Andrew Nickerson

All I said to the other members of the dinner party was that I didn’t understand how people claim to choose a family. It takes years to understand how we carry and act out the patterns of the people who raised us. My grandfather, a longtime constructionist judge in the Connecticut state court system, had passed away only months before. I still struggled against the stark directives in my mind that stood as his legacy.

The night’s host, a thin-faced economics professor everyone called Janette, pursed his lips and stared over his tortoiseshell glasses at four kinds of taco plates. Gray curls reaching for the ceiling, he held court against the city’s entrenched East Coast caste system. Institutions like Beacon Hill’s Somerset Club restricted cell phones and photography in the clubhouse. Every member of the Queen of Clubs Supper Club, on the other hand, acted as a savvy social media publicist for the group. Together they moved through the brownstones of Boston’s South End. On occasion, they touched into the less established neighborhoods. Between twenty and fifty queer regulars who all laughed at the concept of membership and considered their doors open to anyone.

This was only my second night in, and I’d decided to correct my first night’s impression. I first showed up a few weeks before, straight from the studio. Flour and water pilled my hair and clothes, and the man who invited me, a Grindr meetup named Aaron, ignored me the entire dinner. He was as aloof as he had been direct. We’d chatted over drinks and fucked at my place. My first night with the club, his polished sprezzatura chilled the air. The right attitude, it turned out, for Janette’s open-concept condo of neutral colors, Subzero appliances, and clean lines. And a framed campy fusion of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Queen of Clubs playing card. Dignity’s flirtation with debasement residing in the entryway of the current host’s home.

At the end of that first night, Jeannette had said, “Shame you couldn’t be with us tonight, Noah.”

A nearby man named Brice, all flitting trickster’s eyes poured into a baby blue polo shirt, said a friend of his would call me a mute. They tested everyone new like that. An evening as uncomfortable and familiar as a family holiday, which was why I returned.

Janette erupted in his seat. “Therapy is nothing more than an insidious, entrenched abuse of power. Therapists problematize the world to fit their own self-aggrandizing projections.” His face glowed the way my grandfather’s had when challenged.

“I’ve found it helpful,” I said.

He coughed and his nostrils flared. “Not to mention the odious barbarities that hocus pocus inflicted on the queer community.” His eyes fixed on mine, either hunter or hunted I couldn’t tell. Again I saw my grandfather, that tension between debate me, coward, and please, for Godssakes, shut up.

“Did anyone see the attempt to rebrand the Algonquin House?” Brice said. The twenty or so other guests shifted in their seats at the table and nearby couches, trading scraps of other conversations.

I held my wine glass in a fist to keep from shaking and gulped down the viognier. A voice from the far side of the table said, “someone’s thirsty.” Smirks flickered and died like struck matches. Luís, an oncology resident with wispy hair, purred, “he has to drink to talk to us.” He raised his glass and reiterated his and his partner’s impending move from one brownstone to another. The open invitation to the housewarming. I thought of my therapist encouraging me to get out and meet new people. “Some people think they need help,” his partner said.

I ignored and reveled in Janette’s stare. “Read Foucault,” he said, chewing each word like gristle.

“Are you a Scientologist?” I stuttered. The tangy-sweet scents of oil, romesco, and fruit notes fluttered at the edges of the silence.

Chuckles and gasps floated around the table. Janette folded the edges of his taco and munched as beet juice dribbled down the back. I had pushed too far. This club seemed to have a hierarchy after all. A flushed twink named Eyryk, who lived with Janette but didn’t share his designation as host, stalked over and snapped his fingers in the air. He wore a little pin that read, “Head Boy,” and was, like almost everything around me, at once ironic and sincere. Janette’s status as a group captain attracted elite college students, and they all made a game of pinning the favorite. I reached up and sipped the wine. Luís would later inform me that Eyryk went to Harvard but showed humility by saying only that he went to school in Cambridge. That word, “humility,” served as a keystone to my understanding of the strange subtext that permeated their common narrative.

I knew this game but thought I had left it when I traded in my law degree for an artist’s loft on the waterfront. I hadn’t made any friends with my neighbors, yet. They still saw a lawyer, and I couldn’t blame them. After all, I saw one too whenever I looked in a mirror. Or thought of my grandfather. Now, I wasn’t sure what I saw, which excited and terrified me in equal measure. But spending more time with men who knew and advocated for themselves would help me learn to do the same, on my terms.

My family would have admitted that my grandfather played favorites. Of course, the whole point of the game was projection and deflection from his own humble barnyard beginnings. A fabled refusal to wear denim with the completion of his night school law degree. I had all that down by the time my therapist and I celebrated our one-year anniversary. We spent the next ten years exploring why, despite this knowledge, I continued to feel his hands pressing down on my shoulders. One Thanksgiving, my younger cousin rushed up to him at the table. She beamed through her braces about placing in the State Gymnastics tournament. He eyed her with the same distance he studied anyone from his bench and told her how Middlebury College had accepted me. I had long ago learned that there was no pride without humiliation, no winning without a loser in the wings.

At his funeral the previous spring, I guessed that some wild joy shook in the eyes of some of the older men who kept to the back. No one in the family seemed to know them. My grandfather had fought against equal rights protections for gays and lesbians back in the 1980s. Whole files outlined the battle in the Women and Gender Studies section of the UConn library. I stumbled upon the information while a sophomore in college, researching the history for a political science class. For a week afterward, I haunted my room and missed classes. I gave up on the project altogether and refocused on restrictive voting laws instead. The week before he died, I held his brittle hand and whispered that I loved him as he lay on his back in a hospital bed, unconscious and choked by a feeding tube. It felt in part like a betrayal of everyone he’d hurt, including me. But, looking back on myself now, I’m grateful for that ambivalence, painful as it was.

In the weeks following my stumbled sparring with Janette, I ventured out to other Grindr meetups and toured other studios. My studio work and the Queen of Clubs acted as my two guardrails of stability. At first, I kept showing up to placate my therapist. A warm, direct woman named Heather who sometimes walked around her office and poked at her plants while I talked. But I continued to struggle to connect. Heather had labeled the supper club a gateway to myriad connections of different interests and intimacies. Almost everyone else who attended seemed to know each other well. They shared book clubs, rock climbs, trivia and game nights—a hundred and one activities and adventures. Above all, an iron-clad judgment toward people the world over. We cuddled and preened on low-backed sectionals. Commiserations over the obtuse provincials infecting the world with their ignorance. “Coal miners need to adapt to the changing markets. Get a computer and learn to code.” “This boy I was with last night had the audacity to weigh in on the ruling and then ask me what SCOTUS meant.” “Our waitress brought out three different bottles before admitting that the manager substituted a New Zealand malbec for an Argentinian shiraz.” “If you pay for a service, provide the damn service.” “You’re only holding everyone to the same standard you hold yourself.”

There was an outrage toward everyone who didn’t hold themselves to the same high standard. It acted as a high wall to shy or wounded newcomers. As the weeks and months wore on I noticed such poor souls appear and hover around the margins, until fear or earnestness returned them to the common faceless throng. One corporate lawyer frothed as he relayed the ten cars he watched omit a full stop at the stop sign near the city flowerbed that he had taken it upon himself to replant and tend. An anesthesiologist frowned and said, “Every day I run into someone who makes me think, ‘you’re why this city will never be great.’” A young clinical psychologist nodded. He said that nowhere had he felt the love that he felt in that room at that moment. I waited for someone to laugh, but other men only nodded in kind or wiped at their eyes. He never reached out to unsure newcomers, and even signaled to other seasoned members to hold back. More like a corporate HR rep than a therapist, protecting the established mores of the group. Janette held his hand over his mouth and seemed to hold back sobs.

A drive through Hartford with my grandfather from many years earlier came to mind. On our way to my first lunch at the Hartford Club, after a morning of watching him dole out blustery rulings. The Cadillac stopped at a red light and a middle-aged man in dirty jeans and haunted eyes stood outside the window. My grandfather stared at the light ahead, trembled as his face turned the same color, and muttered, “Get a job.” As we passed the next street, he deadeyed an overweight woman in a spaghetti-strap top and flip-flops. He threw up his hands and said, “Now why would you leave the house like that? Carrying a box of donuts. Go figure.”

Everyone in Janette’s brownstone would fit in a catalog’s spread of athletic professionals. They frequented the same gyms and weeknight sports leagues and spent less time alone in a week than I did in a day. A promise of belonging I’d never known, but in practice only made me feel desperate and insecure. Another drink and some tiny desserts numbed the fear. As a small group recounted a recent paint night in Beacon Hill, I said that I was working on an installation in my studio. It felt so good to say it out loud.

“What did you think of the Glenn Kaino exhibit? At the MoCA,” Janette said. I later learned that as the host he asked out of politeness, not curiosity, as a social captain, not a friend.

“I haven’t seen it,” I said. Nor did I know who Glenn Kaino was.

“Where would we have seen your work?” he said.

“Nowhere,” I said.

“Okay, let’s see your phone then.”


“You don’t have ten albums devoted to your work?”

Brice appeared at my side with powdered sugar cemented at one corner of his mouth. “I’d love to see it sometime,” he said.

“Wish I had time for a hobby,” Janette said. “At least get yourself to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.”

Eyryk giggled. Janette coughed into his hand and Eyryk stopped.

“There’s a whole documentary about the heist,” Brice said, and patted my back.

The brief silence that followed proved too much for Janette to bear. He filled his lungs with a sigh that blew through my face like a summer storm. He grinned at me and shared an unreadable glance with Brice, then said a good host must attend to her guests. Some later online searching revealed videos of half-filled lecture halls where Janette, as Professor Harold Wilkins, scribbled formulas on whiteboards to dozing students in a rumpled white shirt and faded khakis.

“Thanks,” I said.

An abrupt bark of laughter from across the room startled me. Janette and the men he had moved toward all stared back. Discovered, most of their gazes fell away, but his and Luís’s held until that old trap I knew so well rattled as its rusty door shut me in.

I skipped the next Queen of Clubs dinner to stare at a half-formed piece in my studio. Trips out to Luís’s housewarming that weekend and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum would be enough. The MoCA, a quaint, unassuming barn full of pieces with something to say, was all the way out in the northwestern corner of the state. Brice accompanied me to the Gardner Museum, cute in a sky-blue polo shirt, engaging me with the warmth of a friend. I wasn’t used to such a rapid-fire connection and told him so. He laughed and said okay and kept on talking. Despite the museum’s nods to the contemporary exhibition and radical openness to the public in its time, it remained a Venetian palace frozen in reverie to the Gilded Age. Its expansive central collection depended on the goodwill of a single wealthy philanthropist. My dusty studio seemed equally far from all those places, and more like home because of it.

Papier-mâché crusted on my fingers and the scissors I used to cut documents from my grandfather’s archives into strips of text. The inheritance and the sale of my Back Bay condo were enough to set me up in one of the lofts near the waterfront. Gray wind tunnels without a patch of green in sight, a stone’s throw from the real estate explosion in the Seaport. Great natural light. I’d described that to Aaron, my original connection to this group who hadn’t shown up once.

We first met up at a bar outside of Kendall Square on a sticky June night. His tie undone, doughy cheeks funneling an IPA, Aaron described his work with the state department of environmental protection. He said I had soulful eyes, and ran his hand through my hair. He leaned toward me as I talked about my shift from public policy to mixed media, my grandfather’s recent death, favorite restaurants in the city. He said that, since I was such a foodie, to come by a laid-back little dinner his friend was throwing. That’s how he framed the group. I had stepped through the doorway that first night with flour and water pasted in my hair and fingernails, pilled sweater and baggy corduroys. Loafers and wingtips lined the door, with a sea of crisp ironed oxfords beyond, all shouting that context was everything.

Luís hosted the next club meeting at his new place. His partner had left the night before to a month-long cultural residency in Mykonos. They had moved down the street from their previous apartment for two hundred more square feet and an updated kitchen. Leagues nicer than my studio but not quite the single-owner brick whales on West Concord. Their unit sat between two others to only appear that way. All modern furniture, crisp and clean-lined as most of the guests’ pants and jackets, without a rumple or slouch anywhere. Aside from me, my blue sweater hanging like a poncho, my hair washed but jutting at odd angles. Every now and then, the clinical psychologist would eye me from afar, but he never interacted directly. He’d used his influence and expertise to frame the space into a loving narrative, which Heather and I took for a kind of alert system to catch anyone who didn’t respond in kind. Avoiding him proved easy enough, so long as I didn’t mind being labeled avoidant.

I pressed my hair down with a hand and presented Luís with a wine bag.

“Beautiful place,” I said.

“Thank you!” he said, aglow. “Belonged to a couple of dear friends. They followed new opportunities back to San Fran.”

I had a feeling I’d met said friends at a previous dinner, but couldn’t place them. “Thank you for inviting me,” I said.

His face tilted and lost all expression. Janette coughed as he slipped between us. He and Luís chirped and purred as they hugged. “You did it!” Janette said.

“I talked those bitches down $30K,” Luís said.

“I hope you sent them a gift basket,” Janette said.

“Smoked ham and sausages,” Luís said, and the pair doubled over laughing.

Janette frowned at me, maybe because I didn’t join in, and said, “They’re both vegan, at least according to the last ten thousand meal posts on Insta.” He mimed the twirling of a keychain on his finger.

This made no sense, so I pushed back. “Why would you get them something you know they wouldn’t like?”

The pair shared a sour face. “I sent them a lovely gift basket, brimming with California wines, peaches, and olives,” Janette said. He muttered through a set jaw, rail thin in counterpoise, as though affirming reality equated to the deepest boredom or humiliation.

Luís pinched Janette’s hip. “I don’t remember mailing you an invitation. How dare you show your face here.” Janette pouted and flared his nostrils.

“Noah here just thanked me for inviting him,” Luís said. They shared a slow, curling grin and I was back in my grandfather’s Cadillac as he blustered at strangers. “I’d be surprised if ten percent of the population is intellectually curious. And you think these people in the real world care about your feelings? No one in the real world has time for feelings.”

“You should find someone to sheer all that wool off you,” Janette said. Bitingly cruel, but his eyes remained kind.

“Maybe your invitation got lost,” I said, and Janette grinned.

Luís clapped and Janette winked at me. “So innocent,” he said. “Careful or you might commit monogamy.” He flipped his hair, a mountainous silver-flecked pompadour. I searched the room for someone else, Brice, Eyryk, and spotted Aaron by the bay window. A boozy couple skated from him toward the canapés as he pinched a pothos leaf between his fingers. I walked over and said hello, and the leaf tore under his fingers. The translucent sap left a thin line on the edge of his shirt that quickly faded into the cotton.

“Hey! I’m glad you made it,” I said. “It’s a bit rough not knowing anyone. This is all really new to me.”

Aaron fiddled with the plant, tucking the ripped leaf behind some others. His cheeks lifted like dewy hills above his buttoned grin. “What’s new to you, people?” he asked, his voice calm and inviting.

I laughed, too loudly. “I suppose,” I said. “Recently anyway. Like I said before, I’m in my studio most of the time. Since my grandfather died.” In the earlier conversation between us, these comments had garnered some interest, even sympathy. He’d rubbed my back and topped off my pinot gris as we linked legs on his couch.

“Not my problem,” he said. Ouch. Okay, establishing new boundaries. At least Brice seemed interested in seeing the studio.

“I’m kind of stalled at the moment,” I said. “I’d still love you to come see, or just hang out. Janette suggested I take some pictures to show off.”

Aaron bit his lip and scanned the figures crowding in the room. I had arrived promptly at eight, which meant I was early. I stood alone with Luís and a couple of friends who helped set up for twenty long, quiet minutes. The clinical psychologist smiled like a child and asked me to arrange the wine, and to keep an eye on the door to let people in. I spun the bottles around while the trio disappeared to the main bedroom. They later reemerged as though from some hidden back door, only once five or six guests had arrived.

“Did you even see the Kaino exhibit yet?” Aaron asked me. He seemed restless, and as he flicked his attention at Janette, I remembered that he, not Aaron, had told me about the exhibit. The displacement unnerved me.

“It’s out in the Berkshires,” I said. “I don’t have a car.”

Aaron grunted. “Sorry, who are you again?”

I laughed, and more, sharper laughter pierced the far corner of the room. I stiffened like a hare at the edge of a thicket. Anyone might have laughed, about anything, but somehow it all directed back at me. Had I even read the latest SCOTUS decision? Did I know my wines well enough to send the wrong one back? This was the world, after all, and I had to toughen myself to it. “I’m Noah. We fucked at your place a couple of months ago and you invited me to your supper club and never showed.”

Aaron smirked. “Work. We’re all self-starters here.” He folded his arms over his chest, biceps sticking out like polished apples. “Look,” he said, his voice raising, “we’re not here together, okay? We just hooked up. No one likes a stage-five clinger, and believe me, everyone will notice.”

“Clinger,” I said. But what were the stages? Why would anyone invite someone to something where he doesn’t know anyone, and then not show up? Aaron wasn’t alone though. Even by the housewarming, I’d realized that most plans got built up like sandcastles set too close to the tide.

“Not my problem,” he said and left the pothos and me for the canapés.

There was no way he mistook me for someone else. No doubt he threw out the same lazy boilerplate to anyone not high enough on his social ladder. He scanned the room with that same controlled anxiety, pinching and fussing the pothos leaves without expression. Mimicking the ivy league sprezzatura repurposed as humility that I realized I’d known all my life. Here’s where my therapist would tell me to focus on my breathing. Was this a breakdown? Postured self-sufficiency sweat up the room like the condensation running down the windows, all too familiar, inescapable.

A week later, as the sun streaked the sky in all its impressionist pastels, Brice popped by after work. We’d met for a walk or a drink a couple of times since the museum. I opened up a little more easily and he slowed down when I seemed overwhelmed. We hugged and he requested a drink like a man in from the desert. His suit held the stale smells of a long day overlaid with deodorant and mint gum. Wide squares of pinks and oranges crawled from the loft windows across the various papier-mâché experiments rising from my worktables like coral. The futon and side table purchased from Good Will and the woodblock kitchenette all fell together as an afterthought. Brice crumpled onto the futon, vodka soda in hand, and studied the papier-mâché dome with the buttonhole entrance that rose from the center of the floor.

“Do you know someone brought beer to Luís’s housewarming?” he said. The lack of furnishings amplified every sound. “Like a six pack.”

“I don’t think I’m a good fit,” I said, picking up his legs to sit and sipping my own drink.

“We’re family,” he said, rubbed my shoulders, and cooed about the tension they held, the way Aaron had done. The dome cast a shadow between us that stretched with life as the sun fell. Still in process, although nearly done, built of chicken wire and thousands of paper strips. My grandfather had saved all his bureaucratic hate for posterity. He bequeathed it all to me and a few cousins, assuming that we would see campaigns for justice in place of bigoted paranoia. Brice asked how long I’d been sculpting and I admitted not very long. I told him about my law career, a couple of failed relationships, both unnerved by my grandfather’s repressive hand. How it commanded family, the courts, and the legislature.

“So you couldn’t figure your shit out until he died,” Brice said, coffee and vodka on his breath, the air close and warm. “I knew I felt a connection to you. My uncles were gay bashers, back in the ‘80s. Or maybe they weren’t. My mother’s stories change once I start asking questions. Bigots though, and mean drunks. Terrifying to a little boy who likes to read books and sing.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

The ruby dusk softened the tight dome into an echo of a womb. Brice squinted at the bits and pieces of text that bled through the plaster, some only visible in the evening light. Broadening civil rights only dilutes those we already have, what those brave people fought for…Where’s my anti-discrimination bill?...Justice Willshire assures the committee…The role of a justice is not that of a legislator…Next it’s special treatments for redheads…I suppose we can’t even tell gay jokes anymore…Where’s my law?

“I see,” Brice said, the lining crinkling as he poked it. “It’s about the light. No safe spaces.” He reached an arm around my back and held me until I felt his heartbeat. The rhythm opened the wire trap within and my heart scurried out. It squinted in the violet fire and leapt out into the weeping night, bewildered. My grandfather stood behind me, all around. A bow-tied waiter poured tablespoons of sherry over our lobster bisque at the Hartford Club.

“No echo in here,” Brice said.

“No echo in here,” I said, and we both laughed.

“He’s got jokes,” he said. The walls glowed at the edge of the night as he traced his finger down my nose and tapped it against my chin. “I’m glad you’re not a mute.” He pulled out his phone and snapped pictures of the dome, without asking. By the next meeting of the Queen of Clubs, everyone had seen it.

Luís of all people greeted me at his door with a vodka soda. “Welcome back,” he said and smiled without the usual intrigue. He hugged me for twenty seconds before letting go, while I stared into the kitsched eye of the club’s namesake perched on the console table. Eyryk kissed my cheek as he crossed the room. Plants gifted from the housewarming wilted on Luís’s mantle, the shelves that encased the bay window, and the driftwood console table from Ptown with a whole story behind it. The pothos, thriving on neglect, fell lush and green beside Aaron, sprezzing by the windows. Beside him, a stout man with thinning hair in a green merino sweater traded nervous glances between him and the floor. As I headed toward the man to introduce myself, Aaron shouted, “Stop staring at me, God damn it!” and stalked off. My skin caught fire before I realized that Aaron had addressed the man beside him, who had withdrawn so far into himself that he only stood out more.

Brice pinched my shoulder. “Noah, where’s that formidable shyness we’ve all come to know and love?” He clinked his glass to mine and stood between me and the man in the sweater. “No safe spaces,” he said and winked. From the canapés, Luís shook his head at the scene. Others ignored or bristled disapprovingly, but all formed a purposeful quarantine. This man was new and awkward and he had shut down, set adrift on a solitary current to watch until he drowned.

The rhythms of the room picked up again, but no one revealed quite as much. My phone buzzed with a text from an unknown number, part of a larger chain to which I had been added. Non-starter, it read, then deleted itself. At least two-thirds of the room put down their phones and glanced at the man with eerie synchronicity. Anyone who found the text offensive withheld their objections. Had Janette posted the MoCA conversation up there too?

For an excruciating ten minutes, a small group moved right in front of the man. In raised voices, they shared their plans for the weekend. He sucked in his top lip and, breathing heavily, made his way out the door. Whatever heart the room had held seemed to flatline and fade into a trail that followed him down the hall and into the night. Aaron eyed the door and said, “Fear." The young psychologist said something about the importance of agency as though he were casting a spell over the room. A line about everyone taking responsibility for themselves. After his benediction, admonitions to the shortcomings of the world and ways to improve it resumed.

Back when I was a freshman in college, my grandfather drove me back to his chambers after lunch at the Hartford Club. He said he had to look over a few things before taking me home. A grand leather chair and wide oak desk asserted the space like a Gardner Museum portrait. On the back wall hung a stark winter scene from the Hudson River School. On loan from the nearby Wadsworth Atheneum, a gift from the Wadsworth family. A young black woman in a pencil skirt suit set three large binders on the corner of the desk. My grandfather introduced her as his clerk, Maria. We exchanged a couple of pleasantries and she commended my placement at Middlebury. As she returned to another office through a side door, my grandfather commented how impressed he was with her.

“You know, she used to come in and say, ‘Judge, do you mind if I axe you a question?’ I said, ‘Maria, you’re a smart woman. Why wouldn’t you say, ‘ask?’ She thought a minute, smiled at me, and said, ‘You’re right, Judge. Now it’s a little joke we have.’”

I wish I’d known how to shape the twisting in my stomach into language.

“I’m gay,” I’d said.

He sucked his teeth and nodded over his papers. “Well, you’re still one of us.” He looked up at me, his eyes smiling. “Still our Noah.” Back then, his words had felt like a balm on an old wound. In the painting on the back wall, entitled “The Trapper,” a man in dark clothes stalks across the snow with his dog. One of the many perks of knowing the right people in the right places. I wondered if Maria had chosen to clerk for him, given his record, and if she knew how he’d talked about her.

The man in the green sweater’s footsteps resounded off the stairs as Brice moved to close the door behind him. Brice caught me watching and offered a sad smile. The old, deep shame my grandfather had patched onto me like strips of paper shone in this new light. Those years ago, I should have followed that clerk out of his office. I should have kept right on walking and spent the next ten years undoing the damage. It would have been so much easier to leave if he had shouted outright at me as well. Perhaps he held back because he saw too much of his own brittle self, or perhaps didn't want to hurt me after all. He cared about me, but he cared about his power more, and, like so many other men who began in the dirt, believed he’d earned it through grit alone.

Some echo of that power held me in that room, kept me fighting for some position like the rest of them. The bluster to build a better world denied the heartbreak of the world that presented itself. The latter still sang from the marble walls of the Hartford Club and places like it. Janette, Eyryk, and others murmured to Aaron. The young psychologist approached me for the first time. “I’ve seen you around here before,” he said. Janette directed me to keep an eye on the door and returned to tending to Aaron. The clownish, regal portrait in the entryway reminded me: no one in the real world has time for your feelings. We’re all self-starters here.

I had no idea who the man in the green merino sweater was, but I knew him in some way that I’d never know anyone else there. They seemed loathe to know me or themselves in any way that reflected him in that moment. I offered sweet goodbyes and descended from the brownstone to the dark and busy street. Back up at a window, every now and then, a shadow peeked down at the queens’ royal playground, their meticulous gardens, and all the rest of us who would never live as they did. We who refused to quit whining, push harder, and forge our crowns.

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