A Bisexual, Armenian American Romcom

by Taleen Voskuni

Arrows, like words, once darted, do not return.
Նետն ու խօսքը դուրս թռչելեն վերջ ալ ետ չեն դարնար:

—Armenian Proverb

I squeeze past a group of rowdy tech boys and a waitress dressed in a traditional German folk costume, similar to the one I own, thanks to a gift from my boyfriend, Trevor, and the beer maiden fetish he won’t admit he has. Polka music blasts through the speakers. Patrons are pounding on tables and singing. The stuffiness in this restaurant is second only to sitting in a hot car with all the doors and windows shut.

I’m late to meet Trevor, but what else is new? It’s hard to pull away from my family and the bonds of duty (in this case, setting up for my cousin Diana’s bridal shower). My hands are aching from handling bushels of thorny crinkle roses and darting them into flower arrangements. I rub them together, hoping for some relief.

I spot Trevor. He’s tapping wildly at his phone, wearing his work-concentration face, which is impressive because we are in the midst of a sausage-fest polka party. He’s sporting his usual precision American Psycho hair (his words, not mine) and is wearing a quarter-zip pullover even though it’s a million degrees. He looks every part the hot evil San Francisco tech lawyer he is, minus the evil, because Trevor is a teddy bear who just happens to enjoy following the letter of the law of patents. I slam into the seat opposite him and immediately shout my apologies.

His face lights up, and for some reason, that makes this guilt sit in my gut.

“Schatzie! You are sizzling. Total smokeshow. Glad you remembered to dress up.”

I don’t remember him asking me to dress up, but luckily I put on my red power dress earlier today in an attempt to impress my boss and pitch him a serious story instead of the usual fluff I’m assigned. I ended up filming the following news segment: “Ingrown Toenails: A Silent Killer? Local Doctor Weighs In.” So yeah, the outfit didn’t work. The memory of my boss publicly shooting down my pitch with such casual cruelty sets my nerves on edge.

I scoot the clunky wooden chair close to the table. “You know how the family is. Can’t get down to business. Have to gossip and nag for an hour before anything can get done.”

I don’t know why I’m ragging on them. Sure, Mom kept bugging me about going to some super-important Armenian event happening this month (eye roll), and Tantig Sona could not stop complaining about the heat, but there was a moment — when the late-afternoon June light hit the room and everything and everyone glowed yellow under it, the flora filling the space with the scent of buttercream cake — when I felt peaceful. We finished the arrangements, but there was still so much more setup, and I felt terrible for leaving them and feel terrible for being so late to this date.

“Oh, I know. Your crazy Armenian family. Loudest group of women in the continental US. That shower tomorrow — what are the little gifts you give out to people?”

I half smile because it’s not his fault; I talk smack on them constantly, so that’s what he internalizes. But also, how can he joke about loudness when this restaurant is his favorite one in the city? A cowbell rings over and over, and a flock of beer maidens parade out from the back, holding boots of beer for another techie group in the corner.

Trevor gazes at the display fondly, and I hope he’s not about to recount the hijinks of Oktoberfest 2009 again.

Before he gets a chance, I quickly answer, “The favors.”

“Favors. You’re giving out bedazzled earplugs to everyone, right?”

He chuckles to himself, and it jarringly reminds me of my work nemesis, Mark. Yuck, no. Trevor is nothing like Mark, who strong-arms his way into getting any piece with real merit, then smiles at the newsroom all self-satisfied. On camera, he’ll ask rude invasive questions to people who’ve experienced trauma, but the boss seems to eat it up. To distract myself from the thought of Trevor being anything like him, I scan the menu. “So, I’m thinking the jager chicken—”

“I already ordered for us-the two-person sausage extravaganza. And a surprise.”

I hate surprises. My hope is that he’s referring to the apple strudel on the dessert menu, a huge departure from his usual lingonberry tart. Or maybe he bought one of the deer heads on the wall. They’re cool, if sad, and he’s been talking about making an offer on one. I give him a wan smile and start fanning myself with the menu like Tantig Sona.

a photo of a person filling a glass from a beer tap
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

“It feels special that we’re at Diekkengräber’s tonight, ja?” Trevor’s only a quarter German, and his last name, Milken, is Irish, but he was a German major, studied in Munich, and is still fluent. So naturally he pronounces the restaurant name with a perfect accent and not how I pronounce it, which is a variant of “dick grabber.”

“Ja,” I respond, trying to smile, assuming he means because he’s headed twelve hours away to Germany tomorrow. He’s assisting one of the partners on this patent litigation case with an electric bike manufacturer. It’s a big deal for him. I need to pull myself together for his sake. I’m exhausted from a full day of shooting and editing — despite the uninspiring material — then dashing over to help with the shower, then navigating an hour of hair-pulling traffic to make it to the city. But he’s been talking up our dick grabber date for weeks, and I am wearing my red dress, and it’s Friday, and I’m only twenty-seven, so I should have the energy for this.

“I’m going to miss you so much, schatzie,” he says, his voice icky-sweet. Under the table, his hand squeezes my knee a little too hard. I don’t wince.

The pet name means “treasure” in German, which is cute, but he’s stopped saying my real name, Nareh, or even my nickname, Nar.

“Me, too,” I say, conscious of how I sound, trying to match his tone. “But you’ll be back soon.”

“Three weeks,” he says, shaken.

The rest of June and into early July. It should seem long, but I have this feeling that almost a month of being away from him is going to fly by.

“I keep pretending it’s shorter,” I say. I don’t know why I lie. I guess I want to make him happy.

A waitress sets a bottle of champagne and two glasses in front of us. The label says Cristal 2010, and I feel like the heat is getting to me, because that would be, like, a $500 bottle. Christ, it’s five years old; it might be pricier. Then I see the Cheshire grin on Trevor’s face.

“Are we celebrating your trip? That’s an” — I stumble over the words — “extravagant goodbye gesture.”

Looking sly as hell, he says, “Oh, we’re celebrating something all right.”

He stands up and wedges himself between our table and our neighbor’s, his butt knocking over a beer stein, which he doesn’t notice because it’s deafening in here, and then he’s in front of me, kneeling down. And oh my God, he pulls out a dark blue box, and my blood is rushing in my ears. I’m gripping my chair like it’s the only thing keeping me up. He opens the box, and the woman at the table next to us gasps because the diamond is fucking huge — no other way to say it — and I know he’s done something stupid, like taken the three months’ salary rule too literally, because he makes a lot pre-tax, but he owes a wild amount of student debt, and that makes me think of my dad and the secret second mortgage he left us with when he died, and I don’t want to be thinking about that right now.

Trevor is beaming. “Nareh Bedrossian.” He spits out my last name like it’s been through a wood chipper. “Will you be my wife? Will you be Nareh Milken?”

Half the restaurant is staring at me, and the other half is still partying and scream-laughing and shoving each other. Milken. Oh God, there are going to be even more jokes about my boobs for the rest of my life. Or I can get a breast-reduction surgery. No, Mom would kill me.

“Does— did you tell my mom already?”

His smile falters a bit, but he keeps it up. “No, I didn’t want your mom to get in the way of this beautiful thing. Our union.”

Then he swivels around and makes some kind of “come here” arm gesture, and now the heat is definitely making me hallucinate because I swear I see Mark H. Shephard, my number one work nemesis, shoving patrons out of the way with his KTVA mic and a cameraman with the massive camera setup they usually reserve for the big stories, and he’s charging toward me and smears the mic across my face so that I get my berry lipstick all over it. Trevor and Mark high-five each other, which makes my stomach roil, and Trevor presses his forehead to mine and asks, “What do you say, schatzie?”

The antlered dead deer face stares at me, and I wish I were suspended above everything like him. No more decisions, no more failures, no more disappointing people, no more . . .

I’m slipping down, down, and the last thing I feel is a dead weight against the back of my skull.

Trevor’s face is in front of mine, and he is wide-eyed and panicking and spitting as he talks, and oh God, it’s all coming back to me when I see Mark hovering in the background. He’s actually laughing while strangers press against one another to get a look at the girl who fainted.

“We have to go,” I whisper to Trevor.

Trevor lifts me off the ground and my vision momentarily blurs. People I’ve never met are asking if I’m okay, and I give them a TV smile and tell them I’m fine, thank you. My head clears, and I squeeze my way out of the restaurant, making sure to slam specifically into Mark and not say a word to him when he shouts, “Hey!” Because really? I’m pissed. And not just at Mark for laughing at me, but at Trevor and his idea of a romantic proposal — at this restaurant, with all its drunk patrons — and partly at myself for . . . for . . . I don’t know what for! But I did something wrong, and I’ll figure it out, and there will be punishment.

I’m outside and it’s instantly cold. The fog washes over everything, layer after layer engulfing us like waves. Somewhere in the Marina a horn blows long and deep. It may be an idyllic warm June in the rest of the United States, but this is San Francisco, where summer means unrelenting fog and misty winds. Trevor is behind me, the front door of the restaurant jingling behind him. I have to get to one of our cars before the humidity ruins my blowout. On the way in I brought a scarf to wrap around my hair, but there’s no way in hell I’m going back into that restaurant right now. It’ll be in the lost and found tomorrow.

Trevor is tracking me. I hear the pound-pound of his feet, but I don’t look back, not yet. “Schatzie! Talk to me.”

I reach my car, swing open my door, and turn to him. “Get in.” The fog and streetlights have colored everything a grayish yellow.

As he shifts inside, I see he’s holding the champagne bottle. Priorities.

This is Trevor, my boyfriend of five years-four and a half, more precisely-who has been a source of such kindness in my life, who I’m about to hurt so badly. But inside, I’m screaming. I have to.

Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni Book Cover

From Sorry, Bro published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Taleen Voskuni