"You could have stayed with me," he'd said the first time I went to Seattle to see him, but stayed in a motel. I hadn't even thought of it, and so the disappointment in his eyes.
I never went back. After he got promoted there wasn't any point.
You could have stayed with me evolves into a fantasy in which those four days play out differently: an invitation made earlier, my discomfort of staying in someone else's house miraculously absent. Fresh off the plane, strap digging into my shoulder (I always over-pack), out of the cab and up a quick twist of marble steps to his front door. A knock, or a buzz, and it opens.
A quick dance of mutual embarrassment as I maneuver in with my luggage, both of us saying the stupid things we all say when we arrive somewhere we've never been before. Him: "How was your flight?" Me: "What a great place."
Son of a decorator, I always furnish and accessorize my fantasies: I imagine his to be a simple one-bedroom. Messy, but a good mess. A mind's room, full of toppling books, squares of bright white paper. Over the fireplace (cold, never lit) a print, something classical like a Greek torso, the fine line topography of Michelangelo's David. A few pieces of plaster, three-dimensional anatomical bric-a-brac on the mantel. A cheap wooden table in the window, bistro candle, and Don't Fuck With The Queen in ornate script on a chipped coffee cup.
Dinner? No, my flight arrived late. Coffee? More comfortable and gets to the point quicker. We chat. I ask him about his life: is everything okay? He replies that he's busy, but otherwise fine. We chat some more. I say that it's a pleasure to work with him. He replies with the same.