“Couples costumes are cheesy,” I said. “Let’s go to Touchdowns for burgers instead,” I said. But it’s my girlfriend’s sorority party and I can’t leave her hanging. Apparently, Captain Hook needs eyeliner.
“You’re going to love it,” Kenna says, smudging it with the pad of her finger. Her ginger-minty breath is warm on my cheek.
I’m about to say “Don’t poke my eye out,” but I’m quiet. She’ll be done faster if I stay still.
The mirror shows someone, me, I guess, but. My eyes, usually sad, are … intense, watchful. Dangerous. I stare.
I’m fucking … beautiful.
“Want to watch a movie?” I close my algebra book and grab the remote.
“Yeah, I can stay ’til nine.”
He scoots closer, pulling the crocheted blanket my grandma made from the back of the couch. It’s ugly as hell (navy blue with pink flowers) but she died, so my mom can’t get rid of it. He doesn’t mind, I guess, because he spreads it over our laps.
When I lean back, his arm is around me. I wonder what Gram would say if she could see us. If it would bother her that her roses are keeping us warm.
Ellen’s the only one who could get me to jump.
I sit at the edge of the dock, my legs dangling into the brown water. I can’t see my feet, or the bottom of the lake, which Ellen says is at least ten feet below.
She’s a bobbing torso I splash with a cupped hand. “Scaredy-cat!” she calls, laughing, just like she did at the city pool when I froze on the high dive.
The water is her otherworld, opaque and soft, made up of everything I don’t know yet. I stand, the dock slick beneath my toes, and jump.
We were kids when we crashed our bikes on the playground. You skinned your knee, and I rode you to my house for band-aids and a Coke.
We’re grown up now. I mean, we’re juniors, and you have your license and all. (But we still have curfew, and my mom will be expecting me.)
Your bedroom is a mix of both. You got rid of that pink wallpaper last year, but stuffed animals still crowd your bed.
“Can you braid my hair?” You ask.
You sit between my legs, your wavy hair in my fingers.
I’m going to be late.
There’s this guy in my French class, quiet, dark hair, fucking dreamy. Smart, too. He sits in the back and answers Mme. Devlin perfectly every time. Even his accent is pretty.
He came to pick up food at the restaurant tonight. Beef with broccoli, eight egg rolls, hot and sour soup, and enough mu shu pork to feed the offensive line. Pop didn’t see me slip a dozen extra fortune cookies into the bag.
I picture him picking one from the pile. He cracks it and smiles, reading the message from me to him, all the words I’ll never say.
The day we broke up, I returned your jacket. I emptied the pockets and held it out. You hesitated, then took it from me carefully, so our fingers wouldn’t touch.
I thought of the times you warmed me.
You rubbed my shoulders as we stood in line outside the movie theater. You gave me your sweatshirt at that tailgate party when the wind picked up. You wrapped a blanket around us at the beach, an impromptu tent that kept our heat in when dusk cooled the sand.
We were not good for each other. But you were excellent at that.
I can’t believe I’m not scared.
(My brother teases me about all the things I’m afraid of. He laughed when I screamed at the spider in my shoe. He tells tall tales about the creature under my bed, so I can’t sleep. He said I wasn’t brave enough to talk to Ella Whistler.)
It’s dark, and Ella and I are alone together, in the woods. But fear can’t show its face when she walks beside me.
It was her idea to call the owls. We cup our hands around our mouths, whoot-whooting goodnight. They call back, invisible under the moon.
The snow is coming fast, piling on the windshield. I try the ignition again. Nothing. Fuck.
Three knocks make me jump.
“Need a ride?”
It’s Trevor, who got suspended our freshman year for bringing knives to school. He jerks his thumb toward his pickup.
We’ve talked, like, twice in my life. But we’re the only ones left in the lot, and home is too far to walk.
He drives with his hands on ten and two. The pickup rides easily, without sliding the way my stupid Corolla does. He turns up the heat and turns down the music.
In our ballet, my character Raymonda parts from her knight before he goes to war. We embrace one last time, then step away from each other, fingers finally sliding apart as he turns to exit the castle courtyard.
We’ve rehearsed a hundred times. Step-step-toe-reach, lean-and-lean-and-touch-and-part.
But today, I couldn’t let him go. On the other side of the gate was treachery, violence, death. I saw bloody swords, broken bodies, dead horses in the mud. He’d die, I was sure of it, and I grabbed his wrist, terrified. His eyes, no longer his own, knew.
“It’s alright,” he whispered, otherworldly, unafraid.
Tell your mom not to worry.
I’ll have you back by sundown.
It will be hot, but
I’ve got lemonade in the cooler,
And there’s a shady spot at the edge of the field.
We’ll take the tractor.
Put your hands on the wheel, and I’ll work the pedals.
It’s loud, I know, but I can still hear
The music of your throat,
The pulse in your palm against my hip.
Let me lift you over the mud puddles,
Boost you over the fence.
You can wear my hat, if you want.
I’ll take your handkerchief,
Secretly, from your pocket.