Vicente Viray: Terra Firma (Fiction)

There was a time when it all flowed, when his whole body exploded into each stroke and the sound of his racquet smacking the ball shattered the air like a thunderclap. There was a time when guys couldn’t get a shot past him, when he flicked everything back. The hummingbird, they called him, because of the way he hovered around the court, his quick feet barely skimming the ground. He played tennis in a trance then, his brain out of the equation—no agonizing over strategy, whether to go up the middle, down the line, or cross-court; flat or with topspin or slice. It all just flowed, the right shot materializing at the right time.
 
But now Ryan was 29 years old and after a decade on the ATP tour, his body was falling apart. His groundstrokes were losing their sting; he was half a step slower in reaching the ball. Though he still won enough matches to cover his expenses, he knew that at most he had two or three years left of competitive hitting, maybe even fewer, given how often he’d been hurt recently. Ryan now had so many chronic injuries that the only way he and his boyfriend Hal could keep track was by giving each of them a name. There was the comet: a searing heat that shot up his hamstring when he lunged too hard for a wide ball. The plague: bubble pack blisters that covered the soles of his feet each time his matches dragged longer than two hours. The can opener: a jagged sawing around his rotator cuff whenever he attempted an American twist serve. And then there was the lever, which could come at any time. Ryan’s physical therapist had described it as a compression of the C6 and C7 vertebrae, though it felt more like a long metal bar welded to the base of his neck that someone was slowly rotating, steering wheel style, until his entire torso was immobilized.
 
Ryan and Hal had been dating for two years. Hal was also Ryan’s agent at Advanta, a boutique sports management firm in New York City. The last time Ryan had to retire from a match, hobbled by another injury, Hal had asked him point blank why he didn’t just retire from the game, period.
 
“Why the self-flagellation?” he said over the phone. “Why this drawn out suicide?”
 
After all, he added, Ryan had already traveled the world, won a handful of small tournaments, cracked the top 50, and rallied with senators and celebrities for charity, so really, what else did he have to prove? It wasn’t like Ryan needed the prize money, now that he had a clothing deal with Terra Firma. Ryan would get paid for wearing the clothes whether or not he stayed on the tour. Hal had made sure of that when he negotiated the terms.
 
As Hal spoke, Ryan pictured him alone in his dark, beautiful apartment, which occupied the entire third floor of a brownstone on the Upper Westside. Ryan had spent the winter there, instead of the tennis academy in Florida where he usually trained during the off-season. Hal’s bedroom overlooked the Hayden Planetarium and Ryan would often stare at its brilliant white dome glowing against the evening sky before drifting off to sleep.
 
Ryan knew how difficult Hal found spending so much of the year apart while he flew from tournament to tournament, so when he finally answered Hal’s questions, he said something about the competitive fire still burning inside him, his desire to end his career on a high note by making a run at a Grand Slam, his undying self-belief. All of which was true and, for the time being, enough to satisfy Hal.
 
What Ryan found harder to explain was how strange and unfair it seemed to be nearly done with the very thing he had spent most of his life preparing for. He had taken his first tennis lesson at five. By eleven, he was spending more than four hours each day on the court, hitting forehands and backhands and volleys and overheads, sprinting forward and backward and laterally, playing practice sets, completing endless drills. For a career that would last a dozen years, if he was lucky. Meanwhile, Hal had finished his MBA in two years and still had decades of his professional life ahead of him.
 
And Ryan would miss more about the ATP tour than playing matches. There was also the exhilaration—which, admittedly, waned the older he got—of shuttling between airports and hotels every few days to start over in a new city.
 
*
 
This week, Ryan was playing the Sun Tech Open, a small indoor tournament in San Jose. He had won his first two matches easily and was now in the quarterfinals against Martin Hirigoyan, whom he’d previously beaten twice and lost to twice. The last time they played was almost three years ago, before Ryan’s string of injuries, and even healthy Ryan had barely won.
 
Ryan’s favorite opponents made him elevate his game through the quality of their hitting so that even if he eventually lost, he could at least say the better player had won. But Martin was a junk baller. At 5’9” and 145 pounds, he was one of the scrawniest guys on tour and looked more like a junior than a pro. What he lacked in power, he more than made up in guile and speed. Martin’s biggest weapons were his spins, whose wicked trajectories could change the shape of the court and make it seem trapezoidal or rhomboid. The only way Ryan knew to beat Martin was to overpower him by taking the ball early and robbing him of the time he needed to set up for his shots.
 
As their match got underway, Ryan found it impossible to execute his game plan. Martin had no trouble handling Ryan’s pace and was sending back one dink after another: moon balls that nearly grazed the rafters as they arced over the net; hooks that curled around the net posts before skidding off the sidelines; underspins that died on the carpet with a dull thud.
 
With all the softies Martin was throwing his way, Ryan had to work doubly hard to generate any kind of power. Most of his unforced errors came from spraying shots long.
 
Several times, Ryan slammed his racquet on the ground in frustration. He couldn’t get in any kind of groove, always felt off balance. The jerky adjustments he had to make to deal with Martin’s spins were also physically wearing him down and he worried that the match would end with another injury.
 
In less than two hours, Martin was already serving for the match.
 
*
 
The ball wobbled through the air like a decelerating Frisbee and Ryan waited and waited and waited for it to drop, and when it finally landed on his side of the net, he had plenty of time to get into position to rifle a winner.
 
He needed to make the shot. If he missed, Martin would have a match point.
 
Ryan took a few quick steps, squared his body to the ball, and cocked his racquet back. He was about to unleash a forehand when the ball suddenly swerved to the right, into the doubles alley. Now he didn’t have time to take a clean swing and could only manage a flailing squash shot that sent the ball flying ten feet beyond the baseline.
 
“Out!” a linesman screamed.
 
The chair umpire called the score: Advantage Hirigoyan.
 
The players’ box was filled with Martin’s friends, who erupted in cheers and stomped their feet in unison and began chanting, “Uno mas! Uno mas! Uno mas!”
 
Ryan glared at them. They had all shaved their heads, presumably as a show of support for Martin, who was bald. The Spanish flag was crudely painted on their faces. They were so sweaty from cheering that the paint had started to streak down their necks and onto their t-shirts. Directly below them, at court level, was a giant stuffed lizard in a tuxedo, holding a tray of martinis. It was the mascot of a local distillery that was sponsoring the tournament. Still staring hard at Martin’s friends, Ryan walked toward it, and with one quick swipe of his racquet, knocked the glasses off the tray, spilling liquid and olives all over the backcourt.
 
The cheers turned to boos and whistles.
 
Ryan didn’t feel even a little sorry, just relieved that the umpire didn’t issue a point penalty for his outburst. He wished he had his own entourage so they could shut Martin’s up. As he watched a ball boy mop up the mess, Ryan wondered how Martin had made and maintained all of these connections while still traveling the world. He and Martin were the same age, led the same itinerant life, and yet Martin not only had his friends in the stands, but also a wife and a new baby girl. Was it a cultural thing? Were Spaniards, by nature, warmer and closer-knit than Americans? Ryan couldn’t even remember the last time he hadn’t arrived at a tournament alone. He couldn’t afford a full-time coach and both of his parents were dead. His only living relative was his Aunt Linnea, who’d raised him. Though she’d been fastidious about chaperoning him while he was a teenager, she was now in her seventies and rarely left her house in Saratoga Springs. That left Hal, who always offered to fly out for Ryan’s matches. But Ryan wasn’t sure whether having him in the players’ box was something he actually wanted. Most of the guys on tour knew Ryan was gay and were fine with it, but there was still a lot of machismo and name calling in the locker room, and sometimes in the stands.
 
Once the ball boy finished mopping up, Ryan walked back to the ad court to receive serve. Throughout the match, Martin had been kicking the serve high to Ryan’s backhand, his weaker side. Statistically, it made sense for Ryan to cover that shot. So that’s what he did.
 
In the milliseconds after Martin tossed the ball and before he connected with his racquet, Ryan split-stepped to the left to cover the kick serve. But Martin went with a change up, a slice down the T. The spin carried the ball into the deuce court, out of Ryan’s reach. A perfect ace.
 
The umpire called the match and Martin’s friends were back on their feet, giving each other high fives, shouting, “Vamos Martin! Vamos Martin!” They tried to rouse their fellow spectators into doing an impromptu wave by popping up and down, flailing their arms, and nodding their heads in encouragement. The stadium was nearly empty and the few diehard fans who’d shown up to watch the 53rd ranked player in the world take on the 71st didn’t seem to fully grasp what was being asked of them. Still, they waved back and shouted questions and greetings, no doubt surprised and pleased to find themselves suddenly included in this exuberant display of fellow feeling.
 
For the first time that afternoon, Ryan smiled—not just because of the absurdity of the situation, but also because he was genuinely caught up in the swell and he couldn’t help it. As he and Martin shook hands, Ryan congratulated him on the match and the birth of his daughter. Martin clapped him on the back and promised to e-mail pictures. This was one of the things Ryan loved about tennis, that it was still a gentleman’s sport.
 
Then they went their separate ways. Martin jumped over the net and rushed into a sea of friends while Ryan packed up his gear and headed back to the hotel.
 
*
 
The official tournament hotel was the Marriot Convention Center in downtown San Jose, a hulking complex that took up three city blocks. Its pastel buildings were connected by a maze of skyways and tunnels that Ryan found confusing and claustrophobic, jammed with men and women in itchy-looking suits, all rushing to some workshop or breakout session. Ryan was on his way to the fitness center to use the whirlpool but must have taken a wrong turn because he found himself in a cavernous exhibit hall where a software trade show was winding down. Some vendors had already boxed up their flashy banners and video monitors and giveaways, leaving just the ugly guts of their kiosks: denuded canopies, utilitarian chairs and tables, rolled up carpets, empty brochure racks.
 
Ryan’s cell phone rang. It was Hal.
 
“I just saw the match on Tennis Channel,” he said. “You and Martin played really well.”
 
Ryan burst out laughing. “I was completely tuned! It was like I was back in high school, when the hacks loitering around the courts would goad me into playing a pickup match. Which I always thought I’d win love and love since I was the big shot junior and hit the ball a hundred miles faster than any of them. And that’s not even hyperbole. I literally hit the ball a hundred miles faster than any of them.”
 
“Because they were old enough to be your grandfather.”
 
“And got winded just from changing sides,” Ryan said. “But they had all these tricks up their sleeves, kind of like the tennis version of the Harlem Globetrotters. They probably taught Martin how to play. I’m sure Martin never really trained with Emilio Gonzalez at the Barcelona Tennis Academy. I’m sure his true mentor is Lenny Frankel of the Saratoga Springs public courts.”
 
Ahead of Ryan, a woman tried to push her way through a wall of sales reps.
 
“At least you got to show off Terra Firma,” Hal said. “The clothes looked great on TV. They fit you well.”
 
“I really gave them their money’s worth,” Ryan said, “losing in straight sets and all. Have they already called you to say they’re dropping me?”
 
Though Ryan had been wearing the clothes for a couple of months now, they still made him self-conscious. Terra Firma was primarily known for outfitting backpackers and extreme adventurers and had just recently branched into sportswear. Their tennis line featured khaki shorts, plaid button-downs in light, moisture-wicking fabrics, earth-toned sneakers with thick treads—clothes that looked more suited for a wilderness hike than a tennis match. But they were comfortable so Ryan didn’t have much to complain about.
 
“I’ve already told you,” Hal said, “Terra Firma doesn’t care whether you win or lose. You could retire tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference. They signed you because they liked your personality, your story. If they’d wanted some dumb jock who blasted his way through matches, they would have gone with someone like Hans Uwe Snow.”
 
Hans Uwe Snow was the number five player in the world.
 
“They couldn’t afford Hans,” Ryan said. “That’s why they signed me.”
 
Ryan exited the exhibit hall and walked into another passageway, where he finally spotted a sign for the fitness center.
 
“That’s not true,” Hal said. “Well, actually it is, but they also really wanted you. There were lots of other players they could have signed, but they went with you.”
 
Before the Sun Tech Open, Ryan had gone with Hal to Terra Firma’s corporate headquarters in Eugene to preview an advertorial that would run in magazines like Yoga Journal and Outside. Ryan was shocked to find that there wasn’t a single picture of him in Terra Firma clothing. The photos the company planned to use were almost ten years old, taken at some Challenger in Peru that he had won during his rookie year as a pro. Bearded and with crazed eyes, Ryan looked as if he had just emerged from a cabin deep in the woods where he’d occupied himself by reading Nietzsche and making bombs. The tournament was in some backwater town reachable only by a single engine airplane that barely cleared the tangle of jungle below. The text in the advertorial talked about how Ryan had used the prize money to buy an old Kharman Ghia that he then took on a road trip all the way to Tierra del Fuego. The story was clearly designed to appeal to Terra Firma’s market segment. Ryan couldn’t help but feel that the ad was cheating in some way, or rather, that he was cheating by continuing to profit from his long-gone youth.
 
Ryan heard the clacking of a keyboard in the background and asked Hal if he was still at work.
 
“I’m checking flights,” Hal said. “There’s a red-eye that’ll get you home by 7:30 tomorrow morning.”
 
Ryan’s next tournament was the US Clay Court Championships in Houston. The idea of taking the red-eye to Houston was absurd. There was nothing to do in Houston and the tournament wouldn’t start for another four days.
 
“I’m willing to get on a midnight flight for Paris, Rome, and Berlin,” Ryan said, “but not Houston.”
 
Naldo da Strada, one of Ryan’s few friends on the tour, had texted him about driving into San Francisco later that night and bar hopping in SoMa. Ryan hadn’t been to San Francisco in a couple of years and it sounded like fun. He wondered if he should check out at the Marriott and try to get a reservation at one of the hotels in Union Square, and just fly out of SFO.
 
Ryan finally found the fitness center and sat in one of the plush leather couches in the lobby.
 
“New York,” Hal said. “That’s what I meant. By home. Since you had a couple of days off, I was thinking we could catch the new Mamet play, grab dinner at Del Posto. You could practice at Flushing.”
 
Ryan squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. Of course Hal had meant New York. When Ryan came to stay with him during the past winter, Hal had cleared out two large closets, a shelf in the medicine cabinet—much more space than Ryan needed for what he considered a month-long slumber party. Hal had even insisted on buying a new set of towels and sheets that he and Ryan had picked out together.
 
“I’m about to step into the locker room,” Ryan said. “Can I call you after dinner? Will you still be up?”
 
“So you don’t want to come?”
 
Ryan took a deep breath. “I’m feeling worn out from the tournament and just want to relax tonight. Maybe there’s a flight I can catch tomorrow.”
 
*
 
After a quick shower, Ryan eased himself into the whirlpool and leaned back as the warmth enveloped his body. He was still thinking about his conversation with Hal. He felt as if he’d failed him in some way.
 
Was it Ryan’s fault that he didn’t consider Hal’s apartment home? Maybe once he retired and he and Hal officially moved in together, maybe then he’d start to think of it as home. So where was his home now? It certainly wasn’t the condo he rented in Florida, with its maroon carpeting, vinyl wallpaper, and disposable Ikea furniture. For years he joked that home was wherever he happened to be spending the night. He’d worn his status as a nomad as a badge of honor and could barely suppress a self-satisfied smirk whenever he’d walk past hotel lobbies and see guests with their packed bags waiting to check out, eager to return to lovers, husbands, wives, children, friends, back in the cities where they believed their real lives were taking place. Ryan would feel a thrill knowing that for him, the travel didn’t represent a pause or interlude, but life itself.
 
Maybe he should have made more of an effort to belong somewhere.
 
The ATP Player Guide still listed Saratoga Springs as his hometown, and Ryan had never bothered correcting it even though he rarely spent more than a week there each year, flying in during Thanksgiving or Christmas to check on his Aunt Linnea. She had parceled off and sold most of the farm where Ryan had spent his teenage years, but she still insisted on living in the pretty white clapboard at the base of the Adirondacks. Ryan often worried about her and wished she’d sell the house and move to a smaller place in town that didn’t require so much upkeep. But she felt too strong a connection to the house and the surrounding woods. During his visits, they would take long walks and he was always amazed she never lost her way since the landscape of black trees against a stark blue sky looked the same everywhere.
 
It seemed to Ryan that Hal was building the same kind of connection to his home in New York. He had spent over two years renovating it to his exact specifications. Taller than even Ryan, who stood at 6’4”, Hal had had each doorway reframed so that he wouldn’t have to crouch as he moved from room to room. The Japanese soaking tub in the master bath was also cut to his proportions, long and deep enough for him to fully stretch his legs. And then there were all the custom built ins—the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the study, the rosewood bench nestled in a nook, the spiral wine rack that doubled as a staircase to the guest loft—that were now part of the apartment’s architecture and could only be taken away or replaced at great expense if Hal ever decided to move.
 
But that probably would never happen. Hal had told Ryan that he planned to keep the apartment for the rest of his life. Ryan remembered how adult the apartment seemed when he first visited. That was over three years ago, before he and Hal had started going out. Back then, Hal was just Ryan’s new agent that had invited him over to discuss potential sponsorship opportunities.
 
When Ryan first signed with Advanta he was only 18, a promising junior who had made it to the finals of the Orange Bowl and won two rounds in the main draw of the US Open. Based solely on his potential, his first agent had secured a racquet and clothing deal with incentives tied to Ryan’s performance in the Slams and Masters events. Aside from a few small titles and wins over top ten players, Ryan never really lived up to that potential. Part of it was Ryan’s own ambitions. Some players hit the practice courts and weight room as soon as they finished their matches, devoting all of their spare time to perfecting their games. Ryan was just as likely to go to a museum or a bookstore.
 
Ryan lost those early contracts. By the time he started working with Hal, he was earning just enough prize money to break even at the end of the year, after travel, coaching, and equipment costs.
 
Hal was horrified that Ryan hadn’t planned for his future any better. “You have nothing saved?” he’d asked that first night at his apartment. “You’re a top 50 player and have nothing saved? What if you get hit by a car and can’t play anymore?”
 
So Hal had made it a priority to secure even the smallest sponsorship deals for Ryan, just so he would end the year with something in the bank. And now Ryan had a handful of contracts, including the clothing deal with Terra Firma.
 
A few months ago, before Ryan flew to Sydney for the Australian Open tune-ups, Hal had asked him about the future again. Of course, the issue was now more pressing, with Ryan’s professional career winding down. As Hal saw it, Ryan had several options. He could go to college full time, or coach at Columbia or NYU, or join the USTA’s development division and mentor the next generation of American players, or take the cushy job of resident pro at the Sutton Tennis Club. Hal had created a spreadsheet and wanted to discuss the pros and cons of each.
 
They were in Hal’s bedroom and it was just beginning to get dark. Ryan couldn’t concentrate on Hal’s questions. He stared at the Hayden Planetarium, and beyond it, the bare trees in Central Park. They looked ghostly against the winter sky, as thin and whispery as gauze.
 
Eventually, Hal noticed Ryan gazing into the distance, and said, “Let’s talk about this some other time and just enjoy the view.” He smiled and put away the spreadsheet. “That’s why I bought this apartment. No one’s ever going to tear down the Museum of Natural History or build anything above it so I’ll always have that view.”
 
*
 
Someone was massaging the back of Ryan’s neck. Without even turning around, he knew it was Naldo da Strada. Ryan was still in the whirlpool, his back turned to the rest of the locker room. He wondered if there were any other pros nearby, whether anyone was watching, ready with a nasty comment.
 
“Stop it, Naldo.”
 
Naldo worked his fingers even deeper.
 
“All right. Stop. You’re going to injure me. I’m a frail old man.”
 
Naldo didn’t care what others said or thought. He was only 22 and completely comfortable with being gay, often arriving at tournaments with his latest conquests. No one ever really harassed him. He’d learned to play the game in the Rio favelas and was a brutal competitor on and off the court. He had always been nice to Ryan, though. Ryan suspected it was only because both of them were gay, and Naldo needed someone to go bar hopping and clubbing with.
 
“Let’s head to the city around nine,” Naldo said. “And wear your leather jacket and Levis so we match.”
 
*
 
Naldo went through phases when it came to men. During the clay court season last year, it was bling. He would drag Ryan to VIP clubs—all pulsing lights and sleek laminate surfaces, frosted glass floors that changed color every few seconds. The men wore cropped suits and gigantic steel and titanium watches that were worth more than the winner’s check at half the tournaments in which Ryan and Naldo played.
 
Then Naldo decided he had a foot fetish, and for a while, he took Ryan to foot party after foot party—strange gatherings where men would follow them around cold, drafty warehouse and offer obscene amounts for their socks and sneakers.
 
And then Naldo’s thing was indie rock and skater bars, where the men looked like they were barely out of high school and were too shy to do anything more than cast furtive glances at each other through their Buddy Holly glasses.
 
Now Naldo was into leather and wanted to check out the Power House on Folsom Street.
 
As they walked into the bar, Ryan felt a surge of excitement at all of the different men in the room. Though they were all dressed in leather, there were young scrawny guys who seemed to be trying on a new stance, older bears who were relaxed and joking. Some stood alone in dark corners, sipping their drinks, while others hung out with friends by the jukebox and pool table.
 
Ryan didn’t have a type. He could just as easily get excited by geeky, floppy haired twinks as balding cubs who reminded him of his high school guidance counselor in Saratoga Springs. What Ryan found appealing was the variety, the different ways men could express themselves sexually, which were as diverse as the styles of play on the tennis court. Knowing that he would only see them once, that in a matter of days he would be somewhere else again, with different men—and the men did look different in different places—was part of the thrill. When it came to sex and lust, he subscribed to the law of diminishing returns and believed that the first—and often only—time he saw a particular man in the heat of passion was, for better or worse, when he saw him at his most brilliant.
 
Soon this phase of Ryan’s life would be over too. Hal had never made any demands about being monogamous while Ryan was still on the tour, though after that would be a different story.
 
Naldo bought the first round of beers and he and Ryan drank them by the jukebox.
 
“So what’s the plan for next season?” Naldo asked.
 
The question caught Ryan by surprise. When he and Naldo were just hanging out in the players’ lounge between matches, they could carry on a decent conversation. But at the bars, Naldo’s attention was usually directed elsewhere. Ryan turned to face him and saw that he was staring straight ahead into the long narrow room, already searching. Naldo was just being polite. Which was fine with Ryan because he didn’t really feel like talking either, just wanted to hang back and absorb the atmosphere.
 
“We can split up if you want,” Ryan said.
 
Naldo got up and tossed him the keys to the rental car. “I’ll find my way back.”
 
“I’m sure you will.”
 
Naldo then walked through an unmarked black door that was just past the urinals.
 
Ryan grabbed his beer and moved to a stool by the pinball machine to get a closer look at a guy he had spotted earlier. The guy was small and bookish, probably in his early twenties. He had curly brown hair and a beard and gentle, patient eyes. Ryan liked the quiet ones, discovering how they might lose control. Would this guy scream or produce a half-embarrassed shudder?
 
The guy turned around and looked at Ryan. Ryan continued sipping his beer.        
 
The bar had a good jukebox and he was enjoying the music. He was sick of the usual techno and trance and glad they were playing 80s college rock.
 
When the guy turned around for the third time, Ryan got up and introduced himself.
 
*
 
His name was Timothy and he lived nearby on Harriet Street, a small alley lined with a jarring array of earthquake-era Victorians and steel and glass lofts lewdly flashing their open floor plans and stainless steel appliances. Timothy’s studio was in one of the derelict buildings. Its strange layout seemed more appropriate to New York, where space was such a premium, than San Francisco. There was a platform shower next to the kitchen sink and only thin pieces of particleboard separated the toilet from the sleeping alcove. There weren’t any closets, cabinets, or shelves; Timothy’s books and clothes and dishes and notepads and DVDs were arranged in neat stacks around the circumference of the room. A single floor lamp provided the only light.
 
This wasn’t an apartment Timothy would be staying in for the rest of his life.
 
“Have a seat,” he said, nodding at the mattress on the floor. It was the most substantial piece of furniture in the room.
 
Ryan sat down as Timothy filled two glasses with tap water. He gave one to Ryan, and then still holding on to his, walked toward the floor lamp.
 
“Keep it on,” Ryan said, surprising himself. He usually preferred to have sex in the dark, with his eyes closed. But he wanted to remember this night.
 
“Okay. No worries,” Timothy said, though his hands were shaking as he took a sip of water.
 
*
 
When their clothes were off, Ryan kept his attention on Timothy’s face, eager to catch the moment when all masks fell away to expose his raw desire. But the only expression Ryan saw was intense concentration, as if Timothy were solving a math problem or trying to make sense of a difficult text. He was only half hard.
 
 “We can turn the lights off if you want,” Ryan said.
 
Timothy shook his head and sat up. “No,” he said. “Keep them on. I’m sorry.”
 
“Is everything okay? We can stop, you know.”
 
“No!” This was the most excited and animated Timothy had been all evening. “I just don’t want to mess this up. I don’t usually take people home like you, that look like you.”
 
Timothy reached out to caress the ridged muscles on Ryan’s abdomen, but before he could do that, Ryan took his hand and lay down beside him.
 
“I’ll do anything you want,” Timothy said. “What do you want me to do?”
 
For a while Ryan didn’t say anything. When he finally spoke, he said, “My body’s really sore today. Could you just give me a massage?”
 
*
 
It was a little after two in the morning when Ryan left Timothy’s apartment. He tried to remember where he and Naldo had parked the rental car. Somewhere on Folsom Street, probably. Maybe he should have just taken the red-eye to New York. He hadn’t slept with Timothy, but that didn’t make him feel virtuous or uplifted in any way, since he hadn’t made any kind of sacrifice; it wasn’t anything Hal had asked of him.
 
As he turned onto Folsom, he heard voices and laughter, even the tinkling of glass. Of course. The bars had just closed and the stragglers were now on the street, hoping their night might still turn out differently, that they might still find someone to take home.
 
Ryan remembered the first time he played the tournament in Barcelona. He had immediately loved the rhythms of that city, the slow fade toward siesta, then the burst of activity in the evening as the shops reopened. Ryan would have a drink and some tapas, and then go back to his room again, where he would read or take a short nap. And then after that, after midnight, the city would come to life again, for a second, even more dazzling night. Maybe Barcelona was the one city in which he could actually live and be happy. How could he be unhappy in such a place, where the evenings seemed twice as long, always renewed?
 
Ryan kept walking, kept scanning the faces.
 
It was a beautiful night, cold and crisp. The fog had rolled in thick and the city seemed mysterious again.
 

 

Vicente R. Viray holds an MFA in fiction from the University of San Francisco. His writing has appeared in California Northern, Chelsea Station, Educe, The Greensboro Review, and other places. He lives in San Francisco with his partner Paul. "Terra Firma" is part of a longer story cycle that features Ryan as its main character. The first story in that cycle can be read here.

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