IT WAS an overwhelmingly sunny July day, a Wednesday. Matinee day. The bus station was crowded with suburbanites trying to make their curtain times. By the time I boarded the bus, there was only one seat available. It was next to the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
He had blue eyes, long brown hair, the beginnings of a mustache, and a blue polo shirt. He was smiling at the two girls sitting in front of him, chatting up a storm with them in a language I assumed to be Spanish. As I took my seat next to him, I thought: “He’s a flirt, he’s straight, and he doesn’t speak English. No chance, Dave.”
I opened my book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Before my brain had processed the first word of the chapter I was on, I heard a “Hello.”
It was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
I thought: “OMG, he’s speaking to me. What do I say?”
“Hey,” I said.
“What are you going into the city for?”
“Seeing a play with a friend later tonight. What about you?”
He explained that he was visiting NYC for Fourth of July. He had gotten so sloshed the night before that he somehow ended up in New Jersey.
“That’s out of the way!”
Our conversation continued. The most beautiful man I had ever seen (whose name for the purpose of this essay was Austin—told me he was moving to Brazil in a few weeks to teach. I told him that one of my favorite models (Rafael Verga) was Brazilian. I didn’t tell him that he looked an awful lot like Rafael Verga. I didn’t want him to think I was flirting. Not when I’d assumed he was not of the homosexual persuasion.
He asked me what book I was reading. When I told him the title, he said he hadn’t read it. He asked me to read a passage to him.
This was odd. What straight guy asks another guy to read to them? But because I was so stunned that this beautiful man was speaking to me, I turned the pages and landed on a passage. I read to him.
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
“Chbosky is a genius,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s good so far.”
Austin nodded again. His eyes were looking directly into mine. The bus around us dissolved. The people around us still existed, but we were the only ones in the world to each other. The rumbling of the bus edged us closer and closer together. I anticipated with dread the words “I’m straight.” He could pull away at any moment, and I had to prepare myself for that possibility. If he did pull away, then at least I’ll have had a lovely conversation with him. But he wasn’t pulling away.
Our faces were centimeters apart. Within seconds, we were kissing!
We pulled back from each other, and I confessed my true feelings to him: “You’re really hot.”
Austin smiled. “Ditto.”
From that moment until the bus emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel into the Manhattan daylight, we held hands. We decided to walk around Manhattan together, since the friend he was staying with wasn’t home. We walked north through Hell’s Kitchen towards Central Park. We took in Columbus Circle. We wandered into an art shop. We walked around and examined the various art pieces available for purchase.
All that time, we held hands. Sometimes, we shared a tiny kiss.
We walked out of the art shop and walked south towards the theatre district. We stopped into a Chipotle on 44th Street. We opened up about the more painful chapters of our lives. I told him I was ready to take my life a few months before. He told me that his ex-boyfriend had cheated on him. We told each other that we would never marry.
Finally, Austin got a phone call. His friend was back at the apartment. I had to meet my friend for our show soon, but I had enough time to walk Austin back to his apartment.
“I love this vibe coming from you, Dave,” he said as we walked down 46th Street.
“What do you mean?”
“I just feel all this creative energy coming from you.”
I didn’t know while my hand was entwined with Austin’s that two years later, I would write a play based on our day together. I didn’t know that a read-through of this play in my living room would bring together two of my best friends who would eventually marry, or that I would officiate this wedding. I didn’t know that the play would get several readings, but never a production. I didn’t know how many friends and colleagues I would meet through these readings, or that my work would eventually earn me a spot in an MFA program for dramatic writing.
What I did know as Austin and I approached the brownstone where his friend lived was that, even though he was moving to Brazil, I didn’t want this to be goodbye.
“It’s not goodbye. It’s au revoir,” he said.
“That means goodbye.”
“No, it means ‘Until we meet again.’”
He stroked my chin. “You’re very special, Dave. I’m glad we met.”
We looked into each other’s eyes.
“Me too, Austin.”
“Au revoir,” Austin said.
Austin walked into the brownstone. I checked the time on my phone. I had to meet my friend for the play soon. I walked away.
Dave Osmundsen is a queer and autistic playwright and dramaturg whose work has been seen and developed at the Kennedy Center, KCACTF Region 8, B Street Theatre, the William Inge Theatre Festival, the Midwest Dramatists Conference, Phoenix Theatre Company, and others. He was named one of two recipients of the inaugural Future of Playwriting Prize from the Blank Theatre and Ucross.