. Sit down if you want.” He pointed to a deep, brown leather Chesterfield sofa that fit the space handsomely. He reached out to take my coat. “Do you want something to drink?”
I asked for some water. “Wow,” I said. “Your place is beautiful.” He had hung a few framed pieces of artwork around room, each striking me as tasteful and distinct. His bed lay at the far end of the unit from the front door, sectioned off by a pendik escort wall that reached about halfway to the ceiling. His apartment was somewhat larger, but he had not filled it with any more furniture than I had mine. The furniture itself was of much higher quality that anything I owned. It formed a space that was uncrowded and minimal, but did not feel empty. At large TV sat on a low stand with a Playstation and cluster of controllers perched on the shelf underneath.
“Thank you,” he said, handing me a glass and sitting opposite me and against the armrest, knees tucked up near his chest. “It’s the first time I’ve been able to be kind of selective about things. I like the way it turned out.”
I set down the glass and tugged my sweater over my head, now also down to just a t-shirt, prompting him to mention the heat one more time. “It’s really not that bad,” I assured him. “T-shirt weather, for sure, but I’m comfortable.”
“Okay,” he said. “If you’re sure.” He paused for a few seconds and then added, “Sorry for coming by unannounced yesterday. I realized later that I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Really,” I said, “it didn’t bother me at all.” Suddenly I noticed a small, sloped drawing desk at the edge of the room by the kitchen and remembered his sketch. “That drawing was really cool, by the way,” I added.
He flashed a slightly crooked, captivating smile. “Thanks. Kind of a creative outlet for me.”
“Well, you’re really good at it,” I said. “It made me feel…uh, I don’t know.” I lingered on the edge for a second and then said, “It made me feel really good.”
His chest heaved slightly and he said, “Alright, good. That’s all I wanted. It’s so hard to know when it’s going overboard and when it’s not.”
“I know how you feel,” I told him. “It was perfect, believe me.”
“Okay,” he said. “So, look, about yesterday on the bus-I feel bad for leaving you hanging like that. There’s some stuff I really should have told you and I didn’t. I know you don’t think I did anything wrong, but hear me out on this.”
“Alright,” I said, pulling my feet up off the floor and onto the cushion. We now nearly mirrored one another, backs propped against opposite ends of the couch.
“So, the thing is,” he started slowly, “I hooked up with a guy a few months ago. I met him at the gym and he took me to his place. It was pretty bad. I mean, I really didn’t feel good about myself after. Since then it’s been this weird thing for me. Like, why did I want do something that…” he paused and I smiled to show him that I was not alarmed. He nodded vaguely to himself and said, “I wanted something even though it didn’t feel right.”
“It’s okay, Mikey,” I said.
He was still for a few seconds and then attempted to smile. “And here you are. I’m just worried that it’s the same thing starting all over again.”
I felt that deep down, he suspected the situation might be different now-that I might be different, but I didn’t know this for sure.
“I wasn’t lying when I said I prefer women. At least that’s how it feels. Thinking about guys in that way…it just makes me so nervous. I don’t get any of that when I picture myself with a woman.”
I’m certain there were things about myself that I still did not yet know or acknowledge. But my attraction to men stared me in the face long before I ever left high school. For Mikey, it hardly showed its face at all, and only recently had begun making sounds, too loud to ignore, from some back room in his mind.
I thought for a minute and then said, “Maybe it would help not to focus on men versus women so much. I mean, if you can put that aside, what kind of person attracts you?”
He sat and stared at me for a few seconds before saying, “That’s a good way to think about it. I can try to start thinking that way.”
“If it helps,” I said, “I’m not expecting anything from you.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I know. You’re so patient with me about all of this.”
“Thursday night, after we got close like that, did it bring back a lot of the feelings you had after you were with that guy?”
“Well, things went a lot further with him, but no. You’re right, it was different. I think I just felt uneasy because I was the one who came on to you.”
“I think it’s a good sign that you didn’t feel the same way,” I said.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I know you might be thinking that I’m equating you with that other guy. I promise I’m not. It’s just this whole mess I’ve built up in my mind.”
“Don’t worry. I wasn’t thinking that,” I said. I understood that he still had many thoughts left unsorted. I feared that I could not offer him anything more by way of clarity. “Let’s just keep hanging out,” I suggested. “We’re interested in each other. Just don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“Okay,” he said. “It’s just…my biggest concern is that I’m leading you on. If you’re looking for romance or anything beyond just a friends-with-benefits thing…I just can’t picture it.”
“It’s maltepe escort totally fine. I’m not looking for another boyfriend. Even if I was, I’m leaving at the end of March, so it wouldn’t be a good idea, anyway.”
“So you decided for sure?” he asked.
“I guess,” I replied. Interestingly, by not making the decision-by banishing the subject, in fact, completely from of my mind-my answer had fallen to a default, if not enthusiastic, affirmative.
“I like your intensity,” he said.
I laughed. “It’s not something I’m very excited about.” I paused and then said, “Really, though, I haven’t given the subject the amount of consideration it deserves.”
“You still have quite a bit of time, though.”
“Right. I mean, if I haven’t talked myself out of it by then, it’s probably the right move.”
He smiled at me. “Well, I support you.”
I thanked him and admired privately the nature of this statement-unladen by provision, absolute in its brevity. He had communicated his support and I felt it.
He finished his water and said, “This is the first time we’ve hung out. You know, just for the sake of it.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Did you have something in mind?”
“Have you had lunch?”
I told him I’d had a small, late breakfast, and that I was starting to feel hungry again.
“Let’s go somewhere for food,” he said, jumping to his feet. “Then we can see what else there is to do.”
I found myself swept up in his eagerness and after a few minutes we left the garage, side by side once again in his car. We settled on a Korean place, well-established but new to both of us, inexpensive and emphatically-reviewed. The parking lot, similar to many in this part of the city, was shared among several businesses, shrunken and overflowing. Mikey managed to cajole his Honda into a small space near the back. By the time we had fully emerged after extricating ourselves through doors that could not be opened more than several inches due to the proximity of neighboring cars, we held our stomachs in fits of laughter.
The restaurant teemed with people and the service was curt and brisk. We sat facing one another at a compact table crowded up against the front windows, where white daylight flooded in.
“I heard you speaking Thai a few times on the bus,” I said. “Is that where your family is from?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I was born in Corbin, though. They came over a few years before that. I was probably talking to my aunt-my mom’s sister. She lives in the city.”
“Do you have a lot of family here?” I asked.
“Her daughter Sophie is that cousin I told you about-the one I hired after I started my business. We’re basically partners now. No other family in the city besides her. My uncle died when we were kids.” He looked out at the passing traffic and then back at me. “What about you?”
“Just my parents and sister,” I said. “She’s about ten years older than I am. We weren’t that close growing up but we’ve been getting closer since I left home. All of my extended family is on the east coast, so I don’t see them very much.”
“I bet it’s nice, even though you guys are just now becoming close,” he said. “I always wanted a sibling. Sophie’s the closest I’ll ever get.”
“You guys are probably closer than we are.”
He shrugged. “All I know is that it’s been really good having her around.” He adjusted his napkin so that it sat parallel with the edge of the table. He grinned at me and said, “So, I’m sure after growing up in Corbin you could say you know your way around asian cuisine.”
“I could say that,” I replied. “Pretty much raised by asians.” Corbin’s white population hovered around ten percent; more than half of its residents were Chinese or descended from there. Furthermore, racial groups were mostly dispersed throughout the city, meaning there existed few appreciable neighborhoods, white or otherwise.
“I bet,” he said. “So you’re an egg, then.”
“You’re an egg. White on the outside, yellow on the inside.”
I cracked up. “That’s terrible. How have I never heard that before?”
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “I used to hear it sometimes in school.”
“I’m going to remember that,” I said.
Our food arrived and we started quickly in on it. Mikey poked eagerly at the contents of his bibimbap and asked, “How do you feel about walking along the levee after this?”
“That sounds really nice,” I said.
We ate quickly and did not remain long after our meal; people lined up along the counter waiting for tables to open up.
During our drive west Mikey confessed that he felt conflicted about work. “When I decided to limit my hours, I did it out of necessity. I really don’t think we’re meant to spend over forty hours a week focused on the same thing.”
I nodded. “I feel the same way.”
“I’m still struggling to find a balance. It’s so tempting to stay into the evening working on projects. And when I don’t, the work does back up. I can either hire kartal escort more employees or stop taking on new clients for awhile.”
“One means the company grows and the other doesn’t.”
“Exactly, so-” he stopped himself for a few seconds. “How important do you think it is for a company to grow?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I would imagine there are risks either way.”
“That’s true.” He laughed. “There’s never a definite answer, is there?”
“If you’re looking for one, you’re doing it wrong,” I said.
“Did they teach you that in Accounting school?”
I laughed. “Definitely not. Formulas and protocol for everything. That’s the problem with accounting. It doesn’t solve any of life’s real problems.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “Anyway, it keeps people out of trouble.”
“Well, that’s true.”
When we arrived at the northwest corner of the levee the clouds mostly kept to themselves, but Mikey grabbed an umbrella from the center console anyway. “I don’t know how far you want to walk, but I’m not convinced it’s gonna stay dry.” Already a few fearless drops landed on the windshield, but thankfully it was now a bonafide temperate day, at least in comparison with the last few weeks. Mikey wore just a grey cardigan over his t-shirt.
We began to make our way south along a gravel path built upon the levee’s ridge. Seagulls whirled around in the turbulent air above the water. The tide slowly crept in to blanket the reeds and stones and mud that tapered unhurriedly out to sea. Other than the one or two bicyclists who passed us by, and a slow-moving elderly couple whom we passed, we were alone as we trudged along under his large black umbrella.
“I’m sorry if I was insensitive about the asian thing earlier,” he said. “It’s not something I usually take very seriously, and it can come off the wrong way sometimes.”
Mikey had made several apologies to me in the brief time we’d known each other and I considered lightheartedly pointing it out, but then thought better of it. “It didn’t bother me at all,” I told him. “My friends and I joke about it all the time.”
“Well, I don’t think it shouldn’t matter to me,” he said, “but apparently I cared enough to comment on it. I don’t know why.”
“I think most people are that way,” I said. “It’s rare that anyone can totally forget about race, living here.”
He tugged his fingers through the hair on the back of his head and said, “Hey, did you ever… Was there ever a time when you wished you were something else?”
“Well…yeah,” I said.
During my childhood and well into adolescence, I had occasionally wished (in a cursory way that did not affix itself to a particular country or culture) that I had been born asian. It was delicate, personal issue that I kept almost entirely to myself, but I felt no need to hide it from Mikey.
“I didn’t have a lot of white friends growing up,” I told him. “Most were asian. Sometimes I really wished I looked like them.”
“I totally understand that,” he said. “And I know how you feel. I used to wish I was white.”
“I think your experience makes so much more sense, though,” I said. “With the imbalance of race represented in movies and stuff, it sets a really unfair precedent. As a kid, it’s probably pretty overwhelming.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t take anything away from how you felt,” said Mikey. “You were just a kid and you didn’t understand any of that-you just wanted to look different. It’s still the same feeling.”
“I guess,” I said.
“If we had been friends back then I would have let you know how good you looked. I would have told you that you were beautiful and made you happy to be you.”
I eyed him in mock suspicion. “Really? I can’t picture that.”
“Seriously. What if I went to your school? What if I had been a valiant Chickadee alongside you?” At this, he motioned out ahead in an exaggerated arc with his free hand. “Think about it. I bet we would have been best friends. And if you came along one day and told me you didn’t like the way you looked, I would given it to you.”
I laughed. “Excuse me?”
“You know what I mean.” He reached up and ruffled my hair, and then gave my bicep a squeeze. “‘Beautiful hair. Fucking hot body. How dare you think you are not attractive?’ I would have said.”
“Stop it,” I said through a broad grin, certain my face was reddening.
“I’m just saying, you would’ve been doing me a favor. You would’ve had me asking questions about myself a lot sooner. Instead, you show up years later on a dirty bus. Thanks a lot.” He beamed at me with dark, furtive eyes.
This tormentingly attractive outburst had left me with some newfound confidence. “Well, if that’s all true, I would have come on to you faster than you would know what to do with. I hope you realize that.”
“I would’ve been prepared to accept the consequences.”
“Alright,” I said. “If you say so.”
Both of us walked in silence for a few seconds before looking at each other and bursting into laughter.
Soon after, Mikey became quiet and said, “I’m really going to work on what you said. About who I find attractive and all that. I think I’ve…” He paused. “I think I have to get over some things. Some mental blocks, maybe.”
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