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by Joe Baumann

When Scout told Clint he was leaving the writing workshop early, Clint expected to feel a transformation start in his ribcage. A cool hardening, crisp, as if he’d swallowed a glass of icy water. Despite years of resistance to heartache, he expected it to strum out from his middle, toward the surface that was muggy with warmth and sweat thanks to the vaporous Louisiana night.

But nothing came. No shiver encasing his torso, no sudden stoniness sinking in as his body slowed. Nothing crept toward his heart, despite the fact that it beat harder and harder.


The workshop took place at a gargantuan house on the edge of an inlet of the Atchafalaya. The drive had been perilous. Clint had gotten lost twice, the GPS in his rental car confused by the rural landscape. The second time he’d dead-ended into a junkyard featuring rusting barrels, two flimsy shacks that looked like they’d been constructed out of flypaper, and an abandoned school bus covered in graffiti, the windows busted out like broken teeth. But then the house, where a dozen writers would spend three weeks in idyllic peace, days unstructured except for two-hour morning meetings to discuss one another’s work for the first week or so, appeared around a sharp bend in the road, emerging like a mirage from the crawfish mounds and canebrakes: three stories, stonework wrapping around columns, thick wooden beams holding up two balconies that ran the entire perimeter, every door swelled to the size—and weight—of a giant. Every surface inside was either dark granite, glossy hardwood, or some kind of expensive leather. The living room featured two flat-screen televisions and a wall of windows looking onto the water. Clint was second-to-last to arrive. His fellow attendees, already gathered on the leather sofas dotting the living room, were all men, all queer. They ranged in age from just out of college to their sixties, Clint right in the middle somewhere.

He was worried he’d be stuck with terrible sleeping quarters, but Paula, the organizer from the non-profit that sponsored the workshop, led him up to the third floor—the second-floor rooms were all taken—and showed him four options, all of which were grandiose, with high ceilings and sleigh beds and private bathrooms. Every room had a pair of French doors leading out onto the balcony. He picked a room that looked out onto the water. He could see well out into the bayou, the crowns of bald cypress and water tupelo glimmering in the evening light.

“Good choice,” she said. Paula was stout, strong-boned in her cheeks with blonde hair gone frizzy in the humidity. Her upturned nose angled slightly to the left as it rose up her face, as if once broken and poorly set. “This room is actually my favorite.” Clint wondered if she said that of all of the rooms. She told him that he could take a few minutes to get settled; they were still waiting on one more writer, and the workshop leader, Thom, hadn’t arrived yet, either, but she’d heard from him: car trouble, now fixed.

Scout was the last arrival, and he came in through the massive front door as Clint was coming down the stairs. Clint was struck immediately: watery blue eyes, short auburn hair and a matching beard, skin covered in freckles, a sinewy frame more muscular than it appeared at first glance. Possibly mistaking Clint for someone from the organization, Scout let go of his rolling suitcase and offered his hand, introducing himself. His voice was a pleasant baritone, with the slightest sing-song lilt, as though he was performing in a Sondheim musical whose cadence had been seriously slowed down but retained a touch of its musicality. The sound was like birdsong in Clint’s ears. He swallowed and took Scout’s hand: warm like fresh bread, smooth as glass.


To be encased, Clint had always thought, was foolishness. Why allow yourself to be open to such sorrow? He’d watched his mother’s hurt slowly engulf her when his father left. Clint was fifteen, his father and mother only thirty-two; Clint knew he’d been unexpected, unplanned, accidental. A trap, of sorts. His mom and dad had managed to stumble through the end of high school and then took turns going to college, both of them starting at the nearby community college before transferring to a mediocre state university on the other side of St. Louis, his dad first, getting an accounting degree that he at least put to decent use, securing a job at a small tax firm that provided solid benefits. Then his mother chose English and snagged a job teaching sleepy seventh and eighth graders. She shared with Clint her love of books, the most important gift he ever received.

They lived a simple suburban life in a two-bedroom ranch house in a quiet neighborhood, a cul-de-sac across the street from the public high school Clint would attend. His parents seemed content, never fighting, his mother making dinner every night, his father clearing the table and washing the dishes, Clint helping with both. Whatever unhappiness was burbling in his father went unbidden until the day Clint walked home from school and found his mother in the living room. She was sobbing as she sat on the end of the couch, body barely rested on the edge of the cushion. A small hailstorm of tissues was clustered at her feet. Somehow, before she managed to gum out the words, Clint knew what had happened.

The calcification of his mother’s heartbreak wouldn’t show for a while. After that first display of sorrow, she put on a strong front, telling Clint they would be fine on their own and who needed his deadbeat father? Clint had never heard such things from his mother, especially not about his father; her voice was flared with something new, sharp and foreign. But she could only keep it up for so long, and soon Clint saw the signs, starting in her gait, her legs gumming up when she walked around the kitchen or up and down the hall. Then her arms, when she stirred pots of sauce or scrubbed at a plate caked with grease: she looked robotic, hitchy. He tried to say something, but his voice caught every time, as if his throat was closing up. But he was angry, not sad. In him, at least, the distinction was clear.

It took two months before she could barely move. Her heartbreak only made Clint angrier. To be hurt that way, to let that kind of pain in, poisoning the body into immobility. He told himself he’d never let it happen to him, no matter what.


Before they could do any more than share their names, Paula came bustling to the entryway and practically dragged Scout up the stairs past Clint. He looked back briefly, his eyes holding something equal parts tender and cartoonish, a pseudo-fear at the whirlwind of information that Paula was throwing at him, the same basics she’d shared with Clint, but this time truncated and spazzy, as if she’d done a bump of cocaine.

Their workshop leader, Thom, finally arrived after darkness had fallen. Paula had gone ahead and served dinner, a huge pot of crawfish gumbo that filled the house with the smells of paprika, garlic, onion, and a hint of brown sugar. They sat at a gigantic dining room table, the kind of thing you saw in period pieces and photographs of the rich and famous. Scout had managed to slither into the seat next to Clint. He smelled of a pleasant, carefully-sprayed cologne: wildflowers and something smoky. He wore a chunky MVMT watch on his left wrist and ate two bowlfuls of gumbo, taking a heaping refill when Paula came around with the pot, encouraging the men to eat, eat, eat.

Thom arrived as Paula cleared away their plates, insisting she needed no help with the dishes; they were here to write, not do chores.

“But you’ll be making your own beds. I also don’t do laundry,” she said with a laugh.

Thom was in his late forties, salt-and-pepper hair cut short and gelled into a forward swoop. He had a high voice, excitable, especially when, Clint would discover, he was talking about a particular passage of someone’s writing he loved. Instead of settling in with the rest of the group, even though there was an empty spot for him at the table, he stood off to the side and talked about himself. He’d spent twenty years writing about the AIDS crisis, living as an HIV-positive man in New York City, but he’d also published two well-received if not well-sold novels, one about war correspondents in the Middle East and the other a cluster of drug-abusing gay men living in Soho.

“A bit of autofiction in that one,” he said with a flick of his wrist and a chuckle.

Most of the writers gathered in the living room after dinner, helping themselves to the fully-stocked wine bar—an invitation Paula did not need to make twice—that was also home to plenty of mid-list liquor and a refrigerator full of Abita products. Clint begged off, citing his exhausting day of travel, which had started well before six in the morning. Most of the others, busy filling tumblers with Knob Creek or Blanc du Bois, didn’t register his well wishes that they all have a good night, but Scout, the only one drinking a Purple Haze, raised his bottle in Clint’s direction and smiled. Later, as Clint tried to fall asleep, he heard the door to room next to his open and close. He remembered what Paula had said about all of the second-floor rooms having been claimed already, and he realized the sounds must have been Scout. He felt his blood beat at the idea that they were so close, so reachable, so alone.


The stories he wrote in his creative writing classes and then his graduate program were about people resisting the urge to fall in love. His classmates were bewildered by his characters’ coldness in the face of such heated affections, and they also found his stories labyrinthine; Clint tended to write highly-segmented work that refused to follow traditional chronology, leaning heavily on metaphor and description. In his undergraduate capstone course, a group of half a dozen students and a professor who primarily wrote poetry, one of his classmates, during one of Clint’s workshops, said, “I just don’t know what’s even happening in this story.”

The professor, rubbing at his chin, glanced at Clint, the edges of a smile on his face. “Not much. But it doesn’t take much, does it?”

There had been a girl in his undergraduate classes that was clearly interested in Clint; during seminars, she always managed to sit next to him, even when he changed his spot. She was also a creative writing major, emphasizing in poetry, but she took fiction workshops and heaped praise on his stories. She found him at parties—their campus was small—and tried to convince him to go home with her. He did, twice, and although the physical intimacy was fine, he refused to entangle himself emotionally. Finally he told her he didn’t like her in that way, and she left him alone, rushing off with tears in her eyes after their last class meeting at the end of junior year. He wondered if she would calcify as a result of his rejection, but he caught sight of her out at a bar weeks later, looking joyful in a scrum of friends on a dancefloor.

In graduate school it was Benjamin, a year older than him but still taking workshops. He was handsome, with glistening black hair and dark brown eyes. He didn’t make his interest in Clint obvious until they were at an open mic night at a bar. Benjamin slid up and clinked his pint glass again Clint’s, then proceeded to heap praise on the story that Clint had just workshopped and which no one in class seemed to be able to follow based on their criticism of its non-linear narration.

“They just didn’t work hard as readers,” Benjamin said before taking a sip from his beer. He smiled. “Your work is challenging, but rewarding.”

Benjamin sat next to Clint during the second half of the event, his shoulder brushing Clint’s now and then when he shifted his weight. But Clint went home alone, closing his tab quickly and slipping out into the muggy night to walk the mile back to his apartment. He avoided Benjamin until the year was over, and after that Benjamin was off to the land of comprehensive exams, no longer taking coursework, and Clint let whatever might have blossomed between them wilt.


The first few days of the workshop were an awkward feeling-out period while the twelve writers and Thom—Paula always vanished after meals were over—sorted one another out. Thom began the first workshop day by having everyone introduce themselves via a short writing prompt, which was open-ended and as generic as it got: write a page that captures who you are as a writer. Clint felt a bit like he was in an introduction to creative writing class, but he dove in, as did everyone else, half of the group clacking away on laptops, the other half skittering a pen or pencil across a legal pad. The noise filled their workshop room, a formal space on the main floor past the kitchen. The ceilings were over fifteen feet high, the external wall a single large pane of glass interrupted at one end by a door leading out to the house’s dock, where a pair of recently-waxed dinghies bobbed in the moss-clotted water. The room was decorated like a seminar room at a university: a gargantuan table around which the twelve writers (plus Thom) sat in lush chairs with comfortable cushioning, portraits of famous writers—Christopher Isherwood, Thom Wolfe, Alice Walker—arrayed around the room in heavy gilt frames. Built-in bookshelves on one wall were packed with novels, plays, memoirs, poetry and short story collections: the output, Paula said, of fifteen years’ worth of attendees.

Clint tried to keep track of his fellow writers as they introduced themselves. There was Andrew, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student at NYU who already had an agent and wrote about being Hmong and from California; Drury, whose historical novel about trans men living in New York in the 1970s had been picked up by an agent and then dropped for reasons he didn’t explain; Johan, who mostly wrote plays, one of which had been produced off-off-off Broadway to some acclaim but low ticket sales; Nicholas, who declared himself a writer of “surreal asexual prose poetry”; Danny, who lived in LA and was currently working at an upscale restaurant known for its tapas and random celebrity appearances and mid-day mimosa specials. Scout went last, his voice much softer in the large group than it had been when he and Clint had introduced themselves to one another. He was currently finishing his MFA at Ohio State. None of them made mention of long heartache, or time spent cocooned in such pain. He watched for the first few days, listened for such stories, but none were forthcoming.

After the morning group meetings, they were free to do whatever they pleased with the rest of their days; Paula would appear and prepare lunch, usually sandwiches or big bowls of salad with plenty of accoutrements—hard-boiled eggs, bacon bits, chopped chicken, endless varieties of peppers, onions, shaved carrots—and then disappear again until dinner, when she showed up in the kitchen to fry or broil or pan-sear something extravagant. Several of the writers offered to help, but she waved them away, mostly toward the wine bar, which she restocked daily as bottles emptied.

Most of the writers, Clint noted, spent their free time doing anything but writing. Tyson, who had just retired from a thirty year career as a diesel tech and was finally writing his memoirs, took one of the dinghies out onto the basin from mid-day to evening, showing up for dinner with a sunburnt nose and stories about the wildlife he encountered; Arnold, also retired, slipped upstairs to his bedroom each day after lunch, laughing as he admitted that he was using his time away from his grandchildren—who, along with their father, lived with him—to catch up on sleep.

Clint tried to be diligent. After the group disbanded on the first day, he marched up to his room and arranged himself on the back balcony, which was lined with large wicker chairs. He dragged a small ottoman from his room as a footrest and opened his laptop. The day was muggy, but under the covered balcony, which came with an outdoor ceiling fan he cranked up via the dial just inside the French doors, he was able to feel comfortable enough. Bugs were chirping on the inlet, and he watched, briefly, as Tyson embarked in the dinghy, the only noise beyond the insects the slice of his oar cutting through the water, swirling the moss and algae. Clint watched for a minute before turning his attention to the blank Word document on his laptop.

He got into a groove for about twenty minutes before the quiet was interrupted by the sound of a nearby door opening. Clint glanced up and saw Scout emerging onto the balcony maybe a dozen feet from him. Scout gave a little wave that Clint returned. Nothing separated the doors to the rooms, though the window glass was covered in bunted white curtains. Scout said nothing as he arranged himself in a fashion similar to Clint’s, down to bringing the leather ottoman out from his room. Clint noticed that Scout angled his chair so that he was aimed in Clint’s direction when he sat. This sent a little waver through Clint’s chest: not a hardening but a strumming warmth that he tried to tamp down, to little avail.


After graduating, Clint piecemealed together a living teaching composition classes part-time at two community colleges and a university, leaving one campus as soon as his morning classes were over so he could make it to his afternoon sections twenty minutes away. He split rent on a two-bedroom apartment with someone he met on Craigslist who worked overnights in an ER as an intake nurse, so they rarely saw each other, Nate often stumbling into the apartment looking haggard while Clint was pouring coffee into a mug. But that changed when Nate’s fiancé left him two weeks after he proposed to her. Clint found him on the couch one afternoon, staring up at the ceiling. At first, Clint was shocked: his mother’s cocooning had taken so long. Nate wasn’t due at the hospital for a few hours, but Clint could tell that wasn’t going to happen: his face was already set in a glassy sheen. His breathing had slowed to next to nothing. Clint knew that if he reached to take Nate’s pulse at his wrist or carotid he would feel hard, cold skin. His calves were already aglimmer with the gossamer of a cocoon, his leg hair smeared by an invisible layer of calcification. He thought of the slowness of his mother’s transformation, how heartbreak must creep so differently through every body.

Clint didn’t know who to call. He didn’t know the code to Nate’s phone, which sat face down on the scarred coffee table they’d bought at Salvation Army. Clint knew that, like his mother, Nate would eventually emerge into life again; she had taken months, rigid on the living room sofa much like Nate was reposed now, but one day she cracked back to life, breath shuddering through her as though she was emerging from a terrible nightmare. He watched her blink and take several gulps of air. When he saw life come back to his mother—because a broken heart could heal, after all—and as he watched Nate’s body harden beneath its shell of sorrow, he reminded himself of the vows he’d made to himself. He clenched his jaw, tightened the muscles in his stomach, his way of hardening himself to the world.


Scout and Clint orbited one another, greeting each other when they emerged onto the balcony, sitting near one another—though often enough with someone between them—during workshop and meals. At night, the writers crowded into the living room in burbles of conversation, ice clinking in their rocks glasses full of rum or gin or whiskey. They lounged on the plush furniture or stood in little groups; a few of them, led by Danny and Nicholas, played cards, first pinochle and rummy and then, once they’d gone through enough bottles of wine, drinking games that Clint vaguely remembered from his undergraduate days. The men flirted with one another, periodically slipping away in pairs—sometimes trios—and coming back twenty or thirty minutes later or not at all. Scout never partook, mostly standing with one arm tucked across his torso, the other gripping a beer bottle; he only ever drank one or two before slipping upstairs to his room.

Scout’s workshop piece was about two men traveling through Budapest and sharing lángos, a Hungarian delicacy of fried dough and a sour cream topping and chunks of ham. Clint was impressed by the symphonic nature of Scout’s prose and his precise detailing of the way the lovers clung to one another. Clint had never thought of himself as a worldly writer: his stories took place in St. Louis and Lawrence, the only homes he’d ever known. While he could stretch the bounds of reality in his imagination, he didn’t have the discipline—or, he thought, the talent—to plant characters in real foreign places no matter how easily the details of those might be available thanks to the internet. But Scout’s story was vibrant and alive, and Clint said so while they discussed it, offering minimal criticism. Thom had a few suggestions, mentioning places where he “slipped out” of the story. When Thom said this he raised a hand and made something of a duck bill out of his fingers, mimicking a pinching motion or a bite, as if this explained what he meant.

“I really enjoyed your piece,” Clint said later that day. The sky was overcast and the humidity brutal, but he and Scout were out on the balcony anyway. Clint felt sweat drizzling down his back.

“Thanks.” Then, without warning, Scout stood and dragged his chair over to within half a dozen feet of Clint. “I hope you don’t mind. It’s silly to sit so far apart.”

“You’re right,” Clint said. “It is.” The southern sun had pinked Scout’s freckled arms and lightened his hair, adding a flaxen glow to the copper. Yesterday Clint had watched as Scout, after a few mid-day hours of quiet writing in his chair, unceremoniously slipped into his room and then appeared on the dock below with Tyson, the two cramming together in one of the dinghies with an easy intimacy that sent a hot flash of jealousy through Clint. They disappeared out into the bayou. Clint tried to concentrate but had been unable to manage much writing, spending most of his energy listening for their return.

“Is your family Hungarian?” Clint said.

“Oh.” Scout looked up from his laptop. “Yes. My grandmother. She was born in Debrecen.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

Scout smiled. “Most people haven’t.” A pair of ducks glided along the inlet. Scout said, “What about you?”


“Where’s your family from?”

“My dad’s family is pure German. My mom’s Irish. Their last name is Moran.” Clint shook his head. “Boring western Europe.”

“No family history has to be boring.”

Clint thought of his parents. His father, with whom he had never spoken again. How that absence wasn’t filled by pain but a still-fiery anger.

“I couldn’t even tell you what any traditional German food is,” he said. “Schnitzel, I guess? Sauerkraut?”

Scout laughed. His mouth pulled up at the edges. “You could write a story about magic schnitzel.”

They had already workshopped Clint’s piece, in which a recent college graduate found a pond in his boyfriend’s living room that slowly bloomed into a full-blown oasis, the apartment cluttered with date palms and macaws and sandy banks. Scout had praised the imagery and the pacing, sounding a bit like a professor, for which he’d apologized at lunch, even though he’d said nothing negative. Most of the group hadn’t, either, except for a small handful who said they thought there could be more plot. Scout had risen to Clint’s defense, asking, “Isn’t the appearance of the coconut tree plot? What about the cotton?” Their fellow writers had acquiesced.

That evening, Thom gave a short reading from his newest work; this event had been on the schedule Paula sent out before the workshop’s start. They all gathered in the living room, drinks in hand. Scout occupied one of the loveseats, a ubiquitous Abita slick in his hand, and gestured for Clint to join him. Clint liked to imagine that he’d been saving it, swatting away any of their fellow writers if they tried to take the open seat. The sofa was small, and every time Scout adjusted his weight he brushed against Clint, and once, in the middle of Thom’s recitation—he was reading from a novel about a trio of women living together in a Tribeca loft—the sides of their legs rested together and Scout didn’t move away.

Everyone got particularly hammered that night because they weren’t meeting the next morning; a “free day,” Paula had called it on the workshop schedule. Rather than slip upstairs once he’d had his one mixed drink, Clint accepted a second rum and coke and then a third, and even a fourth. Scout, too, kept drinking, a small army of beer bottles settled onto the kitchen island. Someone found a channel on the satellite television that played hip hop music and started an impromptu dance party that even Thom, basking in the syrupy compliments from his charges about his work-in-progress, joined. Clint didn’t enter the scrum, and he was pleasantly surprised that no one came to drag him into the throbbing group. Scout, too, stayed on the sofa except when he rose to grab another beer out of the fridge. Because of the noise level, they didn’t speak, but every now and then they glanced at one another, both smiling. Eventually, Scout leaned in and half-yelled into Clint’s ear that he was going outside for some air. Would Clint join him? Clint’s throat went half-dry, but that could have been the rum; it was spicy and dark.

Clint followed him; no one stopped them or wondered where they were going. When Scout closed the door behind them, the music was no more than a muffled thud rattling the window glass. Outside the air was still hot and blanket-thick and tasted like something expelled from an ancient, smoky machine. A motion-sensing light clicked on, dozens of gnats gathered around it.

“I prefer the quiet,” Scout said. He drank from his bottle, the beer sloshing.

“Me, too.”

The only noise was the katydids screeching and one of the dinghies bumping against the dock. Some aquatic creature splashed far off in the bayou.

“Have you gone out?” Scout said.

“Not yet. I’m not a big water person.”

“Bad memory?”

“Not really,” Clint said. “I guess I’m just not adventurous.”

“There are different kinds of adventure.”

Clint wasn’t sure what to say. He thought about asking whether Scout had ever had his heart broken, spent any time in that terrible shell. But he managed to keep his mouth shut. He’d had way too much soda and the sweetness was starting to upset his stomach, the rum heavy in his gut, but he took a long sip. Behind them, the music was a dull undercurrent. Voices, muted like they were underwater, burbled.

Finally, after he drank from his beer a few more times, Scout said, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Where to?”

Scout shrugged. “Anywhere.”

They walked around the side of the house. Clint was aware of his wobbly form and paid attention to putting one foot carefully before the other, as if he was undergoing a field sobriety test. Scouts swung his empty beer bottle. A smile perched on his lips as they wandered past the front of the house and up its broad, clean driveway clogged with their cars. They walked out to the state highway, the shoulder dusty and gravelly. Clint had no idea where they were headed; as far as he remembered, there was nothing to be found in either direction for a long ways except weedy fields and crawfish mounds. Their feet crunched and shuffled through the dust and pebbles, green ash and hickory wavering in the fields.

Soon enough they reached a curve in the road and Scout suggested maybe they turn back. Clint nodded. His mouth was dry, and he was prickled with sweat. Clint’s shirt stuck to his back. The warm water of the Atchafalaya seemed to be sitting above them in a wet cloud. His long-empty glass kept threatening to squelch out of his sweaty hand. But he also felt a jittery joy, a different kind of thrumming warmth, at being here with Scout, a feeling he tried to ignore. He imagined something happening as they slipped back into the house, perhaps Scout grabbing his hand and pressing a finger to his lips, gesturing that they should sneak upstairs into one of their rooms. The idea made Clint flush in the darkness, and he was glad Scout couldn’t see. Clint was hardly a prude; he’d had his share of hookups thanks to boozy nights out at bars where he’d managed to magnetize himself to another lonely, intoxicated body searching for the heat of a stranger. People messaged him on dating apps all the time. It was possible, he’d decided long ago, to find pleasure in the surface of things.

But then, like a sudden crash of breaking glass, Scout told him: he was going to leave.


The thing that perplexed Clint the most was the way that his mother and Nate emerged from their encasements better than they’d gone in, as if being cocooned within themselves had been a fancy spa treatment or meditation retreat. Once her body regained its movement, her joints loosening and her muscles remembering how to flex and squeeze and pull and push, his mother looked more vivacious and buoyant than ever. Nate might as well have spent weeks at a fitness boot camp his body was so sinewy and taut. They both smiled with a vigor that had been missing even before their respective beloveds broke their hearts. Clint remembered learning that when turning from caterpillars into their final form butterflies melt, dissolving into an unrecognizable goo before reconstituting into their perfected selves and taking flight. He tried to imagine the heart-hurt undergoing a similar transformation. What would that be like?

When he asked his mother, she gave him a sidelong glance and was quiet for a long time. She pursed her lips, which were ruby rich even though she didn’t wear lipstick. Then she shook her head and said, “I don’t really remember. It felt like it happened in a flash.”

He didn’t believe her, but he didn’t say so. Years later, Nate gave a similarly empty answer.

“But I feel great,” Nate said. When Clint asked what he thought of his fiancé, Nate said, “Who?” Then he laughed and said, “I’m kidding. I remember her. I’m just—I think I’m over it.”

But they were different, as if snatched by aliens and brainwashed. Clint couldn’t fathom it: such a transformation, all for and because of someone else. No, he thought. No thanks.


Maybe it would have been different if someone had done something or said something to Scout, if his departure was driven by some pall cast over the workshop. Or if he and Clint had hooked up, or professed some kind of rom-com love for one another. But no: Scout’s semester was simply starting up, and he had to get back to Columbus. He’d made arrangements with Paula, who had said that it was no problem: the formal workshop portion of the three weeks ended after ten days, and the remainder was simply open time to write without distraction. If Scout had to leave before taking full advantage, Paula didn’t see any reason he shouldn’t. It wasn’t a prison.

Clint nodded throughout Scout’s explanation. He thought his shoulders might take on bowling ball weight, immobilizing as they walked inside, the relief of the air conditioning lost on him thanks to the stoniness moving through his body. But when they reached the house, nothing happened. Of course it didn’t. Just like nothing had happened between the two of them; despite their regular physical closeness, neither had said or done a thing to indicate they wanted more. Maybe they’d grown close, yes, but close could mean many things.

Clint stumbled up the stairs as soon as he discarded his empty glass, not allowing himself to look to see if Scout noticed. Clint hadn’t said much in response to Scout’s announcement, and he wondered, as he sat down on the end of his bed, so egregiously large, the ostentatious bedroom door barely closed, whether he should have. Should he have lamented? Wished it wasn’t so? Gone so far as to suggest he’d come visit Scout in Ohio sometime? What did Scout want? What did Clint want?

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath; his lungs expanded as normal. His heart kept beating. He wondered if Scout might knock, make some gesture that might change things. For a moment, Clint wished that hardness would purl up his neck and into his ears. Maybe he would get a happy ending, Scout swooping in to make some declaration. Or maybe Clint would feel nothing. Maybe there was nothing to be broken. Or maybe, just maybe, he would undergo some other kind of change. Maybe he would rise and be the one to make the gesture at the final moment, and he and Scout would both transform in some spectacular way. Maybe he would take flight into the world, unfurling himself in a new, unimaginable form. It would only take one small thing. He opened his eyes and listened to the silence, which surely would break soon. It could happen at any moment.

Joe Baumann is the author of three collections of short fiction, Sing With Me at the Edge of Paradise, The Plagues, and Hot Lips. His fiction and essays have appeared in Third Coast, Passages North, Phantom Drift, and many others. He possesses a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and was a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction. His debut novel, I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, is forthcoming from Deep Hearts YA. I can be reached online here.