“What is this place?”
“Just a spot I found a while ago.”
The pair of them sat on that wooden skeleton of a rooftop, facing the endless forest. She rubbed her shins every so often, when the wind picked up and nipped at them.
He cracked open the tall can he’d gotten. “I hope this is as good as you say it is.”
“It’s stupid that guys have to conform to only drinking beer.” She chuckled. “I promise I won’t call you a pussy.”
He slurped a little. “You know, beer fucking sucks.”
“This shit,” he said, holding up the can, “is great.”
She cracked hers open.
“What’d you get again?” he asked.
“I always drink this. Spiked seltzer.”
“I can’t believe I love canned margaritas.” He shook his head as he took another gulp. “But fuck, if this is the gold standard, I’m gonna have a lot more of them.”
“So,” he said after swallowing. “Where do you live again?”
“The other side of town,” she replied, nodding. “On Hurst.”
“I’ve got a buddy that lives there.” He scoffed. “Well, he was a buddy.”
“What do you mean? Who?”
“Is it bad that I don’t know him?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He sipped from his margarita. “We used to make movies together.”
“Yeah.” He chuckled. “They were stupid little short films, mostly.” He turned and looked at her. “But we were planning a feature. I spent a whole summer writing it and revising it and table-reading it with other friends.” He shook his head with a smile. “It was awesome.”
“That does sound really awesome.” She raised her eyebrows.
“What happened with you two?”
“Well, when it got time to shoot it…” He buried his face into his palm. “No, it’s stupid.”
“Come on, I want to know!” She tugged at his arm.
“Well, the whole thing with the script was that it focused on a closeted gay man.” He looked at her briefly, pausing.
She nodded with a smile.
“And he has this friend through all three acts. Well, actually, two and a half acts.” He took a quick gulp of his drink. “By the end of it, he confesses his love to this friend. Of course, before then, there are little hints and blips of foreshadowing that lead up to it.”
“It was my way of confessing my love for Jimmy. We were going to play the two leads.”
She looked into his eyes. Hesitant. “O-oh. Does that mean you’re—”
“Oh!” He laughed. “I’m bi. I didn’t totally fool or catfish you or whatever. I promise.”
She laughed too.
“You see, you’re accepting of that.” He shook his head, and the rippling trail of his smile faded. “Jimmy wasn’t.”
“What did he do, if I can ask?”
The silence came, then. It was sharp and hot and prickly, but in direct dissonance with the birds and teeming insects.
“Well.” He bit his lip. “He read it and was really enjoying it until he got to that point.”
They only ordered a couple of coffees—which they drank black, because that’s what artists do—and some soup. People who had jobs, lives, and actual schedules hurried about the diner and talked on cell phones with colleagues. They seemed above the two of them, on another plain of existence.
Jimmy read the title again, his steaming cup to his lips. “‘The Disconnect.’” He raised his eyebrows and bobbed his head.
Cameron rubbed his cup of coffee with a stiff thumb. The ceramic could fragment at any moment with that amount of pressure. “Well, I hope you enjoyed it.”
“I did.” Jimmy scratched his chin. “Their relationship is so—”
“It’s not one-dimensional, is it?”
Jimmy chuckled. “No, not at all. I was gonna say the opposite, actually. It’s really authentic.”
Cam sighed, shakily. He tried to shed at least one layer of anxiety. “Thanks.”
“And, at first the end was a shock, but it made sense to me once I thought it over.” He exhaled. “I’m really impressed, Cam. It’s such a you piece.”
“Thank you. It means a lot.”
“Who’d you have in mind for casting?” He took a sip of coffee. “You thinking about doing a call?”
“Well,” he began. “I was thinking we could fill the roles.”
Silverware clinked. Someone’s cell phone rang and wouldn’t stop. Each sounding of the ringtone blared and blared in a crescendo.
“Cam,” Jimmy began. He stared, perhaps to draw an admission of sarcasm. “You’re serious?”
“I mean,” Cam rubbed the cup of coffee harder and faster, “I know how you feel about being on camera, but as artists, we need to push ourselves out of each other’s comfort zones and—”
“What is this?” He shook his head, script in hand. “Seriously, what is this?”
Cam looked at him, tears on the fringes and legs shaking. “I love you,” he said.
Jimmy scoffed. “Are you fucking joking?” He buried his face in both hands, which rubbed. “Oh my god…”
He lifted his head up, shooting a glare. That brought silence. “I can’t believe you.” Jimmy hurried to his feet. He tossed the script toward their booth vaguely, the pages flapping until they hit the tile floor.
Cam felt the tears come. He rubbed his mug hard at first, before befalling to his emotions entirely. He gave his wet cheek to the table. Idiot, he told himself. Why are you such an idiot?
“I’m over it, though.” Cam finished the margarita, throwing the can into the forest. “Fuck that guy.”
“Wow,” she said, half-ignoring his remark. “You’re so brave.”
“What? No, I’m not.” He shook his head vehemently. “The whole thing was just stupid.”
“No, I really mean it, Cameron.” She smiled. “You didn’t have to tell me that, and you did.”
“Like I said.” He sniffled. “I’m over it.”
“It’s okay not to be, you know.” She sipped from her seltzer. “I have regrets from, like, eighth grade, still.”
“Yeah. More than just an embarrassing tattoo.” She rubbed her shins. “Which I do have.”
“You’ve got to show me before the end of the night.”
“Yeah, we’ll have to see about that,” she said through her teeth.
“What actual regrets do you have, though?” he asked.
She hesitated. Sighed. “I don’t know. A ton.”
“You don’t have to share, of course. That goes without saying.”
“I will though, I will.” She laughed. “You know it’s funny, Cameron.”
“You can just call me ‘Cam’ by the way.”
“Oh, okay. Well, Cam, I was going to say I just think it’s funny.” She giggled.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know!” she protested, still giggling. “I just feel like I’ve known you for a while.”
“Yeah, me too.” His fingers raked his scalp. “Well, actually, it feels like I’ve known you for a while, not that I’ve known me for a while, because obviously I have.”
She took a sip of seltzer, humming quirkily.
“You’re working through that drink pretty slowly, even though I’ve been running my mouth this whole time.”
“Do you want to help me finish it?” she asked, shoving the drink in his face.
“Okay.” He took the can. “A night of firsts. Margaritas, online date, spiked seltzer; what else?” Cam chugged.
“It’s my first online date too.” She scratched her cheek. “I was kind of hoping for just sex at first, but, I’m glad it’s turned into more than that.”
“Me too,” he said quickly. “And holy shit, this seltzer’s made me even gayer.”
She started laughing with her nose scrunched. “You’re fucking hysterical.”
“Hey,” he began, turning stern all of the sudden. “Regrets. Remember.”
“Okay,” she said, begrudgingly.
That highway always looked the same. Even if the sun hit the asphalt from a clear sky, the road appeared muddy. There must’ve been construction underway for the better part of a decade, and the same orange cones sat there, collecting weather.
Just watching the rain patter against the windshield. Following the wipers whir and skid across the glass. Mundane. Irritating.
“I really have to go?” she asked.
Her mother huffed. “It would mean a lot to your father.”
“I didn’t even know this guy.”
“But you know your father, right? And if this means a lot to your father, then it should mean a lot to you, Abby.”
She sighed. Impenetrable silence. The sort Abby couldn’t really fragment with any quip or rebuttal. How could anyone, really? Even if she conjured the most incredible weapon of a sentence, a swift lecture would follow.
Her mother enjoyed those.
“You’re not even going,” Abby said. Perhaps an argument she could defend would do.
“I can’t help with your tuition if I’m not seeing these extra patients.”
“But that doesn’t mean you get to just blow Kevin’s wake off.” Her hands smacked the steering wheel between each sentence. “I know it’s your day off, and I know you’ve been having a tough time recently, but…”
A tough time. Abby’s mother knew the mere surface. She had told her about the time she tried acid, but not about the weeks of unbearable depression or random bouts of anxiety that crashed into her. Plus, the acid didn’t really bother her like she said it did. She may had even tried it again. But that wasn’t the point. Abby didn’t want to open up to anyone, let alone her mother, who judged first and gave sound advice second. It was already enough work hiding the smell of cigarettes, which she started smoking to cope with all this.
Everything was gaining ground on her.
“Alright, sweetie?” Her mother’s tone had lightened since Abby started ignoring her.
They got off the highway. Exit forty-two. There was a deli near the funeral home. Abby didn’t eat breakfast or lunch, so, a roast beef sandwich appealed to her stomach. Most of the time she forgot to eat, and even though it was six-forty-five, she really didn’t feel too ravenous. She could wait until tomorrow if she really wanted to.
Abby watched the deli pass. But after a few more buildings, the funeral home appeared, with a hive of cars surrounding it.
“Text me when you and your dad get home,” her mother said as Abby stepped out of the car. “I love you.”
Abby shut the door.
And after her mother drove away, she pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“I never said it back.”
The night’s ambient symphony filled the silence. The slight breeze. The groaning of tree trunks and rippling of leaves.
“My mom died on her way to work. Some piece of shit in a ‘72 Gran Torino totaled her car.” She finished her drink and threw the can away.
“I’m sorry,” Cam said. “I can’t imagine what that’s like.”
“It’s so selfish of me, too.” Abby scoffed. “And for what? A stupid day off?”
“I think you blame yourself too much, if I can say.” Cam scratched his cheekbone. “It was just another ordinary argument. And, I don’t know how things were between you guys, but you probably would’ve had some animosity for a day.”
She fended off tears.
“Then you’d make up. Someone would apologize before the other person would.” He snickered. “She wouldn’t want to see you like this, Abby.”
“Thank you.” She wiped her eyes with pulled down sleeves. “That really does help me. I mean it.” Sirens echoed in the distance, over the trees. “What happened with you and Jimmy after that?”
“I haven’t talked to him since.”
“It would be worth it to try.” She gazed into his eyes. “If not for his second chance, then for yours.”
“You think I should?”
“I do.” She nodded. “You can come over before or after you do it.” Abby smiled. “You know what street I’m on.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I do.”
It was a small, yellow ranch. The front screen hadn’t been replaced since he’d been there, and the front lawn was overgrown in the same places. That identical plastic fence held nothing but weeds out back.
But he didn’t recognize the car. He remembered Jimmy’s parents always driving Audis. It didn’t matter what sort of financial drought they were trapped in. It was always Audis. Today, beneath a powdery blue sky laced with strands of clouds, a Honda sat in the gravel.
Cam rubbed his jacket zipper with a stiff thumb. Faster as the seconds passed. He took a step forward, prepping himself for whomever may answer. They could’ve moved. Jimmy could have left Hurst street and the town and all of it to pursue something else. What if Cameron was the reason Jimmy diverged from the path of an artist?
What if it was all his fault?
He knocked, gentle at first, half-regretting his decision already. But when he realized the choice had already been made, he knocked harder and more pronounced. Cam exhaled, tapping his foot on their stoop excessively. “Oh god, what are you doing? What are you doing, Cameron?” he murmured to himself.
The front door’s seal broke. Its hinges groaned as it opened further.
He was thinner—no, leaner—than Cam had remembered. But Jimmy stood before him, mind and soul, in the same—albeit trimmed—shell. “H-how’ve you been?”
Cameron rubbed his nose. “Good.”
“Come in, man, come in.” Jimmy opened the screen for him, allowing Cam to step foot into his home. “I’ve missed you.”
They stood in the foyer for a second, inspecting each other to reacquaint. And as Cameron lingered on his chest—on the text of his sweatshirt—he felt the swift embrace of Jimmy.
“I’m sorry,” Jimmy said through a heavy throat. “I was such an idiot, then, such an idiot.”
“It’s okay,” Cam said, wrapping his arms tight around him. “It is, Jimmy.”
The pair of them stood, the house’s walls sputtering with sounds of pipes.
“Come on,” Cam said. “I want you to meet someone.”