I walked down Bourbon the other way, not tempted to stop and now vaguely wondering when I’d lost Bart. I didn’t see any of the others and felt a pang of guilt over Carynne; she’d have liked it here. When I got back to the room I called her, only thinking after I’d dialed that perhaps it was a bit late.
“Hello?” She sounded awake but puzzled.
“It’s your boss,” I said, holding the phone on my shoulder while I sat on the edge of the bed and untied my shoes. “We’re in New Orleans.”
“Omigod, isn’t it fabulous? Did you just get there or have you seen anything yet?”
I told her we’d seen Bourbon Street and met the world’s friendliest bell hops. “Everyone else is still out. I’m thinking of going to sleep.”
“I tell you, if that gig at UT-Austin hadn’t come through, I would have left you there for another day. I went for Spring break a couple of years ago. If you feel like blowing a lot of money on a humongously good meal…”
“Don’t tell me. It’ll ruin us for the rest of the trip. You know how many Denny’s we’ve eaten in thus far? I can even tell you the soup of the day.” I carried the phone to the window and watched fog forming over the river.
“I guess that’s one thing I don’t miss.”
“I haven’t eaten so much grilled cheese since I was like eleven years old.”
In the background I could hear something, the radio maybe. “So how’s everybody?”
“Our friend isn’t too freaked out by my leaving?”
“Our friend is at the far end of Bourbon making mincemeat out of the local bar scene and haggling with Voodoo priests.” I wondered if she smiled at that. Maybe not, since the next thing she said turned her voice serious.
“I should tell you something.”
“I went and got tested today.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know if it was rude to ask or what. We were both silent for a few moments.
“I won’t get the results back for like two weeks.”
“Yeah. I’m not too worried, though.”
“Jeezus, Daron, listen to you. I did it just for my peace of mind, you know? And yours, I guess. You ought to be more worried than me, I think.”
“Thanks, that’s just what I needed to hear.”
“No, but seriously, I figure I can’t change the past and I don’t regret the things I’ve done. Yet. Say-la-vee, no use being all worked up about it. What about you?”
“What about me.” I probably don’t have to say I didn’t like this line of questioning.
“Are you worried?”
“If you mean about AIDS, I guess…? I don’t know.” This really wasn’t what I expected to talk about. And there I was saying I-don’t-know again, dammit. “I guess you could say I’m concerned, but not worried. Not yet.”
“Oh shit, I just got worried.”
“About you. Here I was all resigned to take whatever may come my way, but oh man, I don’t even want to think about you. Oh jeezus Daron, I don’t want you to die.”
“Hang on a second, I think we’re getting a little premature about this.” How the hell did we get on the subject of death? “Other than with him, I haven’t really slept with very many people, you know.” I was already backtracking in my mind: I’d used a condom that time—-in Athens was it? Yeah. DC, too. But not for oral sex… I had that same sinking-anxious uninformed feeling I had when I went to do my taxes, which did not strike me as a funny coincidence at the time. “I really don’t think I’m about to die. And I haven’t really been around that much. Really.”
“Yeah, but what about him?”
“That’s hard to tell. I have no idea.” Once upon a time he’d let me think I was the first guy he’d ever had sex with. I still didn’t know if I actually was. Other times, like tonight, you’d think he’d been here a hundred times, not just once. “I think he talks a bigger game than he plays,” I finally said. “But it’s mostly talk. He saves the actual fucking around for people like us.”
“Well, that’s good.” Her voice had a kind of forced cheerfulness that made me feel a little desperate.
I decided to change the subject from death to broken hearts; how’s that for an improvement? “I wish you’d stayed.”
She said nothing.
“Something’s different when we’re all guys here. Too much testosterone or something. We’re sick of talking to each other.”
“Already? Christ, read a book or something,” she teased. “I wish I was there, too.”
“It seems kind of stupid that you left, now, doesn’t it.”
“I guess, yeah. I just needed to clear my head.”
Outside the window, the fog bank was building and drifting toward the hotel. “I mean, couldn’t we have talked to him, figured things out?”
I heard her click her tongue. “Hey, I said I wasn’t going to regret anything I did, and that includes leaving.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m a lunkhead. But you could fly out and meet us in San Fran like Digger’s doing. Or in Boulder. The other guys think you had some kind of emergency–we could act like it was fixed.”
“You’re tempting me.”
“Tell Digger I said we’d pick up the tab. I’m the boss, remember.”
“That you are,” she said with a little laugh. “That you are.”