The haircut wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I wanted a basic buzz cut or something equally untouchable but Kelsea, in no uncertain terms, told me to fuck off.
“Someone with hair like yours should be jailed for such a crime. You’re not ten anymore. Buzzcut should be banished from your vocabulary.”
The end result was a little too flashy and big city for me but it looked damn good. It was sharp and crisp on the sides with some length on top. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to duplicate her style technique but she swore it was my kind of a low maintenance situation.
I tugged on the top, there was definitely enough for someone to run their fingers through and, even though it wasn’t what I thought I wanted, I couldn’t deny how good the change felt. Out with the old and in with the new. Kelsea had really nailed it. Maybe I was romanticizing the power of a new hair cut but it felt like a weight had been lifted. I left her shop feeling like a new man, one who could face whatever was thrown my way.
Since the split with Lee, Penn had been overly interested in my wellbeing. If I wasn’t quick to respond to his calls, he’d show up at my door to see if everything was okay. It was something I came to appreciate about his character. So, it come as no a shock to see Penn’s truck still at the cottage when I came back.
“Whoa,” he stood from the couch as I walked through the door, his eyes plastered to my hair. “I conjured up every imaginable reason why you ran out of here earlier and a haircut was not one of them.”
“Yeah,” I ran my fingers through my newly trimmed locks. “I’m sorry about that. It’s just, I don’t know. There was a—uh, a moment today with Lee.” I shook my head and walked to the kitchen for a cup of water. I was still trying to unwrap exactly how I felt when Lee had touched me. The way he looked at me with love and desire, two things that could not possibly be real anymore.
“Oh,” he looked taken aback. “Are you guys going to reconcile?”
“What?” I almost choked on my water.“God no. No,” I help my hands up like ‘whoa man, no way’.
“Ok, I mean, you said there was a moment—”
“Yes, but not that kind of moment, not for me anyway. It was a gross moment. Here—I’ll show you.” I stood in front of Penn and put my hands on his shoulders so we were squared up. “Pretend like you’re me and I’m Lee.”I took a deep breath to get into character then reached out and ran my fingers through his hair.
“If I had known how sexy you are with long hair, I would’ve—” I said in the same longing, sleazy tone Lee had delivered it with earlier. We stood there for a moment as Penn registered what Lee had done.
Lee slapped my hand way, much the same way I wanted to do to Lee. “He wouldn’t have? What?” He asked, his irritation building. “What wouldn’t he have done?”
“Great question. Not slept around behind my back? I have no clue.” I took a step back, “Now tell me, how do you think I felt when he did that?”
Penn used both hands and rubbed his hair like he was trying to get a pound of sawdust out of it. “Like you wanted to burn all your hair off.”
“Exactly,” I laughed. “I still don’t know how I feel about it all but I know I needed to cut it off. He also said he didn’t like this,” I rubbed the stubble that was growing on my face. “So, I’ll be growing this out while on vacation.”
Penn scratched my beard and smiled.“The facial hair looks good on you. It has a strawberry tint that looks good.”
I felt like a cat purring. Damnit. Part of my rash decision to cut my hair was so Penn wouldn’t have a reason to touch me. Yet, I couldn’t stop myself from enjoying it. Unlike the punch-in-the-gut feeling I got when Lee touched me, Penn’s touch made me feel good, calmer.
“Well, don’t get used to it,” I said. “As soon as I serve Lee, I’ll probably shave it off as a giant fuck you.”
“Sounds good.” Penn gave my beard one last scratch then pulled away. “Grow it, shave it, braid it. Whatever makes you happy.”
I wanted to flip him off for always having the perfect response. Instead, I made him dinner. My plan to shop for one didn’t last but I’d been foolish to think it would. Me over-reacting about my feelings wasn’t going to stop him from being my friend.
I was at Penn’s place for a change. It was only the second time I’d been there and that was hardly fair in the grand scheme of things. It was about time I got off my ass and contributed to our friendship. I couldn’t expect him to be the one making all the effort. That’s how I found myself with burning shoulders as we hung lap siding.
“Are you good with cars?” I asked Penn.
“I can get around,” he shrugged oh so humbly. He was a Knott after all, that meant almost everything came naturally to him. “Why?”
“Something’s going on with my truck. It’s fine when I start it in the morning but once I’ve been driving it for a while, turns into a total slug. I press on the gas and it barely accelerates.”
He asked me a few questions, some to which I didn’t have the answers.“Hmm,” he hummed as he continued to hang siding on the house. “It could be a couple different things. I can take a look at it later if you’d like.”
“I’d like.” It was more than I was expecting. I was only looking for a little guidance before sending it to the mechanic.
We continued to work on the house until late afternoon. I learned so much from him and he was patient as always. After we cleaned up and I was getting ready to head home, Penn stopped me.
“Why don’t you leave the Suburban here and take my truck home? That will give me a chance to check it out.
“Oh no, it’s fine,” I waved him off. “I don’t need your truck. I can leave my truck and stay around at the cottage for a day, no biggie.”
Penn rolled his eyes. “I doubt that. You’re leaving in five days. I’m sure you have plenty to do.”
I really did. I just didn’t want to inconvenience him. I took the keys and thanked him. His truck had a small lift, large tires, and black wheels that matched the custom black paint job. It looked like he’d had a lot of customized stuff done to it and it definitely stood out in a crowd. It was so big I really had to pull myself up into the thing.
There was this stupid feeling of happiness when I situated myself in his seat. It was like being in high school again; driving your boyfriends’ truck for the first time.
I had to school my features because Penn was watching me and I didn’t want to look like a giddy teen. I bit the inside of my cheek as I fired up the diesel engine. He smiled and waved as I drove off. It wasn’t until I was out of sight that I laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. Still, I couldn’t stop smiling. Oh, don’t mind me, just driving the beau’s truck.
I ran a bunch of errands the next day, mostly an excuse to drive Penn’s truck. The looks I got as I drove through town were comical. I was even pulled over at one point. Lord knows Penn never let anyone drive his truck before. Oh the flags I raised.
It was late afternoon when Penn stopped by in his work truck. “Do you know how many phone calls I got today?”
I was sweaty and shirtless from deep cleaning the house. I had four days to leave the place cleaner than when I arrived. “Do you know how many times I got rubbernecked and pulled over?”
“I don’t know about the rubbernecking but I did hear you got pulled over.”
“Of course. They probably called you first? Did you tell them it was stolen?” I glared at Penn who smiled. “Your truck attracts too much attention. I don’t like it.”
“Oh, and your truck is incognito?” He teased. But he was right, everyone knew my truck. Between the two of us, we couldn’t go anywhere unnoticed. “Anyway, do you want the good news or the bad news?” Penn moved about the cottage like it was his own and I continued to clean around him.
“Uhm, the good?”
“I can fix your truck.”
I looked at him suspiciously. “But—”
“You can’t drive it to Portland. I have to order parts so it won’t be ready until you get back.”
“Oh,” the bad news wasn’t that bad. “That’s fine. How much do you think it will cost?” I asked. I continued to dust the shelves while Penn followed me around.
“Eight-hundred, give or take.”
I made a face. I doubted my truck was worth eight-hundred but it was still cheaper to fix it than to buy something new.
“I’ll drive you to Portland since your car will be out of commission.
I waved him off with my dust rag.“It’s fine. I’ll have Dad drive me.”
“I don’t mind. We could make a day of it, maybe have dinner or something before your flight. You know, a farewell type thing.”
“Well, I’m going up a day early to see a friend. We haven’t hung out for a while. Now that I’m off staff, I don’t know how often I’ll see him.”
“Oh, okay.”I could tell he wanted to press it but he didn’t. We were spending a lot of time together but not nearly as much as we had been. Cam had been around more, still less than I considered normal for a married couple, but a lot for them. I didn’t mind, it helped hold me to the boundary thing I needed so badly.
“You’ll be here Sunday though, right?”
I stopped cleaning and looked at him. “I don’t know. I’ll probably spend the day with my family.”
“Wow,” he drawled. “Will I even see you before you leave or are you just going to disappear without saying bye?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll text you before I go,” I teased then I grabbed a pile of dirty clothes from the floor and walked to the laundry closet.
“You’re a jerk, you know that right?!” he shouted to my retreating back.
“Yet, you still love me!”
Well yeah, I thought to myself. In a perfect world.
There was more to going up early than seeing Joe. It wasn’t anything concrete but Wayne had called to see if I’d consider coming back on staff. The catch: it would be in the Portland-Metropolitan area. There were a couple of areas looking for Directors.
As nervous as I was about transplanting, the offer was tempting. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Lincoln had nothing for me anymore, but my life was going to hell in a handbasket and Portland could be a nice change. If I had a second chance at love it wasn’t going to be in this town. The gay population in my age range and compatibility consisted of…well, me. I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on with Penn and Cam and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.
No one knew I might move to Portland. When the Lewis’ insisted I keep my stuff in the cottage, that they weren’t going to kick me out, I pointed out the fact they were always having people over and there was no use for me to take up the cottage if I was going to be gone for almost a month.
But the real reason I didn’t want my stuff there and the real reason I was cleaning the place from head to toe, was because I had no plans to come back. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I came back but I had to do something. I didn’t want to stay at the cottage anymore. I needed to move forward.
The remaining days passed in a blur. I packed up what little I had in the cottage and put it in my dad’s garage. I met with my lawyer one more time, just to go over everything. I packed what I needed and then, bam, it was time to leave.
I was making the beds and waiting for Dad to pick me up when Penn arrived. We hadn’t seen each other in days. I’d been busy getting ready for my trip and Penn had been busy with Cam.
I hadn’t pried but there was definitely something going on there. Whatever it was, it demanded all of his attention. He kept apologizing for being distracted but I waved him off. Cam took precedence over me and my looming departure.
“Your truck keys are on the table,” I yelled from the bedroom when I heard him come through the front door. I heard the keys jingle as he picked them up, then I heard his footsteps as he made his way down the hall. He leaned against the door and watched me finish the bed.
“Why does it feel like you’ll be gone longer than three weeks?”
“Because technically I’ll be gone for three-and-a-half weeks.”
Penn didn’t look amused.
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“Know. You always know.”
His face morphed from confusion to concern. “What’s going on?”
“But maybe something?”
“Maybe. I might be moving to Portland. That’s why I’m going up today. I’m meeting with Wayne and Joe to talk about options.”
Penn looked like I’d just told him his family was being held at gunpoint. He turned around and paced away until he was staring out the window in the living room. He stood with his back to me for a full minute before turning to face me again, looking hurt as ever.
“Does it have to do with me?”
“What?” I asked, shocked by the question.
“I don’t know, Nash,” he sounded so unsure. “We were close. We hung out all the time and talked about so much. Then one day, poof, you didn’t want to be around me. Now I find out you’re moving away. Every day I wonder what happened between us.”
“No,” I rushed. “You didn’t do anything. Nothing happened—”
“Stop. Give me more credit than that. Something happened. Just tell me what it was so I can stop wondering.”
I rubbed my face and tried not to groan. I wasn’t surprised that he knew I was acting weird. I always knew he could see it, I just hoped it wouldn’t get brought up.
But if there was ever a time to drop the ‘I developed some pretty serious feelings for you, a married man, and now I feel like a giant hypocrite’ bomb, now was the perfect moment. I was about to spend a month in Asia and then probably move to Portland. I’d be far from the blast radius.
“You’re right,” I resigned myself to the truth—or at least some version of it. “You didn’t do anything. In fact, you’ve been...perfect. That’s the problem. I think, maybe—I don’t know...everything with Lee left me—” I tapped my head in frustration as I tried to find the words. “I think I started feeling—”
I was cut off when dad’s truck came barreling up the gravel driveway.
“Shit,” I mumbled. I couldn’t have this conversation with my dad two seconds from waltzing in. I grabbed my things and headed to the door. Penn grabbed my arm.
“Started feeling—? What did you start feeling?”We stared at each other. His dark eyes demanded answers that I was too fucking nervous to give.
Dad grumbled as he opened the cottage door, effectively putting a stop to my confession. “That driveway is a bitch.” He looked around the house and whistled. “No wonder you didn’t want to move in with us.” When he was done inspecting the place I had called home the last few months, he looked at Penn and smiled. “Penn, man, good to see you,” he reached out and shook Penn’s hand.
I let Penn and Dad catch up on whatever it was they found interesting. Most of it had to do with work since they were in the same industry. Not toilets, but construction and building stuff. I finished putting things away and made sure I had everything I needed. Triple checking my passport and money.
“Why am I the one dragging you to Portland when Penn here is free as a bird?” Dad asked in his usual teasing manner. He had a hard time expressing emotion and defaulted to sarcasm. Making everything seem like a big inconvenience was his go-to deflective mechanism.
“Because you love me, Dad, or have you forgotten?”
“So you always remind me.”
“I can take him if you’d like. It’s really no problem.”
“Nah, I already took the day off work.” AKA, he was actually looking forward to spending the day with me but couldn’t come out and say it. “Are you ready? Do you have everything? You know Tracy always packs for me but I know a few things about traveling, like, you need money,” he said. “You’ve got your money?”
“Yes, I have my money and my passport. I even took pictures of my passport and emailed it to myself in case something happens.”
“How about a credit card? Do you need a spare? I can give you one in case there’s an emergency.”I stopped him from reaching for his wallet.
“I got it, Dad. I have plenty of cash, plus my bank card, plus my bank credit card, plus a spare credit card. If all else fails I can prostitute my way home.”
“Oh no,” dad shook his head. “They like those young petite boys. I saw it on Dateline. You’re way too big and muscular. You’d terrify those men. Plus, you’re way too old.”
“Dad!” I looked at him and then at Penn, who burst out laughing. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
“What?” he looked confused. “You’ve got a cute face and all but you’d be hard-pressed to find a perv to cash flow you home.”
“From the mouth of a babe. I shall never be wanted again.” I dramatically put my hand to my forehead, Gone with the Wind style.
“Hey, I never said that. If I can remarry at my age then so can you. But we’re talking about prostitution and that’s a young man’s market. Plus, your moral compass is too sharp. You didn’t even have sex with Lee until you got married. There’s no way you’d let some old money man dick you.”
“Dad!” I wasn’t one to blush but boy was I red.
“It’s true, though,” he turned to Penn and smiled. “Fun fact. Nash was terrified to give Lee a blowjob at first. Talk about an embarrassing conversation. As a parent, I was prepared for a lot of things but I never imagined being asked for bj pointers by my son—”
I quickly covered his mouth with my hands so he’d stop talking but he was stronger and pulled my wrists away.
“What? It’s a funny story.” Dad looked at Penn apologetically, like he was embarrassed by my behavior. Penn thought the whole thing was hilarious which only encouraged my dad’s behavior.
“Anyway,” he continued despite my pleading. “I couldn’t bring myself to talk about that sort of thing so I recruited my sister. She took him out for Chinese and, well, I think you know what happened after that.”
“Well,” I said loudly as I swung the travel pack over my shoulder. “This has been fun but I think it’s time for everyone to forget this ever happened. Let’s go.”I shoved the other bag into my dad's arms and pushed him toward the door.
Penn looked around like he was trying to find something to carry out but there was nothing left. “That’s everything?”
“Yep. The more I pack, the more I have to carry.”
The two men went outside while I did one last walk through to make sure everything was out. I walked my key to the main house while Penn and my dad hung back. When I came back, dad opened the passenger door and told me to load up before shaking Penn’s hand goodbye and getting in the truck.
When I finished stuffing the pack in the small space behind my seat, I stood to say bye to Penn. He was leaning against the side of the truck with his arms crossed, not looking too happy at all.
“If you don’t want to work on the truck I’ll understand—”
“Don’t be dense, Nash. Obviously, I’m going to do it.”
“Okay,” I paused. “Thank you.”
There was a pregnant pause as we stood there looking at each other. Unlike every other time we were together, this wasn’t altogether comfortable. The unsaid words from earlier hung heavy between us.
“I guess I’ll see you next month.” I opened my arms lightly, hoping he wasn’t so angry he’d deny me a proper goodbye. He wasn’t. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me.
“Are you sure? I’m starting to think this is a goodbye, goodbye,” he said, his breath warm on my neck.
“I’ll be back.”
When I pulled away, I could see that my words did nothing to make him feel better. His dark eyes were full of worry as they searched for something to hold on to.
There were several times that our interactions seemed more than just friendly. I ignored them because I didn’t want to deal with it. Penn was married, we were just affectionate people, it meant nothing, best friends have quirks. Those kinds of things. But there was something in the way he looked at me, in that moment, that I couldn’t make an excuse for.
There was undeniable chemistry between us. I could see it in his eyes and feel it in my soul.
He pinched the fabric of my shirt and ever so gently, pulled me toward him. I held my ground but the move definitely put tension between us and commanded my full attention.
“What did you feel?” The way he asked me had me anchored in place. The only response I could muster was the pounding in my chest as I stared into those dark pools that pleaded for the truth. He tugged my shirt, again. When I didn’t move, he took a step closer. His lips were so close to my ear I could feel his breath and it felt like I might explode.“Tell me I’m not crazy,” he pleaded. I closed my eyes as my body hummed. How quickly things had escalated to the point of no return.
“Penn,” I took a deep breath and pulled away from him. “I don’t know what you want me to say, or maybe I do—if that’s the case, then believe me, I want to, but there are so many reasons I can’t. I can’t, Penn. I can’t,” I shook my head.
The intensity in his eyes matched the grip he had on my shirt.“Nash—”
“My dad—” I looked over to find him messing with the radio. He wasn’t even paying attention to us. “I have to go.”
“Let me pick you up from the airport.”
“I don’t know—”
“I’m not asking.”
Everything had just been flipped upside down. I’d been content thinking Penn was just a friend I had a crush on but now I wasn’t so sure.
Penn opened the door for me and I got in. “I’ll see you in three-and-a-half weeks,” he said before gently shutting me inside the truck with my father.
The drive to Portland was a total cluster. I tried to give Dad my full attention but my brain was with Penn. Something was happening but it was so messy I was terrified to sort it out.
He dropped me off at Joe’s without fuss. Literally. He hugged me through the window. That was my dad. He’d maxed out his emotional capacity when I told him about Lee. Now, a two-hour car ride was goodbye enough. No need to get hung up on ceremony. He told me to be safe, have fun, and call him at some point but only if I wanted. This is why Tracy was such a good fit for him. I like her, she was cool, but I was in my mid-twenties when her and Dad got together. We never developed a close relationship. I wondered how her and Dad communicated because they were both terrible with this stuff. It was a wonder how I excelled in the profession I did.
Joe and I hung out for an hour before we met with Wayne. Most of the closest friends I had were on staff in the Portland area. The second they found out I wasn’t working in Lincoln anymore. They started pressuring me to relocate closer to them. Wayne had told me the day I quit that he’d find me another area. Yevo was like family.
It was a very informal meeting. We spoke briefly about the areas that were looking for a new Director, the dynamic of those areas, what the committee looked like, and which ones might be a good fit. We also talked about the other candidates and who would be most beneficial in what areas. Joe advocated for Clackamas but only because it was closest to him. He and I had hit it off immediately all those years ago and he’d been begging me to move closer to him ever since.
There were a few promising job opinions but we had to wait until I got back from vacation to talk more about it. As Wayne reminded me, there was no rush. I was about to start divorce proceedings and there was no way I’d start a new job while going through that. This was just a starting conversation.
“We’ll throw a bunch of options on the wall and see which one’s stick,” Wayne said. “No matter what, we’ll find you something and it will be better than before.”
The rest of the time was spent catching up. Lunch turned to dinner, which turned into a late evening and several drinks. Before I knew it, it was the morning of my flight and Joe was hugging me; telling me to have the time of my life. Little did I know, it would be a once in a lifetime trip that no other trip would compare to.
Jet-lag was brutal but Bangkok was amazing. I rented a hokey-as-shit motorcycle to escort me around south-east Asia. I knew right away that, if survived, I’d come out stronger than ever. Motoring in Asia was nothing like America. I don’t think that the word ‘safety’ translated properly.
Besides the almost constant brushes with death, the trip was rejuvenating in a lot of ways. It was good for me to get away and spend quality time alone. I put my phone in airplane mode and didn’t look back. In two weeks’ time I covered the coast of Thailand, south to Cambodia, then north up to Vietnam.
The difference in culture; the way they had so little compared to the expectations we had in the States was humbling. Moments like these were a big reason why I traveled. Diverse lifestyles open your mind to different perspectives. And perspective is the seed of wisdom.
I never intended to stay off the grid completely. I surprised myself by only checking my email once and that was only to see if there was news from my lady lawyer. There wasn’t, which I assumed to be good.
It was nineteen days into the trip and I was exhausted. I was driving south through Laos and had planned to make it a bit further before stopping but I couldn’t do it. I had more than enough time to make it back home anyway. I was in a nowhere town when I saw a small hotel, perfect for a day’s break.
Being proud of how much English you speak is not the same as actually speaking English, but I couldn’t tell that to the guy who ran the front desk. He was so proud of himself even though I couldn’t understand what he was saying. In bigger areas, almost everyone spoke English but in the smaller towns like the one I was in, no such luck. We communicated by pointing at things and making dramatic hand gestures to help drive the point home.
Some things are so universal it didn’t matter what language you spoke. Like the hand gestures for choking, thirsty, sleeping, or phone, the look of being in love. And when the hotel receptionist hands you a piece of paper, you sign it because you know it’s a credit card receipt.
When the receptionist runs your card five times and keeps nervously glancing your way, well that’s pretty universal, too. So is the run it again hand gesture.
Finally, I took the card back and offered him the alternate credit card. It too got declined. I was frustrated but not worried. I tried my emergency credit card. Declined.
I had more than enough cash to pay for the sketchy little room. I grabbed my ID and room key and started to leave. There wasn’t much I could do about my card issues until the west coast was up and running.“Wi-Fi?” I asked before leaving the counter. He drew a makeshift map on a scratch piece of paper and sent me on my way.
I tried to play tourist for a while but having my cards declined made it almost impossible to relax. After hours of roaming and worrying, it was finally working hours in Oregon. We banked with a small credit union and knew every person there, just like they knew us. I talked to Roxy who was the head teller and a friend. I explained the situation and she quickly went to work investigating what was going on.
“Okay, Nash,” she said as she got back on the line. “Looks like there was a fraud alert put on your debit and credit card. We canceled both and re-issued a new ones. They’ll be sent out in 7-10 business days.”
“Okay…” I found it strange that there’d be a fraud alert on both my debit and credit cards since they weren’t linked in any way.“How can I get a new card sent to me?”
“We can’t send bank cards internationally. Lee could send it to you once it arrives?”
I’m sure he’d get right on that…
“Yeah, I’ll have Lee send it. Thanks for your help,” I lied, feeling embarrassed, confused, and angry.
I didn’t have to call my other credit card company to know what they’d say. Fraud. With no real means to transfer money, I was stuck. I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, as hard as that was.
I connected my phone to the cell towers and waited. It took several minutes but my phone finally pinged with new emails, messages, and voicemails. I took a quick inventory before deciding to start with the emails from the lawyer.
Due to an error, Lee was served the divorce papers on 12/13/2017 instead of 12/23/2017. We will continue on course but ahead of schedule. We don’t imagine much will happen before you get back next week so it should be business as usual.
Ha. Business as usual.
I cursed as I re-read the email. Hell hath no fury like a man being served divorce papers after he cheated, cheated, lied, and cheated. I moved on to the half-dozen emails from Lee. They started out mild but escalated to fully enraged. His numerous voicemails verbalized everything he’d written in his emails.
I forwarded everything to my lawyer.
I also forward everything to Chambers. I wasn’t sure what he could or would do but I felt like he needed to know what Lee was doing. If anyone could get Lee to calm down, it was Eric Chambers. I didn’t know how these things worked, but I couldn’t imagine claiming fraud on your soon-to-be-spouse’s cards; the day after being served divorce papers; while they were overseas, would look good in the eyes of the courts.
I had enough cash to last me through the end of the trip as long as nothing crazy happened. I decided to go straight back to Bangkok. It took three days and a couple sketchier hostels but it was better than being stranded for who knows how long.
The day I got back from my blitz trip from northern Laos to Bangkok, I found myself sitting at a cafe a few blocks from the hostel that would be my home for the duration of my stay. Three straight days of driving a crappy motorcycle on even crappier roads left my body dreaming of happier days. Never did thirty-five feel so old.But god it was nice to sit on something comfortable while eating American-ish food. Ever bite felt like heaven after the crap I’d been eating.
There was a group of Americans who quickly took me, the lone American, in to their group. We got to chatting and I found out they all came to Bangkok to teach English. I had a cousin that did something similar. She graduated from college as an engineer then spent three years teaching in Prague before coming back home. Now she’s a nurse. I guess life can take you on crazy adventures.
“So, all of you guys live in the same house?” Six people seemed like a cozy living arrangement.
“Hell yeah. The six of us plus Ben and Amy, who went back to the States last week. So really, it was like eight.”
“Hey,” John looked like he’d just gotten an idea. “How long are you here for?”
“Not long, a day and a half and then I fly back to Oregon.”
They shared a look of disappointment. “You wouldn’t by chance want to stay longer, would ya?” Suddenly I had six sets of puppy dog eyes staring back at me.
“It’s not about want. My soon-to-be-ex has left me a bit strapped. I don’t have the means to stay.”
“What if we could change that for you? We’re sharing a place and have a spare room now that Ben and Amy left. They’re paid up for another month. Soon-to-be-ex means you have nothing keeping you in Oregon and we need someone to fill the vacant teaching spot. I think we can get you streamlined. In a few weeks you could be teaching and making money. It would just be until June. Unless you love it, then you could sign on for another year.”
“As great as that sounds,” and it didn’t sound horrible, “I have to deal with this divorce.”
“That’s what lawyers are for. People get divorced from other countries all the time. I don’t see why it would be any with you being here. Ask your lawyer about it.”
Every time I tried to find a reason why it wouldn’t work, they found a solution. I can’t say they were legitimate solutions but I didn’t care. I knew I wouldn’t get a job offer in Portland until the divorce was finalized and I didn’t have much keeping me in Lincoln.
Sure, there was Penn, who I missed him so much it hurt. No matter how hard I tried, he was never far from my thoughts. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with whatever was waiting for me when I got back. The moment we had shared was surely the gateway to a total disaster. No matter how I worked it in my mind, I knew nothing good could come of it.
The more we talked about me staying, the more I didn’t hate the idea. I left the cafe with a legitimate promise of consideration. I had to wonder if Sam’s conversation about doing something crazy had sparked a fire in me. Why else would I actually consider something so crazy?
I called the lawyer that night (morning for her) and inquired about proceeding with the divorce if I stayed overseas. It was possible but would take longer. I had a feeling Lee wouldn’t take kindly to me staying away. That alone leaned my decision toward staying.
“I’m not sending money to the Prince of Nigeria,” Eric jested when he picked up the phone.
“But he’ll reward you handsomely.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he chuckled. “To what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Cushman?”
“Upset and irrational,” he said, clearly feeling bad for his lead lawyer. “I did talk to him after I got your email. He knows he fucked up, little too late, I know. I can wire you money.”
“I might take you up on that,” I said. “I’m thinking of staying a while. I’ve been offered a teaching job and I just might do it.”
“Lee’s not going to like that.”
“Yeah, well, he didn’t exactly ask me how I felt about him fucking Paul, so—”
“I know, Nash,” he sighed. “I’ll do what I can but you really should’ve talked to him about this before you left. He knew you’d end up filing for divorce but feels blindsided by the timing. He’s upset you never said anything before you left. We both know you don’t owe him anything after what he did, but—”
“I’m having a hard time feeling bad about it, Eric. Sure, I feel terrible he got served the way he did. It wasn’t supposed to happen while I was gone,” I admitted. “But he’s a fucking asshole. He cut me off while I was overseas and that’s after cheating on me.”
“I know, Jesus, I know,” Eric said. “He’s done everything wrong; I know this. I’m just saying that I understand where he’s coming from, emotionally.”
“He can pretend all he wants that he would’ve accepted all this if only I had told him in advance. But I don’t believe that for a second. He would’ve been upset and vengeful. He’s done nothing to prove to me otherwise.”
“You’re probably right,” he conceded. “It’s probably too much to think you might call him?”
“You’re fucking right it’s too much,” I said. “He never said anything to me for two years while he fucked around with Paul. Why do I owe him a phone call now?”
“You don’t. You really don’t.”
The next morning, I told John that if we could get things lined up, I’d stay until June. There was a lot to do. I needed to expedite the certification process and apply for a visa. When Kim, the supervisor, got involved, things happened quickly.
‘You’re never allowed to leave again. Not with so much unsaid between us.’ ‘I wish you were here right now. Things have been crazy here and I wish we could talk.’ ‘Ten more days.’ ‘I was thinking about driving to the airport tomorrow and waiting there until you arrive…it’s only six days ;)’ ‘Three days.’
I re-read Penn’s messages more times than I cared to admit. The newest message had come in less than twenty-four hours ago. My flight home was scheduled to depart in less than two days but I wouldn’t be on it and he still had no clue. I hadn’t replied to any of his messages because I didn’t know what to say.
I had already told my dad the new plan. Now it was time to tell Penn. Calling him terrified me. The coward in me wanted to have my dad convey the message but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t even bring myself to do it over text.
I fidgeted with the phone as I waited for him to wake up.
“Hello?” he said. I almost forgot about his molasses over gravel morning voice.
“Nay?” he perked up. I imagined him sitting up in bed at the sound of my voice. Well, sitting up as much as he could in that tiny alcove he slept in.
“Surprise.” It sounded awkward even to myself.
“It’s been so long,” he sighed. “Are you ready to come home?
“Actually—” I was glad he couldn’t see me cringe awkwardly at his words. “My flight got changed—to June.” When there was no answer, I looked at my phone to make sure he was still there. “Penn?”
“Yeah,” he whispered, his voice deep with sleep and sadness. “I knew it.
“I’m coming back—”
Ney? Pey? I don’t know when these nicknames happened but it wasn’t a good sign. Nicknames were basically one-way tickets to Emotional Attachment-ville. Elevation: unhealthy.
“I should go. I hope you have a good trip and I’ll see you...around, or whatever.”He hung up before I could say anything. I fell back on my bed with a sigh. I felt like a total asshole. The hurt in his voice would haunt me for months.
‘I miss you. More than you know’
I sent the text then stared at the ceiling until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Anything to keep me from crying. When I woke up the next morning, there was a new message.
‘I know nothing because you tell me nothing’
It was true but once that dam broke, there’d be no turning back. I wanted to tell him how I felt and I wanted the same words in return. But at what cost? I could never do to Cam what Lee and Paul had done to me. Absolutely never.
After that, I should’ve given Penn space but I didn’t. I found myself emailing him every detail of my trip. Everything I’d done since I had landed, everything that happened with Lee, the invitation to stay and teach. I told him everything.
Everything but the thing I think he wanted to hear the most.
Everything fell into place. I was approved for my work visa, finished my certification in record time, got moved into my new flat with my new friends, and started work. Although I had never imagined teaching English, it was the transition I needed. I was still with kids, still making an impact, but in a totally different way. It was the palate cleanser I needed before starting a new life.No one knew the details about Lee or who I was in my old job. I was just Nash, an American tourist in Thailand.
I kept in contact with my lawyer and with Chambers. I even called Lee. I shouldn’t have, I owed him nothing, but I called him anyway. I didn’t give him the same curtesy I gave everyone else and I called him after work which was some ungodly hour in Oregon. Because fuck Lee.
“Hello?” Lee sounded like he was trying hard to pretend I hadn’t just woken him up. “Nash?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
There was a pause as his brain played catch up. “What the hell Nash? What the hell?” He sighed. He wasn’t angry, he was hurt.
“What did you think was going to happen, Lee? You can be mad all you want but you cheated on me and then turned around and cancelled my cards. In between those, you got mad at me every time I asked questions. As the victim, I had the right to ask all the questions in the world, you know? God,” I wanted to scream. “You’ve been nothing but a complete asshole to me, treating me like a yo-yo. I never knew you to be such a selfish, narcissistic asshole until this. Was anything between us ever real?”
“Of course it was!”
“Was it? Really?! Then tell me, when did it stop? Help me understand.”
Lee didn’t answer right away. I could practically see him rubbing his face as he fought the truth. “We got married so young.”
“What does that have to do with anything. Fuck, Lee, that’s the biggest copout ever. Since when does getting married, at any age, equate to treating someone the way you treated me?”
“It doesn’t equate to anything,” he said. “You never dated anyone besides me, you can’t tell me that you never wondered what else was out there.”
“I never wondered what else was out there.”
“Fuck you, Lee. I never wondered.”
“Of course you didn’t,” he said, barely restraining his frustration. “But I did. I fucking wondered. I did everything you wanted. I waited for everything. I had the most un-college experience because that’s what you wanted. We got married because that’s what you wanted. We stayed in Lincoln because that’s what you wanted. And I had no problem with any of it because I loved you, but eventually, I wondered.”
My eyes started tearing up. I never forced him to do any of that. “You said you wanted all those things.”
“I thought I did until I didn’t.”
“How was I supposed to know? You never said anything, only that you were happy.”
“What would you have done if I told you?” he asked.
“Anything. I would’ve done anything. What would’ve made you happy?” I think I knew, the moment Lee didn’t answer, that he knew I would’ve done whatever he wanted, except what he wanted, wasn’t me. “Why didn’t you just tell me? Why didn’t you just man up and tell me it was over years ago?”
“It’s not that easy, Nash.” He sounded like he was trying not to cry. “I loved the life we built together. I couldn’t just walk away from it.”
“But you did, you walked away from it the second you started lying to me. The second you started living a double life. I don’t understand your logic here. It doesn’t make any sense. Why the hell did you force me into counseling and waiting six months if you never had any intentions of making it work. You had already made your choice. I don’t get it!” I yelled.
“Because!” He yelled back. “I didn’t know what I wanted. Things with Paul were never going to work out and I thought that maybe it was just a phase. I thought I’d get it out of my system and move on. And after it got out, that’s exactly what happened. I thought, well, maybe I was being forced to get back with you and that was a good thing—”
“Oh my god!” I yelled pacing around my bedroom. “Are you even listening to yourself? You thought that maybe you were being forced to get back with me? How fucking horrible are you? I don’t even fucking know you!” By now, I was crying from the hurt of his words. “Do not contest this divorce. Do not fight me on this. You let me fucking go. You bow out of this like the man you should’ve been years ago.”
Then I hung up. I hung up and laid in the fetal position for hours. And I cried. I cried so hard I’m sure everyone heard me. When morning rolled around, I didn’t get up. I stayed in bed all day and thought about what a fucking sham my entire marriage had been. When night came, I had found some peace. Whatever happened between Lee and I, I knew it wasn’t on me. Lee could blame me all he wanted but we both knew that I never forced him to do anything. I would’ve done anything and gone anywhere if only he’d asked.
I woke up Sunday feeling sad but I also felt like there was closure. Whatever lingering thread of hope I had been holding on to, was gone. There was nothing left in me that wanted Lee. I was ready to move on.
Staying in Thailand for seven months, on a whim, warranted opening the elusive gift Sam had given me. He told me to open it in case of an emergency or life change. I think everything I was going through counted. I held the cryptex for over an hour as I tried to think of what it could be. What could Sam had fit in such a small box that would give me the freedom to make a big life change? I tried thinking of every possibility but kept coming up blank. I even thought about movies I’d watched but nothing seemed realistic enough to be an option.
Finally, I moved the letters and unlocked the box. I slowly pulled it apart. Whatever was, there was two of them, side by side. They were wrapped in white paper and so thick they didn’t come out easy. When they finally came lose, they uncoiled, falling all over my lap.
Ten-thousand dollars. I laughed as I picked up the two wads full of one hundred-dollar bills that had fallen everywhere. Only Sam would hide ten-grand in a small box like it was nothing, then hand it to someone while being elusive as fuck. I thought of all the ways I could have lost it. What if someone had stolen my bag? Holy shit. Then I laughed again because he did say it would bring luck and prosperity. If there was ever a time I needed to be prosperous, now was it.
After talking to Lee, everything changed. I felt better, I was smiling more, I had hope for things to come. Everything was good except Penn. I emailed him weekly updates but rarely got a response. When he did respond it was terse. I even called him but only ever got his voicemail.
I had left Oregon in late November and it was February when I decided to try FaceTime him instead of voice-call. I fully anticipated it would be ignored like all my other calls but suddenly I was face to face with Penn in all his morning glory.
He was shirtless and sleepy-eyed. The bedsheet was pulled to his belly, leaving his chest on display. Damn, I had missed him so much. I missed being in his presence. I missed talking and laughing. The way we’d drive around town together, running errands and sharing meals. I hadn’t realized how much I missed him until I was looking into his morning clouded brown eyes.
Never during my marriage had I cried when Lee and I were on different continents. But I found myself wiping my wet cheeks as he I looked at Penn.
Penn got emotional when he saw that I was emotional and then I got more emotional when I saw he was emotional.
This is why nicknames were a bad idea. Terrible really.
Neither of us said anything. We just laid in our respective beds, watching the other process months of pent up emotions, and acclimated to the other's presence. We never did get around to talking. I fell asleep while on the phone. I guess the relief from finally seeing him was more exhausting than I expected.
After that, we started Face-Timing several times a week and texted almost daily.
He tried to slip “us” in conversations but I refused. Seventy-five-hundred miles apart was not the time to discuss such sensitive issues. We talked about a lot of things us was off-limits. So was Cam. All he told me was that there was a lot going on. Per her request, they weren’t sharing the details. He promised to fill me in as soon as he got the okay from her, or in June when I got back, whichever came first.
I was curious, really curious, but part of me didn’t want to know. Not yet. That didn’t stop me from hoping that maybe they were going through a divorce of their own. That maybe, when I got back in June, Penn would no longer be straight and married but single and gay. It was a lot to ask. Even I knew that.
“I did a thing today,” Penn smiled brightly over FaceTime. He was practically exploding with excitement.
“And what’s that? “I yawned. It was afternoon for him which meant early morning for me.
He held up a piece of paper. Even fully awake I wouldn’t have been able to tell what it was. Wi-Fi where I was at left a lot to be desired and he was waving the paper like a mad man. It was a pixilated mess.
“A piece of paper, niiiice.”
“It’s a ticket,” he held the paper closer to the screen and pointed to what I assumed were dates, which I still couldn’t read because the video was blurry and his hand too fidgety. “April twenty-third to May seventh.”
“Wait.” I sat up, now fully awake. “You’re coming to visit me? Here? In Thailand?”
“Yes,” he laughed and lowered the paper so I could see his wide smile and happy dimples. “June is too far away.”
Missing each other was implied but never said directly. That would’ve been a direct violation of the rules we’d set in place.
“What are the dates again?” He repeated them. “That’s during my break.”
“I know,” he chuckled again. God, he was so happy. “That’s why I picked them. I don’t want to share you.”