“You sure about this, son?” Harlan raised a dubious eyebrow as he inspected a carryout box. He peeked in a container.
“It’s Friday,” Adam said sadly. “I try new things for dinner on Friday.”
Harlan watched as Adam fiddled with his tablet, cueing up his episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. “Since when?”
“Nigel said it would be good to try new things once a week, at home. Where I can throw it out and make my food if I don’t like it.”
Harlan frowned, but nodded. “So, what are we eating?”
Harlan opened the container again. “Looks like mac n cheese.”
Adam tilted his head. “But it’s German, I think that counts.”
Harlan smiled, spooning the cheesy noodles on plates. “You, uh, you talked to him since the interview?”
Adam shook his head. “N-no. He doesn’t- He got his things and left.”
He hadn’t seen Nigel since the older man had left him on the street outside their interview. He’d phoned once, asking if Nigel wanted to have dinner. He received a text an hour later, telling him that Nigel had plans. Adam had thrown his phone and spent the next hour repairing it while humming quietly to himself. Nigel’s song served as a reminder that Nigel did get something out of their time together. That maybe Nigel hadn’t been faking the whole time.
“I’m sorry, Adam.”
"It’s OK. It was never a real marriage." Adam’s mouth ticked into a smile; he knew people reacted better when you smiled at them. “Just because I liked him sexually doesn’t mean he desired me that way. I don’t always read people well.”
Harlan reached out to pat Adam on the shoulder, but stopped when he saw Adam brace himself. “Well, now that you aren’t busy being fake married, why don’t you and I make some time, try to find you a job.”
Adam looked up from his noodles. “I got a job.”
Adam frowned. “Dr. Voss called Monday. She liked my specs. I start with Interorbital Systems January 2.”
“Jesus, Adam, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just did.” Adam went back to eating his noodles, poking at them speculatively before forking them into his mouth. “I don’t like this. I think I’m going to have mac n cheese.”
“Well send your kay-special my way.” Harlan smiled.
Adam handed him the plate and waited for Harlan to scrape the noodles off. He took the plate to the sink and washed it before retrieving his mac n cheese from the freezer.
“I’m really proud of you, son.” Harlan shoveled some of the noodles into his mouth. “You dad would be proud too.”
“OK.” Adam went back to pressing buttons on the microwave. He started humming as he waited for the food to heat.
“Hi Beth.” Adam waved as he sat his laundry basket next to the free washer. He tugged at his t-shirt, a soft green cotton with the word Hangry and a dinosaur emblazoned across the front. For days, it smelled of Nigel. Now, it just made Adam remember.
“Y-you’re talking to me?” Beth looked shocked, taking a step back from Adam. He wondered if she was still mad about Nigel yelling at her while naked.
“Yes, I thought you said you weren’t mad at me anymore, after I fixed your sound system?” Nigel had come with him that day, offering to help Adam with the wiring. He had laughed when Nigel shocked himself and called the wires sparking cunts.
“I-I just thought after the interview-”
“Oh, yes.” Adam added soap to the machine. “That was disappointing.”
“You’re not mad?” Beth stepped closer, squinting.
“I’m sad. I miss him.” Adam moved back; he didn’t like the feeling of her scrutiny. His eyes flitted across her face for a moment before settling over her shoulder. “But it’s OK. Sometimes life is disappointing.”
Beth laughed, a soft huff of air. “I didn’t think – I…thank you, Adam.”
Adam cocked his head. “For what?”
Beth stepped forward and hugged him. He flinched, keeping his shoulders tensed while she pressed into him. His nose filled with a light floral scent and he remembered he didn’t like the way her perfume smelled. He missed the way coffee and nicotine lingered in the air when Nigel hugged him.
“Thank you for being you.” Beth pulled back. “Now that you’re done with the whole marriage thing, do you want to maybe grab some dinner? Talk about it?”
Adam studied Beth’s face. She was still very pretty, and she was smiling and blushing – but he had to be sure. “Are you suggesting we resume dating?”
She rolled her eyes, but continued smiling. “Yes, weirdo.”
“I’m sorry, but I think I’m more interested in sex with Nigel.” Adam smiled as he disentangled from her arms. He offered her a light pat on the shoulder. “You were very satisfactory in bed, though. Please don’t take my rejection as a criticism.”
Adam offered Beth a short nod, starting the washing machine and leaving the laundry room.
The knock interrupted Adam as he poured out his bran. He frowned for a moment, wondering who would be bothering him during breakfast. When the polite knock was replaced by a loud banging, Adam’s heart hammered in his chest.
Maybe it was Nigel?
Maybe Nigel came back? Maybe the last two weeks had been a mistake.
Adam flung the door open. His face fell. “Oh, hello Mr. Dal- Darko.”
Darko smiled. “Hey Adam.”
“I-is there something wrong with the building?”
“No,” Darko shook his head, holding up a small stack of papers and a zip drive. “I, uh, I came to give you this, from Nigel.”
Adam took the drive, setting it carefully on the small table by the door before studying the papers. They were sheet music. The title Stargazer was scrawled across the top in Nigel’s handwriting.
“His song!” Adam looked up smiling. “I-can you ask Nigel to come play it? I don’t know how to read sheet music. I’d like to hear it now that it’s finished.”
Darko’s face changed. Adam didn’t understand what had happened, but he knew something had shifted. “He, uh, he can’t. He’s leaving today.”
“Leaving?” Adam’s stomach twisted. “Did he get a gig?”
Darko shook his head. “The country, Adam. He’s being deported.”
“Deported?” Adam blinked; he felt like he’d been slapped.
“Yeah, he didn’t want you to know, thought you’d worry.” Darko licked his lips. “He just wanted you to have this. To know, that he lov- uh, appreciated you and everything you did for him. It meant the world to him, Adam.”
“I-I don’t understand.” Adam’s fingers twitched, then started tapping. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Look, kid, I swore I’d wait until he was gone to give this to you, but that didn’t feel right. I-I thought maybe you’d want to say goodbye.” Darko tilted his head. “Please fucking tell me I’m right.”
“Where is he?” Adam could feel panic coiling cold and hard in his chest.
Darko smiled. “Get your fucking coat, I’ll take you to him.”
Adam tapped the whole cab ride, feeling anxiety build in his chest. He knew Darko was talking to him, but it was all Adam could do to draw air into his lungs.
This was a mistake. Nigel leaving was a horrible mistake.
He could fix it. As long as he got to Nigel, Adam could fix this.
He didn’t wait for the cab to park or Darko to pay, scrambling onto the sidewalk and hurrying toward the doors of the Citizenship and Immigration Services office. He stopped when he saw a small group of people being led toward a waiting black van.
He scanned the group and froze when he saw a familiar neck tattoo peeking above a scarf.
“NIGEL!” Adam ran, his heart pounding as he raced to his husband. He still had time.
“Sir! SIR! STOP RIGHT THERE.” Hands were holding onto his arms, dragging Adam back. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see Nigel. He tried to cry out but made nothing but abortive choking noises – the hands felt like they were closing in around him.
“GET OFF OF HIM!”
Adam dropped to the ground. Released, but still in the cold grip of panic, he rocked, his vision blurry. He was immediately enveloped in strong arms, the scent of stale coffee and nicotine filling his nose. Adam inhaled in great gluts, taking as much of Nigel into him as he could.
“Shhhh...It’s OK, gorgeous.” Nigel’s breath was warm against Adam’s ear. “Breathe for me Adam. Just breathe.”
“Get up, Belea!” Adam felt Nigel being tugged from him and forced his hands to work, gripping as tightly as he could to the Romanian’s back and arm.
“Give them a minute.” It sounded like Mr. Price, but Adam couldn’t be sure as he burrowed deeper into Nigel’s chest.
Adam’s ears were still ringing when Nigel started humming, the music starting as a faint rumble in the older man’s chest until Adam realized what it was.
Adam closed his eyes and let himself sink into the music, Nigel’s melody letting him breathe as Adam slowly came back to himself. When the song ended, Adam could find the air again, his chest heaving painfully.
“There we go,” Nigel whispered softly, fingers combing through Adam’s hair. “Let me see those pretty blue eyes one more time, huh?”
Adam opened his eyes, his gut twisting when he saw Nigel’s smile.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Adam’s fingers dug harder into Nigel’s bicep and back.
“I didn’t want you to blame yourself, gorgeous,” Nigel’s voice was rough so close to Adam’s ear.
“Of course I don’t blame myself! I answered all the questions perfectly.” Adam pulled back, brows furrowed over teary blue eyes. “What did you get wrong?”
Nigel laughed, dipping to press his forehead to Adam’s. “It all got fucked up. I-I just wanted to do the right thing for once in my fucking life.”
“Y-you sh-should have told me. We could have fixed it.” Adam blinked, two new tears trailing after the others. “We can still fix it.”
Adam looked up at Mr. Price. “I love him. I-I want to stay married to him. He’s my husband. Please, he has to stay.”
Adam’s breath started getting reedy again, his fingers tapping against Nigel’s body. He heard the humming again, and let himself be lulled.
“It’s for the best, Adam. It’s OK.” Adam could feel Nigel’s lips against his ear. Nigel gripped Adam tighter. “My darling love.”
Adam heard footsteps and looked to find Mr. Price and two other men standing over them. Adam took Nigel’s face in his hands.
“Do you love me?”
Nigel looked up, and Adam realized there were tears in his eyes too. He nodded once. “Yeah. Yeah, I fucking do.”
Adam pressed forward, kissing Nigel with everything that he had. After a moment of shock, Nigel melted into the gesture, parting his lips and fitting himself closer to Adam’s body. Nigel tasted of coffee and his morning cigarette, Adam savored it, memorizing the taste of his husband.
Above them a throat cleared. Adam looked up to see Mr. Price. “I’m sorry, but we need to leave. Now, Mr. Belea.”
Nigel caught Adam’s chin, guiding him into one more soft kiss. He stood, dragging Adam upright with him. Nigel smiled, brushing soft fingers through Adam’s curls. When Nigel took a step back, Adam threw himself forward.
“NO!” Adam clung to Nigel’s arms, trying to embed himself into the older man. “You can’t go. I don’t want a divorce. I want to s-stay married! I want to stay married to you!”
Nigel swiped at his eyes before pulling a chain from around his neck. On it were the two cheap bands they had exchanged months ago. Nigel wrapped a hand around the rings and yanked, snapping the chain. “We are fucking married, Adam. ‘Til Death do us fucking part.”
Nigel held up the smaller ring. Adam smiled, tears spilling down his face as he held out his hand. Nigel slipped the ring on Adam’s finger, kissing it when it sank into place on Adam’s hand.
“You keep that there. I’ll find a way back to you.” He kissed Adam’s knuckles again. “No matter what it takes, I fucking will.”
Adam sobbed once, grabbing the other ring in Nigel’s hand with shaking fingers. He slid the ring onto Nigel’s hand, smiling through his tears. “You love me.”
“I do.” Nigel leaned in and kissed Adam one more time, slow and sweet. “Go home with Darko, gorgeous. I’ll call you when I get where I’m going.”
Adam let go of Nigel, nodding his head as he clutched at his middle, rocking. “O-OK. C-call me. I-I don’t care when. E-even during dinner…I’ll answer.”
Nigel smiled tears falling down his face as the men in suits lead him backwards toward the transportation van. Adam stayed rooted to the spot, rocking long after the van had driven from sight. He jumped when a soft hand landed on his shoulder.
“Come on, kid,” Darko said. “Let’s get you home.”
Adam let Darko take him home and settle him on the sofa in the living room. Tears streamed down his face as he stared into nothing. Vaguely, he could hear Darko in his kitchen, the sounds of dishes clicking together and soft murmuring. When the man returned with tea, Adam accepted it, holding the hot mug in his hand.
“I know this is bad, Adam,” Darko sat close, but was careful not to touch him. “But, there’s an appeal process. Hell, that immigration prick might even testify for you. He looked pretty upset when he took Nigel.”
Adam nodded. He was supposed to nod to acknowledge when people talked.
“I called my girl,” Darko tried again. “Her cousin is some big deal lawyer in DC. She’s gonna call him, see what he suggests.”
Adam blinked, and nodded again. Darko shifted on the couch, hands coming up to touch Adam and stopping suddenly. Adam didn’t like the feeling of Darko watching him, it made the knots in his stomach tighten.
“Look, kid, I don’t know what to do.” Darko sounded tired. “You want me to call your dad’s friend? You have his number?”
Adam shook his head. “N-no. I th-think I’d just like you to leave, please.”
“Adam, are you going to-”
“I’ll be OK.” Adam glanced at Darko, eyes connecting for a breath before flitting away. “I won’t hurt myself or break anything. I just don’t like people watching me when I’m upset.”
Darko sighed. “Me either, kid.”
The older man stood, heading to the door.
“I-If you’re free, maybe you and Bev should come to dinner?”
“Sure, man, name the date and we’ll be here.”
“OK.” Adam smiled, his eyes still watery. “I think Nigel would like it if I got to know his friends.”
Darko grinned. “He’d love it.”
Adam dropped his eyes back to his tea, studying it as it cooled in his hands. He heard the door close and looked up to find himself alone. Fear and panic started to claw at him again, the enormity of never seeing Nigel again looming large over him. He took deep breaths.
Nigel loved him.
Nigel wanted to stay married.
Adam could feel the weight of the small band on his finger, the slight pressure a reminder that Nigel was coming back to him.
When the ceramic turned cold in his hands, Adam stood, dumping out the tea and carefully washing the mug. When it was clean and stored properly, Adam went to the refrigerator and retrieved some coffee. He made a pot, just as he had done every morning since Nigel left. For a few minutes, it felt as if Nigel was in the other room, and that the smell of fresh coffee might draw him, sleep rumpled and muttering, in to the kitchen. Adam would leave the coffee in the carafe until the smell of caffeine turned stale, then dump the brown liquid down the drain.
As the pot started to fill, Adam inhaled deeply. He couldn’t remember why he’d ever hated the smell of coffee.
Adam didn’t remember the zip drive on the hall table until he was picking his way through dinner. He abandoned his cold noodles to retrieve the small drive. He studied it quietly as he forked a few more bites into his mouth.
It contained only one file, a video.
Adam bit his lip as he pressed play, smiling when Nigel’s unfocused mouth filled the screen.
“Just fucking stay up, you fucking cunt.” Nigel muttered as the camera shook. “Fucker.”
The camera fell over. Adam realized it must have been Nigel’s phone. He laughed softly as Nigel continued to struggle with it for a few seconds before giving up and stepping back. Adam cocked his head to adjust for the slightly crooked angle.
Nigel was wearing the tuxedo shirt from their Valentine’s Day photo, he was in a small apartment that Adam didn’t recognize. It was neat and filled with bright colors and furniture. Nigel smiled at the camera, running a hand through his hair. He looked tired and his eyes were sad. Adam’s heart raced at the sight.
“Hi, gorgeous,” Nigel said, smile twisting into something sad. “I- uh, I know you didn’t always like my music, but I thought you should know that I wrote this for you. I, fuck, where’s the fucking sheet mus-”
A smiling woman hopped in front of the frame, handing Nigel a stack of papers. She paused, turning to the camera and offering a little wave and smile before walking out of frame. Adam recognized her from the picture on Darko’s desk. He made a note to talk to Darko tomorrow and set up a dinner date. Adam wanted to ask her if Nigel slept naked when he stayed with them, or if that was just something he did with Adam.
Nigel stacked the pages onto his keyboard, taking a moment to stretch his neck and flex his fingers. He looked back at the camera. “The sound quality’s shit, darling, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.”
The music started and Adam instantly felt some of the pressure release in his chest. He began tapping on his thighs, keeping time to his song with Nigel. Adam watched as Nigel’s eyes slipped closed, his head bobbing slightly as he played, making the woman on his neck dance. Adam knew he was crying, but he smiled as the tears trailed over his cheeks.
Adam had never been one for metaphors in music or literature. Interpreting people was hard enough without picking apart their use of imagery. But now, alone in his apartment watching the man he loved play their song, Adam could see it. He could see the Draconid meteors in the descending scales. The twitchy disagreements and the nervous laughter in the odd rhythm that drove the song. Crashing dissonant chords for each meltdown, soothed by a lilting melody that Nigel had often hummed in his ear.
It was all there, everything they had experienced together. Nigel’s love letter to him, filled with all the beauty he’d found in their chaos.
He was sobbing by the time the music ended, trying to keep his choked breaths quiet so he wouldn’t miss a note. When Nigel finished, his eyes opened. He smiled again before getting up and approaching the camera. He was close, his face filling the frame.
“I-hope you fucking understand now.” Nigel’s smile faltered. “I hope you get what I never had the balls to sa-”
“Fucking say it now, pussy!” Adam smiled at Darko’s voice. He laughed when Nigel turned to glare out of the frame.
“I’m trying to you fuck! Make your own fucking video!” Nigel turned back, his cheeks flushed. “I know I fucked up your life, and your routines. But I’m not sorry. I’ll never be sorry for getting to love you. Just for a little while.”
Adam touched the screen, Nigel’s face a blur through his tears.
The screen went black.
Adam closed his eyes, letting the tears come as he struggled for air. He hit play and watched the video again. He didn’t know how long he sat in the living room, hitting repeat and listening to Nigel declare his love with a cheap keyboard, but each cycle through the video chipped away at the grip anxiety had on his chest.
He was smiling faintly, fingers tapping along with Nigel, when he heard his cell ring. He glanced at the clock – 2am. Adam made a grab for the phone, accepting the call from an unknown number.
“Hi Nigel,” he said, hope blooming warm in his chest when he heard a familiar voice huff a laugh into the speaker.