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They Never Saw It Coming
A darkly humorous and romantically hopeful short story by Solomon Robert
I could have my first boyfriend, a true love, only if I knowingly contract chlamydia here tonight. The paused screen of a multiplayer video game illuminates four half-eaten boxes of takeout. A shag rug lies over the laminate of the shared common space. My same Chemistry 201 textbook rests like a pillow on the back of a couch, except this one is brand new. Reese leads me into his dorm room, where all the lights are off. His broad shoulders twist back towards me, yet his gaze solely courts the darkness.
"Were you surprised when I answered the door?" he asks.
Not at all, but I'm not about to tell Reese that I can see the future.
“Sure,” I say. “I don’t think we’ve ever actually talked to each other.”
A Fraternity paddle, an open beer, and a thriving collection of plants decorate the desk in between two beds. One has color-coded and rigidly folded laundry beneath, while the other is a disorganized mess of clothes, stray papers, and a teapot shaped like a chicken. Detailed sketches and paintings hang above the disorganized bunk, while the other’s wall is blank. I wonder which is Reese’s. I never thought that I'd find myself in Reese’s room like this. He might’ve had a blank profile on Shadow, but I had my picture up. He knew it was me from the first moment that he typed out, “Looking?” They were the words that would start the greatest love story ever told. This is all happening so fast! I would be panic-struck without the chlamydia.
"Who said anything about talking?" His ice blue eyes fade to grey as he takes a seat on the bed with the blank walls. He lifts his square jaw. His blond beard and gelled hair point out in my direction like spikes, but, boy, do I want to be impaled. "Need I remind you that no one can know about this?"
I've never been this close to having a boyfriend before! I can't wait to call him 'baby,' but if I really want this to happen the way I'd seen it, I will have to contain myself. At least for now, I have to act disinterested. I scrunch up my eyebrows and bob my head pretending like I didn't even hear Reese’s question. I can totally play along with this if it means I'll be sharing wedding vows with him one day. We’ll both wear grey tuxes and white bowties. The ceremony can take place next to a willow tree overlooking the Puget Sound. Gwenevere would obviously be my Best Woman. She’ll cry next to me, so happy that I’ve found Reese.
"Kyler, you can't tell anyone about this or me," Reese says.
"Understood," I say.
When he rests his biceps on his thighs, they bulge out from under his sleeves.
"And this is just a hook up," Reese says. "A one-time thing."
"Whatever," I say.
A worn pillow and blanket rest next to Reese on the mattress. The blanket's tangled up in a heap as if it's been caught up in many anonymous encounters. Would I end up like his blanket? Cast aside and only pulled on top of Reese when he's extra cold?
I witnessed the future, and the premonitions have never been wrong before. When I scrolled past Reese’s blank profile, I saw myself next week in front of the urinal. I will writhe in pain, but the pain will be temporary. It's a necessity. If I wear a condom tonight, the future will be different. Sure, I will avoid the STI, but I will also dodge the entire situation that will make us fall in love. And oh, what a love it will be! Reese’s fraternity brothers will have to be nice to me. We'll hold hands walking to class together. What do couples do besides hold hands? I've never had a boyfriend, so I can't be sure. I guess they probably just talk to each other a lot, but what happens if we run out of things to talk about?
The doctors might catch and treat the chlamydia, but Reese could be carrying any number of other diseases the doctors could miss. I've heard syphilis can be very sneaky. I could go insane before the doctors even think to test for it. I'll be in a committed, loving partnership with this man that will slowly dissolve into madness.
We might not even make it to our nuptials.
My eyes dart anywhere but at Reese and his well-used blanket. As I shift my stance, the moonlight hits a worn journal under his bed.
"What is that?" I ask. "Do you keep a journal?”
"Kyler. I didn't invite you over to talk."
Reese slips his shirt up to his chest. Reese smirks, leans back ever so slowly, and yanks his shirt clean off. The muscles concealing his heart flex.
I didn’t see tonight in my vision. I have no script to guide me here.
Reese motions towards the open space on the bed. He wants me to sit down with him. No, this hunk, who pays me no mind in class, wants me to ravage him!
I trip on absolutely nothing but air and the anxieties swarming around my mind. A sharp point digs into the bottom of my foot as if to foreshadow the discomfort to come next week at the urinal. I yelp and crumble onto the floor.
"Are you . . . okay?" he asks.
"Never been better," I say.
I feel around until I happen upon the culprit, a stray fork. "You've gotta watch out for them forks in the road. Am I right?" I hold it up and force a laugh that sounds nervous even to my ears.
Reese cocks his head to the side. "Have you done this before?" His gaze trails off towards the window.
I've always followed the premonitions. They've never steered me wrong, and they brought me here. I'll corner Reese after class. Even though Reese will say some hurtful things when he finds out about the STI, I'll calmly tell him that he can depend on me. We'll research free clinics together. We'll hold hands for the first time in the waiting room for our appointment. Reese will ask me to stay overnight. We'll start to sit next to each other in Chem and hold hands around the campus. It'll be magical!
"It's okay if you haven't," he says. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
"Yes, I want this with you," I say.
"Then, get over here," he growls.
Reese’s eyes and forehead appear dark, save for a gleam inside his pupils. Spit coats his teeth. His lips somehow sparkle from the moonlight outside. I stand up so I'm in front of him. This will be the love that I've always dreamed of.
I straddle his legs before leaning in. My lips press against his. I hold my breath, waiting for the magic to take over. Where are the sparks? I can taste the beer on his tongue. I feel around his muscles, but no sparks break free. If Reese is going to be the love of my life like I'd seen it, shouldn't I be feeling something right now?
In health class back in high school, Mr. Dennison said that some strains of chlamydia and gonorrhea have become drug resistant. An infection can now last forever. While the doctors will find and treat the infection, I didn't see if the treatment would be effective. The premonition had ended with a feeling that Reese and I would be together for the rest of our days. It's like a dream, where I can't say why I know this detail, but I do, but "the rest of our days" could be seventy years or a week. The thought of permanent, deadly chlamydia quickly cools all of my desire for this man. I can't knowingly contract this disease, especially when there's so many unknowns. I wish I could command my foretelling ability to see more, to know more, but I'm only given glimpses of the future at random. I can't choose what I see.
I roll over onto the bed beside Reese. He raises his brow. Lines reveal themselves across his forehead. His lips part with a curiosity, a vulnerability that I wish I could explore more of. There has to be something here. Am I allowing the chlamydia to dull the magic?
A pout forms across Reese’s lips. He pets my chest, looking for my start button, but I don't want to catch an STI today. I don't want to go through the pain of urinating next week, maybe for the rest of my days until an excruciating death my sophomore year of college.
"Are you . . . Are we gonna do this or what?" Reese asks.
I have never broken a premonition. They've always been a guide. This love with Reese, this particular vision, is everything I want, but I can't do it. If soulmates are real, I don't have to follow through with this. Fate will find another way to bring us together. If soulmates aren't real, then I might lose out on this relationship, but I'll have other opportunities – other opportunities that won't involve trips to the free clinic. I refuse to talk about the chlamydia that brought us together in my wedding vows. There'll be another way to have this love or something like it.
"I can't tonight," I say. "But that doesn't mean that I don't want to."
Reese’s arm and expression fall limp across the well-worn blanket. "Thanks for wasting my time." He takes out his phone. His glazed-over eyes peer at the Five-o-clock Shadow app, which had brought me here. He opens a conversation with another boy. "I trust you can see yourself out."
I've changed the future completely and not for the better. I can't leave and allow Reese to infect someone else tonight. It's not right to allow someone else to contract chlamydia when I know it should've been me. He could potentially even fall in love with this other boy instead of me.
Fate entrusted me with the building blocks of the future, and I spat in her face.
I can fix this.
"Reese," I say.
I've never changed the future before. I don't know the aftereffects, but maybe if I skip ahead in the premonition, the ripple effects will be more minimal. The future will be changed, but the general premise will remain.
"What?" he asks.
The glow from his phone illuminates a bite of his lip. His pupils shift to the door. This boy could be the love of my life. If I can say the right thing now, we can maybe still be together.
"I think you should know that you have chlamydia," I say.
Reese’s face contorts. His phone falls out of his hand onto the mattress.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
Those didn't seem to be the magic words. Maybe I need to be more honest with him. Telling Reese about my abilities is a risk, but so is walking away from here and allowing the future to change for not only me, but everyone in the entire universe. Only Gwenevere and Mom know about my premonitions, and, while they try, they aren't very understanding. Though, if Reese is destined to be my soulmate, then, of course, he'd be more understanding than my best friend and my mom.
"I can sometimes see glimpses of the future," I say. "And I know you must be scared. You don't want to admit that you have chlamydia, and you sure as hell don't want the fraternity to find out too. But no one has to."
"You've seriously lost it, Kyler," Reese says.
"I know a free clinic," I say. "We can go together, and no one ever has to find out."
"Get the hell out of my room!"
He scoffs. He clambers for his phone. The lips I just kissed glow from a Shadow conversation with another boy, who he'll give chlamydia instead of me. I never thought that I'd be jealous of someone else contracting an STI, but here we are. I bolt out into the common room. Through the reflection in the television, I can see Reese hasn't glanced up from his phone. Perhaps fate has found another opportunity for love but only for Reese. I've lost my chance, and now I'll only be able to look back at what could've been with Reese as if through a mirror. I stumble over the single shoes in the entryway, which are all separated from their pair.
The door creaks against the top hinge as I trudge out. The bright fluorescents glow against the white tile like a hospital, save the cleanliness. Torn colored paper and staples line the walls like all the hopes and dreams now lost. The other students stomp by with their books, their plans, and their boyfriends without any regard for me, who has nowhere to go. I slam the door to Reese’s dorm room. I check my own Five-o-clock Shadow app for an apology message, for a plea for me to come back inside, but my notifications remain empty. Reese’s front door hangs still like I was never here at all.
I rush out of the dorm into the chill February air. I pass the leafless trees along the walkway home. An airplane blinks above in the sky. The stars are aligned for me, yet I still managed to mess this up.
I started experiencing the premonitions my sophomore year of high school. They've helped me create "chance" meetings with boys and try new activities. Not once have they ever promised something as big as true love, yet this had been the vision that I'd fumbled. What kind of butterfly effects could there be from me changing the events of tonight? Hopefully nothing too major. Losing a true love is disastrous enough.
I pass a Dead-End sign to cross onto the main road of the Greek System here at UW. My childhood home is a few blocks beyond. Maybe it had been the perfect meet cute. Reese and I would have gotten married. We could have named our first daughter after how we fell in love: Chlamydia. It's the perfect mix of Clementine and Lydia. A little bratty terror but beautiful, sweet, and can throw down a box of cupcakes like nobody else. That would've been our baby girl, but now she could never be.
The whoosh of a truck roaring by resounds all around, but no cars pass by on the street. The airplane has enlarged to the size of three houses. Its wings stretch outward as it falls like my hopes of a relationship with Reese. It's plummeting towards the street. I scream, but I can't move quick enough. I kneel onto the sidewalk and brace myself for death when the airplane crashes a few blocks away. An explosion bursts higher than any building around like a flare, a distress signal. Even from this distance, a flash of heat emblazes across my open skin. There are no audible screams, but surely countless injuries. Black smoke spreads and blocks all hint of the stars. They surely aren't aligned for me now. Airplanes don't just fall out of the sky like this! I've never heard of such a thing. This couldn't be an aftereffect from me not catching chlamydia, could it?
I wonder where the plane landed. How many people were hurt?
The ground under my knees rumbles. The airplane had already made impact. What is happening? The sidewalk rolls like it's an ocean wave. I clutch onto the sidewalk with my hands as the shaking amplifies. The cement on the street cracks. The broken street shakes even harder. The street snaps in two. The Dead-End sign crashes into the pit forming along Reese’s street and the dorms. I stay curled up in a ball even when the earthquake ends. There are always aftershocks. This could all be my fault. All of this damage could be a ripple effect of the future being changed.
The road between me and Reese’s has been completely severed. Reese’s dorm has been cut off from the world. How can I have premonitions of the future, but I hadn't been warned at all about a plane crash or an earthquake? I'd seen the future with Reese and I together next week, and this hadn't been evident then. Had I missed it? Or had my actions caused these events to happen?
No, this couldn't have been me.
A white, fuzzy turtleneck hides most of the scratches and burns on Janet Lebowitz’s body. A large sunhat covers her hair, but the left side of her locks has been singed. Next to the newswoman’s face the image of Reese’s street being broken off from the main road appears.
“The earthquake originated on this very block. It is the first to originate on the campus of the University of Washington and the first of this size to ever hit the city of Seattle. A murder of crows, it seems, collided with a passenger plane overhead. Spooked by the impending earthquake, they flew right into the pilot’s line of vision. The plane crash-landed into the UW Chemistry Building. Of those identified so far, most notable is passenger Dr. Johnson. He had been traveling to speak at a medical conference in Seattle. Recently, Dr. Johnson discovered a preventative vaccine that would end chlamydia forever, but unfortunately for all of our johnsons, Dr. Johnson along with all of his research was lost in the plane crash.”
A man in a suit next to the newswoman shakes his head. “I remember my first stint with chlamydia. You never forget your first time with chlamydia. Isn’t that right, Janet?”
The newswoman scratches at the clump of burnt hair under her hat. “Police estimate that two-hundred deaths and three thousand injuries were involved in the earthquake and crash-landing.”
To Be Continued . . .
Solomon Robert writes gay fantasy and contemporary works. His short stories and flash fiction have been published by Wicked Gay Ways, Goodman Games, and Gay Flash Fiction. He founded Orion's Beau in order to create a space where diverse artists, poets, writers, and others can share their original works of fantasy.
You can follow him @Orionsbeau on Instagram and Twitter as well as @SolomonRobrt on Instagram. You can also subscribe to be notified when future issues of Orion’s Beau are published on the website.
Artwork was commissioned by the talented artist, John Xrt Art. You can find him on Instagram @john.xrt.art and Redbubble @john.xrt.art
Copyright © 2023 by Solomon Robert
Published by Orion's Beau
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