State Route 18 slithers through western Washington, quiet in the night. In Federal Way it passes by hangul billboards and the smell of roast bulgogi and soju breath, to the evergreen forest where a large timber company used to be. It loops through the community college up the green hill, along Green River, and to yet another strip mall in Covington, where aunties serve their last pho bowls and close up shop. Into the dark it continues to Maple Valley and Tiger Mountain State Park; it runs on and on until it meets the four-wheel drives of rich Seattleites gambling and skiing in Snoqualmie.
I was in the passenger seat. Brian was driving, with nothing but Chen on his mind. We conversed in soju breaths, with the sweet smell of galbi from the backseat.
“Do you think he likes galbi?” he asked. It didn’t matter. We drove for half an hour from our apartment complex to Shin Sung Barbecue in Federal Way and then it was another drive to Chen’s place in Covington.
Brian, Chen, and I all went to the community college on the hill and we met in Adrian Prentis’s Calculus IV class. We were three of the five international students in the class working our way to transfer credits to a university, so we decided to form a study group. Brian formed a crush on Chen almost immediately.
Brian handed his phone and asked me to turn on the AUX. The car window was ajar; we shivered but he didn’t mind. I saw a text from his phone—Chen texted the study group that he got accepted to NYU. I told Brian. I saw a small teardrop in his eye.
“I hope CUNY accepts my ass and then Chen and I can live together in a New York apartment and we can go walking in Central Park holding hands, or line up for bagels with cream cheese, or touch the bull’s balls in Wall Street, or…”
I was still waiting for my own New York college decision. Columbia felt like a far stretch but my advisor told me to apply anyway. Sure, I had the grades for it, but community college?
I met Chen after that fateful advising appointment; he was waiting for his own. “I had this dream last night,” Chen told me, “I was wrapping my arm around a man’s waist. Then I kept embracing him, we made out, but the man remained a blurry dark figure.”
“That’s wild. Were you scared or anything?” I asked.
“Not at all. I was happy.”
The morning after that conversation, I saw Chen walking out Brian’s door, scrambling to button up his pants, a huge smile on his face. After that, Brian told me nothing but his yearning for Chen.
“...I just want to be close to him, you know, even when we’re not in Washington anymore? I just really like him. Like literally. I feel pain in my chest sometimes.”
I wished I could feel that way. Love used to assume many faces: one day, it was Devin from 10th grade chemistry, the next it was Sarah from orientation week, sometimes it’s Alan from the Phi Theta Kappa conference. Yet as we drove down Route 18, there was nothing in my mind but university decisions. Brian’s stories were a welcome break.
Brian slammed the breaks as we reached the first Covington exit. He trembled harder as he felt the proximity.
I could feel it too. It was going to be New York soon. I could see weekends with Brian and Chen, trailing them to trips to The Cloisters, trying Sylvia’s for the first time, and observing flocks of tourists at Battery Park. If I can’t have love, I want to see it grow happily in someone else’s heart.
Patricia Kusumaningtyas is an Indonesian writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Their poetry has been published in Roi Fainéant Press, Naked Cat Lit Mag, and Culinary Origami Journal. Their full-length play “Some Things Last a Long Time” received a staged reading at the Drama League in 2022 and the 2023 Twenty by Twenty Fringe Festival. Besides working in the realm of theatre and poetry, she is also a tech worker and a film & music critic/writer.