"Huijia xiàn, Jim. Huijia gūxìang nĭde fuqin—Go home, Jim. Go home to tend to your father."
David Koh was standing at the glass entrance door to the China Garden takeout restaurant and looking up and down North 5th East Street. Nothing was stirring. The snow—a daily event in southern Wyoming at this time of year—was starting and stopping in spurts, having a hard time deciding whether it would create a white Christmas this year. Nobody had come into the restaurant for an hour. There weren't any outstanding telephone orders. It was just him and Jimmy and they'd been the last ones to eat here, each tucking whatever Jimmy had most of while standing in anticipation of the telephone ringing, not exactly a festive meal. He'd called out to Jimmy in the kitchen over his shoulder.
It started to snow again, but it wasn't making a very serious effort at it, in keeping with being in the tired almost-almost town of Green River, Wyoming, a grease spot on Interstate 80 somewhere between "over there" and "back there." It was 7:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve and no one was stirring. His Mandarin was very basic. He was second generation in the States and his parents had been too eager to Americanize, but the restaurant's night cook, Jimmy Fong, was much more recently arrived, having come to take up his father's position in the China Garden kitchen when the old man's hands had been too crippled to continue. Jimmy's English wasn't that good. He hadn't had enough time out of the kitchen to work on it.
"Wǒmen wù jĭnĭn shi wèi shiwŭfēn—We don't close for another fifteen minutes," Jimmy called out from in back. He was the regimented one, which, like his father before him, made him a very good, reliable employee. He hadn't fully gathered that it was Christmas Eve and they were closing at 8:00 p.m. He usually was here until 10:00, and it usually was busy past that time.
"Bù yīgè shi wèilài—Nobody is coming," David called back. Jimmy would be sad about that. He had to work beyond closing time to feel he'd done his duty. David wasn't old school. He'd be happy they were closing early—if he had anyplace to go now. He couldn't go home. His parents would be whole hog for Christmas, it being an American tradition. That wouldn't include him this year, though. Jimmy wouldn't care about Christmas. He was a Buddhist. This was his first year in the States and he'd wound up in Nowhere, Wyoming, of all places. He was bewildered by it all.
It took until 8:30 for Jimmy to get the kitchen cleaned up and shut down and David to sweep out the front. David stood in the doorway, watching Jimmy walk toward the apartment he shared with his father. Jimmy had wrapped up the leftovers from the slow night. His father would eat well tonight. All Jimmy had in life in a country where he hadn't even mastered the language yet was his work and a father to take care of. David envied him, though, because the man was satisfied with that. David didn't even have a home to go to tonight. Bad timing on falling out with his parents during the Christmas season.
Before coming out of the restaurant and locking the door, he noticed that the guy across the street, at Gold's Gym—the other closer—was closing up too. David thought of the big, black guy who covered the evening shift at the gym as the other closer. The gym usually closed at 10:00 at night, just as the take-out did, and it often was David closing up here as the black guy, all muscle and about twice David's size, but built like Mr. Universe, was turning off the lights across the street. They'd been doing this for over a year now—watching each other close up their businesses at the end of the night—but they never come anywhere closer to meeting than saluting each other in the dark from across the street.
As he watched, the black guy pulled his athletic T over his head, presumably preparing to go back to the showers in the gym before closing down. David involuntarily sucked in air. The man's torso was magnificent—all chocolate, muscular sculpting, covered with a swirl of dark blue, almost primeval tattooing. David's mind flipped off into arousal and desire. He had to shake his head to come out of his reverie. This inflamed the dilemma he was in now—in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong family to have the feelings that he did.
The black guy saluted now and David returned it, and then the bodybuilder, looking really good in sweat pants and a bare chest, pulled back into the gym. With a sigh, David locked the door and stepped out onto the walk, looking both to the right and the left, not having any idea where to go on a night that he had time left to do something. Would guys like him be out cruising on Christmas Eve? Were there even many guys like him in this nowhere dot on the map? He hadn't hooked up since college; he hadn't met anyone in Green River to hook up with. It was sort of funny that this had come to a head with his family—and at Christmas time.
He'd gotten a room at the Mustang Motel over on East Flaming Gorge Way, the I-80 business route main drag through town, but there was no thrill in going there this early in the evening. The motel was clean, but sterile. He couldn't stay more than a couple of nights there. He'd have to find a room somewhere if he couldn't go back to his parents' house.
There didn't seem to be any other option than his room at the Mustang Motel, though, so David started walking toward East Flaming Gorge Way. The snow was still coming down in flakes, but it refused to cover the ground. This was unusual for this time of year in southern Wyoming. Usually there was a foot of snow or more on the ground for Christmas and the background of fluffy white stuff set the town's Christmas decorations off well and hid how tired the buildings themselves were. No such luck this year, which, when added to funk David's blowup with his parents, the owners of the China Garden restaurant, running it on the day shift, put him in a foul mood. It's as if he were waiting for something new to happen in his life to dispel the drudgery of this "going nowhere" town that was set so solidly against him and his nature.
As he approached the intersection with the main drag, he heard the choral music coming from a community center to his right, the opposite direction of the Mustang Motel to his left. It was Christmas Eve and he was all alone. He turned right. It was early yet. He'd listen to the music before going back to his room. Maybe it would make him forget his melancholy—at least for an hour.
What he didn't see was that Abeo Musa, the big, black Nigerian who ran Gold's Gym on the nightshift and who had been sizing up the Chinese guy, David Koh, from the Chinese takeout on the other side of the street from his gym had left the gym just after David closed up the restaurant and, after hesitating, had started to walk toward the main drag through the town. It hadn't been an inadvertent act when Musa had stripped off his T-shirt and flexed his muscles when he saw Koh across the street, watching him.
Musa followed some sixty feet away from the younger Asian man on the dark street, and when David turned right, toward the community center and the Christmas music, Musa turned in that direction too.
The musical sound in the community center wasn't the greatest. There were some sweet voices in the choir but the total sound wasn't anything David would hear on a CD. But the atmosphere was warm and Christmassy and the musical selections were comforting—and, most important, mind numbing. David really didn't want to go home—with "home" now, at least temporarily, being a tired motel room that backed onto the most extensive rail switching yard between Rawlings, Wyoming, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The rail yards and the nearby Flaming Gorge attraction, which had lent its name to practically everything in town, were the only two reasons Green River still existed after the need for someplace to stop over to rest and resupply ended in the rush to California gold.
He found a seat, nodding to those already seated, the concert having begun, and becoming aware that, although people were polite about it, he was the only Asian-looking person in the room. There weren't even many blacks, Green River being pretty much an all-white town as a good many of the former small pioneer towns in the American West were. As far as he had been able to find, his and Jimmy Fong's were the only Chinese-origin families in town. The main reason China Garden was able to make it in this town of twelve-thousand residents was that it was the only Chinese food restaurant in the county. He was here now, though, and although he was getting looks, they were curious, not hostile, ones.
And then he wasn't the only exotic-looking person in the hall and the absence of anyone black also was breached. David was getting settled when the door to the street opened and Abeo Musa entered, looked around, briefly paused his attention on David Koh, but then found a seat on the other side of the hall. The general attention now was split, again showing more curiosity than hostility. There were a few blacks in town now, but none like Abeo Musa. The man was a six-foot-six tower of muscle but, most distinctly, his cheeks had been marked in lines of raised piercings. He wasn't an American black; he was an African black—and one standing head and shoulders over anyone else around him. That said, he was a handsome man and was well dressed enough—warmly for the cold night in which it should be snowing up a storm on Christmas Eve, but wasn't. He would, of course, be much more noticeable in this remote "nowhere" town if his body tattoos, bearing out an African ancestry, were evident, but they were covered. No one could complain about how tastefully and respectfully he was dressed this evening.
David tried not to look at the black man during the concert, but he couldn't help doing so—the two had been nodding to each other for over a year without making contact—but he couldn't help himself, and every time he looked over there, Musa was taking glances at him.
At the end of the program, the announcer invited everyone to another room in what had once been a church building down a short corridor for refreshments. David didn't want to go back to the motel yet—in fact he had half a notion to go back to the restaurant, fill in Christmas Eve doing some busywork there that would take his mind off being alone tonight, and self-righteously pout. Only about half of the concert goers went for refreshments and it was obvious that most of them wouldn't stay long. Families had attended. It was Christmas Eve. It was time to be home with your family, preparing for the traditionally festive day ahead.
He took some punch—despite the evident curiosity in having an Asian young man who looked familiar to several without being able to fit him into those who would attend a concert like this—from a smiling woman at the refreshment table, He then turned and looked over the ornaments on the tree, trying to provide an excuse for not entering any of the discussion groups scattered here and there in the room. He was glad to have a Christmas tree to look at. His parents always had a nice one. There was a scrawny one in the motel office, but it only served to remind David how alone he was on Christmas Eve.
Again, he was thinking that he had picked a very bad time to have "the discussion" with his parents. But it had been unavoidable. They'd brought it to a head.
"I hadn't realized there would be a concert here tonight. Just the thing I needed, I think. Is this a group you're connected with?" The voice was low, smooth, and rich, the words precisely formed, with the slight hint of a British accent. David was surprised at the richness of it, but he knew the origin before he turned around. It was, of course, the closer at the gym across the street from the Chinese takeout. David thought of the hulking black man from the gym as the closer. He thought of himself with the term too, as that's the position his parents said David occupied at the restaurant. They both—he and this black, giant of a hunk—were responsible for closing their respective businesses for the night.
"No," David answered. "I just heard the singing as I was reaching the main drag and decided I didn't want to go home—to my room yet. It's Christmas Eve. I don't know any of these people. I'm just glad they had a concert and let me in."
"Me too, I didn't want to go right home. Closing two hours early is a bit disconcerting. Work fills in the time."
"I know what you mean," David answered. "I'm David, by the way. David Koh. It seems strange that we've done the night shift across from each other for months and never introduced ourselves."
"Yes. Funny that it took Christmas Eve to get us to meet—and then somewhere else other than the street where we work. I'm Abeo Musa. Yes, I know it's a strange name. I come from Nigeria, although I lived in South Carolina for several years before coming here."
They'd made a brief effort to shake hands, but they both were burdened with punch glasses and a big cookie in a napkin, and they both, with a low laugh, shrugged and gave up on that nicety. David wanted to do more than shake this arousing man's hand, and from the looks Musa gave him, David could dream that Musa felt the same way.
"What brought you to Green River? It's sort of . . ." but David couldn't close out on that thought. Would the man take it as racist? He didn't mean because he was black—but because he'd said he was Nigerian. That was in Africa. That was a hell of a long way from Green River, Wyoming—in many senses.
"You noticed too, did you?—a black and an Asian showing up as strangers at someone's concert. They probably wondered where the third Magi was sitting." They both gave a little laugh, and David relaxed. "But they welcomed us in. They have the right spirit here. I got here by marriage. You?"
"My parents own the restaurant and have been here since before I was born. They left me with family in San Francisco until I'd been to college, though, and was old enough to learn this business. They, of course, hoped I would be taking it over someday."
"They hoped that—past tense? It sounds like you aren't planning on doing that."
"I was planning on doing that up to a few days ago," David said, his voice showing the regret. He didn't know why he was opening up like this—to someone he'd only now started talking to, although he had to admit they'd been interacting a bit for over a year. "Now I don't think they'll be giving the restaurant to me."
"You had a disagreement—in the Christmas season?"
"A nuclear explosion one, yes. Pity it was now, but it was Christmas that brought it on."
He knew he should stop here. This guy didn't want to hear his sob story. And he'd think it was sordid. Even the nods from across the street at closing time would stop now. But he needed to talk to someone about it. He'd spilled it all out to Jimmy Fong at the restaurant, but that hardly mattered. He spoke English and Jimmy didn't. The man had just grinned and wagged his head. Life was simple for Jimmy. David envied him that.
"My parents are old-school Chinese. My Christmas present was that they were bringing a wife out from California for me for New Year's."
"And you hadn't . . ."
"I hadn't even met her before, no."
"Well, we're in America. You might try telling them—"
"The worst part is that it forced me tell them that I'm gay. I don't want a wife even if I'm to be permitted to pick one out myself."
"Ah. And they are old-style Chinese."
"Yes." There, he'd done it. David had told someone who understood English his dilemma. And the man hadn't turned and left. That was what David feared the most—being trapped in small town America as a gay man—the town's only gay man, although he knew that was stupid. In a town of twelve-hundred people there had to be more than one gay. It was a matter of finding the others. It was bad enough to be in probably the only Chinese family in this region of Wyoming. This was macho land. He couldn't be more isolated.
But Abeo Musa hadn't turned and walked away.
"I'm sorry," David said. "I know I shouldn't be blurting that around."
"Hey, no problem here. I'm here because I'm alone tonight too. I said it was marriage that brought me here. She and I met at Clemson University, in South Carolina. We both were there. We both trained to be physical trainers. But she was from here and wanted to open a gym here, so we did. We have two boys. But I'm as alone here now as you are. She took the boys and left. I don't even know where they are tonight. She hasn't landed anywhere with them yet—not that she's told me. I have Christmas presents for them but no address to send them to yet. That's why I was sorry there was no business tonight and the gym closed earlier than usual. It's why I came to this concert rather than going right home."
"I'm sorry to hear that," David said. "And I'm sorry that I blabbed so much about why I didn't have a home tonight. I've landed in a room at the Mustang Motel."
Now why did he say he had a room at the motel, he wondered. He was getting vibes from this guy but only now was aware of that. But Musa was married. The vibes couldn't be . . .
"Nothing to be sorry about," Musa cut into David's thoughts. "I've got the same problem as you do. It's why my wife left me. I came to grips with being bi, at least. And I think I like men the best."
"I think that's why I'm here. I live in the other direction from the gym. I don't think I came here because there was a concert here. I think I was following you—and hoping for more than a solitary Christmas Eve."
"Listen," Musa continued. "This punch is pretty weak. There's nothing in it to give it a kick. I think what I really need is a drink. How about you? I think I heard a party going on at the Red Feather Bar up the street as I was coming here. Would you be interested in—?"
"Yes," David said.
When then got to the Red Feather Bar, though, they found there was a private party that had taken over the place for Christmas Eve.
"I still could use a stiff drink," Musa said. "My place is just a couple of blocks from here, on East 2nd North. We could—"
"Yes," David said.
Yes to everything.
Both of them knew where this was leading once Abeo Musa suggested they leave the community center together to get a drink and David Koh accepted. The knowing look Musa gave him when he suggested they go for a drink, and David's realization he'd say yes, triggered the mutual understanding that they hadn't really been strangers all this time they'd acknowledged each other's presence for more than a year as they closed up their respective businesses from across the street from each other. They'd been sizing each other as possible partners, not knowing that the other one was gay, and deciding that that was what they'd like to have if it had been possible. Now they knew they were both gay and there was nothing standing in the way of a hookup at least—a relationship, maybe—being possible.
The snow started to fall in earnest as they approached Musa's wooden Arts and Crafts-style bungalow on a drab street with a smattering of bedraggled Christmas decorations out on shallow lawns between nudged-in houses, only enough space between house for cars to pass to remote backyard garages. As popular as the Arts and Crafts architectural style was, that didn't hold a fashion sway here. The houses had been built quickly and cheap sometime in the 1920s when Green River was being made a railroad switch yard and hadn't received much attention since then.
Musa's house, living and dining combination in front, with a kitchen and bedroom behind that and two more bedrooms and a bath at the back, wasn't fancy or large, but it was clean. The living and dining room area was sparsely, but comfortably and sturdily furnished in keeping with the needs of Musa's large frame. The sparsely part was good because the room was dominated by a live Christmas tree with almost enough lights and ornaments on it. Wrapped packages surrounded the base of the tree, some of them too large to normally be found wrapped on a Christmas morning. Musa saw that David's attention went to the tree and packages as they entered the house and Musa turned the tree lights on and went over to the sofa-facing fireplace beside the tree to get a fire going.