With great difficulty, Owen got out of bed. He tried thinking of a better way to maximize the time he could sleep in the morning before having to prepare for another day at work as he brushed his teeth and took a shower. He realized that today he was not going to go to work, though. No, today he was being sent to do a sort of field study in Aurora, but he wasn't completely sure of all the details. It was good timing since some of his research had recently come to a head, and the rest of the work could be done by assistants, although he'd like to keep in touch about it. These thoughts occupied his full attention, and Owen's own autopilot controlled his other tasks until he realized as he went to piss that he'd put his underwear on backward.
He stepped out of the door and onto rue St Augustine, checking his luggage for his wallet and other amenities before heading toward the métro. The sun hadn't risen yet, and there was a thick, cold fog, crawling slowly between the buildings. He heard the rumbling sound of someone's feet coming down the stairs inside and the door opened wide again. Owen turned to see Loïc, a francophonic friend of his roommate's who had spent the night.
"Hey, er, are you leaving?"
Owen thought this was a little strange. Loïc tended to mind his own business, although they often had conversations about their professions over the table when there was time. Loïc usually visited to have sex with Owen's roommate Matt. There was talk that things were getting more intense, and of the two living together next year, but Owen spent little time thinking about this mainly because he thought it wasn't really his business. It was also to avoid a jealousy complex, which at some point he realized he was developing out of control and quickly took action to suppress it. All of these things colored his interactions with him, so they tended to be overly sterile, especially when Loïc, shirtless, emerged from the bathroom in a towel, as he did so many times, as Owen, without any anticipation whatsoever, ate breakfast in the adjacent kitchen. They exchanged good mornings the same way a surgeon would touch the heart: from far away, through a tiny camera in a metal tentacle, wearing gloves and a mask.
"Yeah, I've got to go to Aurora for work." Owen almost asked, "why?" but such a question would have put too much pressure on Loïc, who Owen thought was being extremely brave for doing whatever he was about to do.
"Euh, can I… can I come… with you?"
The utterance was spine-tingling. Trying to be optimistic as he was with anyone else in public, Owen tried to invent a response that wouldn't discourage, but also would make sure of Loïc's intentionality.
"Um, I dunno, can you? I mean are you sure?"
"I just... I need to leave."
Owen knew there was a lot of complexity to whatever was going on. This was outside the script! This was not how queer monogamy was supposed to work. At least not the way Owen thought it would. Has the surgeon stepped away from the panel to take a look?
Full of awkwardness, they navigated through a difficult conversation in front of the door regarding how Loïc would acquire some clothes to change into and travel toiletries. Hell, Owen was staying with a guest who might not even have a spare bed. Had Loïc thought this through at all?
They walked down rue St Augustine. Owen felt like there was something severe out of order, as if his suitcase was not rolling on the ground smoothly, bursting at the seams and spilling clothes on the street. His travel routine was made asymmetrical, but something deep within him was still accommodating to Loïc's desire to leave. To leave Matt? It was too early for questions.
"So... where are you going? In Aurora?"
"A place called Tuatha. We'll land on New Ireland and find Waterford. It's where I've got to go and give a presentation on my research and make some connections with folk down there."
And then another question surfaced quickly. Owen asked, "do you have any movies to direct?"
It had occurred to Owen that Loïc was in the middle of a project filming an independent film about something or other. Owen looked to his left and noticed Loïc already tapping out something on his comdev regarding this.
"We're not working on it right now. We have to wait for some props from Denmark."
This swirling ambiguity was frustrating, but the fear of the jealousy he had just defeated coming back kept the not-my-business mantra hovering at the cusp of his awareness.
There were times when Owen encountered Loïc in public. The encounters were strange because of how often Owen encountered him with Matt in his own house. It was like seeing a canary in a tree, flying free - you realize that there are places where they fly free, it just doesn't occur to you as immediately as it ought to. When they ran into each other, they would have some small talk about nothings. When they had first met, Loïc was full of flirtation, but it was certainly not the same as dangling a carrot in front of a horse. These days Owen tried to attribute Loïc's flirting to his general geniality, as to prevent thinking that there was any sort of attraction. That, especially within the household, was the most sacred of taboos.
This time, there was no small talk. The big talk loomed high and wide over them, but for the time silence would do as they walked briskly to the métro, which would take at least one of them to the spaceport, and ultimately to Waterford. Owen was trying to look for some appropriate exemplar for a way to behave around Loïc now: a friend you're taking on a trip? No, maybe a fellow businessperson traveling with you? Definitely no. At a loss, Owen decided to try to get to know him better. Rationally, he thought, they should know each other so well, but really there hadn't been enough small talk to move on to bigger things. It would be ridiculous to try to have even that in the métro with the loud electric motors, but the ride in the ship could prove to be problematic. Realizing there would be no reservation for Loïc, Owen decided to call the captain.
"I'm going to call the captain on the ship to see if there'll be room for you."
The ship, not being a popular one, and also being one hired by the University, had one space remaining which was reserved for a traveler who cancelled.
"Great. See you soon." Owen put the comdev back into his pocket.
"So there was space?"
"Yup." At least that had worked out - otherwise where would Loïc have slept? The floor next to his bed? Every step of the way to Waterford seemed to be littered with eggshells. Besides which, a monogamy was going limp. Even though Owen was not romantically inclined, he wasn't about to impose his lifestyle on other folk who seemed to be happier than he.
As they walked, Owen tried to steal glances at Loïc. He was staring at the ground, looking extremely introspective, but also like he might not be thinking anything at all. Like a child following a stranger. The image was enough to make Owen worried.
"So… is everything alright?"
"Yeah… yeah, I think it's alright." Loïc had looked at Owen full in the face. Owen thought he saw Loïc's face flushed a little. He had used the word 'it,' though, which was troublesome.
"What's 'it'? Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I just… I just needed to get out."
Or something like that, thought Owen. At this point Loïc had somehow thrust his foot into a closed door so completely the door was wide open. There was no turning back, as they turned the corner and the métro sign could be seen only a block away. They approached in silence, and the threshold loomed. But Loïc went to hold the door open for Owen and his luggage. "Thanks," said Owen.
Of course the rest would happen in silence. The métro had always been loud, even since its inception in the 1960's. No matter the countless times they had replaced entire trains, a conversation couldn't be held in the space without shouting, which, when done in public places like the métro, had always embarrassed Owen. He remembered one time after a particularly sour encounter the unknowing suitor asking, of course in a loud voice and entirely in public, "So is everything alright between us? I feel like things have gotten colder!" It would have been hard for Owen to imagine being any more frigid after that comment. So Owen hoped dearly that the silence would continue until they had some sort of privacy. And as the train rolled to a stop at Goodventure, his wish had come true. Owen stood and carted his luggage through the tunnels to the huge spaceport to the tempo of Loïc's footsteps beside him.