I quit my job at Blink Fitness about three weeks ago. My fiancé still doesn’t know. He doesn’t know because I wake up every morning in bed next to him, put on my purple Blink Fitness shorts and yellow Blink Fitness shirt and pretend I’m going to work. He doesn’t wake up in spite of the noise I make getting ready. In spite of the relentless clamor of the Upper East Side out our window, this new city we moved to for his schooling, this city I moved to, across country, for him. He doesn’t know I’m keeping a secret. He doesn’t know I know one of his.

“How was your day?” he asks hours later, when I’m home.

“Fine,” I shrug. “Nothing new.”

To keep the act up, I recycle something that happened at work months ago and tell it as if it just happened.

“This lady came into the gym today. She couldn’t find Bravo on the TV’s by the treadmills so I had to spend about twenty minutes finding it for her. She couldn’t work out until she found just the right ‘Housewives.’ I hate people like that.”

“Me too,” says my fiancé, glancing up from a textbook. His brain’s swallowed whole by his PhD studies, so he’s not really sorry when he murmurs, “Sorry you had a bad day.”

Except I didn’t have a bad day. I spent the day wandering through Barnes and Noble. Like I’ve done every day since I quit. I walked the fifty-five screeching, sweltering blocks from our tiny studio apartment to the bookstore. I grabbed a book from Sci-Fi and took a seat in Self-Help. I read for six hours. I bought tea and a donut. My day was just fine.

The next day I’m hunkered down in Fantasy. I now have less than $200 to my name, and because of the cost of my donut and tea I have less and less every day. Until I quit the gym, I was a 44-year-old man making $9 an hour wiping sweat off of benches. My fiancé’s found his career and a community. I’ve found minimum wage in a city I hate. I glance up from the book I’m reading to the books on the shelves. I think of the children’s book I wrote at 19. The book that was supposed to make me a writer, that was supposed to start my career. I frown at the cramp in my ankles, getting up. I spend the rest of the day upright in Automotive.

“How was your day?” my fiancé asks. Tonight, his entire cohort is over. They crowd every space in our studio, and our walls reverberate with chatter.

“Okay,” I say. “Except for this jerk on the elliptical…”

But my fiancé’s already lost in his cohort. And that’s fine. I’ll just save that lie for tomorrow. I stare at the textbooks spread all around them, and I think back to when I’d walked in from a grueling Blink Fitness night shift a few weeks before, when I was still actually working at Blink Fitness, and how I’d moved one of his textbooks off the counter. I remember how it was stuffed full of papers. Forgotten letters from other schools he’d applied to.

“Which grad schools did you get into again?” I’d asked him later that night.

My fiancé didn’t flinch when he said, “Only this one. All the others turned me down.”

That night, I’d laid sleeplessly beside him. I thought of the wonderfully rain-splashed city I’d left, of its wide, easy sidewalks and all of my friends who still walked them. The next morning I put on my Blink Fitness shorts and Blink Fitness shirt and walked out the door. I walked to the gym and then walked all the way past it. Forty-five minutes later I’d felt my phone buzz. I didn’t need to look to know it was my boss. It was easier to just turn my phone off, nestle myself in a corner, and keep reading.

Three weeks after that and I’m coming up with another gym story to recycle. I walk into our studio finding, not my fiancé, but a note written on the back of a Con-Ed envelope. He’s gone out for the evening. He tells me he’s not sure when he’ll be home. He signs his name. Below that, a reminder. He needs my half of the rent—$1200.

I think of my less than $200. From that, I subtract my half of the rent. And from that, I subtract the cost of my misery, of the sense my times about to run out, that everything I was supposed to become is slipping away. Every subtraction pushes me further into the negative, deeper into a spiraling surplus of regret.

I read his note over and over, scribbled on the back of a power bill.

Our apartment is scattered with textbooks.

One of those books is stuffed full of papers.

One of those papers is a letter—an acceptance from Oregon State University. One of the schools my fiancé said he didn’t get into but did. I want to rip the letter loose from that textbook, turn it over, and write him a note of my own.

You said every other school said “no” to you. You said we had to move to the only school that said yes. We could’ve stayed put. We could have stayed home. I gave up everything I knew for you for $9 an hour. Take my fucking rent out of that.

Outside, the Upper East Side is a showdown of boomboxes. The noise will keep me from falling asleep, but when my fiancé comes home I’ll pretend to be. He’ll get into bed next to me. Close, but not so close he might touch me. I’ll move left just a little, he’ll move right just a little, drifting further and further away from each other, until there’s a space so wide in between us it’s as if we’re on opposite ends of the country.


About the Author

Will McMillan is a queer writer born and raised in the untamed wild of the Pacific Northwest, where he lives to this day. His essays have been featured in The Sun, Craft, Hippocampus, and Bending Genres literay journals, among many others.