Family Meal | Bryan Washington | Granta

Family Meal

Bryan Washington

Most guys start pairing off around one, but TJ just sits there sipping his water. Everyone else slinks away from the bar in twos and threes. They’re fucked up and bobbing down Fairview, toward somebody’s ex-boyfriend’s best friend’s apartment. Or the bathhouse in midtown. Or even just out to the bar’s patio, under our awning, where mosquitoes crash-land into streetlamps until like six in the morning. But tonight, even after we’ve turned down the music and undimmed the lights and wiped down the counters, TJ doesn’t budge. It’s like the motherfucker doesn’t even recognize me.

For a moment, he’s a blank canvas. A face entirely devoid of our history.

But he wears this smirk I’ve never seen before. His hair tufts out from under his cap, grazing the back of his neck. And he’s always been shorter than me, but his cheeks have grown softer, still full of the baby fat that never went away.

I’m an idiot, but I know this is truly a rare thing: to see someone you’ve known intimately without them seeing you.

It creates an infinitude of possibility.

But then TJ blinks and looks right at me.

Fuck, he says.

Fuck yourself, I say.

Fuck, says TJ. Fuck.

You said that, I say. Wanna drink something stronger?

TJ touches the bottom of his face. Fiddles with his hair. Looks down at his cup.

He says, I didn’t even know you were back in Houston.

Alas, I say.

You didn’t think to tell me?

It’s not a big deal.

Right, says TJ. Sure.

The speakers above us blast a gauzy stream of pop chords, remixed beyond comprehension. Dolly and Jennifer and Whitney. They’re everyone’s cue to pack up for the night. But guys still lean on the bar-top in various states of disarray – a gay bar’s weekend cast varies wildly and hourly, from the Mexican otters draped in leather, to the packs of white queers clapping offbeat, to the Asian bears lathered in Gucci, to the Black twinks nodding along with the bass by the pool table.

As the crowd finally thins out, TJ grabs his cap, running a hand through his hair. He groans.

I’ll be done in a minute, I say. If you want to stick around.

Fine, says TJ.

Good, I say, and then I’m back at my job, closing out the register and restocking the Bacardi and turning my back on him once again.

I hadn’t heard from TJ in years.

We hadn’t actually seen each other in over a decade.

Growing up, his house stood next door to mine. My folks were rarely around, so TJ’s kept an eye on me. I ate at his dinner table beside Jin and Mae. Borrowed his sweaters. Slept beside him in his bed with his breath on my face. When my parents died – in a car accident, clipped by a drunk merging onto I-45, I’d just turned fifteen, cue cellos – his family took me into their lives, gave me time and space and belonging, and for the rest of my life whenever I heard the word home their faces beamed to mind like fucking holograms.

Not that it matters now. Didn’t change shit for me in the end.

Bryan Washington

Bryan Washington is a National Book Award 5 Under 35 honoree and winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize. He received the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award for his first book, Lot. ‘Family Meal’ is an excerpt from his novel of the same title, forthcoming from Atlantic Books in the UK and Riverhead in the US.

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