by Jeff Soesbe
Tuan stopped time the moment he thought he still saw love in Frederick’s eyes.
They were in bed, Frederick typing on his phone, Tuan pretending to read a book. Frederick put the phone on the bedside, turned to Tuan, and said “Good night.”
For a second there was a slight smile on Frederick’s face and a miniscule gleam in those brilliant hazel eyes.
Underneath the fleece cover, Tuan pinched the fingers of his left hand together.
Time stopped. Tuan luxuriated in that glimpse of love, like an oasis in a desert. He let it flow into his heart and fill his brain so he could lock away Frederick’s expression in his memory.
After four slow meditative breaths Tuan’s hand ached. Pressure started in his head. His ears rang. Hold on, he urged himself, hold on. But the ringing grew louder and louder and the pressure intensified, until finally he couldn’t hold on any more and time rolled forward.
The smile disappeared, the gleam faded, and Frederick turned away from Tuan and into sleep.
That night, Tuan stopped time three more times.
A little before midnight Frederick, groggy, reached out, placed his hand on Tuan’s arm, and squeezed. Tuan felt it as a kinetic charge, a tingle that ran up his arm and across his chest and flashed like lightning through his whole body.
Tuan stopped that moment for almost ten breaths, riding the power of that charge, until the headache roared up and drained everything down and time marched on.
At 1:30 AM, Frederic, talking in his sleep like he did when he was stressed running the restaurant, mumbled words about orders and temperature and flour then suddenly took a breath and said, soft, clear as a bell, “Tuan”.
Tuan let the sound of his name from Frederick’s lips linger in his ears and warm him inside, until the ringing overwhelmed everything and time moved ahead.
Finally, at four in the morning, the expression on Frederick’s face was so sweet and innocent and peaceful it reminded Tuan of the very first night they’d spent together, almost a year and a half ago.
That night, he had watched Frederick drift into sleep after what Tuan still thought of as the most wonderful day of his life, when Tuan bought Frederick the silver claddagh ring now stored away in a box in Frederick’s sock drawer, when Frederick first said “I love you”, when Tuan realized that he loved Frederick with a power in his heart that would never ever go away.
Tuan could only hold that moment for a breath before the pressure in his head was unbearable and his vision dimmed. Frederick’s face shifted into the harder scowl that marked their time together now, and a tidal wave of sadness washed over Tuan.
Pained and exhausted from stopping time so much, Tuan collapsed into fitful, disturbed sleep.
The next morning, groggy, a full strength migrane pressing against his temples like an iron helmet, Tuan stumbled into a kitchen filled with the smell of baking and fresh coffee.
“Hey, sleepy,” Frederick rose from the table, hard smile on his face. “Sit down. I made coffee and caramel rolls. I’ll get you some.”
“Thanks,” Tuan mumbled, pain tearing his head apart, sadness rending his heart. Frederick was so nice, always so nice. Did he have to be so nice right now?
Frederick set a steaming mug and a roll-filled plate on the table, sat down across from him, and leaned forward. “We need to talk.”
Tuan knew what was going to happen.
He’d seen it coming for the last month, when he had stopped time and looked at the text messages Frederick furtively typed, the laptop screen hidden when Tuan walked into the living room, the mysterious number without a name on Frederick’s cell phone.
This was it.
He could stop time here, postpone this moment for as long as possible. Do it again, and again, and again, for as long as he could hold out.
But that wouldn’t change anything. This was going to happen. Tuan couldn’t hold it off, speed it up, or make it go away.
So Tuan sat, and looked in those beautiful eyes, and listened as Frederick said that he wasn’t in love with Tuan any more. That he couldn’t stay. That he was leaving.
Every word from Frederick tore Tuan’s heart away, bit by bit by bit.
The aroma of coffee and cinnamon rolls soaked Tuan’s body and brain and ensured he would remember this moment whenever he smelled them.
All Tuan could do was repeat, in his mind, one simple mantra.