Josiah is going to be home an hour and twenty-three minutes from now. Bae listened to a traffic report ten minutes ago, and he knows it might be closer to thirty-four minutes, but he's one for hope on these days: these days when his lungs will not fill entirely with air, when his ribs operate off rhythm, when his heart beats an angry song. He paces and throws his arms and spins to look at the clock-
An hour and twenty-two minutes. Six months, and these will be the longest seconds of the wait. They will drag as if a thousand times heavier, and he wonders if Josiah will arrive in uniform.
Last time he did. Bae grasped his dog tags and said his name in interval until it was too sobbing to discern from hiccuping groans. Josiah touched his shoulders and reminded him, I don't make you stay. But he didn't and doesn't know it's his voice, the calluses on his hands, the way he cradles Bae's chin and then guides him to their bedroom that amalgamate in a need to stay.
Yet, Bae would be a liar if he claimed he stays monogamous while Josiah tours, and he suspects the same of the other man. Last time, he came home covered in bruises, with a cut on his cheek, and a burn on his arm, and all he said was, Met a guy named Maliek. I think you'd like him.
"How'd you get that burn?"
Almost got shot. But that guy, Maliek, you'll like him...
What does his voice sound like? Bae thinks he remembers, but when Josiah speaks, there's always a new crack, a new depth. His skin is a changing map, and his hair feels like shifting sand. It's his eyes that remain the same: black and vivid, smoldering vitality. Bae fell in love with those eyes. Bae longs to greet them-
He decides to smoke. He opens the window and leans out and thinks, we met when we were sixteen. Isn't that crazy? Sixteen. I dunno how we're not sick of each other yet. Will you light it for me? I hate your cigarettes, fucking menthols. How do you smoke these?
The alley is littered with papers, and Bae is overcome with the urge to sweep them up. Maybe he should have cleaned the apartment but then will it really be a welcome home if home is foreign? Bae never cleans.
He paces the kitchen, the living room. Has he forgotten anything? He closes his eyes and what did Josiah say to him last? I love you, Bae. He melts into the past and forgets his thoughts and he's floating in blackness, the comfort behind his eyelids.
Every time he makes a pact not to cry until Josiah arrives. Every time he fails.
Do you remember the summer you stayed at my family's? You talked to my sister more than you talked to me, and we hardly got any time alone. It was such a bad idea, but you know what? That's when I realized you were the one. I wasn't sure until then.
The couch welcomes him, and he does not look at the framed photograph on the coffee table. The one they took together last time Josiah was home. It would spoil the wonder, like seeing a bride in her wedding dress. Bae musters a laugh and sinks back and reaches toward the ceiling and struggles to be-
His fingers are shaking. His chest aches. He can make no part of himself still. Bae, you need to calm down. All you do when I'm home is worry, and when I'm home, I just want to think about us. That's it, Bae. I just want to think about us.
He rises and stands beside the door and wonders if it will look too desperate and then he knows Josiah won't care. He never cares. He opens the door and opens his arms and says, "Bae? What are you doing?"
Hinges creak, the hallway reeks of mildew, and he's standing like a dream but is so tangible Bae can fall against him.