I thought I’d never see him again, not after he’d left Boston and moved back to London. But there he was, Colin, my old roommate, perched at a computer in the Copley library. His tan arms, sticking out from his blue tank top, shone in the halogen light; his hair curled to a V at the back of his neck; his shoulders hunched forward in concentration despite the commotion around him—a man spewing profanities at the screen to his left, a woman stuffing garments into her roller bag to his right. Every computer bank was full, with patrons waiting their turns in armchairs under the windows. Yet he just kept typing, his face taut with an intensity I used to adore.
I’d strolled over from the Seaport on a steamy Saturday afternoon to return a couple books and pick up the latest McElroy detective noir. This new library wing, bright and spacious, was packed. Visitors swarmed around me, up and down the staircases and out into the older wings. When I spotted Colin across the way, I stopped so abruptly someone bumped into me, sending my returns to the ground.
As I stooped to collect the books, I peered through the racks of new releases to see Colin gazing vaguely in my direction, his eyes not landing anywhere, not on me. It’d been, what, seven years? I’d missed him, a lot at first, when I’d texted him a few times to say hello, to congratulate him on publishing his novel. He’d sent back the briefest responses. Never asked how I was doing, or how my essays had turned out (they hadn’t turned out at all). Never joined social media, at least that I’d seen. A part of me hated him for being so inaccessible, but once I came to terms with his apparent indifference, I realized I’d only been torturing myself.
We’d lived together in grad school—the two of us and a poet in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Allston. I wasn’t out at the time, though I’d been prowling the downlow, getting lucky now and again through the dating apps. Colin was on all of them; I’d blocked his profiles before he could spot mine. Our other roommate brought home chatty women from his poetry readings, and Colin cycled through men. I just wanted everyone to believe I was asexual, I guess, all the while checking out the guys Colin ushered through the living room, into his bedroom, and onto his messy bed. Tall, short, old, young, hairy, smooth—he didn’t seem to have a type. My type was him. Sometimes I could hear him having sex through our adjacent bedrooms, laughing, moaning. I’d press an ear to the wall and imagine the scene. By morning, without fail, the guest was gone and Colin was seated at the kitchen table, nibbling on instant oatmeal and shredded cheese while he wrote.
A rush of those old desperate feelings welled up in me as I slid my books into the return slot and saw that the line for the reserves desk stretched all the way to the DVDs. I would’ve come back on a weekday, but I’d been out of town, on a work trip to Orlando, and otherwise busy in the office. Although I’d waited months on the reserves list for this novel, I’d let almost two weeks go by before picking it up. If I didn’t check it out today, they’d bump me to the back of the queue.
I got in line ahead of a woman in yoga gear and her two restless kids. In front of me an old man pushed a walker with orange tennis balls covering the front feet. All the while my mind was spinning over what I would say to Colin. Or would I chicken out and not say anything at all?
My skin was already hot from the walk over, my clothes sweaty, and seeing Colin kept the sweat flowing. After wiping my palm on my shorts, I reached into my pocket for my phone and opened Yonder. Tiny squares formed a grid on my screen, mens’ faces and bare torsos, arranged by proximity. My own picture, a pool shot where I’m hoisting myself out of the water, flexing my traps and triceps, droplets trickling down my body, appeared in the top left-hand corner. My mom had taken that picture in my parents’ backyard, down in Orlando, in a paroxysm of photo-snapping joy that I was home. It’d worked well as a thirst trap in Central Florida, and I hoped it’d attract some attention in Boston, too.
There were a dozen men on the app within a thousand feet of where I stood—bear4twink, dl daddy, rightnow. While the messages started blooping in, I zeroed in on Colin’s profile, his toothy grin, his smooth shoulders. Through force of habit I thought to block him again, so I tapped his profile and found he’d written in the text field that he was “in the US for a couple nights, looking to have some fun.”
Why hadn’t he hit me up? Why would he hit me up? Did he even know I was still living here?
“Sir,” said the mom behind me. She was tapping my shoulder sticking out from my own tank top. I looked up to see the man with the walker now yards ahead of me, a stream of people passing through the gap between us. I pocketed my phone and stepped forward, tight to the old man. The line moved quickly. I reached the counter and handed over my library card.
“You’re in luck,” said the librarian, a thin woman with gray roots in her hair. “We were about to recirculate this. It’s in high demand.” The way she said it, looking over the lenses of her glasses, made it sound like a lecture. But I wasn’t concerned about her librarian power trip, not with Colin just 150 feet from where I stood, according to Yonder, and “looking to have some fun.” I just flashed a smile and turned with the book and my card back toward the computers, recognizing this chance to relive my Allston years as the openly queer man I’d become. Maybe Colin would see me now, with my tight shorts, my built arms, my pierced ears. Maybe he’d come home with me, for old times’ sake, and I’d find him in the morning writing at the kitchen table.
During our final semester we worked catty-corner at the table, our notes spread around us, chanting thesis, thesis for motivation. My lyric essays on the lives of turtles and his novel about gay pirates sailing the galaxy. And then we defended our manuscripts, and we graduated, and all of our parents came. The night of the ceremony, after I’d left my parents at their hotel bar, I stumbled home in my buttoned shirt and slacks to find Colin back in his shorts and tank top, out on the sidewalk, heaving a garbage bag of clothes onto a pile of lamps, blankets, and coffee mugs. His ironing board. The coffee table he’d planted in the living room. The rug that lay beneath it. Against a tree leaned his mattress and bedframe. His wasn’t the only pile; graduation week in Allston meant gobs of belongings emptied out onto the sidewalk. I’d even picked through a few piles on my way home, stopping to pluck a pull-up bar from a pile a block over.
“What’s all this?” I asked, suddenly winded, catching Colin as he turned back for another load.
“Moving out,” he said, and asked what I was holding. It was just a pull-up bar, and it felt meager against this growing heap of the life Colin and I and the poet had been conducting. I’d forgotten, or I’d never realized, how much of what we owned belonged to Colin, how much he’d purchased with his parents’ credit card. But still—wouldn’t he ask if we wanted his stuff before throwing it to the curb?
Colin apparently hadn’t had time to think about it. Though there were still three months left on the lease, he’d decided—just like that—to head back to England with his parents. They’d written a check for his portion of the rent, along with his share of the utilities in the meantime. He’d culled his possessions down to two suitcases and a carry-on backpack, the one with the rainbow “mind the gap” patch stitched to the bottom. The three bags all lingered by the door, ready for a cab to the airport as soon as he was done.
I thought we’d at least have the summer together, that we’d keep writing at the kitchen table. I’d promised myself that, in the weeks following graduation, I’d finally share my feelings with him. We’d hook up, start cooking for each other. He’d get used to sleeping in my bed and agree that we needed to search for an apartment of our own, all while helping me come out to my parents. Instead, while Colin busied himself cleaning out the bathroom cabinet, I leaned against the stove and witnessed the blankness of my future. When Colin came into the kitchen for another trash bag, I said, “Wait.”
He stopped and looked at me with his sharp green eyes.
“Let’s have a toast,” I said, “to pirates and turtles.” From the vegetable drawer I pulled two double IPAs and popped the caps.
“Sure mate,” Colin said, clinking my bottle. “Turtles and pirates.”
We leaned on opposite counters, drinking the strong, sweet ale. For several moments neither of us said anything, and just before the silence became unbearable, Colin killed his beer. He dropped the bottle in the recycle bin and said, “I’ll probably never see you again.”
The words landed like a gut punch. How could he say it like that, so blunt and dismissive? As much as he’d upset me then, I needed his comfort. I set my beer down and hugged him—I couldn’t help it. I just fell into him and squeezed, my mouth pressing against his shaggy hair as he patted my back, and before I could let out a sob, I hurried to my room and buried myself in bed.
I woke up in the early afternoon to missed calls and text messages from my parents. They’d be in the air by now. I stumbled out of my room to find the living room devoid of furniture, the cupboards half empty, the built-in shelves absent of Colin’s books. In the bathroom, I found his hairs wound up with slivers of his bar soap in the shower drain. His sheddings were here, but I was alone—no Colin at the kitchen table, and no poet, either. He’d gone home with his parents, but he’d be back in a few days, not that I cared. My half-finished beer from the night before stood warm on the counter, so I reached for the bottle. Smacking my dry lips on the flat ale, I opened the door to Colin’s vacated room and saw he hadn’t swept. Dust bunnies danced across the wood floor sticky in places with spilled beverages never cleaned. I got out the broom and the mop, and then I went out to the curb to see what I could salvage.
There was more to salvage yet. I tucked the McElroy novel, a weighty hardcover, against my side and walked back toward the rows of computers, my legs wobbly with nerves. I planned to tap Colin on the shoulder, to wait for his shocked expression upon seeing me before giving a cute little wave and saying hi. But when I got to where Colin had been sitting, between the roller-bag lady and the guy spitting vulgarities, he wasn’t there. In his place was that old man with the walker, checking his email.
Colin was right. Even if I saw him again, he’d never see me.
Another tap on my shoulder and I spun around. It was him. Colin. A head shorter than me, his face lightly stubbled, his sparse chest hair popping out from his low-slung collar. “Hey,” he said with a big smile that revealed the same white teeth but more laugh lines than I remembered. “It’s me. Colin.”
“Oh my god, hi!” I said. “What’re you doing here?”
“Just a quick holiday to the States. What are you doing—I mean, you still live in Boston?”
“I do,” I said, and pointed east. “In the Seaport.” A stream of people moved toward us, breaking us apart. We regrouped next to a rack labelled “Fantasy Favorites,” where I found Colin tucking what I thought was a library book into his backpack and slinging the straps back over his shoulders. “Listen,” I said, “do you want to grab a drink?”
“I’d love a pint.” His accent reminded me how much I missed his banter during breakfast.
“Do you have anything to check out?” I asked and edged toward the self-service stations by the big glassy exit. Colin shook his head and insisted we go the back way, through the library’s old corridors, past the Map Room and the courtyard with the spitting fountains, the grand staircase with the big marble lions and the frescoes. I followed just behind him, watching his raggedy old backpack with the rainbow “mind the gap” patch bounce heavily on his back. At the east entrance, another horde of library-goers was pushing in, and I stayed close to Colin as he slipped around the security gates and we came out on Copley Square, gobs of tourists and people experiencing homelessness studding the front steps.
The sun was blaring as we put on our shades. “There’s an Irish pub over there,” I said, pointing past the spires of Trinity Church.
“Can’t we go somewhere, I don’t know, gay?”
Was that a come on? “Absolutely.” We weren’t far from Club Cafe, so we headed in that direction. Colin was walking so quickly I couldn’t get a word in, and when we stopped to wait for the pedestrian walk signal, he turned and squeezed the arm that was holding the novel to my side.
“Look at these bangers,” he said, pinching the other for good measure. “Been working out much?”
I had been—giving up writing had provided ample time to look good for the tea dances at Jacques and in P’town. But I didn’t want to sound shallow, so I said simply that my employer reimbursed me for my gym membership, which spurred Colin to ask me where I worked, and I said Tandem Publishing.
“Publishing?” Colin asked as we stepped into the crosswalk, dodging people charging from the other direction. “My publisher’s around here somewhere…” he gazed around the towers of Back Bay.
“Stoughton, right?” Stoughton had lately become one of the bigger sci-fi / fantasy publishers, and I’d kept an eye on their releases, especially as they’d published Colin’s first three novels. I’d stopped reading his work, though, when I realized I spent much of the time wondering which character was me. In Black Hole Pirates, our old poet roommate was clearly the first mate, all cryptic and aloof. Did that make me the Martian stowaway? The alcoholic doctor? The clairvoyant parrot? I never did find a satisfying answer. “They’re just a few blocks that way,” I said when we reached the other side of the street. “You want to swing by?”
“Nah,” Colin said. “I’ll be looking for a new publisher soon anyway.” I was going to ask why, but first we had to dodge a gamut of Doctors Without Borders signature collectors, and before I could inquire, Colin asked what Tandem published.
“Textbooks.” It was an embarrassing admission. I’d abandoned the creative arts to help a textbook company strategize their digital platform. Anyway, the word “textbook” seemed to zap whatever interest Colin might’ve had. He just nodded, and there in the quieter blocks lined with massive hotels, I noticed the sole on his right shoe flapping off, and him stepping higher with his right foot than his left so as not to trip.
“Stoughton could at least get you some new sneakers.”
Colin stopped and frowned. “Just because I publish books doesn’t mean I’m well-to-do,” he said, and pointed at the novel. “Not like McElroy. Not like you.”
Like me? I wasn’t well-to-do. My parents hadn’t furnished my apartment, hadn’t bought out my summer rent. I could hardly afford the mortgage on my one-bedroom condo in the Seaport, though admittedly, that investment was looking better all the time. Still, he had me on my heels. He’d never spoken to me so sharply before. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just thought…”
Colin continued toward the bar. “Shall we get that pint then?”
The doorman, a heavyset, bearded guy in leather, knew me as a regular, and he seemed to know Colin, too. “Hey fellas,” he said as we approached the tinted entryway. We went to get out our wallets but he waved us in. “That’s a great read,” he said, pointing to the novel as he stamped my hand. To Colin behind me, he said, “Back for more, eh?” I turned just in time to see them share a wink. I guessed Colin had already been here on his trip.
The place was almost bright, with daylight pressing through dark windows. A live Red Sox game played on an old, square TV above the bar, the sound of the broadcast tinny and loud. The black floor showed cracks and old gum spots. The booths were patched with duct tape, the walls with their advertisements for drag shows and gay trivia somehow lacking the glamor of the night. And the smell of fresh popcorn permeated the place, for once not overpowered by the man-musk that typically hung in the air.
“Hey sweetie,” Colin said as he approached the bar. A tall, shirtless bartender with lip and nipple rings leaned over to pop a kiss on each cheek. “Two pints, please, for me and my friend.”
Without asking, the bartender poured plastic cups of Narragansett and scooped a basket of popcorn. He set it all on the bar before getting back to slicing lemons. Colin brought the beers over first, to where I perched on a stool at a high top. Then he slung off his backpack and draped it around the back of his stool before going back for the popcorn. The stool began to lean under the weight, and I planted my foot on the lower bar, keeping it from toppling backward until Colin returned with the greasy paper basket.
While Colin had been collecting our order, I’d been scanning the clientele. A table of old queens sat laughing and slapping at each other in the back corner, shooting us glances. At the pool table, two middle-aged queers bent their hips and focused on their match. Meanwhile they were feeding dollars to the jukebox—Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Cher. Through the swinging double doors to the next room—the dance club—more music pumped and some younger folks cast in colored lights flitted back and forth across the doorway. And Colin—well, he looked beautiful, his cheeks sporting a rosy luster that reflected off the cover of the book I’d set between us on the table.
“I guess you know I’m queer,” I said and took a slug of the watery pilsner.
Colin leaned back. “I always knew.” He began looking around, scoping out the customers as I had done. To the queens in the back he gave a little wave, and they all batted their eyes.
“What?” I said. “How?”
“Rakesh. The Pakistani guy with the big, hairy chest.”
Then I remembered. I’d met Rakesh on the Yonder app and had gone to his apartment, sipped his tea, eaten his gelatinous candies before we got down to business. We even cuddled before I threw my clothes on and left, blocking his account on my way home, not wanting to get too close, for fear closeness could out me. When Colin brought him home a few weeks later, I leapt from the couch and ducked into my room. But late that night, coming out of the bathroom, I ran smack into Rakesh, bare-chested, wrapped in a towel. I didn’t know if he’d recognized me in the dark. At breakfast the next morning I waited for Colin to say something, but he didn’t. He was his normal cheery self, so I just went on pretending.
There at the table I slouched and blushed, folding my hands over my arms. It wasn’t even my sexuality anymore that I was ashamed of, but more the fact that I’d tried to hide it for so long, even while Colin had shown me what it looked like to be out and proud.
“Come on,” Colin said. “Don’t wilt. That was ages ago. Hey,” he said, catching my eyes and lifting his cup. “Cheers to you, for being queer.”
I sat up and uncrossed my arms, clutched my cup and tapped it to his.
“Besides,” he said, “I saw your profile on Yonder.” He grinned and took a slug.
“But I blocked you!” I should’ve known I wasn’t so slick. Colin just winked. Anyway, none of that mattered anymore, and with Colin’s gaze trained on me, my shame had morphed into something like hope, weighted with desire. And since we were being straight with each other, I tried him again. “So really, Colin, what are you doing in Boston?” I did the air quotes: “‘Looking for some fun’?”
“I came for a guy,” he said and sighed. “A guy I really liked. You know how on DewDrop you can swipe in other cities? Well this guy, he was just so hot, and rich, and funny, and when I got here to see him—” Colin wrinkled his nose, “—he looked and smelled like sour milk.”
This was too much—Colin, the prolific queer, proving himself both desperate and naive. I raised my cup to hide my grin. The beer I swallowed collided with laughter as I spewed, “You got catfished!”
I’d said it more loudly than I wanted. A couple guys at the bar turned their heads.
“I’m sorry,” I said, catching myself. “That really sucks.”
Colin drained his beer and, when he stood up to go back for another, I caught his stool again with my foot. “Let me get this round,” I said. “Something strong. An IPA.” I pulled out my wallet and handed him my credit card. He took it to the lacquered bar and leaned over to talk into the bartender’s ear.
“I ordered us some nachos,” he said as he came back with two more beers, my card, and the credit slip he’d signed in my name, tip and all. “I hope that’s okay.” The way he raised his eyebrows told me he hoped I wouldn’t be mad. But I still had a little room on that card, and the beer was refreshing at the tail end of a hot afternoon.
“You should’ve left it open.” Through the front windows the sun was starting to think about going down, and a line had formed at the door. A big bear of a man brought us our nachos, setting the plate down on top of the novel with a bon-appétit kiss of his fingers. I started on the edges, careful to get the right ratio of cheese and chicken and guacamole, but before I’d managed even a couple bites, Colin had plunged his fingers into the middle and poached most of the toppings. “I’m starving,” he said with his mouth full. He leaned back and belched. “Oh,” he said, raising his hand to his mouth, his other to his belly. “Excuse me.” I noticed then he’d grown a little tummy in the time since I’d seen him. The weight looked good on him. We shared a smile that felt comfortable, meaningful, until something by the entrance caught his eye.
“No shit,” he said, watching all the queers and some of their straight friends stream through the door. I followed his gaze to a guy our age in a tank top, pierced ears, tattoos, his shorts halfway up his thighs and sneakers on his feet. “Jack!” Colin yelled and jumped off his seat. My foot just barely caught the stool. Threading through the tables, Colin leapt into a hug with Jack, who lifted him off the ground. Colin took Jack’s hand and led him to the bar where he ordered another round of Narragansett he still didn’t have to pay for. He spun around to chat with Jack, who leaned his left arm around him on the bar as Colin bounced on his toes.
I watched them and picked at those dry nachos I now realized I’d paid too much for, tipped too much on. Colin and Jack’s eyes were locked as Colin nodded toward the dance floor. Jack smiled yes, and the two of them headed toward the other room. But then Colin seemed to remember something: me. He looked my way, and I looked elsewhere as if I hadn’t been watching them. Colin brought Jack over by the hand and introduced us. I gave a smile and Colin said, “Come dance with us.”
“I’ll meet you there.” I watched the pair disappear into the dark and bounce to the club music battling in my ears with Lady Gaga on the jukebox and the sports broadcast above the bar. The next time the double doors swung open, I watched Colin rise up to Jack’s mouth for a kiss. As their lips locked, I took my foot off the stool, letting it crash to the floor as I sped for the exit.
I could’ve caught a train back to my condo but to blow off steam I huffed it for nearly an hour through the muggy night. Back home I stripped off my gross clothes and showered. After heating up some leftovers from the corner Chinese restaurant, I sank into the couch and flipped on Will & Grace. Textbook galleys stacked high on my coffee table, reminding me of all the work I had to do, yet I couldn’t shake that image of Colin and that guy kissing in the club. Jack. What did Jack have that I didn’t? Nothing—except Colin’s affection. What did Colin have that I couldn’t find elsewhere? Boston was huge and new guys were floating through all the time.
I lifted my phone and opened DewDrop, swiped through some guys. A cub, an otter, an afab. I thought about what my next trip might be, where work might send me, and I pulled up London. Same shit, more tattoos. A twink. A bear. A dandy. I closed the app and pulled up Yonder. My phone began to bloop. Hi’s and Hello’s and Looking?’s. I could have someone over tonight. I could have someone over right now, I thought, and we could fuck and I wouldn’t even think of Colin while we did it. Colin wouldn’t have a goddamn thing to do about it.
I was chatting with a fitness instructor who lived across the river in Cambridge when I got a message that read, I have your book. It was Colin, with his green eyes and widow’s peak. McElroy. Can I bring it to you?
I waited for him out on the front stoop, watching delivery drivers hustle in and out of the Chinese restaurant and kicking myself for forgetting my book. Whatever happened, I wasn’t inviting Colin inside. I didn’t care where he stayed, whose nachos he ate, what his publisher paid or failed to pay him. I’d done just fine without him the past seven years, and I wasn’t about to slip back into the role of fawning roommate. So I sat there in my running shorts and a sleeveless undershirt—my sexy gear to make him jealous of what he couldn’t have. I heard him before I saw him, the fwap of his floppy sole beating against the pavement, and I realized why he’d kept me waiting for so long: he’d walked all the way from Club Cafe with those busted shoes. Yet he approached me smiling, weighted down by that heaving backpack and holding that big novel under his arm.
“All the boys in the club were trying to nick this,” he said as he handed me the book with a wink, “but I beat ’em all back.”
I took it and held it. “I appreciate that.”
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Oh, that arse. He started making out with this twat in the club. Can you believe the nerve?”
I let the irony pass unspoken. “Sorry to hear that.” We stared at each other for a few moments, me seated on the stoop, him standing above me. I could see the booze contorting his lips, the exhaustion in his eyes. And I realized, if I denied him, he’d probably end up back at Club Cafe to sleep his way into someone’s bed. Even if I was upset with him, for reasons he might not ever understand or even consider, the thought of turning him away was too much.
I nodded my head toward the door. “Come on.”
Colin chattered the whole way up the steps and through the front door about missing Boston and needing to come back for a longer visit. Up the elevator he commented on the building, its apartments carved out of an old factory, and how the post-industrial look had become chic in England too. I got the sense he was blathering just to distract from the fact that he was reliant on me now, at least for one evening.
We got off on my floor. I tapped the key card to enter my place. Through the windows, the Financial District glittered with the harbor beyond. “Nothing fancy,” I said. “Just enough for a guy…”
“Oh my god!” Colin blurted, barely in the door. “That’s my old coffee table. And rug—you have my old rug!” Colin slung his backpack down against the wall. “And here—it’s my lamp.” He held the lamp in one hand, its cord dangling down, and smirked. “What else you got of mine?”
“You threw it all to the curb,” I said, turning my palms up with a shrug. “After you left, I went and got the good stuff. The stuff I could use.”
While I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, Colin set the lamp down, kicked off his shoes, and went around finding more stuff. His Harry Potter novels. An afghan. A coffee mug in the dish drainer featuring the Tower of London, which he picked up and showed me. “Look. Jolly England.”
I snatched the mug, filled it with water, and handed it back to him. Colin took the mug and gulped the water down. Standing so close I could feel his hot, wet breath, he said, “Do you have a thing for me?”
I peered at him, at his hair that, in the kitchen light, glistened with grease; at the dimple on his chin that, oh my god, was that a fleck of dirt in there? The pores on his nose were all clogged, and his feet—holy shit—now that he’d taken his shoes off, the stench from his socks was curdling the pork fried rice in my stomach.
Trying not to make a face, I swallowed and said, “Let me show you to the shower.” I didn’t give him a chance to decline but grabbed the back of his shirt and pushed him toward the bathroom, trading him his mug for a fresh towel and telling him, “use whatever toiletries you need.”
He stayed in there for the better part of an hour while I sat on the couch and started the novel. Detective Danko was on the trail of a hoodoo cannibal in San Francisco. The prose was so arresting, I’d almost forgotten I had company, so I startled when Colin emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist, his hair spiky and wet, belly bulged and beautiful. “I’m sorry,” he said, shuffling toward me, cinching the towel with his fingers. I thought he was going to apologize for what happened at the bar, for imposing on me, for toying with my affection. But what he said was, “I’m out of clean clothes,” and laid across the couch and put his head in my lap, the wet towel falling open to his bare thigh.
I just kept reading, holding the book up with my left hand and letting my right wander through Colin’s hair, around his neck, onto his chest. I began to play with the hairs around his nipples. And by the time the chapter was done and I’d marked my place, Colin had fallen asleep on my crotch.
Rising slowly, I switched my lap out for a throw pillow and covered Colin with his old afghan. Half asleep he muttered something like, “Take me, daddy.” At least that’s what I thought I heard before I went into my room where I pulled up Yonder and asked that trainer in Cambridge if he was still interested. In twenty minutes, the guy was there. Colin opened his eyes as the trainer walked through the living room and into my bedroom. The sex was loud, and I was sure I heard Colin groaning on the couch. And just before daybreak, Colin snored softly as I walked the trainer to the door.
My first thought when I woke that Sunday was Colin. I emerged from my bedroom, glancing around the apartment, checking the kitchen table where I thought he might be writing, but he wasn’t there. Somehow I felt bereft. His backpack was gone, his busted shoes, his sour clothes. In a damp ball at the foot of the couch lay his old afghan and the towel I’d leant him. I went to pick them up for the laundry I needed to do that day and saw on the coffee table, beside the McElroy novel and my stack of textbook galleys, a paperback copy of Black Hole Pirates. It looked beat up, its pages worn from heavy use. I lowered myself onto the couch and opened the book to the title page where I found an inscription, written out to me. “Thanks for the lay,” it read. “FYI—you’re the first mate.” The first mate: cryptic and aloof. Was that really me? Maybe then, but not now, not anymore.
With my pinky I felt a laminated bump on the back cover, so I flipped the book over and found a barcode for the Boston Public Library. And then I noticed the library stamp in black ink across the pages. No wonder he wanted to go the back way through the library, to the old exit where he knew he could skirt security.
I finished the McElroy novel between loads of laundry, stunned at Detective Danko’s cleverness and poise. The next day, after work, I trekked back to the library and returned both books, knowing someone else would want them.
Cover art: “Hydroplaning 1” by Siri Stensberg