Authors: David Yoon
The bread helps. It makes the hangries go away. After a prodigious delay our food finally arrives—Joy gets her plate of I-forget-what and I get my order of it-doesn’t-matter, because it’s all truly awful anyway. Fried something atop wax pilaf next to green mini-logs in a pool of salty milk, all easy to chew. Retiree food. We don’t even bother with any of the desserts, which are insultingly huge, like some kind of gluttonous dare. We just ask for the check, and wait, and wait.
“I’m a mess without my little China girl,” sing drunken voices amid the din of the restaurant.
Three huge European-American guys—fuck it, let’s just call them white—are crooning at Joy.
Joy buries her face in her hands. “You gotta be kidding me.”
But they’re not. My heart floods. The whole world stops down to a dark halo.
I stand. “Hey. Go find a gopher hole to fuck.”
“Grasshoppa mad,” says one.
“Ah so,” says the other.
“Hai-ya waaaah,” says another, and aims a flat hand.
“I will feed your severed dicks to each other,” I shout, just as there’s a lull among the shocked diners.
The three bros become sober. “I think this prick really wants to do this,” says one.
“Sir?” says a voice. It’s Becky.
“These—assholes—are antagonizing us,” I tell her.
“I apologize, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” says Becky. “Consider the meal our treat, compliments of the house.”
“Why do we have to leave?” I shout.
“Oh, both parties have to leave,” says Becky. “I’m giving you a head start.”
“We shouldn’t have to leave in the first place,” I say. “These guys started it.”
“Frank,” groans Joy. “It’s not worth it.”
And so, to the bemusement of all the dining patrons at Cheese Barrel Grille, me and Joy walk the long walk out of the restaurant. It is a bizarre walk of shame. Because what do I have to be ashamed of?
Outside, me and Joy find a stretch of wall to lean on and regain our balance.
“It’s like the world is trying to fuck with our night,” she says.
“I think that’s a little egotistical,” I say. “The world doesn’t care that much about two specific people.”
“Jesus, Frank, just agree with me.”
“I’m joking,” I say.
“No you’re not,” says Joy, and she’s right. I’m being prickly.
“Anyway, I don’t think the forces of fate are conspiring against us,” I say, and shove off the wall. I lead Joy around a corner toward the Henry Gallery. Might as well keep going, I figure.
But when we reach the gallery, we see that the doors have been closed with a handwritten sign.
AT MAX CAPACITY NO
“Huh,” I say. “Maybe I’m wrong about the forces of fate.”
I glance at Joy. She looks like she’s fighting tears.
“Hey, come on,” I say. “It’s just one bad night.”
“Out of how many, though?”
“Don’t think like that.”
“But don’t I have to?” says Joy. “I haven’t been able to see you in a month, and I’m not blaming you, you were doing what you had to do, but I’ve been waiting a month and—
—is what we get?”
“It’s just one bad night. We’ll have more nights.”
“You are not ditching your dad to see me,” says Joy. “I won’t allow it. You have to see him while you can.”
“I’ll be able to see both you and Dad.”
Joy wrings her hands. “Be realistic. We don’t have that many nights together before summer ends. That’s the reason why I’m crying like a stupid baby right now. I just realized it, just now. There’s all this bullshit pressure for the few nights we have left.”
“We can have a do-over.”
“When, Frank? Next couple of weeks? A month? And that’s
we can find a spare sliver of time to sneak out in, and also
Q can fucking chaperone us?”
I approach, then gingerly touch her shoulders before bringing her in for a hug. “It does put a lot of pressure on us, you’re right. But I promise next time will be more fun. We can make it fun.”
“Summers of love are supposed to be carefree and la la la lovey dovey skipping in a meadow, not sneaking around to keep your parents from going to war with each other,” says Joy. She wipes her eyes. “I must look like someone just died.”
“Not yet, anyway,” I find myself saying.
And a strange spell must have befallen me, because now Joy is carefully kissing my face all over. “Oh yubs,” she’s saying. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Buzz-buzz. When I look, there are messages waiting for me, all from Q.
I’m back at the Consta.
Ready when you are.
Oy mate, been waiting 45 minutes now.
Where the bloody hell are you two?
“Shit,” I say. Me and Joy hurry back down the street to where we parked. Back away from all the couples, away from
the lights, away, away to where the car sits all by itself beneath a single sad streetlamp lashed to a telephone pole.
“Q?” I say. “You here?”
Q emerges from behind the car.
“Were you hiding?” says Joy.
“You know cops shoot kids like me when they’re alone on streets like this,” says Q.
“Fuck,” I say. I throw an arm around him. “I’m sorry. I just lost track of time.”
Q ducks away, his face a mixture of irritation and fear and relief.
“We should go home,” says Q. “It’s late.”
So go home we do.
We drop off Joy first. Q sits shotgun, for visibility. Joy gives me a blue little wave bye.
Next is Q. He jogs away backward to wave at me before breaking into a sprint.
Last is me.
Everyone is asleep when I get into the house. I flop onto my bed and stare at the stained popcorn ceiling. I close my eyes and see Joy’s face.
There are moments in time, and this is a moment in time for sure. Joy’s face, shining with glee, with tears, with anger. Joy’s face gone dim with melancholy as she waved bye earlier.
“Tonight was pretty much a disaster,” I say to the ceiling. I take out my phone. My thumbs begin tapping away all by themselves.
Tonight was pretty much a disaster,
Next time we’ll have proper fun.
And the time after that, and the time after that.
We will defy the fates, me and you.
Let the summer of love begin!
My thumbs finally stop. I rest the phone on my belly, satisfied, and let the glass slab rise and fall with my breath. Minutes pass. No response from Joy. Maybe she’s asleep?
Buzz-buzz. There she is. I check my screen.
If you say so, yubs,
Joy types some more. I watch the speech bubble do its little One Moment, Please dance to let me know she’s typing. Finally her message appears: a cartoon character of herself in pajamas, yawning.
I like this idea of
If you say so
. If I say so, so it shall be.
I’m talking about
If you have the will to do something, and you keep at it, and you don’t give up, you can do anything. And there’s no greater will than the will to love who you want.
So I say it again:
Let the summer of love begin!
I watch for a moment. I yawn. Joy doesn’t respond. She’s probably asleep.
I don’t want to wake her, so I write
I love you
without hitting Send. I just know in my heart that somewhere in those sleeping circuits my speech bubble is there, doing its little One Moment, Please dance.
T H A K Y O C O F E
Graduations are supposed to be celebrations. But why? Why would you celebrate the end of close friends? Why would you celebrate leaving your academic home, bless this mess, of four years? Or your parents’ home, which had its rules to be sure but also all your stuff plus free food?
Most students fake it: the smiles and hat tossing and all that.
Me and the Apeys? We’re doing it right.
Look at Amelie Shim, with her phone upheld to record a tearful Snapstory.
Or Paul Olmo, sitting with a heavy arm draped over Q’s shoulders.
And look at Q, just kind of examining his sneakers under his purple robe in a catatonic state, probably looking for some clue about why he never made a move with his mystery girl. Now it’s officially too late.
John Lim is missing, probably bickering silently with Ella Chang behind a hedge or something. John is the letter
and Ella is the letter
Brit Means sits alone, staring at the school buildings with her ancient and gray and eternal eyes in a never-ending farewell gaze. She turns to me for a moment. She
me. Then she’s finished observing, and turns away again. Brit is the letter
Now look at me, and look at Joy. We sit on opposite ends of our aisle—that was intentional. I catch glimpses of her catching glimpses of me, but there’s no way we can risk any looks longer than that. Both my mom and her parents sit close by in the audience. I want to sneak her away for one last sad and desperate make-out session by the AC units, but as of today that’s officially no longer an option.
I’m the letter
, and Joy is a far-off
The only happy one of us is Naima Gupta, who long ago abandoned our aisle to dance around handing out sour gummy worms to everyone. I think Naima grew up until she was thirteen, decided that was enough, and just stayed there. I find myself envying that. Naima must’ve heard some version of
Go do you
and taken it to heart.
Naima is the other
All together our mortarboard caps were supposed to spell out the breathtakingly witty joke:
T H A N K Y O U C O F F E E
But so much for that.
The speeches end, we all stand, and me and Q just kind of toss our caps over our shoulders and walk away.
“The diploma things are empty!” shouts a voice. It’s Wu, surrounded by hysterically laughing girls watching him through raised phones. “We’re still in school, guys!” says Wu. “It’s not over!”
We get them in the mail,
I want to say, but I’ll let Wu have his moment. One of the girls cannot help but run her hand down his chest, the way a dazzled child pets a big beautiful Labrador. Wu glances at me, whips a quick chin-nod. I nod back.
Me and Q head to his parents, who give me a hug.
“We’re so proud of you,” says Q’s mom.
“Diplomas on fleek,” says Q’s dad with great rapidity.
Evon stops texting the world only to snap uncomfortably close-up photos of me, Q, and her own golden tassel before resuming texting the world.
Behind Evon stand fifteen of her and Q’s relatives, all looking out of place in their East Coast jackets and boots. They’re taking photos of everything: palm trees, the hills, grass, a seagull eating half a hot dog. Stuff I never even notice.
Q introduces me to each and every one of them. As I’m shaking hands, I notice one guy just a couple years older than me dressed in a rainbow of blacks, with black elastics around his wrist and a Ken Ishii tee shirt. He’s staring at me as intently as I’m staring at him. His name is Francis.
“They say if you shake hands with your twin, the world will cease to exist,” says Francis Lee, cousin of Q Lee.
“Air shake, then,” I say, and vigorously masturbate the gap between us.
The formalities completed, me and Q head over to where Mom’s standing, alone.
Mom has been live-streaming the whole event to Dad at home with her phone mounted to a colossal telescoping stick. She swings the stick, hits me in the face, then backs up to compose the shot.
“Congratulation,” says Mom. She spanks the air with her free hand. “You hugging Q. Hugging-hugging.”
So me and Q hug.
“Congratulation,” says the tiny voice of Dad through the phone speakers.
“Thanks, Dad,” I say.
“Thanks, Mr. Li,” says Q.
I glance over to Joy’s parents a ways away. They are watching us. They probably assume Dad was too busy at The Store to come to his own son’s graduation. They’re probably judging us.
Let them judge. Dad is here, just not how they think.
Mom sees me looking at them. She waves them off and laughs. “You pretending hugging Daddy,” she says.
Q and I look at each other, then decide to hug invisible columns of air before us like the world’s worst dancers.
“Ha ha,” says Dad’s tiny voice. “I hugging too.”
Hanna’s here too, at least in text message form.
Congrats, baby brother . . . Let me know when you get my care package
Mom swings the phone around, strikes someone at the base of their skull. When Dad begins to have a coughing fit, Mom snaps the stick closed and whispers to him close against the screen. She shoos me away.
“Go have a fun,” she says. “You celebrating.”
Graduations are supposed to be celebrations, so me and Q wander off to join a circle of classmates and stand around.
“It is done,” says Q.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” I say.
“Some biblical shit right there,” says a voice.
It’s Joy. Her robe is stupid—all our robes are stupid—but somehow she manages to make it look sexy.
She gives Q a friend-hug, then gives me a friend-hug as well. Her touch is like giving a desert wanderer the last snort of water in an empty to-go cup. Nowhere near enough.
But I don’t complain or try for more, because I can feel the eyes on me.
Joy’s dad, watching me through cop sunglasses.
“Dinner? Dinner?” I say, pointing. “Everyone have their respective fancy dinners to go to?”
“Yeah,” says Q. “Remington Resort.”
“Dang,” says Joy. “We’re going to Capital Steakhouse.”
“Ain’t you two fancy?” I say. “I guess I’ll catch up with you guys later, then.”
Inside, I wonder,
How many more times will I be able to say such a thing, and with such ease?
“Where are you going for dinner?” says Joy.
“Eh, probably just gonna stay home and order delivery,” I say as casually as I can. Because it’s kind of a boneheaded question, and I see Joy quickly kick herself for asking it.
“Of course,” she says. “Right, duh.”
I stifle the urge to kiss her embarrassment away, let her know it’s okay, don’t sweat it. We make do with another
friend-hug. I give one to Q too, just to quell any suspicions. I hope he doesn’t notice my ulterior purpose, or care.
We part ways.
Within fifteen minutes, the graduation lawn stands empty. It is done.