We’re tucked in the corner of the dugout, the cooler between us. I could kiss him, we’re so close, but the team is on the other side of the fence. And there’s the fact that I promised him I’d never do that again.
Dumbass, I think to myself.
My fingers are about to freeze off from the ice I’ve been holding against his forehead. I pull it away to look at the bruise, now blooming an angry purple and blue.
“Gorgeous,” I say.
He doesn’t reply. Instead, with a half-smile, he traces the trail of water dripping down my arm.
Gladys looks forward to laundry day. She likes the fresh-startness of it, the sunny smell of detergent, the bag of clothespins clink-clunking against her hip as she walks to the clothesline.
She hums to herself as she fishes her secret happiness out of the hamper. It’s Tom’s blue button-up shirt, mixed in with the sheets and day-dresses. She pins it to the line by the shoulders, then runs her hand over the breast pocket, where he kept his peppermints. As she watches, the sleeves billow and fill with wind, rising as if to embrace her, coming alive with his ghost.
Mark’s asleep, curled up on his side and snoring. Justin rolls over gently, so not to wake him, and because his limbs feel like lead and his head is pounding.
Fuck high school reunions, honestly. Fuck cheap hotel rooms with droopy mattresses. And fuck margaritas for the way they unearth shit no matter how deeply it’s buried.
Justin studies the back of Mark’s head, his brown curls glossy in the dawn light. His neck looks graceful, tender, and Justin wants to touch the dark, downy whorl under Mark’s ear. Fuck broken hearts, he thinks, burrowing deeper under the thin sheet.
We learned to swim together at the community pool, the summer before first grade. I mostly remember the polka-dot suit I wore. It had ruffles, and I thought it was something a princess would wear.
We swam in high school together, too. It wasn’t about suits anymore; it was about split times, conditioning, and drives with our hair still wet, one hand on the wheel and the other hand in hers.
Now our swimming happens only in my dreams. We race strong, the time no matter. When she wins, I twist a lock of her wet hair around my finger.
We promised. Actually looked into each other’s eyes and swore it.
We’d keep our hands off. No more kissing.
It was fine, for a while. He volunteered to post watch with Stan, the new guy; I switched to days so we’d be on opposite ends of the field.
Thing is, that means we cross paths at oh-six hundred, when I’m waking up and he’s heading in. My chest feels hot. I turn and he’s there, rumpled and smelling of grass and moonlight. I stop myself from reaching out for his hand as he brushes by. I don’t forget our promise.
We made each other a promise. We tied ribbons around our fingers and swore it.
We vowed we would never kiss again.
Though how can I resist, when the rose blooms so high in her cheeks? Surely she doesn’t blush from the exertion of pulling my corset ties, as that was nigh on an hour ago. She has since dressed me, buttoning my dress, smoothing my stockings, lacing my shoes.
Jewels are saved for last. She brings the necklace the viscount gifted me. He’ll be waiting, pacing among the guests.
“Let him wait,” I whisper, pushing it from her hands.
I can play it cool when I’m handing Kai the Blizzard he ordered through the takeout window, or when I’m secretly checking him out from across our Biology lab. But being paired up with him for the portrait unit for our Art elective isn’t the same.
It’s because I’m allowed to look at him. Really look. Study the shape of his eyebrows, memorize the slant of his neck, count the freckles that are only visible close up. And he has to sit still, quiet, and let me.
I wish my hand would quit shaking. I wish a lot of things.
“Let’s get out of here, huh? I need some air,” Sean says as he brushes by me, loosening his tie.
“But …” I gesture to the living room full of people dressed in black, eating finger food and cookies. He’s already halfway through the kitchen, on his way to the back door. I catch up in time to see him trade his beer bottle for a set of keys. He tosses them to me.
He leads us to his pickup, and I don’t argue. We’re seventeen again, climbing into the cab, hearing her engine purr, leaving the world behind.
Sara’s hands glide across the tops of my shoulders and tug the fabric of the sleeves. Juliet’s Nurse’s dress does fit better now that she’s altered it to accommodate my long arms.
“That feel okay?” she asks around the pins she holds between her lips. Her brown eyes study the bodice, the waist, the cuffs, while I study the downy hair at the back of her neck that didn’t make it into her ponytail.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” I whisper, then clear my throat. “Fine.”
I’m weightless as she turns me, my thighs heating, praying she’ll find something else to fix.
In basic training
We were taught how to shoot,
How to march,
And how to fall asleep anywhere.
For the shooting, you need a gun.
For the marching, boots.
For the falling asleep, you need a letting go,
Which lives only behind your eyes,
In a canoe on a lake, flightless and floating.
Both the unknotting of joints and the uncoiling of ligaments
Ride in the hull, along with
The unhooking of the tongue that allows
Heat to slip down your throat.
Unlace, unclasp, unbind, unravel.
Dip the shoulder of the paddle
Into the lake of sleep
Ten weeks across.