We drove toward the beach in your boyfriend’s car.
This was new, you behind the wheel, rather than our bygone late nights in the backseats of cabs and that equal distribution of power.
I hadn’t heard from you in a year or so, ensconced in your new life. You surprised me like the return of summer itself—rousing a feeling concealed, untended in the long slog through winter—emerging in an instant, hot and acute and indiscriminate. What prompted this break in our radio silence? Hurt or needing to gloat? I avoided interrogating my intentions in saying yes, in taking this ride, when you texted asking if I were free.
As we drove you shifted gears in high concentration, a hint of perspiration on your forehead. I was pleased to be near you again. It reminded me I haven’t always liked you (though maybe I loved you, funny that). You, and me, and our past games of beaus and errors.
I thought: you’re going to admit something to me.
I thought, like Liza, Maybe this time.
I thought: what if we just keep driving past the coast past the shore out past our past.
There was something illicit, the frisson of you coming to claim me at the curb in this car, his car, but no. So, I thought: why’d you come for me if you never come for me.
We rode in silence, unlike before, where we would speak loudly, overlappingly, of boys, beaches, books—your holy trinity. So I’m left to examine the detritus of his life— your life with him — a glimpse at a sort of utilitarian intimacy. He isn’t mentioned but he’s here in the takeout napkins in the glovebox the sunglasses in the cupholder the paperback book missing its cover the half-eaten bag of beef jerky the tote bag stuffed with beach towels and celebrity magazines.
Squinting into the sun I counted down backwards from ten, not a launch but a landing. The odometer running backward through the myth of Cars and Boys and the time of boys in cars and the teenage feeling of Fridays at twilight, doused in a cool blue, clenched with expectation and apprehension; nights spent emulating something, expecting something and giving something and getting nothing in return. Those memories are always set in September and always staged at twilight; cool, vaporous. Memories of Scott and Jeffrey and Javier and Charlie and others.
The time after the time of cars and boys, and what I gave up moving to a city, trading an automobile for a different autonomy, for subway cars and flânerie, navigating the grid on foot. A different kind of cruising.
The car’s AC blasting, the hairs on my arms standing up, the back of my scalp tingling. The desire to reach over the invisible boundary between us and touch your shoulder, rest a hand on your thigh. A gesture across the gulf. Appraising your tan, freckled shoulders in your tank top. Though it’s early in the season you’re burnished and I’m still pale, paler than you. Everything between us unspoken (or imagined) or suppressed or forgotten or obsolete. The ill- defined space between lovers and friends, a declaration never in the making.
I understand you have a new allegiance now, or perhaps you have one for the first time. I see how I never accepted the facts of you.
If I screamed “turn car around” what would happen? Here on the open road feeling not freedom but its opposite. Heading to a familiar destination.
Mike Dressel is a writer and educator. His work has appeared in publications such as Jellyfish Review, Litbreak, Chelsea Station, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among others, as well as in the anthologies Best Gay Stories 2016 and Best Gay Stories 2017. He lives in New York where he is the co-producer of the nonfiction reading series No, YOU Tell It!