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Romance Fiction LGBTQ+

Time is not an arrow, it’s an incomprehensible line that curves smoothly in some places and bends sharply at others. There are intervals where it moves slowly at first and then accelerates to catch up to itself. Time is fickle, it doesn’t like to do the same thing over and over. Sometimes it darts onward into the future, sometimes it curls and burrows into the present, and sometimes it loops back and intersects itself in the past. Sometimes it rides alongside itself asymptotically, getting arbitrarily close but never reaching itself. Other times it runs and tramples over itself. The one thing to know about Time in order to truly grasp its complexity is that it is wholly indiscriminate. One never hears of a queen living for centuries or an emperor being summoned back into power after being beheaded, the elite and the unremarkable alike are eventually snuffed out by Time’s inexorable flow. Time will move on and every person subject to Time must move on as well. Though, it seems that Time enjoys the occasional bout of virtue, moments where it sets aside indifference for tenderness. For a certain man, unaware of the philosophy in this exposition, at some point along this line, observed in unsuspecting wonder, a beautiful action of this phenomenon of Time.

Ever since his husband Peter passed, Michael Lawson was carried by the currents of the world, like an idle twig being washed down a stream by the ceaseless waves, moving forward not by its own will but because its surroundings march onward regardless of whether it is there or not. He rode the momentum of fifty-three glorious years. He cracked too many eggs and overfilled the coffee maker every morning; he rolled over into a cold void every night. 

He was wed on this exact day fifty-four years ago, the promise made fifty-five ago. Oh what a day it was! He considered running for the hills when he thought he lost the stunning 24-karat gold necklace he had purchased for Peter. To his relief, it was hiding in his back pocket the whole time. It was truly a sight to be seen, that necklace, radiant gold studded with tiny sapphires that caught the light almost as beautifully as his lover’s eyes. He surprised Peter with the necklace, and Peter in turn surprised him with a pure silver engagement ring mounted with a diamond larger than any other he had seen before. It was an enchanting moment indeed, when Peter pulled the small box from his back pocket and knelt down on top of a small patch of daffodils—because his gaze was fixed up toward Micheal—and asked him to make the promise that would last fifty-three years. The soft perfumes from the crushed petals and broken stems fused with the memory of this moment, and instilled within Michael the passion to cultivate a garden of daffodils in his backyard each spring, which he dutifully watered every day. Time, the momentum, and the stream detoured every morning since Peter’s death into that garden, and even through the darkest storms and driest spells, the flowers glowed like the honeyed sun in the west.

The wedding was held at a small inn with only close friends and family—for Time had not yet become accustomed to weddings such as his—and despite the bliss of that day, Michael maintained throughout his entire marriage that the day he made the promise was the happiest of his entire life. 

Perhaps it was the joy of that bygone day which ignited the agency within Michael to paddle, ever so slightly, in the stream. Indeed, on this day he veered from the course that Time had planned, and stepped into the café he had revisited only in his memories for the past five decades.

He approached the oak counter, noting how much it had splintered and worn since he last stopped by, and pushed his glasses close to his eyes to make out the dusty menu hanging on a rusted chain that clinged to the warped planks in the ceiling. He ordered a small black coffee, his advanced palette and age making him prefer nothing else, especially not the café’s signature amalgamation of sugar and caffeine he loved in his youth, and looked around the room for the table where he sat all those years ago. When he spotted it, he saw that a young gentleman and lady had already occupied it, and at the same moment the man said something to the lady that he couldn’t hear but could deduce by his rosy cheeks and her coy smile was charming. Having little alternative, Michael claimed the table in the corner that gave him an unobstructed view of the entire restaurant. 

He tended to his drink, which had cooled to the temperature he liked, and took in the scenery. He admired the embroidered cushions on the wooden chairs that had once been able to return to their full volume after being sat upon, as well as the stained floorboards that crescendoed from silence to a loud groan when the patrons stepped on top of them, then unspooled the memory of this very day all those years ago, reminiscing in sentimental tranquility about the promise he accepted; and at infrequent intervals he glanced over at the couple, who evolved from giving playful touches and fleeting looks to meeting hands across the table, then to sitting on the same side of the table, finally to leaving the table arm-in-arm.

As they walked through the door that no longer held on as firmly to the frame as it did long ago, a young man hurriedly maneuvered around them and up to the counter with his hands shoved deeply into his pockets. Michael didn’t notice him until he plopped himself down at the table where the couple sat, setting down a beverage in a decorative mug topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and various syrups that nearly spilled over the lip and onto the stack of paper he placed beside it. Michael looked long and with great interest at the young man, not with a sense of personal interest, rather, intellectual interest, as if he were a specimen to be studied. It was the way he sat down and immediately started scribbling note after note, crumpling and tossing each one in sequence into the nearby trash can that caused Michael to stare at him; though it appeared none of the other guests paid any mind to the young man, whose pad of paper was rapidly thinning. The young man’s dexterity was unparalleled, the torn scraps whipped around him and fell like petals from a wisteria tree that glimmered in the bright spring sunlight of the incandescent lightbulb overhead. He intermittently stilled his pen to take in mouthfuls of his drink, spilling most of it down his throat and the remainder onto his face and shirt. Michael examined his features, curious as to why he seemed so metaphysical, like someone he had once seen in a dream, vaguely recognizable and perceptible.

When his pad was exhausted with nothing to show for it, he huffed loud enough to turn a few other heads in his direction, then got up and returned his mug to the server, nearly hurtling it over the edge of the counter in his haste. He shoved through the front door and the restaurant fell silent yet again.

Michael, having seen and remembered enough, drank the last sip of his now-cold coffee and wiped up the streaks that had formed on the lip and down the side of his mug. As he stood to leave, he spied a plain brown box no bigger than a matchbook resting on the chair where the young man sat. It rattled as he picked it up and deposited it into his front shirt pocket; he hoped he would see the young man again and be able to return it. He refrained from looking inside out of respect for the young man’s privacy, though the sound of what he guessed to be something metallic in the unassuming box tempted him. It beckoned and sang, “Open me… Let the revelation I bear inside me change you… I will show you magnificence and miracles…”

Refusing to yield, he stepped outside the café and deeply inhaled the April breeze sweetened by the freshly-bloomed daffodils. He scanned the area, believing that the young man would be just outside, but he was alone out there on the sidewalk. He set off again, paddling even harder, toward the park where he rested before going to meet Peter on that day. As he wandered, so too did his mind. Eventually, his thoughts returned to his grief, the depression that was tied around his agency like an anchor. 

It was the abruptness of it all that plagued him most. Michael wondered, if he had taken an additional moment to kiss him before he left, if he had called to ask whether he wanted red or white sauce with his pasta for dinner, if he had done something, anything, to disrupt or delay him, would Peter have been fine? 

None of those happened, so the inevitable did. At one moment he was at the top of the stairs, at another he was at the bottom, and at some moment in between he passed. It was neither glamorous nor gruesome, his death, it was just a plain accident. Though he wasn’t there to see it, Michael felt his husband’s soul depart; it made him pause for just a beat and ponder what had changed, until the phone rang later that afternoon and turned his musing into misery. The world moved on without so much as stopping to glance at Peter’s broken body on the floor, and Michael broke so badly he stopped moving through Time and let himself be carried, like a sobbing child being dragged away by his parents from his dropped ice cream cone. Hardly was Peter’s body cold before the funeral was arranged, his body was tossed into the ground, and Michael returned home to extra leftovers and an unbalanced bed.

Peter’s sister took care of the arrangements. Michael met her once, maybe twice if the time she nearly knocked him over while she trudged toward the eggnog that one Christmas counted, but she never cared to develop her relationship with him so he reciprocated. He invited her to the wedding but she never came; in lieu of attendance she mailed him and Peter a bouquet of flowers with a postcard addressed to “Peter and Michelle.” The bundle of half-wilted roses and droopy daisies made the trash bin smell beautiful that week. During the funeral she spoke at length about how her brother was in “the place he deserved to be” and that he was finally free of “that horrible curse.” Michael didn’t know what she meant, but assumed she was referring to Peter’s constant misfortune, which he did not doubt contributed to his husband’s accident. 

The currents carried him to the large tree where he sat that day. His back could no longer handle sitting on the uneven ground, so he just stood underneath the canopy and watched the light flash between the ocean leaves that ebbed and flowed like the tides in the breeze. 

Michael would have reminisced under the tree until the street lamps lit if he hadn’t let his gaze listlessly wander around the park, taking in the serene landscape piece by piece, appreciating each component for its contribution toward the whole, eventually landing on a figure walking with great determination in the far reaches of his vision. Adjusting his glasses and squinting, he was able to see that the figure was, in fact, the young man from the café. He looked devastated, and kept ruffling through his front pockets, turning them inside out and looking all over the ground. Michael guessed that he was looking for the box, so he started marching toward the young man.

He walked toward him as quickly as his cane and fragile bones allowed, calling out to him that he had something the young man had misplaced, but the young man receded at the same pace as if he were glued to the horizon or the Future, in a place observable but not occupiable. He chased him as far as he could, until the young man softly blended into his surroundings, melding and mixing with the shrubbery, then fading into the distance like a ghost receding into the walls of the house he haunted. 

His stamina expired, he found a nearby bench and sat to catch his breath. Then, muffled by the fabric of his pocket, the box called to him again. It beckoned and sang, “Open me… Let the revelation I bear inside me change you… I will show you magnificence and miracles…” 

Whether it was due to his paddling or the tendency of the stream to follow along the banks it had dug in the past, Michael found himself just outside the entrance to the trail where he met Peter that day. The wooden arch that separated the trail from the rest of the park had become overgrown with vines and leaves that dangled down into the space that had once been open, so Michael, cautious not to touch the thorns, pushed them out of the way and proceeded down the dirt path. 

He was the only person wandering down the trail, but he was not alone. For Peter’s spirit walked alongside him and took his physical hand in his ghostly hand, uniting what had been severed by Time’s indiscrimination. They meandered through the drooping branches of the surrounding trees until Michael unthinkingly stepped on a patch of daffodils and filled the air with the sweet aroma of crushed petals; and Peter rose from the ground into the honeyed western sky where he could wait for Michael to be carried to him by the stream. 

With a new sense of peace, Michael smiled toward the sunset and waved. Goodbye or hello, both were correct. He continued down the trail, leaving behind the patch of trampled daffodils.

As he walked, he felt the anchor loosen with every step. The stream, in which he had once been a twig, gently slowed its currents and emptied into a lake, one where the surface remained perfectly still. He floated to a stop in the middle of the water, sending a delicate wave in the same direction, which tapered and eventually merged with the surface of the lake. He looked out in every direction, seeing here a little house with a lovely porch overlooking the water, and there a bakery with fresh pastries cooling on the windowsill, and everywhere a myriad of daffodils. Here, he was free from Time.

When he had just begun to walk down the bend away from the broken daffodils, Michael heard a familiar huff come from someone behind him. He turned and saw the young man from the café. 

The young man still ruffled through his front pockets, and when he realized they were truly empty, tears welled in his eyes. 

Then, from his pocket, the box called to him, the loudest it could possibly call. It beckoned and sang, “Open me… Let the revelation I bear inside me change you… I will show you magnificence and miracles…” 

He knew now to open the box, and inside he saw exactly what he had deduced had been in there the whole time. He took out the necklace and, taking great care not to step on a branch or disturb a shrub, tiptoed silently toward the young man. Coming as close as he could while avoiding detection, Michael slipped the necklace into the young man’s back pocket, then tiptoed to where he could observe him without being seen himself.

The young man must’ve felt the tickle of the necklace as it entered his pocket, because he reached back and removed it, sighing with relief when he admired its lustrous gold and deep sapphires. 

Then, from around the far corner of the trail, another young man approached whom Michael knew quite well.

“Michael!”

“Peter!”

Michael returned the box to his pocket, turned away from the pair, then swam.

November 11, 2022 20:45

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4 comments

Marty B
06:55 Nov 17, 2022

Good story! IMO the paragraph 'He was wed ...' would be a good beginning to connect to the end and show the stakes of the story. 'Time is not an arrow..' paragraph is strong but dense for the beginning.

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Jacob Brown
19:37 Nov 18, 2022

Thank you! I really appreciate the feedback :)

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Michał Przywara
07:15 Nov 20, 2022

An intriguing story! Time grows soft, through the power of love lost. But it seems the very loss of the love is what sent him to the café, and ultimately to give himself the necklace, and so it's also love found. This is a neat premise. It's also a great metaphor, since the longer we live, the more memories we have to get lost in, isn't it? And so we spend our days time travelling, in a sense. But holy crap, that sister sounds vicious. Critique-wise, I'm inclined to agree with Marty B. Starting off with exposition is a risky thing. It can...

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Jacob Brown
18:19 Nov 20, 2022

I'm glad you liked it! Really appreciate the feedback :)

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