One of the hardest things about travelling, for Eames, isn't the travelling. He likes travelling, likes new people and sights, likes getting to know a place and find its secrets, likes studying maps and getting lost and winding up in conversations with the drunk guy on the corner. The grimier it is, the hotter, the grittier, the happier Eames is. (Later in his career the opera director people will have fits of terror when they realize Eames has been wandering down that street in that neighbourhood at that hour of the night. But when he's young and mostly unimportant no one really bothers to find out what he's up to when he's not in the hall.)
The thing about getting together with Arthur, Eames finds, is it cuts both ways. On the one hand, there's this gorgeous sense of home, of belonging, of having a pivot point around which the rest of his life unfolds: order and predictability after so many years of neither, and he's surprised how much he likes that for all his wanderlust. But on the other, now there is someone he is always missing. It used to be, when he found the perfect latte or the perfect pocket-sized public park, or the perfect view of the city, it was enough. He used to stand there with the paper cup in his hand, in the little pocket-sized garden, looking down over the rows of buildings and streets like grey running rivers, and Eames would be content, pleased with himself and the world and himself in the world.
But now, but now Eames stands there and rolls the milk foam around his mouth and thinks, helplessly: Arthur would love this. Arthur would love the hibiscus flowers that don't grow in Boston, and he'd love the sunshine and the boutiques and the gold-leaf dome of the city hall. Eames never noticed some of these things before, but it's like he can't help but see what Arthur would see, what Arthur would like. And it's weird that in a city where Arthur's never been, Eames can be reminded of him almost at every turn, wondering which of the smartly dressed men in suits Arthur would admire, what he'd say about this hall's acoustic, how his little finger would brush almost accidentally against the outside of Eames' wrist while they waited around during rehearsal. Eames sits in the opera hall's plush seats and half-listens to the scenes he's not in, trying to invoke the line of Arthur's naked back, the curve of it like the curve of the great chandelier above; and how Eames kisses his way up the inside of Arthur's leg, from his bony hairy ankle, to the cup of his knee, to the soft secret place high inside his thigh. The point of hair at the nape of Arthur's neck, like a little arrow directing Eames' gaze lower. Oh, and the feeling of bracketing Arthur, of containing him, all of him, inside Eames' four limbs, in the cradle of his hips.
The world used to feel massive, endless and full of lovely things Eames hasn't discovered yet, things he'll never see; strangely, loving Arthur and being away from him hasn't made Eames' world yet larger, hasn't stretched thousands of miles into an impossible distance. No, loving Arthur – it's shrunk Eames' world down, compacted it over and over until Eames can honestly say that everything that matters – all love, all joy, all sadness, all fear, all possibility – everything that matters in any way, it's all condensed into Arthur, into Arthur's narrow body, the play of his dimples as Eames hovers over him on all fours and tries not to blurt out everything he's thinking.
"How was San Francisco?" Arthur asks now, the first real question he's asked since Eames' return, the first question that wasn't framed in please and yeah and I just want.
Eames collapses down with no warning, for the pleasure of hearing Arthur go oof and swear at him, for the pleasure of feeling Arthur's solidity, his body's strength, his substantiveness. "There's this place," says Eames, once Arthur has rolled him to the side, half-frowning and half-laughing, "this place, it's a little garden, a park with these yellow flowers, and there's a coffee kiosk."