“Yeah, can I talk to, uh, Ben?”

            “Hi, yeah—this is Ben.”

            “Okay, it’s just… I kind of thought you’d be here tonight. You know, celebrating a little.”

            “Sorry, who is this?

            “Uh, Theo? We’re in homeroom together? Or, I guess, we WERE in homeroom together.”


            “Oh, you know; tall guy, devastatingly handsome, has a purple streak—”

            “Okay, right!”

            “—in his hair? Okay, cool; I knew you knew me. I’m a memorable guy.”

            “Sure, but…”

“Anyway, I’m just calling because I was surprised. You know, that you skipped out. That you’re not here. Like, isn’t it kind of mandatory? You graduate, you sit around in your backyard with Grandpa Joe and Grandma Gert, eating sheet cake off those crappy little paper plates, everybody asking you, hey, what’s next, kid? Like you’re supposed to have everything figured out. And when they’ve all shuffled off to the old folks’ home and the bingo parlor and the cemetery, you head right back to the place you’ve just gotten finished with and they load EVERYBODY onto a bus and next thing you know, you’re on a boat, just circling the lake all night. And everybody’s loud and nostalgic and talking about how they can’t wait to leave and how much they’re going to miss everybody. And all the couples that never quite got around to being couples, well, they take their shot.”            


            “Then they make everybody eat breakfast at four in the morning and watch a magician—because what do high school graduates love more than a fucking magician? And your parents pick you up and you sit there in the passenger seat all the way home, your head all bleary. Thinking, wow. It’s time for the rest of my life.”

            “Hold on. You’re on a boat?”


            “Wait, really? They have a phone there?”

            “I mean, I’m practically on a boat. We’re at the dock and they’re taking forever to actually let anybody on. And there’s a payphone next to the bathrooms, so I decided I’d call you up, find out what was so fucking thrilling that you skipped all this.”

            “I mean, I’m watching TV.”

            “What? What are you watching?


            “You skipped Project Graduation because you just couldn’t miss an episode of Profiler? Seriously?”

            “What? No! It’s just on!”

            “Damn. I didn’t even know Profiler HAD superfans.”

            “No, I skipped because who wants to be stuck on a boat for six hours with all your old high school classmates?”

            “Uh, well, all your old high school classmates, for starters.”


            “Oh, I’m pulling your chain. I just thought, I don’t know, that you’d be here. That we’d get to talk a little. Figure out what each other’s deals were, right? And maybe…”


            “…take our shot, you know? Find some hidden-away spot on the top deck or down where they keep the bus, sit next to each other. Talk. Tell each other about our childhoods and shit. And if things get quiet—but like the good kind of quiet—I thought maybe I’d tell you that you could touch the streak in my hair, find out how soft it is.”

            “Is it really soft?”

            “Dude, it’s just hair. It feels like hair. But you have to lean in nice and close to see it well, and once you were right in there, running your hand through my hair, it’d be no big thing to kiss you.”


            “Is that all you’re going to say? ‘Oh?’ Like I told you I just bought a dirtbike?”


            “Oh. Ben?”


            “Are you touching yourself?”


            “That’s so hot.”

            “Are… you?”

            “I’m on a payphone in the middle of the marina: of course I’m not touching myself!”

            “Sorry, that’s a stupid—”

            “But if I weren’t in the middle of the marina, you know I would be.”


“Yeah, really. Jesus. You know how many quarters I’ve put in this fucking phone? It’s killing me that you’re not here.”


“Well what?”

“…what are you doing tomorrow?”

“Sleeping until like ten at night! I told you—they’re making us go see a fucking magician at 6 a.m.!”

“Okay, but after that. When you get up?”

“…I don’t know. What are you doing?”



            “I miss you.”

            “Oh, you just miss my cock.”

            “Well, sure—that, too.”

            “Knew it! But seriously: what’s up, kid? You all moved in?”

            “Yeah, pretty much. My folks are out trying to find a minifridge that’ll actually fit under this tiny desk, and I keep changing my mind about what poster gets the place of honor over my bed—”

            “Got to be the Bowie, right?”

            “I am leaning that way, yes.”

            “What about the roommate? Have you met him yet?”


            “…is he cute?”

“Yes. But it’s not like I’m looking.”

“Oh, when he’s changing in front of you, I bet you’ll be looking.”

“Theo! This isn’t a sorority movie, okay? He’s just some guy from Iowa. I’ve got you, he’s got some girl from his hometown who sewed him a quilt that’s all monogrammed with their initials and they’re planning to get married and have like 70 babies the moment he graduates. So whether or not I look at his dick, there’s nothing to worry about, okay?”


“Come on, I’ve got everything I need with you.”

“I know.”

“What about you? What are you up to?”

“Up to? It’s like midnight here—I’m just about to brush up.”

“Right. Sorry, I keep forgetting about the time difference. But things are good at the sandwich shop?”

“They’re all right. My boss is still kind of being a bitch, though. Like, who knew that two-dollar bills were a real thing? It was an honest mistake!”


“Anyway, sorry to vent.”

“It’s fine! I asked!”


“But the thing is, I kind of need to head out. They’re having, like, a welcome mixer for all the freshman and I feel like I should probably go.”


“But I’ll call you tomorrow!”

“Okay. Have fun.”

“Thanks, I’ll try! Sleep well, babe.”

“Well, I’ll try…”



“Hey, what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? You haven’t called me in, like, eight days. Are you still coming?”



“It’s just, the country’s so big. And you know I hate buses.”

“You were the one who wanted to take the bus! I offered to help pay for a flight!”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember. High-roller throwing around his work-study money. Thank god he’s there to help out his no-account boyfriend, who can’t even keep a job making fucking sandwiches! It’s a BLT; it’s not hard. Like, who can’t make a BLT? And it turns out the answer is: this guy.”


“I’m sorry—I’m just a fucking mess right now, you know? Even if I could afford it, I’d be terrible company.”

“I don’t care; I really want to see you. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, kid.”





“Look, this was never going to work, and I should have known it from the fucking start. We sit next to each other for a whole year, never say a goddamn word, and then, after one phone call, I suddenly think that I’m in love, that this is some swing-for-the-fences, long-haul kind of thing; like you can be a fuck-up for nineteen straight years and then just fall ass-backwards into something perfect—”

“Listen, Theo…”

“—but life’s not like that, not really. Looking back, I don’t even know how I ignored the central obvious problem here: you leaving. I mean, you were leaving from day one, moment one; you were leaving before we ever fucked or kissed or even spoke, and there was never anything I could have done about it, right? You had California in your eyes and that was all you could fucking see.”

“Theo, are you… high?”

“I’m fucking sick of it. You don’t love me—if you did, you never would have been able to leave. And if I really loved you, I never would have LET you leave. So this is really for the best, for both of us, whatever you might think. And I don’t know why I’m so concerned about your delicate fucking feelings, like it’s more important for me to be quiet and polite and thoughtful than to be real with you, like it’s not fucking suffocating to hold things in and in and in, until you feel like you’re going to goddamn explode, until there’s nothing left inside of you EXCEPT for all that stuff!”

“I never—”

“Yeah, that’s right! You NEVER let me be me, okay? You snuck me into your house like a secret, like somebody you were ashamed to be seen with—sure, you’re happy to take my cock in your ass, but god forbid you treat me like an actual boyfriend.”

“Theo, are you serious? I brought you to my mom’s birthday.”

“And look, I’ve got to go. My hands are, like, shaking, and my heart is beating and beating, and I think I’ve pretty much said everything that I had to say. So, goodbye.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Goodbye? Just like that?”

“Just like that. Goodbye.”


            “Uh, hello? Who is this?

            “Hey there, stranger.”


            “You got it, kid. Look, I know it’s been kind of a long time—”

            “It’s been a year.”

            “—but I don’t know, you’ve been on my mind a lot lately. And I was thinking, you know, what’s that crazy kid up to these days? So I thought I’d call, just to check in. Like, I know you’re probably still doing the college thing, living that California life. Acing tests and shit, the way you always used to, hanging poolside—”

            “You know I don’t know how to swim.”

            “Still? Man, you should get on that. Anyway, if I know you, you’re all amped up about studying abroad, trying to pick between Germany, because you got that family over there, and some place that’s new and exotic like Colombia or Thailand or some shit. And you’ve been thinking about me and how it all went down because you’re worrying about leaving your new guy back in Cali for six whole months—and you do have a new guy, right?”


            “And he’s that super-Christian guy who was going to have all those babies, right?”


            “And you’re kind of worried that while you’re off living it up in Bogota, he’s going to be babymaking with a bunch of other guys…”

            “Farley loves me; he wouldn’t do that.”

            “Farley? Dude, of course that’s his fucking name. You two probably spend your school breaks at his family’s rustic goddamn cabin in Idaho—”


            “—just riding around on sailboats and making cocktails on the porch and, like, foxhunting, or whatever guys named Farley do in their spare fucking time.”

            “Why are you even calling?”

            “What, I can’t call? You’re too busy with Farley and his starched-collar family to talk to me for a few minutes?”

            “I was fucking worried about you, asshole! Your parents called me, said they couldn’t find you, didn’t know where you were. They thought you were dead! I thought you were dead! And now you just ring me up like nothing happened, like it’s no big deal, and you start giving me shit about my new boyfriend—who is a TOTAL sweetheart, by the way—like I’m the one who broke up with you. Like I’m the one who fucked somebody else when we were together…”

            “Kid, if you’d seen the ass on that guy, you would have done exactly the same thing.”

            “That’s bullshit, and you know—”

            “Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t have, but you would have fucking WANTED to.”

            “…Theo, where are you?”

            “Where do you think? Still back home. Chilling. You know, it’s pretty crazy to think that we’re talking right now like we’re sitting across from each other at that booth at Lucky’s, but really there’s, like, thousands of miles betwen us, all those cities and highways and mountains, the Mississippi, the Continental Divide, the Grand fucking Canyon, and the only thing tying all this together is a wire the size of, like, a shoelace that’s stretched the whole fucking way.”

            “Seriously, where are you? I can hear people shouting and… do your parents know that you’re okay?”

            “They know, all right? Don’t go pretending that you’re, like, some family friend who’s just concerned for my parents’ wellbeing. You’ve never even met them, all right? You’re not their son-in-law or something; you’re just somebody I used to fuck. And don’t forget that YOU were the one who used to beg for more, who used to cry because it was so good.”

            “…I loved you. You don’t need to piss all over that, okay?”



            “Hey, I’m sorry, kid. I was just pulling your chain a little. Talking about the past gets me all keyed up sometimes, but I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Anyway, I got to bounce. I’m almost out of phone time and they get real cranky here if you go over.”

            “They? Who’s ‘they,’ Theo? Where are you really?”

            “We’ll talk soon, kid. Promise.”



            “I know it’s been a while, and I haven’t been the most together, or the most open about what’s going on with me—”

            “Theo? Is that you?”

            “Listen, I’ve been going through a lot of shit, which we can talk about another time, but going through that shit made me realize some things. Like, I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to the way I can talk to you. And also that I was an ass to you—like, repeatedly. Constantly. And that you would have been well within your rights to just hang up on me, or refuse to take my calls…”

            “You always call from a blocked number!”

            “Just, just let me finish, all right? I’m trying to say that it means a lot. You’ve been real decent with me, and you didn’t have to do that. Any of that. You’re a good person, a kind person—I wish I knew how to be as good to me as you are. It used to kill me to sit in my shitty little room in my parents’ basement, thinking about you off in California, living it up in some beautiful fucking dorm with Spanish fucking tiles on the roof, but now it feels right. Like we’ve each gotten what we deserved. And maybe that’s okay. I don’t need the things you have, the life you live, and if anybody should be living it, it’s you.”


“Don’t think I ever stopped loving you, okay? Because I haven’t.”

“Theo, where are you?”

“Still with that guy?”

“No. Not for a while.”

“I’m downstairs. At the payphone by the front door.”

“…I’ll be right there.”


T.B. GRENNAN was born in Vermont, lives in Brooklyn, and once read the entirety of Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus while stuck on a delayed plane. His writing has appeared in The Indiana Review, The Seventh Wave, TIMBER, and Spaces We Have Known, an anthology of LGBT+ fiction. The initial drafts of Grennan’s piece, ‘Cross-Country,’ were written during his participation in New York’s Hypergraphic Writers Workshop.