This was in early drafts of Just Like Honey but didn’t make the cut in final edits. Ben and Ryan one year later. Spoilers for the conclusion of JLH.
Welcome Back, Boys!
The busy clatter of Coastal Kitchen bustling around them, Ben leaned across the table and faux-whispered conspiratorially to Garrett and Terry. “I need to know what persuasive trick you used on Ryan to get him to agree to this restaurant. He hasn’t been eating anything but pizza since we got back.”
Ryan squeezed Ben’s hand under the table a little harder than necessary. “In my defense, pizza in Japan was weird.”
“That didn’t stop you from eating it anyway.” Ben’s laughter was bright and cheerful.
“I’m game to try new things. Even you wouldn’t eat the mayonnaise, potato, and corn pizza. I’m just enjoying American pizza now.”
“So how is it being back?” Garrett cracked pepper over the calamari.
“Good. Weird. Doesn’t feel quite real yet. It’ll be better once we’re back in our own place.” Ryan looked around the restaurant, unable to shake the sense he didn’t know where he was that surfaced repeatedly in the two weeks they’d been back in the States.
Ben poured himself more wine. He’d shared having the same sense of dislocation, though Ryan couldn’t tell if Ben was feeling it now too. “Yeah, we’ve been living with our friends Steven and John until the sub-letters leave our apartment at the end of the month. You remember them?”
“Of course,” Garrett said. “Wait, have you started work yet, Ben? You’re living with your new boss? How’s that working out for you?”
“Okay. It’s only been a week. I hope nobody thinks he’s giving me preferential treatment. I doubt many of our co-workers know what the situation is.”
“Tell me again about the work you’re doing.” Terry’s smile was bright as ever, though Ryan wasn’t yet used to Terry’s new beard, though it suited him well.
Ben stretched an arm across the back of the booth, squeezing Ryan’s shoulder as he settled in. “Corporate giving. It’s a new position, so mostly I’m trying to figure out staff and project management for all the things Steven wants to incorporate, including employee matching for donations or volunteer efforts at nonprofits, grants to individuals and non-profits advancing new technology, with an emphasis on supporting queer creators and providing ongoing support to queer youth and AIDs organizations. It’s pretty ambitious.”
Terry’s brows rose steadily. “That’s great. I thought his company was new.”
“Only about eighteen months since he incorporated. But whatever Steven was doing with networking turned out to be a key component that most of the industry was missing. The company has skyrocketed in the last six months. It’s almost tripled in size, and it’s ridiculous the amount of money they’re bringing in. Steven wants to start early giving back to the community, competing with bigger companies like Microsoft.”
“When you need to add a history museum to the list, Wing Luke is here for you. My bread and butter is bringing in as many corporate donors as I can.” Garrett’s grin was devilish and conspiratorial, wiping away his inexplicably innocent neutral expression.
“Definitely keep you on the list,” Ben said. “And maybe we should have a working lunch soon. Just to make sure that there’s not anything either of us needs to know that the other has information about.”
“That’d be great,” Garrett said. “What about you, Ryan? What are you going to do? Did Steven make an art job for you?”
Steven had offered to find or create work for Ryan too, but it didn’t fit in the plan he and Ben made for the coming year. So far Ryan only told his plans to his parents, Steven, and John.
“I’m going to take a year before I go back to work. Focus on art full time.” Ryan blew out a breath. Saying it out loud still felt like taking the leap all over again.
Terry’s smile was gleeful. “That is great news! I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do with so much art time.”
“That reminds me. Miranda hit me up before we left the museum today. She wants to know if you have the date for your pictures’ arrival.” Garrett dropped his devilish smile for one more professional.
Though he and Miranda had spoken weekly for two months, Ryan was as anxious about his upcoming show as everyone else. But the details were well managed with Ben’s help. “They should be here next week. Plenty of time to get everything ready for the show. I’ll call her tomorrow. She’s been great getting this in order.”
“Your first big solo show! I’m so happy I got you two together before you left. She’s going to be bragging forever that she discovered you. So get famous. It means something when she says it.” Garrett laughed.
“Can’t wait to see the show,” Terry said. “Miranda let me snoop on the photos you sent. Really exciting work. You’re making the right choice. I’ve been doing art full time for about five years now. Definitely more affordable in Seattle than it was in Hawaii in terms of living expenses and all.”
Garrett laughed again. “I’d love to be able to say I fund his artistic career, but his success has blown up so much that he’s supporting my ability to keep doing work I love for non-profits at this point.”
“I hope I get there with your success, Terry. Some day. When my work is as good as yours,” Ryan said.
Terry looked uncomfortable with what Ryan recognized as his own insecurity and attempts to be humble when people praised him. It was nice to see other artists do it too. “I don’t know if it’s even about good anymore. It’s all networking these days. Made a lot of museum and gallery connections through the museum where Garrett worked when we were in Hawaii. A few new connections here, through your friend John, have really blown up auction stuff for me. Before that, my work was just well-regarded. Sell one or two pieces and everybody thinks you’ve made it, but it’s not until you get people bidding on your pieces that it matters.”
Ryan only knew that in the academic sense. “Yeah, like I said, I hope my work gets me there one day.”
Terry’s face lit up. “You should come work with me! My little garage studio space in our house has been great, but I’ve been looking for a bigger space. A warehouse, maybe in the International District or someplace in the south end. I’m looking for a big enough space to share with artists. I have to tell you, getting out of the house to do the work makes a huge difference. Makes it feel like it’s your job, not just a hobby or something.”
“Don’t know if we’re going to be able to afford that when I’m not working,” Ryan said.
Terry smirked at Ben. “Maybe we can arrange it as corporate giving. I’ll grant you space to work until you can afford to pay for it with your hugely successful sales that are surely coming.”
Ryan said, “Let’s talk about it once I’m back in our apartment and settled down.”
Still uncomfortable with the idea of accepting charity from anyone, Ryan had gratefully accepted it from Ben, knowing it was the best decision for both of them as they reconfigured their lives after Japan. But he knew that Terry was right, it was all about networking and who you knew. Working in a studio with Terrence Chow was a huge step towards that kind of networking. Ryan was going to have to say yes; he just wasn’t prepared to say yes tonight.
Ryan turned to Garrett. “How’s Mrs. Hino?”
“She’s still a force of nature. Which we love. Given our schedules lately, I don’t think we’d have a home-cooked meal if it wasn’t for her. You know, your parents have been taking her to church every Sunday. It’s been a huge relief for us, because neither of us is particularly religious, and it wasn’t the time we wanted to spend with her. Dinners are much more fun.”
No one talked directly to Ryan about his family’s arrangements with Mrs. Hino, but Ryan suspected it did a lot to help his father’s grieving and perhaps Mrs. Hino’s too, to have each other to share memories with. Ryan still carried minor guilt over his decision to leave so soon in the aftermath of his grandmother’s death, but no one else seemed to be upset with him; so it was probably time to get over that too.
Ryan could say with certainty that it was the right decision. It changed his relationship with Ben for the better. Living apart, even just a beautiful fifteen-minute walk, meant making a concerted effort to see each other and enjoy their time together. But Ryan was looking forward to getting back to their lives in Seattle. Japan provided no private space of their own and few opportunities for sexual relations with anybody but each other. And even that they’d had to be quiet and circumspect about.
Ben, talking to Terry and Garrett, looked so relaxed. He smiled more since they’d been back. Not that Ben was unhappy in Japan, but getting adjusted and being apart almost all the time during the week had been challenging for both of them.
Last year Ryan chose an experience that would transform his life. Was possible to get a whole restart button on a relationship? A chance now to do things differently than the patterns they’d fallen into before everything went to hell?
Ryan didn’t know for sure what the future held for either of them, individually or together. But for the first time in his life, he wasn’t worried about it; it would be whatever it would be. They’d get through it like they’ve gotten through to being here tonight.