“Arrivals,” by Bryan Washington

Wait, you text. You never talk about these things?

You never ask, Shun texts.

And you don’t know how to respond to this.

Because it’s true.

So, for a few hours, you don’t say anything at all.

Then you send six texts to apologize. You ask Shun how his mother’s doing.

He responds immediately: Ma’s fine. She just discovered OnlyFans.

Despite everything, you take the flight to New York.

Your driver is an Iranian dude. He has the flag in his car, along with some pictures drawn by his daughter. His hands are grizzled, but his features are baby soft, and he plays light, tinny jazz as the two of you move through traffic. It reminds you of a bathhouse you once visited, where the fucking was broken up by muted guitars. Your driver asks if the music’s too loud, and you tell him that it’s absolutely perfect.

When Aiden meets you in the hotel lobby, he looks the most at ease you’ve seen him in years. You’ve been following the blogs—they’ve been about nothing but the breakup—yet Aiden doesn’t wear any of that on his smile, and once you’ve locked the door he fucks you face down in front of the mini-fridge.

Afterward, the two of you lie on the carpet. You place Aiden’s palm in between your hands. He traces circles around your belly.

Then you do a funny thing: you ask if you can fuck him.

Over the course of your relationship, it’s just been assumed that you’d bottom. From the very first time you fucked each other, this was a thing that never changed. Aiden grabs his wrist, bashful all of a sudden.

I don’t know, he says. That seems like a lot.

What, you say. What? You’ve literally only ever been inside of me?

I know, Aiden says. But, you know, I don’t know how that would work. I think we’re better the way things are.

The two of you remain on the carpet until Aiden stands to get dressed. But you only roll onto your side, and then onto your knees, so that your forehead’s pressed against the windowpane. The glass stretches from floor to ceiling. You stare down at all the people below you, stepping in and out of bodegas, texting at intersections, coming and going from the contours of their lives.

But there’s a memory that comes to mind: the evening you told Aiden you were poz. He was back in Houston for a two-week stretch. The two of you smoked on the patio of George, back when Aiden could still do that. A gaggle of gays leaned on the bench beside you, holding their sides from laughter, and you breathed in their gasps and the smoke and the humidity and you told Aiden what you’d wanted to tell him.

At first, he didn’t say anything. He took another pull of his cigarette.

Then he grasped your hand, folding his fingers into yours.

I don’t care, he said. I’m just glad you’re O.K.

That’s all I care about, Aiden said, and then he smiled, glowing under the midnight lights.

Hours later, you’re snoring when your cell starts buzzing. You fell asleep in your boxers on top of the comforter, so you roll across the mattress to silence it.

But it’s actually Aiden. Who tells you that he’s calling from across the city.

He’s back together with the British actress. They figured something out. He wasn’t sure whether to tell you, but now he’s thinking that he needs to.

O.K., you say.

And also, Aiden says, she knows.

Fuck, you say. Fuck.

You’re thinking that maybe it’s because of something you overlooked. Maybe you left your meds or a jockstrap or poppers at his place—but Aiden says, No. None of that.

She knew.

She’s known.

She simply decided to ignore it.

But now she’s given him a choice.

If I stay with her, Aiden says, she’ll keep it to herself. She won’t tell anyone.

The two of you pause on the line. Down the hallway, you can hear drunken laughter.

You mean she won’t blow up your life, you say.

Yeah, Aiden says, exactly.

But I can tell her I won’t do it, Aiden says. I can tell her I don’t care. I just need to know that you want me to. That you think we can stick it out.

The laughter down the hallway dims. It’s replaced by a tinny ringing.

You want me to decide for you, you say.

What I want, Aiden says, is whatever you want. If you want me to stay, then I will.

And then, as he breathes into the phone, Aiden says three words that you’ve never heard from him before.

You think about how you were always the heavier breather. Aiden was always silent. Sometimes, at night, you’d wake up and shake him just to make sure he was still alive. It always took a minute to settle him back down.

An hour later, you get a car to the airport. Your driver’s a Chinese guy who turns his music down while you call the airline to change the ticket, then turns it back up when you start to cry, humming along to the Cantopop. Eventually, he reaches for tissues, handing them to you wordlessly. He says something in Cantonese, which you don’t speak. But then he repeats it, rubbing a hand along his cheek.

Shun picks you up from the Oakland airport.

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