I Hope So, I’m Working on It, We’ll See
“When did you start climbing?” Evgeniy asked me while we lay in his bed after showering together. One of the things that kept me coming back to him was how he liked to clean up immediately after we were done. He did not linger in filth.
“Come with me next time I go,” I said instead of answering, taking on the active voice to combat the antisocial, post-coital placidity. “I can teach you a few things, and I bet you’d be good.”
“Yeah?” he asked, turning to me, his forearm a column supporting his head.
“I know you’re not afraid of heights at least, and you’re strong,” I said. I ran my hand down his arm and across his chest, then lower to his groin where I caressed his cock already hard again. “I was thinking of heading out to Leavenworth next week if you’re free on Saturday.”
“I think I might be,” he said. And then we fucked again though normally we finished after a single go.
Though Evgeniy and I had met on Grindr after I’d messaged him, Hey, sometimes I liked to imagine we’d met through his work. In this reimagining of events, Evgeniy had been washing the office windows where I worked, though I’d never seen window washers on my office’s windows and wasn’t certain if whoever employed him did us. In this reimagining, we’d locked eyes and then pantomimed a coy flirtation, exchanging numbers surreptitiously between squeegee swipes. And then we’d gone to IHOP and talked about our lives, because even in this imaginary world I couldn’t deny him his love for American-style breakfasts.
I didn’t know if washing windows was what Evgeniy did back in Ukraine, but he seemed to like the work. His Instagram was filled with pictures of sunsets reflected in the high windows he washed in downtown Seattle, and a host of what I took to be his Ukrainian friends always commented on these pictures, Cyrillic followed by exclamation points.
On what I would later describe as our first date for lack of a better term, I took an Uber to hook up with him at his place. I had to check to make sure I’d gotten the address right when I was met by the blinking eyes of a Bichon Frise dog in the window and a bed of pansies out front. When he opened the door to me, however, I followed him in unquestioningly. He looked just like his pictures, burly with thick arms and wide shoulders, brown hair was receding, though cut short, so it looked masculine rather than weak, and pale as that little girl’s butt on the sunscreen bottle. It was only then that I learned his name and caught myself in his accent, a mark of authenticity proving his name, unlike mine, wasn’t just a vestigial organ. Cowed, I told him my name was Michael, though to my childhood friends and family I was Misha. I didn’t tell him my great-grandmother was from Russia when he told me he’d fled Ukraine with his husband, having faced a lifetime of homophobia there. We might’ve talked about this, we might’ve developed something that could have fastened me to him and prevented me from ghosting him as I later would, but instead his accent and my anxiety over it only set a block between us.
“We have the apartment upstairs,” Evgeniy said, padding barefoot up the stairs with me in his wake. “Angela lives on the ground floor, but she visits her kids in—is it Arizona? Is that what it’s called?—all the time, so it’s ours today.”
“We” had meant himself and his husband, but “ours” had meant the two of us, and I lingered in this moment of realization, trying to parse how I felt. This was not something Evgeniy had hidden, that he was married. Even on the app he’d selected the married option in the relationship category, which I’d found to be almost endearing, this honesty where he could’ve left that category unselected. But talking with him on the app where he assured me their relationship was open and then hooking up with him in the bed the two shared, were two entirely different experiences.
The first time I ghosted him, I returned after less than a month, redownloading Grindr, finding him again, and sheepishly telling him my phone had done something weird. It’s always doing something weird, I had written with an embarrassed-face emoji as punctuation. In return, Evgeniy had sent a smiling-face emoji and a well-taken picture of his erect penis. I’d thought I might’ve gotten away with it, though I promised I wouldn’t disappear again. We hooked up every so often for nearly half year until I again deleted the app and ghosted him, certain this would be it. A part of me was glad. Like kicking an addiction, I was ridding myself of Evgeniy and escaping the relational cul-de-sac in which what I had with him existed. And yet I did come back, this time searching him out on Instagram.
“Nah, nah, it’s okay, it doesn’t matter,” he’d said, waving aside my apologies saying he didn’t care, and kissed me sloppily. And why should he care? He’d run no emotional risk, the only damage I’d ever done to him was logistical.
“When traffic stops, the police drive by and give everyone parking tickets,” I told Evgeniy while he drove us through the small town of Sultan on the way to the boulders where I intended to take him climbing. There was no traffic, but Evgeniy nodded as though he believed me entirely, as though he understood this as precisely the way small town American cops operated and not the joke I’d meant it to be. Still, even without traffic, the town was a pain, boasting two unsynchronized stoplights on the two-lane highway which also served as the town’s main street.
On the other side of the mountains, I had him park in a dusty lot just off the road. Even this early in the day, the lot was already half full of hatchbacks with racks on their roofs for bikes and kayaks. Evgeniy swung my crash pad out from the trunk onto his back as though this was what I expected of him, and then gestured that I should lead the way. We set ourselves up in the shadow of a boulder. Before noon, the shadow would be gone, and by mid-day the temperature would be too high to climb comfortably, but for now, apart from the smoky air, the forests already starting to burn this year, there was little more we could ask for.
“It’s not really a project anymore, since I’ve sent it before, but I have to give this one an attempt every time I come out here,” I said, tracing the line of the boulder problem in the air with two fingers. It was a well-known problem, not especially difficult, but tediously precise with painfully small crimps on crystals that would easily tear up my finger pads and ruin the rest of the day’s attempts elsewhere if I let myself get carried away.
“Should I try it?” Evgeniy asked, flexing his shoulders in wide, sweeping circles, the ridgelines of his chest and back muscles evident through his tight athletic shirt.
“Nah, you should—actually, I should too—start on a warmup route. This one, it starts down here, yeah, and then just, yep, just up,” I said, watching while he pulled himself inefficiently up around the corner of the boulder. I made my way up after, a creep of frustration when I found the route more difficult than I’d remembered, though certain I’d had an easier time of it than Evgeniy, my years of climbing granting me at least this. When I reached the top, Evgeniy kissed me sloppily, the only way he seemed to know how to kiss, and I wondered just what else we might get up to in the boulder field, willing to give him anything he asked of me, hoping he would ask a great deal.
Though I was thinking I might impress him with a quick re-send of the second route, my fingers popped and I dryfired off onto the pad.
“Fuck,” I muttered, more furious with myself and the route than I hoped I was letting on. “Want to try something else?”
Evgeniy nodded, gesturing again that he would follow.
After a few more routes, Evgeniy stripped off his shirt. With the crash pad on his back and his cleanly defined muscles he looked far more like a climber than I did, and I wondered again why he bothered with me until I remembered I was at best a secondary sexual concern in his life.
There was already a small group clustered around a boulder a little way up the hill from where we had started, their overlapping pads forming a quilted sea.
“Oh, nice,” I said. “I’ve wanted to give this one a shot for a while, but you need like a billion pads to even out the landing zone since it’s a bit of a highball and there are rocks everywhere. Oh shit, wait, I think that’s Benji.”
The climbing community sometimes felt improbably small. I’d seen the same stranger at three different bouldering areas three weekends in a row once, and so, though Benji hadn’t texted to tell me he was going out this weekend, I wasn’t as surprised as I might’ve been to see him wrapped around the edge of the boulder with his foot high in a heel hook. For a moment, the fall he took looked clean, but when he pulled himself out from between the pads, his face was twisted in evident pain.
“No, I’m fine, it’s cool,” he said, waving off attempts the others made to help him. “Oh shit, Misha!”
“Misha?” Evgeniy asked.
“It’s, yeah,” I said, ears going dark red as they used to when I was little. “That was my nickname as a kid.”
“What are you doing out in Leavenworth?” Benji asked after pulling me into him for the sort of bro hug I had never known what to do with, despite how often he’d offered them to me. I helped him sit, certain he’d fucked up his ankle more than he was letting on.
“This is, um, Evgeniy,” I said, conscious of Evgeniy standing just beside me, patient in that amiable, unconcerned way he had. “I’m taking him climbing—he’s never been to Leavenworth before.”
“Benji,” Benji said, and offered his hand which Evgeniy shook. “Oh wait, shit, is this like a date? Dude! Get it! A little climb and bang?”
Benji had a sort of casually handsome, dirtbag appeal. It hadn’t always been this way with him, I’d had crushes on different boys when we were growing up together and only recently had I begun to fruitlessly view him in another light. The confidence and definition he’d gained as he developed his skill in climbing had transformed him into someone subtly new.
“It’s kind of complicated, I guess,” I said.
“Oh shit,” Benji said, shifted and then said, “oh shit!” again when he accidentally put weight on his ankle.
“Let me,” Evgeniy said, kneeling by his side, ignoring Benji’s protestations. I felt a spike of jealousy, before I realized how unnecessary this jealousy was, and then how feeling jealous over Evgeniy was far too complicated for me to seriously contemplate.
“I have tape,” I offered, shuffling through my bag until I found the climbing tape. But Evgeniy had already taken a bandage from his own bag. I hadn’t realized he’d come so prepared.
“You are a life saver, dude,” Benji said.
“What’s the route?” Evgeniy asked, flexing his shoulders again, already talking as though this was what he did most weekends.
Benji pointed and explained the beta while we watched the next climber give it a shot, a short sturdy guy who attempted the problem in much the same way Benji had. Just like him, he missed the crux, but managed to drop in a controlled fall to the pads. After that, a skinny guy flashed it, and I gave him a fist bump when he walked by. Evgeniy stepped up after that.
“He’s hot dude,” Benji said. “I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit it. Think you can make it less complicated?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. I’d not met his husband, never seen the man, not even a picture of him on Evgeniy’s Instagram. I figured he was just private, maybe he wasn’t out at work, or not out to whatever family he still had back in Ukraine. I had wondered before what sort of relationship they had to offer Evgeniy the space and time to be with me, but I’d never felt there was a good time to ask. The topic of his husband was one Evgeniy rarely breached, preferring instead small talk about his work and mine. “But I hope so, I’m working on, we’ll see.”
“Do what you gotta do man,” Benji said, gripping my shoulder and giving me a look of meaningful solidarity I didn’t think I needed. A look that said he would support me if I turned homewrecker, though it wasn’t homewrecker I was hoping to be. All I wanted out of Evgeniy was clarity and the assurance that in receiving this clarity I would not lose what we had now that I’d determined, by dint of my disappearances and returns, I wanted it.
“Guess I’ll give it a go,” I said after Evgeniy shuffled back to us over the sea of pads. He’d not made it further than the first two moves. I made it to the crux before I bailed, unready to risk the high layback.
Benji had come with a couple others, a wiry woman I thought I recognized from the gym and a bearded, bald man I took to be her partner. They were planning to hit up a few trad routes after, but even Benji had to admit that with his ankle the way it was he’d have to bail.
“Come with us,” Evgeniy offered.
“Yeah,” I said, “we’re not planning to stay too long. It’s supposed to get up to like 95°f by the afternoon.”
We took on a few more boulders that morning after exchanging Instagram handles with the group around the highball. Benji flashed a few simple problems one-legged and again I felt pangs of superfluous jealousy when Evgeniy said, “Nice bro.” I’d never heard him say “bro” before and wondered if he’d just picked up the word that day from Benji. Or if he just didn’t think of me as someone he could say “bro” around, the word so casual and straight-sounding.
“I haven’t gotten it yet, but it would make my life if I did, I could die if I got it,” I said, looking up at what we’d decided would be the last boulder for the day. Despite what I’d said, dying for this particular problem would be a waste and a shame. If my life culminated in a problem so many others had climbed before and so many of them so casually, it would be a sad life not worth mentioning. Though I made it a move further than I had previously, the three of us left without a send.
“Brats?” Benji asked.
“Brats?” I asked Evgeniy in turn.
“Okay,” he said, and drove us into town where I paid for lunch.
We left not long into the afternoon, the temperature already up into the 90s and our fingertips pink and raw from the tiny crystals, our stomachs heavy. With Evgeniy’s elbow resting in the open car window, the sharp scent of his armpit sweat wafted through the car. Gay love poems I liked to read talked about the musky smell of men, the taste of cum, disgusting intimacy described across delicate line breaks, but I had never felt I could appreciate the disgusting parts of any man I’d been with. I liked that Evgeniy wore a nice, clean scent from the department store, and liked too that when we kissed his mouth almost always tasted like toothpaste. Soon enough, we hit the highway, and I was relieved when Evgeniy rolled up the windows.
Evgeniy dropped Benji off at his car where he’d left it in the Monroe grocery store parking lot and then the two of us returned to Evgeniy’s. We showered together and after I soaped my cock, Evgeniy sucked me off. I nearly came there, but I didn’t want things to end so abruptly. Not after the day we’d had together. It almost felt as though we were more than what we were, boyfriends, not fuck buddies. Gently, I pushed him off me and after toweling half dry, I took him to his bed.
“Misha is very Slavic,” Evgeniy said while I kissed my way through his pubic hair. “What your friend called you.”
“I’m named after my grandpa and his parents were from Russia,” I said, lifting my head away from his groin, “he was called Misha, so my parents called me Misha growing up too.”
“He was Mikhail?”
“I think they wanted to Americanize? He was born here, in America I mean, actually in Boston, but in America’s not in Russia anyways. I’ve never been to Russia, or anywhere in Eastern Europe, though I did study abroad in the UK,” I said as though this meant anything at all.
“It’s a nice name, Misha,” he said, and then gently pushed my head back down.
He had two fingers up my ass when I finally met his husband for the first time. The man walked into the room, sweat stains blooming in small fans under his arms from the heat of the day, and dropped the messenger bag he had over one shoulder to the floor. He was of an age with both me and Evgeniy, his hair was thick, curly and dark, and his eyes were some light color, blue or maybe hazel.
“I see,” he said when he looked up and saw us, “clean up when you’re done.”
And then he left the room. He’d spoken as though asking Evgeniy to clean the dishes or take out the trash. His accent matched Evgeniy’s, though his voice was reedier, sharper, and, I realized, more like my own. Though I had only been half hard, I went soft then, and Evgeniy pulled out of me. He kissed me sloppily and smiled but didn’t get up immediately as I thought he might to go out and attempt to smooth things over with his husband.
“Does he…do you think he’d want to join us?” I asked, uncertain while Evgeniy laid slobbery kisses across my clavicle.
“No, he doesn’t like threesomes.”
“Is he…? I mean did he know? Should I go?”
“We can finish up, but then you should go, I thought he’d be home later,” Evgeniy said, sucking now at my nipple. I sat up.
“I don’t know, I just feel sort of weird about it.”
“Yeah,” I said. I rubbed my thumb in a circle around Evgeniy’s nipple, but the flesh felt unappealingly like rubber. I had to get out. Without even taking the time to put my shoes on, I shuffled out of the bedroom, passing Evgeniy’s husband where he sat in the dining room. Though I looked at him, he did not look up at me. It wasn’t as though he were trying to ignore me, it was as though I wasn’t even there at all.
Evgeniy had offered to drive me, but I took an Uber home, the same way I’d arrived.
Edward Daschle (he/him/his) is currently enrolled in the University of Maryland’s MFA program in creative writing where he studies and teaches fiction. Having grown up hiking and having worked as a rock climbing instructor, he is something of a prototypical Pacific Northwesterner. His fiction also appears in Grim & Gilded, Stoneboat Literary Journal, Defunct, OFIC Magazine, and After Dinner Conversations.